Welcome to your introduction to Amsterdam! You might think you know about Amsterdam. You might think that it’s all about canals, prostitutes, and pot. Or maybe you think it’s all about museums, canal houses, and apple pie. Either way, there is so much more!
This post is to introduce you to the real Amsterdam, the one that us locals would love for you to experience. The part that makes this (in my opinion) one of the best places to live.
Amsterdam – City Guide
Let’s go over some basics:
- It’s easy to get to, with a major international airport (Amsterdam Airport Schiphol), major international train hub (Amsterdam Centraal Station), and budget bus companies usually stop at the Sloterdijk train/metro station.
- Almost everyone here speaks near-native English.
- The currency is the Euro.
- Marijuana isn’t legal per se, but it is tolerated.
- The red light district does exist just as it does in many other cities. No photos are allowed to be taken in the red light district.
- Central Amsterdam is the area around the canal belt–the half-circle of canals you see on the map. But the city is so much bigger than that.
- You do not have to rent a bike. But if you do, make sure you get a tourist bike. Trust me, you do not want to be incognito!
How to get to Amsterdam
As I mentioned above, there are 3 main places you’ll end up if you travel to Amsterdam. But now we’ll get into the specific of how you can get to Amsterdam on various forms of transportation.
Flying to Amsterdam
If you fly to Amsterdam, you’ll likely land at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. There are many ways to get into the city from there that are easy as pie. Here’s our detailed post on it, or get to see me personally explain it in our video!
It’s also possible to flying into the Rotterdam or Eindhoven airport. From there, you’ll likely take the train to Amsterdam.
Taking the train to Amsterdam
You can get to Amsterdam by train from all over Europe. Sure, you’ll have to transfer if you’re far away but you can find the best train route on Omio or NS International. Overnight trains are starting to make a come-back, too. That could be its own adventure!
Travel to Amsterdam by bus
The main buses you’ll find are FlixBus and BlaBlaBus. I’ve riden FlixBus a few times and always had a great experience. BlaBlaBus does not have great reviews, but I wanted to include it so you know the options. Book your ticket on Omio or book directly on FlixBus.
Things to do in Amsterdam
We’ve created two helpful Amsterdam itineraries for you if you only have a short time. For a long layover, here’s a 24-hour guide where you can pick the things that matter most to you. Or for a long weekend trip, we combined the best of the must-do “touristy” things with our favorite things to do as a local.
You can find many lists of what you just HAVE to see. Most lists include the Red Light District, the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, etc. Some will recommend you venture to the dozens of other museums, walk through the Jordaan, window shop in the Nine Streets, or daydream through the P.C. Hooftstraat area.
My number one thing you must do in Amsterdam is to take a canal cruise. It’s the most touristy thing you can do and the most local thing you can do. Just be sure it’s a small boat for the best experience! Book your small boat canal cruise here.
Amsterdam tips from locals
My biggest advice in Amsterdam comes down to:
I understand how completely overwhelming it can be to go to a new city with so much to do. And if you are one of those people who does the tourist stops and heads out — maybe you’re on a one-day stopover, or maybe Amsterdam is your cruise’s port of call — that’s fine too; everyone’s reason for travel is different!
But to really feel the city, people-watch. Find an outdoor cafe, grab a drink and watch. Watch cyclists, then dodge the trams and taxis. Watch the tourists find their way. Watch the locals hang out with friends. Stay out of the red bike lanes.
Discover an alternative Amsterdam
If you want to experience more of the normal Amsterdam, get outside the center. Head to any other neighborhood, north, west, east, south. Then walk around and watch. Grab a seat somewhere and experience the cafe culture. Each neighborhood has its own very distinct atmosphere. It’s fun to find your favorite. Just to give you a taste of the different areas, I’ll review a few below.
Noord (North)- getting more popular, but much quieter than the city. Feels like a different city altogether. Easy to get to by the free ferries behind Centraal Station. Read more in our Noord neighborhood guide. It’s where we live and we are always exploring!
West (West)- The west is broken down into many neighborhoods. Some of the main ones are the Nieuw West, which is rather far from the center and rather quiet; Westerpark, which is just outside the Jordaan and is chill but up-and-coming; and the Oud West (Old West), which is just outside the canal belt and is home to some must-visit shops and restaurants. Each of these areas has a different vibe. Here’s the West neighborhood guide to help you navigate it a bit better.
Zuid (South)- Including everything from the very desirable museum quarter to de Pijp, and the World Trade Center, you go from beautiful tall houses with expensive shops nearby to getting a bit more room and space closer to station Zuid. Near the station is very popular during weekends and almost deserted on the weekends which makes it interesting to walk around and take pictures.
Oost (East)- The east is huge! Technically it includes IJburg, a man-made island, all the way down to the Bijlmer-Arena area. Even though the Bijlmer area is quite far from the center, it has quite a lot to offer those who live in the city. You’ll find many concerts, a large movie theater with IMAX, larger stores like IKEA, and the ArenA, home of Amsterdam’s soccer team, the Ajax. There’s also a beautiful large shopping area (with a Cinnabon!) Find out which restaurants and places we recommend in the east in our Oost neighborhood guide.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is known for being pricey when it comes to accommodation. There are a lot of people who want to visit and it’s all about supply and demand! If you can, stay outside the center of Amsterdam for better prices. The city is so well-connected by public transportation, that you don’t have to be in the center to experience it whenever you want.
*steps on soapbox* Regarding airbnbs, if you can help it, don’t use them in Amsterdam. They have really hurt the lives of people who live here since people buy them and only rent them to visitors and not people who need homes. *steps off soapbox*
We have a great post on which hotels to stay in when visiting Amsterdam based on your needs plus tips on what to keep in mind when booking. Whether you are looking for a hostel, mid-range or luxury hotel, we’ve got recommendations for you. At the bottom, we put together some super-fun quirky places to stay!
If you are willing to stay outside of Amsterdam, check out the towns of Almere, Amstelveen, Utrecht, Haarlem, and Monnickendam for great places to stay.
Find your perfect hotel
Your home away from home awaits!
So Much to Offer Visitors
What else does Amsterdam have to offer? With over 50 museums and some that are quite unique, there is something for everyone. If you are looking for fine dining, Amsterdam features a nice array of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Are you more of a music fan? The Concertgebouw is open for a free lunch concert each Wednesday, or you can buy tickets for their shows, or for any of the theaters in the city. Our beautiful parks are also open to welcome you for a stroll or picnic.
Want more information?
Watch for festivals on the I amsterdam website. Look into the various passes available for visitors like the Holland Pass and the I amsterdam City Card. Both have great benefits and will save you money. Lastly, grab your GVB (transit) pass when you get in town. From 24 hour through 96 hour passes, they get you on the GVB buses, trams, and metro and are super handy. Don’t forget that the ferries behind Centraal station are FREE.
Enjoy your trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world! Do you have a favorite experience in Amsterdam? Please share! We’d love to hear it.