When people think of Amsterdam, they usually think of three things: weed, prostitutes, and canals. When I first traveled to Amsterdam I got asked nonstop if I was going to smoke a bunch of weed. First off, not my thing. Second, I was living in Colorado at the time… why would I travel all the way to Amsterdam to get a product I could find at home?
Yes, Amsterdam does have all three things – but it has so much more. Read on to learn about what Amsterdam offers, from the quirky to the historic to everything in-between.
Take a free walking tour
I say this over and over again… I love free walking tours. They are free because there’s no cost to join the tour, but tipping is highly encouraged. I always recommend doing a free walking tour the day you arrive so that you can quickly learn the city, figure out what you want to check out, and get some great tips from your local guide!
Participate in the Amsterdam bike culture
Riding bikes are a way of life in Amsterdam. The laws of the road favor bicyclists (NOT pedestrians) above all else. When crossing the street, you may have to cross pedestrians/bikes/cars/trains /cars/bikes/pedestrians. In that hierarchy, bikes are king – they win, the end.
Because of this, the bicyclists move fast and they are ruthless. Brits & Aussies, be careful and be sure to look left before crossing – I’ve seen more than one tourist get hit because they’re used to looking the opposite direction before crossing.
They ride in hordes, know exactly where they’re going, and don’t put up with annoying tourists dilly-dallying in their way.
You’ll notice the locals have little wheel-barrow type contraptions on their bikes to haul groceries, dogs, and children (no, not sarcastic). Like I said, it’s a way of life.
If you’re brave, rent a bike and explore on your own. I did it and it was terrifying. I tried to keep up with the pace, got totally lost, and annoyed a hoard of bicyclists. So, if you don’t want to be the annoying tourist but still want to ride a bike in Amsterdam, I recommend that you …
…. Take a bike tour!
Man, I wish I had known about this BEFORE I took a bike out on my own.
The nice thing about a guided tour is you’re in a pack, following someone who knows their way around. I did the Dutch Countryside tour and it was awesome. We got to escape the city, get some fresh air & exercise, and check out a farm that makes Gouda. Delish!
Both tours below are great, it just depends what kind of tour you’re looking for.
Walk through the Anne Frank House
I’ve been to Amsterdam twice and the first time I did not go to the Anne Frank House. The line was insanely long and I kept getting told “read the book, it’ll be faster and more interesting.” When I returned, however, I made it a point to check out the Anne Frank House and I’m glad I did.
If you like history, I can’t recommend the museum enough. I’ve always been fascinated by Anne Frank’s life so I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was shocking, and frankly ironic, how they were hiding from persecution literally feet from a church.
It sells out early so get tickets ASAP. Tickets are released 2 months in advance and it’s definitely worth pre-buying them, otherwise, you’ll have to deal with the line below.
If you can’t get a ticket or if museums aren’t your thing, a walking tour of Anne Frank’s life may be a good alternative.
Relax in Vondelpark
You can’t go to the ‘Dam without visiting a park. Parks are a major component of Amsterdam culture, and when you visit, you’ll understand why.
Vondelpark is magnificent. Ride a bike (if you’re brave!), pack a picnic, bring your favorite book, take a nap, meander through nature – Vondelpark offers all that and more.
See what there is to learn at the Sex Museum
When in Rome, right?
The Sex Museum is something else. They have statues (of exactly what you’d expect), porn through the ages, an animatronic flasher…
When in Rome.
Get cultured at the Museumplein
The Museumplein is the area that has all the major museums in Amsterdam. The three major museums are the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk. Art, history, and culture, all in one convenient place. I am not a fan of museums, but if you are, there’s a lot to take in right here.
Get your photo taken at the I amsterdam sign
Conveniently located in the Museumplein!
It will be bustling with tourists so I recommend going early in the morning if you want it for yourself. Get there before 9a and you probably won’t be bothered.
Learn about prostitution through the Prostitution Information Center
This is probably the coolest tour I’ve ever done. The Prostitution Information Center, or PIC, advocates for legal and consensual prostitution. They work to ensure that all sex workers in the city want to be there (i.e., no trafficking) and are treated with respect.
The tour is lead by former or current sex workers and will talk about the history of their industry, their experiences, and current and former political initiatives. Of course, it includes a tour of the Red Light District as well.
Tours are every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 17:00. I recommend making a reservation or, at the very least, showing up early.
Meander around the Red Light District and see what you see
This is a great place for people watching. Drunk, obnoxious tourists, interesting storefronts, the token prostitutes in the window … it’s worth a stroll!
Shop for decorative condoms at the Condomerie
Yes, there is a store dedicated to decorative and otherwise exotic condoms. If you buy a decorative condom, they give you a functional one for free!
Drink a pint at a windmill
Beer and windmills? Yes, please. The Brouwerij’t IJ serves Dutch-style beers under a windmill. The beer is hoppy, so definitely not my style, but I recommend you check out the sampler!
See a live sex show
Another “When in Rome” recommendation.
Casa Rosso (LINK VERY NSFW) with the token pink elephant is the premier live sex venue in Amsterdam. The show is a constantly-rotating set of skits. Show up whenever they’re open, stay as long as you like – eventually, the skits will start repeating.
Check it out on TripAdvisor if you’re nervous.
Get trippy at the Electric Ladyland museum
The First Museum of Fluorescent Art! Only open Wed – Sat from 2-6 pm and you must make an appointment.
Take a canal cruise
There are all types of canal cruises. Hop on/hop off, party boats, smoker friendly cruises, environmentally concerned tours – there’s literally something for everyone.
Take in some Dutch cuisine
I don’t think the Dutch are necessarily famous for their food, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Check out the can’t miss foods you need to try when in the Netherlands!
Amsterdam offers so much! Did I miss anything? What’s your favorite thing to do in the ‘Dam? Comment below!