Last Updated: May 16, 2019
If I had to pick one city that I wouldn’t mind visiting over and over again, it’d be Amsterdam. I guess it’s my Bali of Europe, albeit more expensive with slightly erratic weather.
The Dutch just seem to have it together and the capital of Holland is a testament to that; the city is eco-friendly, liberal and tolerant.
People with work-life-balance cycle almost everywhere along beautiful canals, indulge in all the art and culture that the city has to offer, and you know, just seem to be “living their best lives”.
Until the day I can afford to retire on a houseboat here, I’ll settle for return visits. Here are my tried-and-tested recommendations for a 4D3N trip to the ‘Dam:
Like Singapore, the transport system is very efficient so buses, trains and metros run pretty much on time. It’s a short train ride from the airport to the city centre and everyone speaks English, so you should have no problems.
Once in the centre though, I’d recommend walking or cycling to get to places — save the planet! That being said, you’ll need to be extra aware of your surroundings; you won’t be used to walking around with so many cyclists on the road.
If not, it might be worth getting an I amsterdam City Card, so you can enjoy unlimited public transport as well as free entry to museums and attractions and a free canal cruise (more on that later).
Once I touch down in Amsterdam, what do I want? FOOD. I love a good market and the one at Albert Cuyp has never disappointed me. The street is lined with shops selling anything from souvenirs to Dutch sweet treats.
Forget the magnets and keychains and head straight for the street food.
Hot stroopwafels and waffles slathered in chocolate, poffertjes (traditional mini Dutch pancakes), chunky chicken skewers with satay sauce… Make sure you come on an empty stomach because you’ll want to sample the lot.
Albert Cuyp Market: Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm (Mon – Sat), Closed on Sun | Website
It’s so amazing that a modern city can still look quaint and exude such a magical vibe. I think it’s the canals that do it for me, alongside all the neat rows of cute townhouses.
The best thing you can do to get a feel of the city would be to get lost and explore all the nooks and crannies.
Admire the houseboats, wave to the people sailing past and eventually you’ll somehow end up near Central (tried and tested!).
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Central when you start seeing branded shops everywhere and an increase in human traffic. Amsterdam isn’t immune to commercialism so if you like your shopping, you’ll have more than enough options.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of history, however, seek out Dam Square. The area came about in the 13th century when a dam was built around the Amstel river to prevent flooding from the Zuiderzee (sea).
Now it’s home to lots of pigeons and a National Memorial statue, built to honour the soldiers who perished in World War Two. The monument actually stores soil from all the provinces in the Netherlands as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
Dam Square: Five-minute walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station
The Dutch have also managed to take fast food to the next level – behold, fast food vending machines. That’s right folks, why wait for someone to take your order and serve you a burger? Just pop some change into a machine and get a hot meal to go.
Besides the novelty of them, these machines are a must-try when you visit because they offer a taste of Dutch fast food, which is slightly different from what you’re used to. Besides burgers, you can also get krokets (croquettes with chicken), frikandellen (minced-meat hot dog) and kaassoufflés (melted cheese inside breaded and fried dough).
There are around 22 of these vending machines scattered all over Amsterdam, and the most popular brand is FEBO.
A canal cruise is a must if you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time. I’ve been droning on about canals since the beginning, and this way, you’ll get to learn a lot more since you’ll be with a guide.
There are quite a few canal tour operators so you’ll have plenty of options and departure points to choose from. All you need to do is get a Canal Cruise Ticket (€16 per adult ticket, one-hour cruise) which you can buy online in advance.
You’ll get your ticket on your smartphone and you just need to show it to the tour operator (no bookings necessary, just turn up and ask about available timings or check online).
I mentioned earlier about an I amsterdam City Card — if you’ve got one of these, a free canal cruise is included and you just need to show them your card.
Canal Cruise Ticket: Website
You’re probably familiar with Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in a Secret Annex during World War Two and wrote in a diary to document the whole experience. That Secret Annex was located in Amsterdam, and the building was converted into the Anne Frank House to preserve the hiding place and Anne’s ideals.
It’s now open to the public and you can visit to learn more about the war and see what the victims had to endure. It’s a sombre but extremely educational experience and well worth a visit.
Waiting times are often lengthy and it’s important to note that you can now only visit with a ticket bought online (€10.50 including booking fee) for a specific time slot.
Anne Frank House: Prinsengracht 263 – 267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 9am – 7pm (1 November – 1 April; Sun – Fri), 9am – 10pm (1 November – 1 April; Sat), 9am – 10pm (1 April – 1 November, Daily) | Website
Foodhallen is a prominent dining spot for tourists and residents alike, so if you’re stumped on where to go for a meal, start here. The food court came to be in 2014, taking over an old tram remise and turning into a platform for local and international street-food vendors.
Choose from 21 food stands serving up Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Vegetarian cuisine, just to name a few. If you’re visiting with a big group, just get loads of dishes to share.
Foodhallen Amsterdam: Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm (Sun – Thu), 11am – 1am (Fri & Sat) | Website
Amsterdam is a European hub of art and culture, and you HAVE to visit at least one museum while you’re here. Spend an afternoon in the Rijksmuseum or learn more about the famous one-eared painter at the Van Gogh Museum.
The museums are concentrated in Museumplein, and even a stroll around the area is recommended because it’s so pretty. The only downer is that the famous ‘I amsterdam’ sign (that used to be there) has been removed; it was apparently attracting too many tourists.
Amsterdam Museums: Website
Now here’s one unconventional way to see the city — rent a paddle boat (aka pedalo) and “cycle” on the canals! I still can’t get over how the city trusts random tourists to captain a pedalo and not crash. Bear in mind that there are other normal boats travelling down the canal as well, so the pressure is on.
Still, if you’re up for the challenge and a bit of adventure, this is one of the more fun (and relatively cheap) activities to do. Pedalos can be rented from several points around the city centre, and it only costs €10 per person for one hour.
Canal Tours Amsterdam – Pedal Boat: Stadhouderskade 520, 1073 AX Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm (Daily, timings may change in winter) | Website
Amsterdam is cheekily known for a few things that are very illegal in Singapore, so I’d avoid partaking if I were you. One touristy thing that’s still acceptable to do, however (if you’re open-minded), is to visit the Red Light District.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands but isn’t allowed on the streets, which is why there’s a Red Light District. After dark, sex workers stand behind red-lit windows and have their own rooms, “advertising” their services to interested customers.
It’s become a popular spot for tourists because it’s quite unconventional, so I do recommend a stroll around. What I don’t recommend, however, is gawking at the women or taking any pictures/videos of them for your ‘gram. Respect the ladies!
Besides being something to tick off your touristy list, the Red Light District is also home to lots of shops, restaurants and pubs, so there are more than enough PG things to do.
Red Light District: De Wallen, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
You can’t come to Amsterdam and not get a picture in front of some windmills. You’ll see a few here and there in the city, but nothing as authentic as the ones in the countryside.
Zaanse Schans is my favourite recommendation to friends for a very Dutch day out. It’s only 17 minutes away from Amsterdam Central Station by train, and you can easily get a ticket for any one that stops at Zaandijk – Zaanse Schans.
Once you get off the train, it’s a 10-minute walk to the quaint neighbourhood that’s been recreated to look like an 18th/19th-century Dutch village. Just follow the signs or ask around and you’ll find it.
It’s very popular with tourists who know that it exists and features historic windmills, picturesque gardens and green wooden houses, as well as handicraft shops and museums.
Keeping in line with the Dutch village theme, there’s loads to do at Zaanse Schans like visiting a clog workshop or entering an actual working windmill, but I always make a bee-line for the Henri Willig Cheese Farm.
You’ll find an amazing selection of traditional cheeses and some special-flavoured ones: cheeses made from cow, goat and sheep milk, smoked cheeses, pesto cheese, cumin cheese and even coconut cheese!
All these can be sampled alongside delicious dips and cheese accompaniments so you can try everything before you buy. I always stock up on souvenirs here as well because, YUM.
Henri Willig Cheese Farm: Catharina Hoeve, Zeilenmakerspad 5, 1509 BZ Zaandam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 8am – 6pm (March – October, Daily), 8.30am – 5pm (November – February, Daily) | Website
If you’re too nervous to cycle in the city because you’ll be surrounded by cyclists left, right and centre, save your exercise for Zaanse Schans. If the weather is nice, you can rent bicycles by the hour and cycle past all the windmills, following recommended routes.
There’s a shop renting out bikes by the station, but it’s better to rent one from the stand that’s near the windmills as it’ll make for a more scenic cycling experience.
Zaanse Schans Bike Rent: Kalverringdijk 25, 1509 BT Zaandijk, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 9am – 5.30pm (April – September, Daily), Closed from October – March | Website
Windmills are an iconic part of Holland and at one point, there were more than 10,000 dotted around the Netherlands.
The ones in Zaanse Schans are a beautiful green to match the rest of the village and make for good photos. Instagram boyfriends, where you at?
So you’ve spent the day in Zaanse Schans stuffing your face with free cheese but why stop there? After you get the train back to Amsterdam, there’s a top-notch chip (aka fries) shop relatively near the station.
Indulge in what I would claim to be the best fries in the capital. At Manneken Pis, you can choose from 22 different sauces and three sizes. I remember having this 10 years ago and it was still as delicious on my recent visit.
Without a doubt, go for the cheese and garlic mayo combo (prices start from €3).
Manneken Pis: Damrak 41, 1012 LK Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 10am – 12midnight (Sun – Thu), 10am – 1.45am (Fri & Sat) | Website
Amsterdam is in no way short of green spaces, but Vondelpark is the one to rule them all. This massive park is glorious in spring/summer and would make for a lovely picnic spot in the sun.
Or if you can’t be bothered to bring your own food, have brunch at one of the restaurants and cafes like the Blauwe Theehuis, Café Vertigo, Vondelpark3, De Vondeltuin or the Groot Melkhuis.
There’s also a skate rental shop and an open-air theatre in the park if you want a chill afternoon out.
Vondelpark: 1071 AA Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you’ve followed this itinerary, you would have already covered some Dutch favourites like stroopwafels, cheese, clogs and windmills. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the tulips.
Leave Vondelpark with enough time to check out the Amsterdam Flower Market, which is the only floating flower market in the world. Back in the day, the market would get its daily supplies by boat.
You’ll find all sorts of tulips, narcissus, geraniums and many other types of flowers. You can even buy the bulbs which are suitable for export so that you can bring them home with you to grow.
While the market offers a pretty sight, it would be much better to visit the famous tulip fields (Keukenhof Gardens) if you’re visiting in Spring and have an extra day to spare.
Amsterdam Flower Market: Singel 600 – 630, 1017 AZ Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 9am – 5.30pm (Mon – Sat), 11.30am – 5.30pm (Sun) | Website
With less than half a day left, you can still squeeze a bit more fun (and booze) into your holiday. The Heineken Experience lets you go on a self-guided tour (approx. 1.5 hours) around the original Heineken brewery in Amsterdam to learn more about the famous Dutch beer.
The interactive tour (€18 per ticket, exclusive online price) will show you how the beer is made and includes two cold beers at the end. Don’t leave without customising a bottle with your name on it to bring home!
Heineken Experience: Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 10.30am – 7.30pm (Mon – Thu), 10.30am – 9pm (Fri – Sun) | Website
If beer just isn’t your thing (or you don’t care how it’s made as long as it’s alcohol), hop on a free ferry instead to explore Amsterdam Noord (North).
Amsterdam is actually divided into the North and South by the IJ river, but most tourists tend to spend their holiday in the Central/South. Go on an adventure and get the ferry which leaves from behind Amsterdam Central Station.
It’s a short ferry ride across and you can stop at the NDSM Wharf, which has become a hotspot over the years. The former shipyard boasts a huge space (and urban beach) that now hosts a range of events like festivals, performances and exhibitions.
There’s an increasing number of bars and restaurants in the area as well, and you should check out Pllek if you’re keen on organic/healthy food.
Pllek: NDSM Wharf, 1030 AH Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 9.30am – 1am (Sun – Thu), 9.30am – 3am (Fri & Sat) | Website
Since you made it to Amsterdam North, it’s only right that you end your holiday at the A’DAM LOOKOUT (€12.50 per ticket, online price).
It’s basically an observation deck with a wonderful panoramic view of Amsterdam, located at the top of the A’DAM Tower. From here, you’ll be able to spot most of the things you’ve seen on your holiday, like the city’s historical centre and the famous canals.
Want to take your goodbye to the next level? Pay a bit more for the Swing (+ €5) which will rock you back and forth over the edge, 100 metres above the ground. Now that’s what I call ending on a very fitting, high note.
A’DAM LOOKOUT: 20 & 21 floors of A’DAM Toren Amsterdam, Overhoeksplein 5, 1031 KS Amsterdam, Netherlands | Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm (Daily, last admission at 9pm), Swing opens at 11am | Website | Tickets