5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam


I’m fortunate to have many friends and family who live in London. For many years it served as a jumping-off point for our Europe travels. We were able to fly cheap budget airlines out of London to France, Spain and Italy. But Amsterdam seemed so close that we always eschewed it for a more exotic destination. So when we recently planned a quick trip to London and wanted to include a short side trip, Amsterdam turned out to be the perfect 48-hour destination.





A brief outline

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Map via www.maps-of-europe.net

Amsterdam is made up of a series of canals that make up semi-circles, with the center of the circle being the portion of the city referred to as Centrum. There are trams, buses and ferries that run through the city, but it’s extremely walkable. The distance from the center where the central train station is located to the outer Singelgracht canal is only about 1.5 miles. But note that the cobblestone streets, while pretty, aren’t kind to the feet. Wear supportive footwear!

How much time you spend in Amsterdam on your first trip is entirely up to you. Our recommendations can comfortably be completed in two days, but they can also serve as a foundation to build a more robust vacation on. Here is our list of things you shouldn’t miss on your first visit:

Do a canal tour

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

If you’re wary that this sounds like a terribly touristy activity, you’re right. But even though Amsterdam is a city that is best enjoyed on foot, a canal tour is a necessary supplement. Why? The canal ring of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because “it is a masterpiece of hydraulic engineering, town planning, and a rational programme of construction and bourgeois architecture”. We took a basic one-hour tour that gave us a brief history of the city and pointed out significant buildings from the water. We were also able to enjoy views only accessible from the canal.

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Many reputable tour operators are located right outside of the Amsterdam Centraal station, such as Lovers and Stromma. Tours operate frequently, and much of it is available as an audio guide in multiple languages. There are also niche operators that offer longer, more customized experiences. If you decide to do that, just be sure to check ratings and reviews ahead of time.

Pro Tip: In colder weather many boats are heated, but windows can still be opened. If you’d like a clear view for photographs, be sure to grab a window seat. If temperatures are mild, some boats have an uncovered section in the back for unobstructed 360-degree views.



Go up the A’DAM Lookout

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The free GVB ferry to take you across
5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The A’DAM Tower on the right

Walk all the way through the Amsterdam Centraal station to get to the GVB ferry quay. Jump on the free Buiksloterweg ferry which will take you across the IJ in 3 minutes. When you get off, head to the A’DAM hotel. There is an entrance for the Lookout, which requires an entry fee. A basic fee allows access to the top, with options to upgrade the experience as desired.

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The amazing view of the city from the indoor rooftop lounge
5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Yup, you can see allllll the way down

There’s an indoor lounge at the top, so if you’re interested in resting your feet for a few minutes, you could do worse than enjoying a drink while you take in the view. On the outdoor rooftop, Over The Edge allows you to swing off the side of the 20-story building (though just the thought of this gives me heart palpitations!). If you want some cheesy photographs with views of the city super-imposed onto the background, those are available for a fee. The ride up and down the elevator includes a light show. But all gimmicks aside, the views from the A’DAM Lookout are simply unparalleled. It’s well worth the visit just for that.

Pro Tip: If you can spare the time, the futuristic building next to the A’DAM Hotel is the EYE Film Institute, which is the national museum for film. Its collection represents an outstanding sample of film history, from classics and blockbusters to cult films.

Visit the world-class museums

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The Gallery of Honour at Rijksmuseum
5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The Last Judgment by Lucas van Leyden, the most famous Dutch artist of the 16th century

Amsterdam is home to several spectacular museums. If you’re anything like us, you could get lost in museums for days on end, so if you’re strapped for time you might need to choose wisely. At the top of the list should be Anne Frank House. I have a small confession: we almost passed on this completely. The subject is never easy to digest, and we were clinging to our special experience at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Thankfully, my sister-in-law pushed for us to include it, and we’ll do the same here. It’s a gut-wrenching experience, but one that’s entirely unique and special.

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The scenic Museumplein (Museum Square)
5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at Moco

The Van Gogh Museum is also high on our list, because it captures the artist’s life in such a personal way. Rijkmuseum houses amazing works by the Dutch masters and is housed in a stunning building with both gothic and renaissance elements. If you’re not sure where to start, Rijkmuseum sorts its collection by century, and does a wonderful job of highlighting key pieces in their visitor guide. Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are both located on Museumplein, where you’ll find other great museums like the Stedelijk and Moco Museums for modern and contemporary Art.

Pro Tip: If you’re visiting more than three museums on your trip, check out the Museumkaart option. You can buy it at any of the participating museums and use it immediately for entry. It’s good for 30 days, so it’s also a great savings if you’d like to make repeat visits.



Enjoy Indonesian food

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Amsterdam is a pretty cosmopolitan city, but there’s a special relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands. Indonesia is the largest former Dutch colony, with Dutch control and influence exerted there from 1602 to 1949. Because the two are intrinsically tied, there is a large Indonesian presence in Amsterdam. Which means you can find authentic Indonesian food here. If you are new to the cuisine, try the Rijstaffel, which serves as an Indonesian food “sampler” of sorts. Indonesian food, similar to Malaysian food, centers around rice. Rijstaffel offers a selection of small dishes to accompany the rice, and the options will vary from place to place.

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
A few of the offerings you can pick from at Sari Citra

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

If you’re familiar with the cuisine, then feel free to order a la carte based on your preferences. We tried Sampurna, which offers a more elegant and familiar culinary experience. But we also thoroughly enjoyed Sari Citra, where you make a selection from pre-prepared dishes behind a glass case (this is common in Asia). The food you select is warmed up and paid for by weight.

Sample local delicacies

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The Dutch love their bread and cheese, which is enough to endear them to us. But there are a number of Dutch specialties that we also sampled, and dare I say, fell in love with. At the top of our list is Stroopwafel, made up of two thin waffles with a special sweet and sticky syrup (the ‘stroop’) sandwiched in between. While you can find varieties all over Amsterdam, the undisputed best can be found at a food stand in Albert Cuypmarket: Rudi’s Original Stroopwafels. If you choose the chocolate version (and why wouldn’t you?), only half is covered in chocolate. Eat towards the chocolate. #lifehacks #yourewelcome

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Poffertjes covered in powdered sugar

We also thoroughly enjoyed poffertjes, which are essentially fluffy baby pancakes. How could we say no? The original version is served with powdered sugar, but there are many varieties of toppings available. We enjoyed ours at De Vier Pilaren, a well-known local spot. But as long as you’re getting them fresh, I don’t think you can go wrong with these. Other local specialties include bitterballen (savory meat-based balls deep fried and traditionally served with mustard), kroket (a deep fried roll with meat ragout inside, covered in breadcrumbs) and Haring or Hollandse Nieuwe (raw herring served with chopped raw onions and gherkins).

We’re already thinking about when we can go back. Have you been to Amsterdam? We’d love to hear your favorite memories!

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– L. & J.

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24 Comments on "5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit To Amsterdam"

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Trudy
Guest

Beautifully done. Love all the photos! Lynn, I cannot believe that you went to the top of that building…? Brava! I’m glad that you both had a wonderful trip.

Tip
Guest

What a trip! Thanks for sharing it. We’ve thought about Europe and you’ve made it sound really inviting. The pastries made me hungry, but then, all your posts end up making me hungry!

Lauren
Guest
LOVE this post and love Amsterdam!! Looks like you guys had a really great trip and made the most of your 48 hours. I went for about 4 days, and it’s probably my favorite European city I’ve ever visited. Cosmopolitan is the perfect word for it – it was the first place I’d visited after spending a significant amount of time in Italy, so it was nice to get out and be exposed to a such an international and modern metropolis that somehow managed to maintain the quaint charm of the Dutch Golden Age. And stroopwafels, OMG. I could’ve eaten… Read more »
Audrey
Guest

Beautiful photos and great info on a city I’m hoping to visit soon! It’s always a pleasure reading your articles!

Cathy
Guest

Stoopwafel with chocolate!! Wow, I must have that!

JAM
Guest

Awesome trip. Sounds like a trip to Amsterdam is worth it for the food alone! Beautiful photos, good information. Thanks for sharing!

Dippy Dotty Girl
Guest
The Moco museum looks delightful…we missed out on it. To be remembered for when return to the city. But even though it must have been so cold, I can figure out that you both had a fabulous time, eating your way through it and hanging around in the museums. The Anne Frank museum is not one to be missed, truly. When we were there, we had this awful young couple behind us. They incited violence in me. They kept kissing each other as loudly as a human can – all through the poignant tour of the house. I trust you… Read more »
Chad
Guest

How can you go wrong here?! Everything looked perfect guys. Great post!

Elisa
Guest

Great article! I need to go to Amsterdam if only for the food!! Those Stroopwafles looks amazing. It looks beautiful there.

Sarah
Guest

Somehow I managed to miss all of these things on my first visit to Amsterdam?! But then, I was 17 and travelling with 4 boys so the focus of the activities was somewhat different 😉 Lucky I went back a few times after my misspent youth, although I never did the canal tour, or Indonesian food! Looks like you guys got the max out of your trip, will defo check out Indonesian restaurants next time we are in the ‘dam

Peggy
Guest

These are great tips you guys! With all of my European travels, I’ve never been to Amsterdam. But this article makes it feel much more real, and I’m feeling like a trip is in the cards soon. Thanks 🙂

lynn
Guest

Haven’t been, would love to go. Thanks so much for the tips! Seeing a new place this rich in history and art – and food opportunities – has got to be hard to do in 48 hours.

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