It's been almost exactly a year since I made my trip to Amsterdam, so here's my list of places to check out. You should be able to see them all at a leisurely pace over the course of a weekend.
Anne Frank House
Even as one of the main pulls of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House does not disappoint. It is very tastefully done and despite the queues to get in it is efficient and worth the wait. No trip should be without this experience. Plan to get there early in the day to try and avoid the worst of the queue or buy online. I would allow half a day to make sure you aren't rushed for time, even though in reality you will probably be in the museum little over an hour. Use the remainder of your time to wander along the canals. Check the Anne Frank House website to secure tickets online.
You need that photo right? There isn't a deep meaning to the letters, just a great opportunity for a new cover photo.
Red Light District
When you're in Amsterdam you can't ignore the red light district. We considered not going to a sex show but decided that we wanted to experience it at least. We paid by in several minute intervals and you get shown to your own booth so you can gawk in private (though look at the person watching opposite). Definitely read up before you go about the Dos and Don'ts (see this article) as there are several things that can get you in trouble - most commonly taking photos or not showing respect to the sex workers. Don't be put off going to the area as it's an experience and I feel you should go to form your own opinions about Amsterdam's red light district. Traveling is about experiencing a different culture, so don't turn a blind eye or take things on face value. And yes, it can be perfectly safe, just make sure you're clued up.
Van Gough Museum
Even if you know nothing about Art the chances are you know Van Gough. The Van Gough museum is huge with so much to see, including painting which you would never be able to identify as his. The great thing about this museum is that it explains a lot about his processes, how he worked, his life and him as a person. I loved this personal approach to exhibiting (something that was also done at the Andy Warhol exhibition at Rappongi in Tokyo, Japan). I wrote a bit about the museum in my 'Tale of Two Cities' post. I have two big tips for you:
1. Get the kids audioguide. It's simple, cheaper and takes less time. It's a bit of fun and you get a free postcard at the end.
2. Buy your tickets in the building next to the iAmsterdam sign. You will get a timed entrance to the museum and skip the long queues outside.
Pannenkoekenboot - Pancake Cruise
I stubbled across this gooden' when doing some internet research. This is such a fun way to spend a few hours, fills you up for the day and gives you a break from history and culture. It's my favourite thing to do in Amsterdam. There were well over a dozen toppings, both savoury & sweet and freshly made on the boat. Drinks are not included, but this is still a really reasonable activity at only 18,50euros for a cruise and a [big] meal out all rolled in to one... pardon the pun. It was just a shame they didn't let us loose in the ball pit. See the Pannenkoekenboot website for more info.
I really started to appreciate walking tours when I did a night tour in Rome. Since then I look for walking tours every time I go on a mini break. Far from being bori
ng and reminiscent of a lecture, you are told the stories of the city from someone who is clearly passionate to share their knowledge and answer tricky questions you may have. I definitely recommend choosing a walking tour on your first day as it helps you to get your bearings in a new city and may help you decide what you're more interested in spending your time on
New Sandemans Free Tour. I cannot recommend the company enough (they were equally great in Berlin). If you're going on the free tour free to tip a little at the end, or not at all - the tour isn't a sales pitch I promise and if you have no money the tour guide love you all the same. As a guideline, I think we tipped 5-10 euros per person - our guides have always been so deserving.
North of the River
I thoroughly recommend getting North of the river to the edgy Noord area. Since industry has shifted out the old warehouses and containers are now artsy galleries, studios, restaurants and bars. There are great eating options here and it's definitely where the cool kids of Amsterdam hang out. Get the ferry that leave every few minutes - look for the directions to 'Noord' at the Amsterdam Central Station. The last ferry is around midnight, but check when you board.
If you're blessed with sunny weather, follow the crowds to Vondelpark and loll around until you're ready to hit the canals again. The people watching here is top notch.
- You can secure very cheap flights to Amsterdam from London, often for under £100. Reportedly there are frequently very cheap deals from Scotland.
- We stayed at the Flying Pig Downtown a very efficient hostel which I thoroughly recommend. The location is great for access to the train station, ferry to the North, an easy walk to the red light district and right in the shopping area. Hostels tend to be more expensive in Amsterdam than other areas of Europe, but flights are often cheaper and costs when you get there can be very reasonable, so in my eyes it all evens out.
- Amsterdam is a very easy city to walk on foot, and the beautiful views certainly help. Cycling is also a very popular way to get across the city.