Amsterdam Travel Journal
Amsterdam is one of the first places that I said the words “I could live here” within less than 12 hours. It's a beautiful city with the perfect mix of hustle and bustle and peace and quiet. The city attracts tons of tourists, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. You can go a few streets over from the busy areas and enjoy a quiet walk along the canals.
I could have spent weeks in Amsterdam, but here's what I was able to tackle in just a few days.
Where to Stay
I’ve realized that picking a hostel from one of the top hostel chains is the way to go. We stayed at St Christopher’s Hostel in Barcelona and Amsterdam. Staying at a popular hostel usually helps guarantee that you are staying in a prime location with lots of opportunities to hang out with other travelers. In Amsterdam, the hostel is between the Red Light District the Amstel Canal. The hostel itself is on a great walking street filled with restaurants and bars and is only a 5 minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal (the central train station).
One thing I won’t withhold is that it isn’t always the cleanest option. I had to trade in my pillows because they were stained bright yellow and I could smell sweat through my pillow case. Our bathroom also constantly reeked of pee. You might be thinking... how could you possibly recommend this place!? Well - one thing I learned while travelling is that location, price, and the opportunity to meet other travellers are everything you need. The staff members at the hostel were great, so all you have to do is ask for a little extra attention if your room isn’t exactly sanitary.
Where to Eat
If you are a chocolate lover, you have to go to Metropolitan just two doors over from St Christopher's. If you have allergies, it’s the place to be as they mark which menu items are gluten free, egg free, dairy free, etc. I tried the gluten free chocolate cake and the little dutch pancakes (my absolute favourite). Yes, that's what's underneath alllll that whipped cream.
Bagels and Beans
If you are looking for a fairly quick and casual breakfast or lunch, Bagels and Beans had great gluten free bagels and tea. There are several locations throughout Amsterdam - we visited the one closest to the I Amsterdam Sign. It was such a cute coffee shop and I would definitely be a regular if I lived in Amsterdam (especially since two of their bagel specials had goat cheese, my favourite).
PANCAKES Amsterdam was a great place to have gluten free Dutch Pancakes. The service was great, the pancakes were amazing, and I got a cute little clog keychain at the end! FYI - the restaurant beside PANCAKES Amsterdam also has gluten free bread. This PANCAKES Amsterdam location on Negen Straatje is only a 7 minute walk from the Anne Frank House.
Wok to Walk
I’ve already mentioned Wok to Walk in my Barcelona Travel Journal, but it is the perfect place to stop anytime you need a quick meal or want to eat and walk. We stopped here after our long train ride and it is only a 7 minute walk from the train, right on one of the popular shopping streets in Amsterdam. They cater their menu to vegetarians and vegans, but I was always able to ask which sauces were gluten free and the staff were always knowledgeable.
What to See
Amsterdam is lined with bike paths and it seems like the majority of the city travels by bike. It is such a cool thing to see and I highly recommend just grabbing a drink or a snack and watching the people ride by (super skillfully and effortlessly). I am an absolutely DISASTER on a bike so I found every little thing super impressive. I saw people biking quickly beside each other while maintaining a flawless conversation. I saw people with their dogs in their bike baskets, people holding hands, and people talking on the phone/texting as they biked.
Tip: Cyclists actually have the right of way in Amsterdam, not the pedestrian. Always make sure you have your head up and don’t expect them to stop for you.
Anne Frank House
For me, the Anne Frank House was a must-see. When I read the Diary of Anne Frank in junior high, I felt really attached to the story. Visiting the Anne Frank House helped me relive the story all over again. There was a huge line when we went, but I wanted to make sure we fit that experience into our trip.
Tip: I highly recommend pre-purchasing tickets for the Anne Frank House. Looking on the website now, they sell tickets up to two months in advance and occasionally only accept online tickets.
Red Light District
I walked around the red light district three or four times trying to wrap my head around where I was. I can’t even begin to say how strange the whole experience was. It was hilarious to see some of the girls just sitting in their window texting as though it was no big deal, and others would be aggressively knocking on their window as soon as you made eye contact. Check it out if you want to feel the weirdest combination of uncomfortable and intrigued...
Dam Square & de Bijenkorf Amsterdam
de Bijenkorf is a massive department store right in Dam Square. Even if you don’t want to go shopping, I thought it was a really neat looking building and Dam Square is a must-see. If you are a stationery and/or book nerd - you have to check out this area of Amsterdam. At first, de Bijenkorf felt like floor after floor of things I could not afford, but once we got to the second floor from the top, everything got better. A large part of the floor was filled with stationery, which I obsessed over for quite a while.
Public Library of Amsterdam
The Public Library of Amsterdam is just a 15 minute walk from St Christopher’s Hostel and a 10 minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. I definitely recommend checking it out as it is one of the biggest libraries I have been in.
Tip: Head to the the top floor for an amazing view of Amsterdam.
Rijksmusuem, Vondelpark and I Amsterdam Sign
The I Amsterdam Sign might be an overrated tourist spot, but it’s still a really cool place to check out (and snap a pic for Insta) and it’s only a 6 minute walk from the Museum District. At this point in the trip, I was being extra careful about where I spent my money and, since museums aren’t really my thing, I decided it would be better to check out the Rijksmuseum from the outside and then spend more time at Vondelpark. That being said, I have heard that it’s super cool and whether or not you go inside I think this area is a “must-see” spot.
Tip: If you want to rent a bike in Amsterdam, the Museum District is a nice, lower traffic place to do so.
We weren’t sure whether we should check out the Heineken Experience since it was 18 Euros (and I can’t even drink beer). We echose an option that also included a canal cruise into the city, which was one of the best parts. Based on what they offer now, I would recommend getting the Rock the City experience for 25 Euros which includes the Heineken Experience, a canal cruise, the A’DAM LOOKOUT (which we never experienced) and beers at the Best ‘Dam Bar.
Tip: The only thing I would double check is what tour boats they use now. When I went, they were all green (including the windows) which was super annoying as it obstructed the view a bit even though we could open them. Either way, it’s still a better deal as tickets for the A’DAM LOOKOUT are 12.50 Euros alone.
Amsterdam Cheese Museum (or cheese… anywhere)
For all my cheese loving friends out there, don’t miss the FREE Amsterdam Cheese Museum - which we just stumbled upon in the Jordaan District. The first floor is a store and sampling area where you can try all of their cheeses and the basement has information and videos on how to make cheese! My favourite cheese that I tried - and possibly the best cheese I’ve ever had - was a truffle black pepper goat cheese. If you don’t go to the cheese museum - don’t worry - you can try cheese in just about any gift shop.
Anything I missed? Add it in the comments below!