It has been less than a week since we landed back on Greek soil from an amazing trip to Amsterdam. And I just want to put it out there… this was my very first trip to the Netherlands.
I’m sure you’re saying, “How does she know how to do Amsterdam right if she’s only been there once?” Well… it’s because I’m not your typical “traveling tourist”.
I like spending my time finding local spots and diving into the real culture of wherever I’m visiting.
I feel it’s the best (and most rewarding) way to travel.
Why? Because you get to see the world for what it is… not what the big corporation/tourist industry wants you to see.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d definitely sign up for a tour or two… and why wouldn’t you when you’re seeing something for the very first time that you’ve grown to know and study in a textbook? Where there is so much history, it’s silly not to see it with your own eyes? (I’m referring to the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank House.)
I’m just not the kind of tourist who will stand in line for an hour to see your typical wax museum or buy that overpriced $5 key chain souvenir. That’s just not me.
I love culture. I love history. I love seeing people live their day-to-day life in a country I’ve never been to before. Especially when it’s so different to my own little corner of the world. And that’s why traveling this way is so fascinating to me.
So, if you like traveling the way I do, follow my guide and do Amsterdam right… and keep in mind the must-have tips…
#1. The most important travel tip in order to do Amsterdam right is to buy the IAmsterdam City Card.
You can buy it here through Viator. It’s essential for your trip and will take all the stress away from buying expensive tickets ala carte and standing in long lines.
You can buy this card for either 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours of unlimited tram rides – very important since walking all over the place, back and forth, can be quite tiresome. You pick your card up in front of Centraal Station at the IAmsterdam booth. Visit this translated link of Amsterdam Centraal Station online.
The price can be as low as 55 euros per person… and is completely worth it! Trust me, we used the card for at least 20 tram rides in less than 4 days around the city; as well as entering the Van Gogh museum with no line, enjoyed a 1 hour canal cruise and a really cool walk through a Medieval Church – all free of charge!
This could have easily racked up to 120 euros in just tram rides and over 100 euros in 4 museum tickets and 2 canal cruise passes; totaling over 200 euros!
For the four days we spent in the Netherlands… our two-day pass was well worth it. We actually wished we did the three-day pass instead. Next time.
TIP: Once you scan your card, your hourly time limit starts ticking away. Also, make sure you are on the correct tram line. Each tram in the city has a specific number, and you usually need to take at least 2 or 3 different lines to get to where you’re going around the city.
#2. Skip the fancy hotel – stay in an Airbnb.
I have to say, I wasn’t really a fan of Airbnb. My first stay with them was horrific. And I do love cozy hotels. But… I decided to give it another try since I wanted to get away from the city center and stay in one of the little neighborhoods that make up Amsterdam.
Dan and I stayed in this super cute, gorgeously decorated and exceptionally comfy Airbnb. Not to mention the hosts were very welcoming and the location was absolutely perfect. They had pretty much every amenity and the place was extremely clean.
We stayed in an urban hip neighborhood called De Pijp in Amsterdam.
It’s very close to the tram and is not your typical tourist spot – with many local coffee shops, restaurants, small stores and a cool park to relax in. You live like a local here.
I highly recommend this particular Airbnb… just because it’s so damn cool… and the hosts are too! They even welcomed us with a couple thirst-quenching organic Dutch beers and Stroopwaffels! Perfect after a long day of travel.
TIP: Not all Airbnb homes are the same… which is why they are Airbnb rentals. I can vouch for this particular one because we stayed there, obviously. Also, make sure wherever you stay is close to a tram stop. If you are unsure, ask the host of the Airbnb before booking!
#3. Rent a Bike.
I have never seen so many bicycles in my life! Seriously, there are thousands of them.
It’s the #1 mode of transportation that the locals use, and it’s just another means of transportation other than the tram system – and why wouldn’t you want to see such an incredible city while you pedal around like the locals do?! Amsterdam has separate and specific bike lanes that connect all over the city, so it’s pretty easy to get around.
TIP: Be careful when crossing bike lanes! They don’t stop! And that can cause one serious accident which will ruin your vacation. So, please follow moms rules and look both ways!
#4. Visit the one and only Anne Frank House.
If you’ve made it all the way to Amsterdam… there is absolutely no excuse to not visit the Anne Frank House.
Historic. Emotional. Beautiful.
Once inside, you will find that there are no words to describe the atmosphere that surrounds you in this small home that once housed Anne Frank, her family and family acquaintances during the horrific Holocaust.
You will see the actual height markings etched next to the door frame, as well as Anne’s posters and pictures that she pinned up using sewing pins, which are still hanging on the wall above where her bed was.
Her diary is still neatly intact, along with many of her short stories, drawings and belongings. The wooden bookcase that hid the doorway to the secret annex still exists, and you get to walk through it just like the Franks had to.
This is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Amsterdam.
You need to get your tickets early (online), especially if you are visiting during the high tourist season (summer). If you don’t pre-purchase them and decide to stand in line for same-day tickets, the line will be as long as two hours or more and there is no guarantee you will get them!
Our friends visited Amsterdam before we did and had purchased their tickets online months in advance. They informed us to get ours online, too, on the official Anne Frank Museum website since they sell out quickly. As instructed, we went online to get our tickets… but they were completely sold out… and this was two months in advance!
I was devastated.
Once Dan and I settled into our Airbnb, we trammed it straight over to the Anne Frank House. We located a tour guide and asked where we could buy same-day tickets. The guide said that we had to stand in line after 3 p.m. and wait to see if any tickets were available or we could buy our tickets online, if any were left. (Like we didn’t know – and yes, I held a grumpy face knowing that they were sold out.) If none were available, we would have to try another day.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, another guide signaled us. We informed her about our ticket dilemma and she said that we could buy same-day tickets online because they add a few more tickets every hour – but we had to be quick!
Thrilled, Dan and I walked over to a small cafe next-door, ate some delicious Dutch breakfast and bought our tickets for that same day!
TIP: Check every day/every minute online until you get your tickets! They update and add (only a few) tickets hourly. However, it’s best to be safe and get your tickets months in advance.
#5. Eat the Pancakes.
Like all regional cuisine, Dutch food claims its originality and their food is simply delicious.
They are known for their raw herring, they eat edam, gouda and old amsterdam cheese sandwiches for lunch, they’re excellent at making soups & stews and have these little fried meatballs called Bitterballen.
But what I found to love the most (and had to order all the time) was Holland’s baked goods!
When it comes to baking sweets, well, the Dutch do it better than anyone.
Holland (The Netherlands, to be politically correct) is probably the #1 country you think of when referring to delicious baking; such as waffles, pies, breads, cookies, pancakes – the list goes on. They are internationally known for their baking.
They have these little pancakes called Poffertjes. Oh man… they are good! They are heavily sprinkled with fluffy powdered sugar, drenched in real butter and are served with stroop syrup on the side.
On the larger side, check out the Pannenkoeken. It looks like your typical, but very large pancake when the chef starts making it; however, once it’s delivered to your table, it’s pretty much a crape – a Dutch crape.
The pannenkoeken is very thin and filled with either sweet or savory ingredients. Cheese and bacon, apple and cheese, nutella and banana, chicken and onions, etc.
Our first stop to try one was at a hole in the wall Dutch pancake house called the Pannenkoekenry… and they were organic! (BIO means organic all across Europe.)
And then there is the Stroopwafel. It’s definitely a favorite of mine.
It consists of two thin circular waffle-like wafers with sticky, sweet honey or carmel layered in-between them… and best eaten when warm. You’re supposed to eat one with tea or coffee, placing it on top of the mug for it to become warm from the steam before eating it… eating one right out of the package is okay too, though!
TIP: Live in the U.S. and can’t get to the Netherlands? You’re in luck! And that luck is called Erick Schats Bakery in Bishop, CA. Have you ever dined here? If you have… self-explanatory. If you haven’t, your next drive to the Sierra Nevada’s or to Mount Whitney must call for a stop in Bishop. Grabbing a sandwich and a cookie here are a must – because it’s a Dutch Bakery! One I’ve grown to know and eat at during every single trip to the mountains.
6. Visit Volendam and Marken Island.
Windmills. Cheese. Fishing villages. Tulips. Clog making.
Need I say more?
I mean, what could be more Dutch then that?! It’s the perfect little day trip getaway from your Amsterdam vacation, and it’s everything and more.
The bus picks you up and drops you off next to Centraal Station. It’s an all day event, so be prepared for a lot of walking and sunscreen application.
You get to see the Zaanse Schans windmills (the real deal which are still in working condition) and the little village alongside a beautiful river.
You will get to visit a cheese factory and see how they make Dutch Cheese. The best part? You can taste all the different cheeses they have to offer and buy your favorite ones!
Then the tour will take you to a seaside village to eat some lunch (you pick your place) where you definitely need to eat their fish. I mean, it is a fishing village, unless you’re allergic.
After that, they take you on a 30 minute boat ride to Marken Island, where you walk among a cute village and soon arrive to see where clogs are made. The original clog maker shows you how he makes clogs in a demo and you can even buy a pair for yourself!
TIP: When stopping for lunch in the fishing village, you can eat at any restaurant; however, they also have food carts with what looked like better, more delicious fish dishes (including traditional raw herring) and other sweet treats.
Want to see more of these adorable little villages? Learn more about them in Northern Holland!
7. Go to the Van Gogh Museum.
Apparently I didn’t pay any attention in school, because it slipped my mind that Van Gogh is Dutch. Embarrassing moment right there.
Annnnyway… yeah, so there is this pretty awesome museum called the Van Gogh museum.
The first exhibit is limited only to paintings of his head (seriously) throughout the years, until he cut his ear off. Well, his artwork actually continues on a bit after that… but you get the point.
His work is beautiful and intriguing. There are (I think) 4 or 5 floors of all of his artwork, except for Starry Night… sad news for me that day. Apparently it’s in the New York Museum of Modern Art. However, the oil painting, The Potato Eaters, is on display here… which is quite impressive, to say the least.
The museum is located right next to that red IAmsterdam sign everyone likes taking pictures with.
TIP: When you buy the IAmsterdam card, you get free admission into this museum!
8. A little Sin City never hurt anybody.
I’m not referring to Vegas. I’m talking about the original Sin City.
Okay. Maybe it’s not the original, but if I had to put my money on it, I’d say this is the legal Sin City where Vegas got its inspiration from… and it’s not the gambling I’m referring to.
If kids are not accompanying you, then a stop through the Red Light District is a must.
It’s crazy to see the “coffee shops” (legal marijuana) and “shadow girls” (legal prostitution) along the old streets lined along the canals. Women are not walking the streets like you’d think (or maybe they are?). They actually stand in windows lined with red fluorescent lighting, and most are located in the alleyways.
And that’s all I’ll say about that.
The “coffee shops” are all over Amsterdam. You can find them on every corner. They pretty much took over Starbucks. (Just FYI, you won’t find your skinny latte there.)
TIP: Be careful! You’re in a tourist spot where some drugs are legal. You will get pickpocketed if not careful. (Or maybe worse?) Nonetheless, stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. If you have to carry a purse, wear a cute backpack… and wear it in front of you! I know it sounds silly, but it’s necessary.
9. The Real Absinthe.
Yup. We found the real one.
We didn’t try it though. I wanted to, don’t get me wrong. I just wanted to see what it was all about before it kicked me in the you-know-what. Apparently, you need to buy a whole bottle before you can taste it though… and it’s not what you think!
The low down: We walked by the door three times before we entered the shop. It’s a hole in the wall liquor shop across from the Anne Frank House.
Once we entered (the last day of our trip), the first thing the guy asks us is, “Hi, what would you like to get?” and, “Oh! That skirt looks nice on you. It’s so flowy and perfect for this hot weather.”
Um. Okay… not creepy at all.
So I thanked him (what else was I going to say?), and then we asked him if we could see the real Absinthe. His next line? “Are you going to buy some? Because if not, I can’t show it to you.”
Haha… Sounds legit, I guess.
We said we didn’t know what we wanted yet and that we had no idea what Absinthe actually was and just wanted more information about the drink and what it does. Yes. I know… hallucinogen.
But I wanted to know what it really was – not just the speculation and rumor we all hear.
He informed us that it’s not a drink where you have a few glasses just to hallucinate, or whatever. It’s actually made for Lucid Dreaming (you know, when you dream and you know you’re dreaming). You’re supposed to have only one glass (he was very strict with saying “one drink”) before bedtime and then fall asleep to Lucid Dream.
And that’s it.
There are only a few companies that make the real Absinthe; however, there are knock offs you can find pretty much anywhere (the green/blue stuff) – which is completely fake and is just really high in alcohol content.
The real Absinthe is moderately low in alcohol content. It has less alcohol than a glass of port wine.
Or at least that’s what this guy said. He also stated the drink gets all the bad hype because people drink more of it then they should (two glasses or more) and they don’t use it for its sole purpose (which is lucid dreaming).
The bottle was pretty large and we didn’t have enough room in our luggage (we took carry on) so we didn’t end up buying it. And because we didn’t buy it, we couldn’t try it. But we did grab his business card and the experience in his shop was pretty interesting, none the less.
TIP: You can buy the real Absinthe from this same guy online, and he will ship it to you.
10. Fly in through the Eindhoven Airport & stay in the Pullman Hotel.
The Eindhoven Airport is more budget friendly than the Amsterdam Airport. So if you’re looking to want to travel for a little less, as well as wanting to ride on a Euro Train through the country side, fly to Eindhoven.
The airport is very easy to navigate and you can even stay a night in Eindhoven to see a more “local” side of the Netherlands. Eindhoven is known for their shopping and dining, so you’ll have plenty to do the day you either arrive or depart from the Netherlands.
Dan and I took the train from Amsterdam (roughly an hour and a half) to Eindhoven before we had to leave the next day. We stayed at the Pullman Eindhoven Cocagne boutique hotel and it was a perfect ending to our Netherlands vacation.
The Pullman hotel is modern with a small boutique feel and is close to medieval churches, restaurants, bars and shopping. We relaxed and walked around our last night and ended our vacation with a pitcher of delicious Sangria. And it was perfect!
TIP: You can take a bus or train to and from Amsterdam from Eindhoven. It’s wise buy your bus tickets (or train tickets) in advance before your arrival to the Netherlands. If you decide to take a train on the way back, you can grab a train ticket on the same day, as they have a train departing to Eindhoven about every 15 minutes. Know that there are several train stations in Amsterdam (don’t get lost – take the right one!) and you can get to any of them by use of the tram.