To me, Amsterdam was – and still is – full of winding canals, romantic bridges and many, many surprises. Over the five months I lived and studied in the city, I began to collect different insights, tips and tricks on how to best avoid falling into the canals. Just kidding.
Here are ten tips on how to get the best value for your money, experience the best of the city, and prep yourself to catch some of the curveballs Amsterdam may throw your way.
1. Enjoy Dutch snacks on the cheap at Albert Cuypmarket
Indulge in poffertjes – delectable miniature pancakes the size of your thumb – at the Albert Cuypmarket.
After invariably playing host to friends and family who came to visit, I soon realised that traditional Dutch food came at a heavy price in most establishments in the city. If you want them cheap (and good!), visit the Albert Cuypmarket, Amsterdam's largest and most popular street market.
Indulge in freshly baked stroopwafels (caramel-syrup-filled waffle biscuits), raw herring sandwiches (if that's your cup of fish), piping hot poffertjes (mini pancakes), bitterballen (fried meat balls), kibbeling (bite-sized pieces of fried fish)… the list goes on.
The prices in Albert Cuypmarket are amongst the lowest in Amsterdam, so have your fill without forking out!
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 9:00am - 5:00pm
Address: Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD Amsterdam, Netherlands
2. Purchase online tickets to the Anne Frank House
More often than not, the queue for the Anne Frank House can extend around the block.
If there is one thing I have learnt during my travels around Europe, it is that all top attractions share one thing in common: the queue. The Anne Frank House – a museum dedicated to WWII Holocaust diarist Anne Frank – is no exception.
Between 9:00am and 3:30pm, only visitors with online tickets can enter the Anne Frank House. Doors open to walk-in visitors after 3:30pm, but don’t be fooled – the queue actually starts forming at 2:00pm. If you’re looking to queue, expect to wait at least one hour. Having gone through it myself, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Instead, book your online ticket from the official website. Tickets are only valid for a specific day and timeslot, so please arrive on time. The Anne Frank House is strict about timing, for good reason. The museum was, after all, quite a cramped house!
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
3. Discover marvellous city views from the top floor of the Central Library
Sunset view of Amsterdam atop the Openbare Bibliotheek Library.
Why pay for panoramic views when you can have it for free? The view from the top floor of the the Openbare Bibliotheek Library near Central Station is quite literally priceless.
To get the most stunning views of Amsterdam, plan to visit during sunset.
Opening Hours: Daily, 10:00am - 10:00pm
Address: Oosterdokskade 143, 1011 DL Amsterdam
4. Go on a free walking tour through the city
Stroll through Amsterdam’s best districts on a free walking tour.
Amsterdam has a deeply intriguing past. Think fishermen determinedly trying to set up a village in the middle of marshland – and succeeding. Why read the city’s history off Wikipedia (yes, I admit I have done this) when you can truly appreciate and experience it on a free walking tour?
Your tour guide – typically an experienced volunteer who truly enjoys their work – will bring you around the city's significant landmarks and districts, tell you interesting facts and stories, throw in some personal anecdotes and give you useful recommendations on where to eat, drink and party. It is customary to leave a tip at the end of the tour to thank the guide for their effort. Occasionally, when I feel particularly moved, I leave TripAdvisor reviews.
There are plenty of free walking tours around Amsterdam – Sandemans, for instance, can always be trusted to bring you on funny, interesting and thought-provoking tours.
If you’re willing to invest a little more in understanding Amsterdam’s historical and cultural roots, you can choose from a wide selection of themed tours. These tours range from cycling tours to in-depth tours in specific districts of Amsterdam, and typically cost €15 - 20.
Personally, I would recommend visiting the Red Light District on a guided tour. Although the area is renowned for its liberal displays of the sex industry, it is by no means just a bunch of windows to gawk at. In total, I’ve been to the Red Light District about four times, but I only truly understood and appreciated Amsterdam’s history of political strife when I visited it on a guided tour. It was an eye-opening experience worth every cent.
5. Make time for daytrips outside Amsterdam
I’m not kidding. Whether it is beaches, theme parks, windmills or tulip fields, the Netherlands has it all (with the exception of mountains).
Consider purchasing the Amsterdam Region Travel Pass when travelling out of Amsterdam. Most of the time, this will be the cheaper option – but please do your own calculations beforehand just to be sure!
Take a fairytale trip to the Efteling theme park.
Efteling is something of a hidden treasure in the Netherlands, located about two hours from Amsterdam. If, like me, you're one of those travellers who make it a point to visit a theme park in every country you visit, Efteling is a must. I personally enjoyed it more than Paris Disneyland, but I could be biased.
Get there as early as you can – Efteling is so huge it is almost impossible to cover everything in one day. Believe me, I tried.
Address: Europalaan 1, Kaatsheuvel, The Netherlands
Wind down amidst Zaanse Schans’s windmills, and visit a traditional wooden clog factory while you’re at it!
If you’re a fan of windmills, Zaanse Schans is the place for you. Located about half an hour from Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is a popular tourist attraction, and for good reason.
To be totally honest, I initially thought Zaanse Schans was a tourist trap – but it turned out to be one of the coolest experiences I’d had on exchange. After all, it’s not every day I get to see windmills up close and personal.
Aim to reach Zaanse Schans before 10:00am to avoid the zombie horde of tourists.
Address: De Zaanse Schans, Schansend 7, 1509 AW Zaandam
Take a stroll down the wide expanse of the Bloemendaal ann Zee beach.
Most places in the Netherlands are dog-friendly. It was heartening to watch them frolic in the ocean.
This was a great family trip I embarked on with my mother, aunt and brother. We travelled out to Haarlem for a leisurely, traffic-free cycling excursion through the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park to the beach at Bloemendaal aan Zee.
The views of the North Sea, underscored by high-rise buildings looming in the horizon (reminiscent of the opening scene of Inception), were truly breath-taking. I was blown away, not only because of the spectacular views, but also by the really strong winds.
6. Waterproof everything, even in the summer
Amsterdam in the winter is no less beautiful – or wet – than Amsterdam in the summer.
Rain, shine, wind, hail, snow, you name it – Amsterdam has it all. Sometimes on the same day. (I can attest to this. There is nothing stranger than cycling under a raincloud by accident when the sun is still shining). A general rule-of-thumb is to always expect rain, even when the skies are blue.
In the summer, dress light but bring out a raincoat (see: rain) and a light jacket because it might get chilly at night. Leave your umbrellas at home, as strong winds in Amsterdam more often than not result in inverted umbrellas.
During spring, fall and winter, wear water-resistant coats (with hoods!) and waterproof shoes. Trudging through slush in wet shoes is Not Fun, and might also result in you meeting the ground up close and personal in a way you never expected.
7. Cycling is not the only way to get around the city
Amsterdam’s roads are well-equipped for more modes of transport than you can count on one hand.
Despite what Google might tell you, cycling is not the only mode of transport around Amsterdam.
Please avoid cycling in the city centre if you are not confident on a bicycle. Traffic can get messy, and you might have to dodge everything from trams to cars to motorbikes.
Instead, try taking public transport! The public transport system in Amsterdam is very extensive and comprises the train (which travels between cities in the Netherlands), metro, tram and bus. The metro and tram are similar in that they travel within Amsterdam; the main difference is that the metro goes under and over ground, while the tram is restricted to the roads.
There are various public transport passes you can purchase. This will save you tons of money and migraines. Hoard your coins if you decide not to get a public transport pass, because most ticket machines in Amsterdam only accept card or coins as payment.
Fun fact: There are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam.
That said, cycling around Amsterdam definitely is a wondrous adventure of its own. Have fun, cycle safe, and look out for the canals! Thankfully, I have never actually cycled into a canal. I won’t say I haven’t experienced close calls though.
8. Don’t text and walk
Keep a lookout for the bicycle lanes.
Pay attention to the roads. This applies to everything from bicycle lanes and zebra crossings to normal roads and tram tracks. Traffic in Amsterdam, especially in the city centre, can get quite crazy, as I mentioned before.
More often than not, tourists confuse bicycles lanes with pedestrian paths. I did it all the time in my first two weeks. Bicycle lanes in Amsterdam are typically a dull brick red-orange colour and can be distinguished by its transportation of bicycles, motorbikes and the occasional electric car (yes, you read that right). If a disgruntled cyclist rings their bell at you, you know you’re in the wrong lane.
Pro-tip: Always keep right and follow the correct traffic light (the one with the walking man). Keep in mind that bicycles have different traffic lights, distinguished by the bicycle symbol, and different traffic rules.
9. Coffeeshop =/= cafe
It is easy to get cafes and coffeeshops confused because both establishments tend to have similar facades.
This is an important but often overlooked distinction. All establishments displaying green-and-white signboards that say “coffeeshop” or “coffee shop” in the entrance sell cannabis (weed). Cafes sell coffee.
Use your nose if you’re unsure – the distinctive smell of weed will give you the heads-up you need.
10. Hydrate from the tap
Amsterdam’s tap water may be extremely clean, but do avoid drinking straight from the canals.
A normal bottle of water in town can sell at exorbitant prices. Bring your own bottle around and refill it when you get the chance (e.g. in restaurant toilets). Tap water in Amsterdam is very clean and definitely drinkable – I lived on it for five months.
Last but not least, the most important tip for your first (or second or third or fourth) trip to Amsterdam is to enjoy the city with an open mind and an open heart. Do I miss it? Of course. Will I return? Definitely.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, Elyse Yap.
About Elyse: Born in Singapore, Elyse studied in Amsterdam from August 2017 to December 2017 as part of her university’s exchange programme. She is a communication studies undergraduate student in Nanyang Technological University, and has just recently started dabbling in travel photography. She frequently updates @elyseyaphua on Instagram with photos of her travels.
Best Time to Visit
Summer in Amsterdam (June – August) is the peak tourist period, so prepare yourself for huge crowds and long queues. Visit Amsterdam in the April – May or September – November periods to enjoy fewer tourists and air-con weather.
Public transport in Amsterdam is one of the best in Europe. The metro, tram and bus are the main modes of local transport, and run at high frequencies of about 5 - 10 minutes.
Other cities outside Amsterdam can be easily accessed via the inter-city train from major stations like Central Station.
Amsterdam’s local currency is the Euro (EUR, €).
Please keep in mind that some shops are cashless and only accept payment by debit or credit card.
There are several flights daily from Changi Airport to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. Book your trip now.