Amsterdam is hands down one of my favourite cities in Europe. Admittedly, I’ve still got a fair few cities to tick off the list. But Amsterdam is right up at the top and I already want to go back. Amsterdam is a truly beautiful city – picturesque canals lined with perfect terrace houses, quaint bridges and flowers everywhere. It’s an Instagram dream (unless it’s torrential rain but more on that later).
I hate the word ‘vibe’ but I’m not sure what other word to use. Amsterdam just has a nice ‘vibe’ – a good feel, a cracking atmosphere… you get the idea. It feels cosy and it feels relaxed and, no, I don’t think that’s because of the constant whiff of weed lingering in the streets.
Meandering around Amsterdam, I felt welcomed, safe and almost like I was in a home from home. That’s why it’s one of the best European cities for solo travellers. Without further ado, here are my top ten tips for those looking to visit Amsterdam for the first time.
As long as it’s not torrential rain, I’d highly recommend getting around Amsterdam on two wheels. In Amsterdam, there are bikes everywhere. It’s by far the most popular form of transport, with dedicated cycling lanes to make it as easy as possible.
Just be sure to rent bikes from a reputable store. If the price seems too good to be true then it probably is.
Also a word of warning for pedestrians. If you plan to wander on foot then just make sure you’re not walking in a bike lane and be aware of angry cyclists at all times. Unless you want to get knocked down – because they will knock you down. For the locals, I’d imagine it’s a similar kind of fury to when a tourist happily hops onto a London tube before everyone has got off. Infuriating.
2. OV-chip card
If you’re too lazy for cycling (no one’s judging) then get yourself an OV-chipkaart. Kinda like an oyster card, you simply load money onto the card and then you can hop on and off public transport as easy as pie.
You can pick one up from stations, newsagents and supermarkets so they’re pretty easy to find.
You can’t not visit a museum when in Amsterdam (says the woman who didn’t visit any during her stay). Unfortunately I can’t give you personal recommendations as I didn’t get around to dropping in to any of the museums. It was only a flying visit and I was staying with a friend who’d already seen and done it all.
Luckily, somebody else has already compiled a list of the best museums to visit in Amsterdam.
4. Try the local food
This is a tip I try to include in most of my travel tips. Unless the local food is truly horrendous or poses a potential threat to your health. Luckily, the local food in Amsterdam is certainly worth a try.
A particular favourite of mine is the various cheese shops scattered all over the place. Full to the brim of various flavours, some normal, some slightly questionable (prosecco flavoured cheese anyone?). The best bit? They all offer free samples. Hop from shop to shop hoovering up all the cheese testers. I challenge you to find a better way to spend an afternoon.
You also cannot leave without having one (or twelve) stroopwafels. They are these delightful sugary wafery waffly things that you can get covered in chocolate and other toppings. Dreamy. I would have taken a picture but I was too busy shovelling one into my face in the middle of a torrential downpour.
5. All the beer
If you’re a beer fan then you’ll be in your element in Amsterdam. There are tonnes of microbreweries dotted around, each offering a delightful selection of beers. Learn all about the beer brewing process and get a little tipsy in the process.
Just a heads up that most beers are served as half pints. Something about enhancing the flavour? But at least you can try multiple types without getting too hammered.
6. All the cannabis
A coffee shop isn’t like a coffee shop you find in London – or anywhere in the UK. Be sure to learn the difference between a café and a coffeehouse. The former being a spot to enjoy a nice morning coffee, the latter being a place to buy and smoke weed. Easy mistake to make and not ideal if you’re travelling with the family.
7. Not all about the Red Light District
We all know about the Red Light District. Don’t get me wrong, you gotta visit when you’re there. But just know that there is so much more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District. Be sure to explore the outer edges of the city and you’ll find beautiful little pockets.
One final point of advice on the Red Light District: don’t take pictures! It may be novel but there’s really no need to take pictures of nakey women. Treat the sex workers with respect and you won’t have your camera snatched out of your hands by a cop.
8. Cash isn’t accepted everywhere
This took me by surprise but many vendors are annoyingly picky about what payment is accepted. Usually cash is a pretty safe bet, but not in Amsterdam! Some places don’t accept cash at all and they can also be quite specific about the types of cards accepted. So always best to check before you order, to avoid any tricky situations.
9. Bring an umbrella
So I was probably just unlucky but I have it on good authority that it does rain quite a lot in Amsterdam. For us, it rained about 90% of the time we were there. And it really does rain. It can happen very suddenly. So be safe and carry an umbrella with you everywhere.
10. Watch out for pickpockets
This applies to pretty much any city in the world but it’s worth mentioning. Be wary of pesky pickpockets who are out to pilfer from distracted tourists. Think about the bag you take and make sure it’s always zipped up and not unattended. Just call me mum.
There you have it, my top ten tips. Amsterdam is a truly wonderful place and I implore you to visit at your earliest convenience. Be careful though, because you might not want to return home.