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View of Amsterdam's Prinsengracht flanked by row houses.

Daydream about Amsterdam in spring

Amsterdam’s charming architecture will have you roaming the city, stopping only to quench your thirst with an ice cold Heineken.

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Potted tulips line the Prinsengracht, where chalices of Heineken and Affligem sit on bistro tables with the best view of brick gabled-façade row houses across the canal. There’s a cheese shop just around the corner whose owner entices passersby with samples of the best cheeses in Europe. If all you can hear is the chiming of insistent bicycle bells, don’t worry—you’re in Amsterdam.

This little Dutch city has much more to offer than storybook wooden clogs and romantic views of windmills, although the latter are enchanting. Amsterdam’s culture, historic landmarks, and old-world architecture will have you whimsically roaming from canal street to canal street, stopping only to quench your thirst with ice cold Dutch beer.

A small metropolis with one of the best ground and water transportation systems I’ve ever encountered in Europe (behind Germany and France), Amsterdam is quite possibly the most welcoming city I’ve ever visited. It’s where my wife and I honeymooned, and the experience was endearing. The Dutch received us with their infectious smiles, hearty pub food, and charming hospitality. 

This is a judgment-free zone, filled with Instagrammable moments along cobblestone-paved alleyways and picturesque landscapes. But the best thing about this place is that there’s something for everyone.

Getting to and around Amsterdam

It took us nearly eleven hours to get to Amsterdam from Miami. But the time we spent there was well worth the long flight.

By Land

Getting to Amsterdam from within the EU can be as easy as taking a high-speed train or a quick commuter flight. Amsterdam Central Station offers many routes, making it easy to take day trips to nearby cities, too. While not the busiest, this train station also offers a number of international routes that make Amsterdam a perfect addition to a lengthy European sojourn. There’s even a three-level garage to park your bike.

The city has a vast metro, tram, bus, and ferry network to accommodate its nearly one million daily commuters. If you’re planning to spend a few days in Amsterdam, consider getting a City Card to access major attractions, museums, and transportation.  

By Water

Colloquially known as the ‘Venice of the North’ the Dutch cruise through their carefully engineered canal system quite well. In fact, this waterway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Water taxis are quite fun and a great way to get a different perspective of those iconic brick façades, but the city is small enough to enjoy sightseeing on foot.

On Bikes

Bike transportation is widely popular as well, and at times, bike paths are more congested than city streets. Images of Dutch workers rapidly peddling their bikes across dozens of bridges to get to their destination remains ingrained in my memory. They even have separate traffic signals for cyclists to follow. The locals joke that there are more bicycles in the canals than boats, which is a consequence of bicycle theft. Due to the high demand for bikes, bicycle theft is widespread. If you rent one, don’t forget to lock it up.

Weather in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s northern location makes it ideal for spring visits. Mornings are cool with warm—but not hot—sunny days. Evenings are delicious, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We traveled here in mid to late May, and enjoyed perfect weather.

Winters, however, can get so cold that the canals freeze over, making them perfect for ice skating. Because there’s little green space in the city, summers can be grudgingly hot during the day. Even so, nightly temperatures drop to the high sixties with high humidity. This summer, the region experienced the worst heat wave since 2011. I imagine that temperatures during the autumn season are just as glorious as they are in spring. However, fall is typically their rainy season, with twice as much rainfall as in the spring.

Where to stay in Amsterdam

Hotel accommodations in Amsterdam are available for all budgets. Airbnb and Vrbo have fantastic offerings right in the city center as well. 

There are a number of charming neighborhoods around the center—often referred to as the canal ring—that are within walking distance from each other.

Amsterdam’s neighborhoods

Amsterdam's many canal bridges with charming row houses in the background
Amsterdam’s many canal bridges with charming row houses in the background

Binnenstad, for instance, is in the dead center of the U-shaped ring. You’ll find the Oude Kerk, Nieuwe Kerk, and the red light district here.

Jordaan, on the north west curve of the canal ring, is more of a residential area. With close proximity to museums, markets, and cafés, you’ll feel more like a local walking about from site to site if you stay here. 

Grachtengordel-West, just east of the Prinsengracht from Jordaan, is where you’ll find loads of boutique hotels nestled within gabled townhouses. Take a stroll on Prinsengracht and you’ll be greeted by a long line of tourists waiting to take a look at how a young diarist lived as she and her family hid in a secret annex for two years during World War II. The Anne Frank House is in a seemingly romantic area—that is until you remember what happened to the family after the Nazis arrested them in 1944.

On the opposite side of Grachtengordel-West, in Amsterdam’s south east quadrant, is Amsterdam-Oost. This area might be just outside the canal ring, but it’s home to hip eateries and pubs that’ll make foodies swoon. 

Museumkwartier is probably the most visited of all Amsterdam’s neighborhoods. Home to the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the ultra modern Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, this area is a journey through the art world. Half of Vondelpark is in this neighborhood as well. You’ll find a handful of boutique hotels, modern buildings with wider streets, better car parking, and trendy bars and neighborhood restaurants. 

So many choices can be overwhelming. So to help you decide, I’ll just say that the NH Anantara Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky Amsterdam, in the thick of it all on Dam Square, is a fantastic home base. It’s where we stayed, and we enjoyed every minute. 

Dutch cuisine and libation in Amsterdam

Typical Dutch fare consists of kroketten (croquettes), bitterballen (meatballs), and potato pancakes, to name a few popular dishes. You’ll find this food offered at most pubs and bars within the canal ring. It’s a novelty, I know, but a few days of pub crawling will have you ravenous for something more elevated.

Restaurants

Thai Restaurant Bangkok on Reguliersdwarsstraat in the Grachtengordel neighborhood serves up a plethora of delicious dishes your entire entourage will enjoy. Choose from authentic Thai curries to fish cooked in chili paste. If you’re a vegetarian this eatery will leave you satiated. In fact, there are a number of fine dining options along Reguliersdwarsstraat that will have your taste buds tingling; even if “you don’t eat no meat.” This street is perfect to be on when you’re hungry after all that sightseeing. 

Lion Noir, hidden in plain site on Reguliersdwarsstraat, is the ultimate in Amsterdam fine dining. You’ll never guess what’s inside this little hideout from its nondescript housing. This French restaurant’s decor is eclectic, almost Bohemian and looks more like a delicate tea room. This is that elevated cuisine you’ll want to enjoy when you’ve had your fill of bitterballen.

Libation

Cris Ascunce at Bier Fabriek
Cris Ascunce at Bierfabriek

For a little brewed libation, make your way to Bierfabriek Amsterdam tucked away on a straat called Nes. We were coming back from a day trip to Haarlem when we quite literally bumped into this brewery. But it’s not your run of the mill beer joint. This place offers table taps, which are high top tables with a beer tap installed so you can pour your own. It’s fantastic. Enjoy blondes, ales, IPAs, pilsners, triples and porters at this brew bar. They also offer quite the charcuterie board fare to choose from. There’s plenty to eat for plant-based foodies as well. 

There are bars, pubs, and breweries all over the city center, but to up the ante on your happy hour routine, head to Bar the Tailor. Conveniently located in our hotel, the mixologists here magically turn everyday cocktails into works of art. After a long day of touristy things, the liquid offerings at Bar the Tailor really hit the spot. They not only deliver a creatively mixed drink, but watching these magicians elegantly prepare it is well worth the not-so-happy-hour price.

Things to do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam with view of a water taxi on the canal with Anne Frank's house in the background
A tourist boat goes by on the canal with Anne Frank’s Annex in the background.

Canal Ring

If you’re in Amsterdam for a cruise and only have a few hours here, the canal ring is definitely where you want to start. There’s a good dose of Amsterdam within walking distance of the city center. So if you rideshare your way in, make sure they drop you off at Dam Square.

Amsterdam Museums

I Amsterdam Sign that was displayed behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
I Amsterdam Sign that was displayed behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has plenty of museums to keep you busy if you’re an art aficionado. For a good mix of different art genres and periods in history, you should hit up the Rijksmuseum. Since it’s renovation, the museum receives more than two million visitors a year. The building itself is an architectural beauty. Designed by Pierre Cuypers, the museum has nearly 8,000 objects on display but houses more than one million pieces. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is among the works displayed. 

Van Gogh fans should consider the Van Gogh Museum. It’s right behind the Rijksmuseum, boasting a phenomenal view of it as well. This museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s artwork in the world. The museum also manages the Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience, a 3D exhibit that tours around the world, which I took my wife to see when it came to Miami’s Olympia Theater in 2021.

Experience the Best Dam Bar

The Heineken Experience is a beer-lover’s highlight in Amsterdam. I love touring breweries and wineries. There’s something about the chemistry of making these fermented beverages that piques my curiosity. How does a handful of hops become a perfect lager? This adults-only attraction is a visitor center that houses some of the oldest Heineken memorabilia.

Tour the facility on a historic beer-making journey, where you’ll get to see, touch, and taste the beer. Here you’ll also learn how this small Dutch brewery became one of the most popular beers in the world. And today, the Heineken Experience is Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attraction. At the end of the tour you’re herded into their basement bar where you can have two ice cold Heinekens. This is truly the best Dam Bar in Amsterdam. It hosts Heineken-themed interactive games and selfie stations. It’s easy to spend the entire afternoon being a kid again—but with beer.

On the water

If you’re into boats, you’re in luck. Amsterdam has tons of canal cruises you can take. We took a private wine and cheese tasting sunset canal cruise. Who knew that Dutch wine could be so good? This is a great idea, especially if you’ve never been to the area. These cruises are a great way to get a sense of what this web of canals really looks like.

Countryside

When you’re done cruising by the canal houses, walking on the cobblestone streets, and crossing over delightful bridges of the canal ring, then it’s time to visit the countryside. Probably the best thing about Amsterdam is its location. Amsterdam is nestled at the base of the Markermeer lake in North Holland. It’s not only surrounded by water. Just outside the sprawl of the city, past the suburbs of this popular tourist spot is a gorgeous countryside that enchants its visitors.

A day trip north will take you through the rolling hills of North Holland, where the windmills rule. If you go by car, you’ll see the windmills off to the west while you’re driving on the A8 expressway as you make your way to Zaandam. Stop in Zaanse Schans for a photo that will make your Instafollowers green with envy. If you happen to see The Zaansche Mill, make sure to check out their brief history on windmills.

Continue north east toward the lakeside town of Volendam to get a glimpse of laid back rural life. This charming area boasts a lovely harbor that is begging for a selfie. When you’re done sightseeing, have a leisure lunch at the De Vrienden van Ferid and devour your meal along with some sensational views.

Running Amsterdam

The relatively small diameter of this European city makes it easy to run through multiple neighborhoods in a short amount of time. In terms of area, Amsterdam reminds me of Boston’s historic center and surrounding neighborhoods. Here, starting my runs at Dam Square, I can go in any direction and have a completely different experience each time. My favorite route, however, is along the Prinsengracht south toward the Rijksmuseum and back around and in front of Central Station. I ran along every single crescent canal street and crossed most of the bridges in the ring. And I’d do it again and again.

I Amsterdam Sign that was displayed behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
A quick running selfie with the I Amsterdam Sign that is no longer at the Rijksmuseum

For me, Amsterdam isn’t really a destination. It’s not a place to take canal cruises or learn how to brew beer. No, it’s a feeling. Sort of like a runner’s high. Amsterdam is the kind of place you want to revisit because the culmination of all its attractions, its beautiful architecture, its scenic countryside, its crescent shaped canals, and its people lure you back every time. You’ll just want to be in Amsterdam.

Visit my travel page for more of my favorite places.

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