Amsterdam is famous for a lot of things: beautiful canals, eating raw herring, smoking marijuana (legally), the Red Light District and much more. Needless to say it is a very cultured and vibrant city that is not to be missed! Going to the Netherlands had been on my list (Christina) for several years. I have always been fascinated by the country, which started with my favorite soccer player who happened to be Dutch, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Then I realized my favorite DJ, Tiesto, was also Dutch. I became friends with a few people from the Netherlands and eventually I knew I had to visit. Though it rained almost the entire time during our visit, it was still fun and exciting and fulfilled my longing desire.
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Couchsurfing in Amsterdam
Adam and I were couchsurfing for the first time! Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals and enjoy a destination with a local guide (aka your host). Another great accommodation option is to stay in a hostel in Amsterdam – they have plenty of great ones.
Our couchsurfing host was Jim, originally from the United States. Jim was a very nice guy and had a lot of valuable knowledge that anyone would have thought he had lived in Amsterdam for years. We really recommend couchsurfing if you are on a budget or want to explore cities from a locals point of view. It was an incredible experience and you can read more about our couchsurfing experiences here.
Getting around Amsterdam
In our two day experience in Amsterdam we learned and believe that biking and riding the canal bus are the best ways to see and enjoy the city.
Biking in Amsterdam
As we said, Jim was a very nice guy, not only did he have a spare bedroom for us, but he fixed up two of his bikes so that we could bike around the city. Seriously, he was the best! Biking around Amsterdam is the best way to see the city and the most common mode of transportation. In fact, it is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. There are also more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people! With so many bikes in the city we saw a number of unique ones that made you look twice. Adam swears he saw a bicycle garage.
With all this being said, it is definitely a must do while in Amsterdam. People can rent bikes, go on bike tours or if you are lucky like us borrow one from a friend. Biking in Amsterdam is as easy as driving. Next to the car lanes are bike lanes with their own stop lights! It is also the fastest way to see the city and very enjoyable. However, as a pedestrian always look both ways when walking, especially when you cross a bike lane. We almost died many times from bikers (not exaggerating).
Taking the Canal Bus in Amsterdam
Nowadays every city has a hop on hop off bus that allows tourists to stop and see what they want along a scheduled route. Essentially, this is what a canal bus or cruise is. There are several companies that offer canal bus rides that offer: a day, 24 hour or 48 hour tickets. A day ticket is valid for only that day, whereas the 24 hour ticket is valid for a full 24 hours. Prices vary, but are around 20-30€. Some canal buses also offer complimentary audio guides that you can listen to as you are passing by historical sites.
There are also several different routes to choose from and the map provided will allow you to plan your day accordingly.
Using the canal bus is not as fast as biking, but enjoyable, more relaxing and it is beautiful to see the city via canals.
Things to See and Do in Amsterdam
Coming off four busy days in France we decided to take it easy in Amsterdam. After exploring so many historical places, museums, and monuments in Paris, we felt wiped out. Therefore, we only visited one museum out of many in Amsterdam. Most of our time in Amsterdam was relaxing and seeing the city by bike or canal. Even in the rain we really enjoyed our two days in Amsterdam.
I amsterdam Letters
The first bit of sightseeing, or shall we say “activity” we did was climb the I amsterdam letters outside the Rijksmuseum and took some awesome photos.
The I amsterdam letters have become an iconic picture and staple of visiting Amsterdam. It is almost as fun to watch other people climb on the letters as it is to climb them yourself. It also looks easier than it is, so be careful.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House museum was something we definitely did not want to pass up. We both enjoy learning about WWII history and events and in addition to that, the story of Anne Frank is so inspirational and noteworthy it really was a must see for us. The first thing anyone needs to know about visiting the Anne Frank House is that it sells out fast! The museum is open daily, but only visitors with reserved online tickets (available for purchase exactly two months in advance) may enter from 9am to 3:30pm. From 3:30pm until closing it opens for guests to buy their ticket at the entrance. If you do not reserve your tickets online expect to wait in line for at least two hours.
The museum is unique and like no other museum in the world as the exhibit is inside the actual house where the historical event took place. Though it is a small museum it feels large because of its content. There are guides available in several different languages that takes you through a tour of the house, which includes information about every room, different artifacts and includes quotes from Anne. As you slowly travel through the house to the famous hidden door behind the bookcase you feel a sense of magnitude for the events that happened. It is a very moving museum that is not to be missed so book your tickets as soon as you can.
Bloemenmarkt (flower market)
If you cannot make it to the Netherlands’ Keukenhof Gardens for tulip season, the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam is a nice alternative. Yes, it was a little unauthentic witht the fake tulips (that looked very real), but it was still beautiful and fun to walk through. After walking around five tents they started to repeat themselves with the same souvenirs, flower seeds, plants, etc.
If we had more space in our luggage we would have purchased a lemon tree! So instead I stepped into the biggest wooden clogs in the store and took fun pictures. Later we found out that we were technically not allowed to do that….oops!
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York City’s Central Park and it is beautiful! We biked through Vondelpark twice because we loved it so much. There is so much to do at the park with many ways to stay active by renting inline skates, biking, walking and running on the paved paths. Children and adults are often found playing soccer or other fun sports. If exercise does not suite you than you can relax in the park by dining at one of the four restaurants, having a picnic on the lawn or if your like us take a nap.
Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge)
We heard that the skinny bridge was cute and a classic wooden drawbridge to see – so we did.
We biked our way to see the well known bridge and were lucky enough to encounter a boat passing through that opened the drawbridge. We had to patiently wait for the boat to pass and the bridge to close again so that we could bike across. In the end it all felt romantic and we hear that it is truly romantic lit up at night.
Amsterdam Public Library
We made our way to one of Amsterdam’s hidden gems – the public library. It is a hidden gem because tourists do not visit the library to read, but to get a beautiful scenic view of the city. When you make your way to the top of the Amsterdam public library, you are rewarded with spectacular views.
Red Light District
Yes, we went to see the well known Red Light District and it was literally a site to see. It’s one of those situations where you shouldn’t look and yet you can’t look away. Amsterdam is definitely a different culture here for sure and you should see the district with your own eyes and experience the culture first hand.
See Amsterdam at night
After we checked the Red Lights District off our list we biked our way back to our host’s house. On our way we were able to see the city at night and it was very refreshing after seeing the Red Lights District. Amsterdam at night is beyond beautiful. There are lights hung along the canal and along the bridges. It is so picturesque we stopped several times so that we could take pictures and enjoy the moment.
Things We Wish We Had Time For
As we mentioned before, we really relaxed during our visit in Amsterdam and did not go inside many museums. Amsterdam has a lot of museums that are worth seeing and we will have to see them next time. Two mentionable museums are the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. Both are well known and are the most popular museums to visit in addition to the Anne Frank House. We have heard nothing but great things about both museums and that they are enjoyable whether you are fans of the artists or not.
Tips for Amsterdam
- We said it once and we will say it again LOOK BOTH WAYS WHEN WALKING. Or you will get hit by a bike, or close to it.
- Buy a map – our map listed and located all the picturesque sightings of Amsterdam.
- If you enjoy museums, Amsterdam has plenty of them and it is wise to get an I amsterdam city card because you can save a lot of money.
- Amsterdam is a lot like the United Kingdom – expect rain at any time during the entire year. We experienced rain on both of our days here.
- Coffee shop = marijuana. Coffee house = a cup of joe
To read about everything we ate and drank while we were in Amsterdam click here.