I often say there are way too many places I want to visit on my bucket list to ever go anywhere twice. But Amsterdam is a city I think I could be happy visiting time and time again. My mom, sisters and I spent a week there in July and it was nothing short of amazing.
I had always thought of Amsterdam as a party city but that’s really just one small side of its personality. There are so many beautiful and quiet streets along the canals to get lost along, world class museums, culture and history, and every restaurant we ate at was one of our best meals. It seemed like most people spoke English and the city itself is such a manageable size that it was easy to walk anywhere we wanted to go. And I swear the Dutch have the best taste in design as every place we went had impeccable style.
I put together a little travel video of our week together as well as a travel guide below if you are planning your own trip to Amsterdam.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Jordaan Neighborhood which ended up being our very favorite of the neighborhoods in Amsterdam. The location was perfect as it was close to all the major sites but still tucked away from the touristy areas that we felt like we still got a little bit of local flavor. The Jordaan is filled with flower lined canals and adorable narrow streets with quaint cafes on every corner. I could seriously spend all day just wandering the streets of this neighborhood.
The Jordaan was built in the early 17th Century and was initially a working class neighborhood with low rents. It eventually became a slum by World War II and there were proposals after the war to tear the whole neighborhood down and build apartment buildings. I’m so glad they didn’t as it is one of the most charming neighborhoods and now is one of the most desirable as well.
The best way to get around Amsterdam is by walking or biking but you really need to know what you are doing or stick to side streets to bike in Amsterdam. Definitely, don't rent a car as there is little parking and it's hard to get around with the narrow streets and bikes everywhere. I thought I was prepared for how many bikers there are in Amsterdam but I definitely was not. I was in constant awe of the women biking in 4-inch stiletto heels, kids riding on the back racks just holding on and people talking on the phone or texting while biking. Bikes definitely rule the road and if you are walking you should be careful about stepping into bike lanes. The sidewalks are narrow in many places so you won't always be able to safely stay out of the way so you just need to stay aware. We walked everywhere but the one night we took an uber to dinner as it was on the outskirts of the city.
The trains in and out of the city are very easy to navigate and we were able to walk to the train station from our Airbnb in the Jordaan for our day trip to Delft. It took us about an hour to get to Delft, even with transferring trains it was a very smooth process. The only thing we made a mistake on is on the train back to Amsterdam we didn't realize we got on the express train and ended up having to pay a little extra but that wasn't a big deal.
Our Airbnb was owned by a photographer and he had such a great mix of interesting vintage items and decor. We usually choose to rent apartments when we travel so that we can have a little more space as well as a kitchen to at least make breakfast and coffee in the morning. It’s also a great way to live like a local for a few days and stay in a true neighborhood instead of the city center.
If you are interested in our Airbnb you can check it out here or if it's not available for your dates I recommend looking in the Jordaan neighborhood in general: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5437847
WHAT TO DO
I used to not be a big fan of tours but I’ve learned it’s a great way to get local inside information, you just have to choose the right tour that keeps the numbers small and brings you off the beaten path.
CANAL BOAT TOUR | This was the number one recommendation I received from those who have visited Amsterdam before and I definitely have to agree. It is such a great way to get a different perspective of the city. We chose Those Dam Boat Guys as they use small 8-person boats instead of the huge touristy boats.
ANNE FRANK HOUSE | The Anne Frank House has to be one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam. It was extremely crowded when we went and even though we bought our timed tickets ahead of time there were still so many people that we stood in line the entire way through. BUT I will say despite that it was still such a moving experience, which is saying a lot because I hate lines and crowds. They sell timed tickets online in advance from 9 am - 3:30 pm (and you definitely have to buy them well in advance because they sell out) and then from 3:30 pm - closing you can stand in line the day of and buy a ticket. But I recommend just getting your ticket ahead of time so you don’t have to spend your entire day standing in line.
RIJKSMUSEUM & VAN GOGH MUSEUM | The Rijksmuseum is the Netherland’s principal museum full of Dutch art from the middle ages to present day. Every gallery and floor have a distinct time period and style which makes it a pretty easy museum to navigate. While the halls with the most famous paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh were crowded we found that the rest of the museum was not. We also really enjoyed the beautiful outdoor gardens which are free to walk around without buying a ticket and there was a nice spot to buy coffee with chairs to sit throughout the garden. While that area is full of tourists I found the gardens to actually be pretty quiet and pleasant and had we had more time I would have happily sipped a coffee there. We, unfortunately, did not make it to the Van Gogh museum but I included it because it is right next to the Rijksmuseum and also was highly recommended to us.
FOOD TOUR | Ever since we did the most amazing food tour in Barcelona I make it a point to book one in every international city we visit. It is a great way to taste all the local dishes and check out hole in the wall mom and pop spots that we’d never know about on our own. We did the Hungry Birds food tour and it was about 5-hours of non-stop amazing eating. From fries and pickled herring at an outdoor market, beer and bitterballen at the old train station turned food hall, Indonesian in a grocery store, apple pie and more beer at a brown cafe and cheese and chocolate at a local cheese shop it was all delicious. They say on their website they can’t guarantee to be able to accommodate food allergies but Esther our tour guide went out of her way for our mom who has a gluten allergy and even brought extra food for the stops that our mom couldn’t eat at.
VONDELPARK | One thing that I did notice about the city center was that there aren’t very many green spaces but Vondelpark definitely makes up for that fact. It is a huge park on the southwest side of the city with an open air theater, bike trails and canals running through it. We didn’t spend much time there as we were on a tight schedule on our last day but when I go back I’d love to grab a picnic or maybe brave renting bikes around there.
PRIVATE COUNTRYSIDE TOUR
We scheduled a private countryside day tour with Tom’s Travel Tours and they jam packed it with a bike ride, wooden shoe factory, cheese making tour, windmills and lots of cute small towns. It was really nice to have someone who knew the area to show us around and he picked us up and dropped us off at our Airbnb which was very convenient.
DAY TRIP TO DELFT
We had only one day to day trip out of the city and we had a hard time deciding what town to go to. The Netherlands is actually a very accessible and small country so most places were within an hour or two by train. We decided on Delft because it’s more of a quaint and small canal town that would give us a different flavor from Amsterdam. While there isn’t necessarily a ton to do there we just had a great time grabbing lunch and coffee and wandering around the town. And it’s an easy 1-hour train ride from Amsterdam.
We ate lunch at 't Postkantoor which had a great mix of mid-century and Moroccan decor (sounds random but it totally works) and a really beautiful outdoor courtyard. We also randomly stumbled across a cafe, bakery, store concept called Van Maanen that we loved so much we stopped there three times in one day!
LOCAL FOODS TO EAT
STROOPWAFEL | These amazing Dutch desserts are two thin waffle cookies with a caramel-like syrup filling in between. You can find them prepackaged in many stores but the best ones are fresh from a market stand.
BITTERBALLEN | Basically a croquette filled with meat and vegetables. We tried ours at De BallenBar in Foodhallen, an old train station turned food hall.
APPLE PIE | Dutch Apple pie is different from its American version as it is extremely deep filled to the brim with apples and with a buttery crust base. You can find Apple Pie at most cafes around Amsterdam but we had ours at Cafe Sonneveld.
INDONESIAN | Because Indonesia was a Dutch colony, one of the most popular ethnic foods you will find in Amsterdam is Indonesian.
KIBBELING | Battered and deep fried white fish usually served with mayonnaise.
CHEESE | Cheese is a huge industry in the Netherlands and you definitely can’t leave without trying some gouda. We did a cheese tasting at Dutch Delicacy which we were able to enjoy with a glass of wine and bought our weight in cheese to bring home. They told us if it was vacuum sealed (which all their cheese was) it would last a few months without refrigeration.
PICKLED HERRING | I was a little nervous to try this Dutch delicacy but it actually tastes similar to sushi and wasn’t bad. Not sure I could eat a whole meal of it but it’s worth trying while you are there.
One of the trends that seems very popular in Amsterdam and that I love is the chef’s course menu. We went to three different restaurants where all you decide is how many courses you want to eat and then they bring out what the chef is cooking that night. I ended up trying many things I wouldn’t normally order and it was all so fresh and creative. My mom has gluten and shellfish allergies and even the restaurants with the set menus were really great about adjusting the dish to fit her dietary restrictions. Most restaurants in Amsterdam take reservations so to make sure we got into our top choices I made reservations a few weeks before traveling.
DAALDER | Our first night in Amsterdam we ate at Daalder and it really set the tone for our week. The cuisine is a mixture of french and dutch but honestly every dish we had was so inventive with unique flavor combinations. The menu changes often and you just select how many courses you’d like. The decor is very cozy and feels like a classic European cafe.
RESTAURANT DE KAS | A modern greenhouse and restaurant that grows a lot of their food in-house. When we first arrived at De Kas the hostess took us on a tour of the greenhouse and pointed out many of the fruits and vegetables that would be used in our food which I thought was a really nice touch. Throughout the meal I also saw chefs going out there to pick items, you seriously can’t get fresher than that. The menu is a set meal and many of the dishes are vegetable focused. We ate here our last night and agreed it might of been our favorite which is saying a lot since it had a lot of stiff competition. You will most likely need to take a taxi to this restaurant as it is on the outskirts of town in a large park.
GUTS AND GLORY | Gust and Glory is still fairly new to the restaurant scene but I had seen it on several lists for hot new restaurants in Amsterdam and knew we had to give it a try. It is a rotating concept restaurant so every few months they change their entire theme. When we went they had just finished their Japanese Chapter and were on their first week of their Spanish Chapter.
SLA | A local salad bar chain with really fresh ingredients and fast, healthy meals. After having so many huge and heavy meals SLA was a nice change of pace for a quick lunch. The atmosphere is also nice and bright for a fast and casual restuarant.
BAKERS AND ROASTERS | A breakfast spot with a mix of New Zealand and Brazillian style. The food is very much similar to American brunch but all really fresh and delicious. And I'm pretty sure every dish at Bakers and Roasters is Instagram worthy. It’s a pretty popular spot as we went at 10:00 am on a weekday and still had to wait for a table.
CAFE 'T SMALLE | One of the more beautiful traditional brown cafes. We were able to grab a spot on the canal after visiting the Anne Frank House close by and enjoyed a bottle of Rose.
FOODHALLEN | Foodhallen is an old train depot turned large food hall with endless food and drink options to satisfy everyone’s cravings. We stopped here a few times and it was always packed no matter the time as it’s a popular spot.
COFFEE SHOPS AND SHOPPING
I love visiting beautiful coffee shops and try to make it a point to visit one in every town I go to. For a girls trip we shockingly didn’t do very much shopping but there are a few stores we stopped in that stood out to me.
COFFEE + COCONUTS | I basically dragged my mom and sister’s across town to this spot on our last day because I had seen it in so many blog posts and just had to go. It is an old theater turned coffee shop with four different levels of seating from community tables to couches and everything in between. Owned by an Australian the ambiance at Coffee + Coconuts is very airy beach shack vibe. We ordered a late lunch there along with iced coconut coffee that was to die for. If I lived in Amsterdam this place would for sure be my spot.
PLUK | A beautiful concept store, coffee shop and lunch spot. We only got coffee to go at PLUK but it is such a gorgeous little place with adorable gifts and what looked like to be a light and healthy menu. Located in the cozy 9 streets, a great shopping district next to the Jordaan, it's the perfect spot to take a break between stores.
RHEE 7 | Truth be told we only popped our heads in here as it was Saturday and they were packed with no tables. But Rhee 7 is the sister restaurant to Pluk and just a few doors down as well. It looked like another beautiful space that would be great for lunch or an afternoon coffee and next time I’m in Amsterdam I am definitely hitting it up.
THE MAKER MARKET | Located in the same former train depot as Food Hallen, the Maker Market is all unique products from local creators and brands and is the perfect place to find a unique souvenir.
ALL THE LUCK IN THE WORLD | A mixture of vintage homegoods, jewelry, and gifts. Everything in this store is so well curated. All the Luck in the World has three locations but the one in De Pijp on Gerard Doustraat is in a great shopping district with lots of other home and clothing stores. It is also close to the Albert Cuypmarkt which is mostly junk but they have a stand with the best stroopwafels in the city.
I honestly loved Amsterdam more than I even expected to and it is a city I could see myself going back to time and time again. From the delicious food, picturesque flower lined canals, art and culture and genuinely nice people, it has so much to offer and I can’t wait to someday make another trip back.