When people think of traveling to Europe, their first thoughts are often the biggies: Paris, Rome, Venice, London… maybe even Berlin or Barcelona. There’s another wonderful city that should be considered: Amsterdam! Amsterdam is easy to get to, easy to get around, and packed with tons of things to do.
It’s easy to get to: Short nonstop flights (2-3 hours) connect Amsterdam to nearly all major Western European cities. Amsterdam pairs especially well with Paris since the train from Paris to Amsterdam is only a 3.5 hour ride, making it an easy excursion for as little as one night.
It’s progressive: While other European destinations often feel classic, romantic, or historic, there’s a different vibe in Amsterdam. The city has a youthful, modern, progressive, liberal feel to it – and for good reason: the Netherlands is one of the most progressive countries in the world. In 2001 they became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage, biking is the major form of transportation for locals, marijuana, prostitution, and even euthenasia are legal.
The “coffee shops” of Amsterdam are a unique experience. Pot is legal to purchase (in small quantities) and to smoke (with some restrictions). The shops where pot is sold are called coffee shops, and they’re located throughout the city. Each has it’s own vibe and product selection, and most have a lounge area (indoors, outdoors, or both) to hang out and enjoy the product. There’s no stigma at all… smoking a joint isn’t much different than buying a glass of wine.
Amsterdam isn’t just sex, drugs, and rock and roll however. It’s also the home of a few of the world’s great art museums as well as the Anne Frank House.
It’s a small and beautiful city: Amsterdam is really beautiful. The canals are unlike anything in the United States, the architecture is unique, and just walking around the city is a lovely experience. I personally enjoyed the wide variety of street art on nearly every other block. As a smaller city (about 2.3 million people in the metropolitan area, a little lower than St. Louis), the city is manageable to get around and without the congestion of larger cities.
What to Do
If you were to visit Amsterdam for just a couple days, here are the sights I’d recommend:
Canal Boat Tour: This is the best way to experience the canals of Amsterdam. More than a dozen companies operate tours throughout the city and give you a unique view of the canals and the city architecture. Highly recommended for any first-time visitor.
Coffee Shops: There are more than 200 cannibis shops in Amsterdam, called Coffee Shops. Advertising is not permitted, so the best way to get information on these is to check one of the online guides that list and describe them. The staff at the coffee shops are typically very friendly and helpful, and they often sell cannibis cookies, chocolates, etc. in addition to loose pot and supplies. They’ll happily roll one for you if you’d like.
Explore: Just take a walk or rent a bike and explore. Visit the Nine Streets area in the Jordaan neighborhood for boutiques and antique shops, the Museum Quarter for the Concertgebouw concert hall and the city’s most elegant shops, or the Jewish Quarter for the Waterlooplein flea market and Portugese Synagogue.
Anne Frank House: Tour the actual house where Anne Frank and her family hid out during WWII. This is a fascinating experience and in my opinion a “must-see”. Much of the house was left exactly as it was during the war, and being in the actual rooms where they spent years in hiding is a chilling and memorable experience. Anne’s hand-written diaries are also on display. One of the best museums I’ve ever been to. Link.
Rijksmuseum: World renowned art museum featuring the Dutch Masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc.). The museum just reopened after a 10 million dollar renovation. Link.
Van Gogh Museum: Explore the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings – more than 700 pieces in all – presented alongside works from his contemporaries for context. Link.
Red Light District: The center of prostitution in Amsterdam, many tourists visit this part of the city just to see what it’s like. The Red Light District also has higher crime rates than the rest of the city, so exercise caution. Info.
Where to Stay
There are many great options to consider when it comes to hotels in Amsterdam. Here are my picks for a few luxury and boutique hotels:
Luxury: One of my recommendations for a luxury hotel in Amsterdam would be the Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht, a design hotel from Hyatt, featuring a contemporary, cutting-edge style. Another great pick would be the Sofitel Legend, with modern design, pop art, and rock and roll photography in a classic, historic building. Both are five-star hotels that any experienced traveler would enjoy.
Boutique: There are lots of small boutique hotels in Amsterdam. My favorites are the Canal House and The Dylan. With only 23 and 39 rooms respectively, these hotels have a character all their own. I stayed at the Canal House during my visit to Amsterdam and loved the eclectic style and location.
You can read about my blog posts from my visit to Amsterdam and see more of my photos here.
Are you ready to plan a trip to Amsterdam? Email me and let's plan a time to talk.