How to-How not to Explore Amsterdam Travel Guide.

During our 21 days honeymoon, Amsterdam wasn’t in our travel plan. With the last-minute addition, we didn’t know much about what to for expect from this vibrant city famous its laid-back attitude as it is for its winding canals and picturesque architecture. Amsterdam appeared to be a giant green field more than a city from above on that day of month May.

Our Amsterdam Travel guide shows you how and how not to explore Amsterdam as a first timer along with a list of best things to do in the city


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Why do people go to Amsterdam?

People go to Amsterdam for Tulips, canal-side streets, Museums, Heineken beer, Cannabis and Red Light Districts.

This is true, but people must go to Amsterdam to cycle in a city full of greenery, see bizarre things and experience the youthfulness vibe.

modern IT-Park buildings in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is wealthier, modern yet traditional, with pinches of history and old customs. The old Dutch Baroque homes by the canals are now coffee shops selling Cannabis. The newer areas like Amsteleven (where we stayed) are full of modern high-rise buildings like a cosmopolitan city.

Amsterdam Travel experience is vivid and weird (in a good way)

From casinos to IT company parks, legendary artist museums, and contemporary art exhibitions – there is everything in Amsterdam except the beaches. The green parks for soaking in the sun, cafe culture to catch up with friends, Casinos to test your fortune, beers to burn that sadness after losing money in the Casino, public Square to “People watch”, Sunday markets selling almost everything – Amsterdam must be on your bucket list when you travel to the west.

How Many Days Do You Need in Amsterdam?

Photo by Laura Thonne on Unsplash

We stayed in Amsterdam for four days and five nights. With day trips to Amsterdam’s neighbouring towns and a few cities in Belgium. Essentially, we spent two days exploring Amsterdam – Two days for Amsterdam wasn’t enough!

Two days in Amsterdam flies in two minutes! So if you are on a hopping trip between Central European cities, you can cover some touristy places in two days. However, suppose you want to see things, relax in a park, and feel the city, you will need a minimum of four days in Amsterdam.

Performer dressed like Yoda floating in the air at Dam square in AMsterdam

On weekends, Dam square is the murderer of your time- You stand there and watch the street performers and people for hours together.

Honest Truth about our Amsterdam Travel experience

If it is your first time in Europe, Amsterdam is the best place to sync with European culture. So you will spend at least a day wondering, ” Oh wow, cycles everywhere. The cafe scenes are so brilliant. Trams are so cheap. The streets are spotless; the market is so full of life” Hence, keep a day wondering about anything and everything and the next three days exploring the Amsterdam after calming your over-excitement.

The canals with cafes are more addictive than the Cannabis. On a sunny day, you may never want to move your butts off the bench near the canals.

What is the best way to travel within Amsterdam?

amsterdam streets filled with cycles

The most famous Amsterdam pictures you see are historic homes by the canal side with hundreds of cycles parked in front of them! So it is obvious that cycling is the cheapest and best way around Amsterdam. You find many bike rentals near Amsterdam Central, Dam square and other famous tourist areas. You can pre-book your bike rentals here and pick it up without any hassle.

Is Amsterdam a Walkable city?

PC : Unsplash

Yes. The city is compact and there are designated pedestrian pathways. Missing the route, asking for directions from locals – sudden exhaustion after a 5km walk – sitting in a random cafe where locals sit – This is the best way to explore any city, and so is Amsterdam. If it rains, you got trams to save you if you are exploring the city by walking.

How do you use the tram in Amsterdam?

tram going in Amsterdam streets
PC : Unsplash

Trams are the next best choice to travel through Amsterdam if your destinations are apart and you don’t want to go cycling. Check here for various card options based on your plan to use public transport in Amsterdam.

Do you need a car when visiting Amsterdam?


Let us say the area you are going to is far and not connected by tram or Metro; book an Uber. Remember not to use your own/rented car to travel inside Amsterdam. Renting a car in Amsterdam is great for inter-city commuting only and you can easily book them on Kayak.

Self-driven cars must be your last resort, as finding a parking spot in the city is a Herculean task.

How do I start my day in Amsterdam?

street performer with kids at Dam Square

Start your first day of Amsterdam travel adventure by visiting a tourist information centre near Amsterdam Central. It has all the information you should know to travel cheaply in the city. Then sort out and pick. The information centre is so detailed that spending an hour here can enlighten you about many things.

Unless you know what you want – the fast-moving city may confuse you.

amsterdam royal palace at dam square

This city tied to water amuses you at every corner. It will surely make you forget what you want to do and randomly hold you back in some spots. Clueless and getting lost is nice when you have plenty of days in a city, not on your short trip of two days. Then ask yourself what would you like to do depending on how much time you can spare in Amsterdam?

There are many free things available for tourists in Amsterdam.

Free Guided walking tours for an hour or two are the best way to know a new city. Grab a brochure so that you are aware of museum timings and boat ride timings. The super touristy things like “Madam Tussauds” museums are always crowded. We saw Beyonce (wax statue) from outside and a herd waiting in line to click a picture with her inside – we just moved ahead to explore the street scenes.

Fun and Best Things to do in Amsterdam

PC : Unsplash

Then there are plenty of museums – I regret missing Van Gogh’s and a crazy human anatomy museum called “Body Worlds.” I also wanted to explore a few modern agricultural farms where they do vertical farming. Saying it again – Two days is too little for Amsterdam unless you are a tourist hopping on/off on several cities to tick that off the list.

So here goes the list of things we did during two days of our travel through Amsterdam

1. Go to Dam Square to be amzed!

The heart of Amsterdam city is Dam square. It is a broad boulevard that got the Royal Palace of Amsterdam on one side and the National Monument.

The beauty of this place doesn’t lie in what surrounds it but in how people use it.

The place is so lively that it is famous among local Dutches to protest and also wear costumes to make money on weekends. In the morning, when we went, the place was filled with only tourists admiring the palace

Then, slowly, a few locals came with their costumes. A few minutes later, Jack Sparrow appeared. Behind Jack Sparrow, Star war villains appeared. Besides the villain, Yoda-wearing a yellow blazer, sat on a thin stick. Next, there came a lady dressed as a witch in black, entertaining kids with soap bubbles.

A group of Chinese demonstrating the Chinese exercise” Falun Dafa. a few meters away from the music band.

Different groups of youngsters came laughing and screaming from the side alleys – That was the Bachelor Party crowd! It is super fun to watch these bachelor party gangs. The groom was made to wear a costume that looked like a Condom and roamed everywhere. The gang was cheerful and happy, making the groom do crazy tasks. Do you want some energy and a positive vibe ?- Go to Dam square. There is never a dull moment in Dam square.

Why is Dam Square famous?

Dam Square connects to all the major roads. Amsterdam Central, Sunday markets, canal rides, coffee shops, red-light district, Shopping arcades, and Oude Kerk (Amsterdam’s oldest building) are within 10km walking distance. If you love to witness the grandness of Dutch royals, the place is open to visitors except during a few Royal events.

How long to spend in Amsterdam’s Dam Square?

Easily you can spend three hours without even realising how the time flew. Trust me, when you travel to Amsterdam, Dam Square will be the most memorable place.

2. Wander in Artplein Spui – Sunday markets

One thing is certain: Artplein Spui was not an average tourist street. While other visitors to Amsterdam may flock to the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, those in the know make their way to Artplein Spui for a truly unique experience.

At first glance, it may seem like chaos – a jumbled mess of artists, musicians, and vendors all vying for your attention. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that there’s a method to the madness.

Each corner of Artplein Spui seems to have its own distinct personality. One area is dominated by the beat of a drum circle, while another is filled with the scent of exotic spices from the food stalls. Yet another section is packed with eager artists displaying their latest creations, .

What is there to do in Artplein Spui?

PC : Unsplash

No fancy shops were selling expensive things here. Instead, it was all small stalls with a fabric roof over the head fixed with four poles. This was another version of Istanbul Grand Bazaar on an open street. The canvas paintings by local artists were similar to those of Turkish lamps – colourful and detailed. The ceramic wares were more artsy and contemporary than ever before.

It was where local artists came on Sundays to sell their works! It was magical to see each thing. Most artists request you not to click pictures – It is their hard work that shouldn’t be copied from some random folks. So you buy and then do whatever you want. The only place in the Netherlands where we saw many Tulips together was at a shop in Artplein Spui. A must-visit place in Amsterdam to see the unpolished yet sophisticated street markets where locals come to shop for their daily needs.

3. Explore coffee shops

Oh yes! Whether Dutches like it or not, most tourists associate Amsterdam with Cannabis and Weed. And millions of people travel to Amsterdam solely for this!

When you aren’t a smoker or don’t want to try stuff, you can’t really see how this world of drug intoxication works. Amsterdam’s De Wallen street is the place to explore this part of the world with the coffee shops selling Cannabis. But, wondering how it is legal? Read our post” Amsterdam and Drugs” to know more.

4. Take a boat ride in the canal.

amsterdam travel guide photo with canal and historical buildings on it's side

Amsterdam grew around its canals, taming the Amstel River. These canals are incredibly beautiful, with historic narrow old buildings and trees on either side. The cycling lane, hipster cafes and the arched bridges at intervals connecting two sides of the canals add more beauty to it.

There’s nothing like seeing the city from a boat if you are ready to spend. It costs around 20 Euros (1600 INR each) for an hour for a canal cruise with almost thirty people in the boat! If you want to see the city from open water, you must hire a private boat or DIY(you should know how to navigate a boat first), which are even more pocket breakers.

Most rides leave from the Piers opposite Central station. So if you are ready to spend – This is absolute fun.

historical houses and floating  cafes on amsterdam canal side

5. Shop for cosmetics

ritual skincare cosmetic hop

Brands like Mac, Clinique, and Lancome are costlier in India than in most Central European countries. The new brand,” The RItuals “, born in Amsterdam, was a new addition to India’s wish list in 2018.

A Walk through the Leidsestraat street.

Back in 2018, Mac is meant for those with more money. When you see a mall in India, the MAC showrooms highlight extremely good lighting and interiors! But when I saw the Mac shop at a junction in Leidsestraat street, it was like any other cheap shop.

If you want something unique -made in the Netherlands, go for The Rituals brand. Their Bathroom products are excellent – in aroma and nourishment both. I am kind of addicted to Rituals, and I make our buddy Keerthi get it for us every time he comes to India.

amsterdam travel guide photo showing old baroque building converted to H&M shorwoom

6. Loose/win some money in Amsterdam’s Casino

When a city is famous for parties and nightlife, Casinos are an essential part of it. Though it is bad to go gambling, it is a great fun time, knowing the limits and drawing boundaries on your spending. There are more than ten casinos in Amsterdam.

The one where we went was Holland Casino. An interesting thing here is – When you enter, you will use your credit cards to swipe. If the casino management finds out that the same card is being used continuously over days, they call you! They call you to check why you are wasting so much money on gambling and advise you not to go on gambling that often!

7. Walk in Non-Touristy Neighbourhoods of Amsterdam

Seeing historical Amsterdam is good. But exploring Amsterdam beyond history is fun.

Amsterdam travel guide photo showing a woman standing in the modern neighbourhood Amsteleven.

Amstelveen is a suburb, so you hardly see any tourists here. It got lots of open green spaces, wider streets, and houses with gardens.. Cheap cafes and supermarkets are always a five minutes walk to have some Cappucino with cheese crisps.

Neighbourhoods nexr to Dewallen Streets

Amsterdam travel guide photo showing old baroque buildings in amsterdam

Keerthi and Ashrith discussing how terribly we lost money at Casino the previous day.

When you explore the red-light districts, take a detour from De Wallen street to get away from the tourist crowd. These old residential areas are very calm, elegant, and a place to sit by the canal to have a nice break from walking. Needless to say, the city centre is close so are the cafes. These perpendicular and parallel streets are nicer than the De Wallen streets.

When you walk here, you are sure to think of these following things!

Why are Dutch buildings narrow and tall?

narrow baroque buildings in Amsterdam
PC : Unsplash

Because Dutch citizens used to be taxed based on the width of the house! Lesser the width, the less tax to pay.

How do they maintain the canals and waterways? Canals get refilled with fresh water once in three weeks. So they do maintain it in a very scientific way.

8. Make day trips

Indian couple hugging each other in front of Windmills at the end of grassland in amsterdam

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city that an hour or two-hour drive can easily take you to the countryside or a town less popular among tourists. Whenever you need a break from the city, the farmhouses and Tulip gardens( from March-April) are easily accessible by train or car – even by cycling!

Here are a few options for your day trips from Amsterdam.

  • Brussels and Bruges If you want to go outside the Netherlands, these cities are just a 3hr drive.
  • Giethoorn – the Venice of the Netherlands
  • Zaanse Schans – Tulip gardens and windmills. During the non-Tulip season, this is still a great place to witness Dutch clog-making and windmills used for practical purposes even today.
  • Rotterdam – the city of universities, is famous for its modern architecture and nightlife by the harbourside.
  • Assen & Hoofddorp – Farmhouse and nature
  • Haarlem – Medival town
  • Volendam – Village by the backwaters.

9. Stroll through the most talked about street of Amsterdam- Red Light District.

traditional barqoue style building in amsterdam with museum of prostitution

Welcome to the world of lust and sex!  -There is one similarity between Dam square and the Red Light District. You can go on watching people and the happenings in the Square. While the latter one is more of gawking and hot+happening. 

You may have seen the walking streets of Pattaya and Phuket, but the Red Light district is nowhere comparable to those except all of those who sell sex. The difference is men/women don’t stand on the streets to seduce you.

There is no massage, either. Instead, they stand behind a door in a red-lit room.

If you go here in the mornings and early evenings – the street is like any other street in Amsterdam. You feel as if you are talking about a wall in a historic area. Indeed, these typically Dutch narrow tall buildings belong to the 14th century.

By 8 PM, the street gets into action. Slowly window by window gets lit. By 11 PM, the street is fully live. The girls stand behind a window that is highlighted by a neon red light. Recently in 2019, men and prostitutes also joined the window Business in RLD. 

Is Prostitution in Amsterdam Legal?

Like how the Dutch believe in acceptance and tolerance regarding drugs, prostitution works the same way. Instead of hiding and criminalising it, Dutches have embraced it since 2000 legally. So the sex workers here are taxpayers too!

traditional barqoue style building in amsterdam hosting live porno show

Red Light District Amsterdam safe for tourists?

Though this area was notorious many years ago, now RLD is one of the safest areas in Amsterdam. The sex workers and visitors are both safe because hundreds of policemen are dressed in Civilian dress. The bouncers hired by the sex workers keep an eye on every person who talks to the girls through the window without making it evident- As a curious tourist, you won’t notice that police and bouncers are watching you.

Three of us were roaming and observing the area at night; we faced no issues. But once the peak hour, 12 AM onwards, the drunkards and dopers fill the area. So it is better to be in a small group than to explore it solo after 11 PM.

What is there in De Wallen street to see?

PC : Unsplash

Besides seeing the girls behind the red windows, you can see many more things here-. Live Sex shows, Peep shows, video booths, and theatres exhibit various sex-related shows.

Oh my god, this world is way beyond your imagination. Though you aren’t interested in seeing any of these shows, it is an interesting side of Amsterdam to notice. You can stand outside a building and read its signboards, menus and description to understand what happens inside. Seeing and reading the display itself gives you an idea of what is inside.

The streets are filled with sex toy shops. Whether you want to buy something or not, it is fascinating to know how people get so creative regarding sex. There is nothing to be shy or hesitant about to check out the sex shops – The shop workers behave nicely like any worker in other shops.

cyclists and tourists waiting in front of an old building in amsterdam that hosts sex shows

Things you should know before going to Red Light District in Amsterdam

  • There are even some crazy museums – The marijuana museum and the Erotica museum for those who don’t want to enter inside a coffee shop.
  • Anyone curious can visit the area. We saw a group of older people led by a guide explaining how things work here at 8 PM. Women tourists were checking out the scene too. 

Don’t click pictures of women/men behind the window. 

red light district in amsterdam with windows lit
  • It is strictly prohibited. The women hire bouncers to counteract those who trouble them, women. When you get noticed while clicking photos, things can get messy. If you want to hire their service, tap on the window, and talk to them. They can’t hear you, but they will signal you their rates so that you can get in if it is under your budget.
  • You can actually stand watching them for a while – It sounds inhuman, but you can’t help it. The girls behind the window call everyone and wave at anyone who stands by their window. I am sure, by our faces, they can recognise if we are window shopping or up to some action.
  • Don’t visit RLD first before you see anything else in Amsterdam. RLD is just a part of this town. You may have a wrong impression of Amsterdam.

A rumour is running around about RLD getting shifted outside the city centre. Though the exact location remains uncertain, many brothel windows may be shifted elsewhere.

So how was your Amsterdam Travel Experience? Let us know in the comment section below.

Amsterdam Travel Guide
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Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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