Your guide to the amazing Dutch capital
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September 7, 2022 | View OnlineSign Up

This city knows what it’s doing.

Colorful and quirky, yet intimate in all the right ways, the greatest joy of Amsterdam exploration is setting out sans plan. The Dutch capital is a hive of culture, where art galleries, museums, tech startups, and boutique vendors of every shape and size throng with life along canal-laden streets.

While its Golden Age may have been in the 17th century, the 21st may well be its platinum. But time your visit well. Summer swarms of tourists discovering that Amsterdam is far more than its marijuana-tinged coffee shops can taint a trip.

Hop on your bicycle. This is Amsterdam.


Get gezellig

A word you may stumble upon as you nestle down in one of its famous Bruin Cafes is gezellig. A direct translation of the word would be something like “cozy,” but its real meaning is harder to quantify.

Gezellig is as much a way of life as it is an adjective, which is what makes it so hard to translate. An afternoon in the park with friends is gezellig. A morning stuck in traffic is not gezellig. A pint of beer in a cute pub with some pals (and the pals are gezellig, too) is super gezellig. Your six-month checkup at the dentist is not gezellig.

It’s a feeling of togetherness, closeness, coziness, and funness that’s core to the Dutch way of life. If you don't understand it before you arrive, you most definitely will by the time you leave.


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It’s very busy - plan ahead

While we just told you that the best part of visiting Amsterdam is unplanned exploration, there are a few things that you’ll need to plan for. Big ticket tourist attractions like the Anne Frank Museum or Van Gogh Museum can have brutally long lines in the busy summer season. Booking time slots a few weeks in advance is the key to beating this and potential disappointment.

The same goes for hotels. The earlier, the better for summer. It’s a wonderfully walkable (or cyclable) city, and you want to be in the thick of the action, not stranded in the outer city limits. If you’ve got your eye on one of the city’s amazing restaurants, it’s also best to try and grab a table early too.

Don’t be those tourists

Amsterdam is world-renowned for its party atmosphere…only the Dutch don’t actually think it has one. It’s a growing problem as young travelers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and other rowdier tourist groups descend upon the city, assuming it’s a free-for-all.

In reality, the city is strict on its social disobedience rules. Drinking and smoking marijuana in the streets is illegal, and drunken behavior is seriously frowned upon. The red light district, while controversial for Americans, is a regulated industry, and taking pictures of the sex workers is illegal. It’s especially important not to be drunk and disorderly in this area of the city.

Respect the bikes

There are more bikes in Amsterdam than people, and two-wheeled pedalers are the best way to get around the city. Driving is utterly chaotic, as the old, narrow streets were never designed for cars. There are countless bike rental stores where you can pick one up for the duration of your stay.

With that in mind, respect the cycle lanes or risk the wrath of a local. Don’t leave your bike in places where they shouldn’t, or you might return to find them gone or with a hefty fine attached. Bike thieves in Amsterdam are particularly talented, so make sure you double-lock them to two different solid objects if possible. Be super careful near the canals, as they don’t usually have barriers.


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Explore the city by boat

Arguably the best intro to Amsterdam is hopping on a boat and cruising through its expansive canal system. Built mainly in the 17th century, when the city flourished as a trade center, the stunning half-moon-shaped system of city canals is a joy to behold.

There is a multitude of options for experiencing the canals, but all offer a chance to see the beautiful city in its entirety and from the best angle possible.

In lieu of a traditional hop-on-hop-off bus, Amsterdam offers the same service by boat. If you’re short on time and want to hit the sights fast, it’s one of the best ways to do so. It takes the hassle out of finding your way, and you get to enjoy a relaxing trip between the big tourist draws.

If you’ve got time, jump on a narrated tour boat. These are a wonderful introduction to the city, letting you get your bearings and delve a little into Amsterdam’s history before you start on your own exploration.

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Visit the Anne Frank House

If you’ve passed through the entire school system and not heard Anne Frank’s story, you must have taken a few weeks off at some point. The now world-famous diary is one of the most heartbreaking but insightful pieces of literature of the 20th century, delving into the life of a young Jewish girl who hid from Nazis in a hidden attic in Amsterdam during World War II.

Now, the house where Anne and her family hid is a museum. Visitors can explore the house where the Franks and two other families stayed hidden for two years until their eventual betrayal. The museum was opened with the approval of her father, who was the only surviving member of the family.

As one of the most popular draws in the city, tickets can sell out well in advance. It would be a great idea to book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment. Tickets can only be purchased online and for a specific timeslot, so make sure you plan other outings in the city around the museum.

Few places depict the Jewish experience at that harrowing time with such personality, which is, of course, why Anne is now as famous as she is. It’s an Amsterdam must-do.

Go museum crazy

Nestled among the quirky buildings of Amsterdam's canals are some of the best museums and art galleries in the world. Whether you’re an art nut or a beer aficionado, there’s something to interest everyone.

At the top of the list are Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The first is home to some of the best works by the Dutch masters - Rembrandt ring any bells? The second speaks for itself. Even if you’re not a big art person, it’s cool to see some of the paintings you’ve been brought up replicating in school. We’ve all got a brutally bad attempt at Van Gogh’s sunflower painting in the attic.

For something a little different, head to the Heineken Experience. One of the best know lagers in the world, Heineken has a storied history spanning 150 years. Its unbelievable growth into one of the largest brewers on the planet is well worth an afternoon. They offer a range of tours, including some that cross with canal rides across the city. You can even end with a nice cold pint.

Delve deeper into Amsterdam itself with the Canal Museum, houseboat museum, and even the Red Light District Secrets Museum. The latter should be on any skeptic's list, as legalized prostitution is a controversial topic across the world.


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Live on the water

Amsterdam’s accommodation offerings are vast and varied for a relatively small city. Creative designers have squeezed the most out of every inch of the old town’s limited space, while new construction offers a more typical way to rest your head at night.

If you’re feeling particularly quirky, living on the canal itself is even an option. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s as Amsterdam as possible.

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Our Top Pick: Hotel Puliitzer Amsterdam

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
$$$$ | See inside

Right in the thick of it, this mesmerizing set of twenty-five converted canal houses make for a comfortable, stylish, and above all, unique place to stay in Amsterdam. No room is the same, owing to its past life as a home for a host of different families.

Its own canal boat is the perfect way to experience our first piece of advice above, while its restaurant is bang on the mark with its high-quality food and excellent service—luxury without the bawdiness that comes with so many hotels.

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Other Top Picks


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Embrace the unknown

Amsterdam might not be renowned for its culinary scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dud on the food front. Its fast-growing independent business scene has allowed some amazing restaurants to flourish. Do your best to plan ahead, as its soaring popularity means the tourist geared eateries are flying out of the rafters.

On the cultural front, snack foods are the most eye-opening, with some of the must-tries being Bitterballen, herring sandwiches, and stroopwafels, perfect for snuggling up in a cozy bar with a drink or three.

Our Top Pick: Hap-Hmm Amsterdam

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
$$ Menu

A deliciously affordable little restaurant, Hap-Hmm has been a staple in the Dutch Capital since 1935. Serving a wide range of traditional Dutch fares, it’s the best place to sink your teeth into a relatively unknown branch of Europe’s culinary heritage.

The menu is likely to be different if you go more than once, switching based on the local ingredients available, making it all the more unique for any visitor. Put it high on your agenda.

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