Clodagh Dooley shares some recommendations of things to do and see in the Netherlands’ capital
It’s 8:30am on a fresh Friday morning in November. I’m walking along the streets of Amsterdam, en route to the Anne Frank House, a museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank.
Despite the streets bustling with cyclists and pedestrians, there’s a sense of calmness in the cool, brisk air.
I pass by the red, yellow and orange tones of the city’s trees, set against a backdrop of centuries-old Dutch canal houses and bicycles perched against canal bridges. It’s a strikingly beautiful sight.
I finally reach my destination, the Anne Frank House, and a wave of excitement comes upon me. I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was younger and was always fascinated with it. The book contains the writings from the diary young Anne kept when she was in hiding for two years with her Jewish family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
So to walk within the actual Secret Annex the family hid in and to witness original items, including the bookcase that concealed the entrance to the annex, was surreal.
And the fact that photography is restricted within the House just makes you feel more connected to the experience. Too often we live life through our phones, so not being allowed to take pictures meant the museum had my full attention and discover more about Anne and her family’s journey.
The Anne Frank House can only be visited with a ticket bought online for a specific time slot, and tickets do sell out quickly. Every first Tuesday of the month, the tickets become available for the following month, and you can opt for a museum visit (with audio) or a museum visit with an introductory programme. Tickets cost €14 for an adult, €7 for 10-17 years, and €1 for 0-9 years, and can be booked through this link.
The Anne Frank House is just one attraction I would highly recommend visiting if you are travelling to Amsterdam. Here are some other useful travel tips and attraction suggestions to help you plan a trip away to the city:
Where to stay
Accommodation in Amsterdam is fairly expensive, I will admit. I searched the web for weeks looking for reasonably priced accommodation! In the end, myself and my boyfriend decided to stay at the Ibis Amsterdam Centre for approximately €600 for three nights.
Pricey, yes, but location-wise, it was perfect. The hotel is situated by Lovers Canal Cruises and the Anne Frank House was just a 20-minute walk away. Not to mention, Ibis Amsterdam Centre is located right beside the main train station in the city, Amsterdam Centraal.
We only had a short 20-minute train journey from the airport directly to our hotel and we were within walking distance of a lot of attractions, bars and eateries. Plus, there are two tram stations right outside the Centraal Station too, which bring you around various areas of Amsterdam.
The hotel itself was basic, but modern, with a bar and snacks available in the reception area. Our room was quite small, but it was clean and as we were going to be spending more time exploring, this suited us perfectly. However, our room was right beside the train tracks, which was fine for me, but my boyfriend didn’t get as good a night’s sleep! So that’s something to be aware of, if booking!
Travelling around the city
Because our hotel was so centrally located, we were able to walk to a lot of places (definitely hit our steps on the Apple watch!). However, there were some attractions that were further away, such as the Heineken Experience, and we made use of the tram service for those.
I would advise avoiding taxis when in Amsterdam – we were quoted €35 for a six-minute drive! A great way to take in the sights and get some fresh air and exercise, is to cycle. The streets are filled with cyclists! But be wary of the cycling lanes; they’re everywhere and when crossing a road, suddenly a bicycle will come from nowhere!
In fact, Amsterdam is routinely rated as the world’s second most bike-friendly city and there were hundreds of bikes for rent right at the door of our hotel. For travelling around the city, I’d recommend investing in the I amsterdam City Card. Not only does it provide you with discounts to many attractions, but you’ll be able to access city-wide public transport, a canal cruise and bicycle rent with the card (more on the card below!).
What to see
Where to start! Along with the Anne Frank House, there are a host of highlights in Amsterdam for all interests. Here are just some suggestions to check out:
- Heineken Experience – This immersive experience takes you through the story of Heineken, and how a small Dutch brewery became the world’s most premium brand of beer. You’ll visit the brew rooms, discover the brewing process, deep dive into the history of Heineken, get tastings of the beer, and enjoy two pints in the brewery bar at the end. Plus, there are opportunities to get fun photos throughout. Prices vary depending on the tour type you choose, but discounts are available if you book with the I amsterdam card.
- WONDR Experience – The Wondr Experience is basically an indoor playground for adults (and accompanied kids). The interactive experience has 15 colourful rooms filled with fun and adventure. You could be singing along in their glamorous karaoke, zooming around in an 80s skating rink, or jumping into a large ball pit! You really will have a unique and unforgettable time.
- Van Gogh Museum – If you have an interest in art, then explore the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s collection at the Van Gogh Museum. You’ll see his masterpieces such as Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters and Almond Blossom and discover fascinating facts about the life of Van Gogh and his family. Book tickets online in advance.
- Xtra Cold Ice Bar – Ok, so Amsterdam’s Ice Bar can be a hit or miss for people, but it is something that you probably have never done in your life (and likely will never do again!). So it is worth a visit for that reason alone, plus it’s also an Instagrammable spot. At the entrance, you’ll get three tokens, one for a drink at the premises’ regular, heated bar and two tokens to be used in the ‘Ice Bar’. This is basically a room of -10 degrees, filled with walls adorned with ice. The two drinks you get with the remaining tokens actually come in glasses made entirely of ice! The visit to the actual Ice Bar is short, approximately half an hour, (any longer and you’ll freeze!), and the staff give you gloves and a jacket to wear before you head in.
- A’dam Lookout – For an incredible panoramic view across Amsterdam, head to the A’dam Lookout. Take the free ferry from behind Centraal Station, which leaves every 15 minutes, and it’ll take you on a five-minute journey across the waters to Overhoeksplein, where the A’dam Lookout is based. The A’dam Lookout tower has 22 floors and is in the top 30 tallest buildings in Amsterdam. You’ll get an elevator right to the top, where you can get a 360-degree view of the city and daredevils can also choose to ride the sensational swing, almost 100-metres over Amsterdam. We were under time-pressure to get to the airport though, so couldn’t do this, and also scaredy-cats! The swing must also be added on as an addition to the regular entrance ticket. A regular ticket is €16.40 per adult and €10.50 per child, but this price is discounted if booked online and free if using the I amsterdam card. Access to the swing is an additional €6. There’s also a bar at the A’dam Lookout, where you can sit back with a drink and some food, and take in the amazing view.
Food and drink
Before I flew out to Amsterdam, I came across a lot of cool eateries and bars which I added to my ‘must-visit’ list. But unfortunately, there’s only so much you can eat in a weekend, so I didn’t get to stop by all. Here are just some food places which stood out:
- Van Wonderen Stroopwafels – A stroopwafel is a thin, round waffle cookie made from two layers of sweet baked dough held together by caramel filling. And this is the place to go for one of the best in the city. But be warned, Van Wonderen Stroopwafels does get busy, so be prepared to queue. The shop itself is like something from a fairytale.
- Pluk – Pluk Amsterdam serves great coffee and healthy baked treats, as well as breakfast and lunch dishes. It’s an interior lover’s paradise too, filled with little home gifts. You can even now shop the range from your own home on their website.
- Ree7 – Ree7 is run by the same owner of Pluk, Iris Zeilstra. Her aim with Ree7 is to offer customers a cosy house, where they can enjoy some delicious coffee, sweets and sandwiches, and she has achieved just that. Check out their special ‘freakshake’, available in chocolate, strawberry and many other flavours.
- Vegan Junk Food Bar – This innovative eatery aims to create a positive impact on animal, environmental and human welfare and a place where everyone could enjoy Vegan Junk Food together. From their colourful signature VJFBurgers, Freak Fries and Zeafood to their extraordinary cocktails, Vegan Junk Food Bar has tasty dishes as well as a really cool interior.
- Manneken Pis Amsterdam – Vlaamse frites ( or ‘Flemish fries,’ referencing their northern Belgium origins) are crunchy and thick-cut fries, topped with various sauces and eaten from paper cones. They are a very popular street food in Amsterdam, and Manneken Pis on the Damrak is famous for its Flemish fries, which are made from Dutch potatoes. As well as ketchup and the famous Dutch mayonnaise, there are dozens of toppings available here, from curry sauce to green peppercorn or peanut sauté.
Save money in the city
Amsterdam is an expensive city, but with the option of the I amsterdam City Card, you can save money on a variety of museums and attractions, as well as travel. Particularly if you plan on visiting a lot of sights.
While the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum are not included in the card, you can get discounted ticket prices to over 70 attractions including the Heineken Experience, the Ice Bar, A’dam Lookout, the WONDR Experience, Rijksmuseum, Moco Museum, ARTIS Royal Zoo and more.
You can order the City Card online, or swing by the I amsterdam Store at Amsterdam Central Station to buy one. The Card is activated at first use, so the first time you visit a museum, attraction, or use public transport. The Card costs €60 for 24 hours, €85 for 48 hours, €100 for 72 hours, €115 for 96 hours and €125 for 120 hours.
To visit City Card locations, you can book your time slot online and show your card when visiting. And scan your card when entering any bus, tram or metro.
Freedom to explore Amsterdam
Built around intricate canals and breathtaking architecture, Amsterdam is truly a beautiful city, with so much to discover. Whether that’s the history of World War II during a visit to Anne Frank Museum, learning about its brewing culture, or experiencing some of the unique eateries if you’re a foodie.
The Netherlands ranks as the fifth happiest country in the world. For me, I definitely felt a sense of freedom and happiness when I travelled to Amsterdam – an escape from the darkness and negativity that can often fill our world today.
As Anne Frank once said, “I’ve found that there is always some beauty left – in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”
For more information on the I amsterdam City Card and travel inspiration ahead of your trip to Amsterdam, click here
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