Zahia Siab shares 28 reasons to visit Amsterdam and partake in its endless experiences fit for first-timers and old hands
From unconventional restaurants and local craft beers to a wealth of world-class museums, it’s easy to see why Amsterdam is a top tourist destination. Its bike culture, charming canals and lax attitude toward marijuana are also all part of the city’s universal appeal. Here are 28 reasons why you should visit Amsterdam.
1. Ride bikes to your heart’s content
Bikes dominate Amsterdam; there are many places you can go to rent a steed to help you get around. For example, starting from the Rijksmuseum, you can ride along Stadhouderskade, visit the Heineken Experience, make a detour to Albert Cuyp market, cross the river Amstel and head to the seriously hip Eastern Docklands. The iamsterdam.com site has a few downloadable bike routes as well. Watch out for locals though; they aren’t known for their patience in traffic.
2. Bask in the sunshine at Vondelpark
When the sun is out, Amsterdammers head to Vondelpark, the largest public park in the city. Its popularity makes it quite busy, but there’s also a sense of community spirit that permeates the park when it’s packed. Pull up a bit of grass, get comfortable, and have a chat with people around you; you’re likely to make a new friend or two.
3. Dance the night away
Amsterdam loves a good party. Leidseplein has a large concentration of clubbing venues, with Melkweg, Chicago Social Club and Sugar Factory among the more popular spots. See the Amsterdam Nightlife guide for more info. Every June, the city also hosts Awakenings which is widely touted as the world’s best techno festival by EDM fans. The event is held in Spaarnwoude Recreation Area (Recreatiegebied Spaarnwoude) which is about 22km (14 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.
4. Sleep on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed
The Hilton Hotel Amsterdam (Apollolaan 138) is home to the John and Yoko suite, or the room where the famous couple staged their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War. On the Hilton website, it says this 50 square-metre luxury suite features unique John and Yoko memorabilia.
5. A cat lover’s paradise
Love cats? Head to Katten Kabinet (Herengracht 497) – a museum dedicated to cat-related art. Alternatively, visit Kattencafe Kopjes (Marco Polostraat 211) to have a coffee and cuddle with a furry feline.
6. Eat fresh herring, the Dutch way
Raw fish makes an appearance on many international menus. However, nobody does raw herring like the Dutch. Topped with raw onions, herring is best eaten by grabbing the tail, tipping your head back, and devouring it in one go.
7. Take a stroll down Haarlemmerstraat
Located in the Jordaan district, Haarlemmerstraat brings a definite hipster vibe to the phrase “retail therapy”. If you’re looking for a vintage dress, fun cooking equipment or ethically sourced chocolate, Haarlemmerstraat is the place for you.
8. Search for a bargain at IJ-Hallen
Just a short, free ferry (service 906) ride from Amsterdam Central Station is the city’s largest flea market, IJ-Hallen. There is a small entrance fee but you’ll find great bargains from about 750 stands. The event is held over one weekend every month. See the Shopping in Amsterdam guide for key shopping areas and other markets.
9. Visit an old cinema
Treat yourself to a film at The Movies (Haarlemmerdijk 161), Amsterdam’s oldest functioning cinema. Dating back to 1912, this art house cinema shows both alternative films and the latest blockbusters.
10. Get your caffeine fix
Coffee lovers will feel right at home in Amsterdam as you can often duck into quaint and stylish cafés while walking the city’s streets. Each team of baristas offers their own take on an excellent cup of joe and provides scrumptious accompaniments to satisfy your sweet tooth. Pro tip: Try De Jonge Admiraal (Javastraat 149HS). This place displays its character through its mismatched furniture, plus their iced coffee is delicious.
11. Have a cold one on a terrace
Amsterdam has long been associated with lagers, but over the last few years microbreweries are popping up across the city offering something unique to beer-loving souls. Beers from Brouwerij ‘t IJ (Funenkade 7) are popular in the Dutch pub scene. Head to the brewery itself, located under Amsterdam’s tallest windmill, to sip beers under the sun on its large open terrace. For more info on bars, clubs and live music, see the Amsterdam Nightlife guide.
12. Get jazzy at Bimhuis
Shaped like neatly packed cereal boxes, Bimhuis (Piet Heinkade 3) is the city’s top jazz venue with leading musicians gracing its stage. The venue also offers world music from time to time.
13. Be soothed by a story at the Mezrab
Dubbed “The House of Stories”, the Mezrab Cultural Centre (Veemkade 576) offers free storytelling and comedy evenings; giving new acts a chance to try out and seasoned comedians test their new jokes. Most of the programs welcome donations.
14. Broaden your mind at the House with the Heads
The Embassy of the Free Mind (Keizersgracht 123), located at the House with the Heads, encourages visitors to ponder life’s most difficult and interesting questions. If you want to learn about free thinkers of the past, this is the place for you.
15. Stay in the historical Shipping House
The Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam (Prins Hendrikkade 108) is an elegant, maritime-themed architectural marvel. Steeped in history, this building was once the headquarters of Amsterdam’s leading shipping companies, and now it’s a luxury hotel. See the Amsterdam Hotels guide for more hotel recommendations.
16. Visit a secret Catholic church
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder or Our Lord in the Attic Museum (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38) is a “house church” preserved from the old days when it was prohibited for Catholics to worship in public. The narrow hallways lead you through the living rooms then to the attic where the church is. This house church became a museum in 1888, making it the second oldest museum in Amsterdam after the Rijksmuseum. See the Things to do in Amsterdam guide for other recommendations.
17. Eat the best stroopwafels
Stroopwafels are the ultimate Dutch sweet treat. Head to Amsterdam for one of these delectable syrup waffles available on almost every city street. Pro tip: Go to the Original Stroopwafels stand at the Albert Cuyp market (Albert Cuypstraat) for a fresh stroopwafel that’s warm and gooey.
18. Learn about the oddities of the human body
If you want to get away from tourists, wander around Museum Vrolik (Meibergdreef 15) to see some biological specimens including babies with various mutations and abnormally-shaped organs. Fair warning: this is not the place for the faint-hearted.
19. Get lost in the city
Amsterdam’s cobbled streets and narrow passageways are perfect for exploring and getting lost in. Put your smartphone away and let your feet guide you, stopping at interesting monuments, curious shops and chic cafés along the way.
20. Wear orange on April 27
On April 27, don orange garb and hit the streets of Amsterdam for one of the biggest parties in the world: King’s Day. Canals are filled to the brim with revellers on boats while cobbled alleys are packed with people. You can also take part in the city-wide street market and sell your wares anywhere in the city provided you don’t block an entrance to someone’s house. The street market at the Vondelpark is restricted to kids selling only.
21. Have an unusual dining experience
Instock (Czaar Peterstraat 21) is a commendable leader in fighting food waste. The chefs here rescue unwanted food from supermarkets and turn them into delicious meals. See the Restaurants in Amsterdam guide for more dining recommendations.
22. Experience the multicultural vibes
Amsterdam is a cultural melting pot with a rich colonial history that seeps through the cracks of traditional Dutch life. Try an Indonesian rijsttafel, buy some baklava in a Turkish grocery store, sip tea in a Moroccan café, or visit a temple in Chinatown.
23. Make use of cheap travel
Purchasing an “I amsterdam City Card” can save you money. The card gives you the freedom to travel on all buses, trams and metros within the city for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours. It also gives you access to a number of museums, including the Stedelijk, Hermitage and NEMO Science Museum. Take advantage of the card’s included free canal cruise and great discounts on restaurants around the city. You can purchase the Iamsterdam City Card online or from various locations throughout the city.
24. Pick a tulip
The area outside Dam Square turns to a garden with 200,000 tulips every January on National Tulip Day. Apart from admiring them, you can even pick a tulip home free of charge. If you’re visiting from March to May, Keukenhof Gardens (40 minutes away by car from Amsterdam) are home to some 4.5 million tulips.
25. Polish a diamond
Many great gems, including the 105.6-carat Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of light) which is now part of the British Crown Jewels, were cut by Coster Diamonds (Paulus Potterstraat 2), the world’s oldest diamond polishing factory. Coster offers a free guided tour and tells you everything you need to know about diamonds, and at the end of it, you may be tempted to buy a sparkling stone yourself.
26. Get high
The Dutch decriminalised marijuana in 1976, making Amsterdam a hub for chilled-out coffeeshops that sell the joy-inducing herb. This 10 of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam guide shows you where to go.
27. Hit the beach
The city has a few urban beaches and Blijburg ann Zee, on the island of IJburg, is easily accessible from Central Station by Tram 26. The venue also hosts live music and parties in the evening. You can also join a yoga session on every Saturday morning.
28. Tour with sex workers
The Fokken sisters were sex workers for 50 years and now they provide guided tours for €30 per person, during which they share secrets and show you the world’s first condom shop. If you’re interested, read this Amsterdam: A tour with the whores feature.