A Weekend in Amsterdam – Things To Do Outside of the Redlight District
Oh, Amsterdam. This is probably the only city in the world where you’ll find a Christian hostel across the street from a live sex show venue. No kidding. In 2016, during my second visit to Amsterdam, I stayed at a Christian hostel in the middle of the Red Light District. Why? It was cheap, and I booked my accommodation last minute. Don’t judge me.
Amsterdam is an odd place. It’s quaint and storybook-like yet seedy and vulgar. I guess that’s what makes the city of canals so intriguing. In this post, I’ll show you how to spend a weekend in Amsterdam as a first-time visitor.
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Your Guide To a Weekend in Amsterdam
First, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s much more to Amsterdam than sex and drugs! This city has so much history, character, and beauty waiting to be discovered. It’s relatively small, so you see the highlights in three days. In reality, a weekend will only give you a glimpse of what Amsterdam has to offer though. You’ll probably have to return. After two visits, I still haven’t checked off all the things I want to do. With over 40 museums, 160 canals, hundreds of cute cafes, countless entertainment venues, and restaurants galore, what should you have on your Amsterdam itinerary? Let’s jump right in.
The best time to visit Amsterdam
The first time I went to Amsterdam was in April, and I thought it was freezing. Then again I have a low tolerance for cold weather. The next time, I visited in June, and it was, unsurprisingly, much more pleasant. I would recommend you visit Amsterdam between the months of May and September. That’s unless you want to see the famous tulips. For that, you’ll have to go in April.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
I can tell you where not to stay: a Christian hostel in the middle of the red light district. It was awkward, to say the least. Amsterdam is brimming with fine accommodations for all budgets. The best neighborhood to stay in Amsterdam? Jordaan. It’s quiet, beautiful, and full of shops and cafes. More about Jordaan later. Check out the map below to find the hotel, apartment, or hostel that best suits you.
What to pack for your visit
Amsterdam has an oceanic climate, which means damp, cold winters, cool summers, and frequent drizzle. No matter what time of the year you visit, be sure to pack an umbrella. Also, pack layers of clothing and scarfs as the evenings tend to be cool. Lastly, I always recommend you take portable WiFi on your travels. I’ve been using the Tep Wireless pocket WiFi device, and it gives me 4G internet access all day and unlimited peace of mind.
Do a bike tour
Amsterdam is definitely a bicycle city. The streets are filled with people riding their bikes to work, to the grocery store, and everywhere in between. In fact, according to the Amsterdam Tourism Office, almost 60% of residents older than 12 own a bike. So when in Amsterdam, do like the locals do and get yourself a bike.
Honestly, the absolute best way to see Amsterdam is through a bike tour. You’ll see the city from a whole new perspective, and it’s just a lot of fun. The first time I visited Amsterdam, I walked around and took the trams. The second time, I did this Get Your Guide bike tour with a local guide, and there was a stark difference. With the small tour group, I rode through streets, markets, and back alleys, visited some parks, and experienced the city almost as if I lived there. We stopped for coffee at our guide’s favorite cafe and chatted for about an hour. This was also a great way to meet other travelers.
Visit the Anne Frank House
If you’re a World War II history buff like me, then you definitely can’t miss the Anne Frank House. The former home of Anne Frank, who went into hiding during the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, has been turned into a museum. If you book a tour of the place, a guide will walk you and a small group through the three-story property and the Secret Annex, where Anne Frank and her family hid. You’ll learn the whole story of how Anne Frank and her family evaded being sent to a concentration camp for over two years.
What I loved about this museum was how mundane the environment was – it’s family’s living quarters. Yet the story of what happened there brings the place to life, in a sort of chilling way. After touring the property, you end up in a section with pages from Anne’s diary, testimonials from her old classmates, family albums, and other memorabilia. I remember being moved when I left the museum. Everything was so well curated and thoughtful. Be sure to buy your ticket online; they’re 10 EUR for adults. As you can see above, the queues get long.
Explore art and history at the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is the largest museum in the Netherlands. It houses a collection of more than 7 million items, including artworks by famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt. There’s even a gallery of doll houses. There are all sorts of heirlooms in here.
You can skip the lines by purchasing your Rijksmuseum entrance ticket through the trusted Get Your Guide Tours. This is a great way to save time and travel more conveniently. An e-ticket is sent to your mobile, and you just show that at the door. Once you’re inside the Rijksmuseum you will find a library with more than 35,000 books and displays about the culture of the Netherlands. This museum is massive so you should probably devote a few hours for your visit
Tour the grand Royal Palace
Whether or not you follow the Dutch royal family, you’ll still find something to marvel at the Royal Palace. It’s home to King Wilem-Alexander when he is visiting the city, so it should definitely be a part of your travels. It’s exterior is strictly classic and based on the architecture of ancient Rome. The interior is decorated with a wealth of paintings, sculptures, and ornaments as well as some ceiling painting, which were the work of Rembrandt’s students. The furniture collection in there is simply exquisite. The Royal Palace is located right in the middle of Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam. You can skip the line and get an audio guide by booking an Amsterdam Royal Palace Tour through Get Your Guide. The nice thing about this tour is that you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance and get a full refund.
Explore the Jordaan neighborhood
The Jordaan neighborhood is a trendy area with narrow alleys, cute cafes, quirky shops, and a variety of restaurants. This area is a particularly picturesque part of Amsterdam, making it a great stops for photos. The streets are calm and not so crowded so this is a good place to stroll around for a bit if you’re looking for an escape from the busier parts of the city. There are also a number of great brunch spots, serving Dutch-style pancakes, pastries, and other sweet and savory dishes. One place to stop is a cafe/bar called Winkel 43. Their apple pie is a blessing from the heavens.
Go on a canal tour
Well, you can’t visit Amsterdam without doing a canal tour! The city’s canals are truly a wonder, and there’s no better way to experience them than to get on a boat and go for a ride. You’ll cruise through the quaint neighborhoods from Amsterdam’s iconic Canal Belt, a route covering the four main canals in the city. There are hundreds of tour companies offering canal cruises. But, of course, some are better than others. For a canal tour, I’d recommend Get Your Guide Tours – they have an evening canal tour and a classic day-time canal tour. I’ve done tons of Get Your Guide city and landmark tours across Europe and love how organized and engaging they are. You get an informed guide and a well-curated experience.
Unwind at Vondelpark
Amsterdam has a lot of green spaces spread out around the city. Vondelpark is the largest park in the city and the closest to the center. It’s a quiet oasis to relax for some time when the weather is nice. It’s surrounded by lakes, leafy trees, and sculptures, which make for a peaceful environment. If you go on a bike tour, you’ll ride through this park, which is so much fun! Think wind blowing in your hair, fresh air, and beautiful scenery.
Shop at the Waterlooplein Flea Market
One great place to shop for souvenirs in Amsterdam is at the Waterlooplein Flea Market. Held every Saturday in Amsterdam Noord, the market offers an array of both new and second-hand goods – vintage clothing, bags, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, rugs, and everything in between. Some of the things they have are plain junk, but if you look through patiently you can find some gems. When you’re done shopping, y5ou can also grab a bite from the food vendors who set up shop, selling savory Dutch treats.
Travel Products/Resources I Love
Tep Wireless Pocket WIFI Device – With portable WiFi, you can say goodbye to ridiculous roaming charges and SIM cards for good. I’ve been using the Tep Wireless Pocket WIFI device, called a Teppy, for a while and love the peace of mind it gives me. The Teppy provides 3G-4G WiFi for at least 6 hours and works in 100+ countries. In my experience, it lasts 9 hours. It also works in a variety of landscapes and terrains. I even filmed a Facebook Live from a boat in the Atlantic Ocean using my Teppy. I can also use Google Maps, request an Uber, call my mom, and do tons of other things I couldn’t do before. Quick tip: turn off the device when you’re not using it so that the battery can last longer. Use code SOMTOSEEKS to get 10% off your order.
Booking.com – Booking.com is my go-to website for booking discounted accommodations around the world. What I love most about Booking.com is the variety of properties you can find, from luxury apartments to treehouses to university housing. It’s hard to beat the insanely low prices. The website also has a flexible cancellation policy, which is great if things come up or you change your mind.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner.com is my go-to website to search for flights. It’s hard to beat the prices! I’ve snagged a $24 direct flight to Milan, a $30 flight to Berlin, a $400 roundtrip ticket to Colombia, and a $500 roundtrip ticket to Japan. I’ve been using Skyscanner since I studied abroad in Spain back in 2012. I check the website along with the Hopper app to determine the best time to buy tickets.
For more travel product recommendations, check out my travel essentials page.
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Hi I know this has nothing to do with this article but am leaving for abroad tomorrow. I really enjoy your site and am particularly interested in your experience in bilbao since i will be studyIng there. Do you have any advice or suggestions for me? Do you have any places I should avoid? Are there any hair salons you recommend?
How exciting! Bilbao is a wonderful city. Really enjoyed the 5 months I spent there. Overall, the city is very safe, but you should avoid an area called San Francisco. It’s quite rundown and sketch. It’s not anymore dangerous than, let’s say, South Central LA, but petty crimes do happen there. While you’re in Bilbao, be sure to visit Getxo, Algorta, and then go to other Basque cities like San Sebastian, Vitoria, and Guernica.