Manager and Guide @ Amsterdam Urban Adventures. Seasoned traveller, painter, backpacker, brewer of small beers, and world resident.
If you search the ‘net for five things to do in Amsterdam, you’ll probably get the same old three picks (with a Red Light trip in there somewhere). But if you want something different to do, away from the tourist crowds, our local Amsterdam tour guides have got you covered.
Here’s the ultimate guide to things to do in Amsterdam that I would give to a friend coming to visit — because, to be honest, national monuments and tourist traps are not something most of us look forward to in any country.
Get out of Amsterdam
Thats right, leave! Yes, you’re here to see the city, but the Netherlands is small. Want to see famous paintings and art without all the crowds? Go to Den Haag (The Hague), where the Mauritshuis Museum houses a world-class collection, and has more than one memorable Rembrandt. Or visit the Escher Museum (did you even know he was Dutch?) or the Gemeentemusuem (home to the world’s largest Mondrian collection). Alternately, take a 15-minute train ride to Haarlem for lunch or dinner before seeing the Red Light on your way back into town. The NL is more than just “The Dam,” so get out and explore!
#localsknow tip: Grab a drink in Noord Amsterdam, then hop on a free ferry that you can catch behind Central Station all day.
Visit an alternative museum
Travellers often come to Amsterdam with only three days to visit — and the mobs then waste their precious hours waiting in line. Yes, the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum are icons, but did you know Amsterdam is home to more than 30 museums? And with good deals on entrance fees, as well! From the Jewish Historical Museum, to the Tropical Museum, to the Funeral Museum, Amsterdam is rich in the cerebral and the eccentric.
Drink Dutch beer
If you saw ‘beer’ and thought “Heineken!”, then you need to book our Original Amsterdam Beer Tour. The Netherlands has more than 230 beer labels and about 8 or 10 beer festivals annually. We’re the Benelux beer hub and masters when it comes to destroying the German Purity Law. Amsterdam now boasts over 10 breweries you can visit, and places like the Butcher’s Tears will give you an idea of what new brewmasters are distilling.
Do something on the water
If you take a one-hour canal boat ride in the city, that’s fine, but don’t expect much. Speaking as a local boater myself, these boats are creating a monopoly. Instead, I suggest you do a little creative web searching for people in Amsterdam offering rides, or pluck up the courage to approach someone in a boat and ask for a quick trip. (If you have a six-pack of beer at your side, your odds of scoring a ‘yes’ are better.) There are also free ferries on the other side of Central Station, as well as a EUR 7 fast boat to the North Sea that’ll take both you and your bike. But the real adventurer should hop a local bus ride to Volendam, a ferry to Marken, then a local bus ride back to Amsterdam for about EUR 16. This way you can experience the IJ like a true local, and feel the same closeness to the water that all Dutch people share. All local transportation information can be found on the GVB national transportation service site.
#localsknow tip: The Dutch love the water and the Amsterdam Sail, which happens every five years, is the largest nautical event in the world.
Pack a lunch and go green
Endless sidewalks and tremendous bike traffic will wear the body and spirit down, we know. Take a break by hitting the local sandwich shop in your area (all the store owners will know where they are, so ask around) and head some place green. A’Dam hosts more than 10 major parks, with Vondel Park being the only one on a tourist map. So get out your Google Maps and explore. Parks are everywhere, but for the best experience, go to the other side of the city in Amsterdam North, along the water. If you’re in the city when it rains (and you just might be), but still seeking nature, you can go to the city’s ethically operated and conservationist zoo, or visit one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world.