Amsterdam, as you’ve probably heard, is easily one of the most beautiful, lively, and romantic cities in the world. It bridges the gap between Old World values and modern sensibilities, without trying to grasp for that “special magic” most people write about in regard to other cities—New York, Los Angeles, and Paris, to name a few—rooted in days gone by and decades past. Whatever you’re dreaming of about Amsterdam is exactly what you’ll find there, and it seems everyone there—from the millions of tourists who flock there annually, to the people who call it home—knows how great a place it really is.
We had 72 hours to check out the picturesque city on a recent trip with the folks from Booking.com, and we got to taste a good chunk of what we believe Amsterdam is all about. For some of the things we did and saw, we used the Booking.com Experiences function they launched back in September (remember the whole DJ Khaled thing?), and we were surprised by the experiences offered. For convenience’s sake, the things we did with Experiences are highlighted below with asterisks.
Here are 10 things to do in Amsterdam:
Take a Walking Tour Of The Red-Light District*
When you ask tourists about Amsterdam, one of the first things that usually comes up is its famous (infamous?) Red-Light District, where almost anything goes. We don’t really care about the prostitution or any of that fun stuff, but we were definitely interested in learning more about the Red-Light District’s “colorful” history in Amsterdam, which is exactly what we got on our immersive two-hour tour. Not only did we walk around De Wallen, the largest Red-Light District in Amsterdam (fun fact, there are multiple Red-Light Districts in the city), but we also stopped and had a couple drinks, passed by some historic erotic shops and clubs, and learned more about Dutch culture and why they’re so accepting of sex work as a legitimate profession. It was definitely risqué, but it was also very interesting.
Visit the Foam Photography Museum*
Amsterdam is itself an incredibly picturesque city that seems like it was built for a photographer’s eye, but if you’re a photo nerd like us, a visit to the Foam Photography Museum is a must. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone here, from fascinating exhibitions from lesser-known photographers, to entire installations by renowned photo makers from across the world. We saw exhibitions by Masahisa Fukase, Paul Mpagi, as well as the “Loading…” exhibition, which features work from the museum’s own in-house collection. We spent about an hour here, browsing and admiring the massive array of photos.
Sample Dutch Cheese At Henri Willig Cheese & More*
We try to keep our readers away from the kitschy tourist stuff in our city guides, but if you’re going to Amsterdam, you need to understand why cheese is part of their national fabric. We went to a cheese tasting and booze pairing at Henri Willig Cheese & More, and it was fascinating to learn how the Dutch originally ate cheese as a way to keep dairy products, and because it’s an excellent source of fuel for hard-working people, soldiers, etc. Cheese in Amsterdam is so much more than just a food source, and it was interesting to learn why.
Get a Tattoo, Because Why Not?
Amsterdam is a city that begs to be explored and reveled in. More importantly, it’s a place to do things you might someday regret—like sleep with a prostitute, consume new drugs, or if you’re us, get a tattoo. It all happened very serendipitously, as these things sometimes do. We were walking to the Foam Museum when we passed by a random shop. That random shop just so happened to be Tattoo Palace, one of the most well-reputed tattoo shops in the city. Go figure. Figuring it fate, we went ahead and made our visit to Amsterdam a little more permanent. There are a ton of excellent tattoo shops all around Amsterdam, which isn’t surprising, given the city’s clear love for art and history. Take your pick and do something a little dumb.
Check Out The Banksy Exhibit At The Moco Museum*
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last decade or so, you’ve heard of Banksy and his revolutionary brand of street art. Well, did you know that one of the largest displays of Banksy’s work resides in Amsterdam? The Moco Museum is running a temporary Banksy exhibit, and we knew we had to stop by and have a peek. It was unbelievable to see so much of Banksy’s work—over 90 original pieces—in one comparatively small museum, and it was definitely worth the trip across town (and the 14 Euros) to view it. The museum is also running an exhibit featuring the work of popular street art duo Icy & Sot, and upstairs, you’ll find originals by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring.
Do Weed Things
The reason we enjoy travel as much as we do is because we’re very much the “When in Rome” type of people. For us, it meant that our trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without doing any weed things. So, on our last morning, we stopped into one of the many “coffee shops” near our hotel (seriously, there are hundreds—probably thousands—of these places located all across the city, and they’re all packed with cannabis enthusiasts from all walks of life) and enjoyed some breakfast, coffee, and a big fat joint. Why? Because when in Rome, do as the Romans. That’s why. Sorry, Mom.
Head Back To The Red-Light District For Late Night Fun
If you’re looking for sex, drugs, and rock and roll in Amsterdam, the Red-Light District is where you’ll find it. Period. In fact, we described it to friends and family upon our return as a sort of college town run by sane, well-educated, and mostly polite adults. We enjoyed learning about Amsterdam’s culture of sex work and history of prostitution on the walking tour, but we also came to understand the Red-Light District isn’t just about prostitution. Some of the city’s best bars and clubs are located in this raunchy, rowdy network of narrow alleys and passageways, and we made sure we went full Anthony Bourdain and spent at least one blurry evening slinking in and out of some of the city’s wildest dives.
Take a Canal Boat Tour*
There are over 165 separate canals that run through the streets of Amsterdam, which means everywhere you go—literally everywhere in the city—you’re within eyeshot of one of these majestic waterways. In fact, the city itself is called the city built on water, because each building in the entire city is held up by massive wooden support beams. These were just a couple of the many facts we learned on our boat tour around town, complete with beer, wine, and assorted snacks. Is it touristy? A little, sure. But we knew our trip wouldn’t be complete without it, and we’d wager to say yours wouldn’t, either. Do it for the incredible views of the towering buildings all around you from the water, if for nothing else.
Visit The Van Gogh Museum*
Amsterdam plays host to many excellent museums and art galleries, but among them, the Vincent Van Gogh Museum is most popular. Van Gogh was himself a Dutchman, and the museum, which has been operating since 1973, is the single largest collection of Van Gogh’s masterful work in the entire world—over 200 paintings, 400 of his lesser known drawings, and over 700 letters penned by Van Gogh, himself. If you’re going to visit one museum in Amsterdam, it should be this one.
Spend Some Time At Hortus Botanicus
Whether you’re recovering from a Red-Light District hangover or just want to spend some time in solitary quietude while in Amsterdam, Hortus Botanicus is a perfect way to do it. The massive gardens, complete with beautiful green houses and botanical enclosures, are located just east of the city center, which means they’re easy to get to from everywhere else. We spent a leisurely two hours here, walking through the gardens, being enamored by the colorful array of flowers, vines, and other flora. You’ll find some of the world’s oldest pot plants here, some incredibly rare (and near extinct species) of other plants and flowers, an entire section dedicated to cacti, and even a seasonal butterfly garden. We know a trip to a garden sounds kind of lame, but trust us when we say it’s more than worth your time.