Unlike Paris, where I was right before Amsterdam, Amsterdam does not have a long list of must-see attractions – and that’s what I love about it. You can take more time to just wander and really soak in the place. I guess for some, though, that would leave you with the question, “What do I do there then?” Don’t worry, there’s plenty! Here are 10 ideas.
1. Walk and marvel
I was completely unprepared for how beautiful every inch of this city is – I mean, every damn inch! (Hence the title of this post.) I swear I tried to take a picture every two or three feet that I walked. Between the historic architecture and hundreds of canals, every angle you turn in Amsterdam is scenic as hell. And this city was made for walking! Unlike a destination like Paris that can seem a bit overwhelming (but also freakin’ awesome), Amsterdam is very small and approachable. You can walk everywhere, seeing gorgeous sites wherever you end up, and you feel very safe the whole time. Nearly everyone speaks English, and fellow tourists are everywhere (in a good way).
Even on a day that my husband felt like chilling in the hotel room and letting me do my thing, I felt a lot of camaraderie walking around, as I was far from the only one taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, buying mass quantities of cheese, and asking for directions. Amsterdam is so approachable that even I was giving out directions to people by my second day there. Whereas Paris is a place I’d return to in a heartbeat to visit, Amsterdam is a place I could live.
We were told by many locals that just walking around aimlessly was one of the best ways to experience Amsterdam (and they were right!), but if you must have purpose and direction, know that the trams can take you anywhere and are pretty easy to figure out. Make sure you check out the tram’s Central Station – the building is very regal and surrounded by water. When I was standing in front of it, I felt like I was on a Disney set. It was such perfection it didn’t even seem real.
By the way, we arrived in Amsterdam on Dec. 25, which was perfect timing. Literally everything was elaborately lit up for Christmas, making nighttime wandering even more magical than daytime wandering!
2. Try the street food
Amsterdam has a thriving street food culture of Dutch classics. I can’t say they were all good, but they’re fun to try nonetheless. Oddly enough the best street food I tried was a croquette from a vending machine. Filled with meat and Asian spices, it was quite satisfying on a cold night.
Other street foods I tried included bitterballen (fried meatballs similar to the croquette but not as good on account of lacking the Asian spices), patat oorlog (French fries covered with mayo, satay sauce and chopped onion – quite tasty!), and poffertjes (mini pancakes with butter and powdered sugar – not bad but nothing special to me).
I also tried the stroopwafel, which was a sweet bite of heaven consisting of two thin waffles stuck together with caramel sauce. Based on my Internet research, I thought I’d find a lot of warm, fresh stroopwafels being made on the street, but I mostly saw them packaged in stores. I only saw one guy making them fresh, but I wasn’t even remotely hungry when I passed him. I hope to find him again one day, next time on an empty stomach.
A few street foods I did not try were raw herring (yes, this is a popular snack in Amsterdam!), and oliebollen (kind of like fried dough and popular around the New Year, but I could not bring myself to be quite that gluttonous after eating my face off in Paris). Regular sized pancakes are also popular in Amsterdam, served with either sweet or savory toppings. I tried one in a restaurant topped with ham and cheese, and again, it was just okay.
Fried fish is also all the rage, and my husband swears that the fried calamari he had at a place called Happy Seafood in the airport (both when we arrived and departed) was some of the best of his life. And trust me, he’s eaten a lot of calamari in his day!
3. Eat international
While the Dutch treats were hit or miss for me, I found the availability of some unique international foods to be a highlight of my visit. Both Surinamese and Indonesian foods are very popular in Amsterdam. First I set off for some Surinamese. I found a quaint shop in the trendy Jordaan district called Swieti Sranang. The owner recommended that I try a sandwich of chicken in peanut sauce with pickles and a bit of hot sauce. It was divine! So rich and juicy, and it was amazing that I could taste flavors from my two favorite types of cuisine – Asian and Caribbean – all in one bite!
I asked the owner why the food from Suriname (in South America) is so heavily influenced by Asia, and she explained that there were many people from Indonesia (like her) who settled there, as well as many people from India and China. Fascinating!
Speaking of Indonesia, you have to try the rijsttafel if you go to Amsterdam. This meal was one of the greatest joys of my trip (and my entire life if I’m being honest). Rijsttafel is an elaborate Indonesian meal (made popular by the Dutch) during which an insane amount of small dishes are brought to your table to be gorged on at your leisure.
My husband and I found a nice, classy restaurant to indulge in this pleasure. Called Restaurant Indrapura, it was in the popular Rembrandt Square area of Amsterdam, and could not have been better. The interior was fancy and elegant, the staff was extremely welcoming and accommodating (taking our coats as soon as we walked in), and the food – oh gaaaawwwdddd, the food!
If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know that my husband can be a bit of a picky eater. (Though for someone so picky, he sure eats a lot of squid!) Suffice it to say I was a bit nervous that he would just sit there and watch me as I inhaled roughly 20 dishes of food myself. Luckily, he absolutely loved the food as much as I did!!!
We opted for the vegetarian version of the rijsttafel thinking that it would be safer for his palate (and it was also the cheapest option). Let me tell you, we did not miss the meat. The dishes were as tasty and filling as could be. Some of the highlights included sweet corn fritters, a tangy mango salad, meaty tofu skewers, fragrant saffron rice, pickled cucumbers, spicy potatoes and fried bananas for dessert. My heart is beating fast just thinking about it again now.
As you can imagine rijsttafel is not the cheapest dining option in town, but we got out of there for roughly $56 total (including two glasses of wine), so it wasn’t bad at all. Apparently we got a discount because we were finished eating before 8pm (a discount we didn’t even know existed, but that they gave to us anyway). Also, after bringing about 15 dishes to our table, several concerned staff members came over and said that we were missing some items, and rushed to the kitchen to get them – so honest and considerate in light of the fact that we had no idea what we were supposed to be getting anyway! I loved this place through and through!
4. Experience Heineken
Besides a two-hour bus tour of the city’s highlights, the only other thing we scheduled in Amsterdam was a tour of the former Heineken Brewery. This stop was more for my husband, who loves beer and particularly Heineken, but I found it to be a very entertaining way to spend an afternoon as well. If you’ve ever been on a brewery tour, you may know that they can be a bit boring until the end when you get your free beer. Not so at Heineken! There’s tons to do there, not to mention that the building itself (like all the buildings in Amsterdam) is gorgeous.
From trying wort (the sugar water that eventually turns into beer) to catching a glimpse of the horse stables (the horses are for marketing purposes) and many fun photo and even video-making opportunities, I had a blast at the Heineken Experience. In addition, they even have a little ride in there, and there’s a beer tasting portion of the tour before you even get to the end! Then at the end, you get tickets to enjoy two free beers in their gorgeous rooftop bar with sweeping views of the city. It was definitely the best brewery tour I’ve been on, and was a nice break from powerwalking around the city in the cold.
5. Find a windmil
Amsterdam has several historic windmills, which are a must-see if you are in town. One of them is even right next to a brewery! We saw the beauty below on our bus tour of the city that our travel company, Gate 1, booked for us through Lindbergh Tour & Travel.
Lindbergh Tour & Travel (located near Central Station) offers many different types of tours including one into the countryside to see more windmills, canal cruises, tours of the Red Light District, pub crawls, you name it, so definitely check them out if you want a more guided experience in Amsterdam.
6. See the Red Light District
Speaking of the Red Light District, you should definitely see that too. No matter what your personal views are on prostitution, it’s an experience like no other. It was almost like a treasure hunt to me, winding through the narrow streets to find the ladies of the night waiting in the windows. Again, very surreal.
If you’re worried about safety, don’t be. There were definitely more tourists than ‘tutes occupying the area, which is also home to many restaurants, souvenir shops, snack shacks, and of course, coffee shops. Some of the tourists in the area (read: young, drunk males) were a bit rowdy, but it was more of an annoyance than a concern. Don’t let that stop you from checking out this unique slice of the world!
Speaking of slices, we stopped into a pizza place to get my husband some grub while we were in the Red Light District, and sat next to two young ladies obviously gearing up for…um, work…with some big bowls of pasta. Crazy!
7. Buy all the cheese!!!!
Amsterdam is crawling with cheese shops, and I think I went into all of them. Free samples, hello!!! I ended up buying about $30 worth of cheese and just prayed to God that it would not be confiscated by TSA when I got back to Atlanta. Luckily it was not, but my salami from Paris was not so fortunate. (RIP my friend.) I have already devoured a small hunk of cheese with truffles, and am now onto a giant hunk of coconut flavored cheese. You have not lived until you try this! My last hunk is goat cheese with lavender, but I haven’t opened that one yet because you only have about four weeks to eat them once opened and I still have a ways to go on the coconut. (For some reason only the truffle flavor came in a small size and all the other ones were colossal.)
8. Go to the market
From flea markets to food halls, markets abound in Amsterdam. One that I had on my radar was the famous street market, Albert Cuyp Market, but I ran out of leg power and appetite before I could get there. I did however stumble upon the Waterlooplein Market, Amsterdam’s oldest flea market, selling many treasures both old and new, and of course, snacks! The Christmas Market at Museum Square was also in full swing when we arrived on December 25, complete with ice skating. (Fun fact: Christmas is celebrated on both Dec. 25 and 26 in the Netherlands!) I also thought the indoor food market, Foodhallen, looked fun, but I didn’t get a chance to check that out either. No bother, I’ll just have to hurry back!
9. Museum, anyone?
After spending a half day at the Louvre on our last day in Paris, we were pretty museumed out, but if I return to Amsterdam I’d like to check out a few of them – of which there are many. There’s the imposing Rijksmuseum, dedicated to Dutch art and history, as well as the Van Gogh Museum and MOCO (Modern Contemporary) Museum all clustered together in Museum Square. If you’re interested in tulips, cheese, diamonds, or even prostitution, there’s a museum for that too.
And don’t forget the Anne Frank House, the only place I saw a long line for in Amsterdam. I have also read good things about the Amsterdam Museum, covering the history and culture of the city itself. If you want to know about more museums in the city, just Google “Amsterdam” and “museum” and be prepared for your head to spin.
10. Photograph the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign
Last, but most obvious, find this sign and photograph it. This one was taken at the airport. I would recommend getting this pic as soon as you land, because the other ‘I Amsterdam’ sign we saw at Museum Square had so many people climbing on it that it would have been impossible to get a good photo.
I hope you all get to experience this unique and picturesque city one day!
(P.S. – We were in Amsterdam for about three days, which is enough time to get the highlights. Unless you want to try all of the food, then it gets tricky!)Tags: Amsterdam, Europe, Heineken, Indonesian food, Street Food, Travel