A Brief Guide to Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam
Travel is something that has had a huge impact on my experience and perception of the world, and I hope to share some of my experiences and perhaps even inspire you to embark on your own travel-based adventures. I spent three days in the Netherlands at the beginning of August so sharing a brief overview of fun things to do in Amsterdam seems like a good place to start.Amsterdam is undeniably picturesque—so much so that it can almost feels like a parody of itself. Despite its tricky history, walking through the streets of the old town feels a little like walking through a Dutch-themed museum. So much about the city is totally endearing, from the amicable people (and their startlingly perfect English), to the city-wide love affair with bicycles, to the patchwork, slightly skewed buildings that line the canals in the old town.Amsterdam manages to cultivate a bustling city vibe without feeling too crazy or overwhelming. Whether you're a city person or not, it pretty much offers the best of both worlds. I totally fell in love with the place while we were there and can't wait to go back again at some point in the future. Here are a few of my favourite fun things to do in Amsterdam:
Neither I nor Mr Becoming Who You Are are big museum/gallery fans, so most of our time in Amsterdam was spent wandering around, getting a feel for the city, and observing Amsterdam life. We did, however, visit a few sights worth seeing:The canals. The canals west of the city centre are stunningly beautiful, and we spent many hours wondering around, particularly along Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Singel. Each canal is lined with higgeldy-piggeldy buildings, whose origins span four centuries, from the 1600s to today. As well as the beautiful architecture, the lovely cafés, and the people-watching opportunities, the surprising thing about the canals is how peaceful they are. It's hard to believe you're in the middle of a big city, just blocks from Dam Square.The three crosses. This is Amsterdam's city symbol and it's everywhere. Once you start noticing it, you'll see it on signs, flags, bins, buildings, placards—even the wallpaper and carpet in our hotel was themed after this emblem. There's something almost Amsterdam-nationalistic about seeing this symbol crop up everywhere but after a while noticing all the different representations also becomes quite a fun Easter Egg hunt.The Anne Frank House. We intended to visit the house each day we were in Amsterdam and didn't, which is why I will be taking the following advice when we got back in the future: book online in advance. Queues were around the block and back morning, evening, weekend, and weekday. We even came prepared with reading/listening material to while away the time, but the size of the queue was so epic (and our time in the city so short) it just didn't feel right to spend a couple of hours standing in a museum queue when there was so much else we wanted to see. Having said that, all the locals we spoke to said it was worth seeing and I intend to get more organised about a visit next time we go.De Poezenboot (the Cat Boat). The Cat Boat is a small canal boat on Singel that is the canal area's only cat shelter. They house 20+ cats, most of which roam free on the barge, while some are kept separately to keep the kitty peace or because they're being adopted out. For two hours a day, five days a week, the public can visit the boat, socialise the cats, and learn more about the enterprise. It's free to get in (donations welcomed at the end) and the cats are super cute. What's not to love?Dam Square. This was probably my least part of the city (see below), but it gets a mention thanks to the spectacular buildings that surround the area. Think towering 19th century stone buildings converted into department stores and shopping centres, plus an enormous gothic church whose bells peal out complex pieces rather than the usual repetitive scales or monotonous chimes.The Cheese Museum. We wandered into the Cheese Museum on Prinsengracht to kill some time (it was raining) and left 30 minutes later a lot fuller and with some top gifts ideas for friends back in the UK. The Museum isn't so much a museum (there's a small room with some exhibits downstairs but funnily enough not many people are super interested in that part) as a huge cheese-sampling shop. The staff know more about cheese than I had thought was humanly possible, and you can walk around the store with a toothpick trying everything from vintage gouda to wasabi cheese, pesto cheese, and lavender cheese. Like the Cat Boat, the Cheese Museum is free to enter and runs on donations (and cheese-related purchases). If you like cheese, you will be in seventh heaven.Jordaan. Jordaan is the old Jewish quarter and one of the most (if not the most) picturesque areas of the city. There's quite a lot to see and do here, but there's also great pleasure to be found in getting lost in the back streets and having a wander through the residential areas.The Tulip Museum. The Tulip Museum is down the road from the Cheese Museum. We stopped in here briefly but frankly didn't feel enthusiastic enough about tulips to pay 5 Euros to enter the museum. The shop out front is a flower-lover's paradise, however, and seems to have every kind of tulip bulb under the sun.The Nine Little Streets. The Nine Little Streets (De Negen Straatjes) is a collection of shopping streets. Most of the stores here are independent and packed with artisan goods, vintage clothes, art, handmade jewellery, and other funny bits and bobs. This place gets crazy at the weekend and most of the stores are closed on Mondays, but it's well worth a visit.
Eating is definitely near the top of the list when it comes to fun things to do in Amsterdam. This city is a foodie heaven. TripAdvisor lists over 2000 restaurants listed, which is pretty impressive for a city of 800,000+ inhabitants. One of the great things about Amsterdam compared to other places in Europe (looking at you, Budapest), is that you can find food for pretty much any dietary requirements if you're willing to look around. Many places offer veggie and sometimes paleo/gluten-free options on the same menu. Bread and cheese are everywhere, and in most places they're so much better quality than you'll usually find in restaurants in the US and UK.Milo's Café. Funnily enough, we didn't want to pay 17 Euros for breakfast each morning at our hotel (!), so Milo's became our regular haunt. It's in East Amsterdam and not really worth a visit unless you're in the area anyway, but it deserves special mention for having awesome lunches, a nice environment, and super friendly staff.Winkel 43. Winkel 43 is in Jordaan and does great beer, great food, and the best apple tart, a Dutch delicacy, in Amsterdam (according to them, although I can believe it). It gets packed out at the weekend so, if you want to visit, try to aim for a weekday.Greenwoods. Greenwoods bills itself as an English tea room, but it's actually a really good café. Like most restaurants and cafés in Amsterdam, the space is tiiiiny, so be prepared to wait for a seat and get cozy with the people at the next table. The food is incredible and you get a lot more for your Euro than other places in the area.Boom!. Like Milo's Boom! is in East Amsterdam and probably not worth a visit unless you're in the area due to the plethora of great restaurants in the centre of town. If you're near Oosterpark, however, it's a really nice place to grab dinner with a menu that has something for everyone.
A few notes
- Like most countries that use the Euro (and England), Amsterdam is not super cheap. Public transport, eating out, and hotels can all be pretty pricey so if you're on a budget, it might not be somewhere you want to stay for a huge amount of time. The tourist canal tours are, in my opinion, not worth the cost—if you like walking around, get a map or the TripAdvisor app (see below) and DIY it. Bicycles are also ubiquitous.
- We used the free TripAdvisor Amsterdam City Guide, which was awesome. Even without wifi, we could use the app as a map and find nearby places to grab a drink. The app also has some great self-guided walks—we enjoyed the walking tours of Jordaan and De Negen Straatjes (the Nine Little Streets).
- The centre of Amsterdam (the area around Dam Square) is the city's equivalent of Leicester Square if you're a Brit, or Times Square if you're familiar with New York. It has a very different vibe (read: slightly tacky/seedy) from other parts of the city. We stayed in a beautiful hotel a little way out of town near Oosterpark; it was lovely to be out of the main drag and still very easy to get around by tram, bike, canal, and walking.
Do you have any of your own recommendations for fun things to do in Amsterdam? Leave a comment and let me know! Image: Nick Scheerbart