Amsterdam is a city to RELAX in. I’m not talking about the abundant coffeeshops, but about the gezellig (cozy) atmosphere that you’ll find in this city. Take your time to sit back to enjoy the passing bikes, unique architecture, and beautiful canals among the many things to do and delicious things to eat. I’m a proud Amsterdam resident and this is an ultimate guide to Amsterdam with all the questions that I feel like I’ve been asked most often. Find out how many days to spend in Amsterdam, get advice on what are the “must-sees”, where to stay in Amsterdam, what to eat in Amsterdam, which museums to visit in Amsterdam (and skip!), what to do before you arrive in Amsterdam, how to get from the airport to the city…and more!
This Amsterdam local guide covers the FAQS for Amsterdam:
- How many days to spend in Amsterdam?
- Must-Sees in Amsterdam
- Which Museums to Visit in Amsterdam?
- Should I get the iAmsterdam card?
- Which neighborhoods to visit in Amsterdam?
- What to eat in Amsterdam / Dutch foods to eat in Amsterdam
- What to drink in Amsterdam
- How to get to Amsterdam from Schiphol Airport
- Where to stay in Amsterdam / Best areas to stay in
- How to get around Amsterdam / Should you rent a bike in Amsterdam?
- Things to do before you get to Amsterdam
- Is English spoken in Amsterdam?
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How many days to spend in Amsterdam?
3-5 days is the perfect number of days to spend in Amsterdam. Three days is enough to cover the major sites without rushing while five days is enough to make some day-trips to see the tulips (in April), visit nearby castles/windmills, or visit another city (Utrecht/Haarlem/Rotterdam!)
Must-Sees / Top Things to Do in Amsterdam
Dam Square. Overrated, but only takes about 5 minutes to see. There’s usually NOT tulips there, just tourists.
Begijnhof. A hidden courtyard in the middle of Centre. This beautiful courtyard dates back to the 14th century and used to belong to the Catholic church. It was the home for women who lived like nuns, but could leave to marry.
Bloemenmarkt: Admire/buy tulip bulbs. (Tip: Not all can be brought home without a permit, so ask!)
Walk the canals. Herengracht is considered one of the most beautiful canals with some of the most opulent houses.
Museum van Loon. An Amsterdam canal house that has secret courtyard that is the stuff of dreams (with a fluffy cat that roams the grounds!)
Red Light District. A fascinating place for many tourists to see what happens when a country legalizes prostitution. Don’t take photos of the beautiful ladies and be careful as scammers prowl this area.
Anne Frank House. Whether or not you know Anne’s story, there is something very powerful about being in the same space that her family lived in. Make reservations ahead or wait in line for hours.
Sip a coffee/beer in a Brown Bar. Looking for local things to do Amsterdam? This is it. You need to have step into one of these historic bars for their atmospheric feel. My favorite is Cafe Papeneiland. Order whatever is on tap or a coffee. Talk to the patrons and bartender.
Brouwerij ‘T IJ. This local brewery is the real deal and it’s next a windmill. It’s only 4 euros for a tour with a drink. If you’re into beer and considering the Heineken Experience, come here instead.
Street markets. My favorites are: Noordermarkt (Saturdays; food/books); Albert Cuypmarkt (Monday to Friday; ethnic food). IJHALLEN (Saturday/Sunday [once monthly]; used clothes)
Canal Tour. These canal tours are an affordable way to experience the city although they often include a pre-recorded tour. For a more unique experience, you can rent your OWN canal boat and don’t crash. (BYOB your own drinks/food to picnic on the boat). It’s way more epic than a canal cruise and worth it if you have a few friends to split it with (100 euros per hour.) During the Amsterdam Lights Festival (month of December) where light sculptures are installed around Amsterdam, it’s worth doing a night cruise to enjoy the lit-up sculptures!
Vondelpark. Picnic here in summer (with a beer) with the rest of Amsterdam.
Rent a Bike. If you’re not a city biker, biking in Amsterdam is similar to driving elsewhere. The rate of bike accidents for tourists is quite high due to inexperienced bikers getting into issues as the bike lanes here are highly regulated (with stop lights) and the scooters don’t always follow the rules.
iAmsterdam sign. A classic photo. You can find a few iAmsterdam signs around the city although the most famous is in Museumplein by the Rijksmuseum.
Tulips are not in Amsterdam, but 40 minutes away. If you want to see the tulips, you should visit Amsterdam in April or May ONLY as there are many things to do in April in Amsterdam. [Keep reading why!] Fun fact: you don’t need to pay for Keukenhof to see the tulips. You can just take the bus to Lisse from Amsterdam Centraal or walk/rent a bike to visit nearby tulip fields belonging to farmers for free. Read more about how to see the tulips in the Netherlands without a tour or crowds.
Coffeeshop. Not for everyone, but this is why a lot of people come to Amsterdam. I don’t smoke anything myself, but it’s INCONSIDERATE to smoke marijuana in public. Look for a place where coffeeshop is spelled with no space… I have ONCE seen someone try to order marijuana at a cafe (a normal cafe that only serves coffee) and everyone watching laughed so hard. You can only do so where it’s allowed, so you can have it in a coffeeshop, but please don’t smoke up on the street or in a park since some people have asthma. If you’re here to party, click over to Lost with Purpose for some partying advice.
When to visit Amsterdam? Come for King’s Day [April 27/wear orange] OR the Pride Parade (on the canals) [Late July/wear whatever you want] to celebrate with the ENTIRE city! April and early May are the best times to visit Amsterdam, especially if you want to see the tulips.
Amsterdam Top Things to Do: Which Museums to Visit in Amsterdam?
There are many museums to visit in Amsterdam, so it can be very hard to decide which museums are the best ones for your visit. I’ve included a few of the most popular museums and some of my local favorites!
Rijksmuseum is the classic and my favorite. It’s HUGE and you could spend hours admiring the Dutch Masters. Admission can be reserved ahead of time although not necessary.
Museum van Loon. This beautiful canal house houses a secret garden that houses one of my favorite museums in Amsterdam. It has period paintings and furniture. Most canal houses aren’t open to the public, so enjoy this museum (especially if you have the iAmsterdam card).
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder. This is my favorite museum in Amsterdam. They’ve restored three canal houses to their Golden Age furnishings and you can view one of the few remaining secret churches in Amsterdam. Secret churches used to much more common in Amsterdam as public worship of Catholics and Jews were prohibited during the Protestant Reformation. Our Lady in the Attic is beautifully preserved as many are not open to the public or have been converted back to normal rooms. (Go to Brouwerij de Prael for a drink after!)
Rembrandt House. If you’re curious to see where Rembrandt worked, you can visit his studio. However, you’re just as well off visiting the Rijksmuseum if you want to see his art!
Van Gogh. If you love Van Gogh, you can see his paintings at other museums, but this museum is beautifully designed!
Anne Frank House. A must-see. Be sure to reserve ahead (up to 2 months ahead) as they’ve increased the number of tickets that are reservation only and the line can take hours.
The Jewish Historical Museum (Joods Historisch Museum) is incredibly interesting and well-designed. The Portuguese Synagogue is worth visiting for it alone as it is a beautiful structure that remains entirely intact that is lit by candlelight. As many Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust, this museum is a moving testament to the role of Jews in Dutch history and learning about Judaism.
To see the Girl with the Pearl Earring, you will need to take the train to the Hague to go to the Mauritshuis. Not in Amsterdam.
Should you get the iAmsterdam card?
It depends. If you’re here for 3 days, it might be worth it IF you’re taking public transit everywhere, visiting 2-4 museums included on their list, and taking a canal tour. If not, it is probably cheaper just to buy admission to the museums yourself. Certain museums AND the train fare to/from the airport are not covered.
What neighborhoods to visit in Amsterdam?
For history, beautiful architecture and cozy cafes, don’t miss de Jordaan. For beautiful architecture, few people, and picturesque bridges, head up to Papeneiland, Bickerseiland & Realeneiland. For graffiti, unique cafes, hipster vibes and Amsterdam’s best flea market, head to NDSM by taking the ferry across from Centraal. For chic, modern cafes, visit de Pijp for cute cafes, a great street market (Albert Cuypmarkt), and great food/drinks! (For more information about neighborhoods in Amsterdam, click here for a complete neighborhood guide!)
What to eat in Amsterdam / What foods to try in Amsterdam
There’s so many delicious foods to eat in Amsterdam although there’s some Dutch specialty foods that you should try in Amsterdam.
Oliebollen (December only). These tasty fried dough balls are only offered around New Years. They’re delicious when warm and you’ll find booths all around the city!
Indonesian food. You can try Rijsttafel, which is a tradition stemming from the Dutch colonization of Indonesia, where you try 40+ dishes from all around Indonesia in one meal. It is not cheap, but a nice introduction to Indonesian food. Otherwise, you can keep an eye out for take-out Indonesian places that are less expensive, casual, and only open for dinner (my favorites: Sari Citra & Eethuis Pondok Indah) that specialize in Indonesian food from their home regions. (Both Sari Citra and Eethuis Podok Indah have tables if you want to sit there to eat.)
Surinamese Roti. This dish is found all across Amsterdam. Super filling, unique, and inexpensive. De Pijp is the best area to find restaurants serving this dish (Albert Cuypstraat).
Cheese. My favorite type is extra young Boeren (typical Dutch farmer cheese) although you’ll find some from regions all around the Netherlands. (Read more about varieties here!) Gouda is the most famous type although if you visit Alkmaar [nearby city] on a Friday in spring/summer, you can visit the Netherland’s most famous cheese market. The supermarkets also have a great cheese selection.
Stroopwafels. These classic Dutch desserts are so tasty. You can pick them up at Albert Heijn for under 2 euros.
Bitterballen. These fried balls filled with beef are a Dutch bar classic served with mustard.
Frites. Fries. Served with mayonnaise.
Croquettes. At FEBO (Put in a coin and get a snack!). These fried Dutch snacks are filled with meat and …flavors. They’re Dutch comfort food. Sate filled croquettes (vegetarian) are popular. A nice snack on your way home from a night out…
Tony’s Chocolonely. This addictive/delicious chocolate is the FIRST in the world to be made not using slave labor. The caramel sea salt bar (Karamel zeezalt) is the orange one found at Albert Heijn.
Poffertjes.Little Dutch pancakes. So good. Look for touristic bakeries and get extra powered sugar!
Kasteeltjes. These little cakes that are filed with marzipan are one of my weaknesses. They’re not easy to find (although sold at some branches of Albert Heijn), but they’re so good if you can find them.
Haring. Haring is a type of fish that many people eat raw or on a sandwich. It’s very mild, so even fish-haters (like myself), find it tasty. You can find at fish stores (vishandel) and haring stands.
Dutch Pancakes. They’re flatter than American pancakes, but delicious. Easy to find.
Van Stapele cookies. These chocolate delicious cookies are made fresh to order at their namesake shop.
Apple Pie. The Dutch make their own variant of apple pie. Winkel 43 is one of the best places in Amsterdam for apple pie. Affordable and a must-try!
What to drink in Amsterdam / What beer to try in Amsterdam!
Verse Munt Thee (Fresh Mint Tea). Unlike most mint teas, the Dutch put the entire plant in–and leave in. Refreshing and can be found at most cafes. Be careful of the hot glass!
Dutch beer. Even if you’re not a beer drinker, Dutch beer is often in the Belgian style, which means that it’s more mild and less intense than beers elsewhere. Look for white [witte] beers and beers NOT from Heineken. I cannot even list ALL the local breweries that I love, but look for Oedipus, Brouwerij ‘T IJ, Brouwerij de Prael, Gebrouwen door Vrouwen. For more breweries, click for information about craft beer in Amsterdam. (Note: I have absolutely nothing against Heineken, but seriously, there’s SO much good beer to try that you cannot find elsewhere! More coming soon.)
How to get to Amsterdam from Schiphol Airport
Take the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal. You can buy a one way ticket for about 5 euros to board a direct train to the city! Look for yellow machines labeled with NS. Tap the button for the British flag & a one-way ticket. Tap Amsterdam Centraal before paying with a card (with a chip). Otherwise, visit the booth to pay for your ticket.
If the train is not running due to construction (an issue late at night), find the bus towards Leidseplein. You can pay in cash on the bus and once you get off at Leidseplein, you’ll be in the city center.
Important: Do not go with anyone who approaches you in Schiphol Airport about a taxi. There is a scam in Amsterdam where people functionally extort tourists looking for taxis. Many get fake vests that say “Official Amsterdam Taxi.” There is an official taxi line outside. Taxis from Schiphol to Amsterdam city centre should cost 45-55 euros with an optimum route. If it’s above 70 euros, ask your hotel or hostel for assistance. I’ve been ripped off myself… I only use Taxicentrale now.
Save this number in your phone if you take taxis: Taxicentrale Amsterdam: +31 020 777 77 77. It is the biggest cab company in Amsterdam. They accept credit cards, function 24 hours a day, will pick up people all around Amsterdam/Schiphol, and their cabs are honest. (Police/Emergencies: 112)
Best neighborhoods to stay in Amsterdam / Where to Stay in Amsterdam
If you’re planning to party, you’re better off staying in Centre as many coffeeshops, bars and restaurants that cater to tourists are located in the city center. If you’re more interested in experiencing Amsterdam as a local, stay in De Pijp, Oud West, and de Jordaan. All are close enough that you can easily walk to the attractions, but finding awesome local food makes these neighborhoods great.
How to Get Around Amsterdam and whether you should rent a bike in Amsterdam…
Amsterdam is way smaller than people realize. You can easily walk around the city center although the public transit is great. DO NOT WALK IN THE BIKE LANE OR RISK GETTING HIT BY BIKES. Similarly, don’t jaywalk since many people get hit by bikes this way OR hesitate when crossing as bikes will almost hit you if you stop in the middle of the street.
The trams are the easiest way to get around Amsterdam as many go from Centraal Station and past many of the tourist attractions. For now, you can buy your tickets on tram, but an unlimited ticket is best. As of April, you cannot pay on the bus in cash and you need to buy tickets, either single ride or an unlimited ticket (24-48-72 hours), at a machine.
Biking is very Dutch, but if you walk even a small amount in Amsterdam, you’ll have feelings about the bikes. I regularly bike around Amsterdam and you need to master city biking if you choose to bike here. You’ll need to bike IN the bike lane (not on the sidewalk), allow others to pass on the left, stay aware of other bikers/pedestrians/scooters, and use your arms to signal. It’s intense, but the fastest way to get around. You’re probably safer not biking here. If you get in a bike accident, exchange information with the person you hit/hit you and their insurance/rental agency will get in touch. If you rent a bike, lock it up properly. Use the wheel lock and be sure to lock the frame to solid object. The bike thieves are ruthless, but usually avoid tourist bikes.
I personally find biking in Centre stressful due to the many tourists who walk in the bike lane. If you want to do it, head out of Amsterdam on one of the bike paths towards Zaanse Schans. Just stay in the bike lane and follow the signs. It cannot be easier and less stressful once you leave Amsterdam. You don’t need a bike tour to visit Zaanse Schans and it’s very easy to follow the signs to Zaandam (and onwards to Zaanse Schans).
Things to do before you visit Amsterdam
- Book your hostel/hotel at least a month in advance. Prices increase on weekends and many hotels/hostels fill up in high season! High season is March-July. If you do not book ahead, you’ll end up quite far away from the city center or paying very high prices.
- Get a good raincoat if you don’t have one. Wondering what else to pack? Check this packing list for Amsterdam!
- Book your Anne Frank tickets ahead. Per a new policy implemented in 2016, the Anne Frank museum is only open to visitors who reserve ahead 9am to 3:30pm then open after for walk-ins… You can book tickets starting two months in advance and be warned that it sells out typically 2-4 weeks before. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait in line, which usually trails around the block. If you can’t get tickets, it’s best around dinner time.
- Notify your bank that you need to use the ATM. Things are improving in the tourist centre, but many shops still don’t take foreign credit cards. For ATMs, look out these major Dutch banks for ATMs: ABN AMRO & Rabobank. You’ll get a better rate than at a money exchanger. (FYI the currency is Euro. My in-laws witnessed someone trying to pay with dollars at the Anne Frank House…)
Do people speak English in Amsterdam?
Yes. Almost everyone speaks fluent English. Only when you leave Amsterdam and go to the countryside, you’ll encounter some older people who may not be as comfortable in English, but most understand it enough.
Looking for more advice? I got lots more to say about Amsterdam!
Have you been to Amsterdam? Anything else you need to know before your trip that I didn’t cover?