When you tell people you’re planning a two-day trip to Amsterdam, their mind will immediately show them seedy images of the Red Light District and pungent coffee shops. But while the illicit-made-legit is a theme that shapes most tourists’ experience of the Dutch city, Amsterdam is a popular city break destination for culture lovers and families – as well as horny stoners. I went to Amsterdam for two days on a mission to experience both sides of the laid-back city.
I wasn’t in Amsterdam long enough to visit the iconic tulip fields, but the winding streets and canal banks still offered up a kaleidoscope of colours by day, and the scarlet glow of an Amsterdam night proved to be an experience in itself. I thought I’d share my top things to do if you have two days to explore Amsterdam.
A complete itinerary for two days in Amsterdam
Day one in Amsterdam
Book a tour
Viator has a whole host of options for every type of traveller in Amsterdam. For an overall introduction to the city, I suggest their hop on hop off bus tour. This gives you a great overview of Amsterdam on your first morning, and then you can explore the areas and attractions that suit you afterwards.
Take a walk along the canals
The first thing that struck me about Amsterdam is the charming, if slightly skewed architecture. Every building differs from its neighbour and the streets lean disconcertingly, as though the buildings are half-drunk – or maybe you are. In Amsterdam, it’s hard to tell. This is because it’s a city built on water, and its architecture betrays what’s going on underneath. The concentric circles of 400-year-old canals serve as a reference point for wandering tourists and create a picture perfect city that makes for a ideal weekend away.
A walk along the canal is the best way to take the city in, and if you’re lucky you can grab a table and dine al fresco. A canal cruise is a cool way to see the city from a different perspective, and the headsets will make you feel like you’ve actually learned something about the city you’re visiting. Or make like the locals, and hire a bike!
Don’t miss Jordaan, the artsy part of the city.
Visit the floating Flower Market
Amble through the world’s only floating Flower Market, Blocemenmarkt, and pick up some iconic tulip bulbs to take home to remind you of your trip to the Dam. I tried to convince my boyfriend we should plant bulbs to symbolise our love while we were in Amsterdam, but he wasn’t in to it. Rude.
Museumplein is the cultural epicentre of Amsterdam, and this Museum Quarter is where you’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. To dodge the crowds, check out the lesser-known FOAM photography museum, the Tropenmuseum, and the Willet Holthuysen.
Alternatively (I feel like any guide to a weekend in Amsterdam inevitably will include a few ‘alternative’ options), the Amsterdam Sex Museum provides some phallic photo opportunities to remind you of your trip to the Netherlands, if that’s what you’re in to.
Join a bar crawl
On your first night in Amsterdam, if you aren’t travelling in a group, a good way to meet people and ensure you go to the rowdiest watering holes is to join a bar crawl starting at Belushi’s. The hostel bar is near Dam Square and is heaving all day and night thanks to the outdoor garden and comfy couches. Smoke outside, pass out inside. Wake up and head next door to The Winston Kingdom – the neighbouring club that hosts live DJs 7 days a week.
Day two in Amsterdam
Visit Anne Frank’s House
Learn about the atrocities committed against Jewish people during WWII through one young girl’s eyes at the house where Anne and her family famously hid from Nazis for two years. It’s always busy, so go early in the morning to avoid waiting times.
Amsterdam has a diverse range of shops in Kalverstraat in the city centre, but the best area for vintage and designer shopping is De Negen Straatjes or ‘The Nine Streets’.
Make sure you stop at the Amsterdam Cheese Shop to indulge your dairy needs. What are you talking about, dairy needs? Of course everyone has dairy needs, don’t give me that lacto-into bullsh*t.
If you like a pint, you’d be crazy not to visit the Heineken factory while you’re in the Netherlands. For 18 Euro, the Heineken experience is interactive and comes with samples that taste far better than the beer out of the tap in your local boozer.
Another place to quell your thirst is the Plaza, where bars and coffee shops like Smokey’s have outdoor seating that sprawls across the pavements and into the streets.
Cruise along the canal
Hop aboard a sightseeing boat at sunset for a dinner cruise with drinks. This way, you get to enjoy a slap-up meal with a view of the city from the water. Book your dinner cruise here.
Peep in to the other side of Amsterdam
Curious about Amsterdam’s infamous sex industry? A peep show will give you a glimpse of the city’s X-rated activity without you getting your hands dirty (sorry).
Do some ahem, window shopping
Window shopping is a fabulous past time in Amsterdam. Cringe at the winks and licked lips that will be directed your way as you saunter past girls working their windows. I discovered that the window seat in Tiger Bar is a great spot to sip a beer with your friends and time clients as they dodge in and out of the prostitute’s doors, one after the other.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
I stayed with a friend while I was in Amsterdam, then got drunk and booked a room at the Marriott because we couldn’t be bothered getting ourselves to her flat. Oops! Our room was gorgeous and the bed could easily fit four people. I had a great time rolling around. I can highly recommend the hotel, and my friend’s flat – although I’m not sure she’s taking bookings.
How to get to Amsterdam
You can catch the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. The sailing is 16 hours 30 mins and you should book in advance.
Got more time to spend in the Netherlands? You might enjoy a day trip to Bruges. Alternatively, you can see Zaanse Schans, Volendam, and Marken on a half-day or full-day windmill tour departing from Amsterdam. You even get to visit a cheese factory!
Other things to do in Amsterdam
- Ride the ferry to the North of Amsterdam – it’s free and just because it’s off the beaten path, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. NDSM is a cool indie hangout you shouldn’t miss if you have more time to explorer.
- Try herring, a traditional Dutch snack. Best served from a food cart!
- Visit a microbrewery under a windmill. You can do a beer tasting at De Gooyer in the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Islands).
- Check out a food market or festival at Westergasbafriek.
- If you’re visiting Amsterdam in spring, then take the short 20-minute trip out to the world famous tulip fields (Bollenstreek).
- Go to an outdoor theatre at 47 acre Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s biggest park.
- Eat at Food Hallen – a street food and drink haven in the Oud-West neighbourhood.
- Escape the crowds at The Begijnhof, one of Amsterdam’s oldest inner courtyards.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What would you recommend people do if they only have one weekend there? Leave your recommendations in the comments – I’d love to hear about some local gems.
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