The capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam, is famous for its coffee shops, red lights, and canals. Founded in 1275, supposedly by two fisherman and their dog, over the centuries, the city grew in importance and wealth as Dutch colonies were set up around the world and companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC) began transferring wealth to the city. Many travelers tend to frequent the coffee shops or wander the red light district. The city features amazing art museums, beautiful parks, and wonderful cafes. I used to live here, and I can tell you the best of Amsterdam is found outside the city center in the smaller neighborhoods with their canal-side cafes.
Hostel prices – Dorm prices vary a lot in Amsterdam. You can find rooms ranging from $20-40 USD per night depending on the place’s popularity and location. Private rooms are closer to $90 USD for a double.
Budget hotel prices – Rooms start at around $100 USD per night for a double room at a hotel in Amsterdam. In the low season, you can almost cut that price in half. Expect closer to $60 USD for a double room. Eurocheapo.com is a good site for finding affordable hotels.
Average cost of food – There are plenty of budget-friendly fast food restaurants in Amsterdam, ranging from McDonalds to Maoz to Wok to Walk. These meals will cost you between $6-15 USD. Restaurant meals average around $20-27 USD for a main dish with a drink. If you choose to cook food for yourself, you can expect to pay an average of $50-60 USD per week for groceries. Cheap Dutch food at the famous FEBO is around $3-8 USD, but don’t expect anything fancy for vending machine food.
Transportation costs – A tram or bus will cost $3.50 USD for a one-hour ticket. Travelers looking to use public transport for just a day or two might find the most affordable and easiest option day tickets valid for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours. Prices range from $9-11 USD. These tickets are available from drivers and ticket sellers (only the 24-hour ticket), GVB outlets, tourist offices and kiosks.
Money Saving Tips
Get the I Amsterdam Pass – This offers free entrance to most of the major museums and attractions as well as free public transportation. If you’re going to be bouncing between museums a lot, get this card.
Drink in hostels – Hostels have the best drink deals in the cities. Even if you aren’t staying at them, most have bars open to the public where you can get 1 Euro beers.
Take a free walking tour – If you want an overview of the city, take a one of the free walking tours. This way you’ll get to learn about the city without spending money. The biggest one is offered by New Europe tours.
Hire your own boat – Instead of taking an expensive canal cruise, you can hire your own boat. If you have three or four people, it works out to be about $7 USD a piece and you can bring alcohol, food, or smoke on it.
Eat on the cheap – Febo, Walk to Wok, Maoz are all cheap places to get food. Moreover, eat out during lunch for specials and deals.
Top Things to See and Do
Admire art at the Van Gogh Museum – This museum is where you can hundreds of Van Gogh paintings, including the famous sunflowers, as well as paintings from other impressionist painters. Go in the afternoon to avoid the lines or book your ticket ahead of time online.
Educate yourself at the Amsterdam History Museum – Though not exactly off the beaten path, this museum surprisingly sees few tourists, yet it does a great job of telling the history of the city. The museum is fairly big, so budget a few hours for it.
Learn about Jewish history – Located near Waterlooplein, the Jewish History Museum has an excellent section on World War 2, the Holocaust, and how the Dutch dealt with the guilt of the mass deportations after the war.
Go flower crazy at the Tulip Museum – Located in a room inside a tulip shop, this little place does an interesting job of telling the history of tulips in Holland and the infamous tulip craze. Best of all: you’ll never find a crowd.
Lose yourself in the Jordaan – I’m always amazed at how few tourists visit this area since it is right next to the city center. This former working-class district is now a maze of cafes, little shops, and restaurants. During the summer, it is a popular spot for locals to eat. I absolutely love wandering around here, visiting the weekend farmers market and sampling Dutch apple pie.
See photography at FOAM – The photography museum houses wonderful pictures and sees few crowds despite being in the main part of the city. It’s a must for any photography lover. I really enjoyed all the black and white photographs and the outdoor garden.
Squeeze into the Houseboat Museum – Not much of a museum but this decorated houseboat gives you an interesting glimpse into what living on the canals are like. I walked away with one impression of life on the canals: a bit cramped.
Explore Oost – The area east of the city has an amazing park, a zoo, and lots of good Muslim eateries. Wandering around here, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of tourists, most of whom are probably lost. It’s an off-the-beaten path and underrated part of the city.
Relax in Rembrandt Park – Not to be confused with Rembrandtplein in the city center, this park west of the city is a good place to wander. The area around it is pretty working class and a bit more modern – a good contrast to the historic center. You’ll know you are there when signs suddenly stop being printed in English and only Dutch.
Take a canal tour – The canals of Amsterdam are almost as famous as the houses of Amsterdam. One of the best ways to see the city is from the canals. You can take one of the tours with a big boat or hire your own guide.
Unwind in Vondelpark – Amsterdam’s main and central park, Vondelpark is where everyone goes to hang out, smoke, bike, run, or have a picnic. Expect huge crowds on a warm day.
Drink in the Heineken Experience – I find it to be overpriced and commercial, but the Heineken Experience will give you an overview of the company, a few drinks, and some silly games to play. Note that this isn’t an actual working brewery.
Visit the Anne Frank House – This house is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi’s during WW2. The house showcases her life, what it was like to live in the attic, as well as other information on the holocaust. It is a sad and moving place. Expect really, really long lines – book tickets online ahead of time to skip past.
See the windmills – Setting out on an adventure to visit the windmills surrounding the city is another great way to tour. There are eight in total – most of which, are in Amsterdam West. De Gooyer is the closest to the city center and also happens to be a brewery, making it the perfect place to start.
Stroll through plantage – The is an entire district in Amsterdam, comprised of green neighborhoods, several gardens and parks, and the Artis Royal Zoo. Beyond the main zoo area, Artis is also host to a Zoological Museum, a Planetarium, and an Aquarium.
See House of Bols – This is one of the most underrated attractions in The Netherlands. Run by the Bols distillery, this is a Dutch gin museum. The self-guided tour takes about an hour and includes the promise of a cocktail and an interesting smelling test.
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