Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is one of the most classic stops on any European tour. From romantic canals to elaborate 17th century architecture, Amsterdam is home to great history and a forward-thinking culture. Whether you are visiting Amsterdam to explore the windmills of Holland or the canals of the city, you will also come away with a new perspective on the city’s progressive transportation and culture. We hope this destination spotlight of Amsterdam helps you plan your time!
Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Hotel Ambassade
Located in the heart of Amsterdam’s canal belt, Hotel Ambassade is a wonderful boutique hotel. It boasts a fantastic location that is close to some of Amsterdam’s best boutiques and restaurants. The hotel offers 55 rooms and suites, spread across 10 restored 17th century canal-side houses. Every room boasts unique decor, and many rooms include canal views. We loved the hotel’s personal touch, especially within the bustling city of Amsterdam!
In addition to warm rooms, guests can choose to add breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Brasserie Ambassade. Guests can savor a buffet of fresh breads, pastries, cereals, fruits, and meats, along with a menu of cooked-to order crêpes and eggs. Plus, guests will enjoy the canal views offered throughout the restaurant. In addition, Brasserie Ambassade is open for lunch and dinner. We highly suggest including breakfast with your room package, especially because of the quality of the food and enjoyable atmosphere.
Where to Eat in Amsterdam:
Like most cities, we suggest visiting Amsterdam with the mindset that you will find restaurants nearby to where you are exploring. Utilize Trip Advisor and your own intuition to find restaurants you will love. The biggest suggestion we have: plan to make reservations for dinner every night. Post COVID-19, locals have a newfound love for visiting restaurants in their cities, so tables need to be pre-reserved! Most restaurants we went to turned people away because they were so busy! While we suggest picking restaurants as you go, here are a few of our favorite places:
As mentioned above, Brasserie Ambassade is the hotel’s canal-front restaurant. This highly rated restaurant offers a great location and canal views. We ate breakfast at Brasserie Ambassade every morning, thanks to a breakfast package that came with our stay. In addition, we ate dinner here one night. The menu offers high-end cuisine, with dishes featuring items such as beef tornadoes and duck. It’s definitely the place to go if you want an inviting restaurant with a carefully curated menu!
Located on a side street off of one of Amsterdam’s canals, De Blauwe Hollander offers traditional Dutch cuisine. We enjoyed trying the “stamppots,” a traditional Dutch dish of roasted beef or sausage served with a mashed mix of potatoes and vegetables. This restaurant is a charming place to taste Dutch cuisine, for those interested in trying local dishes.
Get Food from a Street Vendor
Amsterdam offers a wide variety of street foods. Because of this, we often enjoyed street food for lunch. One of our favorite street foods were “Poffertjes” (mini pancakes with butter and powdered sugar), which we bought at an open air market. We also loved the different sandwiches we tried, including a “tosti” (grilled cheese sandwiches with different meats and garnishes), which we got near Damrak Street (the main shopping street). Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the variety and affordability of food offered by street vendors for lunches.
Located a block from Spui Square, The Chicken Bar is a fresh and modern restaurant. The menu ranges from rotisserie chicken meals to chicken tacos, veal short ribs, and fried chicken sandwiches. We enjoyed the fried chicken strips, fries, onion rings, applesauce, and (of course), Oreo cake. The Chicken Bar is a friendly and inviting space, with sides served family-style. Plus, the menu offers a break from traditional Dutch and European cuisines if you are looking for something fresh.
This adorable family-run Dutch restaurant combines a menu of steaks and fresh fish with Dutch classics. It’s the kind of place where the owner and his son are the waiters. The menu is simple, but tasty: you can choose from a variety of fish dishes, a hamburger, steak, or ribs. All main courses are served with french fries and a side salad. For dessert, you can choose from items such as cheesecake or apple pie. We highly recommend Stoop & Stoop eetcafé in Amsterdam thanks to its friendly staff and tasty dishes.
We stumbled by this wonderful shop as a happy accident while wandering through the “Nine Little Streets” area of Amsterdam. With a line out the door, we knew we had to try the cookies at this small bakery! The bakery offers a simple menu of 5 cookie flavors, all of which are made fresh throughout the day. The cookies are very fresh and gooey! It’s definitely a can’t-miss stop while exploring the shops in the “Nine Little Streets” area.
Things to Do in Amsterdam, Netherlands:
Amsterdam is well known for its history and culture, so visiting this city as a tourist is a joy. Visitors can enjoy everything from museums full of Van Gogh and Rembrandt pieces, to miles of romantic canals. Plus, there are plenty of great day trips from the city. Below, you will find our “bucket list” for future visits to Amsterdam, based on experiences during our last visit. We hope these suggestions help you plan your time in the city!
See the Historic City Center
Today, the oldest part of Amsterdam lies between the train station and Dam (the main square in Amsterdam). Within Dam, you will find the Koninklijk Paleis, which is the Royal Palace of the Netherlands. Dam Square is definitely is a centerpiece in Amsterdam’s bustling metropolis. Make sure to visit these areas, and even take a tour of them! Or you can learn about this area via a self-guided tour! We always suggest traveling with a Rick Steve’s Guidebook (buy them on Kindle to pack light). You can also use the Rick Steves Podcasts via his Audio Europe App to learn about Amsterdam.
Wander the Canal Belt
Probably the most classic images of Amsterdam are those of the quiet canals lined with historic 17th century houses. We loved exploring the canals of Amsterdam, and wandering through the city’s streets. From boats passing along the canals to cafes with water-front seating, there is always something fun to see as you explore!
Take a Boat Tour
While we were unable to do a boat tour on our last trip, we highly suggest making time for it. Boat tours of the canals are an extremely popular way to hear more about Amsterdam’s history, see a large portion of the city in an efficient way, and get close to the canals and other boats. While we did not personally experience any of the boat companies, we noticed that Flagship Boats seemed popular. Flagship Boats seemed to offer clean boats and a great priced hour-long group tours starting at 20 euros per person. Check with them for ability, or ask your hotel for more specific recommendations for private or group boat tours.
Visit the Anne Frank House
Anne Frank is probably the most internationally recognized figure to live in Amsterdam during World War II. Thanks to her diary, published by her father after the war, Anne Frank’s story humanizes the tragedy and fear of being a Jewish citizen in Nazi occupied regions during World War II. The Anne Frank House is a museum in central Amsterdam that allows visitors to tour the actual annex Anne lived in for over two years, while in hiding. Over 1 million people visit the Anne Frank House per year. It is a major landmark that one cannot miss when visiting Amsterdam.
Please Note: Even before COVID-19, you had to make most ticket reservations for the Anne Frank House weeks in advance via online booking. Now, this is even more true. Please reserve your tour time well in advance by going to their website. As of writing this post, tickets could be purchased on the first Tuesday of each month for the following month. However, time slots were fully booked from about 3 weeks out. So make sure to book early here!
Visit the Art Museums in Amsterdam
Amsterdam, and the Netherlands more generally, is well known as being a huge supporter of art throughout history. During the 17th century, most artists throughout Europe made a living by completing commissions for the Church. However, wealthy merchants living in prosperous Amsterdam commissioned unique works such as portraits, and scenes of everyday life, making the art produced in the Netherlands extremely unique. Of the artists that worked in this realm, Rembrandt is probably the most famous. You can still visit his house in central Amsterdam, which today is a museum. You can see many of these works, from Rembrandt to countless other influential artists, in the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands.
For those who are most interested in the work of impressionist painters, consider visiting the Van Gogh Museum, located nearby the Rijksmuseum. Born and raised in the Netherlands, Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most famous impressionist artists. Today, the Van Gogh Museum displays over 200 paintings. While the exhibitions always change depending on what pieces are on loan elsewhere, when we visited, we saw everything from his famous portraits to pieces such as the Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles, and Wheatfield with Crows.
As with all museums in most of Europe after COVID-19, book your tickets and visiting time slots well ahead of time in order to visit. Walk-up ticketing is no longer allowed, and tickets go on sale sometimes months in advance.
Visit De Pijp and the Outdoor Markets
Located near the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, the trendy De Pijp neighborhood is a fun place to explore after a morning visit to the museums. This popular neighborhood is filled with restaurants, shops, and cafés, all of which are just beyond the traditionally tourist “canal belt” of Amsterdam.
We especially loved De Albert Cuypmarkt, an open outdoor market with 260 stalls. The market is located in the De Pijp neighborhood of Amsterdam (just outside of the canal belt). The market is open everyday except for Sundays, and includes everything from fresh produce, fish, and cheeses to clothing, art, and street food. After enjoying traditional Dutch street foods such as Poffertjes (the mini pancakes we mentioned above), we bought several gifts and clothing items at the different stalls. We then wandered further into the De Pijp area to explore and find a café for lunch.
De Pijp is definitely a fun and less touristy area of Amsterdam to visit, especially if you stop by the outdoor market, after visiting the museums!
Shopping in Amsterdam
Amsterdam offers everything from chain department stores to trendy boutiques. For those looking for Amsterdam’s “main” shopping street, head to two streets near Dam Square: Damrak and Nieuwendijk, a busy pedestrian-only street. This street offers everything from big names such as Primark and H&M to smaller clothing stores. It is Europe’s closest thing to an American mall, so it is fun to visit this lively area.
If you are more interested in quaint boutiques and quirky thrift stores, visit De Negen Straatjes, just a few blocks over. De Negen Straatjes, or the “nine little streets” in English, is a charming area in the central canal belt that has become famous for its cute cafés and fun boutiques. Conveniently, the Hotel Ambassade is located between two of these streets! The streets are set up in a three by three grid: three streets on each of three islands, and the streets are connected to each other by bridges across canals. Here is a map that is super helpful for understanding where each street is, since it can be kind of confusing to find them!
Make sure to use a map to identify where each of these streets are. They run parallel to each other in groups of three, with three streets located on each island, and then separated from the next set of three by a canal. Het Koekemannetje, the cookie shop we highlighted in our “where to eat” section, is located on Runstraat, one of the nine little streets.
Witness Amsterdam’s Open Side
While Amsterdam is most famous for its romantic canals and striking architecture, many tourists also visit Amsterdam to explore the open Dutch culture. Wander through the Red Light District to discover that prostitution is not only legal in the Netherlands, but widely accepted. (The Dutch view: if it’s going to happen anyway, why not allow it and make it safer. These establishments are successful businesses, and the women who run them can safely get help from the police if there is an emergency without fears of retribution.)
Another example of Dutch acceptance is the legalization of marijuana. In Amsterdam, “Coffeeshops” are stores that sell marijuana (as apposed to “Cafés,” which sell coffee). Marijuana is legal to buy in small amounts from any of these coffeeshops. Unlike most other nations, in the Netherlands, Pot is considered a lighter drug, like nicotine or alcohol. In Amsterdam, these lighter drugs are separated from other “hard” drugs, which are strictly forbidden.
While the last example of Amsterdam’s liberal viewpoints is less controversial to the non-Dutch perspective, it is still an important example of the Netherland’s politics: bikes and public trams are way more common in central Amsterdam than cars. In fact, many multi-lane major streets in Amsterdam have no crosswalk lights, you just cross when there is a gap between trams, bikes, and cars. The minimal number of cars in central Amsterdam makes the city much more pedestrian friendly, however one also has to be more aware of your surroundings: unlike noisy cars, the light-rail trams and bikes are silent, so make sure to look around before crossing.
While all of this open acceptance and these forward-thinking theories are exciting to many, for some visitors, it may sound overwhelming and potentially unsafe for families (I know my mom worried about it when we first went when we were toddlers!). Rest assured, you can easily enjoy your time in Amsterdam and never even notice most of the “out-there” things that happen in the city. While you may see a Coffeeshop, you won’t really notice it as more than a bar. Do avoid the Red Light District if you are hoping to skip that though! Overall though, Amsterdam can be as calm (or not!) as you want it to be!
Want to Bike in the city?
You also may want to experience getting around Amsterdam by bike yourself! If so, ask your hotel for recommendations on where to rent bikes. Bikes can be rented for a few hours or by the day, so you can keep one bike for the length of your time in Amsterdam. Do be careful though: like locals, double lock your bike exactly in the way shown by the bike rental company to avoid theft!
Day Trips From Amsterdam
Amsterdam is often a home-base for those who are exploring Holland. Visit nearby towns such as Edam for a fun day from the city. Or head to Zaanse Schans, an outdoor museum that is similar to a living history farm. At Zaanse Schans, you can personally see historic Dutch windmills, houses, and factories, while witnessing some of the historic jobs that were typical in Holland.
Another extremely popular place to visit outside of Amsterdam is Keukenhof Gardens. Only open in April and May each year, Keukenhof is a dreamland for those wanting to see the famous tulips of Holland. We chose to merge our Keukenhof Gardens and Zaanse Schans visits into a single day trip in order to maximize our time!
Enjoy Your Trip to Amsterdam!
We hope these suggestions and recommendations help you plan your time in Amsterdam! As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or want help planning your next journey.