There’s something about Amsterdam. Maybe it’s the charming architecture or the horseshoe-shaped canals or the laid-back lifestyle. The streets are lively and the people are kind, the buildings are historic and the dogs are off-leash. Whether it’s art, history, or hell, even cheese that brings you to Amsterdam, you’re in for a treat.
For your next visit, fill your itinerary with some of these must-stops.
Language: Dutch, though English is spoken city-wide
Electric: Type C two-prong plug
Currency: Euro (€). Credit cards are commonly accepted, though it’s a good idea to keep cash on hand for the unexpected cash-only situation, so visit an ATM soon after arriving.
Tipping: Like in most of Europe, tipping isn’t generally expected. However, it’s polite to leave extra change or round up. Leave your 20%-or-else-I’m-a-terrible-person American guilt behind.
Weather: Keep an eye on the weather report, as Mother Nature can be finicky in Amsterdam. May and June offer the best chance for a comfortable visit, though there’s always a chance for rain and temperatures can turn cool quickly, so make room for a scarf in your suitcase. If you’re jonesing to see the tulips in full bloom – worth it, so worth it – plan to visit between mid-April and mid-May.
Getting around: Save your cab money. From Schiphol Airport, the fastest and cheapest way to get into the city center is by train. It’ll take you just 20 minutes and cost you a few euros. Once in the city, Amsterdam is easily accessible by two feet and two wheels. Just be sure to look both ways, as bikes rule the roads in Amsterdam.
Where to rest your head in style: You’ll likely want to stay city-center for your visit. Anywhere along the canals will keep you in the action, from Airbnbs to the ultra-hip hotels sprinkling the city, particularly in the Jordaan district.
The Hoxton Hotel, made up of five 17th-century canal houses that once housed the Mayor of Amsterdam, is a design-lover’s paradise. The i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed at The Hoxton, from aesthetic elements to the they’ve-thought-of-everything staff. Good luck tearing yourself away from Lotti’s, the bar and restaurant downstairs, though. May we suggest the tartare?
A stay at The Pulitzer will raise your cool factor a few degrees. An intricate maze of 25 connecting Golden Age canal houses, it boasts all kinds of accommodations, from quaint and cozy rooms to lavishly themed suites with their own entrances to the canals. Count us in for the Book Collector’s Suite for our next visit.
To live like a local, narrow staircases and all, scour Airbnb and Homeaway. We’re head over Dutch heels for this charming loft in the historic Nine Streets, this open-air apartment with a canal view and this luxurious houseboat. (Hey, when in Amsterdam, right?)
As for up-and-coming neighborhoods, check out spots in De Pijp, Westerpark area, and Amsterdam Noord. Just be aware that if you head north you’ll have to take the ferry from Centraal Station, as it’s across the IJ river. No ticket is needed though, so consider it a free boat ride.
Museums, museums, museums: Between art, history, and design, Amsterdam has it all in terms of museums. Van Goghs, Rembrandts, and Picassos, oh my!
A few of the most popular museums neighbor each other on Museumplein: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. Then there’s Hermitage Amsterdam, Foam and EYE Filmmuseum too, an extraordinary modern building where you can soak in a film screening and then discuss the plot points over coffee at the café overlooking the waterfront. (Bonus: the permanent exhibition at EYE is free.)
Then, of course, there’s the Anne Frank House. Your 8th-grade history teacher would be terribly disappointed if you skipped this one. From 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the museum is only open to visitors with an online ticket with a specific timeslot, so you’ll want to reserve your ticket online as soon as possible, up to two months in advance.
Pro tip: If you’re planning on visiting multiple museums, purchase a Museumkaart, which gives you access to 42 museums for just €59.90, the price of three tickets. Wait times can get long, and no one wants to spend their vacation in line, so keep an eye on Live Lines, which tells you the real-time wait lengths for the museums.
Aye, aye, captain! Rent a boat: You could pay for a guided boat tour and half-listen to historical facts, if that’s your style. Or you could be the captain of your own boat and cruise the canals yourself. Sloepdelen offers sleek boats for rent that you can reserve online. Grab your travel buddies as well as new friends you make on your trip, as you can fit up to 12 people on the boats.
A night out on the town: Immerse yourself in all-things-Amsterdam with a local brew, typical Dutch bites and lively conversation with the locals hanging near the waterfront. Here’s your itinerary, in order: Waterkant, Roest, Pllek, Hannekes Boom. You can thank us later.
Pack a picnic: Westerpark, the second largest park in town, a less-crowded alternative to the popular (and also a must-visit) Vondelpark, is the perfect place to picnic and people-watch. You could also hit up Pacific Parc – either for a terrace meal during the day or a dance party at night – or Mossel & Gin for a plate of oysters paired with their specialty: gin. (How does gin infused with poached pear and Thai pepper sound? Yeah, we thought so.) Festivals swing through Westerpark every weekend come summertime, so you’re likely to stumble upon some sort of celebration.
Indulge in a cocktail or two (or three – who are we to say how many?): The cocktail scene is real in Amsterdam. Belly up to the bars at The Hoxton (say hi to Juan for me!) and The Pulitzer – the bartenders at each are friendly, insightful and free of any air of pretension.
If you’re looking for a lively scene, head to Feijoa Bar. After all, their tagline is “You never know how the night will end.” A relaxed vibe more your pace? Head to HPS (Hiding in Plain Sight). And don’t miss Door 74, the first speakeasy-style cocktail bar in The Netherlands. Just be sure to make reservations ahead of time, give yourself a few extra minutes to find the hidden door and sip something strong for us, will ya?
Shop ‘til you you-know-what: For all things shopping, simply walk straight down Haarlemmerstraat, weaving in and out of the independent boutiques and quaint restaurants sprinkling this street. The Gift Lab is your go-to for a little bit of everything: handmade children’s toys, ooh la la lingerie and cheeky dresses from local designers. Then browse around Suhka Amsterdam, a stunning, sun-soaked space full of sustainable and ethically made fashion and home goods. And be sure to pop into Restored, just down the street from Suhka. Restored is oh-so-Dutch in its effort to encourage you to live slowly and live well. One of everything, please!
Throughout Amsterdam, you’ll find short-term fashion pop-ups stores. Walk in, every time. It’s worth it.
English is everywhere in Amsterdam – phew! – but it’s always a good idea to learn a few key phrases in the local language, no matter where in the world you are. (Even if only to entertain the cute server with your American accent.)
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Be a pal and subscribe to her newsletter Night Vision.
BY Megan McCarty - July 5, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.