HI Hostels Blog

Our definitive guide to Amsterdam

Whether you’ve come for the architecture, the Heineken, the history and art, or the, um, nightlife, Amsterdam is a fantastic city with something to offer every kind of traveller. From how to get around and what to eat to the best museums and sites, here’s our guide to the Netherlands’ capital city.

Getting Around

Bikes in AmsterdamYou know what they say, “when in Rome…”. Well, we’re not in Rome, we’re in Amsterdam, and in Amsterdam, people ride bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. This makes renting a bike in Amsterdam a pretty quintessential experience, while allowing you to get around sustainably, blend in with the locals, and squeeze in a bit of exercise. If you’re staying at our Amsterdam Oost or Amsterdam Vondelpark hostels, you can rent a bike there. Another good option is Starbikes Rental, whose black bikes look just like the kind you see all over the city, meaning you won’t stick out like a sore thumb with your branded rental bike. Alternatively, the city is wonderfully flat making it super walkable, and there’s an excellent tram that’s easy to navigate.

Stroopwafels | Credit: sⓘndy°
Stroopwafels | Credit: sⓘndy°

Amsterdam is home to some truly tasty, often deep fried bites, and one of the best has to be the kroket. Essentially deep fried gravy, krokets are filled with a meat ragout then breaded and thrown in the fryer. Head to a Febo, an automat-style snack wall (everything is made fresh daily!), for a fun way to sample krokets, frikandel, which is basically a Dutch hot dog, bitterballen, deep fried meatballs which go great with beer, and kaassoufflé, a sinfully good fried cheese snack. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without at least one scrumptious, perfect, gooey stroopwafel. They’re best devoured freshly made and still warm from a market stall or bakery, however they’re undeniably delicious any time, and make great gifts to bring back home. Raw herring is another Dutch specialty, and can be found served up at carts. To eat this dish like a local, hold the herring by its tail and bite upwards. If eating the whole fish raw on its own makes you squeamish, you can ask for a ‘broodje haring’ for it to be served on a sandwich with onions and pickles. Missing out on sampling decadent Dutch cheeses, including their famous Gouda, would be a big mistake. Cheese shops can be found around the city and in market stalls, and the Cheese Museum Amsterdam is a great place to taste several varieties, making the perfect afternoon snack while strolling through the Jordaan. Next up we have Dutch fries, which are thicker than normal fries, and are usually eaten with a number of toppings. The favourite combination is probably ‘patatje oorlog’, fries smothered in mayo, raw chopped onions, and peanut satay sauce – yum. Finally, you’ve got to try poffertjes, bite-sized, oh-so-fluffy Dutch pancakes. Find them in a market stall and eat them with a slathering of powered sugar and butter. You’ll thank us later.

Things to Do

History and Art

The iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum.
The iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum.

Museumplein is – you guessed it – Amsterdam’s museum quarter. First up is the Rijksmuseum, the largest art museum in the Netherlands, where you’ll find works by the likes of Rembrandt, including his well-known work The Night Watch, Vermeer, and van Gogh. Be sure to take a stroll through the impressive library, which is stacked high with countless books on art. The next stop you’ll want to make is at the Van Gogh Museum. Discover the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh works in the world as well as pieces by famous artists including Paul Gaugin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Georges Seurat. For your fill of more modern and contemporary art, make your way to Sedelijk Museum for everything from Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol and exhibits on Keith Haring. All museums sell tickets online, which means you can book in advance and avoid the queues which can become quite long. Bonus: the very instagrammable red and white iamsterdam letters are here. If you were hoping to snap a pic, now’s the time.

The Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House

A somber but worthwhile experience is the Anne Frank House. Walk through the rooms Anne Frank and her family hid in, and where she wrote in the pages of her diary, as you learn about and reflect upon what people faced during WWII and the Holocaust. Queuing time for tickets and entry can reach up to a couple hours long, so we recommend buying tickets online in advance to make the most of your time.

Another famous house-turned-museum which is a perfect itinerary stop for art-enthusiasts is the Rembrandt House Museum. Giving visitors the opportunity to to explore the building that served as the artist’s home and workshop for 20 years, the museum offers a small glimpse into the artist’s life during the height of his career. It was here that he created some of his most illustrious works, including The Night Watch (found in the Rijksmuseum) as well as his famous etchings, most of which can be viewed at the house.

The Great Outdoors

AmsterdamOne of Amsterdam’s most defining features is its series of canals (165 to be exact!), and a visit to this water-bound city really should include a boat ride on the canals, and you have a few options when it comes to how you cruise. A canal tour (some serve pancakes!) is a great way to sit back and relax while learning about the history of the city, the canals, and the buildings you pass along the way. If you’re planning a canal tour, consider doing it at the beginning of your trip, to help give you a sense of the lay of the land, as well as a bit of background on the city you’re about to explore. There’s a hop on, hop off canal bus, or if you take the “Venice of the North” nickname seriously, you can enjoy a romantic gondola ride along the canals. For a more leisured experience, pack a picnic, bring some beer, rent a small electric boat for a truly perfect, laid-back afternoon. No experience is required to drive these boats, however there does need to be somebody sober over 18 years old on board. Lastly, if you’re up for a bit of exercise, a lot of laughing (mostly at yourself), and don’t mind potentially looking a bit ridiculous, you can rent paddle boats and paddle your way up and down the canals.

A view into Amsterdam's green and serene Vondelpark.
A view into Amsterdam’s green and serene Vondelpark.

After a long day of museums, history, and fried foods, you might be ready for a bit of restful haven, and you’re in luck, because that’s where Amsterdam’s abundance of green spaces and parks come into play. After a full day of sight-seeing and before the antics to come in the evening, stroll into any of the city’s many parks for a quiet walk, a nap in the grass, or sit back and watch passersby going about their lives from the comfort of a park bench. Discover tranquil ponds, open air theatres, hidden playgrounds, and park side cafes and restaurants. Vondelpark is the most famous of them all, but there are gems to be found all over the city including Frankendael Park, Oosterpark, and Westerpark.

As with a visit to any city, save some time to wander and get lost as you turn down side streets and follow wherever looks good. Meander through the trendy streets of the Jordaan, window shop and sample your way through farmer’s market stalls of Noordermarkt, marvel at the rainbow of blooms at Bloemenmarkt, and allow the city to unfold in front of you.

Nightlife and Brews

The Brouwerij ‘t IJ windmill and brewery.
The Brouwerij ‘t IJ windmill and brewery.

Stop in at the Heineken Experience, and learn about Amsterdam’s own home brew. The original brewery can be toured, and of course, there are icy cold Heinekens waiting for you at the end. While Heineken may be Amsterdam’s most famous beer, this city is brimming with quality, local craft breweries. Head to Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery located underneath Amsterdam’s tallest windmill. Get a seat outside on a nice day and soak up the idyllic setting and refreshing beer.

You can’t talk about Amsterdam’s nightlife and party scene without mentioning two of the city’s most infamous allures: the Red Light District and its coffeeshops (hint, coffeeshops aren’t where you head for your morning pick-me-up). If you’re one of the many who are interested in checking out these areas, be smart, safe, and respectful. Aside from the obvious, Amsterdam has a vibrant nightlife with clubs boasting 24-hour licenses, meaning the party never stops. De School and Warehouse Elementenstraat are two 24 hour clubs providing pulsating beats until the first hours of morning light.

The dining room and bar at Stayokay Vondelpark.
The dining room and bar at Stayokay Vondelpark.

Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark located in the centre of Vondelpark.

Stayokay Amsterdam Stadsdoelen located on one of Amsterdam’s oldest canals.

Stayokay Amsterdam Oost (Zeeburg) located in a former school in a typical Amsterdam neighbourhood.

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