35 Amsterdam Travel Tips for First Timers & Must Knows Before You Go

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Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but one thing that gets downplayed is how easy it is to mess up here.

From tourist traps and misleading advice on social media to key attractions that sell out months in advance, Amsterdam is one of those cities that you need to study up and prepare for.

Do so successfully though, and you’ll join the ranks of millions who adore this city and would move there in a heartbeat.

So, read on for a full list of Amsterdam tips and must-knows for saving money, avoiding scams and navigating the city like a pro… oh, and for skipping the city’s longest cookie line. But more on that later.

Save this List of Amsterdam Travel Tips for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. Plan around Amsterdam’s peak seasons

First: in terms of when to visit, please be mindful that Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, which means there will pretty much always be crowds.

In addition to the usual summer and holiday rush that most European hotspots experience, Amsterdam is also especially popular for Spring frolics in Europe around mid-April because of the Netherlands’ world famous tulips. This period also coincides with the long Easter holidays that many European countries have, which means a higher number of families and students visiting as well.

In addition to that, Amsterdam is a very popular weekend destination for those in Europe wanting a city break (and a boozy place for bachelor/bachelorette parties).

All in all, if you want to minimize the number of crowds and also minimize costs, aim for weekdays and off season if you can, like late Fall and Winter.

2. Prioritize hotels/hostels over other forms of accommodation

Once upon a time, one of the best ways to save money when you travel was staying in an Airbnb or rental apartment, rather than a hotel.

There’s a few reasons why I wouldn’t advise this in Amsterdam.

First – Airbnbs are a controversial topic in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam where there’s a severe housing shortage. But, besides not wanting to contribute to that issue, rental apartments also come with their own inconveniences like needing to meet with your host and coordinating check-in.

As an example of this, on my recent trip to Amsterdam. I booked a very nice looking rental off of Booking.com. While the apartment itself was nice enough on the inside, I was sent a truly wild list of restrictive rules, had to bank transfer the guy 500 euro as a deposit (!!!) and then discovered upon arrival that they were renovating the upstairs which meant ultra loud drilling at random times.

To add insult to injury, I even had to fight to get my deposit back after they just seemingly forgot to give it back. Overall, the experience left a very bad taste in my mouth. So from now on, only standard accommodation like hotels (or hostels) where there’s a reception desk!

3. Prioritize hotels in a central location, or near transit hubs

If budget allows, I would also prioritize booking accommodation in the centre of Amsterdam as much as possible. When finding the best hotels in Europe, often I’ll compromise on location if that means I get a ‘nicer’ or more budget-friendly hotel … but in Amsterdam, I would prioritize location above these two other factors.

Why? It sounds silly, but there is just something inexplicably dreamy about navigating Amsterdam on foot, and staying in the city centre means you can walk everywhere with ease, meaning less time commuting and more time wistfully prancing.

If a city centre hotel is out of your budget though, I would advise picking a nice hotel close to a Metro station or if you want to stay even farther away, near a train station. Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general are fairly small so as long as you’re close to a transport stop, you’re never too far from the sights. 

BONUS TIP: If you’re on a budget, do look into the Noord neighbourhood which is right across the main train station and takes only 5 minutes on a free ferry!

4. Look into Amsterdam’s quirky accommodation options

It’s worth noting as well that if you’re into quirky accommodation, then Amsterdam has a pretty amazing selection of weird and wonderful places to sleep.

In the past, I’ve stayed on a houseboat, in a hostel housed in a former laboratory, and even a hostel on a train (which I honestly wouldn’t recommend because there was nowhere to lock up your belongings).

Amsterdam is also home to a Botel (pretty self explanatory – it’s a hotel on a boat), as well as a shockingly luxurious hotel in a… crane.

All to say, be sure to shop around when it comes to accommodation in Amsterdam because there are so many cool options… just make sure you always read reviews before booking.

5. Plan to spend minimum 3-4 days in Amsterdam

Next, in terms of how long to stay, I think a lot of people assume that one or two days is enough since the city is small, but honestly if you want to really fall in love with Amsterdam, then please, give yourself the gift of more time!

While you could quickly jet through all the sights and stare at them from the outside in 1-2 days, more time is needed to appreciate the museums, cafe culture and explore some of the cool neighborhoods outside of the main tourist core that make the city so special.

So, if you can, make sure you spend a few extra days – you definitely won’t regret it!

6. Book some side trips from Amsterdam

The Netherlands is such a wonderfully compact country that visiting other places from Amsterdam couldn’t be easier.

In terms of day trips, Zaanse Schans is a popular place for seeing typically Dutch things like windmills and wooden clogs or in the spring theres the Keukenhof Gardens which are among the largest flower gardens in the world. You can read my full Amsterdam to Keukenhof Day Trip guide for more info.

That said within an hour, you can also reach a ton of cool cities like Haarlem, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Delft…. So yes, don’t miss the opportunity while you’re in Amsterdam to check some of these destinations off your list!

7. Always take the train from the airport

If you are flying into Amsterdam, do keep in mind that Schipol Airport is very well connected to the city by train and the journey time is less than 20 minutes. This is usually the fastest and also the cheapest option, so skip the taxi if you can.

BONUS TIP: If you are taking the train, do not buy physical train tickets from the yellow/blue machines at train stations. Tickets purchased from these machines incur an additional 1 euro fee. Instead, you can tap in and out with a contactless card or you can get tickets in advance online (which can be slightly cheaper if you do so well in advance).

8. Explore on foot as much as possible

Once you’re in the city centre of Amsterdam, honestly the best way to explore is on foot 

You get to see so much this way, and it’s just overall the nicest experience especially because most of the main sights are within walkable distances. So, prioritize walking over trams (and especially the underground Metro!) whenever possible.

9. Avoid renting a bike unless you’re a very skilled cyclist

A lot of travel guides will tell you that renting a bike is the best way to see Amsterdam.

I have to harshly disagree with this one… unless you’re already a very proficient cyclist. The truth is, the bike lanes in Amsterdam can get busy and you’re not familiar with the rules of the road here, you could struggle a bit.

Cyclists in Amsterdam do not mess around and don’t have much patience for tourists who are sobbing in the bike lanes and making their lives difficult. So, if you’re not flawless on a bike, save yourself the pain. 

10. Familiarize yourself with Amsterdam’s public transport options

Now, again, I would advise walking as much as possible when you’re in Amsterdam, but for longer distances you have a few options:

  • Ferries: FREE! Great for getting to the neighbourhoods across the water like Noord
  • Trams: A great above-ground option for longer distances
  • Metro: Great for traversing long distances quickly, though it loses points due to the lack of nice views

All of these are run by an operator known as GVB. This means that day tickets and passes can be used across multiple modes of transport, so no need to stress about getting different tickets for trams vs. metro.

11. Learn how to get the best deal on public transport

To pay for single tickets, the easiest way is to just tap on and off with a contactless card and then you’re charged automatically. You can also buy physical tickets at machines within each station, but it’s not actually cheaper this way.

Nonetheless, there are quite a few ways to save money on public transport in Amsterdam. Which option is best depends, so I’ll try to summarize it as simply as I can. 

As of 2024, the cost of a one hour adult GVB ticket is €3.40. However, the cost of a day ticket is €9, with multi day tickets being a little cheaper per day with each day you add, so this means that so long as you are taking public transport more than twice per day, a day ticket is probably going to be a better deal.

BUT if you are also taking the train from the airport, there is another ticket known as the Amsterdam Travel Ticket that includes the train to/from the airport as well as local trams and buses. This starts at 18 euro for the one day version, so might be worth it if you are planning on taking the train to/from the airport and also using public transport throughout the day.

If you are travelling beyond just Amsterdam here’s also an Amsterdam and Region Travel Ticket that costs a bit more, but includes trains and transport in the greater Amsterdam region, and a Holland Ticket that includes transport across the entire country.

Finally, adding even more confusion is the I amsterdam Card. I’ll discuss this more later but long story short it’s a pass that includes unlimited public transport in the city as well as entry to over 70 attractions including a canal cruise, so it’s worth it if you plan to take a lot of public transport AND see a lot of attractions.

Okay, so how can you decide the best Amsterdam travel ticket for you? It’s not fun, but the best way is to just estimate how many times you plan to take public transport (and where you’re going) throughout your trip and then crunch the numbers. 

12. Use 9292 to plan your journey

Google Maps can be alright in most cases, but if you’re planning to do any journeys that take you outside of Amsterdam (especially to more obscure destinations in the Dutch countryside), a great website for finding routes is 9292.

You just enter point A and point B, then it’ll break down your journey. The GVB do also have their own app for public transport as well.

13. Don’t stress (too much) about buying train tickets in advance

Finally, a handy thing to know is that the Dutch train system is one of the rare few that are fixed by distance, which means prices don’t fluctuate as much as in some other countries.

But (of course there’s a but!), you can save a percentage on off-peak train tickets through the NS PriceTime Deal if you book at least a day in advance. In fact, they advertise deals as much as 60% off depending on how far in advance you book, so be sure to check this out if you don’t mind planning ahead.

NOTE: There are dozens of potential discounts and tickets for Dutch train tickets, and while I’ve tried my best to summarize the most relevant deals for tourists, there are of course still many more, so if you want a full look at Dutch train discounts and offerings, check out the official NS website.

14. Look into getting the I amsterdam card or another City Pass

Alright, now let’s move onto attraction tips for Amsterdam! Attractions in Amsterdam can often be very expensive, so if you plan to visit a lot of them, it may be worth your while to get some kind of sightseeing pass or card.

Of course, just like with the public transport and train tickets, there’s several options. I’ll recap the most popular ones now.

First – as I mentioned before, the I amsterdam Card is a great sightseeing card that includes unlimited public transport as well as entry to 70+ attractions for the set number of days that you buy for.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Despite its long list of inclusions, the I amsterdam Card does NOT include every Amsterdam attraction – some notable ones not included are the Anne Frank House and as of 2022, the Van Gogh Museum as well. 

So, make sure you verify the list of what’s included before you buy one. And make sure you’re specifically looking for the ‘Free with the I amsterdam City Card’ label because their list does confusingly include places that just give you a discount or the possibility to prebook.

You can read my full I amsterdam card review for more info.

The other main contender in Amsterdam is the Go City Pass, which has two versions…

  • All-Inclusive: Based on the amount of time you buy; allows you to see unlimited attractions during that set time period (like the I amsterdam card).
  • Explorer: Based on the amount of attractions you buy; allows you to see the set number of attractions you bought at a cheaper bundle price within 60 days

I think the Go City Explorer would make sense if you don’t plan to see a LOT of attractions and would prefer to just save a bit of money while working through them at your own pace, whereas the Go City All Inclusive could be good if you’re planning on hopping from activity to activity. It also has a lot more experiences/tours than the I amsterdam card, if that’s what you’re after.

Finally, on the topic of longer trips, there are of course more options that cater to residents or long term travellers like the museum card for instance which is valid for the entire year and across the entire country.

15. Consider a bundle deal of attractions

Okay, I’m not done with the savings yet!

If you don’t think you’ll be doing a ton of attractions in Amsterdam, yet another way to save money is through picking and choosing bundles that allow you to save 5-10% for smaller groups of attractions. It’s common for instance to see ones that combine a canal cruise with a museum, so be sure to browse sites like GetYourGuide or Tiqets, where they often have bundle deals like this.

16. Don’t force yourself to visit big attractions just because they’re famous

This will sound silly considering how much time I just spent explaining deals for Amsterdam attraction tickets, but I should stress that, at the end of the day, you should be choosing attractions based on what you are personally interested in. In other words, don’t fall into the common trap of going to a bunch of sights just because it’s included in a pass, or because everyone says it’s a must-do.

Amsterdam is one of those cities with a lot of hype around big name sights and must-sees, but ultimately there’s so much to do that you can afford to be choosy! If you’re not an art person for instance, don’t force yourself to visit all those big museums. You have my permission to just drink beer by a canal if you want to. Amsterdam has something for everyone, so be sure to tailor your itinerary to your own specific interests.

17. Prioritize uniquely Amsterdam attractions when you’re in town 

That said, if I have one suggestion for your trip, it’s that you should avoid attractions that have no real connection to the city, like Madame Tussaud’s or Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Sure, these can be fun places to visit, but I do think you’d get more out of doing more quintessentially ‘Amsterdammy’ things like a canal cruise (here’s a roundup of the best) or an iconic museum. I say this assuming you have limited time or budget. If you don’t though – yeah, go for whatever experiences call to you! Just make sure you vet them with reviews in advance.

18. Don’t forget about Amsterdam’s free activities

Amsterdam definitely isn’t a cheap city, but there still are quite a few free activities to take advantage of. So, if you’re planning a budget trip, then be sure to add some of Amsterdam’s best free things to do to your itinerary!

Off the top of my head, there’s…

  • The Amsterdam City Archives
  • The free views form the NEMO Science Museum
  • The free views from the Amsterdam Central Library
  • Gassan Diamonds Factory Tour (not ultra exciting, but could be if you like diamonds)
  • Plus usual freebies like parks, street art, markets

19. Always book big attractions in advance

Now, this is a VERY important Amsterdam tip to keep in mind, especially if you’re planning your trip around a major attraction.

Remember: Tickets for Amsterdam’s main sights like the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh Museum are known to sell out, so secure them in advance to avoid disappointment. For peak season, weeks even months in advance is not a bad idea.

With the Anne Frank House for instance, tickets go on sale 6 weeks prior. They were already completely sold out for April when I looked, so just know this isn’t a myth, and you should plan accordingly.

20. Venture beyond the very touristic center of Amsterdam

Now, if time allows, I would really recommend that you explore more of Amsterdam than just the Red Light District and Jordaan.

Some other nice neighbourhoods to explore include…

  • De Pijp: A cute neighbourhood with lots of great food and shops, and some attractions like the Albert Cuyp Market and the Heineken Experience
  • Amsterdam West: A cool neighbourhood with trendy boutiques, fun food spots, and the transformed Westergasfabriek complex (now used for cultural events)
  • Noord: Across the water and accessible via free ferry – there’s a super cool street art museum there and it’s just a fun and different vibe

21. Know that the iconic iAmsterdam sign has moved

Last little Amsterdam attraction tip before we move into food: if you are looking for the iconic i Amsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this sign has not been here since 2018… but you can still find it at the airport!

22. Book restaurants in advance

Now, moving onto some Amsterdam food tips, the most important one is to make sure that you are making reservations for restaurants that you have your heart set on.

This is a must for avoiding disappointment, especially on weekends. Odds are, if you want to visit a cool restaurant you saw online, other people saw that same video, photo or page, so secure your spot in advance as soon as you can. For an easy way to book tables though, you can use websites like OpenTable.

NOTE: There are so many options in Amsterdam, you definitely won’t starve if you want to be a bit more spontaneous. Just keep this tip in mind for popular spots though if you really want to visit.

23. Beware of going to popular places you saw on social media 

Amsterdam has over 1000 restaurants, but there are some that have eclipsed all their competitors in fame and popularity, just because they went viral on social media at some point.

But fair warning: as I said before, odds are if you saw a viral Tiktok about a place, thousands (even millions) of other people also saw it, which means huge line-ups. I truly believe that time is money when you travel so beware of this, and just remember, a lot of the time these places can be overhyped!

Often, viral spots focus more on aesthetics than on actual taste, so just keep that in mind, and always read reviews.

24. Look on local food blogs for recommendations to see where locals are eating

If you’re stuck on where to eat when you’re in Amsterdam, definitely be sure to find recommendations from local foodies (and not just travel bloggers or TripAdvisor). They will usually have the most up-to-date info and suggestions.

I really like using TikTok for this because food is so visual. What I’ll usually do is I’ll search up “Amsterdam food” (or something more specific) then I’ll look at the top results, which will then bring me to pages of Amsterdam foodies. I’ll then trawl through their page to find other recommendations that haven’t gone super viral.

On a similar note, I’ll often keep scrolling down to find “smaller” creators as well – often these are the ones who are actively going out to try new places without being invited/paid.

25. Learn the secret trick to skip the line at Van Stapele cookies

Now speaking of viral sensations, one place in Amsterdam that has blown up on social media is Van Stapele. They’re known for their cookies and they always have the longest line-up out the door.

… But there’s a very easy way to skip the line, which I feel like nobody ever talks about, and that’s to just pre-order your cookies on their website. Then you go, press a golden doorbell and then you get your cookies immediately without waiting. 

I legitimately felt like a celebrity skipping the line so do not forget to pre-order. It’s such a time saver.

26. Know the difference between coffee shops and cafes

Next, we should probably address the difference between coffee shops and cafes. Remember, in Amsterdam, cafes are where you go to drink coffee and JUST coffee.

In contrast, Coffee Shops sell ‘other’ things… other greener, smokier, herbier things, if you catch my drift.

So, be sure to know the difference when you’re searching up places for your morning cappuccino!

27. Don’t miss brown bars

These are basically cozy Dutch pubs, so-named for their dark and wooden interiors. These can be so nice to grab a drink in, so be sure to check one out while you’re in town. I really liked Int Aepjen.

28. Try different Dutch specialties when you’re in town!

Now in terms of Dutch food, I go over this more in my full Netherlands travel tips post, but Dutch cuisine is definitely something that divides people.

I personally really like it but many don’t.

But hey, if you’re into fried food, then one Amsterdam food experience I can recommend is visiting an automat. These are basically wall-mounted vending machines that serve hot food in little cubbies. It’s not the best food in the world but it’s a fun novelty that allows you to try some classic Dutch snacks like croquettes and bitterballen with minimal effort!

Another popular street food is herring. It’s not my thing but if you’re curious, you’ll find stalls all over the city selling them. Just beware of seagulls – they have been known (and documented) to steal herring straight from the fingers of unsuspecting tourists mid-bite.

29. Try international cuisines when in Amsterdam too

Apart from Dutch food, do remember as well that Amsterdam is a very international city so there’s plenty of great cuisines to try besides Dutch, especially Indonesian and Surinamese.

That might sound random, but let’s not forget that that the Dutch colonial empire was pretty far reaching back in the day.

A fun thing to get from Indonesian restaurants is a Rijstafel which translates literally to Rice Table but allows you to sample a lot of dishes at the same time. I really enjoyed this one from Restaurant Long Pura:

30. Don’t forget about Dutch cheese

And okay, a final food-related Amsterdam tip for you: do not forget to visit a bunch of cheese shops while you’re in town, because they tend to be pretty liberal with their samples, especially the more touristy ones like Henry WIllig.

On that note, Henry Willig cheese is good and nicely packaged, but as many locals will tell you, it’s fairly overpriced and there are definitely better value options if you go to a local market instead and just get cheese from there.

That said, go crazy with their samples though. And don’t forget to snoop around their shops as they often have little exhibits about cheese!

31. Be mindful of bike lanes 

Now moving onto helpful tips for once you arrive in Amsterdam, the most helpful one is to be on the watch out for bike lanes.

Bike lanes in Amsterdam are typically right next to the pedestrian lanes with little separation so first time visitors may find themselves walking on them pretty frequently, which locals do not appreciate.

So, remember to double check and look out for bike symbols/red asphalt paths. Pedestrians do not have right of way in this city and you may get mowed down!

32. Dress for every kind of weather

In terms of what to wear in Amsterdam, do be prepared for wind, rain and everything in between.

Dutch weather is notoriously unpredictable so even if the weather looks amazing that morning, it could very well rain later on, so be prepared for all possible elements.

33. Always bring a small day bag with you

Many of Amsterdam’s museums won’t allow you in with a big backpack, and while many have an area with lockers where you can put your bags away, I find it easier to just have a small bag at all times so that I know my stuff is always secure!

34. Bring coins for public toilets

Sadly, Dutch public toilets aren’t free, with the exception of some public urinals on the street that aren’t overly useful if you need a standard toilet. 

So, yes, be sure to bring coins. Public toilets in the train stations tend to cost 70 cents for example. While many of the machines claim to accept card, I personally keep running into issues with using mine so it was always handy to have some coins just in case.

35. Finally, be respectful! 

I know many visitors come to Amsterdam to party or enjoy certain vices, but at the end of the day, it’s still a city that’s home to hunderds of thousands of people.

So don’t forget that this is someone’s home and you should treat it with respect, meaning you shouldn’t shout at the top of your lungs while walking around, take photos in the Red Light District, walk with clueless abandon in bike lanes… all that good stuff!

I hope this list of Amsterdam Travel Tips was helpful!

I appreciate you trudging your way through this lengthy list of tips for Amsterdam. Hopefully this post answered most of your questions, but if you have any more, let me know in the comments. Safe and happy travels!

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Airalo: My go-to eSIM

🏨 Booking.com: For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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