Amsterdam is known as the place of hens and stag dos, openly available weed, clogs and bikes but there is more to this city than just that. I certainly didn’t fall in love with Amsterdam as it was a bit too touristy for me but I loved walking the canals, wandering the museums and tasting their unique culinary offerings.
What’s Cool To Know?
The Netherlands is well known for it’s tulips but one of the best things to do is visit the flower market and buy some tulip bulbs to take home (as long as your home country allows)! Also, Amsterdam has over 165 canals and actually has more bridges than Venice.
The transport system made up of trains, trams and ferries is extremely efficient, fast and frequent.
If you know you will need to use public transport often, the best option is to buy a non-personalised OV-chipkaart which is available at most GVB ticket and information locations in addition to some supermarkets and corner shops. Otherwise, purchase a one off paper ticket with a €1 surcharge.
Amsterdam is a very walkable city and it’s so lovely to wander the canals. However, if you need to travel greater distances or the rain has suddenly arrived, I’d recommend to take public transport.
The biggest tip I can give when visiting Amsterdam is listen to the bells. No, not the church bells, the bicycle bells. They are EVERYWHERE. You’ll realise how seriously I mean this once you visit but bikes rule in this city. I highly encourage keeping healthy and reducing car emissions but when you are a tourist walking through a very busy city, it gets quite frustrating having to dodge bikes everywhere you go.
So, just be prepared and keep an ear and eye out. Don’t walk in the bike lanes (clearly marked with white lines and bicycle symbols) and look both ways, twice, when reaching a pedestrian crossing… because really crossings are just an excuse for the cyclists to ring their bell insistently at you!
Things to see and do
Book Museum Tickets In Advance
The queue for the Van Gough museum is insane. Luckily we booked in advance and walked past the 2 hour wait line for entry. We were pretty smug with ourselves until we came across another line for everyone with tickes! Fortunately we only had to wait about 10 minutes. I’d take 10 minutes over 2 hours any day – especially in the rain.
The Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk aren’t as crazy but I would still recommend booking in advance to reduce queuing times and allow more flexibility in planning your day.
Consider purchasing the I Amsterdam Card if you plan on visiting many of the museums and attractions that Amsterdam has to offer. Museums are expensive here and every penny counts!
The Anne Frank Museum
You 100% have to book for this museum as they do not let people in between opening at 9am and 3:30pm unless they have already booked a ticket and time slot. We had an early slot and when we arrived at 8:45am people were trying to get tickets for 3:30pm that afternoon with mixed luck.
I don’t particularly like audio guides but this one is very good and I would say mandatory to get the most out of the experience.
Also, be on time – the time slot for entry is only 15 minutes. They are pretty strict because the house can only hold so many people, so if you miss your slot – good luck!
We took 30 minutes for the whole tour but you could probably spend up to an hour if you read every exhibit presented.
Lastly, the building has quite a few sets of steep stairs so if you have difficulty climbing stairs I would suggest contacting them in advance to see what options are available.
The Van Gough Museum
When visiting museums, it is good to have certain expectations so that you don’t leave underwhelmed, so hopefully this will give you a heads up of what to expect from the Van Gough Museum.
The museum holds a few of Van Gough’s most famous paintings:
The Potato Eaters (his first but certainly not the most loved work), Almond Blossoms and Yellow House. They also have one of the five Sunflower paintings and the first version of Bedroom in Arles.
The remainder of the museum follows his life from a young aspiring artist to his death and what followed. As with many artists, Van Gough didn’t sell many works whilst he was alive and the majority were sold by his brother’s wife and his nephew after his death. However, unlike many artists, the museum makes it clear that Van Gough was not a naturally gifted artist. He studied and practice throughout his life which is why there are so many paintings of similar objects in different styles, or just repetitions of the same object.
Many of Van Gough’s small self portraits are exhibited at the museum and it is interesting to see how each one portrays a different persona.
Another point to note is that many of the works exhibited in the museum are not by Van Gough. There are also paintings by people that influenced him and that he inspired after his death – so be prepared to see lots of very similar artwork.
As of August 2017, his other most famous works are located at the following galleries and museums:
Starry Night – MoMA, NYC
Wheatfield with Cypresses – MoMA, NYC
Irises – The Getty, Los Angeles
Portrait of Dr Gachet – 1st version private collection, 2nd version Musee d’Orsay
Cafe Terrace at Night – Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands
Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear – Courtauld Gallery, London
Bedroom in Arles – 2nd version Art Institute of Chicago, 3rd version Musee d’Orsay, Paris
A Quick Note On The Rijksmuseum
Our two highlights were the magnificent The Night Watch by Rembrandt and The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman. The Rijks was recently renovated but it is still a bit of a maze to navigate so make sure you pick up a floor plan.
The Sex Museum
This is one museum you do not need to book in advance for. Entry is only €5 each and it is worth all the tackiness you expect. Remember you are in the free and open city of Amsterdam and embrace the Sex Museum for exactly what it is. I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say all the exhibits are interesting and everyone has a laugh and/or smile on their face!
What To Try
The main supermarket is Albert Heijn and they are very good for all normal groceries, toiletries and alcohol. They also have “to go” stores in train stations and city centres that provide good quality and healthy snacks and to go food.
We found out the hard way that most supermarkets don’t accept debit/cards unless it is Maestro. This is the same in many smaller shops, cafes and coffee shops. There are many ATMs around Amsterdam so take out plenty of cash (making sure to not carry it all at once, or split it amongst your travelling companions) and enjoy exploring without the worry of running out of money.
Note: if you book any museums and big attractions in advance, you won’t need to carry large amounts of money around with you as you can pay for these in advance online where they accept almost all card types.
We found accomodation, even at hostels, to be quite expensive right in the city. Instead, we opted for a budget hotel in Sloterdijk which was a great decision because it was right next to the bus terminal and train station and only a 10 min ride into the city. It did mean we weren’t in the thick of the action but for us, that was ok.
About the rain… pack for all season! The weather in Amsterdam can change in a matter of minutes and you definitely don’t want to get stuck in a queue without an umbrella. Likewise, it could pour down followed by a streak of beautiful hot sunshine – so also don’t forget to pack sunglasses and a hat.