Guide to travel to Amsterdam

by Ale Werner
Jordaan District - Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Amsterdam is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in Europe. On our trip to the old continent, we decided to visit Amsterdam a couple of times so we were able to explore its streets and its canals calmly. Of course, when we told our family and friends that we were travelling to Amsterdam there was always a small laugh. For many, it is the city of liberties because The Netherland was the first country to decriminalize recreational drugs and openly allow prostitution and homosexuality. But on the other side, we believe and know that it is so much more than that. If you are interested in this destination, we invite you to continue reading our complete guide to travel to Amsterdam. Here you will find all the relevant information gathered in just one place: What to do in Amsterdam, where to eat in Amsterdam, where to sleep in Amsterdam, the areas of the city, what to see in Amsterdam … and much more!

A little bit of history and information about Amsterdam

The capital of The Netherlands, or Holland as it is also known, was founded in the 12th century as a small fishing village. Colloquially known as the “Venice of the North”, multiple channels were built around the center that gives it a unique charm. There are more than 160 channels.

Also, you will find thousands of bicycles parked on all sides of the canals. Bicycles are the main mean of transport around Amsterdam. Being a fairly flat terrain, every day thousands go to and return from their homes and jobs riding this two wheels bikes. Bicycles can be parked almost anywhere. You will even see many abandoned in the bridges and streets.

Amsterdam is popularly known for being a city of freedom where you can do whatever you want. But in reality, Amsterdam is much more than the decriminalization for drug use and its popular red light district. The city is one of the oldest in Europe and has an exquisite history; so you’ll find museums on every corner and endless cultural activities. Here is the house of Rembrandt and the house of Anne Frank; besides a museum of sex and another of marijuana. The possibilities of activities and tourists attractions are endless.

A curiosity? Amsterdam is submerging and today an important part of it is almost 7 meters below sea level. They have built barriers around the city to control the entry and exit of water, but during the winter months, some streets may flood.

You can access the map here.

What to see in Amsterdam.

The style of tourist attractions in Amsterdam is quite varied, from art museums to museums of sex and drugs; all passing through beautiful buildings and canals that give the city a unique vibe.

Among the most prominent sites in Amsterdam and those that we recommend visiting when traveling to Amsterdam are:

The canals of Amsterdam and its streets.

Without a doubt one of the biggest attractions, and the reason why the city is called “The Venice of the North”.

The main ones are 4: Singel, Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht.

You can travel through them by the surrounding streets or on boat rides; either by day in a quiet family walk or by candlelight at a romantic dinner with your partner.

In addition, the downtown streets have their own charm. In almost all the center of the city motorized vehicles are prohibited so they are very quiet to walk, while its typical architecture of the city enchants any visitor.

The center is very small, so it is possible that in a day or two you begin to repeat the streets you pass through, although you probably do not realize it. There is always something new to observe.

Central station and Damrak street.

The central train station of the city it’s truly an attraction itself. It opened in 1889 and the building has a Neo-Renaissance style worthy of admiration, especially for lovers of architecture. Leaving the station you can walk along Damrak street, one of the main streets of the city.

Dam Square

This square is the heart of the city. Although it may not be so beautiful, historically it has been the location of great events, such as the arrival of Napoleon in 1808. In it, it also is the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis).

“I Amsterdam” sign and Museumplein

As its name says, this is the museum square. Around it is several museums such as Van Gogh’s, Stedelijk, and Rijksmuseum.

On the north of the square, we find the famous sign of I Amsterdam, where every day hundreds of tourists take their symbolic photograph with giant letters. During your trip to Amsterdam, you can not miss this place that has become a symbol of the city.

Begijnhof

To enter you must do it through a narrow passageway between houses on Spui Street, marked only with a small engraving. Inside you will find a beautiful garden surrounded by old houses that were once occupied by nuns. It is a tradition that single women live. Be quiet, because silence is a rule of the area.

Oude Kerk

Gothic church located very close to the red light district. It is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam and that you should visit during your trip. Inside you will find an impressive organ and the tombs of many important figures in the city. No doubt the interior and exterior construction is worthy of a visit.

Amsterdam Museums.

Today Amsterdam has more than 70 museums. The list goes from sex museums to the most beautiful art galleries in Europe, exhibiting works by famous artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

Here we leave the most recommended ones to visit when traveling to Amsterdam for its historical and artistic content. If you want to visit others like sex or marijuana, you can have fun for a while. You can also find museums of photography, nautical, modern art, theater, beer; and much more!

You can buy tickets online on several web pages. Here we leave the link to one of them. Buying tickets online will avoid long waitings in line and you can enter directly to enjoy them. If you want to know more advantages of buying tickets in advance, enter here.

Remember that with your I Amsterdam card you can enter for free to about 50 free museums.

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Van Gogh Museum:

Home to the largest collection of works by this artist.

Price: 17 euros per person; and you can add an audio guide for 5 euros more.

Opening Hours: They vary between 09:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. depending on the season. Fridays go from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

House of Rembrandt:

Here you can find the history of this famous artist, located where he lived. In addition to several works of his authorship.

Price: 13 euros per person.

Opening Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Anne Frank House:

The house of Anne Frank, known worldwide for her published personal diary. In it, two families hide from the Nazi persecution for more than two years.

You can visit the hidden rooms and see an original copy of the diary. Tickets can only be purchased online with a fixed entry schedule. Here we leave the link to one of them

Price: Adults 9 euros / 10 to 17 years 4.5 euros.

Opening Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Rijksmuseum:

One of the largest and most important art museums in the world with a collection of hundreds of works of art, paintings, and historical objects. Here we leave the link to one of them

Price: 17.5 euros per person. The audio guide leaves 5 euros per person.

Opening hours: 09:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Stedelijk:

Nearly 90,000 works of contemporary art including paintings, photographs, sculptures, design objects and much more.

Price: 17.5 euros per person.

Opening hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Amsterdam Coffee Shops

There are more than 200 “Coffee Shops” in Amsterdam, which do not sell coffee… they sell marijuana. The truth is that the drug is not legalized, but consumption and transportation of up to 5 grams have been decriminalized. It is only legal to consume inside this “coffee shops”; however many also do it in public spaces although it is banned since 2008.

Some types of hallucinogenic mushrooms are also allowed, but all other drugs are illegal and you can face prison sentences if you get surprised with them in your possession.

Amsterdam Red-light district.

Amsterdam’s red-light district is one of the few in the world with open-door prostitution. This means that while you walk through its streets you will find windows where women are exhibited (freely, nobody forces them). If a client enters they close the curtain and “close the business” until they are ready for a new client.

There are about 500 windows in the city, and every day about 1,000 prostitutes work here. It’s legal since 2002 and, as a curiosity, prostitutes have to have a license to work and pay taxes for their income.

Although it can be quite interesting to watch, be careful with taking close-up pictures of the girls. Many have guards who will have no problem going out to scare you away from the place. The street is always quite crowded, especially at night; You can find many bars in the surrounding area for those who just want to have fun with friends.

Jordaan District - Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Jordaan District

This neighborhood is popular for all the small canals that are in its narrow streets. Years ago it was a neighborhood for the working class, but its charm has led to young entrepreneurs, artists, and students to choose living there today. It is an excellent place to get lost walking and enjoying the atmosphere, its small cafes, quaint shops and art galleries.

Vondelpark

Located in the south of the city, it is the largest green area you’ll find near the center. An ideal park to rest from the busy life of Amsterdam, ride a bicycle, rollerskate or walk among its trees and lagoons. It is perfectly maintained, and you can even find a second sculpture of the “I Amsterdam” sign in here.

Day trip to Keukenhof.

A beautiful garden of tulips and other flowers. It opens only in spring (between March and May) and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the huge fields of tulips that surround it bloomed and filled with colors of the flowers.

Opening hours: 08:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The ticket office closes at 6:00 p.m.

Price: Adults, 17 euros online and 18 euros in the office. Children up to 3 years old are free, and between 14 and 17 years old they pay 8 euros per person.

How to get to Keukenhof?

You can arrive at Keukenhof by train or bus. In our case, we preferred the bus because it left us directly at the park gate and it was cheaper. There are also paid car parks.

For more information about it, you can visit the official page of the park here.

Important information to plan your trip to Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

Best time to travel to Amsterdam.

The climate in Holland is “oceanic”, so the temperatures are not as low as in other parts of Europe, but there is a lot of humidity. Regarding the best time to travel to Amsterdam is between April and August. 

January to March:

It is winter, with always cloudy skies and regular rain at low intensity. Temperatures range between 0º to 10º during these months, so be prepared for really low temperatures. If you decide to travel in this season, read here advises to dress for a winter trip.

April to June:

It is still cold, but they are very good months to visit Amsterdam. Towards June the clouds begin to disappear and temperatures rise to 20º. In addition, in April the tulip fields bloom until the beginning of May, something you can’t miss!

July and August:

The Dutch summer. Temperatures close to 25º and an excellent time to travel to Amsterdam.

September to December:

Winter begins and temperatures drop. Again the skies are cloudy and in December there is a high probability of snowfall.

If you decide to travel in a cold month, then find here our tips to dress for a winter trip and enjoy to the fullest.

How to get to Amsterdam

Airplane to Amsterdam:

Schiphol Airport is one of the most recognized in Europe for its organization and entertainment. It is the ideal way to get to Amsterdam if you come from a distant city. You can find a mall with several stores and even a museum inside. It has 5 terminals, but all in the same building, so it’s hard to get lost.

How to get from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam?
  • Metro: By far the best alternative. Every 15 minutes trains leave to the center. Tickets are priced from 3.8 euros per person (supplement of 0.5 euros for paying by credit card). The trip takes 30 minutes, the shortest one of the alternatives because the trains are really fast.
  • Bus: Having the option of the metro, discard this option unless you go to the vicinity of the Vondelpark, where it can be useful. The bus stops are incredibly well marked out of the airport doors, there is no chance you will get lost. But, if you are a little lost, you can ask for help from a guard who speaks English.
  • Taxi: It is only an option if you arrive at dawn when there is no public transport service. The trip leaves about 45 euros to the center.
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Train:

The central station of Amsterdam is perfectly located in the center of the city and is itself an attraction for travelers. The Renaissance building is really beautiful. Arriving by train to Amsterdam is an excellent alternative if you come from near cities.

Tickets are easily obtained in it or through the internet in these pages: Eurail or Rail Europe; used above all to buy tickets through all the European Union. If you buy the tickets at Amsterdam’s central station, the easiest thing is to do it is on the machines, which is also the cheapest. You can choose between 1st and 2nd class and between single or round trip tickets.

There are two types of trains:

  • Sprinter trains: They stop many times on the road, moving forward in small sections. For short trips, they will be your alternative because of the cheaper price.
  • Intercity trains: They make direct trips between cities; with fewer stops. If your route is long, they are your best option because they will arrive much faster to the destination.

From the station, you can take the metro or tram to get to the different points of Amsterdam; or rent bicycles to get around Amsterdam. There is a huge parking lot where the locals often lose them because they forget where they left them. Anyway, they are pretty cheap so no problem!

For more schedule information go to Here we leave the link to one of them

Bus:

The Amsterdam bus station is next to the central train station, in an excellent location. Given the excellent connection of trains, it is rare to arrive by this means of transport. We do not recommend it, it is slower and the prices are similar to traveling by train.

FIND HERE THE DOCUMENTS NECESSARY TO ENTER THE EUROPEAN UNION

Why travel to Amsterdam

As we told you, the city of Amsterdam is known for the freedom of citizens and tourists regarding issues related to sex and drugs. In addition to all the museums and how beautiful it is in itself, many go for the nightlife and decriminalization of drugs.

During the day you can walk through beautiful parks and visit impressive art museums, and at night go through the red-light district of prostitution or go to a Coffe Shop to smoke marijuana. There is a lot to do in Amsterdam. You can stay there for weeks and never get bored, or just see Amsterdam in a day.

Just remember to plan some parts of your trip ahead to prevent any Amsterdam crisis moments

Our traveler tip to know Amsterdam

I Amsterdam Card:

The I Amsterdam card is a tourist card that allows you free access to 38 museums, discounts in restaurants and activities; and free access to public transportation in the city.

The card comes in versions of 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours and is activated on its first use. If you plan to visit many museums and use public transport a lot, then it may be convenient to buy it and get to save some money. It is also pretty convenient for saving time because you can skip the lines of the box office on many attractions.

Prices are 57, 67, 77 and 87 euros for each of the options.

Here we leave the link to one of them

How to get around Amsterdam

Walking through Amsterdam:

The center of Amsterdam only has a few square kilometers, so you can walk it without problems. This option is less viable on very cold days.

Get around Amsterdam by bike:

Bicicle parking - Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Bikes Parking

Most of the locals move by bike through Amsterdam, and tourists have adopted this mode of transportation too. Renting one for the day cost an average of 8 euros, but if you rent for more than 3 days it can be lower up to 4 euros per day. Parking is very easy, it is allowed throughout the city and you will see a lot in the rivers and streets.

Bicycles are allowed in the center of the city and everywhere, unlike other means of transport. The Dutch love bicycles.

Hop on hop off tours – bus and boat:

The for one day of use of the buses and boats of the company hop-on hop-of goes from 25 euros per person for 24 hours and 36 euros for 48 hours. You can take these as many times as you want and as you want to move between different points of the city. They also have hearing aids through which you can listen to the history of the city and its places while you pass through them.

Mapa Hop on Hop off Amsterdam bus y bote

It works from 10:00 to 18:05 every day. Here we leave the link to one of them

Getting around Amsterdam by public transport:

There are several types of public transport:

  1. Tram: There are 16 lines connecting the city that operate between 06:00 and 00:30. They are the best way to get around the city center if you do not want to walk or ride a bike. For more information consult its official website here.
  2. Buses: They only connect points of the city to which other transports do not arrive, which in general are the suburbs and more remote areas. Almost not used by tourists and travelers. The connection service to the airport can not be paid with the city card, only in cash on the Conexxion bus.
  3. Ferry: The ferry that you can get to use is the one that connects with the north of the main channel. You have to take at the central train station and it’s a free roundtrip.
Tram stop - Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Waiting for the tram.

How to pay?

To pay for public transport when traveling to Amsterdam you must have a card that works as a ticket, called OV-Chipkaart. There are 3 kinds of tickets:

  1. Disposable: It is charged with trips of 1, 24 or 48 hours; or whatever you want. At the end of the time, the card has no validity.
  2. Anonymous: It is worth 7.5 euros (and gives you “free” transportation for 1 day). You must charge it with money to pay the value of other trips or days (It is rechargeable).
  3. Personal: Usually used by locals, as it carries your personal data.

The price for one trip is 2.8 euros per hour, 7.5 euros for 24 hours, 12 euros for 24 hours, 16 euros for 48 hours and 20.5 euros for 96 hours.

To use it, always remember to validate it by passing it through the panels inside buses, trains, and trams. If an examiner sees that you did not validate your trip, you face fines of more than 50 euros. You must check it when you get on and when you get off the bus, so the card knows when you get off the transportation.

Cab:

We do not recommend them because they are quite expensive. They could only be of some use when public transport services do not work and you have to go to the airport. (in the early morning or late at night).

Amsterdam Free Walking Tour (Free walking tour):

Many free walking tours companies run in Amsterdam. In the end, it is expected that you give your guide a tip for the time. These are generally made by students who put their hours at the service of travelers and tourists.

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To find out more, you can ask at any hostel. They always have the brochures of the companies available, schedules and meeting points.

Where to sleep in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands, and its territory extends far beyond the well-known center with its canals. Our recommendations on where to sleep in Amsterdam and accommodations in Amsterdam are:

  1. The center of Amsterdam which is delimited by circular channels, and is easily recognizable on a map. We recommend especially staying near the train station and Dam Square to sleep in Amsterdam. Here the squares, museums, and tourist sites are easily accessible and are very easy to move by bike or walking, in addition to having an excellent connection of trams through the main streets. Although the prices are higher, as you move away from the train station they are cheaper.
  2. Near Vondelpark: This area is quiet and at the same time close to the city center. It is very easy to reach tourist places either by trams or bicycles. Ideal for families or for those who seek to get away from noise when sleeping. We chose this area to stay and highly recommend it.
  3. Noord: Crossing the river to the north is the north area of the city, where it is also highly recommended to sleep when traveling to Amsterdam especially if you go with a low budget. Residential neighborhoods, restaurants, and cafes await you just across the river. Crossing to the center from here is really easy because free ferries cross constantly from one side of the canal to the other.

If you are looking to stay near the airport, here is a list of hotels near Schiphol.

Where to eat in Amsterdam

Where are the restaurants in Amsterdam?

Something that is not difficult to do on a trip to Amsterdam is to eat. In practically all the downtown streets you will find restaurants, cafes, and shops.

The schedules go from early in the morning until 23:00, when most of the restaurants close their kitchens.

The areas with more restaurants are Leidse Square and Rembrandtplein. One of the most popular streets is Spuistraat, where you can find quiet bars, restaurants, and several fast food chains.

What to eat?

The Dutch gastronomy does not know of diets. You will find fried foods, sausages and exquisite desserts that are an important part of the diet for the dutch. However, restaurants in Amsterdam have been able to adapt to new trends and offer varied international options on their menus. Among the most recommended dishes are:

  • Potato chips: Yes, pretty common. But here it is as if they had a magic recipe that makes them incredible. Do not forget to try them in any of the traveling cars in the city. They are served with a variety of sauces that gives taste to anyone.
  • Bitterballen: Fried meatballs, a typical appetizer.
  • Kroket: Croquettes in general meat, but can also be chicken, seafood, etc.
  • Rookworst: The inevitable smoked sausage.

For more information, visit this post about food to try in Amsterdam.

Nightlife in Amsterdam

The nightlife in Amsterdam is very busy and every night there is a party in the city. Pub-crawls are very popular, in them for about 20 euros per person you make a tour through different bars and discotheques with some drinks included. An excellent opportunity to meet other travelers.

The main nightlife areas are:

Red light district in Amsterdam:

More than day restaurants, the hectic nightlife of this neighborhood has led many restaurants to establish themselves here and in their surroundings. Most open until late at night for drinks and alcohol; however, most kitchens close at 11 pm on only serve drinks after that.

Leidse Square or Leidseplein:

This square and its surroundings are one of the centers of Amsterdam’s nightlife, and by day it works perfectly with its cafeterias and restaurants.

Rembrandtplein:

Rembrandtplein - Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Rembrandtplein

Also a center for restaurants and nightlife; with bars and cafes among many other drinks and food options.

Shopping in Amsterdam

The main streets of Amsterdam.

There are two pedestrian streets where businesses are practically in all their extension and, therefore, are ideal for shopping in Amsterdam. These are Nieuwendijk and Kalverstraat. Here you can find souvenirs, cheeses and sausages stores, clothing and accessories stores, sex shops, marijuana souvenirs stores and much more.

Venta de semillas de flores - Guía de viaje a Amsterdam en Holanda

Amsterdam flowermarket

The Netherlands is known for its beautiful tulips and other flowers that grow in the country, so you can not miss this flower market especially in spring. You can also find seeds of tulips and other flowers in many colors, which you can buy if immigration in your country allow you to enter them.

Albert Cuyp Market.

Europe’s largest open-air market, where you can find second-hand goods and many products such as souvenirs, clothes and more. Besides, there are fruit and vegetable stands. It opens from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Sex shops

If you are interested in this topic, most of these businesses are in the red light district and around Rembrandtplein. You can find all kinds of articles related to the subject.

Coffee Shops in Amsterdam.

The coffee shops are those stores where articles related to marijuana are sold. From cannabis to smoking to food prepared with it, and of course all kinds of accessories. Most are open until midnight or more. You will find complete menus with different strains and kinds of marijuana.

If you are interested in this topic, we leave you a map with the location of the main Amsterdam Coffee Shops.

Festivals in Amsterdam

Koningsday, April 27 (King’sDay)

The country celebrates the king’s birthday with street parties and many open-air markets. Amsterdam is the center of this activity so thousands travel from other cities to experience it here. The streets of the center are closed for all traffic and everyone wears orange clothes in honor of their country signature color.

Gay pride week, end of July at the beginning of August

For 1 week the city is full of parades and activities around gay pride. It is important to book accommodation in advance, as the accommodations are filled out quickly.

Grachtenfestival, mid-August.

A series of concerts and open-air shows in different squares of the city. They close the festival with a big concert in the middle of the water in Prinsengracht.

Scams and dangers in Amsterdam

The city is very safe, and beyond thefts of wallets or purses, there are not many dangers. We believe you have to be careful with two things:

  • Bicycles: Bicycles have the preference, and tourists forgetting it can end up in colliding with some. Find out what the cycle paths are and never enter them.
  • Drugs: One of the reasons why many decide to travel to Amsterdam is the decriminalization of drugs. However, there are stories of tourists who were drugged in bars and then assaulted; always be careful what you drink.

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