I recently did a post on how to be a tourist at the Santa Monica pier, because despite so many seeking to find authentic and off the beaten track places, sometimes you just want to be a tourist. Like I said in that post, you aren’t going to visit Paris for the first time and skip the Eiffel Tower, or New York and skip the Statue of Liberty. So here’s the tourist spots you can’t miss, and how to be a tourist in Amsterdam.
Located on the Singel Canal is the worlds only floating flower market. It’s a tourist hot spot for that reason obviously, but also for many other highlights. For one, the backdrop to the bloemenmarkt greenhouses are some of the prettiest old canal houses, so a walk along the opposite side will give you the best view of both. And of course the ‘Love’ graffiti written on the back.
You can also pick up plenty of traditional souvenirs, such as tulip bulbs, clogs, and cheese. I have an entire post dedicated to the bloemenmarkt, so you can find a lot more detail here.
The Canal ring and bridges
What makes Amsterdam famous? Aside from some questionable activities you can’t think of Amsterdam without imagining a beautiful canal scene and pretty lit up bridges. The canal s of Amsterdam are a UNESCO heritage site, they date back through history to the 17th century, and apart from anything they’re gorgeous. I can’t recommend a canal cruise or hiring your own boat enough, floating along the canals is the best way to see the city, and it’s a lot more relaxing than battling with all the bikes!
I’d say that of all the tourist spots in Amsterdam, Dam Square is my least favourite. It reminds me of any other city in Europe, with a big wheel, a Madame Tussaud’s, a grand palace/building and way too busy. You can’t really visit Amsterdam without seeing it though, and there is the huge department store.
The giant clog
Not far from Dam Square is the giant yellow clog, the perfect photo opportunity for any tourist in Amsterdam, right outside a clog souvenir shop too. Just be prepared to wait your turn. There are giant clogs to wear in the back of the Bloemenmarkt too if you can find them.
Even just visiting the famous museum without going inside is very impressive in itself. If you go in winter you will find the giant ice rink in front of it, part of the annual Ice Amsterdam winter festival, and in spring/summer you’ll find the traditional tulip arrangements.
There’s also plenty of other museums nearby if you’re interested, including the Van Gogh. My personal favourite thing about the museum quarter and the walk through the city to the museums themselves are that all the streets are lined with quirky little boutiques and independent art galleries. There’s some amazing modern art work and prints on display.
Anne Frank’s house
Anne Frank’s house is in central Amsterdam, on the Prinsengracht canal, where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II. The house is now both a memorial and a museum to the wartime writer, and is so popular to visit that I’ve never yet managed it whenever I’ve been to Amsterdam.
The museum displays her diary, and a tour around the house to see the secret annex that hid the family for so long. Limited tickets are available online, but are often sold out weeks in advance. If you’re just turning up then get there early and be prepared to queue. Even if you don’t get tickets to go inside you can see the house, the original doorway, and the statue tribute outside.
The hidden Begijnhof
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest courtyards in Amsterdam, and is very well hidden in the middle of the city. The courtyard itself is sunk lower than the rest of the city, resembling it’s 14th century origin. The courtyard is quiet and peaceful, and was for a sisterhood of Catholic women who lived and worshipped there in private. They still live there today, although you can visit and enter the church.
There are signs for it around the city, but it is literally a door in a wall that you pass through and emerge into the calm atmosphere, completely sheltered from the bustling capital city outside. Just be respectful that people actually still live there, photos are allowed, but some gardens are restricted.
Red Light District
The red light district of Amsterdam is one of the oldest areas of the city, and is home to its oldest building, the Oude Kerk too. Despite being exactly as you would imagine, with seedy bars, peep shows, and over 300 windows inhabited by half naked prostitutes, it’s also one of the prettiest areas of the city, once you get past all the red (and blue) lights.
Some of the oldest bars in Amsterdam can be found here, but to be honest, I would wander through and find somewhere else to actually eat and drink. It’s always so busy, with tourists and locals alike, and is definitely worth a wander through, but it can get quite cramped in the narrow streets and is famous for pickpockets taking advantage of the crowds. If you’re taking photos of the area, be very careful, it’s strictly forbidden to take photos of the windows, and you don’t want to land yourself in trouble.
The Dutch equivalent of the British pub, brown cafes are everywhere in Amsterdam and offer an authentic atmosphere in the dark wood and brown smoke stained walls. Some date back to the fifteenth century, and many have their history on display on the walls.
Dutch people visit for after work drinks, to socialise and enjoy a drink with friends, which is exactly what you should do too as a tourist. One of the most famous is De Sluyswacht by the canal, with an outdoor terrace, and leans to one side.
Grand Centraal Station
The giant international rail station is dominant across the skyline in central Amsterdam, and has rail links across the Netherlands and Europe. We used it when we went to Cologne, and it was easy to navigate despite not being locals. There’s a Starbucks inside with some lovely views of Amsterdam from the windows, and it’s like an old library inside with big archways and a balcony over the main concourse.
You can also get taxis, buses, canal cruises and bikes from directly outside the station, and direct transport to the airport.
Amsterdam is one of those beautiful places where it’s hard not to enjoy the typical tourist sites every time. The iconic canals and canal houses make it so pretty all year round, but there’s so many and it’s so big that you can be a tourist every time you visit without even meaning to.
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