If you’re spending 2 days in Amsterdam as part of a ferry tour, or you’re taking a weekend trip to Amsterdam, we have highlighted a list of things to see and do in Holland’s great capital city.
If you’re backpacking Amsterdam, or on a tight budget, you will probably find ‘the Dam’ to be one of the most expensive cities in the world. Amsterdam is compact enough to explore a great deal in a fewer amount of days. There is something for everyone in Amsterdam.
In order to understand the geography of Amsterdam, it is best to look at the city from above.
The river Amstel ends in the city center and connects to more than 100km (or 60 miles) of canals. Amsterdam is about 2 meters (6.6 feet) below sea level.
The city is divided into ‘rings’, which makes navigating via a map quite simple. Like Venice in Italy, the city is made up of a vast amount of islands (around 90) that are linked by over 1,200 bridges.
The best things to do in the city can be done if you are spending 2 days in Amsterdam:
Go on a walking tour
We partnered up with SANDEMANs NEW Amsterdam, Free Walking Tour who took us on an incredible adventure across the city. The free walking tour starts in the central point of Amsterdam at Dam Square, where the Royal Palace can be seen.
The first tips given to us by our free walking tour guide focused on the cycling culture of the city. Almost every citizen of Amsterdam owns a bike of some sort, mostly push bikes. Bikes are seen unchained across the city which has led to the development of a trusting culture. Do not move the bikes, and respect that cyclists have right of way in the many cycle lanes.
The free walking tour took us to the famous Red Light District and the Old Church where we were told the story of how the ‘women in the windows’ began.
The Old Church (Oude Kerk) and the surrounding square, (Oudekerksplein), is where the Red Light District started. Women can be seen offering their services from behind windows in an array of waterfront lanes and alley ways around the area.
The cobbled flooring outside the Old Church features a bronze relief of a hand caressing a breast that was set in the cobblestone at night by an anonymous artist.
The free walking tour finishes close to the Ann Frank House. The story of Ann Frank is truly fascinating. In brief, Ann Frank was a Jewish girl who fled Germany with her family in order to escape the rising Nazi regime around the time of World War 2. When Hitler’s army invaded the Netherlands, Ann Frank and her family went into hiding in a secret annex at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam, now known as the Ann Frank House. Ann wrote diaries for two years as she hid from the Nazi regime as she stayed in the house. Ann and her family were eventually caught and deported to the Nazi concentration camps. Nobody survived except for Ann’s father, Otto, who later returned to the house. The house Ann Frank and her family lived in is now a biographical museum dedicated her diaries.
Across the canal from Ann Frank’s House, you can find the widest Bridge and the smallest house in Amsterdam.
Other highlights of the tour include The Homomonument, Masterpieces of Dutch art, the world’s first Stock Exchange, leaning buildings and gable stones and the Jewish Quarter.
Find the Big Clog and The Iamsterdam sign
Two of the most quintessential photographs of Amsterdam include sitting in a big yellow clog shoe, which is located at the edge of Dam Square outside Dam Square Souvenirs
and standing, sitting or lying within the letters of the ‘Iamsterdam’ sign. We found the sign by Vondelpark but it moves around periodically. Check the Iamsterdam website for the Iamsterdam sign’s current location.
There is also a smaller sign in Schiphol airport and one of the locations recently set up outside the Hermitage.
Coffee Shops and the Munchies
We are not in any way encouraging the use of mind altering offerings in Amsterdam, it is interesting to see this magnificent city for everything that makes it so unique. You only have to walk down the street or visit a souvenir shop to see soft drugs available for purchase. People often wonder what the legislation on drugs in Amsterdam really is. It’s quite simple. The Netherlands Police have a special tolerance policy on soft drugs that work with the following laws:
Legislation is subject to change, always check with local law resources before consuming drugs in Amsterdam. We accept no liability for the information above.
Amsterdam’s ‘Coffee Shops’ should not be confused with regular cafés. ‘Coffee Shops’ are establishments that use a grey area within the law to sell soft drugs to consumers. Coffee Shops have been around since the 1970s in Amsterdam, after the Dutch government legally defined ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs.
Amsterdam’s City Council have agreed with the Coffee Shops in the city that they can only operate with the provision of set, non-transferable licences which is shown by the display of an official, green and white sticker in the window.
The High Times Cannabis Cup takes place every November during the week of thanksgiving, and this is considered to be the busiest week for the Coffee Shops where organised Coffee Shop Crawl tours are offered to locals and tourists.
Amsterdam’s Coffee Shops are not allowed to advertise nor are they allowed to sell alcohol. The legal age to visit a Coffee Shop in Amsterdam is 18, and you must have a valid ID. Most Coffee Shops have a menu listing the drugs they are offering, and in what format.
You will find cannabis by the weight, pre-rolled joints and space cakes in many forms (cupcakes, chocolate brownies, etc).
The menu will also give an indication of the strength of the drug, always ask the staff if you are not sure on what to purchase.
After exploring the city for 2 days, we finally hit the nail on the head as to why there were so many deliciously enticing food shops on every street corner.
There are many bakeries with glass displays offering tempting cakes, pies, pizza and chocolate waffles. These eateries are known as the ‘Munchie shops’.
When taking cannabis, whether it be via a joint or a space cake, the active ingredient THC (or Tetrahydrocannabinol) is said to trigger hunger, which is informally known as ‘the munchies’. Studies have shown that the chemical heightens taste and smell which makes food a lot more appealing when one is ‘stoned’.
The business people of Amsterdam have capitalized on the millions of visitors who arrive to take the drug every year and tempt them into their stores with their items that often have no prices on them.
We first saw the new hot food vending machines in Amsterdam, offering burgers, croquettes and sweet treats to those who wish to access them quickly and with minimal human interaction.
Visit a museum
The museums in Amsterdam and generally small and we managed to explore the Sex Museum in less than an hour, which was an interesting experience. The museum has historical artifacts including old chastity belts, and a room full of pictures of people embracing in sexual encounters and some inter-species relations!
The Cannabis College is a non-profit information center and can be found at the heart of the Red Light District. The College opened in 1998 and features displays how cannabis and industrial hemp are used. Visitors can also learn the history of human interaction with the plant including everything from hemp building materials to medicinal Cannabis.
The Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum is popular with tourists and an estimated 2 million people have passed through the exhibitions since the museum opened in 1985. The museum hosts a cannabis garden, pipe collections, and a 1836 Dutch Bible made entirely of hemp.
The Amsterdam Museum offers insights into the history of Amsterdam and it is located in an old orphanage. Exhibits and displays in the Amsterdam Museum include paintings, archaeological findings, photographs, a Witkar (environment-friendly vehicle from the 1960s) and a replica of Café ‘t Mandje (a famous pub in the Red-light district where prostitutes, pimps, seamen and lesbians socially united).
The Heineken Experience
One of the most famous beers in the world came from Holland and Amsterdam is home to the first ever Heineken brewery. Though the brewery is no longer active, it has been transformed into an interactive tour for those wishing to learn the history of the popular beer.
The Heineken brewery was established in 1864 and became one of the three largest beer producers in the world. Throughout its history, Heineken was run as a large family company, owned by Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken as the biggest stockholder.
The brewery was officially renamed ‘Amsterdam Heineken Experience’ after the addition of attractions such as interactive pint pulling and next generation TV chairs.
Throughout the self-guided tour, visitors can admire the architecture of the 19th Century brewery building and original furnishings as well as historical photographs and artifacts. We were surprised to learn that the emblem on the Heineken cans and bottles came from a gold medal the Heineken family received from the The Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
Adult tickets (over 18) include tokens for two glasses of Heineken, which are given to visitors at the bar near the end of the tour.
The admission ticket includes a 15-minute shuttle boat ride to the Heineken Brand Store near Rembrandtplein. We were taken on a short and scenic tour down one of the many Amsterdam canals.
If you tell them it’s your birthday, or a special occasion, they may give you an extra beer or two!
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s 120 acre urban retreat, and although there are many other grassy areas to rest in the city, there’s something special about Vondelpark. The park is named after 17th-century playwright and poet Joost van den Vondel. Every year, the park has around 10 million visitors and features include an open-air theater and a playground.
The Vondelpark received the status of a state monument back in 1996 and it is very popular in the summer. An undocumented characteristic of the park is the recreational drug usage. As we rested at Vondelpark in the summer, we heard consistent sounds of balloons being inflated and immediately deflated. Everywhere we looked, groups of people were inhaling laughing gas, smoking joints and drinking beers. True to Amsterdam’s culture, everybody was relaxed and easy going. The park has true character and beautiful scenery and wildlife making it a perfect urban escape.
Statues of musicians at the Jordaan
The area of Jordaan in the center of the city was once a poverty-stricken neighborhood that is now home to tributes of famous musicians at the Elandsgracht. Amsterdam is one of the most sung about cities in the world, and the Jordaan vibrato was one of the most popular genres in the Netherlands.
The songs that came from Jordaan were mainly about love, poverty, drink and drugs with an edge of social injustice. Singing took place primarily on the streets or in pubs and famous singers Johnny Jordaan and Tante Leen are honored in the area. These quirky statues are definitely worth stopping by to see. The Elandsgracht is a walk of less than 5 minutes from Central Station or Dam Square.
See a gig at the Ziggo Dome
See this spectacular 17,000 seat arena and enjoy plenty of surrounding eateries and bars as well as the Amsterdam Arena (home of the soccer team), and the Art district.
The Ziggo Dome is the biggest entertainment venue in Amsterdam and the Netherlands since its opening in June 2012. There is a brilliant night club outside of the area that plays dance music until the early hours, true to Amsterdam’s party lifestyle.
Check out the Ziggo Dome Event List.
If you would like to know more about Amsterdam or Holland, we recommend the following books:
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