Well, I’ve been here a few years now, and perhaps it’s about time that I compiled a list of things I consider “must-see” if you happen to come to Amsterdam. I should probably have this list anyway for the off-chance that I have a visitor from home here and I need to think of things to do.
My list is generally family friendly, and here is why: I like the more laid-back things in Amsterdam. Parks, bruin cafe’s, the history, the canals. So my top 10 might vary wildly from your top 10. This is my “If I were to show you the city from my point of view, this is what I would show you” list. If there’s something that I leave out that you think people just have to see, let us know in the comments section below!
1. Amsterdams Historisch Museum
I know, there are tons of great museums in Amsterdam filled with the works of such masters as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, but time and time again I find that this little museum in the heart of Amsterdam tucked away behind the Dam and between the Spui is my absolute favorite. They do great monthly expositions on all things Amsterdam, from the Hoerengracht exposition about the Red Light District to photos of children who survived the Hunger Winter. I love this museum.
It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, there is always something going on at Vondelpark. Free concerts in the summer, free skating in the winter (if the ice freezes) and plenty of great people-watching to be done. There’s even a sculpture from Picasso tucked away in a corner, although, I find it rather…unpleasant. But there is a cafe/restaurant in the middle of the park called ‘t Blauwe Theehuis, so even if the weather isn’t perfect, you can still get that Vondelpark feeling. And if you spend the day there, you can use their restroom. That’s a very important detail.
3. Winkel 43, otherwise known as the best apple pie in town
I have to admit, I was initially a bit skeptical about it being the very best apple pie in town, but I’ve been here awhile, and yes, I confirm, it is the best. Warm, delicious, perfect. Seated right across from the Noorderkerk and the Noordermarkt in the northern end of the Jordaan, this is the perfect little pit stop between shopping at the various area markets and enjoying the beauty of the Jordaan. I should work for a travel agency writing this stuff, but it’s true! It’s a great place.
4. Cafe Pieper on the Prinsengracht is the best bruin cafe experience you can find. The waiters wear white button-down shirts and black ties, but the atmosphere is very old fashioned Amsterdam. It’s small. It’s tiny. It’s cozy and comfy and a great place to spend some time on a rainy evening. Because it’s located behind the Leidseplein area, there’s always a bit of energy in the neighborhood, but without all that Leidseplein commotion.
5. Wynand Fockink
Yup, you read the name correctly. Wynand Fockink is a 17th Century liqueur distillery tucked away just behind the Dam. Maybe due to the hard to find location, it’s (mostly) filled with locals enjoying a little liqueur and a chat after work. You can have a peek at the distillery, which they are rightfully very proud of, and if the line isn’t too long, have a great conversation with one of the incredibly friendly barkeeps. But be careful! The liqueur is delicious, but strong.
6. Cafe Noorderlicht
If you’re looking to check out Amsterdam from a different perspective, just a short ferry ride from behind Centraal Station and across het IJ will take you to this trendy but comfy restaurant. Often the site of small festivals in the spring and summer, there’s usually something going on here. The view across the water is lovely, although the trip can be quite chilly, so bring a coat. An added bonus: the food is great!
Ok, it’s kind of a combination of must-see and must-do. It’s not so much a physical place but a mental state. Amsterdam is jam packed with bicycles, and if you’re here, you really should give it a shot. The city is fairly small, but it can be annoying to walk everywhere, and although there is great public transportation, it’s not exactly the cheapest. So why not hop on a bicycle?
Of course, safety first, so check out my post on Amsterdam bicycle safety, and have a good long chat with the bicycle rental agency about the rules of the road here.
8. Albert Cuyp Markt
Amsterdam is chock full of markets, especially on Saturdays. The Albert Cuyp Markt is a particularly lively little market in the Pijp area of the city. There are stalls selling traditional Dutch cheese, fresh stroopwafels, cheap bicycle parts, clothing, household goods, anything. You name it, you can find it here. But the best thing about this market is the energy. Grocers yelling at you to buy their fruit, people haggling over prices, the hip and trendy finding a new hip and trendy something or other, and mothers going about finding bargains for their family. Plus, the neighborhood has plenty of little restaurants and bars to check out.
9. Rent a paddle boat
There are many ways to see the city, but renting a paddle boat is particularly fun. There are plenty of large canal tour boats, but why not do it yourself? You might even be as fortunate as I was and get yourself stuck sideways in the smaller arch of a bridge. Perhaps it was a bit embarrassing, but it sure makes for a great story!
10. Ok, well fine, something seedy
If you’re curious as to what the Red Light District and all those coffee shops are really all about, but don’t want to “take part” in the action, go have a look at the Oude Kerk, take a walk along the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk, and you will generally get the feel of the whole thing. I guess I can’t really show off my city without at least introducing people to those things, because they are a reality, although a surreal reality at that. If you’ve never seen girls selling themselves in windows before, it’s something unique to see. The air smells of marijuana, and if you’re lucky you just might catch an angry prostitute screaming at someone who took a picture. Do not take pictures of the prostitutes. I repeat. Do. Not. Take. Pictures. You have been sufficiently warned.
And there you have it folks! That’s my list of things I would show you if you come to visit in Amsterdam. I tried to give you an overview of a few different neighborhoods, but honestly, this could have been a top 20 list and I still wouldn’t have said it all. So now it’s your turn. Anything you’d like to add?