Amsterdam travel tips + best sights & hidden gems
We love Amsterdam! The city is a fantastic destination for a city trip. Our Amsterdam tips and hidden gems will help you plan your trip!
Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations for a city break in Europe, and deservedly so.
The Dutch capital has so many sights to offer that a weekend definitely isn’t enough for a city trip to Amsterdam.
Just to give you an idea of what to expect in Amsterdam, we’ve written this post where we tell you about all the best sights and attractions.
We’ve also collected have some great Amsterdam hidden gems for you, so you can enjoy your trip away from the tourist crowds.
And of course we have lots of general Amsterdam travel tips to share with you – from hotels and guided tours to local transport.
All these tips have made this a really long post, so we’ve added a table of contents at the beginning to help you find your bearings.
Amsterdam sights and attractions: The highlights
Before we get to Amsterdam’s hidden gems, let’s start with the highlight reel of the best sights in Amsterdam.
Canal belt and canal cruise
The canals (or grachten) are the characteristic feature in Amsterdam. Wherever you look and go, there’s no avoiding the distinctive waterways. Encircling the inner city, the four canals run more or less in parallel to each other.
These for canals – Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel – are also known as the Canal Belt because of the way they wrap around the city.
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam has to be strolling along the canals. Surrounding the waterways, you can discover some great stores, restaurants, and bars and (psssst…) peak into Amsterdammers’ ground floor apartments.
The ones along the canals are usually a feast for the eyes and look like something straight out of a textbook for interior design.
We especially liked the 9 straatjes. That’s what the 9 little side streets in the western canal belt are called. You’ll find a great deal of individual, small stores there where you can go on an extensive window shopping exhibition.
The names of the 9 straatjes are Hartenstraat, Gasthuismolensteeg, Reestraat, Wolvenstraat, Berenstraat, Oude Spiegelstraat, Huidenstraat, Runstraat, and Wijde Heisteeg.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to remember them all. There’s a small plaque under each street sign indicating that it’s one of the 9 straatjes.
Canal cruises in Amsterdam
A canal cruise is a highlight for many visitors to Amsterdam because it’s a great way to discover the city from the water. Of course, a canal cruise is hardly a hidden gem and there are countless providers. But it’s still a very worthwhile experience.
But if you’re looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary, we recommend these very special canal cruises, which you can also book online:
Museums in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has some absolute top-tier museums to offer. We’d like to present the most important ones here. Most of the museums are located around the Museumsplein at the southern end of the Canal Belt.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is certainly one of the most interesting, but also the most depressing places in Amsterdam. Here, at Prinsengracht 293, is where Anne Frank lived until her arrest in August 1944 and where she wrote her famous diary.
Since the house isn’t particularly large, only a certain number of visitors are admitted at a time. That means that there’s often a line in front of the building that even wraps around the block at peak times.
The least stressful option is to buy your ticket in advance on the Anne Frank House website. You have to choose a fixed time slot between 9:30 am and 3:30 pm and then you can enter the house without standing in line.
If there are no more online tickets, you’ll just have to try your luck. From 3:30 pm to 9:30 pm, the museum is open to visitors without a reservation, but as we mentioned, this may involve very long waiting times.
Van Gogh Museum
The collection of the Van Gogh Museum is the largest in the world and includes some of his most famous works.
The Rijksmuseum is the National Museum of the Netherlands and contains some of the most famous works by Dutch painters such as Rembrandt.
You can find more art at the Stedelijk Museum. Picasso, Monet, Chagall, Cézanne – the ‘who is who’ of modern art is represented here and we personally like the Stedelijk Museum much better than the stuffy old portraits at the Rijksmuseum.
The former brewery for the world-famous beer brand now houses an interactive museum dedicated to beer. Two beers are included in each visit.
The De Wallen red light district
The red light district in Amsterdam, known as De Wallen, is notoriously famous. During the day, it still looks pretty dreary, even though (or because) many of the shop windows are already occupied with prostitutes. But in the evening, things heat up as the crowds flock here and the red lights go on.
You definitely shouldn’t try to take pictures of the women unless you want a first-hand lesson on the root of the term ‘pimp slap’. The johns probably won’t be too thrilled with the prospect of getting caught on camera either. So if you feel you have to take pictures, at least try to do it discreetly and away from the windows.
The contrasts are what makes the red light district so exciting. There’s a church right in the center, the Oudekerk. And next to it, there’s even a kindergarten, and just 5 meters further down there are women standing in windows offering their services.
There’s one very interesting tour through the red light district that we can warmly recommend:
Markets in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is also known for its markets, especially for the flower market . The flower market is located on floating greenhouses on the Singel canal. That probably sounds interesting, but to be honest, it doesn’t live up to its promise. In addition to flowers, you can also buy seeds and souvenirs here.
The Spui book market, on the other hand, is really great. If you love strolling through antiquarian bookshops, then you’re going to love this market. It’s open every day except Sundays.
Another market that often gets recommended is the Waterlooplein flea market, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment. Nowadays, all they sell there is souvenirs and mass-produced junk from China rather that antiques or interesting bric-a-brac. What a pity!
Amsterdam hidden gems: Off the beaten track
Amsterdam is great! But let’s be real, Amsterdam is also incredibly crowded and after a day or two, you might want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
The nice thing about Amsterdam is that it’s just as beautiful outside the tourist hot spots, and so we’ve put together a few hidden gems well away from the tourist magnets.
One of our absolute favorite places in Amsterdam is the site of the former NDSM shipyard. In 1978, the shipyard was decommissioned and neglected for quite some time.
But over the past few years, the NDSM Wharf has experienced a renewed boom and has developed into a cultural hotspot in Amsterdam. You’ll find a whole bunch of cool bars and restaurants here, not to mention lots of street art, galleries, and much more.
The area is changing rapidly at the moment. I’d been there just two years before and so much has changed since then. More and more previously empty halls are in use again and a whole new world is slowly starting to emerge.
Behind Amsterdam Centraal train station, you can catch a free ferry going to the shipyard, which takes 10 minutes. Just look for NDSM branded ferries and you’ll be on the right track.
When you get there, you can treat yourself to a little welcome drink at the Pllek. It’s basically just a few stacked shipping containers by the shore, a bit of sand laid out in front, and voilà – the perfect beach bar.
Café Noorderlicht just a few meters further down is also really worth a visit. The burgers there are outstanding!
Don’t forget your camera, because the NDSM Wharf offers the perfect setting for some epic photos: old factory halls, street art, and a few old trams are still standing around there too.
Another hidden gem is the area to the west of the Canal Belt. There were no tourists in the streets there except for us, but the canals and the houses here are at least as beautiful as in the center. A walk through this area is definitely worthwhile.
The cultural hot spot of Amsterdam-West is the Westergasfabriek. What used to be an old gasworks has become an exciting venue for several events, and of course you can get some delicious food here too.
You can easily combine a visit to the west with a visit to the NDSM Wharf. Instead of taking the ferry back to Amsterdam Centraal station, take the boat to Westerdoksdijk. It’ll drop you off in the perfect spot.
From the city center, it’s about a 30-minute walk or you can take the number 10 tram to Amsterdam-West.
And another hidden gem in the west: the Foodhallen. A former factory building now houses a great street food market, where we stuffed ourselves with food. Yummy!
OK, the Vondelpark isn’t exactly that much of a hidden gem, but nevertheless, not that many tourists come here, so the coast is clear for a relaxing day in the park. It’s mostly just the locals who flock to the park in the thousands on warm summer days to just kick back and enjoy themselves.
If you just want to lie in the grass for a bit and watch the day go by, then head straight to the Vondelpark.
Attending an Ajax Amsterdam home match
For me, attending a football match is an essential part of any city trip. And in Amsterdam, you have the opportunity to see what is undoubtedly the most popular Dutch club in the biggest stadium in the country: Ajax Amsterdam.
Tickets are available from the Ajax Amsterdam online ticket store. You can get to the Amsterdam Arena via the metro line M54 (yellow), and with regular trains from Amsterdam Centraal station. The station is called Bijlmer ArenA.
Amsterdam hidden: Day trips from Amsterdam
Now here comes another real insider tip for Amsterdam: Leave the city for a day!
Yes, you read right. Almost all visitors go to Amsterdam for a few days and then leave the city without seeing anything else in Holland. But there are so many other great cities that are easy to reach for a day trip from Amsterdam. So why not add a second city to your Amsterdam city trip?
We’ll show you our three top tips for a day trip from Amsterdam. You can reach all three destinations by train. The trains run very frequently, are cheap, and were always on time for us.
You can buy tickets directly from the ticket machine at the station. For the exact departure times, just check the Dutch Railways website.
Day trip from Amsterdam to Haarlem
Haarlem is just a stone’s throw from Amsterdam and a really pretty Dutch town. We spent a day in Haarlem, where we caught up with some blogger friends from Holland, rented a boat, and went on a tour of the canals.
It’s really nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for a few hours and we can really recommend the trip.
Travel time from Amsterdam Centraal: 15 minutes
Return ticket: 8.40 euros
Day trip from Amsterdam to Utrecht
Utrecht is often referred to as the better Amsterdam and indeed, Utrecht’s Old Town with its Oudegracht is highly reminiscent of Amsterdam. But everything moves at much more leisurely pace in Utrecht. The city is stunningly beautiful, but nowhere near as overcrowded as Amsterdam.
A day trip should be ample time to see all the best sights in downtown Utrecht. It’s worth it!
Travel time from Amsterdam Centraal: 25 minutes
Return ticket: 15 euros
Day trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the exact opposite of Amsterdam and Utrecht. At first glance, the city isn’t much of a beauty. But at second glance, the city with its interesting architecture actually has quite a few highlights up its sleeve.
On a day trip from Amsterdam, you can see the most famous buildings of the city, take a harbor tour, and visit one of the best observation decks we’ve ever seen.
Travel time from Amsterdam Centraal: 40 minutes
Return ticket: 35 euros
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Unfortunately, staying in Amsterdam doesn’t come cheap. Hotels are very expensive, especially in the city center. The rooms are generally very small and if you opt for a cheap hotel, you might not get your own bathroom.
We’ve written a detailed post on the best districts to stay in Amsterdam:
We stayed at two hotels in Amsterdam that we can gladly to recommend to you.
Hip hotel with a great roof terrace: The Volkshotel
The Volkshotel is our kind of hotel: The rooms are minimalistic, but very well-planned and stylish. The hotel also includes a coworking space and fast Internet is standard in Dutch hotels anyway.
The roof terrace gives you a great view of Amsterdam. You can enjoy the sunset with a drink here and then have a really delicious breakfast in the morning for 10 euros.
The Volkshotel is located in Amsterdam East. It’s about a 10-minute walk or one stop by metro to the Canal Belt. We would definitely stay at the Volkshotel again the next time we come to Amsterdam.
Pure luxury: The Conservatorium Hotel
For the two nights of our stay in Amsterdam, we were were invited to stay at the Conservatorium Hotel. Phew, what more can you say? The Conservatorium Hotel is a luxury hotel that would normally be way over our budget.
We had a huge room on two floors with a panoramic window, two bathrooms, and three TVs. The breakfast for 36.50 euros was really first-class with a huge selection and high-quality ingredients.
The hotel is located right by the Museumsplein. The building is actually really an old conservatory, hence the name. The huge corridors look very impressive and overall this hotel is a real experience, even if it comes with a hefty price tag attached.
Hostel for budget travelers: Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark
If you don’t want to spend quite so much on your stay in Amsterdam, we can recommend the Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark. The hostel is located right next to the Vondelpark and is just a few minutes’ walk from the Canal Belt.
The rooms are very clean and you can choose between a dorm bed or a private room with your own bathroom.
Exploring Amsterdam by bike or on foot
Amsterdam is a very compact city. You can easily explore the entire downtown area on foot. Thanks to the parallel canals in the Canal Belt, it’s easy enough to get your bearings even without the help of a map.
The very best way to explore Amsterdam is by bicycle. Just like everywhere else in Holland, cycling is the number one mode of transport in Amsterdam. There are cycle lanes everywhere, and unlike most other countries, you don’t have to be afraid of being hit by a car.
In fact, almost all the Dutch ride without a helmet. You can hire a bicycle pretty much anywhere in town and at many hotels.
Extra tip: By the way, you can also go on a guided bike tour of Amsterdam. Bicycle tour through Amsterdam.
Exploring Amsterdam with a hop-on/hop-off bus
Of course, Amsterdam also has the classic hop-on / hop-off buses. The buses stop at all the best sights and you can hop on and off whenever you like. So if you’re in a hurry and want to see as many sights as possible in a short time, the hop-on/hop-off buses are a great choice.
Exploring Amsterdam by metro and tram
Amsterdam also has an extensive public transport network with subways and trams. A single ticket costs 2.90 euros. You can buy it directly from the machines in the trams or subways.
If you plan to use public transport more often, a 24h ticket may be worth it for 7.50 euros.
When entering and exiting the tram, you always have to hold your ticket to the card reader. The same goes for the turnstiles at the subway stations.
Then there’s the iAmsterdam Card. With it, you can use public transport free of charge and get free access to many museums. That’s especially worthwhile if you really want to visit a lot of museums. You can buy the ticket locally or order it online and it’ll be sent to you by mail. There are 24-, 48-, 72-, or 96-Hour cards.
How to get to the city from Schipol Airport
From Amsterdam Schipol, the easiest way to get to the city center is by train. At peak times, there are up to 10 trains per hour. The trip takes about 15 minutes and costs 4.20 euros.
If you don’t want the hassle of having to figure out which is the right ticket at the airport, you can order an Amsterdam Travel Ticket online. Then you can use the Schiphol Airport Express, as well as almost all other public transport in Amsterdam.
The ticket is available for one day (16 euros), two days (21 euros), or three days (26 euros).
Practical travel tips for Amsterdam
Last but not least, we have a few very practical travel tips for you.
Travel tip #1: Keep away from the bike paths as a pedestrian. There are bike paths on almost every street in Amsterdam. They’re clearly marked and you should be careful when crossing a bike path. So always look left and right.
Travel tip #2: Cash is dying out in Holland. We only withdrew cash once in the two weeks we were there. You can even pay for very small amounts by card, and some restaurants or shops won’t even accept cash anymore. But of course, now and then you’re still going to need some cash, so make sure to take a credit card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
Travel tip #3: Prepare for rain. We were really lucky this time and had four days of sunshine. But the last two time I was in Amsterdam, it rained a lot. And even though it never rained during Jenny’s visits, I’d still advise you to pack the right clothes.
Travel tip #4: You don’t always need to take the plane. Depending on where you live, a train might be just as convenient. And if you get a good discount for booking in advance, a train ride might even cost less than an Easyjet flight.
Travel tip #5: Don’t plan too little time for Amsterdam. The city has a lot to offer and a weekend is much too short. 4 days are ideal, an extra day for a day trip to another city is even better.
Share your Amsterdam hidden gems with us
Have you ever been to Amsterdam and have a few travel tips you’d like to share? Then please let us know in the comments!
Also, if you have any questions about your trip to Amsterdam, feel free to comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
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