Would you believe I went to Amsterdam and never smoked pot? I was there for just over two days and was so busy with trying to see as many sites as possible, a joint never presented itself and I never sought it out. There’s truly so much to do in Amsterdam besides smoke pot you’ll simply be too busy during your days, especially, to worry about anything but wonderful food, tours and historic sites.
I may have had a “space muffin” but truly, that was because if I left Amsterdam without some form of marijuana experience how could I face my friends and family? 😉 (And I have to say it had zero affect on me so it must have been a seriously weak one.) Especially as the legalization of pot increases in the United States, please know the main reason to visit Amsterdam is because it’s an intriguing, attractive city with lots to see and do. The great news is it’s not too big and it’s all pretty manageable with your own two feet or public transportation. (And if you’re asking, “Where the heck is Amsterdam?” see below – it’s in The Netherlands just north of Belgium, and east of the UK.)
Here are 10 things to do in Amsterdam besides smoke pot:
1. Walk Along the Canals
The geography of Amsterdam is very interesting and walking its manmade canals is a great way to orient yourself with the city. If you look at the city plan, it’s comprised of various concentric U-shaped canals (about 60 miles worth, most accessible by boat). It’s easy to see how it was founded as a small fishing village in the late 12th century though its most famous four canals were developed in the early 17th century. Three were mainly for residential development and the fourth was for defense. Take some time to walk around the famous four, and enjoy not only their bordering row houses on “land” but the boat houses that line the canals too. (Which are SO cool!)
The four main canals (or grachts) are:
2. Take an Open Air Canal Boat Tour
This was one of my favorite things I did! There are two options: closed and open, with various boat operators/companies. It was rainy the day I went but because I’m a photographer I was not about to pay for a boat tour that would limit my capabilities. It wasn’t just a photo + lens thing, it was my senses. Being confined, even by a clear-ish roof, meant I wouldn’t be able to feel the full effect of gliding under a low bridge like the one below. The bonus of the drizzling weather was simply that I had the boat and captain to myself! It was a personalized tour! If you plan on doing a lot of walking one morning, for instance, it’s a great activity to take a load off for an hour or so.
I took the open air one above, not the roofed in one below though I’m showing it so you can see your options:
I loved the open air boat because I was able to smell around me (the fresh air, not just confined enclosed boat air) and you can get a better perspective when you pass under bridges.
3. Walk Through Dam Square
After you’ve familiarized yourself with the canals, visit Dam Square. It has a solid historic foundation in the city….quite literally. This is named after the “dam” part of Amsterdam. It was the dam of the Amstel river built around 1270, which connected two settlements on either side. It grew so large as it was built up it eventually became a plaza of sorts – a gathering place for the city developing around it. In the 19th century the mouth of the river was filled in, thus enclosing Dam Square in land on all sides.
I admit it was fairly littered and swarming with teenagers when I went so I wasn’t looking to hang around long; I hope they’ve cleaned it up since! But even so, it only takes a few minutes walking through it and you’ll likely be on your way from one place to the next. Demonstrations and events are held here often so don’t be surprised if you see one on your visit.
4. Visit De Nieuwe Kerk
I was looking for a quick activity because I had some time to kill in the Dam Square area. I passed “De Nieuwe Kerk” or “New Church” right off Dam Square and went in for a minimal admission price. The name is misleading – it’s a new(er) church than the smaller, older “Oude Kerk” it replaced from the 13th century (you guessed it – “Old Church”), but the newness of it dates back to the 15th century. It was rebuilt in its current gothic style after a fire in the 17th century. Its highlights are its impressive and intricate carved wood pulpit, stained glass windows and brass choir screen. It’s open daily but operating hours vary based on time of year. Be sure to check out their website for more info.
For point of reference, the Magna Plaza, a shopping center, is perpendicular to the church, so if you see the building below the church is on your right:
5. Visit Oude Kerk
The Old Church (Oude Kerk) is just a ten minute walk north (and a couple blocks east) from the New Church. It’s Amsterdam’s oldest building with construction dating back to the early 13th century. I did not have time to go inside, yet its impressive exterior is worth a visit.
6. Get Chipsy King
One of the only memorable things I ate in Amsterdam was Chipsy King french fries. They have two locations in the city and I cannot say enough about how delicious they are. I recommend going to everyone traveling to Amsterdam! They have an abundance of condiment options, including spicy mayo, peanut sauce, and cheese, which is kind of a “thing” for french fries in the region. I personally loved the curry ketchup. To locate which of the two shops is closest to you visit their website.
7. Browse the Flower Market
Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) is known for its tulips. Take advantage of the opportunity to browse the flower market, Bloemenmarkt, along one of the city’s canals. It’s been around since the end of the 1800s and you can find all sorts of beautiful things like flowers, brightly colored miniature row house souvenirs, ceramic clogs, and even tulip bulbs (and fake wooden tulips too). They’ll ship bulbs home to you if you want as well! How cool would it be to see tulips from Amsterdam bloom in your garden every spring? There are some fun food shops on the opposite side of the street too.
8. See the Anne Frank House
Anne Frank is well known for having kept a diary during WWII, journaling her adolescent life while hiding from the Nazis. It’s very moving to walk through the home, which is now a museum, and learn about the history of the war in The Netherlands and Amsterdam. It’s very special to feel the energy of the place she lived.
During most of the day you need an online ticket to enter the museum, but they do accept walk ins in the late afternoon. The nice thing is how late they’re open! For current hours visit the museum website. Here is the museum address and below are photos of what the exterior looks like (though there are usually crowds of people waiting to get in so its easy to spot): Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Nederland
9. Enjoy the View from the Public Library
The most incredible thing about this amazing view (perhaps the best view in the city) is that it’s free. Though the view is worth traveling to it’s an especially wonderful activity during a rainy day. When I visited the library I was cold and wet from the inclement weather; I was happy to get warm and cozy from inside the library’s cafe, La Place, and enjoy some tea and apple pie. 🙂 Additionally, the modern interior of the library is pretty cool. There was even a pedestrian playing piano when I visited…
10. Visit the Red Light District
Amsterdam is well known for it’s “red light district,” which has….red lights. If you see red lights, you know you’re in the right place. It’s got lots of s-e-x: toys, shows, prostitution – they have it all. It’s wild to stroll through the area in the evening….women “cat call” passersby to come inside their rooms (I guess it’s more like their office) and you can see women dancing on several levels of buildings in the area. It reminded me of a Broadway show set! There are an abundance of sex shows you can pay to view (theater style). I went with some fellow travelers to see one and then to a quick-pay peep show for the experience. (Think: Madonna in her video “Open Your Heart.”) I have to say, I’m really glad we did it! It’s interesting to see the orchestration of “performers” having sex on stage (albeit a bit weird, because it is incredibly choreographed) and it truly is a part of the city’s liberal vibe. Though I never felt unsafe there, if you’re female and traveling solo perhaps go towards the beginning of the evening, maybe before dusk, so you feel super secure.
And I have a bonus for you too! Check out my post about Things to do in Amsterdam on a Rainy Day over at We Said Go Travel!
What’s the first thing you’d do after arriving in Amsterdam?
If you have any tips or must-see places to visit in Amsterdam please post them in the comments below!