Amsterdam features on the bucket list of travelers from across the globe. More than 18 million tourists visit the city each year, ranging from weekend tourists to tulip chasers, and those who want to experience Dutch culture. The city has fantastic infrastructure and is extremely tourist-friendly but it is also grappling with an explosion of tourism. We have listed our top travel tips that have been vetted by the locals to help you navigate the city for the first time. Read these Amsterdam travel tips to travel cheaper, explore better, and enjoy your time in the city (away from the tourist traps).
Starting with the essentials, here's what you must know before getting to Amsterdam.
Best Time To Visit Amsterdam
April to May
Spring, from April to May, is hands down the best time to visit Amsterdam. The weather is perfect and it is the Tulip season! September to November is also a great time to visit Amsterdam as the weather is idyllic, especially to explore the canals and countryside and you have fewer tourists to contend with. Summer from June to August is always a fun time in Amsterdam with music concerts and summer festivals. In winter, the city gets cold and dreary but airfares are cheap and you will have very few tourists, leaving ample time to explore the city’s museums and indoor attractions.
Amsterdam Travel Tips 101 - A First Timer's Holy Grail
Below are the tips and hacks you're here for. Read on and thank me later!
#1 Tulips Bloom only in April and May
Almost every stock photograph of Amsterdam will feature tulips or a windmill, but you must know that tulips bloom for a short period in spring from mid-March to mid-May. This is undoubtedly the peak season as people flock in from different parts of the world to witness the tulips blooming in their colourful glory, so plan your trip in advance if you're keen on viewing a tulip clad Amsterdam. The best place to view these flowers in all their glory is the Keukenhof Gardens, about 40KM away from Amsterdam. A group tour is a convenient and cheap way to get straight to the gardens and back. After a visit to the gardens, you can rent a bike and explore the nearby flower fields or take a boat ride through the canals.
Here's all you need to know before planning to trip from Amsterdam to the Keukenhof Tulips Gardens.
#2 Cruise the canals, but don’t caper along!
The canals of Amsterdam date back to the 17th century when the swampland was drained to create a new urban area inside the boundaries of the Singelgracht. The entire canal area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a picturesque urban landscape. An enjoyable way to explore is by taking a canal cruise and you can upgrade it with a meal experience. However, be careful even as you are on the boat, and keep your belongings handy it’s tough to find lost objects! Also, avoid walking along the canals at nights, especially if you're slightly tipsy!
Read more about the most popular Amsterdam Canal Cruises, their prices, tips on choosing the best and deals you can't find elsewhere.
#3 Go further from the Centrum for cheaper and authentic stays
The Centrum or the central area of Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in the city. But, it is also the most touristy and if you want to get a taste of how the locals live you need to move further away from the Ring. Some of the good areas to find a place to stay in are Noord, West (Bos en Lomer, Oud West, Westerpark, De Barrsjes), Zuid (Museum Quarter, De Pijp, Oud-Zuid, Zuidas), Oost, Zuidoost, Diemen, Amstelveen, and Bijmar.
#4 Stroll by the local market for sights and scents
For a sumptuous taste of traditional Amsterdam, the local markets of the city are like open air museums. The Singel flower market (Bloemenmarkt) is a year-round flower market that is an explosion of colors selling tulips in spring and Christmas fairs in winter. The Albert Cuypmarket is the largest outdoor market and the place to get a bite and free music. Waterlooplein, Noordermarkt flea market, and Sunday Market Westergas are some of the other markets where you can take a tour and enjoy the atmosphere. Make sure you squeeze in a visit to atleast one local market during your stay.
#5 Cycle ONLY along the bike lane in Amsterdam
Renting a cycle or participating in a cycle tour is a great way to explore the city and you must try it atleast once on your trip. In fact, it's one of the most symbolic and easiest ways to explore this canal city. Stick to the bicycle lane on the right side of the road that is marked by symbols and never drive on the footpaths or the main road. Also, do not stop in the middle of the bike lane for photographs, step aside and give way to other cyclists. Locals cycle in the city quite often, so you're likely to be holding up the office-going crowd for your selfies.
#6 Cross the ring and venture into the picturesque countryside
Amsterdam has a lot to offer but if you are there for more than 24 hours head out to the countryside where you can experience the simple rural living. Here you can view windmills, meandering canals and open fields that are characteristic of Netherlands. Choose to go on a day tour to destinations like Volendam, Edam, Zaanse Schans, Marken, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Giethoorn. Group tours from Headout are cheap, they help plan your travel, is always inclusive of coach transfers and ensure your day is packed with things to do.
#7 Keep your summer evenings free for concerts and events
Summer is the best time to be in Amsterdam for travelers who love to let their hair down and enjoy a night out. There are almost 200 events happening any given weekend. Some of the biggest summer events are Kwaku Summer Festival, Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, ARTIS Summer nights, and Pride Amsterdam. Urban beaches open up for swimming in areas like Sloterplas and Amsterdam Bos, and rooftop terraces turn into party venues.
#8 Head to a Coffee shop for an espresso and not a Coffeeshop
Little does a space make a difference in a word as much as it does with Coffeeshop and Coffee Shop! A coffee shop in Amsterdam is a regular cafe that serves beverages and snacks. A Coffeeshop is where you can purchase marijuana and related products. Be aware especially if you are traveling with kids, before entering the store. Never buy more than 5 gms at a time and ask questions if you are unsure! Only a coffeeshop is allowed to sell cannabis products, so do not buy edibles from souvenir shops as they may not be the real deal.
#9 Be prepared for emergencies and stay protected with travel insurance
Emergencies can happen anytime, from a marijuana trip gone wrong to a bicycle accident, best way is to get travel insurance so you are covered from shelling out for expensive hospital treatment. The emergency number to remember in Amsterdam is 112, to reach the police, fire and ambulance. The city has an emergency doctor service available and you can call 088 003 0600 to reach a doctor 24x7. You can call 0900 8844 for non-emergency police enquiries like reporting theft etc.
#10 Balance out your card and cash depending on your sightseeing day
Transaction costs and currency conversion charges are standard across Europe. In Amsterdam, if you are using a credit card or withdrawing cash from an ATM you will need a card with a four-digit PIN, as a five or six digit PIN will not work. Also, if you are eating street food or shopping in local markets, its best to carry small coins and notes. The best way to cover attractions expenses is by buying city passes like the I Amsterdam Card, or buying combo tickets that give you access to multiple attractions with a single purchase. Even better, buying your Amsterdam sightseeing tickets online beforehand will negate the need to carry handy cash at all times.
#11 Use Able Amsterdam for Wheelchair Friendly Attractions
Amsterdam with its canals and busy cyclists feels like an active buzzing place and while it is, it is also tuned in to those with mobility issues. Able Amsterdam has a wonderful resource of wheelchair friendly attractions and things to do including in the city. There is also a list of restaurants, cafes, gyms and public spaces, and a city map that shows the routes that are all accessible by wheelchair.
#12 Always, always carry an umbrella
Amsterdam weather is quite unpredictable and gets on an average 200 days of rain in year which means the chances of you getting caught in the rain are pretty high. Regardless of what the weather app says, keep a raincoat or umbrella handy against the elements!
#13 It never hurts to say Dank je wel
Most Dutch and locals in Amsterdam speak English well and you won’t have a problem communicating in general, unlike other European cities. But, even the locals appreciate you putting in a bit of effort with their language and it is good to learn a few phrases and words. Try this when you are in Amsterdam – Dank je wel (Thank you), Alstublieft (Please), Tot Zeins (Goodbye), Goedmorgen (Good Morning), Ja and Nee (Yes and No), Kaartje (Ticket), and Hoveel Kost Deze (How much is this?).
#14 Know the Red Light District etiquettes
Historically and even today, the Red Light District in Amsterdam runs brothels where sex workers can safely conduct their business but mass tourism has turned it into a voyeuristic tourist attraction. You should definitely visit it to experience a side of Amsterdam but don’t go with guided tours as they are banned. Don’t take photographs of the women in the windows, and certainly don’t deal with street vendors for anything. Behave like you would in any other neighborhood in the city!
#15 Go beyond the magnets and collect interesting souvenirs
Amsterdam is full of interesting things to buy as souvenirs for friends back home. You can choose from a variety of edibles like Dutch cheese, alcohol, unique Dutch licorice or candy like pepernoten, hagelslag, and muisjes. Don’t miss out on buying wooden clogs from Zaanse Schans, or blue and white pottery from Delft. Bicycle covers, cookie moulds, funky crockery and designer wear are some of the good quality items you can buy in the markets in Amsterdam.
#16 Tipping is optional so keep the calculators in
Amsterdam has a good living wage even for restaurant workers, which is why unlike USA tipping is not mandatory. If you are eating out in a fancy restaurant you can tip up to 10% if you are exceptionally happy with the service. But do remember that customer service here does not mean waiting on you hand and foot, it is more relaxed and organized to assist you rather than pamper you. You don’t need to tip in bars or cafes; at the most you can round it off to the nearest zero.
#17 Amsterdam locks down early so plan for your midnight munchies
Amsterdam is known for its nightlife but its mainstream restaurants and cafes close down by 10 PM for dinner orders. Even most supermarkets close by 9 PM – 10 PM and all you have left are the snack bars in the centre of the town that open 24x7. If you are planning for a late night out, it’s best to keep snacks handy back at your accommodation unless you plan on going hungry! In summer, ensure you have reservations at top restaurants because everything is booked out.
#18 Keep your passport on you and valuables locked away
Tourists are required to keep their passports on them at all times during their stay in Amsterdam. Make sure you carry a strap on pouch that will hold all your valuables, however just stick to carrying minimum cash, one card and a form of ID. Crime rate is quite low but pickpocketing is common in tourist areas, especially Red Light District and Centraal. You can also store your luggage in storage lockers in Central Station and Schiphol Airport with prices starting from €7 for 24 hours.
#19 Design rules in Amsterdam, pick a hostel or hotel for a unique stay
Amsterdam is a hip city that thrives on good design, even hostels and budget hotels are designed aesthetically and fit right into the cool vibe of the city. These hostels & hotels are theme-oriented and are even cheaper than homestays. Some of the best hostels in Amsterdam are Ecomama, Cocomama, ClinkNoord, Hostel Van Gogh, and Lucky Lake Hostel. The most unique hotels in Amsterdam are Qbic Hotel, Hotel Not Hotel, Volkshotel, Lloyd Hotel, and Amstel Botel.
#20 Don’t be fooled into buying tulip bulbs in spring and other scams
Tulip bulbs will bloom in spring only if they are planted in autumn. You will not find healthy bulbs in any other season in Amsterdam and you are likely being cheated! Also, if you stay in USA or Canada, make sure your tulips are certified else they will be thrown out at the airport. Other scams to look out for in Amsterdam are – There are no free canal cruises, be sure you go with a well-known canal cruise tour, never buy weed from street vendors and rent bikes from proper shops and not from guys just standing outside your hotel (He might be a bike thief!)
Tips For Saving Money On Transportation In Amsterdam
- Amsterdam is considered as the bike capital of the world and you will find cycles or ‘fiets’ everywhere in the city. You can rent a cycle for about €7 for a couple of hours or €9.50 for 24 hours at most bike rentals; however it gets cheaper renting for multiple days.
- The I Amsterdam Card is perfect for sightseeing because it also includes free transport (bus, tram and metro) for the duration of the card. You can choose from five variants of the card – 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, 96 hours and 120 hours.
- If you choose to travel by public transport you will have to buy a ticket or use the transport card. Make sure you validate both; in case of the card tap it on the reader in the transport. If you fail to do so and are checked you will be fined, leading to unnecessary fines!
- The best way to reach from Schiphol Airport to Central Amsterdam is by taking the train. It costs only €5.50 for a single ticket (with €1 surcharge for disposable ticket) and takes about 15-20 minutes. You can use connecting metros to other areas or get out and take the tram to your hotel.
- The train network in Amsterdam is efficient and cheap compared to any other mode of transport. It is ideal even to get around to nearby cities and suburbs like Haarlem, Utrecht and Leiden.
- Group tours are a convenient way to go on day trips outside of Amsterdam. These group tours plan your travel and ensure your transport costs are shared, and you have a comfortable ride in an AC vehicle. Headout has several group tours to Volendam, Zaanse Schans, Giethoorn and Rotterdam.
- Hiring a car is an enjoyable way to explore most of Europe but when exploring Amsterdam give the rental car a miss and take the public transport. You will save money plus you can use bikes to navigate the narrow canal roads and take walks to fully enjoy the shifting landscape of Netherlands.
Tips For Saving Money On Eating In Amsterdam
- Street food is the savior of backpackers across the world and it’s no different in Amsterdam. You will find street vendors and food trucks with Dutch favourites like Stroop waffles, Herring, Frites, Bitterballen, Leidse Kaas and Poffjertes.
- ‘Dagschotel’ is what the dish of the day is featured as on most menus in Amsterdam’s restaurants. It is the cheapest dish on the menu served for lunch and will help you save a few euros.
- ‘Eat where the locals do’ is one of the most common travel tips you will hear anywhere in the world. The Dutch in Amsterdam spend their time in what they call ‘Bruin cafes’ or Brown cafes, which are warm and comfortable cafes that serve authentic and affordable food. De Wetering, In ‘t Aepjen, Papeneiland and Het Molenpad are some of the best brown cafes in Amsterdam.
- All you can eat buffets are excellent places to fill up on a wholesome meal for less than €20. Of course, these buffet restaurants do not offer Dutch cuisine and mostly offer Chinese or Asian specialties. Some of the good restaurants are Restaurant Vandaag, Shabu Shabu, Genki Garden and La Cubanita.
- Water is not cheap in Amsterdam and can run up to €2.50 at kiosks in tourist locations. You will rarely also get water freely in restaurants, which is why it’s a good idea to buy water bottles at grocery stores or bring a bottle from home and fill them up in public water outlets.
- You will notice a lot of Argentinian steakhouses in Amsterdam, especially in the tourist centre. Just remember, they are all tourist traps and they have nothing to do with the culture of the city. Instead, opt for ‘Tokos’ or restaurants that serve Surinamese and Indonesian food, cultures that came along to the city after the Indonesian revolution.
- If you are looking forward to a round of drinks before dinner, try going to a hostel. Most of the hostels serve alcohol at cheap rates and have a fun atmosphere to boot! Have a drink there and then head out to the nightclubs for a cheap night out.
- The best way to save money on food in Amsterdam continues to be buying your own groceries! Even if you don’t have the time or space to cook big meals, you can buy basic stuff to make sandwiches to save on at least a meal every day.
More Tips To Save Money In Amsterdam
- Choose hostels – Amsterdam is known for its unique and designer hostels, while they are cheaper than most star hotels they do not have a grungy backpacker vibe and are suitable for couples and groups of travelers too. AirBnbs are the next best option to save money, especially for families traveling to Amsterdam.
- Grab a city pass - The I Amsterdam Card, Holland Pass and This is Holland Access Ticket are the passes you should consider while sightseeing in the city. With canal cruises, free public transport and free access to museums like Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt, save money while exploring Amsterdam with these passes.
- Get a nightlife ticket - You should not miss out on the nightlife while in Amsterdam and cover charges can make quite a dent in your pocket. Avoid those charges by taking the Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket which costs €10 (2 days access) and €20 (7 days access) for 20 popular nightclubs including Club Escape, Air Amsterdam, Club Panama, Blue Ivy nightclub and Supperclub.
- Buy attractions tickets online in advance – Online booking for tickets works on multiple fronts. It helps you plan your trip in advance, saves time in queues and saves money by purchasing tickets with offers. Headout has several discounted tickets for Amsterdam attractions and group tours, additionally you can also avail cashback and use it for other tickets.
- Squeeze a visit to the free attractions in Amsterdam - Entry to Amsterdam’s museums is never free but there are other iconic attractions in Amsterdam that are absolutely free. Take a free ride on the GVB Amsterdam Ferry, visit the Civic Guard’s Gallery in the Amsterdam Museum, and walk into the courtyard of Begijnhof. Head to Vondelpark for open-air concerts, or take a stroll through Rijksmuseum Garden, all of these are free!
Top 10 Things To Do in Amsterdam
I'm sure you have your itinerary all sorted, but here are my top 10 favourites in Amsterdam. If any of these are missing from your itinerary, make sure you squeeze them in! There are a few recommended tours for each attraction, so if you haven't grabbed tickets as yet, now would be a great time.
Located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Museum Square, the Rijksmuseum is one of the world’s largest and most famous museums, boasting a vast collection of artworks collected from all over the world. Wander through the museum’s many galleries to take a trip through European art history.
• Rijksmuseum: Skip the Line Tickets
• Skip The Line Combo: Rijksmuseum & 1-Day Hop-on Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus
2. Amsterdam Canal Cruise
The best way to take in Amsterdam is from the water, so hop on a cruise of your choice and experience the City of Canals from the canals. From dinner cruises to sightseeing cruises and burger cruises, options are galore.
3. Red Light District
An alley of vices, clad in bright red light, raucous bars and hazy'coffeeshops' and not to forget the strip clubs,the Amsterdam Red Light district is the most happening street in town, for all the right reasons.
4. Anne Frank Walking Tour
See Amsterdam at the time of WWII through the eyes of the 15 year old Anne Frank, a walking tour that takes you from the Jewish Quarter to Anne Frank’s House, for a complete storyline of these dark days. Walk past monuments and buildings still scarred by traces of war.
• Anne Frank Walking Tour
5. Day Trip To Zaanse Schans, Edam and Volendam
Visit the idyllic town of Zaanse Schans, an open air museum that gives you a glimpse into the countryside living of Netherlands. From marveling at the windmills at Zaanse Schans to learning about local cheese in Edam and visiting the picturesque seaside village of Volendam; there's lots to do outside of Amsterdam.
6. Visit the Tulips at Keukenhof (Spring Only)
Windmills. Tulips, Cheese. Canals. Keukenhof has it all. Hop on a bus and visit the colourful town of Keukenhof where 7 million tulips bloom their best during the months of spring in Netherlands. Only visible for 8 weeks a year, make sure you don’t miss it.
7. Amsterdam Icebar
Feel the chill and the thrill at Amsterdam’s famed Ice Bar. Perfect for party-goers who wish to experience something out of the ordinary, the Ice Bar is one of the city’s best nightlife spots.
• Amsterdam Icebar with Drinks
8. Amsterdam Dungeon
The most exciting attraction of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Dungeon hosts comic yet chilling interactions that portray the darkest secrets of Netherlands. Take a seat, be amused, growl and cringe at bold acts that the competent actors pull off.
• The Amsterdam Dungeon Entrance Tickets
9. Madame Tussauds Amsterdam
Get your Instagrammable picture taken with Dua Lipa, drink a cup of coffee together with George Clooney, and lots more to do on your visit to the Madame Tussauds Amsterdam.
• Skip The Line Tickets to Madame Tussauds Amsterdam
10. The Heineken Experience
Embark on an interactive tour through the beer giant Heineken's history in its former brewery, with a tasting room finale. ‘Open Your World’ with this Heineken Experience and learn the secrets about the world-famous Pilsner brew.
• Saver Combo - Canal Cruise & Heineken Experience Direct Entry
Ready to explore Amsterdam?
Here are a few more guides that should help you plan your visit.