Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. It’s unique and unlike any other place I have been. Here are the best things to do the next time you visit Amsterdam.
A couple of years ago I had the chance to visit Amsterdam while we were in Europe and I was blown away! It was unlike any other city I had ever visited. The food was great, there were so many things to do and there were bicycles EVERYWHERE! The city is very compact, so it’s easy to get around and very walkable.
Yes, the city is famous for its coffee shops and the Red Light District. However, if you base your decision of whether or not to visit based on that alone, you’re really going to miss out on a lot. There really is so much more to the city that this.
If you’re contemplating a visit to Amsterdam, do it. I promise, you’ll absolutely love it! Here are a few general tips to make planning your trip a little easier as well as my favorite things to do while you’re there.
When you’re traveling abroad, make sure you use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. This can save you a decent amount of money over the course of your trip. This also includes stays at local hotels, activities and other things you book before you leave home.
And don’t fall into the trap of choosing to pay for things in US dollars when you’re there to “avoid” the transaction fees. The exchange rate local vendors give you you on these purchases is almost always worse than just paying the foreign transaction fee.
The card I most frequently recommend to travelers is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Not only do you not incur foreign transaction fees but you also get valuable travel insurance when you use the card to pay for your flights. Plus, right now new card members can get 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of opening their account. These points are worth a minimum of $750 when used for travel which can help pay for your trip to Amsterdam.
How To Get There
Amsterdam is a popular destination so it’s super easy to get there. We were coming from London, so we chose to fly because it was both cheaper and faster for us.
By Plane – If you fly to Amsterdam, you’ll arrive at the Schiphol (AMS) airport that’s only a few miles from downtown. Once you land, you can take a train from the airport for just a few dollars. You can purchase tickets in the main lobby of the airport and the platform is directly below you.
Schiphol is the main hub for KLM, which is part of the Flying Blue award program. Flying Blue frequently has award flight sales, so you may be able to snag one from your home airport. Flying Blue is also a transfer partner of many credit card programs that have transferable points, so they’re easy to come by if you need them.
By Train – Amsterdam’s Central Station is located right in the heart of the city. From there, most of the popular attractions and the downtown hotels and Airbnbs are within walking distance. One of the most popular routes is the train from Amsterdam to Paris with Thalys. The high speed train can get you between these two cities in a little over 3 hours. We took the train to Paris for the next leg of our trip and it was perfect!
Eurostar just launched a new route direct to Amsterdam that takes about 4 hours which now makes that trip a lot easier. There’s also an overnight train you can take to and from Munich. These are a fun and inexpensive way to explore a new city. Regardless, you’ll want to buy your train tickets as early as possible because the prices will increase the closer you get to your travel dates.
Top Things To Do In Amsterdam
Amsterdam is full of fun things to do while you’re there. We all know what Amsterdam is famous for but the city has so much more to offer! From culture, to great food, to beautiful countrysides, the city has it all. Just about everything I’m recommending can be done on your own. However, there are several companies that offer tours to most of these locations if that’s your preference. Regardless of how you get there, here are my favorites things to do when you’re in Amsterdam.
Anne Frank House
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without visiting Anne Frank’s house. This is the actual house where Anne and her family hid from the invading Nazis during World War II. You’re filled with a mix of emotions as you walk through its hallowed halls. Being able to see first-hand just how small of an area they were hiding in was extremely humbling. Then to remember how positive she tried to be in her circumstances was equally inspiring.
Tickets with a reserved time can sell out months in advance. I would strongly recommend purchasing tickets as soon as your travel dates are fixed. It is possible to purchase same-day tickets but the line can be extremely long. In fact, the day we visited, the ticket line went down the street and wrapped around the block.
Amsterdam Cheese Museum
While we were waiting for our entrance time at the Anne Frank House, we visited a few of the shops close by. Located across the canal and about a block north from the museum was this amazing cheese shop, called the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. It was run by the friendliest owner and filled with numerous types of cheeses.
I never gave much thought to the cheese I ate until I visited this store. They had samples of all their cheeses and they were all incredible! You can’t walk into this store without buying several types of cheese to take home with you. They’re really that good! Thanks to this visit, I am now officially a cheese snob.
Rent A Bike
One of my favorite things we did in Amsterdam was rent a bike for a day. Shops that rent bikes are everywhere, so they’re easy to find. I knew bikes were the most popular mode of transportation in Amsterdam but I didn’t fully appreciate it until we were there. Bikes are literally everywhere! And it was such a fun experience to ride around the city amongst the chaos of the other biker riders. It’s such a fun way to experience and enjoy the city.
I would also recommend taking the ferry across the harbor and riding your bike out in the countryside. The ferry is located behind the train station and it’s free to ride. We just hopped on the first one we saw and rode around for a couple of hours. We even ran into a centuries-old windmill along the way. Which brings me to my next recommendation.
Visit A Windmill
I don’t know what it is about windmills but I just love them. For some reason, I thought windmills were ubiquitous in Amsterdam. While they’re not around every corner they are fairly easy to get to with a little planning. There are several companies that will take you to see them or you can do it on your own. We got lucky and found one on our own, so we didn’t spend the extra time going to the ones just outside of town.
One of the most popular locations to see a windmill is at Zaanse Schans. From what I hear, it is very touristy but also a fun place to visit. Besides an up close look at the windmills, there are other attractions you can enjoy. You can reach it by taking bus 391 from Central Station and it will take about 40 minutes to get there.
Enjoy Some Down Time
Morning Walk – Amsterdam reminds me a little of Las Vegas in that the city’s energy comes out at night. This can be a lot of fun but I would recommend enjoying the city during the quieter hours as well. One morning we left the hotel around 8 a.m. to grab breakfast and walk around. Everyone was still in bed after a late night so the streets were mostly empty. It was such an enjoyable way to soak in the charm of the city.
Vondelpark – Located just past the canal streets in the southwest part of the city is its largest park. It’s a great place to go for a walk or just relax. You can enjoy some people-watching or a picnic in the park. While it’s great during the day, I wouldn’t recommend being there when it gets dark.
Canal Boat Ride
One of the things that makes Amsterdam unique are its picturesque canals. Taking a boat tour along these beautiful canals is a fun thing to do while visiting. You can find different boat tours around the city and each one is a little different. They each offer a different experience as you cruise up and down the canals. Find one that appeals to you and then relax and enjoy the cruise.
Van Gogh Museum
This museum houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings. If you are a fan of art, this is one thing you have to do when you’re in Amsterdam. This is the most popular museum in the entire country, so I would recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time. The museum is open until 9 p.m. on Fridays and the crowds can be a little thinner that night as well.
Regardless of whether or not Amsterdam has been on your bucket list before, it should be now. If you’ve been nervous about visiting because of what it’s famous for, don’t be! We loved it so much, we’re hoping to take our kids there the next time we go to Europe. Fingers crossed, hopefully we’ll get there with them this fall.
Amsterdam is an incredible city with so many memorable things to see and do while you’re there. With it being so easy to get to, there really isn’t any excuse why it should be part of your next European itinerary. Is there something we missed that you would recommend to others? Let us know what it is by leaving a comment below and hopefully I’ll be able to check it out the next time I’m there.