Amsterdam is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s a place that pleasantly surprises many visitors. One of the only downsides is that it is often packed with tourists. We were fortunate to live in the UNESCO World Heritage listed city center for over three years, and have written about Amsterdam many times. I even guided a small group tour through Belgium and Holland. Here are our ultimate tips on visiting Amsterdam!
Don’t Stay in the Red Light District
Even if you’re 18-21 years old, it’s probably not worth staying in the Red Light District (and I’m speaking from experience as a young tourist from my backpacking days). If you’re older than 21, it’s definitely not worth it. This advice pertains even to those who want to party and tour the Red Light District. Amsterdam is a walkable city. Don’t stay right next to clubs blaring music until 3am, or areas where people are loud on the street all night. You should also avoid staying in the popular areas of Rembrantplein or Leidseplein because these are also loud areas with a lot of clubs and bars packed tightly together with small hotels and hostels.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam?
Hotel prices in Amsterdam vary depending on time of year and availability. Try and book something with free cancellation well in advance when you can, especially for summer and the holidays!
It doesn’t get more luxurious than the 5 star Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. Set along the UNESCO World Heritage listed Herengracht canal, the hotel is made up of six monumental 17th century canal palaces. The 2-Michelin star restaurant Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam is perfect for an on site gastronomic experience.
Pulitzer Amsterdam is a great luxury choice located within 25 interlinked 17th and 18th century canal houses, between the famous Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals. Combining traditional and modern Dutch design, the hotel has 225 unique guest rooms and suites. It’s walking distance from major attractions, but on a quieter end of the picturesque western canal belt.
Radisson Blu is the one of the best value luxury stays in the center of Amsterdam. Spacious rooms are decorated according to colorful themes. Their on site restaurant serves international meals and an extensive breakfast buffet.
Citizen M is a comfortable and ultra modern hotel in Amsterdam. Every room at citizenM Amsterdam has wall to wall windows and large with luxurious linens. Guests can modify room color, temperature, control the smart TV and also adapt the black out curtains all from an mini.
We also recommend Motel One Amsterdam and Motel One Waterlooplein as they’re good bang for buck, with a great breakfast buffet featuring delicious higher end bakery quality breads, pastries and croissants. All rooms have a private bathroom, air conditioning and flat screen TV.
Lloyd Hotel offers unique rooms in a transformed historic building. Within 10 minutes you can reach Amsterdam Central Station by tram. Rooms come in different shapes and sizes, so this is a good stay for travelers who get freaked out by cookie cutter hotels.
You’ll generally find the best value booking short stay apartments in the Netherlands on sites like Airbnb. Especially in Amsterdam’s historic center during summer and popular holidays like New Year’s and King’s Day. If you’ve never used Airbnb, be sure to book listings with consistently good reviews, for the best experience.
Museums and Attractrions
There’s really 3 must things to do in Amsterdam: The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and a canal boat cruise. There are a lot of canal boat cruise options from inexpensive one hour tours to fancy dinner cruises. For a more luxurious experience, book an Amsterdam evening canal cruise with 4 course dinner and drinks.
The Rijksmuseum features centuries of important Dutch works like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, one of the most amazing paintings you’ll see (easily a hundred times bigger than the Mona Lisa too). The Van Gogh Museum is also exceptional if you enjoy impressionist art. Don’t stress about any attractions outside these, unless you have a particular interest in something.
Tips on Visiting Amsterdam Restaurants
Be careful where you eat in Amsterdam. If the establishment has a “tourist menu,” don’t eat there. Tourist menu = suckers menu. Most Dutch restaurants have menus in several languages and almost everyone speaks English very well. So there’s absolutely no reason to throw money at a cringe worthy tourist menu restaurant unless you enjoy dry spare ribs and burgers that taste like chalk. Generally you should avoid eating anywhere on the main thoroughfare of Damrak/Rokin, but there’s some very worthwhile places tucked in alleys just off the main street. De Struisvagel (The Ostrich) and Haven Van Texel are two of our favorite restaurants in Amsterdam for delicious Dutch food and drinks.
If you only visit one pub in Amsterdam, it should be t’Arendsnest. They offer the best selection of Dutch micro brews in town, with an outstanding menu of jenevers (Dutch gins). Housed in a typically gezellig (cozy) Dutch bar on the beautiful Herengracht canal, it’s a great hang out. When the weather is warm, sit on their canal side terrace and watch all the boats and bicycles cruise by. If you love craft beer, read our article on the Top 5 Most Unique Pubs in Amsterdam.
Avoid Amsterdam on Summer Weekends
Unless you’re going for a bachelor or bachelorette party, you probably shouldn’t visit Amsterdam on weekends in summer. Amsterdam is ridiculously crowded during the warmer months on weekends, even through September. It’s just not as romantic or cool then, and it’s also a lot more expensive. Visit during the week during the popular months or go in the off-season.
If You Love a Party, Visit Amsterdam for King’s Day
Celebrated yearly on April 27th (April 26th if the 27th is a Sunday), the date marks the birth of King Willem-Alexander. It’s the biggest national party and Amsterdam is packed with a sea of orange, in celebration of the House of Orange, and the national colors. The party begins the night before, on King’s Night, so don’t miss that either. New Year’s is fun too, but the Dutch go totally wild with fireworks then, which is intimidating in a crowded city center. That’s the only time fireworks sales are legal in the Netherlands.
When we lived in Holland, the celebration was for Queen’s Day, until Queen Beatrix abdicated the thrown to her son in 2014. Here’s more on what you can expect if you visit Amsterdam for King’s Day.
Enjoy a Picnic: Tips on Visiting Amsterdam
There are a lot of great spots to enjoy a picnic in Amsterdam. One of our favorites is the boat dock in front of the Hermitage Museum. There’s a lot of space, especially if you’re with a group of friends. Grab some baguettes, sliced goudse kaas (cheese) and consider trying local favorites like ossenworst (raw beef sausage) or filet Americain (steak tartare), preferably from a deli or one of Amsterdam’s street markets like Albert Cuyp, but grocery stores like Albert Heijn work well for this too.
Amsterdam Day Trips
Make time for a day trip, it’s one of the best tips on visiting Amsterdam we can give. Holland is filled with picturesque towns. Think mini-Amsterdams without hordes of tourists. The Dutch have one of the most efficient train systems connecting their densely populated country. So there’s little reason not to experience another town for at least a few hours. Great day trips under 45 minutes from Amsterdam include Haarlem, Utrecht, Leiden, Zandvoort Van Zee and Den Hague (The Hague). Read much more in depth on our popular post on 10 Awesome Day Trips from Amsterdam.
You may also want to take a guided tour to Zaanse Schans Windmills, Marken and Volendaam. This half day tour starts at $70.77 US.
Use Uber Over Taxis
Amsterdam is walkable and has great public transport. It’s also one of the most bicycle friendly cities the world. If you need to take a taxi, use Uber if you want to safe money.
Do Not Take Photos of the Prostitutes
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a very popular tourist attraction that draws even couples to gawk at the scantily women flaunting their goods in windows. But if you take a photo of them: best case you will get a massive earful. Worst case, your camera gets thrown in the canal! Consider this offbeat Amsterdam Red Light District tour with a local guide to learn about the history of prostitution in Amsterdam.
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