Where to start with Amsterdam? So entrenched are the attractions of Amsterdam in general knowledge the world over, every one of the more than 4.5 million people who visit the city each year have a clear idea on what they would like to do or see when they visit. It’s a city notorious for its liberal stance on drugs and sex, but also renowned for it’s canals, art museums and history. Amsterdam is the cultural centre for the Netherlands, was an essential port during the Dutch golden age, and has been one of the most important financial centres in the world for the best part of 300 years.
Amsterdam had been a bucket-list city for more than a decade before I visited and my expectations went up in smoke so to speak. What I imagined as a debauched playground for UK stag & hen’s nights was actually a far more refined, rich and beautiful city, with more to offer than just sex, drugs and paintings. Although my imagination wasn’t entirely wrong.
We spent four nights wandering the streets of Amsterdam in a literal and metaphorical haze, on a limited budget in a city where art museums cost €17.50 and you line up for over two hours to visit a house where a girl wrote a diary. Here’s how to experience Amsterdam no matter what your budget.
We arrived to Amsterdam from Porto, Portugal on a flight with Vueling, which took 2.5 hours and cost €51 each including a 20kg baggage allowance. Direct travel between these cities is only reasonable via air; the small obstacles of Spain, France and Belgium make the land route best attempted over days or weeks. It would certainly be a great road-trip.
From Amsterdam Airport you can catch a train or a bus into the city centre. Trains depart every 10-15 minutes and cost €3.80 for the 20 minute journey into the city. Buses depart every 30 minutes, take 30 minutes, and cost €3.60. We used a train and a tram to get to our accommodation, costing a total of €6.90 per person.
Amsterdam is as connected as you could hope for, it’s even serviced by the Eurostar, so there’s not a whole lot of point in me detailing every transport mode from every city. When planning your journey check out the helpful links page and try Go Euro for a good bus and train service aggregator. Once you’ve settled on your transport method it always pays to buy tickets directly from the service provider as third party sites will add a fee.
Once you are in Amsterdam you can use the trains and trams to get around, you can hire bikes, or you can just walk everywhere like we did. My advice is to hire bikes, you can hire from €10 per bike per day, and use them to see the city at your own pace without ruining your legs.
Hint – When flying with a low-cost airline, always check the ticket prices against additional luggage costs. For example the base rate for the cheapest seat might be €40 and additional luggage might be charged at €20 per item, but the next tier in seating might include luggage for €50. You just saved yourself €10.
Amsterdam isn’t a cheap city to sleep in, which can be difficult for the budget conscious traveller. We chose a room in shared accommodation using Airbnb, our room (which is no longer listed) cost €57 per night and although it was an actual box with a window and a bed, it served our purpose. Sometimes it’s nice to stay somewhere you want to spend time, but on occasion you just need somewhere to crash after a full day exploring.
**Note – all prices are based on July rates.**
Dorm rooms in Amsterdam hostels have beds starting from €28 per night but from the looks of things you will need to pay €30 or more to stay somewhere decent. Shelter City (drug and alcohol free), Flying Pig Downtown and St Christopher’s at the Windsor are three of the most popular hostels in the city.
Bnb’s in Amsterdam have rooms starting from €50 per night if you look hard enough, but the average cost is €100 per night for a double room in shared accommodation. You can rent a whole apartment using Airbnb from €80 per night and the average is €150 per night.
Hotel rooms are actually a good option in Amsterdam. For a hotel with good reviews (8/10 or higher) you will need to pay €80 per night at least, but €100 per night will get you a double room somewhere fairly nice. Obviously if you want to splash out your imagination is the only limit in Amsterdam.
You don’t need to stay within the central canal area, just make sure to find accommodation within reasonable distance. We stayed at the far end of Vondelpark and really enjoyed the less tourist oriented area; it was super trendy, safe, and it wasn’t too far to walk home. I would say anywhere in west Amsterdam within the A10 road and anywhere east within walking distance to a tram stop would be fine.
There’s so much going on in this city so let’s break it all down into categories.
These are an important part of Amsterdam whether you plan to visit them or not, and there are a few things you should know regardless. Coffeeshops or Koffieshops are cafés where you can buy marijuana, hashish and space cakes, as well as hot and cold drinks and sometimes food. They will display a green and white sign at the door and you need to be 18 years old to enter. Coffeeshops will have a drugs menu and in most places you can buy products by weight as well as by joint. You are welcome to buy and smoke on the premises and you can carry up to 5 grams with you once you leave. Think of coffeeshops as pubs that serve weed instead of booze. We visited Club Media and 1e Hulp by recommendation and spent €3.75 and €4 respectively on pre-rolled joints. Some other recommended coffeeshops are Betty Boop, Grey Area, New Times and Bluebird.
If you are just looking for coffee; anywhere with coffee, espresso, coffee house or koffie huis in the name will be a normal café. A dead give-away is that it probably wont smell like pot. For more info check out this article.
Dutch thick fries (friet or patat) are simple crispy hot chips eaten with mayonnaise. You can get them everywhere.
Stroopwaffel is a thin waffle cookie with a caramel syrup filling. People go crazy for them, I thought they were pretty average. You can get them from every supermarket but if you try them from a bakery you’ll probably have a better time.
Drop is liquorice. There’s lots of different flavours and strengths. If you like liquorice then you will probably like drop. You can get it in every shop. You wont be able to stop.
Herring is a small, strong, salted fish that is eaten with onions, pickles and bread. You can also get preserved herring in a can. I didn’t try it but you can get it from street vendors everywhere.
Kibbeling is deep fried cod served with mayonnaise. It’s awesome.
Where to Eat
The Dutch are renowned for their cheese and the Amsterdam Cheese Museum is the place to taste it all. It’s free to enter and free to taste anything you like.
Bakers and Roasters is a nice New Zealand style café with a Brazilian influence that serves brunch.
Cannibale Royale is a restaurant that serves lots of meat, apparently delicious, apparently legal.
Café De Klos is the place to get epic ribs.
De Laaiste Krumel is a bakery from heaven. We spent €12 on quiche and it was incredible.
The Happy Pig Pancake Shop is where you go if you like pancakes.
Where to Drink
Brouwerijde Prael is a local craft brewery, brew pub and beer store. Check out their milk stout.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ is a brewery next to a windmill.
De Bier Fabriek has locally brewed craft beer and taps at your table.
Odeipus Brewery is the one brewery you should visit if you visit no other; they have the best beer. Take the free ferry.
Proeflokaal Arendsnest – These guys only serve Dutch beers and they have 50 on tap.
The ‘Secret Courtyard’ at The Begijnhof is cute and free to visit. It’s a quiet courtyard in the middle of a busy city with buildings dating from the 15th century. A short walk from there is the Civic Guards Gallery which is a kind of fancy alleyway next to the Amsterdam Museum that displays artworks, sculptures, artefacts and statues for free. Some of the art on display here is comparable to works inside the museum, which costs €12.50 to enter.
The Amsterdam Public Library has incredible views over the city and is free to enter. Head up to the second to last level and walk through the cafeteria to the terrace. There’s also a public piano in the foyer.
The NEMO Science Museum costs €16.50 to enter but the exterior of the building is a really cool kind of concrete water park with more awesome views of the city. It’s free to visit and relax on the building and there’s even a bar at the top, awesome place for a sunset.
Next to the Science Museum is the Stichting Museum Haven, which is a kind of ship yard full of old ships. It’s free to walk around and look at ships.
If you are into a bit of art, or art movements, take the free ferry over to the NDSM-Werf. It’s an old industrial shipping dock that has been given over to art groups who host exhibitions, festivals and live music as well as bars, cafés and restaurants. There’s a theatre boat, a semi-sunken submarine, ship yard sculptures, and a massive warehouse full of artists. We spent half a day here and it provided unmatched insight into a different side of the city outside of the tourist circle. The return ferry is free as well.
Definitely the most famous free attraction in Amsterdam is the Red Light District; De Wallen. Go after 10pm or after midnight as that’s when all the girls turn on their lights and come to the windows. We foolishly visited near midnight on a Saturday and the district was overrun with people. Navigating the streets was like being at a music festival in a mosh pit full of tour groups, bachelor parties, awkward families and couples, all either staring gape-mouthed or trying not to stare at the girls on display. It’s unique at best and my general impression was that it’s a sad place. We went there, pushed through some crowds and got out after about 30 minutes; feeling a bit underwhelmed and sorry for the girls lined up like meat for sale, being judged by everyone else who was only there because they thought they should see it. Note – Never take photos while in the district, it is frowned upon, rude, and you will be stopped without politeness.
Hint – Albert Heijn supermarkets have free coffee machines and often have free food samples.
The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national art and history museum. It costs €17.50 to enter and is apparently one of the most impressive museums in the world.
The Anne Frank House is a museum house dedicated to World War II diarist Anne Frank. It costs €9 to enter and it’s essential to book tickets online well in advance.
The Van Gogh Museum is an art museum dedicated to the works of Vincent Van Gogh. It costs €17 and is the second most visited museum in the Netherlands behind the Rijksmuseum.
The Heineken Brewery is an old brewery that is now apparently a tourist ‘experience’. It’s €16 to visit and by all accounts it’s a great experience, but I preferred to spend my €16 on beer elsewhere.
De Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building and a church right in the red light district.
There are so many more things to check out, most of them museums, so take a look at this list and enjoy!
I would recommend at least three full days in Amsterdam if you don’t have a specific itinerary, but if you are a museum buff you probably need four or five days to be satisfied.
Amsterdam for four nights;
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