“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” It’s hard to find the words to describe the feeling of Amsterdam, or “the ‘Dam” as it is fondly called, but I think John Green does a pretty good job. I spent the perfect weekend in Amsterdam for my first visit. The city is more than decadence and debauchery; it has a humble and very sober quiet about it too from the history of what has happened here, and this stoic layer is woven into a picturesque tapestry which creates a remarkable backdrop for reflection and exploration on all fronts.
How to Spend the Perfect Weekend in Amsterdam
Arriving in Amsterdam
Whether you are arriving in Amsterdam by plane, train or car, you should know that the city is a hub for international travellers.
Amsterdam is well-equipped with one major airport: the Schiopol International Airport which is 11 miles (18 kilometres) from the city centre. Most major airlines fly into this airport, as do smaller European carriers. Search flights here.
I arrived from Ghent by train to the Central Train Station with very little effort and cost and made my way from the train station into the city by taxi.
Travelling by car to Amsterdam is easy enough, but you will find having a car while visiting the city may feel like a hassle. The streets are narrow, parking is difficult, and navigating the city’s many, many cyclists and pedestrians is not easy. Save up to 30% on car rentals.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
It is ideal if you can stay on a canal in Amsterdam. One of my very favourite places to stay is Canal House, a luxury boutique hotel on the canal located in the heart of the Jordaan or cultural centre of Amsterdam.
The hotel a welcome, cozy and even sexy respite from the vibe of this always-moving city. It is also centrally located with thoughtful adventures waiting for you in each direction. The Amsterdam Tulip Museum and Anne Frank House are only a short walk away, as well as many incredible boutiques and restaurants.
Canal House faces Keizersgracht (the King’s Canal). Its 23-rooms are housed in three seventeenth century merchants’ houses. Each room exudes luxury that evokes all five senses. The hardwood floors, silk wallpaper, rich velvet fabrics and opulent Biazza mosaics along with contemporary details and Dutch artwork make this the home-away-from-home you want to find for a sophisticated weekend in Amsterdam.
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My Luxury Double Room was outstanding. I pinched myself every morning opening the wall of windows facing the canal and slept by the light of the moon on my purple velvet duvet covered king-size bed. The room has a spacious bathroom with exposed bathtub, open sinks and rainforest shower. The dark wood floors and more than ample space feel luxurious.
The open, fluid first floor welcomes you from the canal-view façade into a cozy lobby with dark panelling where you are greeted by the doorman and given a welcome drink and hand towel. The front desk and bar area are just beyond this lobby area and welcome guests with signature drinks.
The palette of rich purples, coppers and deep blacks continues with a beckon to guests beyond the lobby and bar to the Great Room where breakfast is served every morning. Each window in the Great Room looks like a painting and its composition is a peek into the private garden at the back of the property.
The garden meanders with terraces for relaxing and also includes a Summer House and Garden House which are available for private hire. There is a poetic juxtaposition between the cozy darkness of the inside property and the brilliant sunshine and colour of the outside garden, there are plenty of private spots to find here for catching your breath.
What to see and do in Amsterdam
Consider that Amsterdam has many personalities when you are making your plans for your weekend in Amsterdam; match yours to the options. If you plan to see a lot of sights during your visit, it might be worth buying an Amsterdam City Card for your visit.
There are more than 70 museums in Amsterdam. So, you could spend a whole month or two exploring the museums in this city.
The Rijksmuseum houses some of the world’s most famous artwork including “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn and is one of my favourite spots to pop into for an afternoon, take time to stop and have a snack at Rijks the museum café with a Michelin star.
The Van Gogh Museum is a must, the museum is dedicated to this Dutch artist and it hosts the biggest collection of his artwork.
One of the most famous, and most visited museums in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, it is the actual building where Anne Frank wrote in her famous diary.
It is best to grab tickets to any museum you want to visit in Amsterdam before you arrive, especially during the peak visiting seasons of April through May and September through November.
To experience the culture of another kind, and very unique culture to Amsterdam, you can find yourself “clubbing.” The nightlife scene in Amsterdam is vibrant, and maybe even the best in Europe thanks to the decision to appoint a nachtburgemeester or night mayor – yes, this is a real person and appointment; and a job that is taken very seriously with the intention to protect and grow the night-time economy in Amsterdam. On the list of best clubs in Amsterdam for this year are Radion, Claire, Shelter, Club NYX and De School.
Amsterdam Coffee Shops
You learn quickly when you visit Amsterdam that a “coffee shop” doesn’t serve coffee. Visiting one of the 100 coffee shops in this city may intrigue you if you are interested in exploring the world-famous culture here. If you are simply looking for coffee, search for a “koffiehuis.”
The Red Light District
The Red Light District is part of the culture of Amsterdam and maybe something you should be sure to see once if this is intriguing to you. Casa Rosso is the most (in)famous and iconic theatre in the area and has existed since 1968. You can see an 18+ show here if that is on your list.
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Stroll the Iconic Amsterdam Canals
The canal belt in Amsterdam is a Unesco World Heritage Site. And you cannot visit Amsterdam without falling in love with the canals. The 2500 bridges with bikes lining them make for an iconic and Instagrammable photograph of this city. Explore the canals by foot, by bicycle, or by boat.
One of my very favourite things to do in Amsterdam is to cruise along the canal and then find a cozy canal-side table for a snack and people-watching in the sunshine. It is the quintessential Amsterdam afternoon activity.
Visit a Local Market
One of the most local activities you can do in Amsterdam, and any city for that matter is to visit a local market. The Albert Cuyp Market is the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands. With over 260 vendors operating six-days-a-week, selling everything from Vietnamese spring rolls to freshly made stroopwafels, you can spend many hours here for your very own, unique foodie experience.
This market has existed since 1905 and it is situated in the heart of the De Pijp district which is one of Amsterdam’s liveliest neighbourhoods with many ethnic shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars you might find worth visiting.
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Where to Eat in Amsterdam
One of my very favourite things about Amsterdam is the food experience. There are too many memorable cafes, bakeries, and restaurants to name here. In my experience, it is best to wander and happen upon something that looks delicious and pop in. Every time I’ve done this I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Notable and worth extra effort to find are:
- Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs – a four-table café that is quintessential Amsterdam and only serves pancakes.
- Bar Fisk – a sea-side ambience and a menu inspired by Tel Aviv.
- Guts & Glory – a straight-forward restaurant just off of busy Rembrandtplein that serves themed menus that you can “add some glory” to and the dishes served are exquisite.
- La Perla for delicious Neapolitan pizza.
- Waterkant for a local hang where you can try Surinamese dishes.
- Yamazato – the first Japanese restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star in 2002.
- Balthazar’s Keuken feels like you are dining in a local kitchen.
- De Kas is a dream for plant-based vegetarians, this restaurant is located in a pair of greenhouses dating back to 1926.
Where to Shop in Amsterdam
Vintage Shopping in Amsterdam
On your list of things to buy in Amsterdam has to be a few key vintage pieces. I almost needed a second suitcase returning from my trip because vintage shopping in Amsterdam is incredible. The boutiques are too numerous to name and wandering and popping in is my suggestion here too. But vintage shopping is something to be experienced in Amsterdam if this resonates with you.
Rumors Vintage & Design was one of my favourites, I found many gorgeous leather bags and a few knit dresses that I could not live without. I also loved: Marbles Vintage, Bij Ons Vintage, Vintage Jungle, and Rosa Rosas Vintage. De IJ-Hallen is a must-visit for any thriftier, it’s one of the biggest flea markets in Europe. Thrift Shop is THE shop if you are looking for high-end brands and trendy pieces.
Boutique Shopping in Amsterdam
For a day of boutique shopping put The Nine Little Streets (9 Straatjes) on your list. This quaint neighbourhood is on the edge of the canal ring of Amsterdam and dates back to the 1600s.
The Nine Little Streets is the best destination for boutique shopping in the city and consists of Reestraat, Hartenstraat, Gasthuismolensteeg, Berenstraat, Wolvenstraat, Spielgelstraat, Runstraat, Huidenstraat, and Wijde Heisteeg. These streets are surrounded by the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel canals, making for a magical walk in the city.
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Cycling in Amsterdam
I have one word to describe the best way to stay active in Amsterdam, and it is without a doubt the most popular and most associated with this city: cycling.
Whether you are a novice cruiser or a more professional kit-wearer, cycling is the sport of choice and bicycles have become part of the iconic backdrop of this very bicycle-friendly city. The most recent figures show that there are approximately 847,000 bicycles in Amsterdam which represent nearly two bicycles per household. Seventy-eight per cent of people over the age of twelve own at least one bicycle. I also found it interesting to learn that between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles are fished out of the canals each year.
In addition to cycling, Amsterdam is a walking city, and getting lost on a Fall afternoon in this city is an easy way to stay active.
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Day Trips from Amsterdam
Travelling from Amsterdam in any direction you can easily find a small town worth visiting. Put Weesp, Volendam, Muiden, Leiden and Zaanse Schans on your list if you are looking to adventure just outside of Amsterdam for the day.
Of course, every major city in Europe is easily accessible from Amsterdam by quick flight or train ride for a day or two visits just beyond the city, this is the beauty of being in Europe.
My weekend in Amsterdam was a postcard-worthy visit to a city full of personality and quietly poetic at the same time. I visited solo for this visit. But, I will be returning again soon for a romantic weekend in Amsterdam.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.