Amsterdam holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve been there twice already and on both occasions, I have fallen in love with this city even more. I’ve decided that every time I fly to Europe, I will be flying via Amsterdam. No harm in that? There just isn’t any other way to travel anymore!
Apart from the beautiful architecture, the canals that surround the city, the fashion forward locals, the “smoking” policies or even the fact that no matter where you go in Amsterdam there is a bit of everything for everyone, it’s the sense of freedom you feel when you’re there.
The first time I went to Amsterdam (being the amateur traveler at the time) I booked into a hotel on Damrak Street which is a few metres from the train station. The hotels name is “Hotel the Exchange“. It was affordable for me because you can choose between different rooms based on your budget i.e they have 2 star, 3 star, 4 star or 5 star rooms and each star indicates the price of the room as well as the “luxury” factor. Being from South Africa and converting to Euros, we had to opt for the cheapest room. The nice thing about this hotel is that it’s a boutique style hotel and each room has been designed by a designer from the fashion institute. Pretty cool – because each room is different. I would recommend staying here as it’s very central and you can literally walk everywhere. It’s in the main street so you can grab a tram quickly and hop off anywhere you like.
The second time I stayed in Amsterdam, I opted to use Airbnb. Read more about my Airbnb experience here. I would highly recommend using Airbnb because it’s way cheaper than a hotel and you get to experience living like a local!
I’ve listed the top things to do in Amsterdam as well as some tips along the way:
1.Purchase an IAMSTERDAM card
This card is great when you’re trying to save money (especially for us South Africans). You can read up about the card here. In summary, you can choose to buy a 24hr, 48hr , 72hr or 96hr card. Having this card will give you unlimited use of the GVB public transport (train, bus and tram), free entry to a few museums, free canal cruise, discounts and other offers. Please note that free museum entry does not include the Anne Frank Museum. Its definitely worth the purchase though!
2.Visit the Anne Frank Museum (House)
This was one of the highlights of my trip. Visiting the Anne Frank house – now converted into a museum. If you’re not too familiar with the life of Anne Frank, you can read up about her here. The museum (house) is located in central Amsterdam. To get there, you need to take take tram 13 or 17, or bus 170, 171 or 172 to the Anne Frank House. Get off at the ‘Westermarkt’ stop, and walk to your right to the Prinsengracht canal. It’s very easy to find. I remember I had to go really early because there’s a queue to get tickets. Effective from the 1 May 2016 from 9 AM to 3:30 PM the museum will only be open to visitors with an online ticket for a particular time slot. From 3:30 PM until closing time you can visit the Anne Frank House without an online ticket and buy a ticket at the museum entrance.
Just going through the house and walking through the hidden doorway behind the bookcase is surreal in itself. To see how this family lived is truly heartbreaking. Walking from room to room, you end off viewing the real diary of Anne Frank in a glass cabinet. I wish I could insert pictures but you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. You can read up about the museum visit here. I have added a few pictures from google images below.
3. Visit the I Amsterdam sign for loads of pictures
Located off the tram stop called “Museumplein”, you can easily hop off here to take loads of pictures in front of the Iamsterdam sign. This is very popular and you usually have to wait a while before getting a nice clear shot. See all the routes by tram here.
4. Visit the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum
Both located in Museumplein in Amsterdam (you could do these visits after number 3 above). The Van Gogh Museum is free with the Iamsterdam card and the you get Eur2.5o off the entrance price at the Rijksmuseum. If you are an art lover then these are definitely museums worth visiting.
I managed to view one of his (Van Gogh) famous paintings called “sunflowers”. I was looking forward to seeing “starry night” while I was there but unfortunately it wasn’t on display. Very sad!
5. Walk through the Red Light District
Be prepared to be “grossed” out or curious when walking through the red light district. The first time I walked through there, I must admit, I was shocked and a bit afraid. But after a few minutes I just went with it and enjoyed it. If you have children, I would highly recommend that you avoid this area at all costs. The red light district boasts window displays of real (very sexy) woman enticing men to “join” them for a fee. There are woman of all ages, sizes and ethnicity.
Around the red light district you can find all the coffee shops where they sell weed and other baked goods. For those of you not aware, smoking marijuana is sort of legal in Amsterdam. Read more here
Around the red light district, you can find a variety of “sex” museums that display very provocative art created by famous and not so famous people. I quite enjoyed walking through these museums and apart from all the obscenities I thought that the artwork was very well done.
6. Enjoy a canal cruise
This was probably one of my many favorite things to do while in Amsterdam. Not only is it very romantic, it’s extremely interesting. You tour the town of Amsterdam through all the canals. Gentleman’s canal was probably my favourite. The canal cruise is free with your IAMSTERDAM Card. They do not serve any drinks or food on the boat and it’s about an hour long.
7. Visit the Artis Royal Zoo
Visiting the zoo is a bit of a distance but worth it if you love animals. I would go back just to see the panda bear. He was so adorable! It’s a bit pricey but if you use your Iamsterdam card then its free!
8. Visit Madame Tussauds Amsterdam
In walking distance just off Damrak Road is Madame Tussauds. If you haven’t been to one then it’s quite entertaining. The card gives you a 25% discount on entry fee. I had never been and decided to meet some celebrities – even though they were plastic. Its a self-guided tour and takes about an hour to two hours depending on how many pictures you would like to take. I found it to be quite fun. But if you have been to a Madam Tussauds before, then I would skip this one.
9. Visit the Amsterdam Dungeon
I loved going on this tour. Because it’s scary as hell. If you are a lover of all things freaky then this is for you. You enter a dark room and you stand there for some time till your tour guide arrives. You don’t know at the time, but your tour guide is dressed as a very very scary ghost. You’re not allowed to take pictures on the tour but we sneaked a few in before being put in the naughty corner (aka the dungeon).
The journey is incredible as you move from one room to the next. Not knowing when something is going to jump out at you. So if you have a weak heart, then please don’t do this tour.
At the end of the tour you ride a roller-coaster (yes a roller -coaster) to the exit. If the tour doesn’t scare you enough then the last ride will! Read more about it here.
10. Rent a bicycle and explore
If you are the type of person that prefers structure then booking a bike tour is your best bet. You get 25% discount for bike rentals and tours with Mac Bike rental using your Iamsterdam card. If you more of an “explore yourself” kind of person then you can rent a bicycle from them as well and tour Amsterdam on your own time. You can view their prices here.
I hope you found this post useful! Feel free to leave any other suggestions in the comments section below.
Some tourists think that Amsterdam is a city of sin. But in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom most people find sin. ( – John Green)