Amsterdam, in a lot of ways, is like the New Orleans of Europe. If you casually mention to friends or coworkers that you’ll be traveling there, you’re usually greeted with a knowing wink and an elbow to the ribs.
But just like New Orleans, Amsterdam is about so much more than partying (got that Ben and Dana?). It’s a gorgeous old city of canals, twisting medieval alleys, welcoming cafés and brisk bike lanes. I recently took a business trip to the Venice of the North, here’s a few travel tips from my journey!
The Dam Square is a Stunning Intro
De Dam is at the heart of old Amsterdam, located a short walk from Centraal station. Standing in the middle of the massive square, you can look in one direction and see the Royal Palace of Amsterdam and The New Church, both of which date back to the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century. Turn around, and you can see newer buildings like De Bijenkorf (“The Beehive”), a massive shopping mall, and Beurs Van Berlage, the city’s massive former stock exchange building, pictured below.
See all of those bikes? That brings me to my next point:
Rent a Bike to Explore the City
While Amsterdam has excellent public transit and is also very walkable, you’ll be cheating yourself if you don’t spend some time on a bicycle while you’re in the city. Bikes are King in Amsterdam, so drivers give you plenty of distance, and there’s a staggering amount of dedicated bike lanes and bike-only streets that make cycling much more fun than back home.
I got rained on a few times but had a blast biking all-over my home neighborhood of Joordaan, a former working-class neighborhood that’s now home to some of the oldest and most gorgeous buildings in the city, including the Anne Franke Huis.
Vondelpark in the southern part of the city is an expansive section of greenspace that makes for a perfect leisurely bike ride. I wish it had been summertime so I could have spent all day here!
If you’re up for an adventure, bike back up to Centraal Station and catch a short ferry ride to the city’s northern portion, called Amsterdam Noord.
The northern portion of Amsterdam was once a heavily industrialized area that’s seen a flowering of hip, artsy businesses and culture in recent years, sort of like Go Radio’s home neighborhood of the North Loop.
I biked up to the Amsterdam Noordmarket, which is a truly unique flea market/thrift bonanza/public art space located in an old shipping yard. There’s stunning graffiti pieces and a wide variety of vintage clothes and other items built into a massive warehouse space.
If all of that riding is making you thirsty, I highly reccomend snagging a beer at one of Amsterdam’s historic Brown Cafés. Trust me, they’re way more fun than the name makes them sound.
Grab a beer at a Brown Café
Think of these historic bars dotted throughout the city as Amsterdam’s version of your neighborhood pub or dive bar. The cafés get their (sorta gross) name from the stains left on the walls from centuries of tobacco smoke that once filled them. The good news: The stains have been cleaned up and you can’t smoke inside anymore. Plus, you can get a delicious Netherlands pilsner for a reasonable price.
For craft beer heads, Amsterdam also has a variety great microbreweries including the tough to pronounce Brouwerij T’Ij, Odeipus Brewing, and Brouwerij De Prael.
Get a Taste of Holland’s Rich History
I took this photo in the lobby of the Van Gogh Museum because they didn’t allow photos inside, but trust me when I say that Amsterdam is home to some of the world’s most impressive art collections. In addition to an entire museum devoted to the great Dutch master Van Gogh, there’s also the Rijksmuseum, the MoCo modern art museum, which had an awesome Banksy street art exhibit while I was there.
If non-traditional museums are more of your thing, check out Amsterdam’s Dungeon Museum, or the Kattenkabinet, a museum literally devoted to Cats in art throughout history (Jordan, you might wanna check this place out dude).
Okay, now that we got all of the history and culture out of the way, we can finally get around to just a little bit of partying.
Amsterdam is an awesome rock’n’roll town, I saw a killer show from the band Shame at an awesome converted church called Paradiso. Nearby is another awesome, huge club called Melkweg which hosts regular gigs and dance nights.
Stay tuned for the next episode of my Travel Guide next week, after I stop through Paris this weekend.