We had been ready for this trip for years. All the romance and mystery surrounding the gorgeous city of Amsterdam 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 for sure that can give you the perfect introduction.
Before You Go To 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.
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 thing 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 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.
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.
Museums and Strolling
Amsterdam is museum central, and many of them are included on the IAmsterdam card. If you’re into sightseeing this way it’s well worth the card investment. But only seeing a few 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. Afterwards, 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’s 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.
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, then have 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.
What have you heard about Amsterdam? Would you visit? If you’ve already been, what did you think? If you’re looking for activities for little ones, check out our babies article and best hotels in Amsterdam with kids.