WARNING: It is close to impossible to narrow the list of possibilities in Amsterdam to just 7 experiences. I could likely recommend hundreds, and if you want to see more of our favorite spots, check out the map of our favorite things to eat, do and see.
Now that I’ve provided that highly important disclaimer, let’s move on…
When you think of Amsterdam, what comes to mind? If you immediately think sex, drugs & bicycles… then we need to work on altering your vision of the beautiful Dutch capital (slightly… keep picturing those bicycles). Sure, the red light district is worth a stroll – we will always encourage you to experience every inch of a city – it’s even worth it to enjoy a coffee shop firsthand. You’ll likely be surprised by how welcoming and laid back an experience this will be, whether you partake in ordering pre-rolled concoctions, or simply sip some tea and play a game of giant chess.
Don’t think I’m hating on the touristy party scene. I get it! I’ve done my time stumbling around a number of European capitals, but if this is the only Amsterdam you see, then you’ve sure left the city with severe misconceptions of what it has to offer.
Our three weeks of Summer in Amsterdam were eye opening – life changing even! I never thought that I could see myself living here, but as we settled into our quiet neighborhood, near a beautiful park, with incredible bakeries on every corner, a vibrant music scene and gatherings of people from all around the world, I fell madly in love. Amsterdam is one of the most picturesque large cities you’ll ever experience, and if you know where to go, what to do, and whom to connect with, you’ll likely never want to leave… I surely didn’t – and that’s saying a lot.
How did we do Amsterdam? Here are our most memorable experiences in a city we are strongly considering calling a ‘more permanent’ home.
Bike the city. And try not to fall! Despite initial hesitation as I struggled to keep up with the sea of seasoned Amsterdam cyclers, this is my #1 recommendation for getting around in Amsterdam. The best way to see the city is from the seat of a bike, and once you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy biking as a means of transportation there’s no going back. Cars and taxis will feel intrusive and limiting, and walking will seem too slow. Amsterdam has a phenomenal biking system – the best in the world – so accommodating that we biked everywhere, and when we were a bike short, I would balance on the back of Bryan’s bike, a fun and popular way to hitch a ride!
Boat the canals. Spend time exploring the canals by boat, providing a unique perspective of the city’s architecture and a killer way to relax, party or picnic – whatever fits your mood!
If you’re a small group (4 people max), and want to schedule a last minute, low-cost, three hour tour, I recommend going through Canal Motorboats where you can grab a small, aluminum boat perfect for exploring the canals for a few hours.
If you’re looking to rent something a bit nicer, for a bit longer, or to accommodate a larger group, I recommend planning ahead and renting through Barqo. Barqo is the ‘airbnb’ of Dutch boat rentals, connecting captains with boats with tourists and sailors wanting to explore! We had the pleasure of enjoying a Barqo-style boat party during our time in Amsterdam, which turned out to be one of our favorite ways to spend a Summer day.
Nothing compares to enjoying time on the water, partying and swimming at your leisure, while a captain steers you in the right direction.
If you want to experience the beauty of biking Amsterdam and boating the canals (the second best way to see the city!), check out our video!
Picnic in a park. The parks are incredibly vibrant during the summer, and proved to be our favorite spots to enjoy a meal. Westerpark was crawling with kids playing in fountains and locals cooking out, jamming out and chilling out. Vondlepark is even more active, with seemingly infinite beautiful spaces to enjoy the long summer days.
Hang with hipsters in Amsterdam Noord. This colorful, hip part of town is one of our favorite areas to enjoy. The borough sits north of the lake (Noord = North), physically separated from central Amsterdam, but is easy to access via a free ferry behind Central Station. These pedestrian ferries area also bike friendly, and we recommend taking your bike for a boat ride.
Amsterdam Noord was once fully an industrial zone, but this up-and-coming, creative hub is now home to a vibrant arts scene, with warehouses filled with studios, trendy offices and event space. There is also a stylish selection of new, waterfront restaurants. Our favorite spot for a beer, snack and a swim was Café de Ceuvel. Find an empty boat or swing away the summer days!
Catch a live show at Paradiso. Check out their calendar of live shows ahead of time, and make an attempt to explore a new band if you can’t find a familiar artist. This concert hall is a converted church dating back to the nineteenth century, and provides phenomenal ambiance as well as incredible acoustics. We chose balcony seats, allowing us to gaze at the three, large, stain-glass windows while the band rocked out on the stage below.
Journey to Kröller-Muller. Located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park in Otterlo, this is my #1 museum recommendation and day trip from Amsterdam. I loved the Van Gogh museum as well as the Rijksmuseum, both of which are much easier to access, but nothing compares to the unique experience that awaits you in the Kröller-Muller sculpture garden.
If you still need convincing, click here to learn why you should journey to Kroller Muller where we also provide details on the best way to access this magical land of mind-blowing art.
Party with a local. The only true way to discover the best of Amsterdam is through the eyes of the people who know this vibrant city best. There’s so much to explore, and it’s easy to wander aimlessly down the well-beaten path. But to those of you who are like us, and want to experience good times, connecting with like-minded people, and stumble upon hidden gems, we recommend that you follow a local’s recommendations.
Don’t know any Amsterdam locals? Well… I’ve got news for you, there’s an app for that! Party With a Local is a free app that connects travelers with locals who want to party! Check it out on your travels if you want to be hip to local hangouts, and gatherings in cities all around the world. We had the pleasure of meeting the founders of this genius concept, attending one of their hosted boat parties on the 4th of July.
Our favorite part about traveling is connecting with people from around the world – meeting new friends with good vibes. We are always on the move, and at times exploring at a rapid pace, making it hard to remember every detail of every site we see. The most memorable experiences have proven to be the moments we share with like-minded individuals. Amsterdam will always be remembered as a place where we made new memories with friends, old and new, sharing a very special Summer together.