Skip to content Skip to footer

An Outsider’s Guide to Amsterdam

My love affair with Amsterdam started more than two decades ago. My first trip to the Dutch capital was around 1994 when I accompanied my father on a business trip.

Ever since then, I have been to Amsterdam on numerous occasions and have grown to appreciate it more and more with each passing year.

The fact that our preferred airline is KLM, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has become the most visited airport by my entire family. Not surprisingly, it is also my favourite.

The Netherlands is a small enough country with charming people who prefer to ride bicycles over cars. If news articles are to be believed, they are working towards removing all diesel and petrol cars over the next decade. How revolutionary is that!

Simply put, the Dutch mind their own business and go about their lives in a friendly, non-intrusive manner. They enjoy their work and never forget to appreciate the good things in life.

Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities in the world. Any backpacker, enthusiastic traveller, tourist, or a first-timer to Europe is more than likely to have Amsterdam on their itinerary. Whether it is about discovering Amsterdam in a day, a weekend, or a week, no trip to Europe is complete unless you have been to Amsterdam.

But, if you need more, and want to step away from Amsterdam for a while, then there are several things to do in the Netherlands that are of interest for all ages. From Keukenhof to Madarodam and Alkmaar to Zandvoort, the Netherlands, just like its capital, demands a few days to be adequately explored.

As for Amsterdam, the city has been through tremendous change over the years, but some factors have remained the same; Coffee Shops that serve hash cookies, the openness of the infamous Red Light District, the city is packed with great excursions including museums, canals, bike rides, food, drink, and shopping.

What makes Amsterdam and its people special is that they are liberal in their thinking and believe in human goodness, and that is why it has become such a melting pot of cultures from around the world.

heinekenWhat can you expect when in Amsterdam?

There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam that you need at least a few days to admire it in its totality. It’s small, and you can walk it through, but to really appreciate whatever it has to offer, you have to explore Amsterdam at a slow pace.

I plan to skip the obvious; the butterflies in the stomach when one enters a coffee-shop for the first time and the giggles after that, or the numerous artists who at some point of time have made the Netherlands their home and now their works are displayed in museums spread across the city.

Instead, I present a “Beginner’s Guide” for the first-timer, to ease you into the city that can be a culture shock if you aren’t prepared for the crowds and the sudden implosion of architecture, food, smells, and just madness of the right kind.

Location! Location! Location!

The primary reason for my business in Amsterdam has been its location. The city is well connected not just to the rest of the Netherlands but is also 2-4 hours away (by train) from Belgium, Germany, and France. This makes it an even more popular destination, and you can expect huge crowds no matter the time of the year. Amsterdam Schiphol is equally central to Europe with flight connections across the world. KLM being a significant player in the airline industry, Amsterdam has become quite a travellers hub.

Chu Chu! – Said the Train

The train system in Holland (although this is just one province, the Netherlands, on the whole, is often called Holland) is exceptionally convenient with regular connections and is recommended over any other form of transportation. Although, as a traveller, it should be noted that the trip from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central is a hotbed for luggage thieves. My parents had the misfortune of getting their briefcase stolen while they boarded the TGV to France, and I have come across numerous other travellers facing similar problems. The local police are of great help, but general precautions – that you would take in any country –  should be practised to avoid discomfort.

One of the ways to travel, in case you have luggage that cannot be easily managed on the train, is to take the Connexxions Hotel Shuttle that runs from the Airport to almost all hotels in the city. For €15 you get a one-way ticket to your hotel. You may book the return through the hotel reception a day before your departure.

Get a Room!

Amsterdam caters to everyone. It is backpacker’s haven with cheap hostels and hotels around every corner. There are apartments in Amsterdam you can rent in the vicinity of the city and are a great way to save money, especially if there is a group of people travelling together.

I have had the pleasure (in some cases not) of staying in all sorts of abodes; There has been a Hotel de Paris where I had to carry my bags up two flights of steep steps. Prince Hendrix where I stayed in a room with no windows. Golden Tulip, a five-star property, was luxury all the way. Amstel Botel was always fun and cramped because it is a boat/ferry converted into a hotel and was at one time right next to the central train station – it has since moved to another location. Crowne Plaza, another one of my regular abodes, is conveniently situated near the Central Station and is a perfect place to stay when on a business or short (long weekend) trip. On my last trip, I stayed at the very funky and modern-day business hotel – Ibis Styles – which was again close to the train station and perfect for a quick turnaround trip of the city.


Point A to Point B – Traveling within the City

The canals of Amsterdam are as famous as the ones in Venice. In place of Gondolas, you get canal boats that run throughout the city. There are Amsterdam city cruises that one can take at any time of the day.

Unlike the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours that can be found in most major international cities, in Amsterdam, you get the Hop-On Hop-Off Canal Boat tours. With lesser chances of getting stuck in traffic, this is an excellent way to visit some of the most famous sites in Amsterdam.

Bike tours – and now Segway – are another popular form of exploring Amsterdam. There are many excellent bike tours – The Yellow Bike tour is iconic to the city – that one can take, in which you get to experience the city with the fresh wind blowing in your face while simultaneously getting some exercise to burn off those extra calories acquired from all the beer and lovely Dutch cheese.

Within the city, besides biking or taking canal boat rides, the tram system is quite extensive, quick, and comfortable. The drivers are helpful, so if you don’t know your destination, they are more than willing to assist. Since we always prefer to stay near the Central Station, taking a tram to go anywhere in the city is very simple.

Personally, I have always enjoyed walking in Amsterdam. It is small enough that you can cover most of it quickly with the occasional stopover at the many tiny cafes that dot the alleys and by-lanes that form the lifeline of Amsterdam. And, let’s not forget that there is an abundance of retail therapy available in the city as well, and some of the more quirky shops are often found away from the main streets.

Say Cheese! – the Flashy Kind

Nope, I am not going to talk about the famous Dutch cheese in this segment, because there really is nothing to say about it… you’ve got to get yourself some Gouda!

What I want to warn you about is that do not make the mistake of ever visiting Amsterdam without a camera. There is so much culture, architecture, and quirkiness in Amsterdam that travelling without a camera is a sin, especially around dusk, when the sun’s rays pierce through the tiny side-streets and bounce off the canal water. It is, by far, in all my travels, one of the most photogenic cities in the world.

Historically Yours

While Amsterdam is famous for its “modern” way of thinking, there is a lot of history that is responsible for making it what it is today. What started as a small fishing village near the Amstel river went through many-a-colourful events through centuries to become “the world’s most liberal city” – if you are even minutely a history buff, then do read Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.


I am Hungry!

You can be Hungarian, Indian, Japanese, American, or pretty much from any part of the world, and you are likely to find a restaurant serving your local cuisine here. Head over to Lediespain where you can find a wide variety of eating and drinking options. During the summer months, drinks are served by the local bars on the plaza, and it is the best place to sit out in the open, drink some beer or wine and watch the world go by.

Aside from the world cuisine on offer in Amsterdam, the Dutch have a number of their own specialities that are a must-try for any visitor to the country. These tasty Dutch treats range from deep-fried balls to soups and of course cheese and chocolate.

If you happen to be around when the Netherlands is playing in a major sporting event, football especially, there is a carnival-like atmosphere everywhere and if the team wins, then expect all-night celebrations.

But, when it comes to food, my favourite is drinking French Onion Soup on cold winter evenings, sitting out, just before the snow starts falling, and enjoying a beautiful sunset or a street performance in one of the squares.

Sprechen You Italiano!

Besides people being at least bilingual nowadays, you can hear so many different languages in Amsterdam that it is just mind-boggling. If you don’t speak Dutch or English, you need not worry, someone who speaks your language is just a couple of steps away… Seriously, I’m not joking.

Watch Out for that Bike!

I’m sure everyone who knows a little bit about Amsterdam, or The Netherlands, are aware that they love to go green. No not that Green! They like to save the environment and their money by riding bicycles.

So, always look on both sides when you cross the roads/bike lanes because there probably is a bicycle heading your way.

In Amsterdam, you are likely to find more bikes on the roadsides than trash. In fact, I have been informed that most locals keep two bicycles with them; A somewhat old one is for work, which is usually parked out for most of the day and might get stolen. The other, the good one, is taken out during weekends for local work and also serves as a backup.

With the rising oil prices and pollution, this is something that other nations should learn from the Dutch.

Clean Your Own Mess!

Another striking aspect of Amsterdam is that despite having thousands of people walk its streets every day, it is spectacularly clean. I discovered the magic behind it one day when I left my hotel early morning to catch the train. It was as if a small army of garbage handlers had decided to raid Amsterdam. Roads were being cleaned using water jets, the trash that had been bagged and laid out was being picked up and/or gathered. What really needs to be acknowledged is that this is done day in and day out without fail.


You Call That Art?

One of the best and worst things about travelling in the Netherlands is the Graffiti that is visible everywhere, but especially on trains and along the train tracks – although over the years this has been controlled.

Personally, I love what is now being termed “Street Art”. Unfortunately, most of the art along the train tracks is not exactly that. Mostly words painted on walls, it has very little to do with art. I am unaware of the local laws, but I have been seeing graffiti for years now and either the government doesn’t do anything about it, or stuff gets repainted often.

Nevertheless, it would be nice if these areas were given to local artists as canvases. Then again, art to lies in the eye of the beholder, so maybe I just need to look at it from a different perspective.

This, That, & Everything In-between!

Amsterdam also houses some of the world’s best paintings in the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. So if art is your cup of tea, then these two are not to be missed.

Anne Frank’s house is essential from a historical point of view, not just for Amsterdam or Europe, but it highlights that one phase that impacted humanity and the way we are today across the globe.

The canal houses, spread all across the city, have such unique characteristics and architecture and can be explored for free (from the outside) by just walking along the canals. Something I want to do in the future is to try and find the canal houses that have been the inspiration for the KLM Delft Blue Houses – given to their Business Class travellers. KLM has a great little iPhone application that provides a short history of the house with its location, and following the trail can be a fun day out in the city.

Madame Tussauds, The Heineken Experience, Dam Square, The Flower Market, and Liedespain, are all places of interest that are easily accessible within the city.

There literally is a whole lot you can do in Amsterdam and because everything is near each other, caters to different interests, and packed nicely into this unique space, it’s fun exploring it on your own. Moreover, there is a very different hidden Amsterdam with old movie theatres and tiny bars that one has to research to find. These quaint old places are a real charm and often overlooked by most tourist guidebooks.

I have been visiting Amsterdam for so long, yet there is so much I haven’t seen. I only visited walked pass the infamous Red Light District a couple of years back for the very first time while on my way back from two iconic Comic Book shops – Henk and GoJoker – in the city.

Then, I have taken the smaller canal boat tours, but it would be great to be on a cruise that runs for a few days around the Netherlands. I yet have to stay in a canal boat which should be quite an experience on its own.

In addition to that, considering how passionate the Dutch are about football, someday I hope to catch a match at the famous Ajax stadium.

If you still haven’t been to Amsterdam, then it should be at the top of your travel cities, visit list. But, if you have been there already, then it is time to visit again, for I can guarantee you that there will be sites and places and events that will be new to you.

While Amsterdam is ever-changing, with new construction, upcoming districts, and with a melange of characters from around the world, it always will remain the same old wonderfully liberal and exciting city at its heart.


  • Cozy With The Poseys
    Posted 21 February, 17 at 6:36 PM

    This is on the top of my list for travel destinations! Great post.

  • Alok Singhal
    Posted 21 February, 17 at 10:24 PM

    This is seriously an exhaustive guide on Amsterdam!

    Speaking of thieves (sorry to read your parents’ experience) , it seems they are in many parts of Europe. I’ve heard and read about the same for travels to Italy!

    I am happy to read they are working to get rid of cars plying through the city soon…nothing better than preserving their city for future generations to enjoy!

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:43 PM

      Thanks Alok! As for the thieving, you’re right it’s a common occurrence and one just has to be cautious anywhere in the world

  • arv!
    Posted 21 February, 17 at 10:46 PM

    Such a lovely and detailed guide to Amsterdam. Reminds me of my favorite sweat shirt which was bought many years ago from Amsterdam with an emblem and Holland written over it. 🙂

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:41 PM

      Thanks Arv! Have had quite a few of those shirts over the years. Finally at a stage where we don’t buy the touristy stuff anymore after like 20 odd years of traveling there.

      • arv!
        Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:50 PM

        I know Raghav,it’s a very touristy stuff. Frankly, I stay clear of people and place selling these kind of stuff since I have seen how this trade operates very closely. This is the only tourist souvenir I have. You are right, if you are traveling to a place over a period of time you cease to be a tourist! To me such t shirt imply – been there done that! 🙂

  • alexisrivard
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 4:10 AM

    This was so informative. Amsterdam is such a beautiful city and with such amazing people there. I must say I do wish I had heard about the comic book stores because they sound wicked, especially with the Dutch & Belgian history of graphic novels.

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:41 PM

      Yeah they both are pretty funky shops and definitely recommend visiting them.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 5:44 AM

    I have taken the KLM flight from LAX direct to Amsterdam before which was a fabulous flight. I would add Ann Frank House and Van Gogh Museum to the list. There are so many things to see and do in this city.

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:40 PM

      Yup! Both interesting and important tourist destinations.

  • Milana's Travels
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 6:54 AM

    What a great guide to Amsterdam! One of my favorite European cities. We rented an apartment in a very local part of town and had a blast exploring!

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:40 PM

      That’s a great thing to do. The freedom an apartment gives is always fun.

  • christie sultemeier (@ckanani)
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 7:06 AM

    Oh man I love Amsterdam so much! I had no idea what most of the residents have 2 bicycles – that’s so funny/clever. Whenever I go somewhere new I try to hop on a bike tour to see the city and biking in Amsterdam was actually kind of horrifying I thought… Haha. So much traffic and coming down the small hills from the canals not being able to see what/who was coming was a little too much for my liking.

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:39 PM

      Yeah it can be a bit daunting but considering I ride a bicycle here in India, that was a piece of cake 😜

  • plaidshirtdiaries
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 2:00 PM

    Loved this post! I absolutely adore Amsterdam: It was on the top of my list of cities to visit when we moved to Europe, and remains at the top of my favorites we’ve experienced. Thanks for sharing!

  • heimwee2456
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 8:26 PM

    Reblogged this on Asequibles.

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 22 February, 17 at 9:38 PM

      Thank you so much for all the sharing

      • heimwee2456
        Posted 23 February, 17 at 1:12 AM

        amazing article!! loved it

  • usfman
    Posted 22 February, 17 at 10:37 PM

    Wonderful city. A great time to visit would be during the World Cup competitions.

  • Linger Abroad
    Posted 23 February, 17 at 1:22 PM

    Hmm…My first visit to Amsterdam was just a few months ago for about 4 days. I thought I had seen a lot, including some of the things you mentioned on the list. But after reading your post, I feel like I missed out quite a bit! Though, I probably would’ve needed more time to see what you’ve mentioned so I’ll probably be back. I especially love your description of the city being clean and green because those were remarkable characteristics that we noticed about the city. I’m always saying there are shining examples of trying to be clean and energy efficient and loved Amsterdam for that!

  • Vicky @ A Backpack Full of Adventures
    Posted 23 February, 17 at 2:13 PM

    Such a great post! I went to Amsterdam about 4 years ago to meet up with a couple of bloggers (most of whom live in that area, or in other parts of the Netherlands) and really enjoyed it. I totally agree with the fact that it’s walkable – I usually prefer to walk anyway, but Amsterdam is small enough to explore on foot, or on a bike (which we didn’t do, unfortunately). The train system is great, I was actually flying to and from Eindhoven so had to take the train, but didn’t have any problems at all. I do feel like I haven’t seen everything, though, so I’d love to go back another visit sometime!

  • onlybyland
    Posted 23 February, 17 at 4:23 PM

    I am impressed with your photos, how you have included some bikes on pictures of famous landmarks, very unique. The hop on hop off canal boat ride is a great idea, these Dutch have great ideas! I agree that the Ann Frank house is important, nearly as famous as the red light district! Coffee shops and the souvenirs are interesting too but I’m a bit old for that now. I’d prefer to walk on the canals like you taking pictures of the unique houses.

  • Janine Good
    Posted 23 February, 17 at 6:52 PM

    Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I have many Dutch friends who keep offering me accommodations to go back. (What am I waiting for!?) I love this city as I was completely humbled by Anne Frank’s house and felt the long wait to see it was worth every second. It really makes you think about how blessed you are when you see how she and her family had to live. The tulips are gorgeous and the bicycles along the canals is just lovely. I also enjoyed seeing the famous Watchman Rembrandt painting in the Reijks museum. I have to go back!

  • Aarti
    Posted 24 February, 17 at 11:48 AM

    Phew. That was one long post.. *catches breathe*
    Have heard similar tales from others who have been to Amsterdam.. Hopefully will visit sometime.. Should share it with my sister who lives there now..

  • Kavey at Kavey Eats
    Posted 26 February, 17 at 1:01 PM

    Another big fan of Amsterdam here. Love that you are so enthusiastic about it, and have visited so many times. For me it’s the historical architecture combined with the canals, not to mention the laid back vibe and some really great eating options. Of course, the museums and other attractions are just icing on the cake!

  • danik
    Posted 26 February, 17 at 4:43 PM

    I like this post on Amsterdam (to which I am a big fan of the city). Written very differently compare to other Amsterdam blogs I have seen. and loving the food in the photos 🙂

  • Kate @ Love From Scotland
    Posted 26 February, 17 at 10:34 PM

    I love Amsterdam and have been over 10 times. I never noticed any theft on the trains, maybe I have just been lucky. My favourite area is the 9 streets with their quirky shops and brown cafes. I have lots of favourite beer bars too.

  • Swati Sam
    Posted 27 February, 17 at 2:27 AM

    Such an exhaustive article. Flipped and bookmarked it 🙂 I have never been to Amsterdam but reading your post makes me want to plan a trip. And it is really sad that your parents got their briefcase stolen, hope they had nothing expensive, in fact, one of my friend’s wallet was stolen from the museum itself. Never heard about Onion Soup , would love to give it a try 🙂

  • Shannalyn West
    Posted 27 February, 17 at 10:27 AM

    What a fantastically detailed post! I haven’t been to Amsterdam yet but it’s definitely on my list. It looks like a bike tour would be a wonderful way to see the city.

  • Christina
    Posted 27 February, 17 at 12:11 PM

    A useful roundup of how to spend time in Amsterdam. Nice work! I’ll check out a few of your suggestions next time I’m in town.

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    Posted 28 February, 17 at 11:00 AM

    Amsterdam is high on our list and we do want to get there as fast as we can. Your post is a great resource that we would refer to whenever we plan a trip. Amsterdam apart from the iconic Tulips associated with the Netherlands has so much on offer. Would love to straddle a bike and breathe in the cool, fresh air and revel in the sights and sounds of Amsterdam.

  • Lata Sunil
    Posted 28 February, 17 at 3:12 PM

    This post makes me want to go to Amsterdam. So nicely written covering all aspects I could think of.

  • Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie
    Posted 28 February, 17 at 7:24 PM

    I have not been to Amsterdam and you’re right, it needs to be at the top of my European travel list! I’d love to explore by foot and by boat through the canals. Besides that, though, Amsterdam seems full of culture and forward-thinking. I love that they’re getting rid of diesel and gasoline operated vehicles.

  • Anita Hendrieka
    Posted 1 March, 17 at 6:02 PM

    Amsterdam is such and cool and interesting city. Did you try croquettes? It’s one of the most popular things that the Dutch eat and one of my favourites ever!

  • Rachelle Gordon
    Posted 18 April, 17 at 9:19 PM

    This is golden! Totally bookmarking this for an upcoming trip! Thanks!

  • Anita
    Posted 19 April, 17 at 5:53 AM

    I really need this. I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for quite some time but never found anyone to go with me and now I am determined to go alone. I am hoping to save up enough to travel this September. Thank you so much for all of the detailed information, I’ve bookmarked this page.

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 19 April, 17 at 11:39 AM

      Cheers and Amsterdam is one place you can easily do alone. It’s compact with lots to do and I’ve met many a solo travellers there over the years.

  • Kristof
    Posted 21 April, 17 at 5:50 PM

    That’s a pretty complete – and honest – guide on Amsterdam! We like the city too and love wandering around the canals!

  • Destinations Journey
    Posted 30 May, 17 at 12:46 PM

    Excellent post. We are heading to Amsterdam in early July and this post has been very useful. Thank you!

  • Leen
    Posted 7 July, 17 at 2:14 PM

    Great post and photos! I visited Amsterdam last year and fell in love with the bikes and houses and trees and canals and EVERYTHING! Your beautiful photos just reminded me of the need to visit The Netherlands again :’)

    • Post Author
      Ticker Eats The World
      Posted 7 July, 17 at 2:37 PM

      Thank you and yes it’s a amazing country that I enjoy visiting again and again

  • Robby
    Posted 6 September, 17 at 1:49 PM

    Wow very nice report must go back one day again.

  • Neha
    Posted 29 January, 18 at 10:36 PM

    That’s a really well-detailed post, extremely helpful for someone looking to visit Amsterdam for the first time (someone like me!). After reading this post I’m even more keen to plan a trip there asap. Love the pictures too 🙂

  • Trackback: The Real Truth Behind the Most Popular Travel Quotes  – Ticker Eats the World
  • Trackback: The Real Truth Behind the Most Popular Travel Quotes  – Ticker Eats the World
  • Trackback: Food | Flame in Amsterdam for Juicy Bacon Burgers – Ticker Eats the World
  • Trackback: Further Amsterdam Adventures - Gypsy With a Day Job
  • Trackback: Hotel ibis Styles Amsterdam Central Station – Ticker Eats the World
  • Trackback: 3 Days in Amsterdam: Amsterdam City Break Complete Travel Guide
  • Trackback: Travelling Around the World, One Shot-Glass at a time! – Ticker Eats the World
  • Trackback: Flame Stakehouse, Amsterdam | Ticker Eats the World

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to Ticker Eats the World

Keep up-to-date with the latest in travel, hotel recommendations, food, and restaurant reviews, by subscribing to Ticker Eats the World.