Amsterdam is a fantastic city breaming with history, architecture, and a unique culture. However, it is also quite small, which makes it perfect for a weekend getaway. When Alex and I were staying with our friend, Rory, in Haarlem we were only a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam. We were able to pop into Amsterdam twice and did almost everything we wanted to do in 48 hours. Here is our breakdown of the top things you should eat, drink and see with only a weekend in this wonderful Dutch city!
If this is your first time in Amsterdam, then we definitely recommend you visit at least 3 of these major sites. We easily spent at least 2 hours in both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and probably could have spent more time at each; so make sure you allot yourself enough time to explore these sites!
The Anne Frank House
This is arguably Amsterdam’s most important and famous landmark. It is a must see in order to understand how WWII affected not only the Jewish people but also the city of Amsterdam. This museum is not your typical collection of artifacts; you actually step back in time and see the real hiding place of Anne Frank and her family and the places described in The Diary of Anne Frank. It is definitely a museum that calls for introspection. Therefore, I would highly suggest visiting in the morning when there are less people and you can take your time being immersed in a unique, preserved piece of history. It is also probably Amsterdam’s most popular museum so I would recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in the massive line.
The Rijksmuseum is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen and the museum is seriously impressive. While Flemish artists like Rembrandt have never been my favorite, we knew we wanted to visit The Rijksmuseum on this trip because of how influential some of these artists are. It is most famous for housing Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and you know when you’re getting close because the crowd around the piece was huge!
My favorite section of the museum was the part dedicated to the Battle of Waterloo. The room is dominated by the painting of “The Battle of Waterloo” by Jan Willem Pieneman and it sets the tone for the whole wing. The piece takes up almost an entire wall and portrays the moment when the Anglo-Dutch soldiers receive word that the Prussians are arriving as reinforcements. The major generals of the Battle of Waterloo are depicted in the painting including the Dutch Crown Prince, later King William II, lying wounded on a stretcher. The most interesting part of The Waterloo exhibit is the photos of the actual soldiers who took part in the battle. While they were photographed many years later, they all still posed in the outfits they wore in battle. In the Rijksmuseum there is so much to see and even if you just give everything a glance, it can take up to three hours.
The Van Gogh Museum
For me, The Van Gogh Museum is THE museum to visit in Amsterdam. I can’t believe I missed it my first time there, although I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I do now. The best thing about The Van Gogh Museum is that it takes you through his development as an artist. The museum starts with his earlier pieces and then takes you through his work in Paris, his relationship with his brother (an art dealer) and other artists, and his time in Arles in the south of France. We recently went to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and had a similar experience. I love seeing the growth and development of artists, especially two who are so iconic. I would HIGHLY suggest you book your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line. We spent about half an hour waiting in line, which could have been time well spent inside the museum.
Westerkerk is a protestant church located in the Jordaan neighborhood near the Anne Frank House. In fact, the church is actually mentioned several times in The Diary of Anne Frank. While I personally have never been inside, I always enjoy a stroll past to see its beautiful tower standing at 87 meters, the highest tower in Amsterdam! The church is also famous for housing the burial spot of Rembrandt in Westerkerk. However, the exact location of his tomb has since been lost because Rembrandt was buried under a number as he died a poor man.
Vondelpark is a perfect place to spend a lazy sunny afternoon. It is always lively and filled with people soaking up the sun. For me, this is one of the best places to relax after visiting the museums since it is quite close to Museum Park but separate from the chaos that has a tendency to surround the museums.
You can’t go to Amsterdam and not notice the amount of “coffee” shops. It is inevitable and if you like to partake every once in awhile, Betty Too is a great option. There are coffee shops EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam (well not really but in the most touristed neighborhoods you will see them a lot). There are a lot of varieties so you have plenty of options; however, on a sunny day Betty Too has outdoor seating!
Wander the Neighborhood of Jordaan
If you want to capture some iconic canal houses and beautiful canal scenes while you are in Amsterdam, Jordaan is a fantastically photogenic neighborhood. This neighborhood is most famous for housing The Anne Frank House and if you plan on visiting there take some time to enjoy this neighborhood as well. It can be slightly more expensive to eat and drink in than other neighborhoods but it is definitely a gorgeous neighborhood for a stroll or a long chat over a cappuccino.
Walk the Canals
The canals of Amsterdam are not just beautiful in Jordaan but all over the city. So take a stroll, stop to chat on one of the many benches along them, or grab a beer with friends to experience life as a local for a little while. Seek out one of the quieter canals for a relaxing afternoon and just people watch as the sun slips behind the canal houses. If you do this just once, you will have experienced a quintessential afternoon in Amsterdam.
You never know what you might find while strolling along the canals in Amsterdam!
I love that French fries can totally be a meal in this country and Manken Pis is arguably the best place in the city to get fries. While I am not a huge fan of downtown Amsterdam because of the crowds and industrial atmosphere, it is worth it to swing through here just to pick up these fries. There are several sizes to choose from and of course, several different sauces. Both Alex and I got the small (which is not very small at all) and Alex got the peanut sauce and I got ketchup because I like it. So there. (There will be no mayonnaise on fries for this California girl). So if you get a fry craving while in Amsterdam this is definitely the place to go. The crunchy golden deliciousness of these fries are unparalleled even with the fries we had in Belgium.
Upstairs Pancake House
So we sadly didn’t actually eat here even though it had been highly recommended to us by locals and of course, Anthony Bourdain. During the summer, they have very specific hours and they were not open the days we popped into Amsterdam. However, I wanted to include the Pancake House on the list anyways because of the outstanding recommendations. I was so disappointed that it wasn’t open that Alex and I actually didn’t even eat pancakes at all when we went to Amsterdam. So when we go back to Holland in the fall to pick up our winter clothes from Rory, we will have to make sure we plan accordingly!
Singel 404 is a charming little cafe located along the Singel Canal and is a perfect spot for breakfast and lunch. If you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day, snag one of their four tables outside along the canal. The cafe has a wide range of sandwiches, bagels, and fresh squeezed juices to start your morning or afternoon off right. Alex had the smoked salmon bagel and I had the a grilled cheese with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and thyme. They were both fantastic and filling and the menu is HUGE and diverse so I wish we had been able to try more!
Wok to Wok
Ah, Wok to Wok. Both Alex and I have a soft spot for Wok to Wok in our hearts, which goes back to the first time we both visited Amsterdam separately. Wok to Wok is basically a customizable stir fry joint that you can find now all over the world. While it may be “fast food” it is still delicious and cheap (which is always helpful for our round the world budget!) Alex and I both had noodles with chicken here (Alex had the black bean sauce and I had the sweet and sour) and it came to just 18€ for the two of us. Not bad for a quick lunch in between sight seeing. You can find Wok to Wok all over the city but I still have only been to the one in Leidsplan and I am quite attached to it.
De Zotte is a fantastic little Belgian beer joint we stumbled upon while strolling through the Jordaan. We stopped in for a few pints and some dinner and were rewarded with some of the best food we had not only in Amsterdam, but in Holland as well. We started out with the traditional Dutch croquettes which are fried balls of meat ragout, usually veal. We had these all over The Netherlands but these ones were sublime. I also had a very simple bowl of tomato soup (trying to get some veggies in with all the heavy meat dishes) with a loaf of fresh country bread. Alex had sausages in a sundried tomato sauce. Overall everything was fantastic. My only complaint was the lack of locals. It could have been the time we stopped to have dinner or the fact that it has high TripAdvisor ratings but either way we enjoyed our meal and beers there.
Cafe int Aepjen
This bar is worth going to just for the history, although they also have a great beer selection! Cafe int Aepjen is a brown pub housed in one of the last remaining houses from the 15th century used as lodging for sailors. The name Aepjen means monkey and back in the day, if the sailors couldn’t pay their tab then on their next trip they were required to bring a monkey back. This a no frills bar; a place with no music that is meant for a good chat with a friend while you relax with a couple of beers.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ
Brouwerij ‘t IJ is probably our new favorite place in Amsterdam. For years the only thing I had heard about Dutch beer was Heineken and Amstel and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed. So for almost all of my visits to Amsterdam, I stuck to ordering Belgian beers. However, this visit was different. Jessica, a local and writer (check out her blog to learn all about her book which focuses on the people behind some of Amsterdam’s diverse culinary scene), suggested that we visit Brouwerij ‘t IJ and we were not disappointed. Located out in the eastern part of Amsterdam, this brewery completely changed my perception of the beer scene in Amsterdam. Here the brewery makes their beer on site and has a fantastic beer garden to go along with it. They produce eight beers year round including the Plzeň, which was Alex’s favorite, three seasonal beers and occasionally some limited edition beers. We spent a couple of hours here just soaking up the sunshine, drinking fantastic beers, and snacking on some sausages and cheese. It was a phenomenal way to spend a relaxing, summer afternoon in Amsterdam.
Cafe Gasthuys, another typical brown pub, is located right next to The Upstairs Pancake House. Once realizing the pancake house was closed, we were ready to drown our pancake sorrows in their canal seated patio. It has a great atmosphere and is a quiet spot away from the downtown road traffic to people watch everyone going by on the canals. If you can’t grab one of the many seats outside, the inside isn’t too shabby either with two levels in the historic building. Located near the University, this pub always has a lively crowd and the people watching is great!
This guy was the highlight of our people watching while at Cafe Gasthuys; he did not have a care in the world that afternoon.
So there are our favorite places to spend a weekend in Amsterdam. There is so much to this city but if you only have a short amount of time, we feel that this is how you can soak up all that Amsterdam has to offer!
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What was your favorite part? Anything we missed that we will have to check out when we return in the fall? Let us know in the comments!
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