Amsterdam is a city of freedom. As a visitor, just let go and free the spirit while you are exploring. I remembered that the center of Amsterdam was packed with tourists and filled with excitement when I was there. The entire city center was like a party. In between the canals, historic buildings, and artistic vibe, every taboo was out in the open and it could be an “Eye Wide Shut” experience for some. The Red Light District, which is locally and internationally significant as one of the oldest venues of visible and legal urban prostitution, was right outside Amsterdam Central. Sex was in the air. The district embraces the historic Oude Church, while sex shops, bars, and brothels, lined up right along the canals and streets. I saw prostitutes flaunting in front of the window and luring young men to enter; a visit to a sex toy store wasn’t such a secretive and embarrassing thing. It felt free, even liberating.
Previously, I read news about an Amsterdam Airbnb host pushed a South African down the stairs and then the video has gone viral. I couldn’t believe that happened, probably a rare case because it was not the Amsterdam that I remembered.
I only stayed in Amsterdam briefly that I wish one day I could go back and offer an ultimate guide for everything that you need to see and do; I visited Keukenhof Garden during a Layover at Schiphol because it was almost the best time to see the Tulip blooming – check out my previous post if you wish to learn more.
Whether you are in Amsterdam for business, culture, shopping or partying, this guide will help you explore the city.
Getting around Amsterdam
Schipol is a world-class airport and the amazing thing is, it’s very close to the city of Amsterdam. There is a direct rail link that connects Schipol to Amsterdam Central Station. Trains run every 10 minutes from the main arrival plaza. Have change on hand to use the ticket machines and avoid the lines and a €0.5 surcharge at the ticket office. A fine of €35 will be added to the fare if you do not have a valid ticket with you on the train.
You can also consider taking a bus at Schipol plaza. But a bus card at the ticket service before barding. Bus arrival times are placed on panels at each bus stop or ask an ambassador for assistance. of course, you can also approach them for a taxi, and there are several major car rental companies operate from the main arrival hall.
In the city, public transport includes tram, bus, and metro services. Buy a travel card (strippenkaart) that charges per trip and it is available at most supermarkets for unlimited travel. If you are up for it, why not rent a bike instead given that Amsterdam is very bike-friendly and it’s the best way to truly feel the city. Many companies rent bikes for about €10 a day (ID is required for rental), check out MacBike for more information.
The I Amsterdam Card includes free access to all major museums, unlimited use of public transport, and will even get you on a canal boat.
Shopping and Tipping in Amsterdam
Adding a gratuity to the bill is optional. If service is good – for bars, restaurants, and taxis, the tip is usually around 5% – 10%.
In general, shops open from 1 pm to 6 pm on Mondays, and 9 am – 6 pm for the rest of the week. Late night shopping is on Thursday until 9 pm, while many stores close earlier on Saturdays, at 5 pm. On Sundays, your options are limited to the main shopping areas in the city center: Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk, and Leidsestraat.
If you are looking for some designer haute couture, head to Amsterdam’s high-end shopping strip, the Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat. For all literary needs including a decent selection of international press, the best bookshops are located around Spui Square. Amsterdam’s antique shops and fine art galleries are dotted around Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, a small street leading towards the majestic Rijksmuseum.
Exciting Shops and Eateries in Amsterdam
Royal portions of apple pie straight out of the oven at Winkel on Noordermarkt 43.
At All Things Pastry, a family-run Holtkamp also crafts Dutch croquettes with shrimp, veal, or cheese fillings. Holtkamp is located on Vijzelgracht 15.
For more than a decade, The Frozen Fountain is a design gallery/store that has been Amsterdam’s go-to spot for the latest creations by emerging product designers.
Recline in the back row of the oldest cinema in town at The Movies on the cosmopolitan Haarlemmerdijk and featuring lots of movies in English.
If you are into music, check out Amsterdam’s temple of calssicalmusic at Het Concertgebouw on Concertgebouwplein 2-6.
One of the liveliest local districts of Amsterdam is de Pijp. Visit the Albert Cuyp Market and the area’s countless supply of bars, restaurants, and cafes to experience a melting pot of cultures. With a similar background of creative development, visit the Jordaan, with its myriad of narrow streets and canals. on Saturdays head to the Noorderkerk to explore the surrounding markets, visit a concert, or people-watch in one of the ever-crowded cafes.
Adjacent to the city center discover De Negen Straatjes, a grid of nine streets around the principal canals. These picturesque streets unveil designer label stores, contemporary coffee bars, and great restaurants.
Catch some rays on the huge terrace of Muziekgebouw (or indeed catch a concert inside), which overlooks Amsterdam’s main canal the IJ. Or use it as a base to explore KNSM Island, with great architecture and dotted with hidden bars, clubs, and restaurants. Alternatively, pray at the altar of Amstelveld, a quiet beautiful old square bordered by lovely cafes and an old wooden church and right next to the cosmopolitan Utrechtsestraat with a long street of good shopping, eating, and drinking. If you have the time, take a free ferry from behind Station, head to NDSM-Werf in Amsterdam North, sit on the cafe’s terrace and watch the busy thoroughfare of the IJ.
I was exploring the city on foot that day and I had a great time. Places like the Rijksmuseum and van Gogh Museums were definitely eye-opening and impressive. The van Gogh museum has the world’s largest collection of paintings by the Vincent van Gogh, showcases a remarkable range of 19th- and 20th-century patiners. The Rijksmuseum is the biggest museum in the country with more than 1 million objects in its collections – mainly paintings from the Dutch “Golden Age” in the 17th century. Big names include Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, and more. Their paintings, in fact, could be found in almost every major classical art museum in the world. The architecture of the museum was impressive; it was designed by Pierre Cuypers and officially opened to art lovers in 1885. Now, the building was not only a landmark of art but also a landmark of the “I AMsterdam” brand. During the holidays, both locals and visitors could enjoy all kinds of “Amsterdam excitement” starting their day rolling on the lawn in the Museum square, enjoying the park or the wading pool under warm and glorious sunshine.
For more about my favorite classical art galleries in the world, visit My Top 10 Classical Art Galleries in the world.
While I was walking, I saw an orchestra performing in a courtyard and their music was so uplifting and I just sat there and enjoyed it for half an hour.
The Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s central park and filled to bursting in the summer months. It has several cafes including the beautifully round Blauwe Teehuis. Other parks for those craving nature include Westerpark, which contains the Westergasfabriek, an old gasworks that includes bars, clubs, and restaurants), Sarphatiprk in de Pijp and the huge forest Amsterdamse Bos, halfway between Schipol and Amsterdam.
There might be a lot of sex museums in the world but don’t miss the Sexmuseum Amsterdam. It was opened in 1985 and it is one of the most visited museums in the city. I think the museum is a celebration of the city’s openness but showcasing a lot, and really, a lot of sex. I took a lot of photos but decided not to show them here or I might turn my blog into a porn site. But well, treat the exhibit with a good sense of humor, and great respect for history, and sex.
Why do buildings in Amsterdam Lean?
You may know why the houses in Amsterdam are narrow – it was because the Dutch authorities levied taxes from citizens based on the width of their houses back in the 16th century.
You might wonder why the buildings in Amsterdam look crooked and lean. At first, it felt like you have seasick while it was actually a solution to a problem. The buildings are built leaning forward on purpose. It was practical because old buildings typically have a narrow and steep stairway that makes moving in furniture a challenge. Therefore, furniture is usually brought into the house pulling up from outside, with the help of hooks and wheels that placed under the roofs. It helped to prevent the object from hitting the walls if the building tiles forward.