A Quick Guide To Amsterdam
The Netherlands might be a small country,but the compact nature of the Netherlands only serves to make it easier for visitors to travel throughout the country. Today we’ll share some information for those who are planning their first visit to Amsterdam, or those who are planning a last-minute trip and don’t have time to scour the internet for information.
GETTING TO AMSTERDAM FROM SCHIPHOL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Arriving at the third largest airport in Europe means that you’re a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam. Depending on your preferred mode of transportation, you could be at your hotel within an hour or two.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen trains run from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station and back every few minutes. The journey takes about 15 minutes and cost €7.20 or €4.30 respectively, depending on whether you opt for first or second class.
The Amsterdam Airport Express Bus #397 departs from Schiphol 4-8 times per hour. The journey lasts about 30-40 minutes, depending on which of the bus stops (Museumplein, Rijksmuseum, Leidseplein or Elandsgracht) you are heading for, and will set you back €6.00.
GVB Bus #69 will take you to the Amsterdam Sloterdijk train station. As this bus makes many stops along the way, the journey takes around 50 minutes. The trip will cost you €3.00, or you can opt to buy a day pass from €7.50, which will allow you to use the Amsterdam public transport system for the rest of the day as well. Please don’t attempt to buy this ticket in cash from the bus driver. They only accept credit cards. You could also buy your GVB 1, 2, or 3 day passes online before you arrive in Amsterdam.
The Connexxion Schiphol Hotel Shuttle offers direct transport to over 100 hotels in Amsterdam. They depart at least twice per hour from the airport. Luggage is limited to one large piece, which is placed in the hold, and one piece of hand luggage. A one-way ticket costs €17.50. Be aware that this journey could take some time, as all passengers are dropped at their respective hotels on the way.
If you prefer private transport, taxis are also available at the airport. This should cost around €40.00. The journey to Amsterdam Centraal Station takes around 30 minutes.
Uber is also available from Schiphol. Order your ride from the Uber app, but only do so once you’re at the pickup spot, otherwise you’ll be charged for the time the driver waits while you make you way to the vehicle.
WHERE TO STAY
With around 5 million international visitors annually and a relatively small city in terms of space, Amsterdam’s tourist accommodation might be a bit expensive. Here is a list of some places that have piqued our interest (We’ve even found some houseboat rentals for those of you who have always been curious about that peculiar Amsterdam abode):
• Amstel Botel - €85
Sleep aboard a passenger ship moored on the banks of the river IJ, which is accessible by a free ferry ride from Centraal Station.
• Citizen M Amsterdam - €89
Every room in this hotel offers a king size bed, wall-to-wall window, and free movies and wifi. It might just be the perfect place for any mobile citizen.
• Conscious Hotel Museum Square - €62-85
For those of us who prefer to tread as lightly as possible while travelling, the Conscious Hotel concept will be welcoming. We like the fact that all their electricity comes from sustainable sources and that they have their own bee hives on the roof and source their apple juice locally. Three more locations (Conscious Hotel Westerpark, Conscious Hotel Vondelpark, and The Tire Station), add to your options in Amsterdam.
• Lloyd Hotel - €100-210
Initially this building housed a hotel for the Royal Dutch Lloyd cruise line, but it has since served as a refugee centre, detention centre, and artist studios, only to reopen as a hotel in 2004. The architecture is eclectic, the room dimensions unorthodox at times, but what caught our attention is the fact that each room seems to be different from the next. Vintage and modern décor are blended perfectly to create peaceful 1- to 5-star rooms and suites, which means it caters to many budgets. The cherry on the cake is their breakfast buffet, which is a steal at €17.50 if you consider the variety of food and drinks guests can choose from.
• Hotel The Neighbour’s Magnolia - €103
This family-run 3-star hotel has modern, yet cosy rooms, some with private balconies. Located in Amsterdam oud-Zuid, you’re sure to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Prices quoted are current prices for a double room per night, and subject to change at the discretion of the hotel management. It is given merely as an indication of general prices to our readers.
• Cozy B+B in Medieval Wharfcellar - €123
Just have a look at it and tell me you wouldn't like to stay here.
• Houseboat Nova - €137
This houseboat accommodates up to 4 people, and they even include the use of 4 bicycles so you can travel like the locals.
• Trendy House Boat on Beautiful IJ - €71
With space for 2 people located a short distance from public transport which takes you to the heart of Amsterdam in a few minutes, this houseboat is highly recommended.
Prices quoted are current prices for a unit per night, and subject to change at the discretion of property owners. It is given merely as an indication of general prices to our readers.
HOW TO GET AROUND
If your hotel is centrally located, you may find yourself walking almost everywhere.
There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people, and as it’s almost as flat as a pancake, it’s easy to cycle. Below is a list of some recommended bicycle rental companies:
• Bike City - From €17 per day
Their bicycles are plain black bikes, unlike most rental bikes which are painted and branded conspicuously. This means that you look like a local.
• Ton Tweewielers - From €10 per day
They specialise providing large numbers of bicycles in one location, and picking it up in a different location, ideal for groups taking a scenic day out.
• Mike’s Bike Tours – From €10 per day
Mike’s also offers Amsterdam city bike tours and countryside bike tours, starting from €28 per person.
• A-Bike – From €15 per day
They offer sightseeing tours in and around Amsterdam as well.
• Mac Bike – From €10 per day
This is the place to go if you are looking for tandem bicycles, cargo bikes, or even wheelchair tandem bicycles. They also offer guided tours, downloadable audio guides.
• Orange Bike – From €10 per day
They also offer bicycle, walking, and bus tours, as well as canal cruises. Their art bicycles are beautifully painted with well-known Dutch masters’ motifs, for those who want to immerse themselves in local culture.
The GVB public transport system in Amsterdam offers a selection of passes for visitors. Here are a few options:
The Amsterdam Travel Ticket includes transport between Schiphol International Airport and Amsterdam, as well as transport in Amsterdam, for 1, 2 or 3 days (€16, €21 or €26, respectively).
The Amsterdam + Region Travel Ticket includes public transport for 1, 2 or 3 days (€18.50, €26.00 or €33.50, respectively) in and between Amsterdam and surrounding towns, including Haarlem, Keukenhof, Zandvoort aan Zee, IJmuiden, Amstelveen, Aalsmeer, Lelystad, Volendam, Marken, Edam, Zaandam and more, a bargain for those days when you want to move around a bit more.
The Holland Travel Ticket offers one day of unlimited public transport in the whole of Holland. Off-peak tickets cost €39 per day, otherwise €55 per day. This is especially useful when you want to travel longer distances.
The GVB Day Ticket or Multi-Day Ticket offers unlimited transport on all routes served by GVB vehicles in Amsterdam. Options vary from 1 day (€7.50) to 7 days (€34.50).
The I Amsterdam City Card not only offers all-inclusive transport on Amsterdam’s public transport system for 1 to 4 days (€59 to €94), but also free or discounted prices at a whole bunch of museums, tourist attractions, canal cruises, and more. If you take into account the individual prices of these establishments, this is definitely a great deal.
FOOD IN AMSTERDAM
When we travel, food is always a large part of our cultural experience, as it has been when visiting the Netherlands.
Our clear favourite is of course the faithful stroopwafel. Varieties abound, and whether you buy them in packs in the supermarket or fresh from a market vendor, you’re in for a treat. Every Dutch friend of ours has told us to place a stroopwafel over the mouth of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, wait a few minutes for the steam to soften it, and then savour it.
Cheese is also one of the many local products that are popular with locals and visitors alike. You won’t even have to go looking for it; there are cheese shops seemingly around every corner, and the supermarkets stock more options than you could possibly try. One of our favourites is a green cheese. Yes, it sounds gross, and it looks weird, but it’s a delicious mild cheese.
Pancakes are another staple here, whether thick and fluffy, or thin and crépe-y, or the scrumptious small poffertjes. They come in sweet and savoury varieties, and are always a treat. The Pannenkoekenboot (Pancake Boat) is an absolute must for pancake aficionados. For €18 you can eat as much pancakes as you can while cruising the Rive IJ for 75 minutes. On Saturdays you can extend that trip to 2,5 hours, add dessert and enjoy both the scenery and the food. They even cater for children’s birthday parties.
If you’re a potato lover, you’ll definitely want to try some frites, the Belgian version of French fries. It’s usually offered with a choice of condiments. Around here it is usually eaten with Mayonnaise, not vinegar or ketchup. It’s a great way to stretch your budget as well, saving your bullion for a special lunch or dinner later in the day.
Then there is croquettes (kroketten), a crumbed, deep-fried roll filled with almost anything from mashed potatoes to shellfish. A variation on this theme is Bitterballen, which are little balls of minced meat, vegetables and roux, crumbed and deep-fried to perfection. You can even order a Kroket burger at Dutch branches of MacDonald's.
Pickled herring (raw, of course) is a Dutch delicacy. You’ll find it at market stalls and in supermarket aisles. Some may balk at the idea, but if you consider it a bit, sushi is also raw fish, isn’t it?
Many people drool over a packet of Speculaas, a spiced cookie, which is now also available in a spread for your morning toast.
Amsterdam offers such a wide variety of options in restaurants with cuisines from around the globe, that we thought it best to leave that part of the trip to our readers' own discretion.
THINGS TO DO IN AMSTERDAM
(Please note: If you have an I Amsterdam City Card, remember that it includes a free canal cruise)
As soon as you step from the train in Centraal Station, head for the canal cruise stalls outside and book a trip. Then get on the first available boat, sit back and listen as the stories of Amsterdam are told via audio guide. You’ll be enfolded in history and drawn into the life of the city. You’ll see some remarkable and some strange things along the way. You’ll be ready to see and explore further. Most of the cruises offer a one day hop-on-hop-off pass, and there are many stops along the way where you may want to switch from cruising to walking. We stayed on the boat until it came to the Rijksmuseum/Museumplein stop, which leads me to the next point . . .
(Please note: If you have an I Amsterdam City Card, admission to the Rijksmuseum is free)
If you only have one day in Amsterdam, do your best to fit in even a short visit to this crown jewel of Dutch art museums. Not only is it the largest art museum in the country, but it receives more than 2 million visitors annually. Around 8,000 items are displayed to the public, from a collection of around 1 million items. Its main focus is Dutch art, although it also houses a small Asian collection.
Treat yourself to an audio guide, which will be well worth the extra €5. And don’t rush through the museum if you don’t have to.
Admission - €17.50
(Please note: If you have an I Amsterdam City Card, admission to the Van Gogh Museum is free)
Having sung the praises of the Rijksmuseum as i have, don’t think that the Van Gogh Museum is any less of a marvel. It contains the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings in the world, thanks to the fact that Van Gogh was unable to sell most of his work during his own lifetime. The museum receives almost as many visitors as the Rijksmuseum every year. The most impressive part of Van Gogh story to me is that he created around 2,100 pieces of art in around 10 years. Prolific seems to be an understated term when you’re talking about Van Gogh, doesn’t it? Once again, we recommend that you pay a little extra for the multimedia guide. Currently, all visitors have to book online to visit the museum, so don’t be caught by surprise if you are turned away without a reservation.
Admission - €18.00
The little Jewish girl who wrote about life in hiding during the Second World War, and who hoped to become a writer someday, could never have imagined that her family’s hiding place would become the third most popular tourist attraction in Amsterdam. It has laid hold of the attention of so many people from around the world, probably because through her writings, Anne has given the world insight into this tragedy in a way very few persecuted Jews of that era were able to. The fact that her diary and other books have been kept safe in such a time of turmoil is nothing short of miraculous.
Visitors have to buy tickets online, and as this is one of the most visited sights in Amsterdam, you’d be well advised to book your ticket as soon as possible. Tickets are available no more than two months in advance.
Admission - €10.00
(Please note: If you have an I Amsterdam City Card, admission to the World Press Photo Award Exhibition is free)
Each year from Spring to early Summer, the World Press Photo Award exhibits news stories from around the world. This has been a highlight of our visit both times we visited Amsterdam, and we could not recommend it more highly. It is not suitable for children, however, so keep that in mind when you plan your visit.
Visiting an exhibition like this is sure to at least help each of us appreciate the lives we have been granted to live, if not to motivate us to do something small or big to change our world for the better.
Admission - €11
This large park is located almost right next to Museumplein, and is a great place to to have a picnic after all the time you might just have spent indoors marveling at the art treasures of Amsterdam. There are lovely spots to eat as well, of course. Het Blaauwe Theehuis offer light meals, snacks and drinks in a quirky round building. Het Groot Melkhuis is a favourite spot for families, as it offers a large playground. The self-service counter here offers snacks, light meals and drinks as well. De Vondeltuin offers a larger variety in its menu, and as with the others, the setting in the park makes for a laid-back meal.
(Please note: If you have an I Amsterdam City Card, admission to the Resistance Museum is free)
This museum tells the story of life in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. After the occupation of the Netherlands, the people faced three options: adapt, collaborate with the Nazis or resist them. Here you’ll learn about different people who made different decisions for different reasons. If you’re interested in the Second World War, combine a visit to the Resistance Museum with trips to the Anne Frank House and Corrie Ten Boom Huis in Haarlem.
Admission - €11
DAY TRIPS FROM AMSTERDAM
With your Amsterdam + Region Travel Ticket or your Holland Travel Ticket, it’s easy to visit other towns and cities in the Netherlands. Here are a few ideas:
Visit the world’s largest flower market, Flora Holland Aalsmeer, which is housed in the fourth largest building in the world. Get ready to immerse yourself in the daily flower auctions, but be sure to arrive early, to ensure you don’t miss out on the action. The auction is open to the public from 07:00-11:00 on weekdays, except on Thursdays (07:00-09:00).
Admission - €7.50
If you’ve been dreaming about strolling through an old Dutch village in the shadows of some windmills, look no further than Zaanse Schans, where you’ll be able to see how wooden clogs are made, climb the stairs inside a 17th century windmill, still busily milling spices, oil or paint, visit the birthplace of Albert Heijn, Holland’s famous supermarket chain, enjoy traditional Dutch food, wear traditional Dutch clothing from the 19th century, try some local cheese, then some local chocolate, visit an antique shop, have some stroopwafels, and much, much more, all in one place. If your time in the Netherlands is limited, this would be an idle day trip. There are even a few rooms available for visitors who want to stay over in the heart of the historic village.
There are also many options for exploring the surrounding areas by boat, depending on your preferences.
Admission – please consult the Zaanse Schans website.
A visit to Keukenhof in the spring is bound to be one of the highlights of your visit. Open from March to May (please consult their website for exact dates), it’s basically a large park dedicated to showcase the splendour of Dutch tulips to visitors from all over the world. The surrounding countryside of Lisse is a mosaic of tulip farms, and if you’re up for it, why not rent a bicycle and see some of these gorgeous colour-carpets firsthand? You can find more information on Keukenhof in our blog post.
Volendam & Marken
Visit these two fishing villages on the Markenmeer for a relaxing day of strolling along the lake, shopping and eating fresh seafood at the docks.
This beachside town is only a 15 minute commute from Amsterdam, and on a pleasant summer day, it’s a lovely place to kick back and relax.
Another short train ride from Amsterdam is where you’ll find Haarlem, the capital of the province of Noord-Holland, with s beautiful old town. The most interesting place here is of course Corrie ten Boom House, where Corrie ten Boom’s family lived and played their part in hiding Jews from the Nazis during WWII. Tours here are free. If you want to guarantee your spot in one of the guided tour groups, you have to make an online reservation (mornings). Otherwise, you could take your chances and wait in the alley (afternoons), but there is a limit on the number of people they can accommodate at a time. After the tour, you are free to buy a selection of souvenirs and/or make a donation to the museum.
Another highly recommended museum in Haarlem is the Frans Hals Museum.
A visit to Kinderdijk brings the visitor to the reality of living in a country where a quarter of the land lies below sea level. Here, windmills have been pumping water from the polders for centuries, ensuring that life for ordinary people can continue on dry land.
Admission - €7.00
If you’ve never seen two men carrying a load of cheese on a wooden barrow without wheels, this is the place to go. Yes, you heard it, the cheeses are carried on barrows ( with a combined weight of around 130kg) by two members of the Cheese Carriers Guild. Their special walking style is not only entertaining, but ensures that they carry the cheese in the easiest possible manner. Visitors can pay for a seat on the pavilion or stand for free, which of course limits the view you’ll have. Details about reserving a seat, as well as dates for the cheese market, are available on their website.
Stroll along the Hofvijver, the ideal photo spot in The Hague, or take your turn ice skating here in the winter. Take a look at the collection of members’ art at the Pulchri Studio artist society, and step into their inner garden for a peaceful minute. Visit the Palace Noordeinde, where King Willem-Alexander’s office is located, on a Wednesday to see a ceremony in which the king welcomes new ambassadors to the Netherlands(including a horse coach arrival for the ambassador). While you’re there, enjoy a picnic in the Palace Garden, a regal setting for a simple meal. Take a guided tour at the Binnenhof, the centre of governance in the Netherlands. Visit the House of Representatives, the Hall of Knights and King Willem-Alexander’s throne. Of course, no visit to The Hague is complete without a tour of the Peace Palace, the seat of the International Court of Justice (advance reservations required.) You could also see Holland in miniature format at Madurodam, and walk from one town to the next like a modern Gulliver in Lilliput.
The Mauritshuis Museum focuses on the art of the Golden Age: Vermeer, Rembrandt and many more Dutch masters. Notable pieces include The Anatomy Lesson, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Goldfinch and Simeon’s Song of Praise are some of the highlights offered here.
The Gemeentemuseum contains the largest collection of Mondrian’s work in the world. With more than 300 pieces from every different phase of his artistic career, all Mondrian admirers should include this exhibition in their itinerary. The architecture and interior of the museum is art in in itself, and if you add the large collections of fashion, decorative arts and music, a comprehensive glance of modern art is available for visitors.
Panorama Mesdag (Europe’s largest circular canvas) has been constructed in such a way as to create the illusion that visitors are standing on a sanddune, gazing out at Schveningen as it was in the late 19th century.
Escher In The Palace is a museum dedicated to the works of MC Escher, who specialised in creating optical illusions.
Clingendael is a peaceful park close to The Hague, and includes the only Japanese garden in the Netherlands, which is only open to the public twice a year.
Scheveningen, the most popular beach town in the Netherlands, is located very close to The Hague, and offers everything from a marine park to a zip line and bungy jump above the pier, from surfing in the North Sea to a ferris wheel right over the ocean. A visit to Scheveningen is not complete with stopping to enjoy the day’s catch at one of the many eateries at the harbour.
For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Meijendel, the largest dune area in South Holland, would be a priority. Dunes, lakes, forests and beaches offer habitat for birds and wildlife galore, and can easily be explore on foot or by bicycle. Another nature reserve is Westduinpark, where you can see remnants of WWII Nazi bunkers, Scottish Highland cows, sand lizards, and nightingales. From Zuiderstrand you have a panoramic view to the Hook of Holland. Right next to Westduinpark lies another seaside resort town, Kijkduin, a smaller, cosier alternative to Scheveningen. Popular among wind and kite surfers, runners and cyclists, it also offers the opportunity to skate, ski, ride go-karts and more at De Uithof.
Museum Beelden Aan Zee is located in a sand dune right next to the beach in Schveningen. Dedicated exclusively to modern sculptures, this museum combines art and nature in a spectacular setting.
If you are interested in ceramics, Delft will be a priority on your itinerary. A visit to Royal Delft offers a museum, painting demonstration by local craftsmen, and an opportunity to walk through the factory.
Continue your exploration of Delft’s famous earthenware – among other things – at Museum Prinsenhof (the place where Willem van Oranje was assassinated), then pop into the Kunstsuper Delft across the street for a souvenir from the Delft art scene. Afterwards, find your way to St Agatha Square, where you’ll find Delft street lamps and a porcelain bench in honour of Antoni Gaudi.
At the Vermeer Centrum,you can view reproductions of all of Vermeer’s paintings. You can also visit the vantage point from which Vermeer’s View of Delft was painted, the Hooikade Harbour.
The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) tower is not only a fine example of Gothic architecture, but the four distinct colours of the different levels of the tower gives it an eccentric air. The tower was also the location of an important scientific experiment when Simon Stevin and Jan Cornets de Groot dropped two lead balls of different sizes to prove that it is not weight that determines the speed at which an object falls, but air resistance. Most importantly to the citizens of Delft, is the fact that many members of the royal family has been buried at this church since the 16th century. On a clear day, the Euromast in Rotterdam is visible from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk.
Oostpoort is the last remaining part of the 15th century city walls, which were defended by eight city gates. Its setting on the water, with an attached drawbridge, creates a perfect old European cityscape.
The Botanical Gardens boast 7,000 kinds of plants and trees for the horticultural enthusiast to explore.
Delft Town Hall was originally built in the 13th century, but after almost completely burned down in 1618, it was rebuilt around the only surviving part, the tower Het Steen, which used to be a prison. Today the tow hall houses the office of the Delft city council, except for the tower Het Steen, which is open to visitors during school holidays (as well as to groups during the rest of the year).
The former building of the Lerenmuseum (Army Museum) strikes a dramatic pose on the canal where Lange Geer and Oude Delft meet Zuidwal. What a photo opportunity, especially at night.
The bombing of Rotterdam by the Nazis during WWII created untold devastation, but from the ashes a new, modern city has risen. The innovation in architecture is visible in Centraal Station, the Markthal, the Rotterdam, Erasmus Bridge, the Euromast, the Cube Houses, the Kunsthal and more.
Head to the Markthal for fresh produce stalls, restaurants and food shops. Located in the belly of a luxury apartment complex, the wall painting here is the largest artwork in Holland. Don’t miss the Tijdtrap, an exhibit of Medieval artefacts excavated during the construction of the building.
The only preserved 17th century building in downtown Rotterdam is Schielandshuis, housing among others the local tourism information centre.
Delfshaven is one of only a few parts of the historic part of Rotterdam that survived the 1940 bombings. It’s a great place to spend a day eating, shopping and hopping on the water taxi.
Laurenskerk is the only remaining late Gothic building in Rotterdam. Even though it was severely damaged during the bombing in 1940, it has been restored and has become the symbol of Rotterdam’s resilience.
Where have you ever seen a live polar bear, giraffe, piranha, shark, butterfly, rhino, stingray, gorilla, anaconda and kudu together? The Rotterdom zoo combines the usual land-based animals with an aquarium, and even features the largest butterfly enclosure in Europe. For a special experience, why not take the Bijdorp by Night tour at dusk?
For food options galore, head to Katendrecht, where restaurants, food trucks and the Fenix Food Market offer an abundant array of culinary delights. The Steamship Rotterdam, the largest ocean steamer ever built in the Netherlands, is also moored here. You can take a guided tour of the ship, offering a glance into the heyday of this vessel. What’s more, this ship is also a hotel.
Although Rotterdam is not the busiest port in the world anymore, it is still the largest port in Europe, stretching over 40 kilometres and handling more than 440 million tonnes of cargo during 2012. Explore the history behind the heartbeat of Rotterdam – the port – at the Maritiem Museum. While you’re there, stop at The Destroyed City, a monument that commemorates the pain of the WWII bombardment. To get an idea of the scale of the different elements of the harbour, hop aboard the Future Land Ferry and see it for yourself.
Rotterdam is a hotbed for street art. The largest one of course is the Horn of Plenty at Markthal, and then there are the neighbourhoods around Luchtsingel and the Hofbogen, where you’ll find massive wall paintings aplenty. The Rotterdam Street Art Route takes you through the city centre.
The Wereldmuseum offers a glimpse into different civilisations and cultures.
Among the vast variety of city tours available, Splashtours seems to be a fun option. The 60-minute tour aboard an amphibian bus culminates in a splash in the River Maas, offering visitors views from land as well as water in one seamless tour.