What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? Is it wide canals and narrow houses? Roadsides dotted with tulips? Or is it the city’s reputation—the distinctive smell of marijuana and the sight of women dressed provocatively under neon lights?
Amsterdam’s historical and cultural background drives its residents to look at the city around them differently, and before I moved here my knowledge of Amsterdam was pretty limited: in middle school, I read Anne Frank’s diary entries about hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam; the summer before freshman year, I watched Hazel and Augustus of The Fault in Our Stars explore the city and its cultural offerings; I read about the museum dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong projects, and began longing to visit one day.
Like described in The Fault in Our Stars, “some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” Amsterdam is commonly recognized for its openness, from its recognition and protection of legalized prostitution to its normalization of marijuana. While many might think of the city as an out-of-control and drug-fueled war zone, I have only encountered accepting, nonjudgmental locals here.
During my time in Amsterdam, the city has never ceased to amaze me with its duality. Just like how it has both a day mayor and a night mayor, the daytime and nighttime activities are starkly different—yet the city wouldn’t be the same without both.
After spending nine months in Amsterdam, scouring TripAdvisor, and experiencing my fair share of hit-or-miss moments, I’ve curated a list of my favorite places to visit.
Address: Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam
(@galavantinglutenfree on Instagram)
Located in the West of Amsterdam, Foodhallen is the best place to hang out with your friends after a long day of school or work. Filled with food from all over the world, you can have a taste of Italy or Hong Kong. There’s a wide variety of choices, most of which are budget-friendly. And if you come here on a weekday, you shouldn’t have to wait for a seat. My favorite stand is Dim Sum Thing, where I fell in love with their Cantonese vegetable gyozas. Though the servings are small, it’s a good way to fill up your stomach before heading out with friends.
2. Marbles Vintage
Address: Haarlemmerdijk 64, 1011 JM Amsterdam
(@monneratduda on Instagram)
Thrift stores and vintage stores are incredibly popular in Amsterdam, but I’ve found a lot of them to be overpriced. So when I found Marbles Vintage on Haarlemmerdijk, I was surprised! The collection here is arguably a lot smaller, but I’ve had better luck finding pieces that I really like and can afford here. Since there’s no public transport nearby, I usually only make the trip to Marbles when I see something I really like on their Instagram updates.
Address: Van Baerlestraat & Vondelpark, 1071 AA Amsterdam
(@toskavdh on Instagram)
On the rare occasions when the sun comes out in Amsterdam, everyone on Snapchat and Instagram storms into Vondelpark. For good reason, too—Vondelpark is beautiful, and no one will stop you from whipping out a blanket and taking a nap on the grass. You can sit on the grass with friends, sip wine and chew on a baguette you just bought from Albert Heijn (a Dutch supermarket), go on a bike tour, or investigate Vondelpark’s historic scenery.
Address: Van Baerlestraat 50, 1071 AZ Amsterdam
(@svaiaphoto on Instagram)
Just down the street from Vondelpark, this complex contains three of the biggest, most popular museums in Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and my personal favorite, Stedelijk. Rijksmuseum is the largest of the three, displaying most of the country’s art, and you can easily spend a whole day here. If you plan on visiting the Van Gogh Museum, I strongly suggest buying tickets a few days beforehand. Lastly, the Stedelijk Museum showcases modern and contemporary art, and often holds seasonal exhibitions. Stedelijk is known for its Instagrammable surroundings. Oh, and in the winter, the city of Amsterdam sets up a giant ice rink in the center of the museum complex, creating a great spot for dates and hanging out.
Address: NDSM-Plein 28, 1033 WB Amsterdam
(@myrthe.klein on Instagram)
From the outside, NDSM might not seem like much—it pretty much looks like an abandoned shipyard. But with its rustic background and beach location, it has become the hotspot for cultural gatherings and Instagram photo shoots. This location also hosts a monthly flea market that happens in the main IJ-Hallen building, offering everything antiques to vintage clothes. Europe’s self-proclaimed biggest flea market is a must-go for anyone with a soft spot for thrifting.
6. Canal Cruise
Address: Prins Hendrikkade 25, 1012 TM
(@elina.kh on Instagram)
I’ve been on canal cruises way too many times for my own good—both in broad daylight and violent rain. Canal rides are sold right in front of the Amsterdam Centraal, offering hour-long, audio-guided tours of the whole city that stop at famous locations. I strongly suggest going at sunset, putting away your earphones, and watching as the whole city lights up.
7. TonTon Club
Address: Sint Annendwarsstraat 6, 1012 HC
(@tontonclub on Instagram)
To start off your nighttime journey, why not meet up with your friends at this old-school arcade? From air hockey to board games, this space offers a variety of activities that can keep you and your friends occupied for hours. Its ambience makes me reminisce on childhood times spent in arcades with my family. TonTon Club is right around the corner from the Americanized red light district, but if you’re interested in Japanese arcade games and cuisine, I’d recommend TonTon’s Westerpark location.
8. The Rookies Coffeeshop
Address: Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 145-147, 1017 PZ
(@chiaralbr on Instagram)
It wouldn’t be a guide to Amsterdam without at least one cannabis-centered coffee shop. The prices are pretty reasonable, and Rookies offers a wide selection of cannabis. Coffee shops like these have a true sense of community: locals and tourists sitting at different tables will often turn to talk to each other, bonding over what they’re smoking or the beautiful city they’re situated in. You can always opt to buy a pre-rolled joint and walk around the city with it.
9. Sex Museum
Address: Damrak 18, 1012 LG Amsterdam
(@jordanashleyw on Instagram)
The Sex Museum is a beautiful building located near Amsterdam Centraal. For just five euros, you can partake in the museum’s immersive experience and see historical sex toys from different time periods. Making your way up to the second floor, you’ll find people waiting in line to take pictures with two seven-foot-tall penis statues.
10. Red Light District: Sex Palace
Address: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 84, 1012 DT
(@scott_anthony_marsden on Instagram)
Last but not least, end your day at the Sex Palace. Its bright, vibrant colors will stand out when you’re looking down Oudezijds Achterburgwal! My friends and I visited the Sex Palace a few weeks after school started in the fall, and for two euros we squeezed into a tiny black booth and watched a peep show. From your booth, you can see other people in their booths and the performers themselves. There are employees observing at all times to make sure the performers feel safe.
Finding your way around a new city can be difficult, but having a group of friends who are always down for an adventure never hurts. My friends and I have scoured the streets in our free time, using Instagram and Facebook to search for new places to go every week. We’re really trying to get to know the city we live in better.
If you ever have the chance to visit Amsterdam, don’t be afraid to go beyond the front page of TripAdvisor. Talk to the locals while you are here! The vast majority of them will be more than happy to recommend their personal favorites.
Seven months ago, I’d never stepped foot in Amsterdam—yet now it’s where I call home. This city accepts everyone, so in every corner you’ll find a sense of belonging.