Amsterdam’s paradoxical beauty is a push and pull of its overbearing hedonistic side and its quaint features such as its expressionistic brick buildings, world-class art galleries, crowded bike lanes, decadent pastries, iconic windmill and thriving brew culture. You will learn to love it for both the good and bad.
Anyone who has been influenced otherwise – don’t be too quick to judge.
Experience being in Amsterdam without having to breeze through things.
Here’s my most favourite travel to-do list to share:
AM: Get your bearings and join free walking tours
Walking tours normally last for 2-3 hours and all you have to do is reserve your spot on walking tour websites and show up at the designated meeting place.
It’s a great way to start a trip and familiarise yourself with Amsterdam’s history as well as meet other tourists. It is free but don’t forget to tip the guide!
Places normally covered during walking tours:
- The Old Church
- The Red Light District
- The Jewish Quarter
- Royal Palace
- The Jordaan District
- The Anne Frank House
- The Begijnhof Convent
- Masterpieces of Dutch Art
- The Widest Bridge and the Narrowest House
Check out these guys for more info: SANDEMANs New Europe
Tip 1: ‘Think’ of getting an Iamsterdam Card
Depending on how long you will stay in Amsterdam and if you’re not planning to roam by bike, I suggest getting the Iamsterdam card, which is basically a pass for all forms of transportation, canal tours and includes entrance fees to key museums in the city. Just be sure to check if you’re actually saving rather than spending more when you rent a bike and hand-pick museums you will visit.
Tip 2: Students (12-25 y.o.) get discounts on museum fees and other entrance fees.
Iamsterdam city card
24 hours = €49
48 hours = €59
72 hours = €69
Tip 3: For museum geeks like moi, consider getting a museumkaart (roughly €60-65). It’s an annual pass normally directed for the residents but after visiting 4-6 museums, you will definitely get your money’s worth.
PM: Go for a craft Dutch beer tasting
After that long stroll in the city, loosen up a bit and add a beer sampling afternoon to your itinerary. Skip the Heineken museum if you don’t want to be disappointed. Amsterdam has a creative young local brewery culture and it is a crime not to sample even just a few of it. You can either join a guided brewery tour or personalise a pub crawl itinerary. Check out this list or this list. I personally prefer the Delirium Cafe and the Butcher’s Tears 🙂
There are plenty of free guided brewery tours offered in the city. So register your names online for a sure spot.
PM: Drop by sex shops and seedy smoky cafés
Operative word: drop, meaning, do it quick. Give in to the cheap thrill and get it over with. Check out the adult toys you can get your hands on and don’t be shy to ask what it’s for. Chances are, you won’t be the only one in the shop and the storekeeper won’t make you feel weird about it. 🙂
Tip 4: When entering the infamous Red Light District, try and practice a little self-restraint by keeping your smart phones/ cameras in the bag. I made a mistake of checking the time on my phone once and next thing I know the sun was eclipsed by a huge bald-headed dude telling me to tuck away my phone. Whew.
After you check out the strangers by the windows and bought souvenir/s for yourself, head to a ‘café’ and have that awkward type of conversation with the barkeep when you buy a space cake or a joint. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Some of the stuff are pretty strong and if you’re a first-timer, it’s best to read up about smoking ganja before trying it.
And now that it’s out of your system, time to move on to a more pressing task on the Amsterdam list.
PM: Have a satisfying Dutch grub
But be sure to try some of Amsterdam’s very own:
√ Stroopwafels – pastry/ cookie with two thin layers of waffles joined by a special sticky syrup in between
√ Poffertjes – a small fluffy buttery pancake dusted with confectioner sugar
√ Pannenkoeken – it is a pancake larger than the American pancake but thinner and a bit thicker than the French’s crepe. It can be served sweet or savoury. A must-have for breakfast.
√ Broodje haring – herring (fish) sandwich topped with pickles, onion and mustard
√ Kroket – deep fried roll with meat ragout inside
√ Bitterballen – deep fried savoury meatballs best snacked with beer
√ Kaas – gouda and edam are the most popular cheese in Netherlands
AM: Ogle at the famous paintings in Amsterdam museums
I love staring at paintings. It can unearth emotions you didn’t even know exist (like when I saw Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid and cried). I simply can’t leave a city without visiting galleries and museums but if you only have three days to spare then I suggest spending only half a day in Rijksmuseum (pronounced: rayks museum).
Paintings to look out for in the Rijks:
√ Anthonius Mor – Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham, c 1560-65
√ Jan Asselijn – The Threatened Swan c 1610-1652
√ Rembrandt – Early self Portrait, 1629
√ Rembrandt – The Night Watch, 1642
√ Franz Hals – Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen, c 1622
√ Vermeer – The Milkmaid, c1660
√ Pieter de Hooch – Interior with Women beside a linen cupboard, 1663
√ Jan Steen – The Merry Family, 1668
√ Jan Willem Pieneman – The Battle of Waterloo, 1824
√ Van Gogh – Self Portrait, 1887
See the Rijksmuseum in two hours, click here.
Tip 5: Pass by the nearby galleries along Spiegelstraat Nieuwe for a more intimate art collection.
PM: Take a train to the iconic windmills of Netherlands
Forget the cheese, the wooden shoes! One of Netherlands important icon is the windmill. Windmills played a very important role in the history of Netherlands. Most of them are declared a UNESCO Heritage and that’s why it’s included in this itinerary.
If you have three days to spare, then you definitely have time to visit the Zaanse Schans. It’s a 15-min train ride from the centre of Amsterdam. It’s an open-air museum that boasts eight well-preserved windmills that dates back to 18th and 19th century. Definitely worth a pop-by.
AM-PM: Bike around the City
Bike rentals are everywhere. In fact, there are more bike in Amsterdam than people who actually live in the city! Spend your last day in Amsterdam by reacquainting yourself with the streets you’ve already seen and discovering alleys you haven’t been to.
Tip 6: Bike going to the historic streets of Begijnhof that dates back to the late 1300’s surrounded by narrow Dutch houses. It’s a semi-monastic community of women so silence must be observed while passing through this street. Head off to Vondelpark to rest for a bit, read, smoke, have a coffee or simply listen to free concerts.
AM: Buy your souvenirs at a Dutch market
Souvenir Suggestions: tulip seeds, cheese, stroopwafels, bottled herring, wooden shoes
PM: Catch a breath and chill like a local at a bruin café
Never leave Amsterdam without leaving your butt print on a lovely bruin café. Designed in dark wood panels, wooden barrels, nicotine-stained walls, a bruin cafe is a traditional Dutch pub that can be dated back to the 1600’s.
Some bruin cafés you can visit are De Oranjerie, Café ‘t Gasthuys, De Wetering, Cafe Chris, Café Int Aepjen.
Travel is best experienced by living in the moment so do your best to soak it all in when getting to know this wonderful city!
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