Amsterdam was not what I expected it to be. It was a breath of fresh air (at least on most blocks), and I was extremely thankful to discover the immense potential of this city. I had envisioned Amsterdam to be a rowdy college-aged male town with an occasional canal or bicycle in sight. It was nothing of the sort. Amsterdam struck me as a travelers’ haven with miles and miles of gorgeous colored houses, canals, and delicious food in every part of town.
This cyclist-heavy city has the potential to be a romantic getaway, solo trip for an independent traveler, or an exciting girls’ getaway weekend as it proved to be for my friend, Vivian, and me. We arrived at the airport on Monday night. I intended to grab our bags and take the train to our hotel, but thankfully my friend had other plans. She had ordered a car to pick us up, and this turned out to be the first best idea of the trip as it was already 10pm.
I highly recommend Hotel Arena. It is located in East Amsterdam, the new trendy part of the city. Our room was actually an unexpected two floor space. The restaurant, bicycles for rent, and the staff were beyond amazing. Not to mention, the sprawling green East Park is situated next to the hotel which is the perfect place to put those bikes to use.
Our time in Amsterdam felt like a whirlwind. I was focused on visiting the popular museums, taking a canal cruise, and indulging in some of Amsterdam’s eats. We walked upwards of 20 miles in a short couple days. With only three days on our itinerary, I could easily have spent an entire week exploring this city.
Here is a brief list of places/restaurants/activities to most definitely consider once you book that flight or train to Amsterdam:
Van Gogh Musuem — One of my favorites! This museum is a must-see. It was extremely easy to navigate, and I learned a decent amount about Van Gogh and his life.
Rijksmuseum — Huge museum. This reminded me of the MET in NYC. I would recommend seeing this museum early in the day as it requires a lot of patience with the amount of people here.
Anne Frank House — My all time favorite. I have wanted to visit since I was in middle school. Advance reservations are necessary before 3:30pm. After 3:30pm you can choose to wait in line, but this time is much better used exploring more of the city.
Rembrandt House — Because we purchased the I Amsterdam card, most museums (including this one) were free. I probably wouldn’t have gone here without the card, but I’m really glad I did. It was closing when we visited, so it was completely empty. Not sure it was worth the full price.
Bulls and Dogs — Milkshakes are a must. Cool restaurant with a trendy take on typical food. Only open for dinner (we tried to visit at lunch time without checking the website…can you believe the Netherlands is my 30th country visited?? Rookie mistake.)
Pancake Bakery — Pretty good; they’re more like crepes. Apparently a thing in Holland.
Bakers and Roasters — Trendy Brazilian/Californian brunch place. Great juices and healthy options.
Dr. Blend — Another healthy juice bar 5 minutes walking distance from the Anne Frank house.
Zaanse Schans (windmills) — MUST-DO. It is only a 20 minute train ride to the windmills. It smelled of chocolate immediately after we stepped off the train platform. We visited the saw mill and a paint windmill. I loved walking around the village snapping photos of the farm animals and windmills. This is a great day trip from Amsterdam. We only spent a few hours here, but I would have loved to stay here all day.
Rent bikes — Most hotels offer bicycles. The cyclists in town are extremely serious (don’t walk in the bike lane!!) and ride really close to one another. We opted for a more relaxing bike ride and rode in the park near our hotel.
Canal cruise — Canal cruise options can be found mostly everywhere near the city center. They typically last one hour and provide some education about the city and its waterways. Again, with the I Amsterdam card, it was free.
Take photos at the I Amsterdam sign — Located directly outside the Rijksmuseum. If you don’t want millions of people in your photo, try the morning time.
Heineken Experience — I’m surprised we actually did this as I’m not one for the “touristy traps.” It was actually a lot of fun. Vivian even got behind the bar and poured everyone beers!
Experience a coffee house — Coffee houses are not the same as cafes! We didn’t go into any coffee houses, but it is most definitely a huge part of Amsterdam culture. Apparently, Barney’s is the name of an original coffee house.
Flower market — Who could miss out on the tulips? I’m bummed tulip season is a few weeks after our trip. Driving to the tulip fields is absolutely on my bucket list for my next visit to Amsterdam.
Red Light District — Again, another tourist trap, but who could miss this when in Amsterdam? (Actually I think I would if I did my trip over again.)
Dam Square — Cool city square with restaurants and beautiful architecture.