The city of Amsterdam began as a fishing village in the 13th century and became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age. It was developed around a dam in the Amstel River. The name Amstelledamme appeared for the first time in 1275. Today, Amsterdam is considered one of the most well planned cities in Europe largely thanks to its 400-year-old waterways, which are criss-crossed through the city and outnumber those in Venice. There are many neighborhoods in Amsterdam like De Pijp, one of Amsterdam’s most hip and trendy areas, Jordaan, lined with indie boutiques, cozy pubs and hip eateries, Oost, currently undergoing something of a foodie renaissance, and Noord, on the far bank of the IJ.
Views not to miss:
Canals at dusk
There is something magical that happens in Amsterdam when the sun starts to set, the lights on all the bridges start to illuminate and the crowds begin to thin out. Grab a seat and watch the historic houses come to life and the reflection on the canal intensify. This is my favorite time of day in Amsterdam. Pick your favorite canal, grab a stroopwafel (a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel filling) and enjoy this peaceful view of the city.
Tulips in the spring
If you are in the Netherlands during April or mid-may you must visit the tulips fields. The Flower Bulb Region is where you should go if you want to see the world renowned Dutch flowers. This is the area where tulip farmers grow their flowers, yielding beautiful flowers every spring. You can explore the region by bicycle or stroll through the Keukenhof, the largest flower park in the world. Living 2 hours from Amsterdam has its perks – we will be back in April to get a glimpse at these vast tulips fields in Lisse and surrounding areas in the Netherlands!
The iconic “Iamsterdam” letters are located at the back of the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein. This is a great photo opportunity and you can even climb atop the letters for a better picture. See where the traveling letters are now.
Things to do:
Free walking tour of the city
Normally I would suggest staying away from free things after an incident at the free museum day at the Met – I didn’t go to see the back of the heads of every tourist in NYC. However, these free walking tours are in many major cities in Europe and I have found that the guides are very knowledgeable. Most of the times the guides live in the city and sometimes were born around the area, lending to their extensive knowledge and perspective on the city. We actually didn’t plan on doing a walking tour of Amsterdam, as we had both been previously; however, we were drawn in by accident. We were discouragingly sitting on some steps along the water by the Anne Frank House after realizing we didn’t get tickets ahead of time like everyone else, when we found ourselves surrounded by a group of people and a guide describing that the steps and platform we were sitting on where actually a monument. Again I remembered why I have loved these tours in the past and we actually joined the rest of the tour. At the end of the tour I felt like I had gained a perspective of the city that was hard to come by. These are totally free tours, but don’t forget to tip at the end as the guides work for entirely for tips. They will ask you to tip what you felt the tour was worth to you, so be prepared!
Anne Frank House Museum
So this is embarrassing, but still to this day I have not been inside the Anne Frank museum. I have seen the outside twice, but have yet to do the tour. That being said – the most important thing to know is tickets online go on sale 3 months in advance. If you have a specific date and time you would like to go to the museum plan 2-3 months in advance. If you’ve waited till the weekend of, like us, plan to wait in a 3-4 hour line outside the museum that wraps further around the city than Justin Bieber pre-sale tickets. From everyone I have talked to this is a must, just plan ahead.
The Heineken Experience
This is a cool and interactive museum that takes you through the history of how the Heineken’s built their company as well as the process of making their famous amber colored beer. This was the one thing we didn’t have to buy tickets in advance for, so if you have a few hours to spare this is a great activity. We purchased the Heineken Experience + canal boat tour tickets which gets you access to the museum as well as a one-way ride through the canals back to the center of the city. The museum is on the outskirts of the city, so we parked near the museum where the daily rates were cheaper and used the canal ride to get us to the city center of Amsterdam where we spent the remainder of the day. At the end of the museum tour, you will have a chance to enjoy two Heineken beers as part of your admission ticket in your choice of two bars. My favorite was the rooftop bar with views of Amsterdam and a great burger truck!
Canal Boat Tour
Everyone has always told me that a canal boat ride was a must in Amsterdam to get a different perspective of the city. Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have done one unless it there was a combination Heineken Experience + canal boat tour ticket available at the Heineken Museum. This is a fun way to cruise around the canals while having a glass of wine. You can find these boats all over Amsterdam, especially at the tourist information booth right outside the main train station. Don’t pay more than 10 – 15 EUR for on adult or your are over paying. Try this company, Rederij P. Kooij for a genuine Amsterdam family business of touring the canals dating back to 1922.
The Rijksmuseum is one of the most famous museums in the world. The collection features masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age including paintings by Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, and of course Rembrandt. As an added bonus, usually the IAMSTERDAM letters can be found out front of the Rijksmuseum. Allot yourself a good 3-4 hours to get through the museum, including some time to take pictures with the famous letters.
Take to the canals yourself
It is a surprise to most, but you can actually rent a tin can boat and drive yourself and a group of friends (furry friends included!) around the canals of Amsterdam. We brought our own snacks and drinks, turned up the iPhone speakers and truly enjoyed the freedom of navigating the canals ourselves. There are a few companies out there, but we went with Boaty Rent a Boat and had a blast! Bring a max of 6 people per boat, and for 89 EUR you have access to the boat for three hours of cruising.
Places to eat:
Nam Kee, Zeedijk 111, Amsterdam- Asian
If you like Asian food at all try this hole in the wall in the Chinese district of Amsterdam (near the Buddhist Temple). There is an extensive, no-frills menu with anything you can think of. My personal favorite were these oysters in a delicious sauce. We are already talking about our next trip to Amsterdam to get our Asian food fix.
Stork, Gedempt Hamerkanaal 201, 1021 KP Amsterdam – Seafood
Situated along the Ij River this restaurant offers a wide menu of seafood of the season. They will be closed on random local holidays so make sure to call ahead or check their website.
De Kas, Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3, 1097 DE Amsterdam – Farm to table
If you are celebrating a special occasion, or just ready to splurge on some quality food, check out this restaurant located in greenhouses dating back to 1926 which daily creates a single menu based on the harvest of the nursery. You simply pick the number of courses you want and you will be indulged with the fresh local vegetables that surround you as you dine, supplemented with fish and meat from local suppliers.