Visiting Amsterdam For The First Time? Here Are 21 Best Tips

Are you visiting Amsterdam for the first time? Then continue reading!

With charming canals, pretty bridges and enticing lanes, Amsterdam is a fantastic place to visit. It’s a city that entices a whole variety of travelers, from couples on romantic getaways to rowdy partygoers, from solo travelers to families with kids, there’s something for everyone.

Spend days here delving into the interesting history, stopping by cool cafes and world-class museums and evening strolling alongside elegantly lit waterways and stopping of at cute bars and late-night venues.

If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, I have some useful travel tips for you. I’ve covered everything from what to pack and when to go all the way to visiting those famous coffeeshops and what local food you should try out. Get ready, because your trip to Amsterdam is going to be so much fun.

For more information, you should also read my post The Best Places To Visit In Amsterdam.

Canals in Amsterdam
Late spring really is the best time to visit Amsterdam

What To Know Before Visiting Amsterdam

Best time to visit Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination which means that no matter what time of year you go, you can expect some crowds. There are a few differences about visiting Amsterdam in different seasons.

If you visit Amsterdam in the height of the summer, then you will be in for a treat – though this varies a lot depending on the summer, too. Normally, the sun is shining, there’s plenty of hours of daylight and a whole host of summer events to enjoy.

Traveling to Amsterdam in the summer gives you the chance of attending big music festivals take place which attract partygoers from across Europe.

naval history museum
Visiting Amsterdam in the summer certainly has its perks!

Taking a trip to Amsterdam in the summer does come with its downside, however.

This is the peak of the city’s tourist seasons which means prices for accommodation will be higher, tickets for big attractions harder to come by and crowds everywhere you go. If you want to visit the main attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House then you’ll need to book your tickets at least a few weeks in advance.

A trip to Amsterdam during the winter is a good idea if you’re traveling on a budget. Yes, the weather may not be a pleasant. The days are short, the weather is cold (the highs are around 7°C – or 44° F) and you can expect lots of rain, and a light dusting of snow is not unheard of.

The good news is that there are plenty of indoor attractions and cozy cafes to keep you entertained.

places to visit in Amsterdam
Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam during a weekend in June

The shoulder season, Spring and Autumn, is the best time to visit Amsterdam if you don’t want to battle crowds but still want fine weather. Accommodation is generally more affordable, and you won’t have to deal with the huge crowds of the summer months.

However, there are exceptions to this: Amsterdam can get quite crowded during Amsterdam tulip season, which reaches its peak between mid April and mid May.

My friend and I visited the very first week of June, and save for the first two days when the weather was overcast and it was quite cold, we enjoyed late-spring weather with nice temperatures around 22° Celsius (around 71.5°F or so)

Claudia in Zaanse Schans
You can add a day trip to Zaanse Schans to your Amsterdam itinerary

How many days to spend in Amsterdam

This fun and friendly Dutch city has a whole lot of attractions, local sights and pretty parks to keep you entertained for at least a few days. If it is your first time Amsterdam, you will need the minimum of three days to properly explore the core attractions and get a little taster of what makes Amsterdam tick.

Five days in Amsterdam will be enough time to see more of the main sites as well as ticking off a few of the lesser-known spots. you can go on walking tours and sample more of the local food scene.

We spent six days in Amsterdam, and it was wonderful as we were able to see things a little more slowly and enjoyed a more local side to the city too – for example, we could check out the weekend markets. If you have six days or a week in Amsterdam, you will even have time to take a day trip or two to nearby attractions.

visiting Amsterdam tips
Photo by Sergii Figurnyi @shutterstock

Is Amsterdam expensive?

Amsterdam may be a compact city, but it is a really popular tourist destination. Every weekend, visitors from across Europe travel to Amsterdam for a fun mini break, but that popularity also means that prices can be high.

To be honest, we did not find Amsterdam to be too expensive, and there certainly are ways to travel to Amsterdam on a budget.

First of all, we found that the attractions we visited are all worth the price.

Food can be affordable too, with a host of local and yet very trendy places to pick up cheap eats and local markets where you can secure low-cost products – not to mention, they are fun places to try out local street food.

We also found that the price at restaurants is more or less in line with that of other European cities such as London, Paris or Rome. The area around the Red Light District is packed with cheaper restaurants. For example, we ate at The Bird, a Thai restaurant on the main street, and had a tasty meal, huge portions and very friendly service too.

The city is also easy to get around on public transport and on foot so you won’t have to blow the budget on taxis and,

What really has the potential to blog your budget is accommodation. If you really want to cut back on costs, you can stay in self-catering accommodation.

A little careful planning can go a long way when it comes to saving cash. First of all, traveling to Amsterdam mid-week can bring the price of accommodation right down.

Some may suggest you could stay in outside the city center to cut down on accommodation costs, but to be honest I rarely think this is a good idea. The savings on accommodation may be slight, but on the other hand you may find yourself commuting for activities and meals all the time.

Damrak is a must see when visiting Amsterdam for the first time
Traditional buildings along Damrak Street

Book your accommodation in Amsterdam in advance

If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, then make sure you book your accommodation well in advance. Get your hotel secured at least a few months before you plan to travel to Amsterdam. The best accommodation will get booked up quickly.

Equally, choose the location of the hotel or hostel wisely. I have said this before in this post but it’s worth repeating – It might seem like a bargain but if it’s located on the outskirts of town it’s going to take you a long time to get to the main attractions.

best places to visit in Amsterdam
One of the exhibits at Van Gogh Museum

Use the Amsterdam Pass

You may want to consider getting an Amsterdam Pass for your trip to Amsterdam.This is a great option if you want to visit many attractions. Indeed, the Amsterdam Pass gives you access to a long list of places within a certain time frame.

The bonus of the pass is that you can use it to book free access to attractions such as the Rijksmuseum, and even a canal cruise. An app with a guide for over 100 attractions is included in the price and if you want to visit attractions not included in the pass you may get up to 10% discount.

There are several options for the Amsterdam Pass. Let me highlight my favorite ones.

First of all, there is the Amsterdam Pass which you can get on Go City. It’s the classic pass. You can pick the duration you need the pass for (usually between 24 and 72 hours). You will have to book the attractions you want to visit separately on their official site.

Otherwise you can get the iAmsterdam card on Tiqets, which works pretty much the same way. This options comes with a 24 hours bike rental, a canal cruise and public transport. However, it does not include tickets to the Van Gogh Museum.

visit Anne Frank House Amsterdam
You can’t miss the Anne Frank House when visiting Amsterdam for the first time!

Book museums in advance

Make sure to book the most popular museums in advance. This is especially true for your visit to the Anne Frank House, as it gets regularly sold out. In the specific case of Anne Frank House, you need to be especially on top of your planning game. Tickets for this museum are put on sale every Tuesday, and 6 weeks ahead of the intended day of visit.

Head over to my post A Complete Guide To Visiting Anne Frank House.

Other museums such as the Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Rijksmuseum should also be booked in advance too. I recommend checking for special exhibits too and on a regular basis, as tickets are often sold out for them.

For example, we booked our tickets for the Rijksmuseum at the beginning of February – and traveled to Amsterdam at the beginning of June. We pretty much booked the minute we learned there would be a special exhibit of Vermeer. Tickets were sold out in a day!

traveling to Amsterdam
Vermeer special exhibit at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

You can’t take backpacks inside a museum!

Leave your backpacks back at the hotel. It doesn’t really matter whether large or small: as long as it is a backpack, you can’t take it in. I always had to leave my small backpack in the cloakroom, even though it was literally just as big as my friend’s over-the-shoulder purse.

I think the rationale is that you can’t really see behind your back, which means you may inadvertently touch stuff or knock it over.

Anyways, pretty much all museums do have cloakrooms for visitors to store their bags, but if your are only visiting Amsterdam for a few days having to always stop to store your backpack will make you waste precious time.

Amsterdam hidden gems
One of Amsterdam hidden gems

Cards are literally accepted everywhere

Don’t waste time or money getting cash out of ATMs. Credit and debit cards are taken pretty much everywhere and anywhere in Amsterdam. If you have a contactless card, you can even use it to touch in and out of the tram or bus.

That means that you don’t have to have a wallet full of cash – which is safer. Also, if you are visiting from outside the Euro Zone, using your credit or debit means you won’t have to travel back home with Euro, and that you can save on foreign banking fees as you don’t have to get cash out all of the time.

Amsterdam Canals
Photo by Tsuguliev @shutterstock

You must carry an ID with you at all times

You might not be used to it in your home country but when you head out on the streets of Amsterdam you need to carry an accepted form of ID with you. This can be a driving license or your passport and applies to anyone over the age of 14 in the Netherlands.

If carrying ID around with you at all times (especially if it’s your passport) worries you, then you could consider getting a secure money belt to keep it safe as you explore the city.

is Amsterdam safe
A cannabis museum in Amsterdam

Is Amsterdam safe?

Yes, Amsterdam is safe for travelers. We did not have any issue whatsoever during our trip, and we always felt safe.

Amsterdam is a busy tourist destination and there are always people around. That being said, this is a (fairly large) city, and you should visit with a certain amount of awareness about what is going on around you.

Pickpockets and petty crime can be an issue, especially around the busy tourist sights, big public squares and main train station. Keep your belongings close to you, avoid flashing valuables and don’t leave anything unattended and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Amsterdam has developed a bit of reputation for being a party city. Cannabis and alcohol are common in Amsterdam. It’s not uncommon to smell cannabis as you walk around town.

You can also expect to see groups of part-goers roaming the streets, drinking and enjoying themselves – sometimes a little too much. The local government don’t look too kindly on rowdy drunken behavior and in recent years there have been some policies put in place to curtail it.

If you intend to smoke cannabis and spend the night out having a few drinks, it’s a good idea to know your limits and be aware that smoking cannabis and drinking in public is now illegal in Amsterdam.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Amsterdam. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Heineken Experience
The old Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam

Being so safe, Amsterdam is also a great solo travel destination and solo travelers can have an absolutely fantastic time in Amsterdam. This is a fun and welcoming city and there are plenty of places to go and things to do for solo travelers.

In terms of accommodation there is a great choice of hostels for solo travelers, and you don’t just have to stay in a dorm either as many also offer private rooms. Back when I did backpacking, I found hostels to be really good places to meet like-minded travelers as there’s often a schedule of group events like free walking tours and social drinks to sign up to.

Meeting other travelers isn’t difficult even if you’re not staying in a hostel. There’s always a long list of group activities, from bar crawls to guided walks, you can join.

We found the Heineken Experience to be perfect for that – just imagine being surrounded by people of all ages (well, adults only), all interested in the history of the largest beer company in Europe, and all having a good beer drink (or three) at the end of the Heineken factory tour. You won’t have troubles meeting people there!

And if you need some help or pointing in the right direction, everybody speaks English (more about this below) so you can just ask a local.

If you are a solo traveler, you will want to read my post The Best Places To Travel Alone.

cats of Amsterdam
Befriending a local kitty in Amsterdam

Literally everyone in Amsterdam speaks English

After a trip to Turkey where I had serious communication issues with the locals, it was absolutely refreshing to have zero communication issues in Amsterdam!

Indeed, English is widely spoken in the Netherlands. Most of the population – an estimated 93% of the country – speaks English to a high level. The high-level of English proficiency is down to a few different factors.

Children begin to learn English whilst in primary school and continue learning throughout their schooling. English-language tv shows shown in the Netherlands are rarely dubbed, instead subtitles are used which means learners become more used to hearing English.

You can expect to see English all over the place in Amsterdam, from menus in restaurants to train stations signage. You seriously won’t ever need to worry about communicating to locals here.

trying food when visiting Amsterdam
Selfie with a waffle at Albert Cuyp Market

Try local specialties

It’s always nice to tuck into some local delicacies when you’re on vacation and a trip to Amsterdam is no different. The best places to sample some of the city’s gastronomy delights are local markets – I tried a bunch at Albert Cuyp Market!

Recommended tidbits to try include bitterballen, a deliciously deep-fried ball served with a mustard dip and paired with beer. There are also the classic (tiny) Dutch pancakes which are served with various toppings – the most traditional is powdered sugar, but you can also have them with syrup and fruit to satiate your sweet cravings.

My personal favorite was the waffle. You can have it freshly baked and served with a delicious apple sauce – it’s huge, and absolutely delicious.

Don’t forget to also sample broodje harin, the raw herring sandwich that is served with pickles straight from the haringhandels (herring carts).

You don’t really need to join a food tour to taste local specialties – just head to the market! But for the fun of it, you may want to anyways. I found this Albert Cuyp Market tour that you can book via GetYourGuide – that was my favorite market in town and there are lots of bites you can have. The tour lasts two hours and has excellent reviews.

Pesca Amsterdam
Mouthwatering octopus at Pesca

If you can, book restaurants in advance

Don’t underestimate the importance of making restaurant reservations in Amsterdam. If you have an idea about where you would like to eat dinner and the establishment takes advanced bookings, then you should book. Eateries get particularly busy between Thursday and Saturday nights.

Many restaurants in Amsterdam have an online booking system, so it is super easy – otherwise, give them a call.

If you don’t have a reservation, then be prepared to either turn up early or wait in line.

For reference, these are some of the places we tried during our trip to Amsterdam – and loved:

PESCA – A purely fish and seafood restaurant with what looks like a market at the front. You pick your fish, the amount you want, and they will cook it according to the daily recipes and serve it in no order (other than dessert, obviously). It’s very easygoing!

BRASSERIE VAN BAERLE – Lovely upscale restaurant with spot on service. Food is delicious, and the environment sophisticated but friendly.

A-FUSION – In the Red Light District, this is a sushi-Asian fusion restaurant. It may look expensive, but it’s actually great value for money. We had the tasting menu and loved it.

CANNIBALE ROYALE – We loved the friendly atmosphere, and the food is delicious. You can have massive burgers or steaks and salads too. There is a nice choice of craft beers and wines.

THE BIRD – This Thai restaurant in the Red Light District is very popular. We had no reservations so we just waited in line but service is so quick that we did not have to wait long. The Pad Thai is excellent!

public transports in Amsterdam
Trams in Amsterdam are an efficient way to move around

How to move around Amsterdam

If you want to get around Amsterdam efficiently and like a local, then renting a bike is the best way to go. You can rent bikes from rental shops all over the city, make sure to follow the rules and consider hiring a helmet too.

Getting around on foot is also very easy and you can see a whole different side to the city when compared to riding the tram. The city is very walkable – we literally walked everywhere except for when we arrived at the station and we had to take a tram to our hotel.

For longer distances Amsterdam’s public transport is clean, efficient and affordable. The public transport is made up of buses, trams, metro, and ferries. You can get tickets for the public transport in Amsterdam, but if you have a contactless debit card, it’s easier to tap in when you get on, and tap out when you get off.

If you want to get from A to B in a taxi, consider jumping in an Uber. The service works well in Amsterdam, is reliable and easy to use.

Definitely don’t drive in / to Amsterdam!

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to drive. Driving in Amsterdam is really hard, especially if you’re not a local and even more so if you want to drive around the city center. The narrow streets are busy with cyclists, trams and parking is difficult to find and expensive.

My friend had been to Amsterdam before this trip and she drove and told me horror stories about it! Use the excellent public transport system instead.

places to visit in Amsterdam
Posing at A’DAM’s Lookout

Take in the views of the city

There are some wonderful places in Amsterdam where you can take in views of the city. Embarking on one of the many canal boat tours will offer up a different perspective of the city sights.

The A-DAM lookout point provides stunning views. There’s a nice bar at the top, where you can sit and have a drink while you enjoy the views. There even are swings for the fearless travelers.

The terrace of the Heineken Experience is another ideal spot for soaking up the city with a beer after a fun time learning about the brewing process.

Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans is an easy day trip from Amsterdam

Take a day trip out of town

One of the best things to do when visiting Amsterdam is to actually take a day trip out of town! There are many places to visit that are actually really close to Amsterdam and easy to reach by bus or train.

For example, you can go to Haarlem, which is a lovely city to visit in and of itself. Or you can go to the village of Zaanse Schans for an insight in Netherlands traditional life and to see the windmills the Netherlands are famous for.

The colorful fishing village of Volendam is a stones-throw away. And another place you can visit is Marken, where you can experience a clog-making workshop.

bike tour of Amsterdam
So many bikes!

Go on a bike tour

If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time and want to experience the city (a bit) like locals to, you should definitely hop on a bike and peddle your way about the streets of the city.

Amsterdam is a bike-friendly city and getting around by bike has to be the best way to see the main sights. The only problem is, if you have never visited Amsterdam before, finding your way round and seeing the sights can be a bit difficult. I must be honest I kept getting confused and opening my Google Maps to understand where I was and where I needed to go.

Thankfully, there’s a whole host of bike tours that you can join to help you see the big attractions and local hot spots on two wheels.

We took this Amsterdam Backstreets and Hidden Gems 3-Hour Bike Tour and found the guide to be very knowledgeable and the tour overall very interesting. The tour is fairly slow-paced, so you get to appreciate the city. The guide will help you get a better understanding of local culture and history, too.

There’s also this 3-hour guided bike tour will take you around all of the key sights and lesser known spots of the city, and a knowledgeable guide will be able to bring the history of the city to life.

Another option is this tour of the Dutch countryside which whisks you from the city center to the outskirts of Amsterdam to explore charming landscapes on an e-bike. It’s actually a great option for a day trip out of town.

visiting Amsterdam
These decorated bikes are parked everywhere in Amsterdam!

Bike traffic in Amsterdam is real!

As an Italian, I didn’t find that (car) traffic is bad in Amsterdam. However, there are so many biked! Indeed, most people in town get around on bike so you will need to keep an eye out for speedy cyclists when you’re walking around.

Another thing you will need to pay attention to is avoiding to walk or stand in the bike lanes and to look before you cross the road. Thankfully my friend is more used to bike traffic than I am, and she kept reminding me!

Watch out for trams trundling by and the edge of the canals as they have no edges and falling in the canal is easier than it seems, especially if you had one too many drinks!

best places to visit in Amsterdam
A marijuana shop in the Red Light District

Coffeeshops are not actual cafés

In Amsterdam, not all coffeeshops are the same. The city’s coffeeshops are “cozy” (though some actually quite rowdy) corners where visitors come to enjoy the city’s liberal cannabis laws.

We haven’t really been to any of them – not to smoke, at least. But they are everywhere, and they seem like cool places, usually very welcoming, and many tourists visit them. In fact, it’s believed that one in four tourists take a trip to one during their trip to Amsterdam.

Weed has been part of life in the city for decades and coffeeshops have been havens for pot since the laws were relaxed in the ‘60s. Over the years, many of the original coffeeshops have closed down but there is still a collection of them that remain.

From the down-to-earth local hangout to the vibrant city center haunts, there’s a hazy hangout for every partaker marijuana.

Jordaan District in Amsterdam

Pack smartly

Packing smartly is key to any city break, especially a European one. Expect to spend your time in Amsterdam doing lots of walking. Make sure to pack a pair of comfortable shoes so that you can fully enjoy your city wandering.

Wearing layers is also a really good idea, the weather in Amsterdam is really changeable. It was actually very cold for the first 36 hours we were there, and I must admit I was a bit unprepared and suffered until I gave in and went shopping for a sweater.

In the summer you should be fine with a light sweater for the evening and perhaps a compact waterproof jacket – though make sure to check the weather forecast before your trip. When the sun is out, it warms up quickly but if it is overcast you may feel cold!

In shoulder season, a few sweaters and a coat and pants are a good idea and in winter, a thick coat, scarf, hat and even gloves would be ideal.

When you’re trying to work out what outfits to pack for your trip, my advice is to go casual, it’s a very informal city and you probably won’t need any fancy evening outfits or high heels.

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Discover everything you need to know before visiting Amsterdam - via @clautavani

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