Okay y’all, this isn’t just your average (hopefully above-average?) photo diary. It’s a photo diary meets travel guide, the first of its kind published on the blog! Beware: this one is a little (a lot) lengthy, but it’s for a good cause!
Amsterdam swept me away the minute I walked out of Centraal Station. Each and every part of the city had the same quaint character I imagined it would have. Canals, slanting houses, bicycles, stroopwafel, oh my! I’m not going to lie here: very quickly into my stay, I started researching and imagining moving to Amsterdam because I was so in love. While exploring the city, I chose not to take too many pictures; I wanted to enjoy this beautiful city in the moment (worth it!).
Before we dive in to my top recommendations for your trip to Amsterdam, there is one major tip that I would almost require of you: get an iAmsterdam City card. Similar to the Salzburg Card we used before, we had free public transportation, free admission to major attractions, a free canal cruise, and plenty of discounts for food, bike rentals, and other museums. Most of Amsterdam’s major sights are accessible on this card, and it’s super easy to use. Like me, you can complete an entire ideal weekend in Amsterdam using this card alone!
With your city card in hand, you are ready for your trip to Amsterdam! Here are my top recommendations on what to eat, see, and everything in between.
Hotel Van Gogh / A hostel-style ‘hotel’ right across the street (literally!) from the Van Gogh Museum and Museumplein. I mainly chose this hotel for location; if you are an art history nerd like me, it’s the perfect place. A few museums reside within and around the park, three of them being the Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, and Stedelijk. It’s also a short walk from Vondelpark and the best burgers in town (read on to find out where!). The rooms felt more luxurious than a hostel, but still had the classic dormitory bunk-beds.
Airbnb / I did spot a lot of great Airbnbs while scouting for a place to stay. I always recommend Airbnbs for larger groups or a low (not too low) budget. Amsterdam is little more on the expensive side for accomodations, but if you have a group of three or more, splitting the cost shouldn’t be too bad. (If you’d like, use this link for $40 off your first trip!)
See + Do
Go on a canal cruise / Within your iAmsterdam card, you are allowed a free canal cruise through the city. We chose, more like stumbled upon, Lovers Cruises for our tour. We rode our little red boat along the canals while an audio guide informed us about the history of the city as we passed certain sights. Because we were visiting in the winter, we were able to catch some of the light festival, art installations set up along the canals and around the city.
Visit a museum / Amsterdam is filled to the brim with museums for every type of interest. With the city card, you can get into almost every big museum in Amsterdam for free! I visited the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk museum (filled with modern art), the Rembrandthuis (where Rembrandt lived and painted!), the Science Center NEMO (a science museum for all ages, unleash your inner kid here), and the Rijksmuseum (classical and modern works, entrance at a discounted price). I also had interests in FOAM (a photography museum) and the Artis Royal Zoo.
Walk through Hortus Botanicus / One of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, admission is also included in the iAmsterdam card. There are plenty of different ‘exhibits’; one of them involved playing with butterflies. It was more of a quick hit than an all day affair, but worth it considering it was free!
See the windmills / Even though our trip was only three (full) days, we still had plenty of time to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans. It’s a lovely little neighborhood, and has a great area full of shops for souvenirs. I’d recommend visiting the chocolate shop! I bought beautiful bars with raspberry and red currant, packaged bars (similar to ones in a grocery store) and bottles of chocolate chips. I’m a chocoholic, what can I say! There was also an option for having authentic hot chocolate by buying the warm milk and chocolate and mixing it yourself. (Too bad I’m dairy free!).
Pay respects at the Anne Frank Huis / Reading Anne Frank’s Diary in middle school came full circle when Katie (bless her soul!) bought us advance tickets for the Anne Frank house. If you don’t buy in advance, chances are you’ll wait in a long line to get in. By far one of the most surreal experiences of the trip, if you do anything in Amsterdam, let it be this.
Take a picture with the iAmsterdam sign / The photo-op of the city, this sign lives right in front of the entrance to the Rijksmuseum. Our hotel was right across the way; so on our last day, I woke up extra early to beat the tourist crowd and get the sign all to myself.
Eat + Drink
Lombardo’s / DEAR GOODNESS. Pardon the all caps, but this place is known for having the best burgers in all of Amsterdam. I didn’t see the burger section of the menu, but the sandwich I ordered was/is/will always be amazing. I washed it all down with a mint limeade, so refreshing. We ate here on our last night, and I was extremely disappointed to find it was within a 10 minute walk from our hotel; I could’ve eaten there every night! A must-eat in my book.
Pluk / I mostly wanted to visit because I follow them on Instagram, but was delighted to learn they serve food upstairs! The first floor is filled with adorable home decor and kitchenware. At the bar, you can order from a number of sandwiches, smoothies, and pastries.
Stach / Right next door to Lombardo’s, I loaded up with cleverly packaged chocolate bars to take home for my friends! They also sold large macarons and meringues for on-the-go sweetness. Like Pluk, I believe there is an upstairs seating/restaurant area. Back to the chocolate, I took home flavor infused bars, like salty peanut butter, stroopwafel, and cookie butter. I swear, Amsterdam chocolate is different than the average chocolate. The bars weren’t filled with peanut butter or cookie bits, but actually tasted like the flavors they advertised. I can’t describe it and do it justice unless you have some for yourself, so go grab a bar!
Stroopwafel / This is not necessarily a place, but more of a food to try! Amsterdam’s signature cookie, you can find it pretty much anywhere. I bought a bag of them at a local grocery store and a gift tin of them at the Van Gogh museum. I’m still trying to find some here in the States, but it’s a great snack while roaming around the city.
Ironically, these are things I did miss on my trip, but are famous (some infamous!) spots and activities in Amsterdam. I gladly (yet reluctantly!) passed these up for my next trip, as some of these may be more enjoyable during the spring and summer months.
Red Light District / Home to the infamous red-curtained brothels, visit Amsterdam’s scandalous district. Beware of pick-pockets! I read a tip that mentioned starting at the Old Church and wandering from there!
Bloemenmarkt Flower Market / The world’s only floating flower market, stop and smell the roses (literally!). Since we visited in the winter, we probably wouldn’t have had much luck here, so I’m saving this for next time.
Vondelpark / I’m actually sad that I didn’t get to walk around Amsterdam’s most popular park. I do remember seeing it while on the bus and the lush greenery had started to wilt away. I can imagine renting a bike and riding around the park on a warm, sunny day.
Rent a bike / We didn’t rent bikes, although we had discount options with our city card. Feel like a local while riding around the city streets. My only tip: be careful. Bicyclists are almost as dense as cars, with not much regard for pedestrians.
I’m still so in love with Amsterdam (almost as much as Paris! *gasp*). This city is truly underrated; I’d recommend this city regardless of what your interests are. There’s something for everyone!