Sometimes the places we visit are even more magical the second time around. Amsterdam is one of those places. I don’t think I’d ever turn down the opportunity to spend a weekend in Amsterdam no matter what time of year it may be. In fact, when Marc-Andre and I decided to do a 10 day adventure in Europe last September, I told him he had to experience Amsterdam with me. With miles and miles of canals, friendly locals, more bicycles than cars, and a ton of great spots to eat and drink, it’s what weekend travel dreams are made of. If you get the chance to spend a weekend in Amsterdam, do it.
My first time in Amsterdam was during New Year’s 2009 – 2010 with a group of college students with EF Ultimate Break (if you’re in your 20’s and want to travel abroad but not solo, I 100% recommend EF!). It was incredibly cold but one of the best trips of my life. This time around I got to fill up our weekend in Amsterdam with a little more knowledge of the area and highlights. It was a whirlwind weekend and the first leg of our European trip.
Check out where else we visited during our 10 day trip:
How to Spend 3 Days in Lucerne, Switzerland
What’s Oktoberfest Really Like During the Opening Weekend?
Where to Stay
There are a ton of great options in Amsterdam for your stay. AirBnB’s are everywhere, hotels can be pricey but provide the amenities, and then hostels are a great option, too. The first time I visited Amsterdam with a college group, we stayed at a hostel called StayOkay Amsterdam. It was my first hostel experience and I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re a traveler that is comfortable with hostel accommodations, I highly recommend StayOkay for a budget visit.
As I also mentioned, AirBnB’s are everywhere. While Amsterdam is very walkable and there are a ton of bikes to rent, I suggest getting a place pretty close to the center. If you’re able to splurge, go for a houseboat because how cool?!
We chose to stay at Amstel Corner, a small boutique hotel with only five rooms. Each room has its own unique style, ranging from a ‘Family Room’ to a ‘Honeymoon Suite’. They all have amenities like big comfy beds, AppleTV, and Nespresso coffee, but our room, the ‘Play Room’, also had a small kitchenette for our use. We often opened up the window that overlooked a garden and it was beautiful. We felt like Amstel Corner captured the feel of an AirBnB while still getting the benefits of a hotel with fresh towels every day and on-site assistance for anything we needed.
Amstel Corner is about a 15 minute walk to most of the major sites. We loved strolling the canals, popping into nearby bars and cafes, and feeling like a local.
We stayed on budget for our accommodation in Amsterdam, but totally splurged in Lucerne! Check it out over on this post!
Once you are checked into where ever you choose to stay, avoid the urge to take a nap and head out for some site-seeing. Check out the Flower Market, shops, and more. We arrived on a red-eye flight from Orlando so we were exhausted but wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day.
Anne Frank House
You’ll want to book Anne Frank House tickets in advance. They go on sale two months in advance and can book up very quickly. They make 80% of the tickets available in advance and then sell the other 20% the day-of, so if you missed out on the opportunity to purchase them before you got to Amsterdam, there’s still hope! You’ll pick a time slot for your arrival and I suggest first thing in the day or towards the end of the afternoon/evening. Make sure you get there on time, but you may have to wait outside for a few minutes before heading in.
Top tips for Anne Frank House:
- Book your tickets online in advance. They release 80% of the tickets, for a specific day, two months in advance. If you end up there on a whim, they still have 20% of the tickets available for the day-of.
- Don’t bring any luggage or really large backpacks. While they do have a “cloakroom” where you’ll check small bags and purses, they don’t permit the bigger items.
- Read the book, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, before you visit. I read it in middle school and started it again on the plane over, but I wish I had finished it before visiting. Either way, you’ll be moved.
- Take your time in the home. Soak it all in. Be present, feel the history in the home, and allow yourself to get emotional.
- Lift your spirits afterward by getting some yummy poffertjes at Pancakes Amsterdam located next door.
At times, it’s really difficult to understand that kind of reality actually existed at one time, but education is everything. More than anything, I think you’ll be lifted by the brilliance of Anne Frank at such a young age. She was well-spoken, optimistic, kind-hearted, and even humorous at times. It’s inspiring.
Take your time to walk through the city to get back to your hotel or AirBnB. This will give you the opportunity to spot any cafes, restaurants, or shops you want to pop in during your stay!
The next morning, have a cup of coffee (or stop in a “coffeeshop”, if that’s your thing) and stroll the streets before heading to a restaurant for some pancakes. The pancakes in Amsterdam are huge and I love it.
You don’t want to miss out on a canal cruise through during your weekend in Amsterdam. And if you’re looking for a five-star experience, you’ll book a private canal tour. We booked through Private Boat Tours and it was one of the best parts of our time in Amsterdam. We met our guide around the corner from our hotel at 11:00am. Tall, handsome, and an Amsterdam native, I was smitten that we got him all to ourselves. We popped open a bottle of champagne (additional cost, but #yolo), and started out on a 90 minute tour.
I think the best part about the private tour is that it was completely custom to us. We talked the entire time, got to double back to see cool buildings, and heard some awesome stories from our tour guide. Our boat, Paradis, fit up to 12 people so if you’re traveling with friends or family, I totally recommend this. Golden hour is also a popular time to go on a boat tour!
Lunch & Tour
This would be the time I’d suggest you get a bite to eat and then join a free walking tour or book a bicycle tour! There are all different options, from historic tours to food tours, and it’s a great way to see more of the city.
We chose to head out on our own. Our guide dropped us off near a seafood restaurant that he recommended, The Seafood Bar. We were in need of some good food after a bottle of champagne before lunch. It was so freaking good and I’m still dreaming about the oysters we had there. With a full belly, we walked through the streets of the Jordaan District and then headed to the National Monument in the center of Amsterdam. When I visited Amsterdam in college, my New Year’s Eve kiss on the cheek was at the National Monument so it was fun to go back and be there with my hubby.
There’s a ton of great shopping in the center of Amsterdam. If you continue on your own, head to the Flower Market and get yourself some fresh flowers on the only floating flower market in the world. And, of course, if you’re there during tulip season, you’ll want to join a tulip tour!
As of December 2018, the infamous I Amsterdam sign has been removed from Museumplein and I can’t say it was a bad idea. Some might see it as a bit of a bummer because it’s such an iconic spot in the city, but at the same time, the number of tourists crowding the area was nuts. Marc and I just laughed when we arrived. So while I was originally planning on telling you to get up early to snap photos with the giant letters before 9:00am, you’ll be skipping that all together. The only other place you can spot the I Amsterdam letters is at Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport.
Van Gogh Museum
Instead of the I Amsterdam sign, go ahead and hit up the Van Gogh Museum. We loooooved this museum and I learned so much more about Vincent Van Gogh’s mind and talents. Again, at times, it can be heavy, but still beautiful.
- Book your tickets online at least a day in advance. I suggest the earlier time slots.
- You’ll need to check your coats and larger backpacks at the cloakroom.
- There are designated “selfie walls” and areas that allow photography. Don’t be the tourist that can’t follow rules. They have security throughout the entire museum and they watch everyone like a hawk. I know from seeing several tourists getting in trouble for taking photos.
- The museum has a little cafe if you want to have a light breakfast/lunch before or after. (I’m always thinking about food, okay.)
- Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is one of my favorites so think of me when you see it.
A short walk from the Van Gogh Museum is the Rijksmuseum (we didn’t go in, but of course you can) and Rijksmuseum Garden. After exploring the gardens, you can make your way to the Heineken Experience. It’s about a 7 minute walk away and a really cool experience. From the line up of all the different bottles to the brewing history and more, Heineken went above and beyond at the end of the 90 minute tour. You’ll have to see for yourself. You’ll also want to grab your two free beers in the ‘Best Dam Bar in Town’ at the end of the tour!
We booked our tour time just 90 minutes before arriving, so don’t worry about booking this really far in advance. You do save 3 Euros by booking online, though!
Red Light District
If you’re going to experience the Red Light District, go with an open mind. I remember walking through the Red Light District during the day when I visited 9 years ago, but this time we went on a Sunday evening. I expected it to be pretty mellow being Sunday and kind of early, but it was very busy.
We decided we were brave enough to experience Casa Rosso’s live sex show. I started to write all about our experience and what to expect, but I decided I don’t want to dive that deep into the topic on my blog. If you have any questions whatsoever, I am more than happy to answer them honestly. Send me a quick email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll tell you anything and everything you want to know.
Restaurants & Bars:
When you’re in Amsterdam you’ll be walking or riding bikes so much and part of the fun is popping into places that aren’t planned. You can find the hidden gems, the friendliest locals, and some of the best food this way. We really didn’t plan out any of our meals, but if you happen to pass any of these places, it’s worth the stop!
Restaurant & Pizzeria Lucca Due – Dive into some delicious pizza and Italian food. This highly rated restaurant is located in an old monument house.
Guts & Glory – This place is one of a kind. With a rotating themed menu, this is a really popular restaurant and you’ll need reservations.
The Seafood Bar – As mentioned above, the seafood and atmosphere here were top-notch.
Ku Kitchen Bar – This sushi restaurant was such a sweet surprise. With a fun but intimate vibe, we were blown away with the sushi and pork buns.
Bar the Tailor – Known for their creative cocktails and amazing service, this is the perfect spot for happy hour or late night talk.
Poffertjes – You have to try poffertjes! They’re like mini pancakes and the sweetest little treat any time of day! Many of the pancake houses have them and they’re pretty consistent with how amazing they are, so don’t miss out on trying some. 😋
Coffeeshops – It’s not for everybody, but don’t be afraid to pop into a coffeeshop (cannabis store) to try an edible. Easy Times Coffeeshop is great for first-timers and everyone is really helpful, so ask all the questions!
Eating and drinking your way through any city is such a great way to feel like a local. We had amazing fondue somewhere but I can’t remember what it was called to save my life. Be adventurous and go out of your normal box for your meals. That’s half the fun!
So if you have a weekend in Amsterdam, be sure to hit up the highlights, embrace the culture, and enjoy the beauty of this incredible city!
Have you been to Amsterdam or do you want to go?!