By Kelly Grigg

Fresh out of college, I took my first trip to Europe and stopped in Amsterdam, not knowing what to expect other than the obvious. Amsterdam has somewhat of a… reputation. It’s impossible to hear the name and not think of certain things. 

However, I was utterly blown away by the city’s beauty and diversity of attractions. Qualities surprisingly left out when friends spoke about the city. From then on, I made it my mission to mention this when talk about Amsterdam arose. “But did you know it’s also a charming and beautiful city?” I’d say, to somewhat surprised faces.

So, no matter why you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, here’s a guide on some incredible features of this gorgeous locale! 

When To Go?

As with many European destinations, Spring might be the best time to visit Amsterdam (but it’s also the most popular). The weather starts to warm up, the famous tulips begin to bloom, and the city hosts the King’s Day festival every year on April 27. 

Summer isn’t a bad time to visit as it’s never unbearably hot. Fall is another terrific time to visit as Amsterdam has over 400,000 trees! With the colours of the leaves changing and a backdrop of Dutch Baroque architecture alongside canals, it’s simply stunning in Autumn. Night-clubbers and music lovers relish the Amsterdam Dance Event in early October. 

Winter is a budget-friendly season to visit, but it’s cold, and the canals occasionally freeze (cool!). However, there are buzzing holiday markets in December and early January and fewer tourists.

Get Your Bearings

Upon arrival, get your bearings with a guided tour. The best options in Amsterdam are:

  • A canal boat tour: Amsterdam comprises 90 tiny islands connected by canals, so a boat is a gorgeous way to see what you’re getting into! Companies like Sloep Delen rent electric boats you command yourself! Or Rederij Belle offers captained “saloon boats”, perfect for sunset cocktails.
  • A guided bicycle tour: Having more cyclists than cars (allegedly) can make travelling harrowing or invigoratingly fun, depending on your stance. Dive in like a local and see much more than on a walking tour!

What To Do?

There’s no shortage of activities in lovely Amsterdam to please almost anyone, from museum and history lovers to shopaholics to spirit or cannabis connoisseurs.

To catch the famous (for a good reason) art museums, head to Museumplein. This square houses the not-to-miss Van Gogh museum, the Stedelijk (for modern art) and the Rijksmuseum (for works by dutch masters like Rembrandt).

Shopaholics can lose hours in Amsterdam! I recommend wandering through the uber-hip boutiques and specialty stores in the Jordaan and Nine Streets neighbourhoods (where you’ll locate the Anne Frank House nearby, another must-see). 

You’ll undoubtedly read about two famous outdoor markets, Bloemenmarkt and Albert Cuyp. 

Bloemenmarkt is billed as the world’s only floating flower market. However, it’s actually built on stable ground, though it does “float” on the Singel Canal. It sadly only has a few stalls selling flowers, with the rest hawking cheaply-made souvenirs at high prices. 

However, the Albert Cuyp Market is the most extensive outdoor shopping option. Boasting many local shops, cafes, restaurants and bars, you’ll find locals and foreigners strolling through. Make sure to try some fresh-made stroopwafels here—a sweet waffle cookie. Get a steaming cup of coffee to rest your stroopwafel atop and warm the caramel filling. So yummy!

No trip to Amsterdam is complete without trying jenever (dutch style gin) cocktails. And, if space cakes ARE your thing, you’ve got to hit up the “coffee shops”. The Centrum borough, although touristy, houses the red light district in addition to many of these weed-peddling cafes. You really can’t go to Amsterdam without experiencing both!

An important note: Amsterdam’s Mayor is striving to implement a tourist cannabis cafe ban. So, if you’re going for pot purposes, stay updated and plan your trip sooner rather than later!

Some other sites to check out are:

  • Windmills – there are 8 in the city centre alone!
  • Parks – Vondelpark is the biggest and a great spot to spend a relaxing afternoon. Stop by a cheese shop for gouda and other local goodies and have a picnic there like a local!
  • De Kas – this is a farm-to-table restaurant in a garden conservatory that receives high praise (make a reservation online!).

Outside The City

During my visits to Amsterdam, I opt to spend a day venturing outward. It’s quick and easy to reach nearby towns by public transportation—two I’d highly recommend are Utrecht and Haarlem. If you have the time, it’s lovely to get out of the hustle and bustle and see what these charming towns offer.

There’s so much more to cover in this epic city than I can squeeze into this quick guide, so do your research and go with an open mind. Adventure awaits you in charming Amsterdam!