We were ready for this trip to Amsterdam. All the romance and mystery surrounding the gorgeous city was finally coming to fruition. As complex as the city can be, a short trip really only grazes the surface. But with some of its iconic attractions and fun, walkable atmosphere, it’s worth a long weekend that can give you the perfect introduction.
PS – Want to know a bit about the ‘I Am Amsterdam’ slogan? First off, it’s often quoted this way, but it really is ‘I AMsterdam‘ put together. The city’s tourism organization came up with this fun phrase to help boost recognition. Now, the I Am Amsterdam is found all over the city as giant word installations. These are easily the most photographed (and Instagrammed) hotspots now.
Where can you find them? There’s at least three to see. Find the biggest one near the Rijksmuseum, and a second set of “I Am Amsterdam’ letters at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol when you land. There’s a third set at the courtyard inside the Amsterdam Museum. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the rotating installation that pops up at various events too.
Before You Go To ‘I Am Amsterdam’
As a super walkable city, make sure you pack comfortable shoes that will work on cobblestone. Weather in the summer is lovely but can get chilly at night, so consider layers. If flying into Amsterdam, purchase an IAmsterdam card ahead of time, which works for public transport and tons of entrance fees to attractions. These can be bought for 1-3 days and picked up right at the arrival gate in the airport.
Speaking of the airport, it’s easy to find direct flights right into Amsterdam, as it’s a major European hub. I find Skyscanner to be the best website for flight deals – it takes real-time data and scours all other sites for you. You can set up alerts through the Skyscanner app too. We flew directly from London for under $200, but you can also fly from the US (New York, Boston, etc.) directly as well.
Stay Somewhere Scenic
Accommodations in Amsterdam are plentiful, but you’ll want to find something your group of various tastes will all love. Location is key when choosing a place to stay, and because of a great public transport system (and Uber) it doesn’t have to be right in the middle of the city.
We found an oasis where I’ve never thought a bunch of 30-somethings could hang – a hostel! The Generator Hostels are a group found throughout Europe that re-purpose large buildings in academia and others to create modern accommodations. This hostel in Amsterdam used to be a university center for study. Yes, there were typical hostel-like ‘amenities’, such as making your own bed and putting down a deposit to use the hairdryer. But I was delighted at how welcoming and cozy the entire property was towards all types of travelers.
We had a private quad dorm that worked great for a small group of friends who want a social vibe but also a bit of privacy. Our space had floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a tree-lined cul-de-sac, which neighbors the Oosterpark. Beds are comfortable, super clean and have outlets next to the headboards for easy access. The private bathroom/shower has a separate toilet room too.
As for the common areas, the Generator offers various choices depending on what you need. Many guests hang out in the main lobby area, where you’ll see families and baby boomer travelers right alongside the flashpackers. This blends into the restaurant on the main floor, serving a full bar and variety of hot meals. Breakfast can be purchased there as well, or you can opt for a continental-style choice in the basement.
Speaking of the basement in the Generator Hostel, this is where all the fun starts. There’s a massive lounge area with pub games and giant TVs for relaxing. As the sun goes down, there’s also a bar and nightclub open to late hours of the night. It’s great to have a nightcap there and it’s also great you still can’t hear a peep from the dorm we stayed in from the noise below.
There are lots of other upscale, modern and cozy options in Amsterdam too. Here are a few:
- American Hotel: A nod to Art Deco, a re-done style more than a century old. Great location!
- Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam: Beautiful rooms, art-nouveau style.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Central: Has a rooftop bar, right by the train station.
Reypenaer Dutch Cheese Shop
Make a reservation and head into the sunny bottom floor of this famous cheese shop for a welcoming surprise. The staff there has worked in the Dutch cheese business for decades and welcomes small groups to come sample all the varieties on hand. Along with the tasting, you’ll learn about the process of creation, which is slightly different than how the Italians and French do their cheese. It’s dangerous, as they put down whole wedges in front of you to hack at – seems to be eat as much as you like. Hopefully one of the owners will give the class, as the Dutch dry and witty humor makes the experience pleasantly fly by.
Looking for a full tour of Amsterdam, or the Netherlands in general? TourRadar has more than 200 to choose from.
Museums and Strolling
Amsterdam is museum central, and many of them are included on the IAmsterdam card. If you’re into sightseeing this is well worth the card investment. Seeing a few museums gives a good taste of the history, art, and innovation of the city. Everyone should visit the Van Gogh Museum – just make sure you have arrangements/tickets ahead of time as lines can be long. Afterward, have a peek into the Rembrandt House Museum or Nemo Science Museum if you have time.
We’re on a Boat!
You can’t bring your crew to Amsterdam and not spend some time on the canals. There are a million options to choose from, whether you want to just get acclimated to the city layout or feel brave enough to captain your own canal boat. Your IAmsterdam card comes with an included introductory cruise, complete with audio commentary to give you a 90-minute overview during the day. Vessels have plenty of sitting space and big, breezy windows for prime viewing.
Coffee Shop Vibes
It’s the elephant in the room. Throughout Amsterdam and the whole country of the Netherlands, there are some establishments with special licenses that allow the consumption and personal sale of marijuana. Technically, weed is still illegal, but through a few loopholes it’s tolerated in these specialized ‘coffee shops’. We visited a few on our trip to check out the scene. Maybe a little tree was how they originally thought to put ‘I Am Amsterdam’ together – who knows!
There’s a definite difference between the more ‘local’ haunts and swankier tourist hangouts. Some shops will just have a few time traveling Rastafarian-garbed patrons crowded around a counter, while others have full-on lounge areas and a juice bar to appeal to the hipsters. Abraxas is a good introduction for the uninitiated, with teas and coffees on the menu to accompany your hits. Amnesia was more off the tourist track and had great milkshakes too.
Some coffee shops will own two places – a bar for ordering joints and takeaway ounces and a booze-bar and restaurant across the street. Apparently, you can’t sell both weed and alcohol under the same roof.
Oh, and as for the red light district, where there are sex workers for hire, many on display in small glassed-walled rooms? Take a quick walk through and move along. Nothing to see there.
If you’re looking for a concise itinerary for a quick 2-days in the city, here’s a great guide to check out!
What have you heard about Amsterdam? Would you visit? If you’ve already been, what did you think? Did you take a photo with the ‘I Am Amsterdam’ letters somewhere in the city? If you’re looking for activities for little ones, check out our babies article and best hotels in Amsterdam with kids.