Amsterdam. The city with more bikes than people, tree-lined canals, bridges galore, beautiful gabled houses and centuries old cafés (a traditional pub to you and I). It’s no surprise that it’s one of Europe’s most popular getaways. This was my third trip to the relaxed, easy-going capital of the Netherlands with three girlfriends who had never been.
Granted my previous visits were in my youth, so took a slightly different tangent. Brimming with incredible museums, cool neighbourhoods, glorious parks, and great bars and eateries there really is something for everyone in this atmospheric city. Here are 9 things you must do when in Amsterdam.
1 Bike it
The Dutch love their cycles and you see more of those in Amsterdam than you do cars. It’s one of the most cycle friendly cities in the world. The dedicated cycle lanes and flat landscape make it a really fun and easy way to see the city. We decided to head a little further afield and booked a four-hour private countryside tour with We Bike Amsterdam.
Once you’re paired with the right wheels, you cycle to a dock behind Centraal Station and board the free Buiksloterweg ferry. Five minutes later you’re in Amsterdam-Noord. The landscape transforms to picturesque villages, cows, horses and windmills.
The tour takes you through around 18.5 miles of glorious countryside. Despite the rain our friendly and knowledgeable guide Els kept our spirits up with fascinating facts and stories of the land as we rode through.
There was a near disaster moment. My Adidas Gazelles nearly drowned in a very large puddle. Although I’d call it a pond. No fear though, Tough Mudder aficionado Caroline came to the rescue. The Gazelles survived – Phew! Thankfully to recover not long after we had a quick tea and cake pitstop.
Oh and architecture geeks be warned – the pretty wooden gabled houses sent me into a snapping frenzy. Quite hard when you’re trying to keep up with a cycle tour too.
I’d so recommend venturing out of the city centre, particularly as you don’t have to go too far to see a different side of Amsterdam. A countryside private tour costs €175 for 2 and €25 for each added person. And if the rolling fields don’t tickle your fancy We Bike Amsterdam also do city tours.
2. Pay your respects at The Anne Frank Museum
This is a moving visit for those who choose to make it here. It brings to life one of the 20th century’s most compelling and harrowing stories – A young Jewish girl forced into hiding for more than two years with her family and friends to escape from the Nazis
You’re transported back in time as soon as you step through the bookcase-door of the secret annexe and into the cramped living space. To be able to see how they lived in constant fear is a reminder we must never forget the horrendous struggle and experiences Anne and millions like her endured, during one of the worst times in human history.
The museum attracts over a million visitors a year, so make sure you book your tickets online to avoid the enormous queues.
3 Cruise the canals
Did you know the canals of Amsterdam outnumber those in Venice and that the city has three times as many bridges too? Over 400 years old, Amsterdam’s beautiful canal network adds a peaceful feeling to this busy city as you wander around. What’s even better though is checking out the historic city from the waters.
There are numerous cruises and tours to choose from, but the romantics in us wanted to enjoy the night magic of the canals. Rederij P. Kooij a family run business for almost a 100 years operate a candlelight cruise including wine, dutch cheese and biscuits.
During the two hours you glide along the canals under pretty little bridges beautifully lit with fairy lights. And the opulent huge chandeliers hanging from the ceilings in the narrow merchant houses leave you with serious house envy. The cruise costs €29.50 for adults and €14.75 for children. It starts at 9PM and runs during the months of April – October.
Rederij P. Kooij also runs regular one hour day cruises and you can privately hire one of their boats. Personally I don’t think you can say you’ve been to Amsterdam without enjoying a boat ride.
4 Visit Jordaan
We were lucky to be staying in the Jordaan neighbourhood. Only a fifteen minute walk from the city centre, many who travel to Amsterdam completely miss it. This heavily residential and quaint area is a maze of pretty eateries, jovial cafés and speciality shops. We even found the Tulip Museum, which no local or the Tourist Information had heard of, but that’s a whole other story.
Roaming around the beautiful canal streets is so peaceful and a wonderful way to escape the tourist crowds of the city centre.
5 Red Light District
To not visit the De Wallen area as it’s known in Dutch would mean you miss out on one of the oldest and prettiest areas of Amsterdam. Narrow cobbled streets, historic houses, tree-lined canals and the gothic 13th century Oude Kerk (Old Church). During the day the it’s a quiet and very pleasant area to wander around. Come nightfall the red lights and the girls in the windows attract a whole new crowd. Nevertheless the Red Light District is a very safe and fascinating area.
The Dutch National Museum is home to a huge range of art work from Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh (although the Van Gogh Museum is practically next door). Along with Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch the museum has around 8,000 art pieces. There’s also a library with over 35,000 books. Trust me when I say you’ll need a fair few hours in this one.
7 Relax at Vondelpark
When you get tired of walking and cycling, head to Amsterdam’s largest and most popular park. Kick back, relax, enjoy the peacefulness and watch the world go by.
We enjoyed a gorgeous breakfast on the terrace overlooking a lake at Vondelpark3 before our flight back home. It’s located in a beautiful listed building and I highly recommend you visit – they do lunch and dinner too!
8 Explore Dam Square
There’s lots to do on the very place Amsterdam was founded around err 1270. The Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the National Monument, plus you can shop till you drop.
9 Be a tourist at the ‘I AMSTERDAM’ Sign
I mean have you even been to Amsterdam if you haven’t joined the legions of selfie stick photographers at the ‘I AMSTERDAM’ sign? I think not. This 23.5 metres wide slogan has become a city icon.
Located behind the Rijksmuseum the ‘I AMSTERDAM’ letters represent a statement of inclusion for all who reside in the city, no matter who they are or where they come from. The letters just like the travellers who visit them move around the city too, so who know where they could pop up next.
Of course there are plenty more things to do and see in this beautiful city, but these are definitely my top suggestions for your jaunt to the Dam.
Have you been? Where do you love in Amsterdam? Let me know in the comments box below.
Disclaimer: Our We Bike Amsterdam countryside tour and Rederij P. Kooij candlight cruise were complimentary. However, all views, opinions and photos, unless otherwise stated are my own and remain a trademark of the Curious Pixie.
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