I have a confession to make – I’m not in love with Amsterdam. It’s true. I’ve been there twice, once as a day tripper and another time as a post-apocalyptic WWOOFER (read more about my experiences here and here) and the city hasn’t quite captured my heart. Instead, Amsterdam feels more like a fun friend that I like to see from time to time. It’s not that Amsterdam isn’t good enough, that’s not it at all. Amsterdam is gorgeous, charming and has a great sense of humor. It’s just sometimes a city captures your heart and sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with Amsterdam. So here are my top five recommendations on what you can see and do in Amsterdam.
1) Take a Canal Tour
While Amsterdam is known mainly for coffee shops and the Red Light District, you can’t forget about Amsterdam’s famous 17th century canal ring (also on UNESCO’s World Heritage sights list). Amsterdam’s city center is located along the canal ring, which is the result of some excellent 17th century city planning. While it’s fun to walk alongside the canals, it’s even better to take a leisurely canal tour. Canal tours offer a great way to get your bearings around Amsterdam and learn facts along the way. There are tons of different types of canal tours to choose from ranging from romantic to party style.
While Amsterdam likes to party, it also likes to keep it classy with some fine museums. The Rijksmuseum has an impressive collection of over 8,000 objects of art and history including masterpieces by Dutch masters Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum is one of the premier art museums in the world and is definitely worth checking out. Download the Rijksmuseum app before your visit for guided audio tours. You can also bring your Indiana Jones Lego friend with you to check out some treasures (just try not to get caught posing him on the art).
If you tell your friends you’re going to Amsterdam one of the first things they’ll ask you is either, “Did you check out a coffee shop?” or “Did you walk through the Red Light District?” Unless vice isn’t your thing, then I recommend you take your own vice tour and sample space cakes and window shop at the Red Light District (kidding…unless that’s your thing). In case you didn’t know, coffee shops don’t only serve coffee but also serve up a side of hash, and hash as in marijuana, not hash browns. Coffee shops allow you to smoke on the premises only and also offer edibles such as space cakes (seriously use caution!). The Red Light District is another vice you can enjoy strolling through. The Red Light District offers an array of pubs, coffee shops, sex toy shops, peep shows and yes ladies in windows. While the Red Light District is a bit of a novelty the first few times you stroll through, I found over time it lost its novelty and was just another area to pass through. It’s still worth a stroll just to say you’ve been to the Red Light District, one of the most well-known vice districts in the world.
The Anne Frank Museum is known just as much for its long lines as it is for being a biographical museum dedicated to the wartime diarist Anne Frank. The Anne Frank Museum houses the former hiding place of Anne Frank and her family as well as her famous diary. The Anne Frank Museum is definitely worth a visit as you see personal effects from Anne Frank and her family as they struggled to survive against all odds during a time when the world was ravaged in war.
While “brown café” doesn’t sound especially appealing, Amsterdam is known for them. Brown cafes are dubbed as such because they are homey pubs where you chat with friends over a bite, a beer and some smokes which leads to the brown hued walls the brown cafes are known for. Brown cafes are great places to people watch and enjoy cheap Heinekens (did you know Heineken is a Dutch brand?) and some Dutch snacks such as bitterballen which are beef croquettes served with mustard. Brown cafes are very laid back, like Amsterdam itself, and a great place to unwind after a long day of visiting museums, Red Light Districts, and coffee shops.