Welcome to my personal little guide of the best things to do in Amsterdam, I’ll cover off a top 10 list, as well as giving you a couple of fun & free things to check out. I’ll finish the article with a personal recommendations list (restaurants and such). Alright, let’s get started!
Quick Introduction To Amsterdam
In reality, I don’t think there is ever a bad time to visit Amsterdam. It’s a great place to visit all the year around, if you want the warmer weather though you will want to head there for the spring or summer months.
It’s a well structured and laid out city, that getting in and out is a real breeze, and getting around is a cinch either by bicycle or tram. I live in Rotterdam currently, so I visit quite often via the train (which only takes me 1 hour and 13 minutes – you sure wouldn’t get those times between major capital cities in Australia!).
I’ll briefly touch on a little history, the golden age for Amsterdam was 1580 – 1700, and in fact was the richest period for all of The Netherlands. The city grew rapidly during this period, and this was the time when the Dutch setup the East India Trading Company, which I’m sure you have heard of.
Amsterdam has a reputation for being the drug and sex capital of the world, yet this is completely untrue. This reputation exists purely because of the fact that the Dutch have legalised prostitution and marijuana and some other soft drugs in an attempt to help regulate and control the industry (which I think is smart).
There is so much more to Amsterdam then these two things, and I highly suggest you balance your trip with everything Amsterdam has to offer, or you’ll be missing out on a wonderful city!
The Big Top 10 Things To Do In Amsterdam List
Anne Frank Huis
This museum was definitely worth seeing, I’d heard horror stories about the lines to get in, but I walked straight in and got a ticket immediately when I visited recently – so you can get lucky.
I hadn’t read the diary myself before attending, but my girlfriend had. Overall it was quite a moving experience, to see that this whole family had to hide in a tiny area above a warehouse from the Nazis.
You feel like you get to know Anne a bit from all the diary quotes on the walls throughout the museum. There is also a number of videos, specifically interviews with Anne’s father and other members who were involved. It’s a personal history story from that period of World War II – and if you haven’t been to a Nazi related museum before will give you a real idea of the horrors that people had to face during this time.
Amsterdam Historisch Museum
The history museum is definitely worth checking out, it will give you a solid run down of Amsterdam’s amazing history and a detailed look at dutch commerce. It will show you items and things from the Golden Age to more recent times, and a lot of other things in between.
For the Art Lovers there are a number of wonderful museums to seek out:
Museum Het Rembrandthuis
This is actually the house that Rembrandt Van Rijn lived and worked in. It has an almost complete collection of Rembrandt etchings (as well as lots of other works). It’s worth seeing if you love Rembrandt or artists from that era. There are also loads of awesome objects to see like weaponry and seashells and other things from his collection.
Van Gogh Museum
This museum is a real must see. It’s got about 200 paintings and 500 drawings from the quirky artist Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo (as well as a bunch of their friends). It also gives you a history of the man himself, who is now extremely famous, yet during his career sold only one painting in his lifetime.
He had crazy mood swings, and is also notorious for cutting off his own ear and then eventually committing suicide.
This is the big boy in Amsterdam, it’s Netherlands premier art museum. Unfortunately, a lot of the main building is actually closed for renovations until 2013. However, there is still an excellent ‘crème de la crème’ of paintings to see from artists Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. As you can imagine, a lot of emphasis is placed on paintings and artists from the Golden Age period.
This tiny museum is fun to see, and it’s only 23m long! It shows you how living on a real houseboat would be like – it’s a small living space, that’s for sure.
Fun fact: The houseboats in Amsterdam DON’T dump their sewerage waste into the canals (anymore) and most are hooked up to the city’s sewerage system.
Electric Lady Land
This funky museum is actually a fluorescent art museum, and it has heaps of cool glowing objects and luminescent rocks to check out.
It’s fun to see, and the owner is great and has an art gallery and shop upstairs.
Gassans Diamonds Tour
Sure, it’s a little touristy, but it’s great to see this workshop which shows you how that rough piece of rock (is THAT a DIAMOND!?) becomes the pretty little sparkly thing that adorns so many necks and fingers. You get to see how they assess the quality of gems, as well as some of the diamond cutters and polishers doing their thing.
Red Light District
Of course, The Red Light District! No Amsterdam Top 10 list would really exclude this one. Here are a few facts about the Red Light District and prostitution in general:
- Prostitution was legalized in The Netherlands in 1810.
- The percentage of working prostitutes who were born in The Netherlands is only 5%.
- The British will be pleased to know that their nation is known to provide the most clients.
- Prostitutes DO pay taxes.
Unfortunately trafficking, pimping and exploitation of women does occur. The way the Dutch view it, is that legalizing the whole industry actually makes these problems EASIER to control rather than more difficult. The Dutch administration actively works very hard to protect women from trafficking and the like.
The prostitutes do have their own union, and the whole area is just as safe to walkthrough as the rest of Amsterdam (if clients kept getting mugged and assaulted, they wouldn’t want to keep coming back, would they?).
With that being said, there has been a move to shut down a number of the Red Light windows and move them to a different area – officials are saying this is due to crime (because this area is attracting criminal elements such as traffickers and money launderers). However, opponents to this move claim that crime is just an excuse, and they are simply trying to ‘clean up’ Amsterdam due to its current reputation.
There is a walk (which is listed on most Amsterdam maps) that takes about 15 minutes and you can walk through the whole Red Light District, whether you want to be a client or not, it’s worth doing just to see the sights and the pretty red lights.
There is also a prostitution information center that was established by a former sex worker. It provides lots of information and even offers a walking tour on Saturdays at 5pm which shows you the area and takes you into a prostitute’s working room.
However you travel is completely up to you, I don’t pass judgement either way, getting a prostitute is legal and easily doable in the free thinking city of Amsterdam. I personally haven’t paid for one, nor do I ever plan to. Apart from the fact that I have a long term girlfriend, my opinion is that there are way too many factors involved for me to want to do this or even feel remotely comfortable doing it.
Can you guarantee the girl is there willingly and of her own accord? As much as the Dutch government attempts to regulate this, you will never truly know the answer to that question.
Visit A Coffee Shop
Although the government has in fact proposed various new rules that have affected many coffee shops, such as magic mushrooms are no longer legal (although magic truffles are still allowed) and there can no longer be a coffee shop within 200m of a school, you still won’t have any trouble finding one in Amsterdam. Of course there are a slew of them in the Red Light District.
If you do choose to indulge, the staff in the coffee shops are more than happy to talk to you about how much to smoke or eat based on your previous experiences. I’m not a big smoker myself, so I cannot give you any hot go to coffee shop tips – but as I say, there are more than enough of them around the place if it’s your thing.
In my limited personal experiences, I would steer clear of The Bulldog Chain and some of the other large commercial shops, I found them tacky and unwelcoming, but I guess I’m a friendly hippie at heart.
Some Free Things To Do In Amsterdam
Walk The Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets)
This little area in the Western Canal Belt is a gem of nine little streets that consist of numerous wonderful boutique, art, antique and other treasures in a dense area of shopping pleasure. Of course, browsing and window shopping is always free, and it’s a great area to get some funky photos.
St Nicolaas Boat Club Canal Boat Tour
Yep, it’s FREE. The guys that run this offer free canal boat tours (as long as the weather is nice). They do ask for a donation at the end, but I still felt it was worthy for the free section. It’s a fantastic little tour, and well worth the 5 – 10 Euro donation that you really should give at the end of it. I think the Captain’s on these boats are more entertaining than the runs who run your cookie cutter more expensive touristy canal boat tours. Check them out.
Have A Picnic And Relax In Vondelpark
Located just South East of the Southern Canal Belt, the Vondelpark is absolutely superb on a lovely spring or summer’s day. With weaving ponds and green lawns – it’s a place of relaxation and time to spend with friends. Or kick back with a book, or even rent a bicycle or some inline skates and explore the park to your heart’s content.
More Fun Things To Do In Amsterdam
Konninginnedag (Queen’s Day)
Konningine-WHAT? This translates as ‘Queen’s Day’ and it is the biggest street party in Amsterdam. I’ve read a lot about it, but haven’t been to one myself. I live in Rotterdam at the moment however, and I am VERY EXCITED for this upcoming Queen’s Day. I will put up some pictures once I’ve been!
This day is celebrated on the birthday of the current Queen’s (Beatrix) mother on the 30th April every year. It’s basically a free for all market (meaning everyone can sell whatever they like – sort of like the world’s biggest street garage sale!) – wearing orange wigs and overalls and drinking lots of beer is also a common sight.
It sounds simply awesome, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from other Dutch people. I’m looking forward to getting there for 2012’s Konninginnedag – woohoo! If you’re interested, check out their website.
Hire A Bike And Ride Around
This is The Netherlands after all, the land of bicycles. If you look at a map, even central Amsterdam looks like half a bicycle wheel! There are loads of places where you can hire a bicycle, and it will cost around 7€ – 14€ per day. There are bicycle paths literally everywhere – so you will have no trouble exploring Amsterdam and all of its funky quirks and café vibes.
Personal Recommendations For Amsterdam
Of course this whole list of things to do are personal recommendations, but what’s a better recommendation then a place to dine out and enjoy yourself? These are a couple of my favourite spots in Amsterdam:
Location: Wolvenstraat 23 in the Western Canal Belt
This is contemporary Japanese/Dutch food – and it is amazing and delicious and awesome all in one. We had a great time eating here, and polished off our meal with a couple of bottles of tasty Spanish red wine. I’ll be coming back here again next time I visit Amsterdam without a doubt. Prices were relatively reasonable for Amsterdam and The Netherlands in general, but they wouldn’t be considered super backpacker cheap. Expect to pay 13€ – 20€ for a main course.
De Keuken Van 1870Location: Spuistraat 4
This serves up homely fare at minimum prices! You can get the full three course meal for 10€, but this is a set menu. I’ve read a few reviews that claim the staff are rude and not friendly, I did not find this to be the case AT ALL. They were extremely nice to us, even though the place was full to the brim.
I recommend De Keukan Van 1870 (which means The Kitchen from 1870 – so it’s even steeped in tradition!) for a tasty yet cheap dinner out.
So if you were wondering what to do in Amsterdam
I hope my little guide and list of things to do proves helpful to you. Amsterdam really is a wonderful city, it’s multicultural yet resoundingly Dutch with its free attitude and buzzing atmosphere – everyone should visit Amsterdam!
When I was last there, my girlfriend and I even ran into the Queen of The Netherlands (Beatrix), which was a pleasant surprise (cue dodgy and grainy video of us standing outside the palace like some sneaky paparazzi – we just happened to be passing by, promise!)
[box type=”shadow”]If you liked this article, or have any further tips and recommendations to leave for other backpackers and travellers, then please leave a comment.[/box]
I’ll finish the post with a bit of Amsterdam Christmas Spirit on the Canals:
Have fun out there,