With our $450-each roundtrip tickets, we traveled from Toronto to Iceland (5-day stop over) and finally, to Amsterdam. From our nature-filled/scenic adventures in the beautiful, remote Iceland, it was a welcoming change to experience the busy, crazy fun lifestyle in Amsterdam. You will not run out of things to do in Amsterdam. Needless to say, we had the time of our lives! It is a charming city with lots of surprises especially for first-time visitors.
10 Things to Do in Amsterdam
1. Canal Cruise
Among other things, Amsterdam is known for its picturesque canals. But, did you know that Amsterdam is also called as the “Venice of North?” It has more than 100 canals and 1000 bridges! The best way to explore these is by riding the canal cruise. It will take you around the famous canals of Amsterdam while you relax on the boat and admire the views of the 17th century canal houses, churches, houseboats, and other famous landmarks.
There are several boat cruises available in Amsterdam. City Sightseeing offers a hop-on hop-off boat cruise which allows you to travel around Amsterdam from the waters. Think of it as a “free shuttle” to arrive at your next stop/attraction. You could also combine the 24-hr valid ticket boat tour with 1 attraction and/or hop-on hop-off bus for bigger discounts!
Here are the other canal cruise options:
Amsterdam City Canal Cruise – $17 Regular sightseeing canal cruise and not a hop-on hop-off
Amsterdam Evening Canal Cruise – $20 See the city lights at night and string lights hung on the bridges and canals
We did the canal cruise during fall season and the trees lit up the canals with their colorful leaves. It was so lovely!
2. I amsterdam Sign
This is the iconic sign for an “I was here in Amsterdam” kind of photo. Tourists flock over this huge sign to get their photos. It’s actually entertaining to watch people climb through the sign.
You could also explore nearby attractions like the Van Gogh Museum (world’s largest Van Gogh collection) and Rijkmuseum (art museum for European collection). In our case, we just took some photos at the I amsterdam sign and stayed longer at the marketstand close to the sign! 🙂 We ate some hotdogs and fresh stroopwafels. ♥
Tip: If you want to avoid the crowd, go there early.
3. Red Light District
Walk through the alleys with windows lit up by red lights and see one of Amsterdam’s infamous “tourist attractions.” This one is NOT for all ages. Behind the windows along the Red Light District, you will find women in provocative outfits trying to entice passersby. The busiest time is during evenings with many tourists wandering the streets. With the amount of people, it is quite safe to walk around the Red Light District. In no circumstance did we feel threatened or in danger but it is still better to travel in pairs/groups.
Prostitution is legal in Netherlands and it is actually considered as a profession. For those going to the Red Light District for the first time, keep in mind that taking photos of the prostitutes is prohibited. If you do, you might get chased by the women or have your camera trashed. Aside from the intriguing red-lit windows, it also has a Museum of Prostitution, cannabis coffeeshops, and many other shops that I will just leave to your imagination. 🙂
For those of you who might be embarrassed to look through the windows or stroll the alleys of the Red Light District, it’s okay, I was too (at first) and many others might have as well. The crowd will help you ease and there are MANY tourists, both men and women, who are as curious as you. If you’re still not comfortable or you want to join a tour, you can check Amsterdam Red Light District Private Tour with a Local.
4. Canal Houses
Find the leaning, skinny canal houses. In less than 10 strides, you would be able to pass a house. That’s how thin most of the houses are! They are ornately built with tall windows, decreasing in length as the level goes up. According to the canal cruise tour (yup, I listened!), the windows become smaller as it reaches the top level to give an illusion that the building is taller than it actually is.
Look up on their roofs and you will notice hooks hanging and the forward incline of the houses. These hooks are still used to pull up goods from outside and into the wide windows of the house! Another amusing thing about the old canal houses is that you can check the year these were built.
5. Amsterdam Centraal Station
Always filled with commuting locals and visitors, Amsterdam Centraal Station is one of the busiest railway stations in Netherlands. It is a major railway hub connected to many national and international cities like Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris. One-way international train tickets can go as low as €29 for Brussels, €35 for Paris, €39 for Berlin, and €59 for London. You can take advantage of these low prices by booking months ahead at NS International (operator of international train travel in Netherlands).
If you need to stay near the Amsterdam Centraal Station, you can check for nearby hotels here.
Tip: Purchase an e-ticket in advance to avoid a paper ticket surcharge of €1. €1 might not be much but if you will be staying outside of Amsterdam and would go in and out of the Amsterdam Centraal Station, the cost of this surcharge will add up!
6. Dutch Cheese Stores
If you are a cheese lover like me, you should visit the cheese stores in Amsterdam. They have an insane selection of flavors just for cheese and they have samples for ALL flavors! Talk about a dream come true.
It was sooo good, we had to buy packs of truffle cheese and smoked cheese to bring home!
7. Fresh Stroopwafels
A fresh stroppwafel is a must-try in Amsterdam. There are small markets around the city that sell freshly-made, warm stroopwafels. In case you’re wondering what a stroopwafel is, it is made of two thin waffles with a layer of gooey sweet syrup in the middle. It’s super delicious!!
Before we visited Amsterdam, we have already tried the packed stroopwafels. We like them too but when we got to try the freshly-made stroopwafels from Amsterdam, oh, it’s a different level of goodness! The thin waffles were crispy and at the same time chewy from the syrup! It smelled so good and every bite melts in the mouth. If there’s one snack I miss in Amsterdam, it’s the fresh stroopwafel.
8. Anne Frank House
Visit Anne Frank’s house and discover where she hid and wrote her world-famous diary during the German invasion in Netherlands. Online tickets get easily sold out. Only those with online tickets can visit the museum from 9 AM to 3:30 PM. Worst case, you can buy a ticket at the museum entrance from 3:30 PM to closing time.
Tip: Check the official website of Anne Frank House as early as 2 months in advance for online tickets.
9. Ride a bike like the locals
The locals really love riding their bikes! I haven’t seen a city that has as many cyclists as Amsterdam. I’m also used to seeing multi-level parkings for cars but not for bicycles. There are more people riding bikes than those driving cars which is understandable because the inner streets of Amsterdam are more bike-friendly. There are also lots of tourists exploring the city by bike.
It’s not advisable to drive a car in Amsterdam – the streets are narrow, some are one-way, and the amount of pedestrians and cyclists will just stress you. It’s better to walk or to bike.
Just be careful though if you’re touring the city on foot. Watch out for the cyclists because they go really fast! There are also paths for bicycles only (pedestrians are not allowed).
10. Be adventurous
Walk around the city and discover its streets and shops. You’d be surprised with what you will encounter. Besides, it’s nice to see its charming old streets with narrow brick roads. You might also want to try to join a free walking tour to get to know the city better.
During one of our walks, we reached a fairground at the Dam Square. There were a few rides but, of course, we were more excited when we saw the food trucks and food tents serving dutch pastries, cotton candy, and grilled sausages and burgers. 🙂
Along the streets of Amsterdam, you will also find several shops including souvenir stores selling baked cannabis goods – muffins, brownies, cookies, etc. As to whether or not they have an effect, most sources say they do not. Speaking of cannabis, don’t mistake coffeeshops as your regular coffee shop. Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are not the same as regular cafés or coffee shops that serve actual coffee. You’ll be greeted with a peculiar menu showing different kinds of cannabis that you can purchase and consume inside the coffeeshop.
If you are looking for the real café, there are many good cafés in Amsterdam. The one that we tried is the lovely place called Café del Mar. They serve excellent lattes and desserts.
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