If I had to choose one city to move to, it would be Amsterdam. Ever since I visited for the first time when I was 18, I fell in love with the city. The crooked canal homes, fresh flowers in window boxes, friendly people, laid back atmosphere, and delicious food are just some of the things that make Amsterdam so spectacular.
Most people hear the name “Amsterdam” and immediately think of marijuana, prostitution, and drugs. That side of Amsterdam definitely exists but it is easy to have a wonderful time in the city without having to worry about any of that. Some people even consider Amsterdam’s Red Light District to be among the safest neighborhoods in the city.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Virtually everywhere in Amsterdam is safe to stay in overnight. Even the Red Light District is safe, although it can become very loud during the evenings. Accommodation is the most expensive in the center of town. However, staying in the center is crucial if you plan on walking everywhere and not using public transportation. The best areas to stay in Amsterdam are within the “U-shaped” canals of the city. Anything there is in walking distance and that area holds some of the best attractions of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has large name hotels but I prefer to stay in smaller hotels with a more authentic feel. The hotel I stayed in the first time was called Hotel Van Onna and was perfect for a solo traveler. My room was fairly spacious and it even came with free breakfast in the morning. I really liked it because it was close to the Anne Frank House and I was able to hear the same church bells that Anne heard during her time in hiding. As a complete history buff, this made me extremely happy.
Another hotel in the area is the Westertoren Hotel and it is also just around the corner from the Anne Frank House. I stayed here on my most recent solo trip for one night. Tucked away next to Dam Square, most people would just walk right by the hotel without even knowing it was there. But as a broke college student, I read the good reviews online and booked it anyways. If you choose to stay there, be prepared to walk up four flights of the steepest stairs I have ever seen. It’s difficult to get a big suitcase up to the top floor, so keep that in mind! Hotel Westertoren’s best feature is that it provides a free breakfast. I couldn’t eat all of the food they provided so I took some of it to eat as my lunch that day!
Hotels in the main part of Amsterdam can be pricy so don’t be afraid to look in the surrounding areas. The cities of Haarlem and Utrecht are excellent places to stay and explore. Just a short train ride will get you to the center of Amsterdam. I have couchsurfed in Utrecht and didn’t have any difficulties getting to Amsterdam. Some hotels just outside the city limits such as A&O Hostel are also excellent choices. Wherever you decide to stay, the city center will be easily accessible.
Major Amsterdam Attractions
Walking along the Amsterdam canals, the city breathes a life and culture of its own. Tourists dart in and out of coffee shops and restaurants and locals enjoy a casual smoke on front stoops. The gentle hum of boats can be heard as they cruise through the canals. Everything about the city is magical.
The Anne Frank Huis
Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who has become the voice for millions of Jews who were killed during World War II. Born in Frankfurt Germany, Anne moved to Amsterdam as a young girl and was eventually forced into hiding. The secret annex that she and her family lived in for two years has been turned into a museum to teach the world about what hiding from the Nazi regime was like. It is nearly impossible to go to Amsterdam and not visit the Anne Frank House.
If you choose to visit the Anne Frank House, there are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time.
Avoid standing in line for hours by purchasing your tickets online. Standing in line to purchase your tickets is a waste of time because the line frequently takes over two hours. With just a small amount of planning, you can purchase tickets ahead of time here and save yourself hours of waiting.
Once inside the museum, you can take your time to walk through. I recommend spending a few hours there to fully appreciate everything but it can be viewed at whatever pace you like. Be aware that it will likely be very crowded. Unfortunately, there is no real way to beat the crowd unless you are the first one inside the museum in the morning. Pictures are not allowed inside the annex but I have a few from my time there.
The Rijksmuseum showcases some of the finest art and historical artifacts of the Netherlands. Admission is only €17.50 for adults and free for those under 18 years old. Tickets can be purchased online here.
IAMsterdam signs are hidden around Amsterdam and have become a tourist attraction all on their own. The most visited one is in front of the Rijksmuseum. Although it is centrally located, its prime location means there are always tourists crowding around the front. If taking a picture in front of an uncrowded sign is a must for you, the lesser-known sign can be found at Schiphol airport. Just hop on a bus or train and you will be at the airport quickly. Not only do you get to see Schiphol, one of the greatest airports on the continent, but you can also see the IAMsterdam sign with very few tourists!
Van Gogh Museum
Just beyond the Rijksmuseum lies the Van Gogh Museum. It is an art museum dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh and has many of his pieces as well as some from his contemporaries.
This square is my favorite place in all of Amsterdam. It is where the city breathes its life as streetcar lines weave their way through the pedestrians. The Royal palace dominates one side of the square. Madame Tussaud’s is on another side of the square. A tall, white monument commands the east side of the square. Built in 1956, this pillar memorializes all of the victims of World War II. Just beyond the monument lies the Euro Pub, a great location to enjoy a beer and watch the world walk by.
Fun fact: there is a live webcam of Dam Square that you can watch around the clock. I love to have the webcam running in one tab on my computer to keep me motivated when writing. There is just something incredible about being able to see it from the other side of the globe. When my parents were in Amsterdam without me earlier this year, I was able to get on the webcam and see them standing outside of the Euro Pub waving to me!
Red Light District
Perhaps the most notorious area in all of Amsterdam, the Red Light District is a must-see. There isn’t a defined “start” or “end” to the Red Light District but you can just wander until you find it. The district is located just to the north east of Dam Square and cannot be missed once you stumble into it.
The women are standing behind glass doors that are on street level. They’ll call out to passerby, pose for you, and overall try to get business. Don’t feel alarmed, prostitution is completely legal and they’re just doing their job. Some travelers are not completely comfortable seeing the business of the Red Light District but I still highly recommend a visit to the area. The women are checked regularly for STDs and the government heavily regulates their business. Just make sure that you do not take pictures of the women. Security will swoop down faster than anything and you do not want to get in trouble. So just wander through the streets and take in as many sights as your eyes can handle. There will be lots of interesting things to see!
Our Lord in the Attic
Smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District is a beautiful church called Our Lord in the Attic. Visiting a church might not be at the top of your list, but this church is unlike any other. It is literally a hidden church that you cannot see from the streets.
Our Lord in the Attic was built in the 17th century inside of a canal house. It was built in secret so the Catholics had a place to worship without being persecuted. Protestant clerics of the era turned a blind eye to churches such as this one. Since becoming a museum in 1888, the church has been refurbished into a museum and is now open to the public. Tickets are €8 for adults and can be purchased at the door. Guided tours are available but I personally don’t think they are necessary.
One of Amsterdam’s best features is its canals. It boasts 165 canals and 1281 bridges. There are few things more relaxing than strolling along a small canal and soaking up everything that the city has to offer.
The only way to truly appreciate the majestic canals is to get lost. Wander throughout the city and don’t worry if you get turned around. Not all who wander are lost, but this will be the greatest opportunity to wander and become lost. I have stumbled upon some wonderful treasures while exploring the canals and cannot recommend it enough. If you do get lost, there are signs around the city that can help point you back in the direction you need to go.
Ah, yes. The notorious weed shops that are not-so-disguised as coffee shops. Whether or not you choose to venture in tos one, you’ll definitely come across them during your time in Amsterdam. The most famous one is called The Bulldog. It is fun to visit, even from the outside, since it’s covered in colorful art. If you’re looking for an actual coffee shop that serves coffee, check out shops that are called cafés instead.
Where (and what) to Eat
Dutch food is some of the tastiest in Europe. They have something for everyone’s palette and some of it can be cheap too!
In my opinion, Krokets are God’s gift to humanity. They are cheap, delicious, and absolutely addicting. What are they? The closest thing I can compare them to is fried gravy. Even though it might not sound appetizing, it is. Just trust me on this one thing and try a Kroket. They can be found at places like the airport and train station. Febo stores like the one below are the most popular place to buy Krokets. A Kroket will cost anywhere from €1.50 to €2. All you need to do is put in the coins and open the little window to select your fresh Kroket. Fast food unlike any other!
After a delicious meal snack of Krokets, grab a Stroopwafel and call it dessert. Stroopwafels are two thin waffle wafers with gooey caramel in the center. When purchased from street vendors, they can be massive – sometimes as large as your head! For those of us who want to bring them back home with us, smaller versions are available at grocery stores and in the airport. If you purchase some to take home, put the individual wafers on top of a cup of tea to heat it up and get the warm, gooeyness!
If you thought Stroopwafels were delicious, Poffertjes are the best meals desserts in the Netherlands. They resemble tiny, fluffy pancakes and can be smothered in any type of delicious topping. The traditional topping is jam and powdered sugar, but they have upgraded to include things such as Nutella and chocolate sauce. Fresh Poffertjes are a treat unlike any other and I highly recommend trying them while in the Netherlands.
The Dutch are very well known for making the best herring. Herring is a fish that is typically served raw in a mild pickle. Its common street food and despite sounding kind of fishy (pun intended), it is really very good! Stands selling herring are found throughout Amsterdam and is a very popular dish.
Scattered throughout Amsterdam, Albert Heijn grocery stores are the jackpot. They have all sorts of Dutch delicacies, plus food to go. My favorite things to get there are the individual crème brûlées from the refrigerator. Instead of taking it home and crystalizing the sugar on top (like a traditional crème brulee), I eat the crème part just like it is. I love Albert Heijn because they have everything you could need. Dutch tea? Check. Stroopwafels? Check. Amazing sushi? Check. Cheap alcohol? Double check. When checking out, be sure to grab some of the complimentary cutlery the store provides so you can eat on the go. Albert Heijn really cares about its customers. If you’re feeling adventurous, sit outside on the steps directly in front of the store while you eat for dinner and a show! There is always something happening in front of the store if you sit and people-watch.
The Pancake Bakery
I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. I have only ever eaten at one actual restaurant while in Amsterdam. I know, the travel blogger in me screams with rage at this but I have never really found a need to. My diet while in Amsterdam usually consists of Krokets, Stroopwafels, and anything I can find at Albert Heijn.
But during one of my last trips to Amsterdam, I was with a ton of my friends and they drug me into a restaurant called the Pancake Bakery. I was a bit skeptical about how good it could be. Located in a tiny underground home, this restaurant didn’t serve just any old pancakes. These pancakes were thin, tasty, and HUGE. You could choose anything from a plain pancake to a five-layer option. I chose a plain pancake with bananas and Nutella. It was so filling that I could barely finish the whole thing. I had a coffee-type drink that was piled high with sweet whipped cream. The space was small but the staff was friendly and accommodated us. Once we left, there was a massive line of people outside waiting to be seated. They must have gotten the message that these were the best pancakes in town too!
There aren’t enough wonderful things to say about Amsterdam. Everything is fairly close and within walking distance. You can travel there for a weekend or for a year, Amsterdam will never fail to impress. It’s wonderful because all of these things can be completed in Amsterdam in just one weekend! If you’re there for longer, I recommend checking out my article about some of the best day trips from Amsterdam. Even if you’re in Amsterdam for a short amount of time, I hope that you enjoy this city as much as I do!
Tell me, have you ever been to Amsterdam? And if so, what did you think about the city?