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Things to do in Amsterdam—an unconventional guide


What to do
Where to eat
Where to dance
Where to shop
What not to do
Feedback, comments, ideas


I grew up in The Netherlands and lived in Amsterdam before I moved to Boston. Once in a while, someone tells me they're going to Amsterdam and I get asked what one should do there.

So, by popular demand, I'm putting it online. This is not the stuff you will find in travel guides (though, admittedly, the New York Times article, "36 hours in Amsterdam" or the more recent iteration of that article, is decent). Those will tell you to go to the Vincent van Gogh museum, take a canal boat tour, etc. Yeah, yeah. All that is nice, but this is better. This is real.

So here goes, in no particular order.

What to do

  • Take a book and sit on the Museumplein. It used to be a big street; they called it the highway of Amsterdam. They demolished the street and turned it into a huge grass lawn surrounded by the Concert Hall (Concertgebouw) on one side and the Rijksmuseum and the Vincent van Gogh museum on the other. It's very pretty. Just sit there and enjoy the view and the people. (Or have a picnic; see my Albert Heijn suggestion below.)
  • Speaking of the Concertgebouw: if you enjoy classical music, go to a concert if the price is doable. The concert hall itself is stunning. (If you go, make sure it's in the big hall, not the smaller one upstairs.)
  • If you can't afford that: free afternoon concerts ("lunch concert") in the Concertgebouw on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Go to the Magere Brug ("Skinny Bridge") over the Amstel river and see Carré theater on one side and the Stopera (Ballet/Opera/City Hall) on the other. It's a beautiful place to just stand for a few minutes to enjoy the view and to watch people walk/bike by. (It's good for kissing, also, if you get a chance.)
  • Walk through "the 9 streets": Berenstraat, Runstraat, etc. They are the streets that connect the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Herengracht. They are cute and have some nice stores.
  • Walk along the grachten (canals).
  • Rent one of those "waterbikes" and peddle your way over some canals. I know of one place in front of the Rijksmuseum that rents them out.
  • Go to the Noordermarkt on Saturday morning, then walk to the Lindenmarkt and eat apple pie in the cafe on the corner of the Westerstraat.
  • Go to the Anne Frank house very early in the morning or 45 minutes before they close.
  • Go to the Leidseplein and Rembrandtsplein. (A "plein" is a square.) Both of these are tourist traps, but a few minutes on both cannot hurt.
  • Go into an Albert Heijn, a national grocery store chain. (There's a subterranean one by the Museumplein.) Buy some Dutch food: a bread, a package of sliced young cheese ("Jonge Kaas") and/or hagelslag, and vla for dessert. Drink some Spa with it.
  • If the weather permits, walk around and sit in the Vondelpark on a nice day and look at the pretty people.
  • Visit the hip Westerpark with gardens, architecture, food, and drinks. (Restaurant "Amsterdam" is nice, very tasty, and not too expensive. It's on Watertorenplein 6, near the Westerpark.)
  • Walk through the Jordaan neighborhood. Find the "Hofjes", tiny enclosed parks or gardens using a map of the hofjes in the Jordaan.
  • Stroll down Albert Cuijp market.
  • Come to Amsterdam on King's Day, April 27 (or April 26th if April 27th is a Sunday)
  • Go to the IJkantine (a cafe and restaurant) on the opposite side of the IJ. It has a nice view, also. Take the ferry over the IJ. The ferry is near the rear exit of the central station.
  • Listen to modern classical music in Het Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. Have a coffee in the Star Ferry café-restaurant and watch the sunset against the skyline of Amsterdam.
  • Listen to Jazz at the Bimhuis.
  • Take a look at the library behind Central Station.
  • Go to the top floor of Abercrombie ∧ Fitch in the Leidsestraat to enjoy the view.
  • Go to the Spui and find the little wooden, insignificant looking door and go through it. (I think it's close to the American Book Center.) The door leads you to the Begijnhof. It's great.
  • Enjoy the good looks of Dutch men, women, or both, whatever you prefer. I hear that foreigners think that Dutch people are very good-looking.
  • Go to the Prinsen, Realen, and/or Bicker island and take a stroll.
  • Buy a tram card and take a ride with tram 2. Or ride any other tram, for that matter.
  • Take a look at KNSM island in the IJ.
  • Rent a bike, ride around, and spawn the devil. We don't like you tourists riding slowly on our bike paths, but we can't really stop you either. Plenty of bike rental places. Watch out for treacherous tram tracks.
  • Friday afternoon concert ("lunch concert") in the Westerkerk (Wester church).
  • Take tram 26 to IJburg beach and eat a pizza at De Bloem.
  • Hang out at the Westergas area: lie in the grass, look at people, then eat a sandwich at De Bakkerswinkel (see below), and watch an artsy movie at the Ketelhuis.
  • If your stomach can handle it, buy and eat french fries with mayonnaise on the street. There's a good place in the Reguliersbreestraat, across from Tuschinski, 50 meters away from the Rembrandtsplein.
  • If you've really got guts, eat some FEBO food that you buy, basically, from behind the little glass doors that open after you throw in a coin. There's one next to Tuschinski in the Reguliersbreestraat. Make sure to eat a "kroket".
  • Go see a movie in Tuschinski on the Reguliersbreestraat. It's a beautiful theater. They renovated it a while ago.
  • Go see a movie at The Movies. It's a cute small movie theater that plays cult movies.
  • Gay men: visit cafes and clubs in the Reguliersdwarsstraat.
  • Gay women: go to Sappho on Friday night. Hang out at Vive La Vie or Saarein.
  • Marvel at 95% of Dutch people who speak really good English, German, and maybe even French.
  • Take a walk through the huge red light district at night. Feel uncomfortable with the women standing behind glass selling themselves, and feel uncomfortable as you see men leave, after their visit. It's a little weird, but you should go see it. It's part of Amsterdam. The red light district is safe.

Where to eat

  • Eat at "De Groene Olifant" ("The Green Elephant") on Sarphatistraat 510 (take tram 10 to Alexanderplein.) I used to live on the same block for six years. It's fantastic food and a great atmosphere, not touristy, although it got a lot more expensive since the € kicked in. I don't know whether the atmosphere changed over the years.
  • Eat at "De Toog" for a similar atmosphere and great food. Address is Nicolaas Beetstraat 142.
  • Eat at "Café de Curtis". Small restaurant; very good and very authentic. 2e Anjeliersdwarsstraat 6-HS.
  • Eat Tapas at "Tapas-Café Siempre", 1e Sweelinckstraat 23.
  • Eat Asian food at "Nam Kee", Zeedijk 111-113, near the Nieuwmarkt.
  • Eat Thai food at "Song Kwae", Kloveniersburgwal 14.
  • Restaurant "Dauphine". It's in an old garage; fun for lunch, also. Prins Bernhardplein 175. Close to the Amstelstation.
  • Eat lunch or breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel.
  • Eat Surinam or Malaysian food in the Dappermarkt or Albert Cuijp areas.
  • Go have a drink at the Ice Bar XTRACOLD.
  • Eat expensive and organic food at De Kas, Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3.
  • Eat at open, Westerdoksplein 20, a restaurant on a bridge.
  • While you're at it, eat at Pont 13, Stavangerweg 891, a restaurant on a boat.
  • Restaurant L'Incontro Italian, Amstelveenseweg 71. Recommended by a vegetarian tourist who says: Everything very good! Antipasto, outrageously good vegetable soup, lunetta pasta, tiramisu. Owner from Sicily.
  • Go to Saray Restaurant. Recommended by a vegetarian tourist who says: good middle eastern food in de Pijp area. Good cold vegetarian dips and soup.
  • Go to Pastini Restaurant. Recommended by a vegetarian tourist who says: good vegetarian risotto with fruit & nuts, pasta, appetizers & tiramisu. Nice romantic location with big windows looking out onto two canals.
  • Have a decent cup of coffee at Café Nassau, De Wittenkade 105a.
  • As mentioned before: go to the Noordermarkt on Saturday morning, then walk to the Lindenmarkt and eat apple pie in the cafe on the corner of the Westerstraat, at Winkel
  • On the topic of apple pie, word has it that Villa Zeezicht (Torensteeg 7) has some good apple pie, also.
  • Also mentioned above: go to the IJkantine on the opposite side of the IJ. Nice view, also. Take the ferry (near the rear exit of central station) across.
  • Eat a sandwich at Ben Wouda on the corner of the Spui.
  • Eat herring at the first fish stand you find on the Albert Cuyp street, when coming from the side of the Ferdinand Bol street.
  • Hotel de Goudfazant ("Gold Pheasant") in the north of the city is an amazing newish restaurant that is not a hotel and doesn't serve pheasant.
  • Moeders ("Mothers"). Homey food. Make sure to bring a photo of your mother along.
  • Eat cookies at Van StapeleCookies made on location and good coffee and tea.
  • Look at or

Where to dance

  • Dance at De Arena. (Don't accidentally go to the soccer stadium with the same name.) Address is 's Gravesandestraat 51.
  • Go dance at the Melkweg, behind the Leidseplein.
  • Pacific Parc.

Where to shop

  • Women's clothing: Exota in the Hartenstraat.
  • Shop second hand clothing at "Miss Petticoat", Lindengracht 99. (Quote from Esmee: "old crap, but fun.")
  • More fun stores: Episode, Lady Day, and Zipper. All these are in the set of "the 9 streets" mentioned above.
  • Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat near Central Station. Many small boutiques, food stores, cafes, and restaurants.

What not to do

A lot of people think they can do anything in Amsterdam. It's probably true to a certain extent, but, please, don't be stupid, and, please, be a good tourist, don't misbehave. In particular:
  • Don't buy drugs from strangers.
  • Don't pee in random locations. Find a urinal. There are plenty to choose from.
  • Do not get too stoned. Know your limits or ask for advice at the place of sale if you are unfamiliar. If you do decide to get stoned, try to stay inside until you're done. If you insist, go to "De Tweede Kamer" coffeeshop, Heisteeg 6.
  • Don't get too drunk, please. If you do, stay inside until you're done.
  • Don't walk on the bike paths.
  • Don't let your parking meter expire; it's a costly mistake. In fact, don't use a car.

Feedback, comments, ideas

Have a good time! Let me know what you did, what you liked, and what is missing from this guide.


Many thanks to Wieger Voskuijl, Esmee Langereis, Yonathan Keren, Paulien Cornelisse, Liesbeth Klarenbeek, Priscilla Korver, Jaron Samson, Marije Bosnak, Floortje Smehuijzen, Hannah Borst, Klarke Boor, Ziv Baida, Chris Jennings, Ed Marks, Jane McEvoy, Steven Krafft, Noel Brewer, and Kristina Kennedy.
Copyright © 1994-2022 by Thomer M. Gil
Updated: 2017/09/28