Bryan and I spent 4 intense, but incredibly fun days exploring Amsterdam. We can understand why most tourists who visit the Netherlands never leave Amsterdam—there’s a lot to do! Our recommendation? Amsterdam was awesome, but we also couldn’t imagine our visit to the Netherlands complete without our adventures in and biking around Utrecht, hanging out at the beach of The Hague, or exploring the charming historic town of Delft. Make some time to get out of the big city and see the sights that most tourists don’t even consider exploring. However, today’s guide is all about Amsterdam. After questioning our fantastic hosts and some extensive online research, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite sights, activities, and eats as well as some transportation tips to make your life a little easier when planning an Amsterdam visit.
What to See and Do in Amsterdam
Free Walking Tour—Introduce yourself to the city through a free walking tour. We booked our tour online ahead of time at https://freewalkingtoursamsterdam.com/. While this was not our favorite free walking tour to date, we did learn some useful information about the city we would not have otherwise found. The walking tour lasted 2 hours and included information on the history of Amsterdam, including when the French took over and their influence on the culture, Amsterdam’s weed culture, the infamous Red Light District, and even a taste of Herring (which I did not choose to partake in haha). Try out the Alternative Tour for an in-depth look at Dutch culture.
Rijksmuseum—We wandered around this enormous art museum for close to 4 hours and still did not see everything. Most known for housing Rembrandt’s most famous painting, A Knight’s Watch, you will find the crowd gravitates towards this painting. Our recommendation is to arrive early, get an audio guide, and see this painting first before it gets too crowded. Afterwards, start your audio guide tour—we opted for the Highlights Visit. My favorite part of the museum was the overly extravagant doll house. The house was not for children, but rather a tool for rich housewives to plan how they wanted their house decorated. The outside of this doll house was made of luxurious wood inlays, and the inside was just as extravagant. They owner had materials imported from all around the world just to decorate the tiny interior. Even those tiny porcelain dishes were a custom order from China! Bryan’s favorite part was the model of a colonial war ship—with working sails and pulleys and exact replica of on-board cannons. This entrance fee to this museum is included with the I Amsterdam card.
Van Gough Museum—This was our favorite museum, as we love how it’s laid out. You start with early Van Gough works and as you progress through the different levels you can see the progress of Van Gough’s unique style. In between Van Gough’s works are paintings of those who influenced his technique and style. You also learn about his family and friends through his letters and gain an understanding of Van Gough’s paintings through exhibits that explain why his paintings were so groundbreaking. We shared an audio guide and spent 4 hours lost in Van Gough’s world. Book a day or two ahead of time, as this museum is popular. The entrance fee to this museum is included with the I Amsterdam Card.
Rembrandt House Museum—This was probably my 2nd favorite museum we visited. The museum is the house where Rembrandt lived, painted, and taught pupils how to paint for 20 years. The tour takes you through each room in the house. One room had a painting tutorial which shows and teaches guests exactly how Rembrandt painted, from preparing the canvas to be painted on, to mixing his own paint colors from natural materials, and even how the finished painting is preserved. The process is incredibly detailed and way more complicated than I ever imagined! The price of admission includes the audio guide, and it only took us 1.5 hours to go through the tour. The entrance fee to this museum is included with the I Amsterdam card.
Anne Frank House—This was something I really wanted to do, so I tried to book 2 weeks in advance only to find all tickets for the next 2 months were sold out! You have to book online to get a ticket, so plan 2 months ahead what day you want to do your tour. According to their website “80% of tickets for any date are released exactly two months in advance. The remaining 20% are released on this website on the day.”
Heineken Experience—Not gonna lie, this is a tourist magnet, but Bryan and I enjoyed it anyways. We went in the late afternoon after crowds had died down. With admission you get 2 beers plus a tasting, which is essentially a third beer, so we found the price worth it (plus we got a discount from our I Amsterdam card). I thoroughly enjoyed beating Bryan in a draft pouring contest after our tour in the Heineken bar where you enjoy your 2 included beers.
Canal Tour—The I Amsterdam card includes a free canal tour, but only the big stop-and-go boats. We rode one and were not impressed as almost no information was offered. I took the ride instead as a way to enjoy looking at all the different types of boat houses. If you decided to do a canal tour, opt for one of the smaller boats with an actual guide and not a recording.
I Amsterdam Card
Pick up an “I Amsterdam” card from the tourist office right outside of the central train station of Amsterdam. This card gives you priority entrance to many museums, includes the entrance fees to many museums inside and even outside of Amsterdam, and includes unlimited metro, bus, and tram transportation within the Amsterdam city limits. You can purchase the card for 24-, 48-, 72-, or 96-hours depending on how long you’ll be in Amsterdam. We purchased the 72-hour card as we took it easy our first day.
As you pick up the card, you will also be given a map of the city with tram, bus, and metro lines shown along with the sites to which the card gives you access. We found the public transportation very simple to take. Most tram and bus stops have electronic boards which tell you when the next few trams/buses arrive.
Vegan Eats and Some Drinks
The Netherlands has a growing vegan movement, so it was not hard at all to find vegan options. We ate at plenty of non-vegan restaurants and there seemed to always be an option for Lauren. Below are some of our favorites in Amsterdam!
Vegan Junk Food Bar—This place is not what you imagine a vegan restaurant to be. No kale or quinoa in sight, just a menu full of guilty pleasures—and it’s all vegan! What to order: Kapsalon Fries, Daddy Mc Chik’n, the Jumbo Platter. What to skip: Blue Corn Chik’n Tortilla (for some reason, we haven’t found any good Mexican food in Europe).
Meatless District—I was craving a Caesar salad when we spotted this restaurant. After looking over all the tasty options, I almost changed my mind. This menu was my favorite—it had a mix of creative healthy dishes and indulgences that somehow all seemed equally appealing. I stuck with the Caesar salad, and I was not disappointed or left hungry! It had strips of “chik’n,” smoky crispy shiitake bits, and avocado to elevate the salad into a filling entrée. What to order: EVERYTHING. But I can only vouch for the Caesar salad. Their Smoked “Salmon” Bagel and Matcha Granola made me want to go back for breakfast.
Mr. & Mrs. Watson—Perfect for a date night, Bryan and I treated ourselves to a fancy dinner our last night in Amsterdam. Honestly, I picked this place out for the Watson’s Cheese Platter, and it did not disappoint. They have vegan brie and Roquefort!! How can you resist? Make sure to make reservations as this is a popular restaurant. What to order: The Watson’s Cheese Platter and the Sloppy Cheesesteak Bun. What to skip: Watson Tarte—the spelt crust was thick and tough
Soup en Zo—A soup and salad place with quite a few vegan options. This place was a perfect retreat when we suddenly got rained on. Nothing beats cozying up to a bowl of soup on a rainy day. With multiple locations around Amsterdam, it makes a great stand-by when wandering around the city. What to order: The soups change seasonally, so it’s hard to say what to order. Luckily, they allow you to sample the soups before committing!!
Brouwerij 't IJ—This brewery is beneath an old windmill. We found it a great place to rest up after hours of museum wandering. Grab a snack and a beer sampler. If you’re in Amsterdam on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, join the brewery tour at 3:30 pm—6 euros buys not only the tour but also includes a beer of your choice!
De Dries Fltechjes—Also on our I Amsterdam card was a free gin shot at the oldest pub in Amsterdam. This pub is not your typical late-night pub, but rather one more well-known for happy hours amongst locals. The pub has barrels lined up along one side from floor to ceiling. Companies or individuals may rent out a barrel. The pub will keep the barrel filled with their liquor of choice, so they can pour as much as they’d like!
Indonesian Food—The Netherlands is known for having fantastic Indonesian food. If you spot Indonesian restaurant, try it out! Many have vegan options using tempeh, which originated in Indonesia.