This city of the water offers a uniquely European experience unlink any other.
"Amsterdam is a unique city. It has everything that a ‘big city’ has to offer, yet it has a very intimate feel. The beautiful scenes of the canals and the canal houses give the idea of a small city,” says Eef Sparla, head concierge at Hotel de l’Europe.
Robbert van Rijsbergen, sales executive with Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam, agrees, and adds: “I would say that Amsterdam is special due to its architecture and being built on water, as well as its very rich collection of art.” Van Rijsbergen notes that Amsterdam is a very accessible city: “With only 800,000 residents, you can basically walk or bike anywhere fairly easily.”
While some people may think of Amsterdam as just its infamous Red Light District and “coffeeshops,” Amsterdam is a vibrant city with an incredibly rich history and an extraordinary architectural heritage, say Andrew Harper Travel Office consultants. Its canal-laced, pedestrian-friendly old center is ideal for aimless strolls and exploring.
Both Sparla and van Rijsbergen are quick to note that most Amsterdam residents speak English, have a laid-back attitude and are very welcoming to travelers.
Here, Sparla, van Rijsbergen and Wiebe van Eijsden of Hotel Seven One Seven, along with consultants from the Andrew Harper Travel Office and Abercrombie & Kent Europe, give their suggestions for the best ways to see, experience—and even taste—Amsterdam.
5 Must-See Attractions
- Canal Cruise: According to van Eijsden, everyone should enjoy a cruise along Amsterdam’s canals, which are included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. The Andrew Harper Travel Office adds, “A canal cruise provides a relaxing and scenic introduction to one of the loveliest cities in Europe.”
- Anne Frank’s House: A visit to the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis is moving and unforgettable.
- The Royal Palace: The palace, situated in Dam Square in the historical center of Amsterdam, was originally built to be the town hall.
- Heineken Experience: Take a tour of this historic brewery, where the world-famous pilsner was brewed until the 1980s.
- Museums: Amsterdam’s various museums (see below) house incredible collections. Van Rijsbergen recommends the Rijksmuseum: “This is our national museum with all the Dutch masterpieces,” he says.
5 Ways to Experience Amsterdam Like a Local
- Rent a bike. “Act like the city is yours,” says Sparla, “and ring your bell a lot.”
- Spend the day at Vondelpark. The city’s largest park, with 120 acres, was opened in 1865 and is named after Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel.
- Stroll through the Jordaan neighborhood. This area may not have many canals, but its low-key atmosphere, compact houses, charming restaurants and bars, and quirky shops make it popular with the locals.
- Explore the Albert Cuyp Street Market. Van Rijsbergen and van Eijsden both recommend this market, which originally opened in 1905. Today, more than 250 stands offer fruits and vegetables, fish, flowers, clothes, jewelry and more.
- Tour the canals. Spend a day on the canals in a sloep (open boat) with a bottle of wine.
5 Surprising Things About Amsterdam
- Amsterdam has 165 canals—more than Venice.
- There are 1,281 bridges in Amsterdam.
- Amsterdam has almost as many bikes as people.
- Amsterdam was one of the world’s greatest trading powers in the 17th century.
- The Royal Palace on the Dam Square was built on 13,659 wooden poles.
11 Museums You Shouldn’t Miss
- Rijksmuseum: The Dutch national museum focuses on art from the country’s Golden Age. The collection of beautifully silent Vermeer paintings and darkly dramatic Rembrandts is unparalleled.
- Van Gogh Museum: Although it is often crowded, the Van Gogh Museum has an incredible collection of the renowned artist’s paintings, say Travel Office consultants.
- Amsterdam Museum: Features fascinating displays showing how the city developed.
- Stedelijk Museum: A must for contemporary art buffs.
- Scheepvaartmuseum: National Maritime Museum—Explore the ways in which the Dutch culture has been shaped by the sea.
- Ons’ Lieve heer op Solder: Our Lord in the Attic—Because Amsterdam was a resolutely Protestant city, Catholics couldn’t worship in the open. A wealthy Catholic merchant converted the top three floors of a canal house into this impressively large, secret church.
- Joods Historisch Museum: Jewish Historical Museum—Sparla recommends this museum, with collections that illuminate Dutch Jewish life. Within the museum, you’ll find the Jewish Historical Children’s Museum, which is dedicated to Jewish life from a child’s perspective.
- Hermitage Amsterdam: Contains a rich collection of Russian art and masterpieces of Van Gogh, according to van Rijsbergen.
- Science Center NEMO: “This self-explore museum is great for children, as you can do all kinds of activities yourself and explore how everyday things work,” says Andrew Gallagher of Abercrombie & Kent Europe.
- Katten Kabinet: “Cat Cabinet”—Boasts a fun collection of art showing the world through cats’ eyes.
- Schuttersgalerij: This free gallery has a number of well-executed monumental paintings of the historic Civic Guards displayed in a two-story, light-filled alleyway.
7 Local Foods You Must Try
- Stroopwafels: Two waffle cookies with syrup in between them
- Beerenburg: “A Dutch sailor drink, usually consumed when it is cold outside,” says Gallagher.
- Bitterballen: Small fried meatballs Indonesian
- Rijsttafel: A meal composed of numerous small Indonesian side dishes
- Creamy Mustard Soup: “Always warms the spirit on a rainy day,” says the Andrew Harper Travel Office.
- Poffertjes: Very small pancakes
- Jenever: Dutch gin
5 Perfect Places to See Tulips And Other Flowers
- Keukenhof Gardens: “In season, the Keukenhof Gardens are home to thousands of colorful tulips—it’s an incredible spectacle,” notes the Andrew Harper Travel Office consultants. Van Eijsden says that April through September is the ideal time to visit.
- Flower Auction: About 20 million flowers are sold each day at this immense flower auction.
- Lisse’s Flower Fields: Sparla says the flowers in Lisse are best experienced via bike.
- Floriade: The world’s largest horticultural show takes place only once a decade, and will be held this year between April 5 and October 7 in North Holland.
- The Floating Flower Market (on Singel Canal): This is the only floating flower market in the world and a wonderful place to see the country’s abundant floral varieties, according to Travel Office consultants.
6 Day Excursions From Amsterdam
- Delft: Located between The Hague and Rotterdam, this city is famous for its blue-and-white pottery (“Delftware”).
- Alkmaar: This town is known for its traditional cheese market, which takes on Fridays throughout the summer.
- Haarlem: Located on the banks of the Spaarne River, this city resembles a mini-Amsterdam.
- Zaanse Schans: This neighborhood is known for its historic windmills.
- Den Haag/Scheveningen: Den Haag (The Hague) is the seat of the Dutch government and home to many famous museums. Scheveningen, a district within The Hague, lies along a long sandy beach.
- Volendam: This town is a traditional heritage fishing village.