Amsterdam Travel Guide – Things to Do in Amsterdam

Holland — By on February 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

By Sarah Brown
Lost Girls CorrespondentAmsterdam Canals

Thinking about taking a trip to the land of windmills and wooden shoes? Fancy seeing a Van Gogh, reliving a bit of World War II history, and experiencing the best there is in Dutch cuisine? With so much to see and do, it’s easy to be overwhelmed as a first-time traveler to Amsterdam. But with a few of the best little-known travel tips for this Venice of the North, you can get the most out of your vacation.

Sightseeing

Amsterdam is a city steeped in culture and history. From World War II buildings to post-Impressionist art, there’s a ton to take in. If you’re only in the city for a few days, you will want to hit the “big three” of the Amsterdam tourist attractions: the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. They’re incredible sights, and should not be missed by anyone. A little tip: When visiting the Anne Frank House, go early! The line can get very long if you wait until later in the day.

Another well-known tourist attraction is the Canal Cruise. Several companies give these tours of the city by boat, and they generally run about 15 euros per ticket. While many travelers feel this is a tourist trap and may skip this experience, most Amsterdammers would tell you that doing so is a mistake. Even the city-dwellers themselves say that this is the best way to see the city and understand the importance of the canals during the Golden Age.

Other sights you might want to check out include the Heineken Museum, the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, and Electric Lady Land—the world’s first museum of fluorescence. But beware, as with any European city, sightseeing in Amsterdam can get quite expensive. Those 15-euro entrance fees to most museums and tourist attractions can add up. If you’re looking to stay on a budget while visiting, choose the top three or four items on your to-do list and stick to those!

Food

Unbeknownst to many travelers, there are indeed some culinary delicacies that should not be missed in Amsterdam. From the stroop waffle to the fries, you can indulge yourself in any number of ways.

First and foremost: the Dutch pancake. All over the city you’ll find little pancake houses that serve up both sweet and savory versions of their famous pancakes. A little bigger and thinner than American pancakes, the Dutch ones will melt in your mouth, especially when coupled with some of the amazing toppings they have available. A little tip: These pancakes are better served with sweet, rather than savory, toppings. Try them with ice cream, whipped cream, or chocolate, and you won’t be disappointed!

Amsterdam is also home to a few different versions of the waffle. Their typical waffle, which looks almost like a miniature version of the Belgian waffle, is made with thick chunks of sugar baked right in so that when you take a bite, you don’t miss any of the sweetness. Try them topped with caramel, chocolate, or powdered sugar. The Dutch also make something called the stroop waffle which you can find at almost any coffee shop or grocery store. The wafer-thin, crunchy waffles are about the size of your palm, filled with caramel in the center—and are not to be missed! By far one of the best foods I ate in Amsterdam…

Amsterdam FriesThe city is also know for its chippers, or French fry shops, that dot the corner of almost every street. The fries are served in a paper cone, and can come with some pretty interesting sauces. Generally served with mayonnaise, the fries can also come topped with curry sauce, peanut sauce, spicy sauce, tartar sauce, etc. Sometimes the heavy sauces can be a little overwhelming, but they are definitely worth a try.

Finally, a little-known secret about Amsterdam is the amazing Indonesian food you can find there. Not many tourists know about the Dutch foray into Southeast-Asian cuisine, but if you like that kind of food, be sure to add “Indonesian” to your culinary to-do list. A little place called Coffee and Jazz, on the Prinsengracht, near the Prinsenhof Hotel, has some of the best Indonesian food you will find in the city. It’s an absolute hole-in-the-wall, owned by a very eclectic Dutch man. If you want to eat here, call ahead—there’s not much space. And once you arrive, be prepared to not be able to read the menu—it’s all in Dutch. But don’t worry, you can tell the owner what type of things you like, and he’ll pick something out for you!

Transportation

For the most part, Amsterdam is a walking city. In central city and around the Red Light District, you can get anywhere on foot. However, when you are sightseeing and visiting the museums, you may want to use the tram system. Note: The tram system is incredibly confusing. Even for seasoned travelers, it can be hard to navigate. There are random tram stops, with very hard to read maps, and seemingly nowhere to buy tickets. When I was attempting to ride the trams, I got so confused that I had to ask the concierge of a nearby hotel how to the use them. She said that you buy your ticket on the tram, from a little man who sits in the ticket booth. In my experience, this only proved to be true for some of the trams—most didn’t even have a ticket booth. So don’t worry; if you get confused, you won’t be the first. And you may just get a free tram ride because of it!

Even more than hopping the tram, driving, or walking, people in Amsterdam ride bikes as their main source of transportation. In the entire city, there are more than 550,000 bikes. Next to the central train station, there’s even a “bike hotel” that holds more than 2,000 bikes, where people can store theirs while at work. Much like car traffic in New York, Washington, DC, or LA, the bike traffic in Amsterdam is quite unbelievable, even with special bike lanes in the roads. During rush hour in the morning, you would be hard pressed to find an open spot in the city to store your bike.

Coffeeshops

For many travelers, the main pull to Amsterdam is the ability to legally smoke marijuana in one of the city’s hundreds of coffeeshops (not to be confused with your typical coffee shop). The way things work at these coffeeshops is somewhat of an art. Don’t walk in to the main bar and expect to order your joints from there. Everything weed-related is sold in the basement or back area of the shop. They have menus with all of the different types of hash and marijuana they sell, including packs of pre-rolled joints, if you don’t feel like rolling your own. None of these coffeeshops sell alcohol; it is a citywide policy. So don’t expect to go have a beer and a smoke all in one. True to their name however, they do sell coffee, tea, and fresh squeezed juices.

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    4 Comments

  • Kirsty says:

    One thing: Amsterdam is NOT in Denmark =) (with regards to sampling the best in Danish cuisine in the introduction)

  • Lost Girls says:

    Omg! You are right! We have changed “Danish” to “Dutch.” Thanks for the catch 🙂