Sure, some tourists go to Amsterdam to party. But people who really know and love the Netherlands’ capital come for the culture. It’s a vibrant, heritage-rich city with photogenic canals, an extraordinary roster of museums and many charming boutique hotels as well as an ever-evolving restaurant and cocktail scene that just keeps getting more exciting with each passing year. Amsterdam also has deep roots. Whether it’s strolling along the cobbled lanes and marveling at the slanted gabled houses, admiring priceless masterpieces or visiting monuments that pay tribute to the difficult truths of the past, you certainly don’t have to look far to get immersed in history.
While a weekend is hardly enough time to dive in deep, it will give you a glimpse into the treasures of Holland’s hero tourism destination. Before diving into my personal recommendations, it’s probably best to set expectations of what sort of guide you’re about to read — and that’s one aimed at highlighting the rich tapestry of Amsterdam. To that end, I’m going to do something that might be controversial…and that’s to omit “coffee shops.” At this point, cannabis is legal in many major cities and no longer possesses the same forbidden sort of appeal. This article also won’t include the Red Light District and its seedier aspects. It’s not something the vast majority of locals endorse and, frankly, isn’t reflective of the true culture of this action-packed yet relaxed city.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend weeks exploring Amsterdam and not even begin to scratch the surface. Then again, well-priced direct flights from the U.S. and the breadth of tourism offerings make it a pretty epic weekend getaway. A few days means picking and choosing between the litany of sights, eateries, bars and activities. Viel glück.
How to Get There
Amsterdam is a travel hub, thus most major airlines and smaller regional carriers fly into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Direct flights from the states are frequent and it’s often possible to snag a deal. The Dutch capital also welcomes visitors from other parts of the Netherlands and around Europe through its central train station.
Where to Stay
An upscale choice on Prinsengracht canal, Pulitzer Amsterdam encapsulates the most enrapturing parts of the Dutch capital. The refined, five-star hotel occupies 25 restored houses dating back to the 17th century and has a very grown-up atmosphere. Though, as I was recently delighted to learn, it’s also quite family-friendly. Spacious rooms and suites marry jewel tones, antiques and contemporary furnishings for a timeless aesthetic.
The Hoxton, Amsterdam is a vibrant canalside charmer with endearing quirks that inject retro charm and a convivial vibe. This was my second time staying at the property and I fell even more in love. The ground-floor lounge hosts caffeine-fueled digital nomads during the day and a mix of locals and out owners in the evening. The entire hotel exudes a really good energy that’s palpable every time you enter. Even with all the excitement happening downstairs, the bedrooms are still quiet and cozy.
A few doors down, the family-run Ambassade Hotel attracts guests with its intimate ambiance, colorful interiors and on-site art gallery. In-the-know travelers fawn over The Dylan, an independent boutique hotel set inside a historic theater with stylish rooms, a tranquil garden and an overarching sense of luxury. Some have gone as far as to call it the best-kept secret in Amsterdam accommodations. Under-the-radar status aside, it’s just a really lovely place to stay.
What to Do
Amsterdam is filled with fascinating cultural institutions. First timers will likely want to hit big-name sites like the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum. It’s best to book tickets in advance for all of them.
Once you’ve ticked the “must-see” stuff off the list — or, if you’d rather skip to the less-frequented attractions right off the bat — check out Museum Van Loon, a grand old house with period furnishings and paintings and Eye Filmmuseum. Art lovers interested in a change of pace from viewing old-world masterpieces, should consider Moco Museum, STRAAT Museum and Nxt Museum.
Because so much of the city’s charm ties back to the postcard-worthy canals, a cruise along the waterways is one of the most pleasurable pursuits. Topping the list of the most beautiful vessels, the classic salon boat “Tourist” dates back to 1909, features original details such as brass metalwork and artful wood carvings and has hosted many famous figures over the years. Winston Churchill even took a ride in May 1946. The captains are super knowledgeable. And because it’s a private vessel, you can tailor everything to your interests.
If less structured vacations are more your speed, lean into that and just wander around the distinct neighborhoods, from leafy Plantage and Westerpark to eclectic De Pijp and the more industrial Amsterdam Noord. One of the most charming pockets of Jordaan — and, truly, the entire city — De 9 Straatjes is a cluster of streets with indie boutiques, vintage shops and cute cafés. 360volt stocks an impressive assortment of refurbished lamps, pendant lights, wall fixtures and special lighting objects. There’s a really adorable children’s store called Gray Label that’s all about minimalism, ethical construction and organic fabrics. The racks at Velour Amsterdam are filled with an expertly curated assortment of local and international brands for men and women. I bought a bunch of sheet masks to combat post-flight dehydrated skin at Laboratory K. (On a complexion-related note, the facials at Skin Wise will erase any signs of jetlag and leave you looking positively glowy.) The premier area for window shopping or a splurge purchase, Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, near Museumplein, is a hub of luxury designer stores like Prada, Chanel and Dior.
Where to Eat and Drink
Amsterdam deserves ample credit for its culinary prowess. It’s just as exciting a city to savor as to sip, though, the spotlight seems to shine brighter on the latter for whatever reason. On the food front, let’s start with a guaranteed crowd pleaser: Dutch potatoes. Fabel Friet typically has a line, but it’s worth standing in the queue for the crispy, golden fries smothered in homemade sauces — most notably truffle mayo and curry ketchup. Next door, Banketbakkerij Het Koekemannetje bakes the most delicious cookies from scratch everyday. There are dozens of well-reviewed pancake eateries across the city, including Pancakehouse Upstairs, The Pancake Bakery and The Happy Pig Pancake Shop. Winkel 43 and Café Papeneiland continue to duke it out for the bragging rights of the best authentic Dutch apple pie. Basically, the only reason to venture to the Red Light District? The herring from Amsterdamsche Vischhandel.
The cafe culture in Amsterdam is simultaneously chill and lively. Black Gold, Coffee & Coconuts and Hummingbird are a few of the many deservedly popular spots for coffee. Patrons squeeze into Chun Café for matcha lattes, cinnamon buns and giant garlic shrimp egg toast sandwiches.
I’ve been to Restaurant De Kas on three occasions and enjoyed an entirely different tasting menu on each visit. The brilliance of the farm-to-fork concept, light-drenched greenhouse setting and excellent wine selection remains a constant. The cozy environs and seasonal small plates earn Gertrude Rest. & Bar my vote for a date night or low-key dinner with a pal. Pulitzer Amsterdam isn’t just a fantastic hotel, it’s a superb destination for eating and drinking. Inspired by a craftsman with a penchant for fine food, the elegant restaurant, Jansz, serves modern takes on Dutch cuisine with subtle international influences. Suspender-clad bartenders at Pulitzer Bar craft classic and creative cocktails. On the topic of tipples, Rosalia’s Menagerie and the speakeasy-style Door 74 never disappoint. The raft of natural wine bars that also offer great food continues to grow with buzzy botlholes such as Bambino, Bar Centraal and GlouGlou grabbing the attention of younger vino drinkers.
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