The Red Light District, coffee shops, crowded museums and over-priced food.
When you ask someone how their first time in Amsterdam was, they’ll tell you the usual story of how they visited the Red Light District, a few coffee shops (“for research”), went to the Van Gogh Museum and ended up eating average food for an extortionate price.
There is something about visiting Amsterdam for the first time and not getting the whole picture. The whole wonderfully beautiful, charming and captivating picture.
You chose a hotel that was ‘central’, so what could have gone wrong, right?!
Having called this city home for two incredible years, I’d love to share with you some tips on how to make your second visit to Amsterdam less expected, less expensive and more memorable.
First! Get out of the centre.
Do not stay there, do not eat there. Prices are very high and quality is very low.
My personal favourite is The Jordaan – a picture perfect area from the 17th century. First housing immigrants and workers, now home to artists, families and some really great shopping – like & Klevering and Store Without A Home – along charming Haarlemmerdijk.
Skip the expensive bill on an average hotel and look for an AirBnB. A booming business in this city, you can scoop up brilliant alternatives to hotels for less than half the price. Want to really feel like a local? Stay in a canal boat! Check out unique options on the House Boat Hotel website.
Second! If the menu has pictures of the food on it, don’t eat there.
Food can be extremely average in Amsterdam for the price. Deep-fried items crowd menus while finding a fresh, delicious meal seems like a far-out dream. A good rule to choosing a restaurant is – if the menu has pictures on it – leave.
This is a tourist trap!
Some of my favourite meals were in small neighbourhood pubs – like The Blaauw Hooft on Prinseneiland. A daily rotating menu, there are favourites like chicken satay, but also Dutch specialties like pea soup, that will warm and fill you up.
Third! Pedal, pedal, pedal.
Don’t be intimidated to rent a bike. You can do it! Amsterdam is incredibly bike friendly and once you’re out of the centre, bike traffic is lower and rides along the twisty cobblestone streets and canals are pure magic.
My favourite thing to do was ride my bike at night, once the streets have become quiet and the canals are still; looking at the reflections on the water and feeling the night breeze. There is nothing more incredibly satisfying for all your senses than this.
Now – how to be incognito when riding? Rent a bike that is not a gleaming beacon of your novice status! There is a secret bike rental place where you can rent bikes that look like local’s bikes, rust and all, and, because I like you, I’ll share it with you, here.
Fourth! Dance, play, eat and relax like a local
Is the sun out? Pick a park, pack a picnic and act like a local. When the sun shines, everyone is outside – so join them! Grab some nice bread, Gouda cheese, beer and check out one of the city’s incredible parks. My favourite is Westerpark – on the Western border of The Jordaan, this park has the greatest vibe.
A fun mix of students, couples and families, there are some great cafes peppered into this vast area of beautiful park space. Space where you can catch the smell of the cherry blossoms and catch the beat of EDM as it oscillates through the air.
Sixth…Van Gogh Museum is great but…
There are so many other museums to check out! One of the most unique I have been to is the Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum Our Lord in the Attic). A fully and accurately restored 17th century canal house hiding a full church on the top three floors.
The National Maritime Museum is both gorgeous and super interesting. The Dutch have a rich history in sailing (think Dutch Easy India Company) exploring and navigating. Make sure to check out their gift shop (one of the best!) and eat at their café afterwards – a lovely experience with a great view over the water.
For architecture buffs – the Museum het Schip is a stunning example of the Amsterdam School style of Architecture. On the Spaarndammerplantsoen, you can see a fantastical apartment block designed by Michel de Klerk. They have daily walking tours, every hour on the hour, with the first leaving at 11AM.
And finally The Eye is a film museum with a great restaurant and interesting, rotating exhibits. The best part of this museum is, it’s a great chance to take one of the free ferries departing Centraal Station across the IJ river. Seeing Amsterdam from this vantage point is a side of the city most tourists don’t get to experience.
Because I love it there so much, I want everyone’s experience to be just as memorable. So, if you’re suddenly seeing a large quantity of marijuana-inspired fashion in the storefronts and everyone around you is glassy eyed, turn around and head another direction. There is so much more than this to Amsterdam!