Amsterdam. It’s the capital of the Netherlands, AKA “Holland” (although technically that term refers only to a specific region of the country). Famous for its canals, bikes, history, and overall beauty, it’s one of the most Instagrammable cities in Europe. It’s also one of those cities where I’m not really sure how it’s taken me so long to visit, especially considering my Dutch heritage (more on that later).
But finally, I made it.
Where to Stay
Amsterdam is expensive, and that’s certainly true of the hotels. Because we were with an odd-numbered group, and four person hotel rooms were hard to find, we ended up staying in an apartment rental (found on hotels.com) which was in a super central location (Grachtengordel). Wherever you stay, book EARLY. Some great hotels close to the action are:
- Best Western Dam Square Inn – historic hotel with tasting room
- White Tulip – A centrally located hostel, if you’re on a budget!
- Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel – Part of the Marriott family, with American amenities
Overall, Amsterdam is very walkable, so don’t be afraid to stay a little further from the center of town.
What to Do
There’s plenty of history to see in Amsterdam.
- Anne Frank House – Where Anne Frank hid during the Holocaust is a must-see for anyone visiting Amsterdam. You must buy tickets in advance, preferably way in advance to secure your first choice time slot.
- Bloemenmarkt – The flower market, worthy of a stroll to stop and smell the tulips! You can bring bulbs home as a souvenir.
- Iamsterdam sign – It will likely be surrounded by tourists, but if you want a quick pic with this iconic sign, it’s a nice area to walk to during the day. It’s also near the museums if you want to explore Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum while you’re there!
- Vondelpark – A huge park in any city is always worth visiting. If you want to bike but get intimidated by traffic, this is a great spot to ride around, and then stop and have a drink in one of the restaurants lining the paths. (We recommend De Vondeltuin.)
- Rent a Bike – Speaking of which … this is a must! There are plenty of bike shops that offer day rentals. We used Black Bikes because they had multiple drop off locations.
- Heineken Experience – Tour the former brewery and enjoy a Heineken!
- House of Bols Cocktail Experience – If you’re looking for something different, this self-guided cocktail museum shows you the origin of Genever and ends at the bar.
- The Red Light District – Ah, you’ve heard the stories. The streets in central Amsterdam famous for the brothels get crowded with tourists, many of which come just to look. If you choose to go, be respectful of the women and don’t linger too long and stare. (The government has been threatening to write tickets to those who idle too long.)
Where to Eat & Drink
Not to be confused with the American hangouts, coffee shops are actually for buying and smoking marijuana. (A café is where they sell coffee, so don’t confuse them!) Some places sell alcohol and weed, letting you pick your poison.
- The Pancake Bakery – A great brunch stop after touring the Anne Frank House. Fill up on some crepes.
- Restaurant Vlaming – Recommended by The Blonde Abroad, this restaurant was awesome modern Dutch food.
- Foodhallen – We didn’t make it here, but if you want a little variety, make your way to this food hall.
- Boerejongens Coffeeshop – Famous for tourists and locals alike, this coffee shop is small, but apparently has some of the best “stuff”.
The Netherlands is a very commutable country, making it easy to visit the sites in the countryside for the day.
- Windmills -The famous windmills that will give you that postcard-like picture of Holland are a must-see. Zaanse Schans are probably the most well-known, but there are several other picturesque sites for windmills, depending on where you are traveling through the country, including Kinderdijk. We ended up stopping at Museummolen Schermerhorn, as it was on the way of our private tour.
- Keukenhof – The gardens filled with tulips. You have to catch them in April, or early May, or you’ll miss the season!
For our trip, we ended up booking a private customizable tour of the countryside so that we could travel to where my grandmother is from, and then stop at these sites along the way. We took a tour of our ancestry in Callantsoog, Holland. Read on to see what we found …