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Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities in Europe, and it is not hard to see why. This beautiful city has a little something for everyone and welcomes it’s visitors with open arms. While throngs of young party-goers flock there each year, there is so much more to this beautiful city than just a crazy night out.
Amsterdam offers a unique landscape for those not native to The Netherlands. The plethora of canals along with the sheer volume of bicycles zipping around leave first-timers unable to put their cameras down.
This international hot-spot is also known for being one of the easiest cities to get around with English alone as the Dutch are often touted as some of the best English speakers in the world. You will hear every language imaginable as you walk the streets or take the bus, and not just from tourists, but from those who have made Amsterdam their new home.
With so many options and a little something for everyone, it all depends on what you are looking for. Museums, culture and attractions? You’ve got it. Shopping, dining and sightseeing? More options than you can imagine. And of course, plenty of bars, an active nightlife and those infamous coffeeshops that you’ve heard so much about. Don’t forget about the official CS meetup at Bar Jones, every Saturday at 9:30! Amsterdam has truly got it all. We’ve gathered together some of our favorite places as well as some less known spots that maybe you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, to give you the best experience possible, through the eyes of a Couchsurfer.
Bike: Perhaps you have heard that there are more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people? Well, it’s true. Thankfully all of those bikes aren’t riding around at once, as most locals own several and keep them locked up in key places around the city, like Centraal Station. How they find their bikes amidst thousands of others is beyond me. But needless to say, the Dutch love their bikes and use them as their main mode of transportation. You may see locals riding around and texting with one hand, looking ever so cool and calm. The bike lanes are protected and clearly marked, and the traffic signals are designed to give cyclists the right of way. It truly is a cyclist’s paradise. There are many options for you to get involved in the fun by renting your own bike. There are many bike rental shops as well as the city bike share, which are popping up in major cities all over the world. It may seem intimidating to jump into traffic on your bike for the first time, but a little common sense will get you far. And if all else fails, just observe the locals! Don’t forget your hand signals!
Cycling outside of the city is also a very popular activity which allows you to experience some different landscapes. As the Netherlands is a very small and flat country, it is actually quite easy to cycle from one city to the next. Peter Bisschop, host and Meetup organizer in Amsterdam, suggests the following:
“Rent a bike and cycle all the way south along the Amstel River and go to the countryside. You can go to the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (Old Church on the Amstel) and see the landscape around you change from the canals and old houses of the city centre, bars and new recreation areas, areas with house boats and after that typical Dutch countryside with old farms, dikes and windmills. Also you could cycle to the north of Amsterdam to see some typically old Dutch fishing and farming villages just outside of Amsterdam like Durgerdam, Ransdorp and Holysloot.”
Public transportation: Amsterdam has a great public transportation system made up of buses, trams and trains. The train will take you from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station for only a little more than 5 euro. From Centraal Station you can also get local trains to pretty much anywhere in the Netherlands, as well as to other parts of Europe. Between the buses and trams you can get just about anywhere in the city. The only tricky part is that you cannot pay cash on the buses. Some of the trams will still accept cash, however they plan to phase out the use of bills and coins all together in the near future. Your best option is to get a pass at Centraal Station when you arrive. The buses will also accept debit or credit cards that have a chip.
Tours and Attractions
Canal Tour: What better way to see a city than by boat, especially in a city with so much water! The canal tours are a very popular way to get to know Amsterdam while learning about the culture and history.
Heineken Experience: The Heineken Experience is a tour around what used to be the Heineken factory, which ends with a couple of beers on a lovely roof deck overlooking the city. It is very informative and interesting, giving you an insiders look into how the beer was made back in the day versus how things are done today.
Museums: The Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are two of the most visited spots in the city, and for good reason. Vincent Van Gogh, arguably one of the Netherland’s most well-known citizens, is a man who needs no introduction. He is also a man who has his very own museum, one that attracts nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum which is dedicated to the arts and history of the Netherlands. When this famous museum underwent a major 10 year renovation which was completed in 2013, it seemed only fitting to include a passageway for cyclists to zip through, running right underneath the museum.
“There are so many things to see in Amsterdam, I would highly recommend one of the many walking tours. These people show some great places, with some amazing stories.” –Daniel Banen
Amsterdam is a city with many many options for filling your belly, however not all food is created equal. In the areas where you will find a lot of bars and coffeeshops you will also find many restaurants, cafes and snackbars. As is often the case in big cities, the food in tourist areas can be hit or miss. That being said, good food is not hard to find, you just have to know where to look.
FEBO: If you are looking for a quick and cheap meal, look no further. FEBO is a Dutch spin on fast food, or a snackbar, as the locals call them, with high quality and fresh ingredients. They make a fresh batch of fries for each order. Here in Amsterdam the fast food is several steps up the ladder than what you may be used to in the United States. You can expect a very clean venue with friendly staff, fresh food that is delicious and of a certain standard. At FEBO they also have those little warming cupboard vending machines where you put in your coins and receive a warm, deep fried treat, many of which are classic Dutch snacks. Tourists enjoy this option for the novelty factor, but you can also buy the exact same items from the counter which will be slightly fresher but a longer wait. Daniel Banen, one of the organizers of the weekly CS Meetup suggests trying kroket, bitterballen and frikandel. Fries are a staple here in the Netherlands and they sure know how to do them right– with plenty of sauce. So be sure to give this spot a chance. When most other late-night snackbars are offering day old pizza, you can count on a great meal at FEBO.
Frens Haringhandel: You may notice many of these funny little blue and white booths sitting on the sidewalks around Amsterdam. These tiny little cafes offer another Dutch staple: herring. The Dutch love their herring and eat this small fish on its own, or on a sandwich, pickled or smoked. You will likely see some locals holding one by the tail and lowering it right into their mouths. When in Rome, right?
Moeders: Moeders (Dutch for mother) offers up a friendly and warm environment with typical homemade Dutch cuisine. The walls are filled with framed pictures of mothers, paying homage to moms everywhere. This is a popular spot in Amsterdam so expect a wait during peak hours.
In order to have a best experience possible, Daniel Banen also suggests trying the local cuisine. Here is a list of some of the typical Dutch foods that you can find at any supermarket. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture than by eating!
- bossche bol
- fries suikerbrood
- beschuit met muisjes
- Wilhelmina or King pepermunt
You will not have any trouble finding a place to relax with a beverage in this lively town. It is much more likely that you will be completely overwhelmed with options, so here are a few favorites to get you started.
Red Light Bar: This place is a pretty typical bar serving typical drinks, but what sets it apart are the multiple levels and various rooms for you to discover. They do not actually sell cannabis here, as the sign suggests, but you are permitted to smoke your goods inside. The different options for places to sit give this bar a cozy yet upbeat atmosphere where you are likely to find the perfect spot that feels just right for you.
Sky Lounge: Located atop the Doubletree Hotel right next to Centraal Station, Sky Lounge combines great food, specialty drinks and an unforgettable view for that once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you are seeking an extraordinary place for a special occasion or for one final hurrah at the end of your trip, this is the place for you. Definitely not the cheapest drink in Amsterdam by any means, you’ll be paying for the view and the atmosphere.
Melkweg: One of Amsterdam’s bigger nightclubs offers a great clubbing experience pretty much every night of the week. From live music to DJs of all genres of music, you can surely find a night that tickles your fancy. It’s a large venue with multiple bars and levels plus a smoking room. The crowd of mostly locals is typically friendly and respectful as everyone is there for a fun, drama-free night.
Brouwerij (Brewery) De Prael: This is a very cool spot which is popular with locals and those in the know. They have a beautifully decorated interior with loads of unique and antique pieces, a great selection of their own beers, plus some wine and food. Expect a raised eyebrow or two if you try to order a cocktail. They are a brewery, after all.
“A few of my favorite places are The Tara, Club Sugar Factory, Tropenmuseum, TonTon Club (an arcade game hall)” -Kevin Williams
Coffeeshop Central: With so many coffeeshops to choose from in a city known for its easy access to marijuana, it can be difficult to choose where to go first. Coffeeshop Central is a great option, especially for those more experienced consumers. This is a no frills, no fuss kind of place, popular with the locals. With no pre-rolled options you’ll need to know your way around a rolling paper. They have a wide variety of greenery, and they’ll even provide papers and grinders if you ask nicely. There are tables inside for you to roll up your joint while sipping on your coffee, but all smoking must be done outside. Thankfully the little bench on the sidewalk provides some of the best people watching in Amsterdam, directly across from Centraal Station.
Coffeeshop Bluebird: located in the Waterlooplein neighborhood, this popular hang out offers great products plus a cozy and interesting atmosphere to take a much needed break after a day of sightseeing. The interior is full of little rooms and corners to call your own, plus the fascinating murals on the walls give this spot a unique flair. With such an intriguing environment, plus a full menu of coffee, tea, snacks and cannabis, be prepared to stay a while.
“Best coffeeshop in my opinion is Kadinsky located in Centrum.” -Kevin Williams
Additional Advice from Local Hosts
“My recommendation for finding a place to stay is to expand the search for a host to cities like Utrecht, Almere, Alkmaar, or Zaandam. So many people only search in Amsterdam, and don’t find a host, because those hosts are always busy. Searching hosts in cities around Amsterdam (half an hour by train, tops) increases the likelihood of finding a host.” –Daniel Banen
“To all the first timers I’ll will say watch the road and look both ways before crossing the streets.” –Kevin Williams
“Westerpark is probably somewhere that a first timer wouldn’t normally go but I highly recommend it. Within the park is the Westergasfabriek area with some beautiful old gas factory buildings, which now functions as an entertainment area with bars, bakeries, restaurants, a cinema, a brewery & tastery, (very good beers!) a wine house, studio’s, etc. And many events organized the whole year! And if you want to sit and have a drink or a cheap pancake in a quiet garden for a while, walk all the way to the other side (northwest) of the park to the neighborhood farm Ons Genoegen. Yes, it is a real old farmhouse in the middle of the city with some leftover farm fields next to it.” – Peter Bisschop
“I recommend to meet locals through Couchsurfing 🙂 And to make sure to have accommodation arranged, because last minute sleeping arrangements in Amsterdam are very expensive.” –Marco Meurs
“Obviously, I recommend people attending the Saturday evening Meetup, since this is a great opportunity to meet amazing people. This meeting is also attended by a lot of locals, who can give additional information and great suggestions of things to see.” –Daniel Banen
* * *
Amsterdam is a wonderful place filled with so many different things to do, see and eat! If you haven’t been already, we highly suggest adding it to your bucket list. Have you already been to Amsterdam? Tell us in the comments what you love about this city and why you can’t wait go back! When you visit, remember to check the Couchsurfing Events Page for things happening while you’re there, including the Friday and Saturday weekly Meetups. Happy surfing, everyone!
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