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“All the best things to do in Amsterdam are so touristy.”
I’ve overheard tourists say this a handful of times now, and it bums me out a little that they didn’t have the best experience in my city because Amsterdam to me is nothing but touristy. Well, of course some parts are, but there are plenty of ways to experience the local lifestyle in addition to checking out the major attractions.
For a well-rounded trip that includes both local and touristy tips, read my Amsterdam travel guide below. This is the exact list I’ve used over the past two and a half years for when my family and friends have visited. You’d think that I’d get tired of these places by now, but nope—I love showing my visitors the best things to do in Amsterdam and playing a local tourist!
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Explore Local Neighborhoods: Oud West and De Pijp
The #1 way to escape the crowds in Amsterdam is to get out of city center. Luckily, Amsterdam’s quite a small city so it won’t take you more than 10-20 minutes by tram to reach these trendy neighborhoods that locals live in.
Oud-West is an authentic neighborhood right outside of Jordaan. It has a mix of trendy and ethnic spots and is quite chill. I may be partial to this neighbor because I live here, but it’s truly a down-to-earth yet vibrant spot to be. I always bring people to the Ten Kate Market and the Foodhallen, which are right next door to each other.
The Ten Kate Market, which is open from Monday to Saturday between 9AM to 5PM, is a local outdoor market that sells everything from hummus to cheese at great prices. Flowers are as cheap as €2,50 so you can brighten up your hotel room or Airbnb with gorgeous tulips and not feel bad about the cost.
The Foodhallen is a trendy street food court built inside an old renovated tram warehouse so if you love design, you’ll love the tall ceilings and exposed brick of the building. Within the same building is an Etsy-like store of local artists’ goods if you want an authentic souvenir that supports the local economy instead of buying cheap probably Chinese-made goods in city center.
Note: The Foodhallen is packed on Friday and Saturday from 6-10PM give or take half an hour. It might be hard to get a seat so act quick if you see an open seat. Check the upstairs too for extra seating.
De Pijp is probably the hippest neighborhood in Amsterdam, especially for local nightlife. Whenever I go though, it’s all about food. I love:
- eating brunch at Bakers and Roasters,
- getting a coffee, fresh smoothie, or brunch at CT Coffee and Coconuts, a cafe built into a 1920s theatre,
- snacking my way through the Albert Cuyp Market, the biggest outdoor market in the Netherlands,
- or grabbing authentic Israeli hummus from Sir Hummus and eating outdoors at Sarphatipark.
There’s a ton of trendy shops and bars here so you’ll be able to find a place to hop into by just walking around. Speaking of trendy, there’s a Matcha Bar here!
Overall, I’d consider Oud-West and De Pijp the best areas to stay in Amsterdam because they’re away from the crowd but still close to everywhere you’ll want to go.
See a View of Amsterdam From Above
For a daytime view of Amsterdam, I love going to the Doubletree Sky Lounge by Central Station. It doesn’t seem that tall from the outside but once you go up 11 stories, you’ll get a clear view of Amsterdam.
The drinks are pricey here, but they do themselves justice as they’re usually accompanied by a snack. However, you didn’t hear this from me, if you’re on a budget trip to Amsterdam, then run up for the view and leave. I’ve done this a handful of times and no one has ever said anything to me…yet.
While you’re over there, you might as well stop by the Central Library to see the Mouse House in the kids’ section. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see this, but since you’re already there, definitely stop in!
It’s pretty cool. This family created this enormous, extremely detailed mouse city to create a children’s story book. You’ll be astonished with the amount of work that probably went into this.
For a nighttime view of Amsterdam, I love going to Madam Amsterdam at the A’dam Tower. It costs money during the day to go up the tower, but at 9PM, this bar is open to the public for free. You’ll see a panoramic view of Amsterdam sparkling at night.
Again, the drinks are pricey here compared to the rest of Amsterdam, but you’re paying for the view. They also have a DJ on the weekend so you can dance the night away.
Note: You have to take a ferry from Central Station to get here, but it’s free and takes about 30 seconds. Super easy!
Cruise on the Canals
I love cruising on the canals on a sunny day and even when it’s cold out for the Amsterdam Light Festival. There are a few ways to cruise on the canals.
My favorite way is to rent a boat and drive it around yourself. This is what locals do if they don’t own a boat themselves. Don’t forget to make the most of your boat ride by buying food and drinks beforehand.
Tip: Taking the free canal cruise? Make sure to snag a seat in the back where it’s open. You’ll enjoy the view better inhibited by scratched glass.
Have a Delicious Brunch at a Comedy Club in Amsterdam
For something unique, funny and tasty to do in Amsterdam, BOOM Chicago’s Sunday brunch improv show hits the mark on all three. You get brunch served by G’s, a popular brunch restaurant in Amsterdam, which is awesome because you can skip the wait that you’d get at the restaurant. Brunch comes with an alcoholic beverage, and best of all, a hilarious improv comedy show.
The improv comedy show has a mix of improv obviously but also includes singing and various skits! They also interact with the audience a lot, which amps up the show’s funniness level.
To be honest, I’m really hard to impress so I was actually surprised at how much I was laughing and smiling at this show. This is a great activity to do as a couple, with a group of friends or even with your family!
Walk Around Jordaan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
You know all the beautiful photos of Amsterdam with bridges and canals? Well, that’s the Jordaan (pronounced “your-dahn”) neighborhood. This area is UNESCO World Heritage Site meaning it’s so marvelous that it can’t be missed, or in reality, that it’s protected and kept in its original state because of its cultural significance.
It’s nice during the day to see all the boats driving around and the flowers lining the tops of the bridges, but it’s also quite romantic to see at night because the streets are less crowded and the lights lining the canals glow in the dark.
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Visit the Anne Frank Museum
If you only have time for one museum, I’d recommend the Anne Frank museum. It’s unlike any other Holocaust Museum I’ve been to since it goes deep into one person’s life before and during the Holocaust. You’ll get to hear Anne Frank’s personal anecdotes along with those who knew her. You’ll stand in the very space she lived for two years, and for a moment, get an inkling of this girl’s hardships during that time.
You MUST buy your ticket online until July 1, 2018 because of renewal work they’re doing at the museum. Tickets get released two months in advance so mark your calendar for two months before your visit to Amsterdam because these tickets sell out very quickly.
If you’re reading this after July 1, 2018, I still recommend buying a ticket online. I’ve seen people wait in person for 3 hours to get in, which seems a tad bit unnecessary.
Want to visit lots of other museums? You may want to consider the iAmsterdam City Pass Card. It gives you free entry to 44 museums, a canal cruise, and unlimited public transportation and comes in 24, 48, 72, or 96 hour cards.
Eat Dutch Street Food at Outdoor Markets
For a small, truly local market, go to the Ten Kate Market, which I mentioned above. It’s a quaint outdoor market in Oud-West where I shop weekly.
Some of my favorite snacks to eat there are:
- the pastrami sandwich at the Italian stand,
- the fresh summer and fried spring rolls at the Vietnamese truck,
- the Dutch fries at the fries truck (these are my favorite fries in all of Amsterdam),
- the hummus falafel sandwich at the hummus stand at the very end of the market by the bakery (not the first hummus stand),
- the Dutch fried fish pieces aka kibbeling at the fish truck in the middle of the market,
- and anything from the bakery at the end of the market.
For a larger market that most tourists go to, head to the Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp. Here you’ll find fries, kibbeling (fried fish pieces), poffertjes (mini pancakes), stroopwaffels (pressed waffle cookie with syrup in the middle), fresh orange juice (the Dutch love fresh OJ), and more.
Haring is also a popular Dutch food easily eaten on the street, but it’s not my cup of tea. That shouldn’t stop you from trying a local food! You can try this at any fish stand at both markets.
You might also like: Best Restaurants in Amsterdam
Have a Picnic at Vondelpark
I love having picnics at Vondelpark. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen many stories of me having a feast at Vondelpark. I just can’t go to the park without bring a ton of food; it’s a problem…
I generally buy food at Albert Heijn because they have fresh, portable salads, sandwiches, and even cold-pressed smoothies for under €5, but if I plan in advance (like an hour in advance… hehe), then I’ll get hummus, bread, meats, and cheese from the Ten Kate Market.
The ground at the park is generally wet because it rains so often so either bring a blanket or find a bench to sit on.
Please don’t forget to put your trash including your cigarette butts in the many garbage bins around the park. You’ll be surprised how much garbage finds it’s way into the lakes and wooded areas. Thank you in advance!!!
Ride a Bike
For the quintessential Dutch experience, you must ride a bike here! It can be overwhelming, but really, there’s no safer place to ride it than in Amsterdam because the infrastructure is made for bikers.
In Amsterdam, bikers have the right of way, not pedestrians! Locals know this all too well so if you want to bike in the city of bikes but are a bit nervous to, then head to Vondelpark, or at the very least, get out of city center to where the locals are.
If you’re too nervous to bike on your own and want to learn some history about the city, take a small group biking tour where an experienced local tour guide and biker will let you know exactly where and when to go!
Of course I need to add this in here because it’s Amsterdam, and a lot of people come here just for this! I don’t particularly enjoy going to coffeeshops (establishments where you can buy and smoke weed) because they’re smoky– who would’ve thought?— but if I had to choose my favorite places, it would be:
- Amnesia in Jordaan because it’s clean, has a lounge feel, serves nice tea and snacks, and plays good music (most of the time),
- Spirit in Jordaan because it’s generally empty (I hate crowds) and has old school pinball machines, or
- Kashmir in Oud-West because their bar has awesome local DJs on weekend nights and a full-service bar from tea to beer.
Party at Underground Techno Clubs
Amsterdam is my favorite city to party in because of the locals. Here are just a few reasons why I love partying here:
- Everyone is respectful of each other’s space and their surroundings and there for the music, not to be seen.
- Women wear sneakers and hardly get dressed up so it’s pretty casual.
- Women, if you hate being harassed all night by boys, then go to a local club in Amsterdam. It’s not part of the local culture to catcall, stare at, or really hit on women here!
Everything I’ve experienced clubbing in Amsterdam is the complete opposite of what it is in New York (besides the wearing sneakers and dressing casually thing, which is a norm at underground parties in NYC). Even my friends who hate clubbing loved their nightlife experience here.
My favorite techno club here is de School. You should either have tickets or at least know who’s playing. Otherwise, you might not be able to get in.
I also like de Marktkantine, Warehouse Elemenstraat, or Shelter, but for live music, I enjoy Paradiso or Bimhuis.
Surround Yourself With Tulips
If you’re visiting in April and May, then jump for joy because it’s tulip season! You can either go to Keukenhof, the 2nd most visited park in Europe aside from Disneyland Paris, or rent a bike and find flower fields in the open. There’s even a handy flower radar site to help you find these flower fields.
Note: Some farmers do not like people prancing around their flower fields for photo opps so tread lightly, but if you’re respectful, this is one of my fave day trips from Amsterdam.
Drink Craft Beer
Amsterdam has so many local craft breweries! My favorite beer is the Thai Thai by Oedipus because it’s so different and has Thai flavors like galanga in it, but brands like Two Chefs and Brouwerij ‘t IJ are great too.
If you have time, I’d actually recommend going to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery (seen above) where you can check seeing a windmill off your Amsterdam bucket list or the Oedipus brewery, which you’ll need a bike to reach.
Tips and Blog Posts to Help You With the Best Things to Do in Amsterdam
Well now you know what I consider the best things to do in Amsterdam, let’s make it happen easily. Here are local tips you should be aware of like tipping in Amsterdam and drinking tap water and my favorite restaurants in Amsterdam. For the best places to stay in Amsterdam, check out these places my friends, family and I have all personally stayed at.
- Where to Stay in Amsterdam
- Helpful Tips for Visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
- Local Tips: Finding Tulip Fields in Netherlands the Right Way
- A Walk Through Oud-West, Amsterdam // Nike
- Most Instagrammable Places in Amsterdam (Local Guide)
- 11 Local Travel Tips for Amsterdam
- Local Guide: Best Restaurants in Amsterdam
- Ron Gastrobar Oriental Review + What to Order
- Expat Guide: What Appliances to Buy in Amsterdam and What to Bring From Home
- 8 Fun and Free Things To Do in Amsterdam With Kids In the Summer
Well there you have it! My list of the best things to do in Amsterdam, which will give you a well-rounded trip of both local and touristy experiences. Can’t wait for you to visit Amsterdam!
Enjoy your time here, and if you have any questions, please let me know by commenting below or DMing me on Instagram.
Thanks for stopping by! xo.
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