Ahh, the Netherlands; land of tulips, legal prostitution, canals and stroopwafels… and more! My first foray into Dutchland was interesting, if not a little too long for my liking*. Still, it was memorable in more than one way.
First off, I quickly found out that a) nonstop flights are insanely more expensive (like three times more expensive) than nonstop, b) accommodations are no cheaper than $100 a night because Amsterdam is so tiny.
My solve as a budget traveler was to play around with dates and go on the off season (in September). We managed to snag roundtrip tickets for $416.59 per person. I also used Hotwire’s randomizer hotel feature to snag the Best Western West Side for $88 a night (inclusive of taxes). Still a bit pricey, but definitely better than if I had been lazy and not looked for better deals.
Once we landed in Amsterdam, I quickly downloaded and paid for the I Amsterdam pass. This pass basically gives you admission to a multitude of attractions as well as a metropass for the entire duration you pay for, starting from the time you activate it.
You may only see each attraction once (no double dipping!), but the metro can be used an unlimited amount (please note that only the city metro is covered, there are also independent bus lines the farther out from the city you go, but you most likely won’t run into them unless you go somewhere off the beaten path).
The pass practically pays for itself and more if you hit up a full itinerary of attractions starting from the time you activate it. I definitely recommend activating it the moment you’re sure you’re ready to embark on your Amsterdam adventure, don’t, say, activate it and then go on a bus tour on your own, because those hours start ticking away the moment you start it.
Our favorite I Amsterdam activities were:
100% included activities:
- Canal boat tour: the lovers or not lovers one makes no difference, they are all the same exact tour. The best seats are the open ones in the back of the boat — but watch out for sudden rain!
- Museum Het Rembrandthuis: in Rembrandt’s actual former house-cum-museum, we soaked up his aura and spirit. Not to be missed!
- ARTIS Zoo (I usually hate zoos for obvious reasons, but the habitats and layout of the zoo were quite thoughtfully planned unlike many zoos I’ve seen), Micropia and Groote Museum: all were excellent and entertained us for a full day
- Houseboat Museum: very interesting tiny houseboat museum on an actual canal
- MOCO Museum: Banksy was on show when we visited, and we are big fans so it was enjoyable. The other installations were also interesting and we enjoyed the layout, which is like a little house.
- Rijksmuseum: it was pretty crowded so I highly recommend going on a weekday if at all possible
- Eye Filmmuseum: a lot of the exhibits were closed and movies weren’t showing which was disappointing, but the lowest level had a film history section with interactive machines and booths where you can play trivia with a friend, so it was still fun. Also, you really can’t beat the view.
- Tulip Museum: a tiny museum with lots of tulip history; worth a half hour trip (and it’s close to the Houseboat Museum!). Gift shop is perfect for cheap souvenirs that don’t look cheap!
- Oude Kerk: this was super boring for me since I am not into church or religion, but figured I would just cross it off my list. If you like churches, go, I guess?
- STRAAT Museum: this was our absolute favorite place we visited hands down, worth the trip. We absolutely love street art and this museum is a veritable shrine to it. You feel insignificant in the face of towering pieces of artwork that hang from chains fastened to the cavernous ceiling of the warehouse. They have lockers in the front for your belongings, a big win because pretty much no other museum allowed it (except MOCO).
Other activities, not included in the I Amsterdam card:
- Anne Frank House: a must-visit, we bought tickets way in advance because they sell out quickly. I recommend going on weekdays in the daytime because it gets super packed (I actually caught a bit of a cold because so many people were around me after -_-). Try not to bring much (do your shopping after) because they do not have coat check (or at least they didn’t when I went last September).
- ADAM Lookout (was formerly covered but upon publication of this article is no longer on the card): spectacular views and a cool bar, but not sure if it’s worth it if you just want to see the views, though I did love the long-range telescopes that had information popups embedded in the scope. There is also a swing on the top for thrill-seekers and the elevator-ride up has lights and shit in the shaftway.
General activities to do:
- Check out the floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt) and buy some bulbs to bring a piece of Amsterdam home!
- Pick up a bag of peppernuts at Peppernuts Holland right near the flower market; they have a few vegan selections (original and dark cherry when I went!) and are super tasty! Think gingersnap in bite-sized form and in a myriad of different flavors.
- If you plan to go to STRAAT or Eye Film museums, a ride across in the ferry is essential and also a fun way to see another side of Amsterdam.
- What trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the Red Light District? Whether you plan to partake in their services or not, either way it is a must-stop.
- De Pijp was our favorite place to walk around with its trendy, youthful vibe, and Jordaan was second with its stately, upscale shoppes (yes that obnoxious spelling is necessary). Make sure to wander around both if you have the time.
- If you love strolls in the park, Vondelpark, Rembrandtpark and Oosterpark were three that we loved, with lush greenery, interesting sculptures and pristinely maintained walkways in each.
- We didn’t make the effort to visit Amsterdam’s historic castles and windmills, but they are worth the look if you are into them.
That’s all in terms of sightseeing for now! You can definitely see all of Amsterdam’s major city center offerings within a week (we spent two there, which was overkill!). Have fun and don’t fall into the canal (though if you do it’ll still be fun!). ;)