Amsterdam – Venice of the North

amsterdam netherlands things to do

Amsterdam is the ‘Venice of the north’, a picturesque city filled with canals. We found it a city of contrasts, with lots of aspects we loved, and definitely some we enjoyed less, things we will cover over the course of the blog. We had earmarked Amsterdam as one of the stops on our trip we were keen to see, particularly after being unable to squeeze it into our last venture to Europe. It was also the last stop of our 6 month adventures before returning back to Melbourne, so we had a bittersweet taste in our mouth at times. However, Amsterdam definitely delivered some quality moments and we are glad we stopped by.

This blog isn’t designed to be the complete guide to Amsterdam. It will however, hopefully spark some thought around what kind of holiday you want in Amsterdam and a few alternative things to consider.

Amsterdam has many faces, making it perfect for so many different kinds of people. The ‘touristy’ Amsterdam is filled with pretty canals, museums, and boat tours on the water. The city is also perfect for those wanting to party and live it up. Amsterdam is very popular for stag do’s and hens parties, along with those wanting to let loose. This is partially due to Amsterdam’s policy on marijuana.. it is legal! You will be able to tell this just by walking down the main street in the ‘touristy part of town’.. every 2nd shop is selling weed products. You are also likely to be able to ‘smell it’ as you walk through the city.

Amsterdam is also a great option for those wanting to sample the ‘Europe best’ coffee culture, explore the canals, head out to the neighbourhoods away from the city, and check out food markets. This was the kind of approach we took for our visit to Amsterdam, but we know many other will likely sample the city a little differently.

Amsterdam’s Red light district:

One can’t talk about Amsterdam without mentioning the infamous Red Light District. This part of town, located in the centre of Amsterdam, is famous for legal prostitution. The history of the district is dates back to the 15th century, and is located in the oldest part of the city. Whether or not you plan on engaging in the district, it is a fascinating walk through. Located on some picturesque canals, you will likely be surprised by just how ‘public’ the viewing windows are. If you want to visit without as much ‘action’, go earlier, as there are far fewer workers on display. Don’t miss the The Trompettersteeg, the narrowest alley in Amsterdam. This was one of the first streets in the red light district. If you do decide to visit, it is important to remember that this is legitimate and legalised work in Amsterdam, and respecting the workers is of vital importance. Taking photographs and public drinking are strictly prohibited.

Our Amsterdam Highlights:

Coffee Culture:

Amsterdam has a thriving café culture, delivering some of the best coffee we have had in Europe. We were impressed by the multitude of artisanal coffee shops, making an effort to sample as many as we could. We have listed some of our favourites below, along with some we walked past and admired without getting the chance to try them.

  • Black Gold Amsterdam: only a few minutes walk out of the action, this coffee shop is worth visiting. Wander the canals up to the café and grab one of the best coffee’s in Amsterdam.
  • Stooker: This café only sells take away coffee, focusing more on their roasting and training academy. However, it was one of the best flat white’s we have had in Europe. If you’re in the East of Amsterdam near Oosterpark, it’s a must.
  • Koffie Academy: Another top shelf café which we would recommend to everyone. Great coffee and good atmosphere.
  • De Koffie Schenkerij
  • Scandanavian Embassy
  • Lot Sixty1
  • Five Ways
  • 4850
  • Sur Coffee Corner
  • Margos
  • Drupo
The Amsterdam Canals:

How can you visit Amsterdam without spending time wandering the famous canals. They are as picturesque as you imagine, and look just like the postcards. We recommend you had out of the ‘main part’ of the town, where the canals are a little quieter and prettier. The areas of De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) are some of the most photogenic.

The Neighbourhoods of Amsterdam:

Whilst the heart of Amsterdam often gets the most foot traffic, we would urge you to head 10 minutes out of the town to some of the other neighbourhoods. In particular, we loved the leafy green Jordaan, filled with cafes and boutiques. The canals nearby are also very picturesque. We have to thank one of our friends for this excellent recommendation.

The other area we also loved was near Muiderpoort. This east side area was filled with multicultural food outlets, cute parks, a windmill to visit and more. We are positive there’s so much more that we didn’t get to see as well!

Food Hallen Market:

We love a good food market, and De Hallen in Amsterdam was one of our favourites so far. Located a little walk out of town, we would say it’s definitely worth the steps. This warehouse is filled with modern multicultural eateries and bars. The ceiling is strung with hanging lights, and the playlists reminded us of back home. The food was also reasonably priced, tasty, and there were so many options.

There are also a multitude of other street markets to explore with food, brac a brac and flea market options. These include Bloemenmarkt, Albert Cupt Market, Waterlooplein, IJ- Hallen NDSM and more.

The Beautiful Parks in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam has a number of beautiful parks dotted on the fringes of the city that we think are worth exploring.

  • Vondelpark: Located not far from the Van Gough and Rijksmuseum, this expansive park is filled with lakes, fountains, rose gardens, outdoor artwork and more.
  • Oosterpark: Situated in the east of Amsterdam, this park was filled with local birds and trees dropping autumn leaves. It was the perfect place to take our morning coffee.
  • We sadly missed other parks like Amsterdamse Bos, Begijnhof and Westergasfabriek. Perhaps some to explore next time we visit.

A few great cheap eats:

Tigris & Eufraat: We love a good falafel, and we received a local recommendation to check out the Israeli street food in Muiderpoort. The team at Tigris are a well oiled machine, delivering consistently top notch falafel wraps, along with other shawarma options. Be prepared to wait a little, and pay with cash!

Comestibles Kinders: We stumbled upon this cute little deli in Jordaan and just had to stop. Made fresh to order, these baguettes cost only 4 euros. A bargain!

Baires: We enjoy a cheeky empanada or 2, and we couldn’t resist trying Baires. Very budget friendly, and tasty as! If you are going past one of their stores, treat yourself to an empanada!

Check out an iconic Windmill:

Windmills are part of the iconic Netherlands photos you see splashed across social media and advertisements. While many are located out of the town, there is one within walking distance that is worth checking out. The windmill is De Gooyer, sitting just off the canals. There is also an old historic pub, Brouwerij’t IJ Bar, underneath the windmill. If you are wanting to check out even more windmills, consider day trips to towns like Leiden (see here), or hiring a bike and cycling out to see a few.

What we didn’t do:

Museums: Amsterdam has up to 70 museums, some of the most of any city in the world. These range considerably in size, cost and focus. The most popular include Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House. There are also sex museums, maritime museums and much more. We had planned on visiting the famous Anne Frank House museum, however when checking for tickets a week in advance, found them sold out for months. We urge you to book early for any of the museums if you are wanting to visit them, particularly the Anne Frank House.

Boat Tours: The canals of Amsterdam are filled with tour boats, especially in the heart of the city. There are a multitude of options for tours, including small private boats, up to big group tours. The cheapest seemed to start at 10 euros for 1 hour.

What we struggled with in Amsterdam:

Cost: Amsterdam was quite an expensive city. We noticed this in the cost of accommodation (why we chose to stay in Leiden, see here), the price of coffee, and how much attractions like museum entry cost. However, we were also able to find some excellent cheap eats outside the heart of the city. We also enjoyed the multitude of free options in the city, including walking the canals, the parks, and checking out the many markets.

Touristy nature of city centre: Amsterdam was very touristic! The heart of the city is packed with crowds in the middle of the day. We also found the shops, bars and restaurants reflected this touristic nature of the city. However, all you have to do to escape this is walk out to some of the quieter neighbourhoods a little out from the city.

Inability to get into some of the museums without booking months in advance: This was really frustrating for us, as we had planned on visiting the Anne Frank House museum. However, as mentioned previously, tickets were booked out months in advance. Maybe we just got unlucky? We advise you to consider booking early!

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