By Briana Seftel
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular cities, and for good reason. With its romantic canals, narrow 17th-century houses and vibrant tulips blooming, the Dutch capital is unlike any other city in the world. Discover this center of art, culture and history with this helpful guide.
What to Know
With 165 canals and 1,000 bridges, Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North.” Weaving through the city, the canals were constructed in the 1600s which is known as the city’s Golden Age. During this time, wealthy Dutch merchants made Amsterdam one of the richest cities in the world. Today, the city is a multicultural, tolerant metropolis with friendly locals who, by the way, speak perfect English!
While you’re in Amsterdam, it won’t be hard to find gezellig, a Dutch quality that translates roughly to "cosy." From lived in pubs to raucous street parties, gezellig is as Dutch as windmills, clogs and stroopwafel.
When to Go
Like the rest of Europe, Amsterdam gets the most visitors during the months of June, July and August. If you’re willing to brave the crowds, you’ll find this time to be warm and full of festivities. Tulip season (mid-March to early May) is another popular time to visit. If you dream of having the canals all to yourself, travel during fall or winter.
Amsterdam’s weather is notoriously unpredictable. With its proximity to the North Sea, the city can be sunny one minute, then stormy the next. Pack an umbrella or raincoat and pop into one of Amsterdam’s many museums if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
How to Get Around
With nearly 500 miles of cycle paths and bike lanes, biking in Amsterdam is by far the most popular way to get around. Amsterdam’s city center is very compact and you can get from one end to another in about 30 minutes. However, exercise extreme caution when crossing, look both ways and do not walk in the bike lanes. The city also has an efficient tram system should you choose not to hop on two wheels.
Where to Eat
Amsterdam may not be known for gourmet cuisine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. From cozy bruin cafes (brown cafes) serving bitterballen and beer to outdoor markets, dining can be a delightful experience if you know where to go. Below are some of our favorite places to eat in Amsterdam.
- Foodhallen Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam
- Merkelbach Middenweg 72, 1097 BS Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 665 0880
- Brouwerij 't IJ Funenkade 7, 1018 AL Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 261 9800
- Gebroeders Niemeijer Nieuwendijk 35, 1012 MA Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 707 6752
- Café de Wetering Weteringstraat 37, 1017 SM Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 622 9676
- Maydanoz 9HS, Ceintuurbaan, 1072 ER Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 676 1195
- Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs Grimburgwal 2, 1012 GA Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 626 5603
- Tujuh Maret Utrechtsestraat 73, 1017 VJ Amsterdam Phone: +31 20 427 9865
What to See
The highlight of Amsterdam’s Museumplein (Museum Square), the Rijksmuseum is one of Europe’s most important museums focusing on Dutch masters from the Golden Age. Opened in 1885 and reopened in 2013 after a 10-year renovation, the museum holds such masterpieces like Rembrandt's The Night Watch and Vermeer’s Milkmaid.
Van Gogh Museum
Lovers of Van Gogh and Impressionism make a beeline to this museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s works. Step inside the super modern structure and gaze upon iconic works like Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House (The Street) and The Bedroom.
The city’s central meeting place, Dam Square bristles with energy day and night. The square is dominated by the Royal Palace which can be visited when the royal family is out of town. Other notable buildings surrounding Dam Square include Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and Beurs van Berlage, an old stock exchange turned concert hall and exhibition space.
Amsterdam’s largest city park, Vondelpark was established in the 19th century and named after the Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel. Beloved by locals and tourists, the park is a favorite place to picnic, relax, exercise and people watch. Visitors can catch free concerts at the open-air theater or at the park's bandstand in the summer.
Anne Frank House
Visit the house at Prinsengracht 263 where Anne Frank hid during WWII and wrote her famous diary. Opened in 1960 by her father Otto Frank, the small museum tells Anne’s heart wrenching story through quotes, photos, videos and original items.
Travel tip: Book a ticket online well in advance. Timed slots are released two months ahead and get booked up quickly.
Tips and Tricks
Koningsdag (King's Day) is a national holiday marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander. The entire city turns into one big party with a citywide street market, live music and all-night partying.
Consider purchasing an Amsterdam Card, which grants free entry to over 60 museums and attractions, plus free public transportation for the duration of your stay.
If you plan on staying in the city center, keep in mind that most hotels are older and do not have elevators.
In Amsterdam, coffee shops and cafes are not same thing. Coffee shops sell marijuana, which is legal to a certain extent. If you’re looking for a cup of coffee, go to a cafe.
The Netherlands' second largest city and Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam is quickly becoming a destination in its own right. An artsy hub, the city is awash in eye-catching architecture like the Cube Houses and colorful street art murals. Other highlights include Markthal, a covered market hall, and Maritime Museum Rotterdam.
Located just north of Amsterdam, the Zaanse Schans might just be the Netherlands’ most picturesque place. A industrial hub in the 18th and 19th centuries, the village offers a glimpse into the past with its perfectly preserved houses, windmills, warehouses and workshops.
If you’re visiting in the spring, a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse is a must. Located just outside of Amsterdam, Keukenhof is the world's largest flower garden known as the "Garden of Europe." Open from late March to late May, the park has seven million flower bulbs bloom over 80 acres. Brilliant tulip fields, along with windmills, make Keukenhof an iconic Dutch experience.
Home to the largest university in the country, Utrecht is a vibrant collegiate city with beautiful architecture and canals to rival Amsterdam. You might want to stay for more than a day to experience the city’s charms, from the fairy tale De Haar Castle to Centraal Museum.