Amsterdam is amazing, it’s epic, it’s my favorite city in the world! It can also be hectic, confusing, and a little too touristy if you don’t know what to do. That’s why I’m creating this post for you. We are celebrating 5 years in this wonderful city so we are sharing our top Amsterdam tips from a local…well, two locals 😉
Sean and I have had to learn a lot along the way. That’s all part of the journey, right? But when you are visiting for a short time, cutting that learning curve in, at least, half is a good way to save time, money, and frustrating while discovering the best ways to see the city.
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Top Amsterdam tips for seeing the city
There are some basic do’s and don’ts of Amsterdam when visiting. After a while they come naturally and, as someone who lives here, I can actually forget this isn’t second nature to those wanting to explore this city. Some of these “rules” are just how things are done, but many are so you have the best time possible! There’s a lot to see and do here, so let’s get to it
Don’t walk in the bike lanes
I’m putting this as rule #1. You could get hurt and the cyclists could get hurt. Bike lanes are pretty much everywhere, so please check to be sure you are not walking in it. You can usually tell it’s a bike path because it’s designated by red brick or pavement.
If you hear a bell, move to the right and hop off the bike lane (or street if you are walking in the street). Easy as that!
What you might see in a bike lane:
Discover the center by walking
Walking around is really the best way to see the center of Amsterdam. This is where the canal rings are and it is super lovely to stroll through. If there are too many people, take a turn down the next alley. Don’t worry, they aren’t usually sketchy. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered a sketchy alley here!
For somewhere less touristy, head to Brouwersgracht. It’s so lovely and much fewer people than the main canals of Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. However, if you want to walk the more popular canals, stick to Keizersgracht for a calmer stroll.
Explore new neighborhoods
There is more to Amsterdam than the gorgeous architecture and canals. The neighborhoods that surround the center of the city all have their own vibe with interesting things to do. Picnic in Vondelpark, head to a Sunday Market in Westergasfabriek, window shop on PC Hooftstraat (our version of Rodeo Drive).
Check out the neighborhood guides we have on the Noord and East part of Amsterdam. We live in Noord, so this post will continue to grow and we’ll be creating more neighborhood guides for you, too!
Purchase a transit card
To get to other parts of the city and to have a bit more freedom, buy a transit card. The blue and white paper cards are good for inside Amsterdam on the buses, trams, and metro (ferries are free). Order your GVB daily transit card here or purchase a the GVB offices, or a ticket machine.
If you opt for the I amsterdam card, you get public transportation for free and get free or reduced entrances to attractions and museums, PLUS a free canal cruise. There’s a bunch of things to do with this card. You can order yours through GetYourGuide (along with other adventures). That’s the website we order our tours, transfers, and more from when we travel.
To explore nearby towns (that are incredible!) order the Amsterdam & Region Travel Card. It gets you on the regional buses, as well as all the regular Amsterdam transport and the NS trains in the Amsterdam region. Some towns you can visit with this card are Monnickendam, Haarlem, Broek in Waterland, Zandvoort. Main attractions you can get to with this card are Zaanse Schans and Keukenhof.
Take a small boat canal cruise
The view from the canals of Amsterdam is something you simply must experience. There are many companies out there to book, but I took a cruise with Context Travel and it was absolutely lovely. It was one of the nicest boats I have been on in this city (I’ve been on many!) and the bathroom was perfect! It’s a bit more expensive than some of the others, but the guide is an expert and isn’t speaking to 40 people with a microphone about everything you couldn’t care less about. They’ll tell you the important stuff and then ask what kinds of things you want to know about.
Don’t take pictures in the Red Light District
Don’t take pictures of the windows. Not only is it considered extremely rude. The bouncers may take your camera away. There are signs everywhere, so it’s hard to claim ignorance. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time here anyway. It’s way too crowded for most people and it’s the kind of vibe that people talk about when they say they didn’t like Amsterdam because it was too crowded and dirty. Find other places to go.
Book early or Skip-the-line
If you plan on visiting museums, book as early as possible. You can order your I amsterdam card prior to arriving and book some of the museums online. The Anne Frank House can sell out very early, try to book tickets at least one month before you come. Same with the Van Gogh Museum, and you’ll want to check the Rijksmuseum, too!
Skip-the-line tickets are also amazing so you don’t waste time waiting in line which can take hours! Lots of options, just pick the best for your situation.
Tips for food in Amsterdam
Food in Amsterdam isn’t its best-known feature, but it comes packed with a ton of culinary surprises! These foodie tips for Amsterdam are about finding interesting places, having Amsterdam experiences, and some are about saving money. You can’t go wrong with a few money-saving tips, am I right?!
Dutch foods to try
You’ll find a bunch of blog posts on which Dutch foods to try in Amsterdam. I’ll be making one soon, too! But the quick and dirty list is:
All are delicious! Well, the herring might take a bit of getting used to, but I can eat it now and enjoy it. Herring is found at food stalls dotted around the city and some fish shops. Fries are everywhere! Bitterballen are the easiest thing in the world to find because they are in every bar and almost every restaurant. Most cafes have their own apple pie. We have a TON of pancake places. My favorites are The Pancake Bakery (as mentioned above with the I amsterdam card) and Pannekoekenhuis Upstairs. Poffertjes are found at all the pancake shops because they are tiny pancakes, but the best are at markets and festivals. For the best stroopwafels, go to the Albert Cuyp Market in de Pijp and look for the Original Stroopwafels sign. Even writing this makes me want to run down there and get one!
Head to the grocery store and picnic canalside
When you are out and about on a beautiful day but you’re not feeling like going to a restaurant or cafe to eat, head to an Albert Heijn, Dirk, Deen, or Jumbo and grab some to-go snacks. Most in the center of town have prepared food ready for picnicking.
Some spots on the canals have benches, but if snack along the canals, we usually just sit on the canal wall and have our food. Just make sure you and your trash don’t fall into the canal!
This city is so beautiful, and there are many more picnic spots we’ve written about. Some not-so-secret ones are on Museumplein next to the Stedelijk Museum. As a bonus, there’s an Albert Heijn right underground that even have a cold drink section and everyone is picnicking there. Pretty days bring everyone out!
Even as a visitor, Groupon.nl could come in handy! Though, I recommend using it on Google Chrome so you can translate it. Book at least a few days in advance so you can get a reservation when you are here. There are some great deals to be had…and not just for the food!
We frequently use it when we go out. Being frugal at home makes it easier to travel, but there’s nothing wrong with being frugal when you travel, too! I’ve seen how much hotels and Airbnb’s are here. There’s no shame in saving a few Euros!
Buy the I amsterdam card
The I amsterdam card has already been mentioned above for public transportation, but if you already have it, be sure to take advantage of some of the food discounts. My recommendation is to head to Blue Amsterdam. It’s a cafe in a shopping center with incredible views at the perfect height in the middle of the city. One of my favorite lookout spots! If you want pancakes, my favorite restaurant (on the I amsterdam card) is The Pancake Bakery. Get ready for a ton of choices! I love the apple cinnamon one with a little liquor and ice cream on top. Lekker! (That means “tasty!” in Dutch). Learn more about what you actually get with the card here. If you book it, please use this link to support this website.
Make reservations for dinner
Even if it’s a day or two ahead of time, try to make reservations if you plan to go out to dinner. We live by this rule…when we actually plan ahead! Popular spots fill up, even during the week and especially for brunch on the weekends. Check their website to see if they accept reservations. Some even take them on their Facebook page.
Try your hardest to eat at local Amsterdam eateries and not go to McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the Hard Rock Cafe. You’re in a new place, so try to embrace it. If you are looking for a meat and potatoes kind of meal, we have that. If you want salads and healthy food, we have tons of that. Need vegetarian or vegan food? There is so much available to you!
Wanna have a look at our favorite spots to eat? Here you go…it’s our food guide to Amsterdam. Obviously, we haven’t eaten everywhere, but from where we have eaten, these are our go-to spots!
Sweet foods to try
Have a sweet tooth? Treat it to some tasty treats from the Dutch culinary scene and beyond! I figure it’s an international city, so don’t limit your food choices to only Dutch food. We’ve made a whole blog post on sweet foods you should try in Amsterdam, but we also created a video about it, too! And yes, we loved making the video and doing the research 🙂
Insider tips for Amsterdam
As residents of this fine city for 5 years, we have some travel tips for Amsterdam that you may not be aware of. Even if you know some of these, hopefully, you’ve learned something new here today. If you have, please let us know in the comments what stuck out to you the most.
Have a water bottle
There are many fill-up stations throughout the city. You can check out this website (and bookmark it) to see if there is one near you. The water is safe to drink in Amsterdam so you don’t have to worry about filters. If you are at a shop, see if they can fill it up for you, usually people are nice and say “yes” if they aren’t too busy.
Carry a poncho or umbrella with you
It doesn’t rain as much as people think it does here. I’ve heard the same for Seattle, Washington! However, the rain can sneak up on you and rain for 5 minutes or 5 days. Hard to know at that moment. Always be prepared for a quick sprinkle or a downpour. Try not to let it get you down. But when you are packing for Amsterdam, leave the suede and leather jackets at home. If you have waterproof or water-resistant shoes, they are the best to have with you.
Always have some Euro coins
You may need to use the restroom in a train station, a festival, or market and need to pay 50 cents to a full Euro. It’s always best to have exact change in these situations. Having a little cash on you at all times is best practice anyway. You never know when a card will stop working for whatever reason. On that note, be sure your banks and credit card companies know you are going abroad, so they don’t block your card as soon as you use it over here. I’ve had mine blocked for the strangest of reasons (this is true: I got mine blocked for buying Justin Timberlake concert tickets. I guess I don’t go to enough concerts!).
English is everywhere
You will not have a problem getting around with English. There are some quirks in the way English is used here sometimes. Well, quirks to Americans, some phrases might be British! But it’s nice to learn how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, “please” in Dutch.
Some signage will be in English, but if anything confuses you, or an announcement was made in Dutch (on public transportation) don’t hesitate to ask someone what it meant. Everyone has always been helpful when that need arises.
Find a hotel or apartment outside the center of Amsterdam
Finding a hotel in Amsterdam within most budgets can be tricky. But if you look outside the center part, it will be easier and probably cheaper. Another option is to stay outside the city. Buses and trains are frequently easy and clean, so staying in Monnickendam (my choice), Haarlem, Zaandam, or Utrecht could be a great way to see a more realistic view (less touristy view) of Dutch life without giving us the charming homes you see in Amsterdam.
Find a hotel through Booking.com
Don’t rent a bike in Amsterdam, but do take a bike tour into the countryside
Yes, I said it. I’m not one to say you just HAVE to rent a bike in Amsterdam. I love tourists. I love that they try to appreciate this city because it’s incredible. But, bikes are vehicles here. If you are not comfortable on a bike, cycling with people with 10-50 years of experience through crowded streets of people, and cycling alongside cars is not going to be pleasant for you. If it is on your “must-do” list, do it a bit differently. I’ve taken this bike tour into the countryside and absolutely loved it! You’ll get stunning scenery that you’ll never find in Amsterdam, and you’ll see just how flat and bike-friendly this country really is. It’s a lot of bang for your buck in my opinion — get on a bike and see a whole different side of the Netherlands.
Warning: First Monday of the month
This is just for your information. On the first Monday of every month at noon, there is a raid siren that goes off. It’s just a monthly test and nothing to worry about. If you ever hear it and it is not noon of the first Monday of the month (never had this happen). Ask someone who looks like they live here to check their phones since an alert should be sent to them at the same time. Again, if you hear any announcements you don’t understand, just ask someone.
That’s it! Those are your tips from traveling in Amsterdam! I didn’t expect it to be so long, but I really want you to have the best time and knowing these little secrets will help you do that.
Do you have any secrets you want to share that I missed? Please tell us in the comments! Let’s keep these tips coming in and helping each other. That’s what it’s all about…helping each other travel, explore, and grow.
Wishing you joy and travels!