Lucky enough to have a friend studying in Amsterdam, a group of my friends decided to pay her a visit. Not only did this mean that we had free accommodation (which is always a bonus), but that we had the opportunity to explore one of Europe’s most well-known cities through the eyes of a local. Here is my definitive list of things to do during a long weekend or city break in the Dutch capital.
From most places in the UK, getting to Amsterdam is quick, easy and cheap. Many low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet fly directly to Schiphol Airport for prices as low as £45 return (when booked far enough in advance).
Getting from the airport to the city centre is also painless, with regular trains that go straight to Amsterdam Central Station. You can buy tickets for these trains for roughly €4-€5 from the many machines dotted around (don’t worry – they have an English language setting) or book them in advance online, although this is almost twice as expensive. The journey takes between 15-20 minutes.
Put simply: by bike. In my opinion, this is the only way to see Amsterdam in its full glory – besides being a super fun way to get from one end of the city to the other. Cycling makes up a huge part of the culture here, and bike rental shops can be found on every corner. Prices for rental range vastly depending on where you go and what kind of bike you want, but shouldn’t be more expensive than €15 for a whole day on a city bike. The more days you rent for, the greater the discount: so I would recommend a bike-hire shop being your first port of call once you get into the city. For anyone who isn’t such a confident cyclist, don’t worry! Bicycles here have designated traffic lanes, and also normally outnumber the cars, so there is no danger (within reason) in cycling around even the busiest roads in the city.
Amsterdam also has a tram system, which covers all the main areas of the centre, and also stretches out to many of the city’s suburbs. You can buy tickets from the driver as you board the trams, and will cost roughly €3 for a single journey.
Don’t forget that Amsterdam is not huge, and if you are lucky enough to stay somewhere central then it is nice (and cheaper) to wander around on foot!
What to see:
Just south-west of the winding canals of the city centre is Vondelpark: one of Amsterdam’s largest and most beautiful green spaces. With its picturesque lakes and quirky cafes, Vondelpark is the perfect place to take a picnic to, or cycle through on a sunny day.
Amsterdam’s main shopping and most famous coffee shops are found dotted around Leidseplein. Some of the city’s liveliest nightlife can also be found here, with a variety of bars and restaurants to choose from: the square also sits right in the hub of the main canals, which stretch out from all angles.
For many visitors, Centraal station is the first impression you will have of Amsterdam, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. Stepping out of the station and onto the square gives you a taste of the city, teeming with trams, bikes, and both tourists and locals alike. The building itself is also pretty spectacular, standing out amongst the terraced canal houses.
The current location of the infamous ‘I Amsterdam’ sign – and a photo on top of this sign is an absolute must – the Rijksmuseum is one of the most iconic buildings in Amsterdam, in one of the prettiest settings. Although I personally never had enough time to go into the museum, the square just outside encompasses not only a stunning water feature decorated with flowers, but also a small but incredible waffle and crepe stand with outdoor seating.
Red Light District
Taking a stroll around Amsterdam’s renowned Red Light District at night is an interesting and eye-opening experience. The streets surrounding the area are full of life, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants open well into the early hours of the morning, and the party atmosphere of the place is one that is quite unlike anywhere else. I would, however, recommend staying in a group when exploring this area.
Travelling to Amsterdam in April meant that my friends and I were there in time for the annual fun fair that is set up in Dam Square. However, year-round, this is still one of the city’s most well-known and central tourist attractions, and is filled with cafes, food stalls and restaurants. Only a 5-minute walk from Centraal station, this is one of the busier areas of Amsterdam.
What to eat:
Although Dutch cuisine is often seen to be similar to German or Belgian foods, there a few particular snacks that I think are essential to try when visiting Amsterdam. For the real, local’s foodie experience, make sure to pay a visit to the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp area.
‘Bitterballen’ (pictured above) are a pork or beef-based snack in breadcrumbs which is served with a dipping sauce. They can be found in most cafes and restaurants around the city.
‘Stroopwafle’ are thin, biscuit-like waffles whose two layers are held together by delicious caramel syrup. I defy anyone not to fall in love with these.
‘Pannekoek’ are Dutch and Belgian-based crepes or pancakes, which are thin, sweet and mouth-wateringly good. Amsterdam has an abundance of cute little crepe shops and stands where you can easily find this snack.
Pin it for later!
Enjoy this article? Read more North European city guides here: