I love Amsterdam. It took me all of a day to want to move to the city immediately and never want to leave. Amsterdam is all about traditional European charm mixed with modern mannerisms. Mix up all things nice and naughty and you’ve got yourself a delicious cocktail that will ensnare your senses, capture your mind and enchant you so much that you feel you ARE the city, and the city is you.
Which is not surprising, since Rene Descartes’s famous words – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – have been adapted into the famous sign in Museumstraat – IAMsterdam!
The word ‘Amsterdam’ evokes images of tulips, the Red Light District, coffeeshops, windmills, canals and bicycles. But outside of the obvious fun element, there is PLENTY to explore and discover! There are such little gems hidden all over this country, but sometimes, we end up skipping out on them because, you know, TIME! I’m guilty of doing it too, and I think next time, I’m going to simply add a few more days to my trips, with NO plan, because you never know what you might find!
I spent 5 days in the Netherlands, and I already know I’m headed back there soon enough, because even 5 days was not enough for me to experience and delight in everything the country has to offer. But since I am a compulsive researcher and planner, I’ve put together SO MUCH, some of which I did manage to cover during my trip, and some which I’ve saved for next time 🙂 Read on for crafting your PERFECT trip to the Netherlands, no matter how short or long. There’s something for everyone!
3 Days – Amsterdam
4 Days – Amsterdam + Rotterdam
5 Days – Amsterdam + Rotterdam + Giethoorn
6 Days – Amsterdam + Rotterdam + Giethoorn + Den Haag + Madurodam
7 Days – Amsterdam + Rotterdam + Giethoorn + Den Haag + Madurodam + Utrecht
Like I mentioned, there’s PLENTY of fun to be had in Amsterdam, as well as plenty of history and culture to catch up on. Here’s what I think you absolutely MUST cover, if you only have 3 days in this lovely city!
Free Walking Tour
This is a great way to acquaint yourself with the layout and background of a city. And once you know the general layout, you can always come back too where you really want to go! There are so many tour operators who organise daily walking tours, and the guides are really well acquainted with the history of the city. not just that, they are super friendly and are always ready to help with the best places for local nosh, local tips and suggestions, itinerary planning, you name it. I have been on walking tours with Sandemans more than once, and I find the guides to be really engaging, friendly, and helpful.
The signature waterways running through the city pass by some beautiful bridges and buildings. The audio-guided tour tells you stories of Amsterdam and how it came to be what it is, why the canals were so important to the city, how the city got its name, along with a lot of other interesting tidbits, such as why the houses are built the way they are, the smallest house in the city and some important landmarks as well. My advice: Go during sunset, so you can see shots of orange streaking the sky as the sun sinks into the horizon, and at the same time, the city gets lit up. It’s really mesmerising!
Anne Frank House
This one is worth a visit. We’ve all heard of Anne Frank, we’ve read her diary, we know what she and her family were put through at a time when being a Jew was considered a crime. This is your opportunity to actually see what they lived through. You will walk through the very house Anne lived in. you will see the chambers where her family was hiding. You will experience her thoughts, her words, her life through the words of those close to her. It brings the entire story to life. I strongly recommend booking your tickets online, else you’ll find yourself waiting in line for hours. It ran for about 500 m, I’m not even kidding. And if you have just 3 days in Amsterdam, you do not want to spend so much of it standing in a line.
Here’s where you’ll find the art and cultural history of Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum was named among the top 100 Dutch heritage sights with good reason. It’s a good way to acquaint yourself with the cultural heritage of the country, and can easily take up half a day, depending on how much of an art buff you actually are. Again, book online!
Van Gogh Museum
This one is for serious art buffs. The good thing about the museums in Amsterdam is that they actually open pretty early (9:00 AM), so if you get there around 9, you can beat the crowd, wind up quickly and get lots more in your day!
Red Light District
Of course. How can you not? 😀 This one is best visited during the evening, which is when it actually comes alive. It is actually lit up all in red, and you’ll see what the hype is all about. Prostitution is a legal profession here, complete with medical benefits, insurance, and everything a regular employee is entitled to. Try to talk to the women, if you get a chance, but please don’t click them! Your camera will get taken away and you won’t get it back! You can also check out the Erotic museum here, and the peepshow, if you want to experience something like this once in your life.
De Negen Straatjes
Or the Nine Streets. These small streets are peppered with little shops, and you’ll find some great shops to pick up fries, with generous helpings of any sauce of your choice (I liked the sweet and spicy mayonnaise). If you’re cool with having beef, try the special sauce, which is a heavy mix of onions, beef and sauce. Nom!
Gouda is a MUST try! Try Kaaskamer at De Negen Straatjes, Henri Willig Cheese Company, or the Amsterdam Cheese Co. for some delicious cheese! There are so many different types of Gouda, all aged differently, that you might find yourself at a loss. I picked up baby Gouda from Henri Willig and a 36-month aged Gouda from the Amsterdam Cheese Co. You can sample the cheese before buying, so try the exotic ones as well before making your decision.
This is a MAD place! It is exactly what the name suggests, a giant hall filled with SO MANY food options, you can go absolutely crazy picking and choosing from endless varieties of food, drink and dessert. PS: Try the waffle cone ice cream sundaes. Sugar high!
It’s a beautiful park, and it’s really, really big. There’s an open air theatre here, so try going during daylight hours, when there may be something up! You can take a bike and ride through the park as well.
The windmill city. This is slightly outside of Amsterdam and you might want to devote an entire day to go explore the windmill village. Take your time to explore the windmills, climb up and take in the panorama, stroll around the village and visit the museums, pick up some handicrafts and souvenirs. Personally, I didn’t visit, because I went to Rotterdam instead, where the old windmills installed during the medieval era are still maintained. So beautiful!
Goes without saying, if you’re in Amsterdam, you might want to pick up a muffin *wink wink*. You could try these – Greenhouse, Grey Area Coffeeshop, Dampkring (if you want to go where the crew of Oceans 12 went). That being said, there are coffeeshops in every nook and cranny, and more in the Red Light Area, so you can take your pick!
Bikes and Amsterdam go hand-in-hand, so it’s a good idea to rent a bike and ride around the city as well!
Tip: Amsterdam is very, very safe. you can stay out as long as you want, in whatever drunken state. You can roam the streets without fear of getting your pocket picked. But do, DO keep an eye out for cyclists! Get in their way, and you they WILL run you over!
Where to Stay:We stayed at The Flying Pig Uptown. Bollywood buffs – you might recognise this to be quite similar to the one Rani stayed at in Queen, but I couldn’t verify that. Can anyone confirm that for me? The hostel is clean, staff is super friendly, they have tons of activities in the evening, including a pool table. The breakfast spread is great too, so that’s a plus! This one is located walking distance from the museums, so it’s pretty good. You could also check out The Flying Pig Downtown, which is closer to the station and the party areas, so it all depends on where you want to spend your time! Having said that, nothing is ‘far’ in Amsterdam, which is also pretty well connected by the tram network, so you won’t have trouble getting from one place to another
If you’re going during the spring season, make a day trip out to Keukenhof for the world-famous tulip festival! Over 7 million bulbs of over 800 types of tulips, laid out ever so artistically over beautifully manicured landscapes, this one will leave you wanting to drown among the flowers (I came out wanting to BE a tulip).
It’s super easy to get there. I bought a Combo ticket from the official website (www.keukenhof.nl/en), which allowed me to take a bus till Schiphol, change buses and take the dedicated Keukenhof bus line, which basically leaves every 20-odd minutes. You’ll find this stop near the giant orange tulip sculpture, you can’t miss it!
Leave an entire day for this place, because I assure you, once you get there, you will not want to leave. You will want to click THOUSANDS of pictures, pose with the flowers, play hide-and-seek, learn the name of each tulip, run around the trees in typical Bollywood fashion (ah, I wish), grab an ice-cream cone and sit on the grass, just watching the world go by. It is a RIOT of colours, and the perfect recipe for happiness!
For more on the Netherlands, check out my other posts!