8 things to do in Amsterdam for first-timers

Filled with beautiful canal streets, renowned museums and friendly people, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Amsterdam.

Having only really had the Red Light District in mind, I must admit that Amsterdam wasn’t very high on my list of must-visit places. But with millions of people flocking to the city every year – including nearly everybody I know – it was high time for me to pay a visit, and see for myself all the great things the city has to offer.

Here’s my guide to 8 things to do in Amsterdam, for other first-time visitors who are still missing out.

Visit the Anne Frank Museum

There are lots of museums in Amsterdam, ranging from fine art collections at the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum, x-rated material at the Sex Museum and Erotica Museum, and for something a bit weirder, the Bodyworlds museum which displays dissected human bodies. Visiting them all would probably require a trip in itself, but if there’s one that you absolutely cannot miss, it’s the Anne Frank Huis.

Located in the heart of Amsterdam, this canal house now lies purposely empty in memory of Anne Frank (and all the victims of the Holocaust). Hiding in the secret annex for nearly two years, Anne and her family escaped Nazi persecution for nearly two years before being turned in – by who, we still don’t know.

While all of the furniture has been removed, you’re able to walk through each floor of the house, and actually enter the secret annex through the hidden bookcase on the first floor. Quotes from Anne’s diary decorate the walls, and display boxes also show original documents belonging to the family.

This is a really moving place which serves as a shocking reminder of the results of extreme prejudice and discrimination. With the 2016 we’ve just had, it’s just as important now to take time to reflect.

I’d recommend booking your ticket with the 30mins introductory program, where you’ll learn more about the family and timeline of events before visiting the museum itself. Entry costs €9, or €14 with the talk, and should be booked in advance. If you don’t, note that only people with online tickets can visit between 9am and 3:30pm.

Photos are not allowed inside the museum, as for many, this is a really poignant experience which could be ruined by photography. You can take one outside of course, but please for the love of god, don’t do a pouty selfie – surely this is not the place?

Take a canal cruise

Dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’, taking a cruise down Amsterdam’s canal belt is a great way to see the city from the water.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to tour providers, but I can personally recommend Boat Amsterdam which leaves every 30 mins from the Red Light District. A one-hour guided tour costs just €15, and comes with both alcoholic and soft drinks on board.

amsterdam canal cruise

amsterdam canal cruise

Most of the touristy boats in the city are big ugly things with thick plastic windows, but Boat Amsterdam is an open-top cruise meaning you get unobstructed views of the city.

Even in the cold and drizzling rain, we had a really relaxing and enjoyable hour of sightseeing before sunset.

Ride a bike around the city

Everyone knows how bike-friendly Amsterdam is, but you won’t fully appreciate just how incredible the bike systems are until you rent one for yourself, and take to the cycle lanes.

All of the main attractions in the city are just a short ride away, and with more bikes than people in Amsterdam, cyclists take priority on the road – some cars actually gave way to us, which I was pretty amazed at coming from the UK!

amsterdam rijksmuseum

Make sure you leave room for others to overtake, travel with the flow of traffic, and indicate your intention to turn by flagging down your arms.

Stroll through Vondelpark

Whether it’s on bike or on foot, Vondelpark makes a beautiful and peaceful escape from the bustling city. It’s the perfect spot for a lunchtime picnic, morning stroll, or just to see the adorable local dogs out on their walks.

amsterdam vondelpark

amsterdam vondelpark

Be a tourist at the Amsterdam sign

The red and white IAmsterdam sign is an attraction in itself, and can be found in front of the grand Rijksmuseum.

iamsterdam

Be a tourist and get a photo with the giant letters, but you don’t have to be as lame as me when you do it…

iamsterdam

Go to a coffeeshop

For many, Amsterdam’s drug law is one of the main reasons (or perhaps the only reason) they visit the city, and it’ll come as no surprise to you that the world’s very first cannabis coffeeshop was founded here.

Named ‘The Bulldog’, you can find it in the middle of the Red Light District, if this is something you want to experience.

Of course not all coffee shops in Amsterdam are ‘coffeeshops’, so make sure there’s a green and white sign in the window if it’s smokes you’re after.

See the windmills at Zaanse Schans

Best saved for a dry day, head out of Amsterdam for a day trip to see the historic windmills at Zaanse Schans.

Located 30mins away by train, Zaanse Schans is like an open-air museum where you can find a range of 18th and 19th century houses, barns, and windmills. Inside each are individual museums, where you can learn how to make clogs, discover the mechanics behind a windmill, visit a cheese factory, and lots more.zaanse schans

The easiest way to get there is to take the train from Amsterdam Central to Koog-Zaandijk, and walk 15mins from the station to Zaanse Schans. Train tickets costs €6.20, but if you want to take your bike with you (which I would recommend as it’s a lovely place to cycle), it’s an extra €6.10.

Eat a fresh stroopwafel

Make sure you don’t leave Amsterdam without trying one of their tastiest snacks – the stroopwafel. Consisting of two thin layers of crispy dough that’s filled with hot caramel, it’s a delicious sweet treat which I absolutely loved.

stroopwafel amsterdam

You’ll find them everywhere in the city, but head down to the local Albert Cuypmarkt to get a hot one from the stand.

As one of the most popular outdoor markets around, you’ll also find lots of other great food and clothes vendors here too.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What would you recommend?


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Comments

2 Comments
  1. posted by
    Jessica C
    Dec 18, 2016 Reply

    Fresh stroopwafels are my favorite! As an Amsterdam local I’m very curious how you found it riding a bike as a tourist. I have close calls all the time and I know the road rules and what to expect. I definitely suggest that tourists get tourist bikes so locals and drivers can watch out for them 🙂

    • posted by
      Vic
      Dec 18, 2016 Reply

      Good idea! We rented bikes from our hotel so it was probably obvious we were tourists. I really loved cycling around though, it was really fun and because the bike lanes are incredible it was super easy to follow. I did very nearly go into the back of someone though because she stopped in front of me without warning! I usually just tried to stay out of the way so locals could overtake 🙂

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