KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
LANGUAGE: Official language is Dutch.
CURRENCY: The Netherlands are on the Euro. Most places will accept a credit card but not in the markets. It is necessary to have cash on hand.
WHEN TO GO: Peak tourist season in Amsterdam are the summer months: June-August. Another popular time to vist is late Spring when the tulips are in full bloom. Autumn is considered a “shoulder season” with cooler and rainy weather but we still found the city to be very crowded.
RESTROOMS: Most public restrooms require a small fee for use. Anywhere from 50 cents to 1 euro. Make sure you always have coins for use.
TRANSPORTATION: Public transportation system within the city is very easy to navigate and use during your stay. We used the intercity tram throughout our stay. For 8 euro per person, you could buy a 24 pass. Trams 2 and 12 will take you to the museum plaza from the city center.
We took the train to the airport and we were easily able to walk from our hotel to central station. The train takes around 15 minutes and drops you off directly under the airport for around 6 euro per person.
Bikes are also frequently used to get around the city. There are multiple places throughout the city to rent bikes during your stay.
CROWDS: The crowds in Amsterdam were very overwhelming which was surprising since we were traveling during the shoulder season. The sidewalks were jammed packed with people throughout the city and you constantly need to be on the lookout for bikes or mopeds speeding by as well as cars and trams. Personally, I found it hard to enjoy our time in the city given how many times I was almost run over by a bicycle.
LAWS: Anything seems to go in Amsterdam. Drugs and prostitution are legal in the city. Many shops thoughtout the city especially in the touristy areas openly sell drugs in the stores.
MUSEUM TICKETS: Buy tickets in advance of your visit. The popular museum tickets sell out quickly. We bought our tickets to the Anne Frank House 5 weeks out from our trip and the time slots were still very limited. The earliest time we could get was 7pm on both days!
RESTAURANTS: Cafe Sonneveld (near the Anne frank house), Piqniq (lunch), Zaza’s (dinner spot), Blue pepper (more upscale dinner option), The Seafood Bar, Guts and Glory, Cafe Loetje (best steak), Lucius (seafood), La Place (organic cafeteria style restaurant)
TRADITIONAL DISHES: Herring Fish, Stroopwaffels
HOTELS: Kimpton de Witt, The Banks Mansion, The Toren, Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, The Hendrick’s Hotel
POINTS OF INTEREST: De Jordaan neighborhood, Dam Square, Flower Market, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Red Light District, Zaanse Schans Windmill Village
WHAT WE DID
When we first arrived in Amsterdam, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the city. Honestly, it felt like the land of misfits. On one hand, you had retirement age couples touring the city before boarding their Viking river cruise and then on the other, you had grungy 20 somethings enjoying the perks that almost everything is legal in the city. Picture an upscale touristy cheese store offering tasting to the Viking retirees directly across the street from a pot shop with unique clientele enjoying an afternoon smoke.
Then there were the crowds…walking down the street was a challenge in itself. Amsterdam is a walkable city but it seemed like the entire city population was trying to fit itself on the small canal sidewalks. Bikes out numbered people and bikers had no problem taking you out if you were in their way. Add trolleys, cars and construction to the mix and you had yourself a crazy game chess trying to get from one destination to the next within the city.
Arriving early evening, we walked with our luggage from the train station to our hotel, the Kimpton De Witt, battling the crowded streets and construction. Our hotel was in a great location in the city center and within walking distance to several top tourist destinations. We called it an early night wanting to get up and out early the next morning.
On our first full day in Amsterdam, we bought a 24 hour tram pass and set out to explore the city. Starting our morning in the De Jordaan neighborhood, we walked the picturesque canal streets taking in the stunning views. After filing up our memory card with beautiful canal shots, we walked to Dam Square to see the Royal Palace and take in the sights.
Dam Square was followed by a stop at the Flower Market. Rows and rows of stands line the canal selling tulip bulbs, fresh cut flowers, wooden tulips and other souvenirs. Great place to buy a souvenir! If you want to bring tulip bulbs back to the US, make sure you purchase bulbs that have been certified for US custom clearance.
We stopped for lunch at La Place, an organic cafeteria style restaurant, located just across the street from the market before heading to the Van Gogh Museum for our allotted ticket time. We normally are not museum people especially art museum but we really enjoyed the Van Gogh exhibit. The audio guide hit all the key highlights, factual without being boring. Located close to the museum plaza is the Albert Cuyp market, the largest market in Amsterdam. The market has anything and everything: clothes, electronics, souvenirs, paintings, food, toiletries, leather goods, handbags, shoes. A hodge podge of items! We walked through the market before jumping back on the tram to head back to the city center.
Our hotel booked us dinner reservations at a seafood restaurant, Lucius. We had a delicious meal of mussels, lobster bisque and fresh fish. Having heard so much about the infamous Red Light District, we decided to check it out on our walk back to the hotel. While this isn’t really our scene to say the least, it was interesting to see and learn about the history of the district and how it has helped shape the city.
On our second full day, we booked a countryside day trip recommended by our hotel. Normally, we like to explore on our own, not with a group, but after a week of being our own tour guides, it was nice to have a change of pace. We truly enjoyed every “touristy” aspect of the group tour especially the parts involving cheese and stroopwaffle sampling!
The windmill village of Zaanse Schans was the first stop on our day trip to the Dutch countryside. Located just outside Amsterdam, the quaint village is home to historic windmills, artisan workshops, an interactive museum and distinctive green wooden houses. Zaanse Schans brings history to life with functional windmills and educational tutorials. Can you really say you have been to The Netherlands if you don’t see a windmill?
Our tour included a tutorial from a mill owner explaining how the windmill operates and it’s current use for production of peanut oil. Inside the windmill, we watched the inner workings of the gaint gears powered solely by the wind.
We were given free time to take pictures and explore the village and shops before heading on to our next stop. Unfortunately, it was windy and pretty chilly that morning in Zaanse Schans and the weather did not make for great pictures! But the skies eventually cleared and we were greeted with warmer weather for our next stops, Volendam and Marken.
The quaint fishing village of Volendam was our next stop. Here, we visited Volendam Cheese Factory for a tutorial on cheese production and an explanation of the different types of cheeses. This was all followed by a delicious cheese tasting.
Next on the agenda in Volendam was lunch at a local seafood restaurant on the water. We enjoyed an excellent lunch of fresh cod and shrimp! (Lunch was the only item not included in our ticket price.)
Next was a baking lesson on stroopwafels, a Netherlands staple, at Woltjie’s Bakery. The baker shared the famous family recipe and gave careful instructions and tips on how to make your own stroopwafles. Of course our favorite part was the stroopwafel sampling. The caramel filling is the traditional flavor but our personal favorite was the chocolate.
Marken was the last stop on our countryside tour. A local craftsman gave a tutorial on clog making in his workshop. He walked our group through the production of the wooden shoe from start to finish.
We were very pleased with our hotel’s recommendation of this group tour and again, truly enjoyed every “touristy” aspect. It also didn’t hurt that the countryside is beautiful with rolling green pastures full of sheep and cows!
Our only complaint regarding the tour was the amount of free time given to explore on your own. We would have loved a bit more time in Zaanse Schans and Volendam to explore. But all in all, it was a great way to experience both destinations given the limited time we had in The Netherelands!
We arrived back in Amsterdam late afternoon in time to relax at a local bar on the canal before our last stop in the city before departing, the Anne Frank House Museum. (Again, we cannot stress enough how important it is to book your museum tickets well in advance! At five weeks out from our trip, ticket options were already very limited with the only a handful of time slots available in the evening.) The Anne Frank House Museum was very well done and should not be missed on a trip to Amsterdam. It serves as a somber reminder of the horrors of WWII and the struggles of the Jewish community throughout the war.
On a return trip to The Netherlands, we would love to day trips to De Haar castle in Utrecht, a tour of Muiderslot castle or a trip to the windmills of Kinderdijk. Another bucket list item would be to visit during the spring at the height of tulip season.