Hands down, Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities so I jumped at the chance to visit it again last week. The weather was absolutely perfect when we visited–which is always a treat–but I promise you can have fun in Amsterdam any time of year. Rain or shine.
Bicycles. Amsterdam is one of the most bike-able cities ever designed. Cyclists have their own lanes, their own stoplights and their own traffic rules. Both cars and pedestrians yield to bicycles, making two wheels the best way to get around town.
I did not rent a bicycle the first time I visited Amsterdam and that was a big mistake! You can see so much more when you are cruising around on a bike. Since the city is at sea-level, it is very flat–you’ll never have to huff and puff up a hill. I even biked in heels one evening, like the Dutch girls. If you want to ease into biking, sign up for a bicycle tour.
Shopping. Amsterdam really lives up to its stereotype of being absolutely adorable, so make sure you take home a souvenir that capitalizes on the Dutch aesthetic. My favorite neighborhoods to wander around in are Grachtengordel and Jordaan–both are part of the Canal Ring. There you will find clothing stores, cheese shops and antique markets.
Skip the kitschy clogs and get an antique, hand-painted Delft tile. The glazed blue and white tiles depict scenes from typical Dutch life, such as children playing or windmills turning. We were determined to buy one for our future house (wherever that may be…) and ended up spending two hours going through the collection at Kramer Kunst & Antiek. If you are serious, the Kramer Kunst staff will show you their tile archives which is where we found our 1890’s tile with a simple anchor and rope. Apparently, it’s a rare one.
Art Museums. Art is truly the best way to understand the history of The Netherlands, given that the country was considered the center of the art world in the 17th century. I’d highly recommend reading The Last Painting of Sara de Vos or seeing “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” in preparation of an Amsterdam trip.
We visited the Rijksmuseum on this trip and the Van Gogh Museum on our last trip–both are fantastic. Choose the Rijksmuseum if you want to better understand the history, lifestyle and why they are called “Dutch Masters.” If you think that kind of art is stuffy, then visit the Van Gogh museum where you will find the most comprehensive collection of his work. Be sure to buy and print tickets to the museums ahead of time to avoid the lines!
Beer. Maybe you prefer French white wine or craft cocktails made by Brooklyn hipsters, but you cannot leave Amsterdam without trying at least one of their locally brewed beers. And by local I do not mean Heineken or Amstel. The Dutch are known especially for their pale ales and drinking beer is part of understanding the culture.
If you go to one brewery, make it Brouwerij’t IJ. The family-friendly brewery is housed in one of the last remaining windmills in Amsterdam’s city limits. Here you will find close to 50 different locally-brewed beers, as well as a nice selection of goudas and sausage. They also offer 30-minute tours of the brewery. (If you need a more substantial meal, check out the laid-back cafe next door: Langendijk. We had a brunch there and could have easily returned for dinner.)
People watching. Or rather, boat watching. Post up at a sunny, canal-side cafe for a couple of hours and watch the people float by in boats. Some of the boats are big and touristy, some are antique and elegant. We saw people having a four-course dinner with champagne on one and teenagers bouncing to a silent disco on another. You can gawk as much as you want because the boat will be gone in a matter of seconds.
Some of my favorite moments from our weekend in Amsterdam were the unplanned ones: Making friends with locals at a pub, having a late afternoon pizza on the sidewalk and discovering a tulip bulb market by accident. So, I’d highly recommend grabbing a bicycle and getting lost in this charming city.