I have now been lucky enough to visit the beautiful dutch city of Amsterdam twice, once in summer and once in winter, so I reckon I am just about qualified to write this post.
If you’re planning a (relatively) cheap and (definitely) cheerful weekend city break then it doesn’t get much more perfect than Amsterdam destination wise. A couple of days is the perfect amount of time to really get around the city, and there’s something for everyone whether you want a jam packed, action filled trip or a few days of chilled repose. It’s a city I would go back to in a heartbeat, to catch a glimpse of those iconic houses lining the canals or even for a little stroll through the famous red light district.
Getting there: The first time I visited Amsterdam we flew with easyJet from Edinburgh to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. As usual we used trusty Skyscanner to find the best dates and deals, and planned our trip accordingly. We booked in advance so it wasn’t too pricey, and by going in January we avoided the summer rush.
The second time I visited I was on mainland Europe, in Paris, and took a bus. As much as this wasn’t as fast as the plane it was convenient, not too long and cost efficient. Trains are also available but can be relatively pricey if you don’t book ahead or catch a deal.
Getting around: The obvious best way to get around Amsterdam is by bike. We chickened out of doing this on my first trip because, to be honest, it’s pretty daunting. There are literally thousands of bikes everywhere, there are also cars, trams and tourists to dodge at the same time. Instead we used trams which run all over the city, potentially the smarter, warmer option if you’re visiting in winter. We bought weekend passes which were affordable and far more convenient than buying new tickets for each trip.
I wish we hadn’t been put off bikes though, as we rented bikes on my second visit and it was brilliant. It was 16€ per person per day from our hostel, including insurance incase the bikes got stolen. Amsterdam is perfectly adapted for cyclists, there are bike lanes everywhere and it’s entirely flat. This is the most scenic way of enjoying the city and will make you feel a little more like a local.
Meininger: The Meininger was one of those hostels that was so nice I saw it as more of a hotel. It’s to the West of the city and located right beside one of the main trains stations which was amazing for travelling to and from the airport. The rooms in this hostel were greatly sized, clean and homely. Because it’s outside of the city centre we had to take trams to go everywhere which was completely fine, but if you’re planning on being out late at night or would rather walk everywhere then this might not be for you.
ClinkNOORD: ClinkNOORD was my favourite of the two hostels I’ve stayed at in Amsterdam. I was initially put off by the fact you have to get a ferry over the river to the city centre, but they literally leave every five minutes, are completely free and after the two minute crossing you’re right in the centre of everything. The hostel itself was cool, with games and large social spaces, the rooms were a little smaller but had everything we needed and the breakfast buffet offered was a perfect start to the day.
Rent bikes: As previously mentioned, renting bikes is an absolute must when in Amsterdam. Don’t be put off by the thousands of other cyclists, you’ll be fine, and with any luck you’ll get one in a snazzy colour. You’ll never have to go far to find a bike rental shop as they’re scattered all over the city and are never too expensive.
Anne Frank House: The Anne Frank House was my big ‘must-see’ the first time I visited Amsterdam and it didn’t disappoint. It’s an incredibly chilling experience, especially the moment when you first see the bookcase, still in its original form and place, that concealed the Frank family during WWII. If you only have a short time in Amsterdam I would highly recommend you move this to the top of your to do list.
Boat tour: Amsterdam’s countless canals makes it perfect for boat tour. I love a good boat tour as it gives you a different view of a city than you would get by simply walking around yourself. There must be hundreds of different companies running canal tours around the city, we opted for the ‘Lovers Canal Cruise’, not because we were lovers but simply because it was the best value and the most convenient timing.
Moco Museum: The Moco Museum houses a huge collection of Banksy’s works and is 100% worth a visit. Tickets are only £10 for students and they had free sweets at the reception desk. I’m yet to find someone who isn’t a fan of at least one of Banksy’s works, it was insane and almost surreal to see them in real life, I mean they’ve literally cut chunks out of concrete walls in order to display them. The museum is a perfect size, not too big that it bores you but big enough to keep you busy for an hour or two.
‘I amsterdam’ sign: If you’ve not seen this sign on Instagram at some point then you probably don’t have Instagram. This is probably one of the most iconic photo spots in Amsterdam, and it’s pretty fun to pretend you’re a kid in a play-park and climb all over, then consequently get stuck on top of, the letters.
Rijksmuseum: To me, the Rijksmuseum felt like Amsterdam’s version of the Louvre in Paris. It’s a very similar style with mostly older artwork, it’s also just as huge and overwhelming. I doubt we saw anywhere near the whole thing and had to launch a couple of missing persons investigations. This museum houses Rembrandt’s massive ‘Night Watch’ painting which is quite the spectacle.
Vondelpark: Vondelpark is a beautiful, huge park in the centre of Amsterdam. There are huge open grass areas perfect for playing games or laying out in the sun, bike lanes so you can cycle around, cafes if you fancy a bite to eat and pretty little places to sit and people watch. If you’re brave enough try out a tandem, it’s a lot of fun.
Walking tour: We decided to check out a walking tour advertised by our hotel as it can be a great way to get a good feel of a new city, as well as to get your bearings. There are loads of different walking tours in Amsterdam for varying prices, ours was actually free and you could choose if / how much you wanted to tip your guide at the end. Our tour guide was amazing and the tour had incredibly interesting content, it wasn’t simply facts and figures. We didn’t actually stay the whole tour because we were pushed for time but if we hadn’t been I would definitely have stayed for the rest.
Red light district: The red light district is obviously an Amsterdam must see. It’s not somewhere I would go alone for a leisurely stroll, but in the evening it’s a bustling hub of activity. The streets are lined and lit by vibrant red windows and, if it’s your thing, there are more than enough shows and thematic museums on offer.
Flower market/ Bloemenmarkt: Holland is symbolised by the iconic tulip, and it’s difficult not to notice them absolutely everywhere in Amsterdam. If you’re a fan of pretty things, which I certainly am, head to the flower market which stretches all the way along the canal and is full of bright colours and heavenly scents.
There are a few things still on my Amsterdam to do list so I’ll have to go back, what a shame, here are a couple of other things I have my eye on.
Van Gogh Museum: I’ve tried to go here both times I visited Amsterdam but I’ve either not had the time or anyone willing to join me. Next time I will be more forceful. I’m a big fan of Van Gogh and have heard only good things about this museum.
‘Over the Edge’ Swing: I first saw this one one of those travel Facebook pages that gives you constant wanderlust. It’s basically a mechanical swing on the top of a high hotel which swings you right out over the edge while exposing you to spectacular views over the city. I can’t imagine anyone scared of heights would enjoy it, but if you’re not I think it could be really cool.
Heineken Experience: I’m not even a beer drinker and I still really fancy visiting the Heineken Experience, a couple of my friends have been and absolutely loved it, there’s even a beer themed roller coaster.
Food and Drink
Fries in a cone: Fries in a cone are a bit of an Amsterdam staple. You’ll find people selling them on just about every street but if you want some reeeeally good ones head to the famous Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx. They have tons of space options but the classic is good old mayonnaise.
Waffles: You can’t go to Amsterdam without enjoying a waffle or four. They come in all different forms, shapes and sizes, some are dipped in things and some are sprinkled with things. Some of my favourites are stroopwafels, two incredibly thin waffles glued together with sticky caramel.
Foodhallen: I went to the Foodhallen the first time I visited Amsterdam and made sure to go back the next time because of how insane it was. It’s perfect for large groups as there are loads of different stalls selling all different cuisines, there will definitely be something for everyone. Because it’s an indoor market it’s great to visit at any time of the year and the prices, although not as cheap as some street food, aren’t bad at all. You have to try one of the gourmet hot dogs.
Amsterdam truly is the perfect city break destination and I have no doubts I will be back. There’s a little bit of everything and it won’t set you back too many precious pennies.
Don’t hesitate to contact me for more tips and tricks for making the most of Amsterdam!
Best wishes from Paris x