by Drew on March 17, 2014 No comments

*I’ve been to Amsterdam twice for a total of 10 days spent in the city.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world.  Inside of this Amsterdam Guide, you’ll not only learn interesting things about the city, but you’ll also get my recommendations for things like — culture, food, nightlife, and things to do.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, and please check out my other related posts on Amsterdam:
10 Things to do in Amsterdam
5 Dutch Foods to Try
Ultimate Guide to the Nightlife in Amsterdam

Top 10 Dutch Words
Top 7 Coffee Shops in Amsterdam

General Thoughts

Amsterdam is a magical place.  It’s probably the best city for young travelers to experience in the world. 

But before I dive into the good stuff, I would first like to acknowledge the beauty of the city itself.  It’s a shame that most people only hear about the red light district and how stoned everyone gets in Amsterdam — because there are FAR more things to admire. 

Just wandering around the city, you’ll find beautiful water canals cutting through the streets, incredible European architecture, more bikers than cars, and some of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen.  It’s almost like every single street corner is picture perfect out of a magazine.

Amsterdam is a place where you will lose concept of time and fully enjoy everything the city has to offer.  One of the best things that you can do is to hire a bike (for $10 per day) and roam around the city.   Amsterdam is known as the most bike-friendly city in the world, and its really easy to navigate with the huge and well-kept bike lanes.  

And yes, there is a wild side to Amsterdam.

The city has some of the least strict marijuana laws in the world, and boasts some 200+ coffee shops around town.  Not to be confused with standard cafés, these coffee shops are places where you can purchase and smoke weed, as well as hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.  They have been around since the 1970s and are an integral part of Dutch culture.   You’ve gotta experience what they are like. 

There is a rumor going around that these coffee shops are all shutting down to change the reputation of Amsterdam, but that rumor is false. Some of the big ones have gone away, but I was just in Amsterdam in July 2015 and they were plenty left. Don’t worry!

Alright, let’s get into some quick facts!

Quick Facts

Currency: Euro (EUR)
LanguageDutch, although English is widely spoken
Population: 900,000 (city), 1.5 million (metro)
– There are over 18 million bicycles in Amsterdam.  Every single day, over 500,000 cyclists ride more than 2 million kilometers.
– According to the Quality of Life Survey, Amsterdam is the 22nd safest city in the world.
– Amsterdam was originally a small fishing village in the 12ch Century
– The name “Amsterdam,” comes from Amstelredamme- referring to the city’s origin as a damn on the Amstel River
– The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world
– Amsterdam has 165 canals that span over 100 Kilometers (60 miles)
– Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges and 2,500 houseboats
– Over 6,500 buildings in Amsterdam were constructed from the 16th-18th Centuries

Culture & People
I really fell in love with Dutch culture.

Amsterdam is one of the most liberal, laid back and downright awesome places I’ve been.

The people that make up Amsterdam are amazing. Everyone just does whatever they want, and nobody judges them.  That’s how every society should be. 

There are a lot of expats and study abroad kids who live in Amsterdam — some 10% of population are expats.  But everyone – both locals and expats – are so friendly, welcoming and they all speak great English, so you never have to worry about a language barrier. 

I was shocked by how easy it was to make friends at the bars, and how open the people were to meet me.  The Dutch will accept you no matter who you are, and will respect the life you want to live.  Take any “social status” and throw it out the window, because the sense of freedom in Amsterdam will make you feel like you own the world.

Most Dutch people are experienced travelers and polygots, meaning they can speak at least 3 languages fluently.  The most popular languages that they know (aside from Dutch) are English, German and French.  Dutch people are also notably tall, blonde and attractive.  I felt like a midget walking around on the streets.

Amsterdam is home to a number of festivals, cultural events, cafes, street performers and public parks that enrich the environment with positive vibes.  You can’t go wrong no matter when you are visiting this city.  

I strongly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new Dutch friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Dutch Words to keep in your back pocket 😉

What to Do?

First, and most obvious, you need to experience a coffee shop.

I can’t explain to you how awesome it feels to walk inside a cafe and order off a “weed menu” which has all different kinds of marijuana.  Joints, bongs, hash, space cakes, truffels — you name it.  You can indulge freely.

Although if I could give you any advice, it would be to avoid the big touristy coffee shops.  It’s the small, local ones that are the finest!

Click this link to view my post on the top 7 coffee shops in Amsterdam.

There are some cool museums that I recommend checking out, like the Heineken factory, the Van Gogh, Anne Frank House, and the Rijksmuseum (one of the best art museums in the world).

The parks in Amsterdam are a must.  For me personally, it was the best way to immerse myself in Dutch culture and see how the people live their daily lives.

Vondelpark is the biggest and most amazing place to spend your afternoon on a nice day.  Located just southwest of the city center, it’s enormous size attract thousands upon thousands of people to hang out daily.   When I was there, I saw countless people relaxing, smoking joints, and having a picnic with their friends.  I recommend riding your bike through so you can see the park in its entirely! 

Here is a photo that I took inside of Vondelpark:

Check out the Red Light District at night.  It’s a one-of-a-kind place that you’ve gotta see with your own eyes to believe.  I am going to leave the rest for you to discover… 

Take a canal cruise! They are only €10 Euros for an hour, and the views from the canals are amazing.  You can see a lot more of Amsterdam via the canals, as opposed to just on land.  The tour guides are usually great and funny, so you can learn some things while getting a geographical idea of the layout of the land.

For a more complete list, check out my post on 10 Things to do in Amsterdam.

The Food

Dutch Food is magnificent- which makes perfect sense because it has to accompany for all the munchies you will have!

Get yourself some Dutch pancakes or a waffle with ice cream on top and you’ll be in heaven.  The Dutch don’t eat a lot of meat (compared to neighboring countries like Germany and France), but rather fresh seafood and a nice variety of vegetables. Additionally, desserts and pastries are commonly eaten after nearly every meal.

A special Dutch treat is called Bitterballen, which is a savory snack with minced beef and vegetables inside.

If you want to discover some more amazing local foods, then please read my post on 5 Dutch Foods to Try.

The Nightlife

Before I went to Amsterdam, my ignorant thoughts were that everyone would be too high to go out drinking and there isn’t much of a nightlife scene.  But my gosh, was I proven wrong!

The nightlife in Amsterdam is pretty awesome.

Little did I know that Amsterdam exports the largest proportion of beer per capita.  Heineken, a local Dutch beer, is the 3rd largest beer producing company in the world and it is commonly enjoyed in every bar around the city.  People drink a lot more than I thought they did!

This thriving nightlife in Amsterdam is displayed through its bars and clubs, which attract a lively young crowd.  Most of the nightlife is centered around Leidseplein Square and neighboring streets. 

One of my favorite bars in Leidseplein is also a coffee shop called Bulldog.  They always play Dutch deep house music and they have an outside terrace where you can drink beer and smoke joints!

For a list of some fun places to party, check out my Ultimate Guide to the Nightlife in Amsterdam.

Where to Stay?

I’ve stayed at several hostels around town, but my favorite is called Dam City (also called Amsterdam Cribs). It’s clean, affordable and it’s right in the city center.  The staff is really nice as well!

You can book your reservation on this link!

Here is a photo of the rooms:

Make sure to give yourself a substantial amount of time in this city (at least 4-5 days) so you can fully experience Amsterdam!

*Thanks for reading!  Have you been to Amsterdam before?  

*Please comment because I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Related Posts on Amsterdam
10 Things to do in Amsterdam
5 Dutch Foods to Try
Ultimate Guide to the Nightlife in Amsterdam

Top 10 Dutch Words
Top 7 Coffee Shops in Amsterdam

Join me across 20+ countries in 2015!
Get exclusive travel tips and hear crazy stories delivered straight to your inbox


Hello! Since 2012, I've been traveling and partying my way around 74+ Countries. Shortly after I graduated from The University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a job as an English Teacher in South Korea for 18 months. Now, I'm traveling and blogging full-time on a never-ending voyage around the world. Please comment with any questions you have, and feel free to join me on Snapchat & Instagram @drewbinsky :)


Join the conversation