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Ah, Amsterdam. Bustling capital of the Netherlands (no, The Hague is not the capital, it’s just the seat of government) and its most populous city with one million inhabitants (the entirety of the Netherlands has a population of about 17 million). Yet, it still has the charm of a small sleepy town, tucked away behind fields and rivers.
If this is your first time, you’re in for a treat, if not: Welcome back!
Amsterdam is an international city, which means most of the time people will speak English to you, unprompted. Occasionally, you might even encounter people who don’t speak Dutch at all. When you do meet the occasional Dutchie, be prepared for some very blunt communication. Sometimes they may even appear rude. Don’t be alarmed, this is part of the Dutch culture, and they probably don’t mean to insult you.
One of the things that marks the commercial scene in Amsterdam is that there are very little chains around, which means there are loads of little shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants to explore. Be advised that some places do not take cash or credit cards. Your safest bet is to carry a direct debit card with you. However, most will be able to accommodate you somehow, especially if it’s a spot often frequented by tourists.
In this blogpost, I’ve listed my favourite places to eat and drink, things to do and some tips & tricks to get around Amsterdam unscathed.
Don’t even think about driving in Amsterdam yourself. The streets are narrow and hard to navigate, and parking fees might actually give you a heart attack. Instead, make use of the excellent public transport and bike infrastructure.
You can buy tickets that cover you for one hour, or up to seven days for all public transport (bus, underground metro, overground tram). The ferries that will get you across the river Ij to Amsterdam Noord are completely free.
To rent a bike, simply walk into one of the many bike stores, and you can be out with a shiny rental within a couple of minutes.
Personally, I love walking around the city. Not only is there so much to see, but it’s also nice to just stop, sit by a canal and relax for a bit.
When you’re exploring Amsterdam as a pedestrian, be extra careful not to walk on the red bike lanes, as these are the high speed streets here and people will not be nice about it.
Amsterdam is generally very safe. You do not need to avoid dark streets or corners. Still, there has been an increase in pickpockets lately, so definitely be mindful of your possessions.
In crowded areas with many bars around, you might encounter drunk and obnoxious tourists. They are usually harmless and safe to ignore. However, if the situation looks like it might escalate, you can try to find an Amsterdam Guide (they wear green jackets which identifies them as such) or a Police officer to help.
If you’re in need of medical attention, you can look for the nearest hospital. You will receive help there even without health insurance.
In an emergency, dial 112 (EU wide number for emergencies).
For each section, I will provide you with a list 📝 of places I’ve personally tested and some secret tips 🤫.
I’m from Germany, and one of the things I noticed (and fell in love with) immediately after I moved to Amsterdam, was the variety and quality of all kinds of Asian food here.
Whether it’s authentic Sichuan cuisine, unique Ramen shops or Korean Barbecue, Amsterdam has it all!
In the past, the Netherlands had colonies in today’s Indonesia and Suriname, leading to interesting combinations on the dinner table, like Chinese-Suriname fusion, which is very popular here.
But there are also a good number of amazing restaurants serving Ethiopian Injera, Tacos, Seafood, Ramen and traditional Dutch food.
I may be biased here, but regardless of where I am, whenever I have the chance, I will get some traditionally hand pulled noodles from the North of China. Lucky for me, there is a restaurant specializing in this: Xi’an Delicious Foods. It features a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the noodlers do their thing. They don’t take reservations, but you never have to wait long.
If you’d rather want to take your culinary travels down south, Queen of Sheba serves excellent and authentic Ethiopian dishes in a cozy atmosphere.
There are two chains in Amsterdam that couldn’t be more different, but I recommend them both: Cannibale Royale and Vegan Junk Food Bar.
If you’re feeling like a burger, steak or some extremely delicious ribs, absolutely give Cannibale Royale a try. Also, don’t skip the cheesecake! For some guilt-reduced fast food, check out VJFB and their Chicken burgers or loaded fries, an absolute dream!
If you’re feeling fancy, head straight to Amsterdam Tower on the North side of the river and visit MOON, a revolving restaurant that will give you a magnificent view of the city. After dinner, have a look at the bar above.
Before I get into drinking establishments, I want to clarify that even though it may not look like it, people do live in the centre of Amsterdam. So if you’re out in the Red-Light District, please be mindful of the inhabitants. The local government has taken many steps to reduce “drug tourism” in Amsterdam. Lucky for you, most of the provisions don’t kick in before May. Still, please be thoughtful and kind, as you would want guests to behave in your home.
Dutchies love a good pub, which they call brown cafés here. In fact, if you want to experience Dutch cuisine like the locals, head into one of those cafés and order the bittergarnituur. You will receive all kinds of fried stuff and dipping sauces, like the famous bitterballen with mustard., maybe even a charcuterie board and some bread. Another quirk: Dutchies like to stand around while they drink, even if there are masses of seating available. It’s just about the vibe.
Rayleigh & Ramsay is a chain of wine bars in Amsterdam that features wine from “vending machines”. You can spend your entire night trying different wines, or simply stick with what you like.
If beer is your poison, definitely check out the many brew pubs around the city, like Brouwerij Troost, De Bekeerde Suster, and Brouwerij ‘t Ij. However, the place I want to specifically highlight here is Gebrouwen door Vrouwen, which translates to Brewed by Women. Not only are they a local, women-owned business, they also provide DevOpsDays Amsterdam with their delicious signature beer: DevHops.
Obviously, we won’t get around the topic of coffee shops, they’re one of the main reasons why people visit. To clarify: Coffee shops are where you buy weed, Cafés are where you buy coffee or beer.
First, it’s important to understand that weed is not legal in the Netherlands. It is, however, decriminalized, and you will not get into trouble for consuming it. As with almost everything, be careful not to bother your fellow humans, and you will be fine. Generally, you can smoke in your home, public outside areas (again, be mindful of your surroundings) and in coffee shops.
EU regulations forbid indoor smoking of tobacco, so some places will ask you to remove your tobacco from the table, even though you’re allowed to smoke it when mixed with weed.
Dispensaries, where you can buy but not smoke in the store, are a rarer sight here, but they do exist.
It is also forbidden to sell weed and alcohol in the same establishment. Nevertheless, there are several bars that will allow you to bring and consume weed inside.
Edibles exist but are of mediocre quality and are exclusively baked goods from what I’ve seen.
Because you often have to share tables, coffee shops are a great place to meet new people.
For excellent music and a wide selection of loose tea, I like to visit Siberië. Try their SSH (Super Silver Haze), not just for the joke.
Not so much a secret, as this spot was featured in Ocean’s Twelve, Dampkring is a staple in the Amsterdam scene. If you’re in the neighbourhood and want to visit a coffee shop, this is a must-see. Also, the hot chocolate here comes with real Belgian chocolate.
Not a coffee shop but a bar that is geared towards smoking is Barney’s Uptown. You can grab some weed from their store across the street and hang out. Another fun bar that allows weed consumption is the Café Hill Street Blues.
#Things to do
Now that we got you covered on the essentials, what else is there to do?
If you’re less inclined to walk, you can take one of the many boat rides along the cities’ canals.
However, if you’re on a tight schedule, you might want to focus on just one area and take it all in.
And while you’re here, why not take a nice walk through Vondelpark?
De Pijp is best known for its restaurants and bars, but also features one of Europe’s most famous farmer’s markets: The Albert Cuypmarkt. Take a leisurely stroll, get yourself some Kibbeling (battered and deep-fried fish bits) and enjoy the hustle and bustle.
If you’re more of a beer person, the Heineken brewery is not far away and functions partly as a museum nowadays.
You could spend weeks, if not months, trying to explore every nook and cranny of the centre. To save you time, here are some highlights:
Visit the flower market and have some original Dutch tulips shipped home, wherever on the globe this might be. April is smack dab in the middle of tulip season, so you should be able to see some beautiful variety.
Dam Square is the name of the plaza in front of the Royal Palace. Even though the Royal family does not live here, all their important appearances are in or in front of the palace. Usually, there will be many street performers, demonstrations or other kinds of public life happening on Dam square.
Technically, the Nemo Science Museum is for children, but of all ages, with fun and hands-on exhibits.
For many tourists, it seems intimidating to make a trip up north, as you have to cross the river Ij. But don’t let that deter you. It’s actually super quick with the completely free ferry that goes all night.
There are two main destinations in the North of Amsterdam (be careful you don’t board the wrong ferry): Buiksloterweg and NDSM. Because it seems like a bit of hassle to get there, it’s much less touristy than the centre.
Buiksloterweg is very close to Centraal, so it’s a viable option to quickly hop over for dinner or drinks and come back after. While you’re there, visit Amsterdam Tower and its observation deck, The Lookout. Real daredevils might even want to try Europe’s highest swing.
NDSM is a former shipyard with a lovely industrial charm. It’s known for its many outdoor events, like flea markets, dance events and art festivals. But most importantly, it houses the Graffiti & Street-art museum, where you can often observe street artists at work.
📝 Other things to do
I could go on and on. Even after five years, I feel like I haven’t seen half of what the city has to offer. If you’re considering staying in Amsterdam before or after KubeCon for a holiday, I highly recommend staying until the 27th of April, which is King’s day, a national holiday to celebrate the King’s birthday. The entire country will turn into one gigantic folk festival doused in a sea of orange (a meaningful colour here, as the royal house is called the House of Orange).
But even if not, I hope you loved it here as much as I do and will come visit again, soon!