Amsterdam is more than the Red Light District; it’s chock full of history, colorful canals, museums and gorgeous, relaxing parks. Here’s how to experience all the fun Amsterdam has to offer in one weekend.
Ohh, Amsterdam. The city that brings out all sorts of unexpected sides in people.
While often regarded as Europe’s party hot spot, Amsterdam is also a city rich in history, culture and beauty. Its narrow maze of streets wrap mile after mile alongside the city’s canals, which hint at Amsterdam’s past as a major fishing town.
A walk, or better yet, bike ride, along Amsterdam’s canals and into the labyrinth city will lead you to famous art museums, historical landmarks, colorful cafes, and of course, the infamous Red Light District.
Amsterdam is a city unlike any other, and love it or hate it, it’s a spot all European travelers should see once in their lifetime.
Anne Frank house
A visit to the Anne Frank house is chillingly haunting. You’re not just stepping into scenes from a famous book; you’re walking inch-by-inch through a terrifying time in history.
During the Anne Frank house tour, you can get up close and personal with her childhood, her dreams of becoming a journalist and how her horrific end-of-life events unfolded. During the tour’s final stop at the Secret Annex, don’t be surprised when your heart drops into your stomach. At this point, in this room, everything you’ve learned in school and read in history books becomes a reality, and it honestly hurts to conceptualize
But Otto Frank has a quote hanging in the museum that provides a powerful reminder:
“I think it’s important that people shouldn’t just go to the Anne Frank house to see the Secret Annex. They’ve also go to be encouraged to realize that still today people are being persecuted for their race, religion or political conviction.”
This sight isn’t one to check off your list and be done with. It’s a wake-up call for visitors to stand up and work toward a better tomorrow.
Experiential doesn’t begin to describe the Heineken Experience. Now, am I a fan of Heineken? Umm … no. But I am a fan of a beer tour that includes dancing on camera, learning the brewing process (because I seriously forget every time) and, of course, drinking beer.
Room by room at the Heineken brewery, the tour guide takes you through how water, barley and all the beer necessities get transformed into its internationally known beverage. You can taste the wort, see the famous Heineken Shire horses, practice pouring your own pint, and, eventually, get bombarded with advertisements about the brand … you know, as part of the “history of Heineken.” I guess you come to expect that during big-name brewery tours.
But, once the advertisements end, the real fun begins — the Heineken tasting room! At the beginning of your tour, you get three beer tokens to redeem at the bar. After all the buildup, don’t be surprised if your tokens go more quickly than you thought. You’re thirsty after all that touring and learning!
But fear not. If you wait it out just a couple of minutes, and sit there looking friendly, I can almost guarantee you’ll be the recipient of many tokens from those “I’m tired, I’m heading out but don’t want to waste this token” Heineken visitors. Jackpot.
Amsterdam really lends itself to The Wanderlost Way. The omnipresent “life is good” vibe gets you in the mood for aimless wandering, easy conversation and, after a long day, a nap in the sun.
That’s where the VonderPark, Amsterdam’s largest and most vibrant park, comes into play. Its flowing fountains, bright flowers, street vendors and reggae bands get parkgoers in the mood for napping, sunning, picnicking, dancing or a mix of all four.
I’m a big fan of visits to city green spaces, because while each and every park has the same core ingredients – grass, flowers, fountains – they’re all so different, and so evocative of the city’s culture. Just like London’s Kensington Gardens are quaint, cute and proper, Amsterdam’s VonderPark exudes a mellow, free spirited attitude set to the tune of all Bob Marley, all the time.
Red Light District
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a trip to the Red Light District. Honestly, I’m really not a fan of the Red Light District. It feels gross and grimy and the feminist in me wants to trip the gawking men walking smugly down the street.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t go. It just means now, after experiencing all the Red Light District has to offer (we stayed at a hostel in the heart of it — shudder), I’d prefer a quick walk through, a stop or two at one of the quintessential coffee shops like the Bulldog before I’m off again on my merry way to the prettier, less seedy parts of Amsterdam.
So go, give it a whirl, and even if you dislike it as much as I do, at least you can check it off that bucket list.
If you’re visiting Amsterdam, you’ll undoubtedly be walking along those beautiful canals, but why not explore atop them on a canal boat tour? We took a quick, two-hour guided tour (booked on a whim in the morning) and loved our experience. It’s a relaxing and relatively inexpensive way to see the city from a different angle.
This cafe is exactly what you’d imagine when you think of an Amsterdam coffeeshop. The Bulldog was hipster before hipster was cool, and is an icon in the Red Light District. It has coffee (obviously) but most visitors go for the extensive weed menu – because, yes, it has an extensive offering of marijuana products. Enjoy it, my friends, but be safe, smart and don’t do anything stupid (because that’s not how you want your Amsterdam trip to end!)
While I, unfortunately, have yet to visit the mecca for beer lovers – Brouwerij – my brother can’t speak highly enough about it. I typically don’t add places that I haven’t been because, well, I haven’t been there, but in this case I know I’d love it and I don’t want you to miss out. This old brewery is a favorite among craft beer connoisseurs, and is off the beaten Amsterdam path. If you find yourself craving a good beer in Amsterdam, check this place out – and let me know what you think!
Know before you go
I hope you like cheese, because Amsterdam has cheese shop after cheese shop filled with free samples.
I’m talking enough free samples to last you through lunchtime. Our go-to was Amsterdam Cheese Shop, but hey, I’m happy to go back and sample all the cheese shops if you insist. (You insist, right? You better insist…)