Goedemorgen, adventurer! Our next stop – Amsterdam! The city where anything goes. The Dutch capital is known for its elaborate canal system, beautiful tulip blooms, prominent cycling culture, scandalous red-light district, and cannabis cafes. Amsterdam has it all.
Check out our three days in Amsterdam…
DAY 1 // EXPLORING AMSTERDAM
We arrived at Schiphol Airport and boarded a train to Amsterdam Central Station, about a 15-20 minute ride. We then took a taxi from the station to our Air BnB in West Amsterdam in the Jordaan neighborhood. The home was the perfect weekend retreat – well-equipped kitchen, enormous bathtub, impeccable décor design and an outdoor garden with a patio.
We headed out for a stroll and stopped at Café Josélito for lunch. We loved sitting outdoors with a beer and some tapas watching the city go by. We had planned to do a walking tour but were running later than planned and instead decided to roam the city on our own.
We walked on to Dam Square, one of the key landmarks of the city featuring the Royal Palace, Gothic Nieuwe Kerk Church and Amsterdam’s National Monument honoring World War II casualties. It’s a great spot to catch some unique street performers.
Next, we walked on past the Mint Tower to Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. We bought some tulips to plant back home. Do note that there are some travel restrictions on flying with flowers and plants, so be sure to check with the market before purchasing.
We stopped at another café before walking back to our Air BnB. The city is much bigger than I expected. We walked over nine miles the first day!
At night, we explored the Jordaan neighborhood which is bursting with quaint canals and trendy eateries. We dined at restaurant La Olivia and enjoyed “pinchos” (similar to tapas) and gelato for dessert. Strolling along the canals under the streetlights was the perfect way to end our first day.
DAY 2 // MIKE’S BIKE TOUR + THE INFAMOUS RED-LIGHT DISTRICT
We decided to hop on a bus to our morning destination and found the transit system easy to navigate. We got off across from the NEMO Science Museum and had breakfast at a cute café called Bakers & Roasters.
After a great meal, we walked a few blocks to Mike’s Bike Tours ready to take on the Dutch biking lifestyle. We opted for the countryside tour, which was a great way to see the Dutch landscape. The tour was about four hours and took us along the Amstel River to an authentic windmill and a cheese farm/clog factory. The Dutch farmer was a real character and loved putting on a show for his visitors. He’s one of only three wooden shoe producers left in business and showed us his trademarked machines that create this favored tourist keepsake. It was impressive to hear that he does all the painted decoration by hand. Room temperature cheese is not really my thing, but he also offered some samples of authentic Dutch cheese varieties that he produces on-site.
Our tour guide was excellent and provided a plethora of fun facts on the city. Amsterdam is basically built on a swamp (hence the wooden shoes) and I enjoyed learning about the intricate drainage system that helps the city from suffering flood damage due to its low elevation.
The tour ended with a scenic ride through Vondelpark. The ride is mostly flat and the most challenging part is navigating the traffic in the city center. We thought it was the best way to see the more charming Dutch countryside.
Time for refreshments! After the bike tour, we walked to Dam Square and stopped at the W Hotel rooftop bar for a cocktail. This outdoor bar is a bit swanky but has a stunning 360-degree view over part of the city, including Dam Square. We grabbed some delicious Belgian waffles on our walk back to our Air BnB.
Time to brave the red-light district. We set out to find out what it was all about. Besides pickpockets, the area is fairly safe to visit especially during daytime and is actually surprising beautiful at night with the canal all lit up. I would recommend asking your tour guide for all the details on the area or visit the Red Light Secrets Museum. I was interested to learn about government support of the area due to its impact on tourism and tax revenues.
Nearby we found a nice outdoor Mexican restaurant where we enjoyed a good meal and people watched. We had another gorgeous night and enjoyed the long walk back to our Air BnB.
Day 3 // ANNE FRANK HOUSE + CANAL TOUR
We started the day with some sweet and savory poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) at The Pancake Bakery. I ordered one with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, chocolate shavings, and whipped cream. What’s better than dessert for breakfast?
We took a peek inside the gorgeous Westerkerk Church while we waiting for our 10:15 a.m. reservation at the Anne Frank House. We had learned the story of Anne Frank in middle school, but walking through the secret annex where she hid for more than two years gave me goosebumps. This was the only museum we had time for during our visit, and I’m so glad we were able to take time to pause and remember all those who lived through the horrific Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
A few things to note on the museum: 1. It requires a reservation; 2. There are no cameras allowed; 3. The walls are extremely narrow and there are several tight staircases so if you have a backpack you will be required to wear it in front of you.
The surrounding area, known as “Seven Bridges Amsterdam”, is said to have excellent shopping but the stores didn’t open until noon, so we walked around the area to kill some time until our canal cruise.
Mike’s Bike Tours suggested Those Dam Boat Guys canal cruise as another way to see the city, and it did not disappoint. Our guide Julian had a great sense of humor and was happy to answer all of our crazy questions about Amsterdam. We enjoyed the company of six other passengers, and you can bring whatever you’d like – beer, wine, “coffee” – for the ride. The tour was about 90 minutes and was a fun way to navigate the complex canal system.
For dinner, we went back to the trendy Jordaan neighborhood for a nice meal and gelato.
// To end on a HIGH note:
Yes, marijuana is legal and abundant in Amsterdam so if you’re looking to enjoy some otherwise outlawed recreational activities, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some tips on the cannabis culture in Amsterdam:
- Every coffee shop has a menu, typically divided into weed, hash, pre-rolled joints, and sometimes “spacecakes” (sweet cakes baked with marijuana in them). Be sure to ask staff for recommendations and know the effects before you buy.
- Skip the touristy coffee shops, like Original Dampkring made famous by the movie Oceans 12. Chances are it will be packed and you’ll be paying a premium.
- Coffee shop recommendations include Bluebird Coffeeshop (near Mike’s Bike Tours) and Amnesia Coffeeshop (near Those Dam Boat Guys)
Additional Amsterdam travel tips:
- The machines in the train stations only take coins, not cash. Having some coins on hand when you arrive at the Schipol Airport train station will help you avoid waiting in a long line to purchase tickets.
- The Netherlands requires credit cards with a chip and pin for their machines. This is pretty standard now in the U.S. but be sure to check your cards before leaving.
If we had another day we would have loved to visit The Heineken Experience, Rijksmuseum Museum, Van Gogh Museum, or stopped into one of their famous venues to hear live music.
Comment below on your favorite Dutch vacation spots.