Amsterdam local Floris Broekmeulen from ThingstoDoinAmsterdam.com shares his favourite things to do in the ‘Venice of the North’.
1. Take an Amsterdam Red Light District Tour – De Wallen
The Red Light District (also known as De Wallen) is Amsterdam’s medieval old town. Though it’s best known for its salacious reputation, with its many red-lit brothels and sex shops, it’s also home to some of the city’s best canals, restaurants, bars and shops in Amsterdam.
I recommend taking a tour only with PIC/ PROUD, the official interests organisation of the legal sex workers in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. They can tell you all the fascinating facts and figures and, in addition, they truly take care of the neighbourhood instead of just trying to make money with tours in the crowded area.
There are also tour options that combine the district with admissions to famous attractions, such as:
The Sex Museum
Amsterdam’s legendary coffee shops
Pub-crawls through the local the Red Light District’s watering holes
2. Hunt Out Amsterdam’s Best Street Art
Amsterdam is full of world-class street art, but the best can be found on and around the street of Spuistraat. From beautifully-decorated bicycles to miniature hard-to-spot masterpieces, there’s so much to discover.
3. Enjoy Free Live Music, Comedy and More at Vondelpark
There are endless amounts of places to party and enjoy entertainment in Amsterdam, but Vondelpark is one of my favourites. Enjoy free live music concerts and stand-up comedy all day.
If you visit during the summer, you’ll be lucky to experience the “Openlichttheater”, a beautiful open-air theatre – check out the Openlichttheater website for their agenda.
4. Drink the Netherland’s Famous Jenever Gin
For an authentic jenever sipping experience, I suggest visiting one of Amsterdam’s proeflokaals – jenever distillery tasting rooms. Be sure to try the jonge (young) and oude (old) jenever.
The name doesn’t actually relate to the age of the jenever, but refers to the method of distillation (either the traditional or modern).
Tip: Modern distilled jenever comes in a range of flavours and colours and is usually enjoyed neat.
Best Proeflokaal Gin Distilleries in Amsterdam
If you decide to visit a proeflokaal, you’ll find everyone holding their hands on their backs, leaning on top of the bar awaiting their first sip from glasses filled with the drink to the brim. Just watch, learn and do the same.
There are several places where you can go for jenever tasting, but here is a list of some of the best:
5. Go Dutch at the Heineken Museum
The Heineken Experience is the museum of Amsterdam’s world famous beer brand. It’s housed in Heineken’s originally factory and provides a fascinating insight into the companies brewing techniques.
It also tells the story of how Heineken grew from a small brewery into one of the world’s most recognised beer brands.
Tip: End the tour with a couple of Heinekens on the rooftop patio. And remember to carry your smartphone because tour requires a mobile app. You can also rent a device just in case you forget yours.
When you visit this museum, you will find a self-guided tour through the previous brewery included in the Heineken Experience tickets.
6. Discover the 14th Century Convent of Begijnhof
The Begijnhof is a former convent, a marvel of tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens surrounding a fairytale courtyard.
Within the courtyard is a charming Begijnhofkapel, a “clandestine” chapel in which the Beguines were compelled to worship after their church was abolished by the Calvinists.
There is also another church called the Engelse Kerk meaning the English Church, which was built around 1392.
7. Save Time and Money and Do More with an ‘I amsterdam City Card’
The ‘I amsterdam City Card’ is a travel card gives you quick and discounted access to Amsterdam’s best sights and public transport.
With your ‘I amsterdam City Card’, you can visit over 40 museums, galleries and gardens, and whizz around town on the buses and trams of the city.
You can also enjoy a cruise and check out the iconic canal houses of Amsterdam.
Rijksmuseum (Dutch Golden Age art collection)
EYE Filmmuseum (Collection of Dutch & foreign movies and film posters)
Amsterdam Museum (A former orphanage celebrating the city’s art and history)
Hermitage Amsterdam (The Dutch branch of St. Petersburg’s art & culture museum)
Rembrandt House Museum (The 17th-century home and studio of Rembrandt)
Foam Photography Museum (Canal-side photography exhibition)
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (Modern art & design museum)
8. Must-Visit Places Around Amsterdam
Celebrated for its historic buildings, Weesp is a picturesque riverside town located just 15-minutes away from Amsterdam. The locals are often referred to as ‘Weesper Mops’, after their famous biscuits – a must-eat for all foodies!
In 1998, the bakers in this region came together to bake a huge Weesper Mop for a world record. It weighed 115 kgs! Today you can enjoy Weesper Moppens at the many bakeries. A few of my favourites include:
Besides visiting the moppen bakeries, I also love sailing the ‘De Vecht’ river, as you get to see all of Weesp and its pretty surroundings. Weesp is rich in waterways thanks to the river ‘De Vecht’ and the canals. Hire a boat or take a tour to see it in style.
This medieval town is a real hidden secret of Amsterdam. You can’t help but feel enchanted as you explore this medieval village, with its ancient buildings, tiny streets and fortresses.
You can also visit the 13th century Muiderslot, which is also known as Amsterdam Castle. It was once part of key water defence lines, like the Defence Line of the New Waterline and Amsterdam. During your visit, you will learn more about how the Netherlands had planned to flood certain areas of land as a defence mechanism for hostile armies.
From cultural attractions to historical sites, you can explore the long list of attractions in Amsterdam’s Haarlem. It’s also home to Amsterdam’s most famous shopping street of Barteljorisstraat 19. Also visit the Ten Boom Museum, dedicated to the souvenir of Corrie Ten Boom and her family.
Tip: Halfway down Barteljorisstraat, you will find a small statue in honour of Malle Babbe, a folkloristic character also known as the crazy witch or Haarlem Witch.
Visit Things to Do in Amsterdam for more local advice on what to do and see in Amsterdam.
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