Amsterdam is a funny, interesting little city. It rains an awful lot, which seems depressing on the surface but kind of fits in with the vibe of the place. It’s a little dreary, a lot quirky, and has a peculiar charm to which I was very drawn. While you don’t necessarily need a ton of time to see all the sites here, I can think of worse cities to spend a week or two. Here are my top 5 favorite things to do in Amsterdam.
The first item on your to-do list? Get lost. One important thing you should know about Amsterdam is that it’s a serious cycling city. People bike everywhere, and you better know the rules of the lanes before you hop on a bike or step out into the streets. That said, it’s also one of the best ways to get a feel for the city. Amsterdam is small and easy to navigate, and some of the coolest things I saw were simply by exploring on foot. Be sure to spend at least a few hours with no agenda more solid than, “This street looks interesting.”
2. Van Gogh Museum
The recently re-opened Van Gogh Museum is better than ever. Even if you are art museum-averse (I’m not always a huge fan, and max out after a couple hours), this one is definitely worth a visit. It really thrusts you into Van Gogh’s life, and as you admire his stunning artwork, you learn about the life of a deeply troubled, deeply talented man. I came away with a much better understanding of both he and his contemporaries after visiting this museum.
I highly recommend buying tickets online in advance, in which you choose a specific time slot. Early morning and late afternoon are the least busy times. Tickets for adults are 17€.
3. Food Tour
Now, I’m not going to pretend that Amsterdam had the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. But it did have a few interesting foodie items that are worth a try, like raw herring, stroopwaffel, and of course, Gouda cheese. There are a number of fancy food tours that will gladly charge you too much money to eat these things, but I recommend going the DIY route. Here’s my handy guide to touring all of Amsterdam’s culinary delights. (PS — my tour leaves from the Van Gogh Museum, making it a nice morning/afternoon activity pairing.)
Alright, so this is a bit of a cheesy tourist attraction. But I promise it’s worth a stroll. Not only do they have beautiful flowers, but this floating flower market also sells tulip bulbs that you can take back to the US with you (specially packaged so they’re free of any potential invasive species). They make a great souvenir for friends and family back home!
5. Brouwerij ‘t IJ
Visit Heineken if you must, but be sure to also include Brouwerij ‘t IJ on your beer-guzzling journey around Amsterdam. This brewery is located next to a windmill (you really can’t miss it) and offers a huge range of beers, from barley wine and dubbelbocks to wheat ales and IPAs. There truly is something for everyone, and if you happen to catch it on a not-drizzling day, there is outdoor seating. (You can also buy bottled beer to take home — another great, albeit heavy and breakable, souvenir.)
One item that you may be surprised is not on this list is the Anne Frank Museum, and that’s because I didn’t get a chance to go there during my visit. Tickets sell out months in advance, so if this is something that interests you, be sure to book tickets as soon as possible.