I’ve been living in Amsterdam for more than five years now. In my humble opinion, I feel like I know quite a bit about the city, thanks to the fact I used to write for 10Best.com/USAToday and wrote a book about Amsterdam restaurant owners. You’ve also probably seen my top five reasons to visit Amsterdam, filled with numerous recommendations of things to do.
Last week I was sitting along the Amstel river, and I saw a group of girls jump in the water. I thought to myself – a fleeting moment I experienced many times before – I’d never done that. That sparked an idea. Amsterdam is an amazing city, home to some internationally-renowned attractions and unique experiences. I’m going to create a bucket list (although I prefer the term wander list) of all the must dos in Amsterdam. This is a great list to use (I warn you – it is long), whether you are living in the city or are just visiting for a few days. This city swept me off my feet, and I know you’ll love it, too.
1. Visit the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank moved the world through her words, sharing her hopes, dreams and everyday thoughts. Walk through the house in which she went into hiding to escape the Nazis. Experience the day-to-day life for yourself. It’s more than a house. It’s a story, an emotional experience, and very worthwhile. Reserve your tickets in advance.
2. Bike! Amsterdam is the city of bikes and rightfully so. But this point has multiple sub-items: 1. Learn to bike, 2. Break the rules (like all the other Dutch people do), 3. Get in a bike accident, 4. Bike with someone on the back, and 5. Get angry at tourists that walk in the bike path.
Check, check, check, check, and check! My first biking experience in Amsterdam was a disaster, almost colliding with a tram, losing a ballerina flat (twice), and colliding into someone as I made a turn, not realizing it was a two-way bike path. Now, I can keep up with the best of them. On an average outing, I bike 8 kilometers (5 miles) one way and weave my way through the city, knowing the fastest route. I can bike with someone on the back (or achterop as we say in Dutch) and become irritated when I have to suddenly break for a tourist who isn’t paying attention and wanders into the bike path. I usually obey all the traffic rules, too, but once or twice I’ve run a red light, blending right in with the rest of the crowd.
Are you from out of town and interested in biking in Amsterdam? First of all, make sure you are comfortable on a bike. Most bicycle accidents happen with tourists. Still want to give it a go? Try a bike tour with We Bike Amsterdam. You can explore the city or the countryside. Read my countryside tour experience here.
3. Visit the Keukenhof. Why? Because flowers! Many, many flowers.
5. Soak up some sunshine while sitting at a sidewalk cafe. Find a seat on a sunny terrace, order a drink or two, and people watch. One of my favorite Amsterdam activities!
6. See the King and Queen. I happened to see King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima twice in one day, purely by coincidence!
7. Visit the Rijksmuseum. They did a 10+-year renovation, and the results are stunning! It’s wonderful to see the building restored to its former splendor. Plus, the Rijksmuseum is home to The Night Watch by Rembrandt.
8. Explore a windmill. In Amsterdam, we always visit the windmill right next to Brouwerij t’IJ – two birds with one stone: local beer and a windmill. But we actually had the opportunity to visit the Netherland’s smallest windmill, which happens to be owned by a family friend.
9. Drink local beer. One of the things I love to do when traveling is try a local brew, and the Dutch surprisingly make good beer. Amsterdam is home to a few local breweries, including Brouwerij t’IJ, de Prael, and Oedipus, but I still need to make it to the last one.
10. Attend a concert at the Concertgebouw. Internationally renowned for being one of three halls with the best acoustics in the world, the Concertgebouw is a place you cannot miss. The Concertgebouw program offers a wide range of shows, from piano music to chamber performances and jazz to children’s concerts. There’s even a free lunchtime concert series on Wednesdays at 12:30 (queue early). I’ve attended both a concert in the evening and one of the lunchtime series. All spectacular!
11. Go clubbing. Okay, I have to admit I’m not a huge clubber, however, I felt like when living in a city like Amsterdam – home to amazing nightlife – I had to go out at least once. Well, I did it a few times, including a night at ClubNL and another festival at Paradiso, and had a blast!
12. The food, the food! Can you tell I’m a foodie? When in Amsterdam, you have to try a few street foods: herring with pickles and onions (the best time of year is June and July), fries with mayonnaise (love Manneken Pis off the Damrak), a fresh, gooey stroopwafel from the Albert Cuypmarkt, and anything from a hole-in-the-wall vendor (one of the most popular establishments is the FEBO). You should also try Dutch pancakes from Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs, as well as an Indonesian rice table from Tempo Doeloe. Indonesia used to be a colony of the Netherlands, so there’s some great Indonesian food around, as well as Surinamese cuisine. Be sure to check out all the restaurants in my book, Flavors of Life.
13. Take a picture with the iamsterdam sign.
14. Swim in the Amstel. It only took me five years of living in the Netherlands for me to swim in the Amstel. I kept making excuses, “Oh, I’ll do it next week; oh, I don’t have a swimsuit; oh it’s dirty.” I finally did it, and twice in one week! That’s how much I loved it. Thanks to fellow author Karl Webster for literally taking the plunge with me! Overlooking the water, soaking up the sunshine, springing from the side into the water to cool down = summer bliss. I packed a picnic both days, lounged waterside, and swam. Life doesn’t get much better.
I swam near Cafe Hesp, not too far from Amsterdam Amstel train station. Before you just jump into the water, see if others are swimming there. For instance, you should not swim in the historic canal area. Check out Awesome Amsterdam for more swimming spots in Amsterdam. You want to make sure its safe, both in terms of water quality and boat traffic.
15. Visit the Fo Guang Shan He Hua, a Buddhist temple, and celebrate Chinese New Year. I always wanted to experience this, and I did so with Kim Davidson (@wanderingkim).
16. Celebrate King’s Day on April 27th. The day is meant to celebrate the birth of the King. Everyone dresses in orange, and the streets turn into one big party!
17. Attend a football game at the ArenA. I attended a football (soccer for all the Americans) match between the Netherlands and Romania, but I suppose you could also attend an Ajax game, the team of Amsterdam. It was fun to see once, but I’m just not the biggest football fan. At least I can say I’ve been to a game!
18. Friday Night Skate in the Vondelpark. Okay, so I kind of chickened out on this one, because the actual Friday Night skate is 20 kilometers (12.43 miles). Because I hadn’t skated in about 10 years, I did A Friday night skate in the Vondelpark, but not with the group. That’s probably a good thing, as I fell when I first tried to get up, and my first lap around the park I was wobbling quite a bit. If you do skate, though, I highly recommend it! They pick a different route each week. The event starts at 8:30 p.m. See their website for more information.
19. Watch the World Pillow Fight. Every year, I heard about this going on, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally went and watched. Thanks Jessica and Sean from A Wanderlust for Life for joining us for this adventure!
20. Visit the Van Gogh Museum. This museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work.
21. Kiss someone on the Magere Brug. The Magere Brug, also known as the skinny bridge, is said to be the spot that if you kiss someone there, you’ll have everlasting love.
22. Walk through the world’s only floating flower market. It’s especially nice around Christmas.
23. Attend Gay Pride. Gay Pride in Amsterdam is a boat procession, so everything happens on the canals. People are beautifully dressed and dancing on the boats.
24. Find your favorite condom at the condomerie, located at Warmoesstraat 141. Need I say more?
25. Celebrate Carnaval. Okay, this technically takes place in the south of the Netherlands and not in Amsterdam, but I really wanted to celebrate Carnaval when I moved here, and it is a hoot and a half. Everyone dresses up. In Brabant people dress in crazy costumes (like the equivilant of American Halloween), while in the province of Limburg, the clothing is more elegant, like a Venetian carnival.
26. Live on a houseboat. I did this, but again it was not in Amsterdam. For six months, my partner Matthijs and I lived on a houseboat in Utrecht. Would I recommend it? Definitely! We had the time of our lives, especially in the summer, when we could jump out of the window into the water, but would I do it again? Yes, but only if it were better insulated. Heating costs can be high. If you have the chance, seize the opportunity.
27. Have a cocktail at a speakeasy. A speakeasy by definition is a place that serves drinks illegally. These establishments popped up during the prohibition period when alcohol was illegal. While the speakeasys here are not illegal, they are still fun to visit. They do not have visible doors. They are hidden. Most of the time, you need a special code or ring a doorbell to enter. Thanks to Jessica from A Wanderlust for Life for introducing me to a few in the city!
28. Take in the view of the city from the SkyLounge. Located at the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, I know this is touristy, but it is one of my favorite places in the city, especially to watch the sunset.
Below are the items I still want to cross off my wander list. Are there any others you’d add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.