Six Ways to Enjoy Your Time in Amsterdam

Amsterdam doesn’t know a low season. There’s the perpetual high season, and then there are two highest seasons: April (tulips!) and July (summer!). Despite the city pulling out all the stops in recent years to limit the number of tourists, the Dutch capital continues to lure visitors by the millions. And understandably so — you’re meandering along the canals one minute, mingling with a van Gogh the next. It’s all fun and games, until you’re elbowing your way through Dam Square.

Looking for a little latitude in Amsterdam is far from impossible — it just takes a bit of strategy. Here are six ways to start.

Be your own captain

The best way to enjoy Amsterdam is, quite undeniably, from the water. More often than not, a canal tour makes for the first stop on the itinerary. But instead of embarking on a tour boat that fits close to a hundred people, why not be your own captain instead? All over the city, there are stations where you can rent small electric boats that suit the size of your group. Take Sloepdelen (70 euros per hour, or about $77), whose boats fit up to 12 people, or Mokumboot (€95 for two hours), with boats for up to six people. No license needed, as long as you’re over 18 and stay sober. Not only is it just you, the canals and the Amstel River, but a small boat allows you to explore the tinier, more quaint canals big tour boats cannot reach. Or, alternatively, hop in at night right when the sun sets, as the bridges and streetlights light up the dark city.

Really want the water all to yourself? Motor a little outside the city, to, say, Ouderkerk aan de Amstel — a small town on the Amstel River, about six miles south of Amsterdam — where it’s wonderfully serene.

Explore the Jewish quarter

It’s not unusual for people to travel to Amsterdam for one reason, and one reason only: the Anne Frank House. As impressive as the experience is, it books up months in advance.

There are ways well beyond the Anne Frank House to explore Amsterdam’s incredibly rich World War II history. Explore the Jewish Quarter, which remains filled with Jewish history and culture. The organization Joods Cultureel Kwartier creates custom walking tours (€90 per guide, with a maximum of 15 people) through the district to suit your interests.

Alternatively, be your own tour guide. Explore sights like the Portuguese Synagogue (adult entry: €18), the Resistance Museum (adult entry: €14), or the National Holocaust Names Memorial, unveiled in 2021 (free admission). It’s a neighborhood filled with history, culture and stories — just with a lot fewer tourists.

Skip the TikTok line

Since the spring of 2023, the Negen Straatjes neighborhood has been characterized by seemingly endless lines of people. The culprit? TikTok. Certain food spots — whether it be Japanese sandwiches, loaded fries or specific chocolate cookies — have gone viral. So viral, in fact, that the venues have been forced to hire crowd managers to oversee the phenomenon that was quickly named “TikTok lines.”

There are plenty of perfectly fantastic alternatives to settle your cravings that don’t require a 90-minute wait. Stop by Zero Zero on de Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, which serves decadent, homemade schiacciata, a Tuscan bread similar to focaccia. For a more lavish meal, sit down at Pulitzer Garden, the secluded courtyard at the Pulitzer Hotel, along the Prinsengracht canal. Or go for an Amsterdam classic: an order of bitterballen, the Dutch fried meatballs, and an Amsterdam-brewed beer at Café Luxembourg at ‘t Spui square.

Find bright flowers and green cheer at Amstelveld

Few places in Amsterdam get as crowded with tourists as the floating flower market on Singel does. Cute, sure, but instead you might want to check out a little-known square called Amstelveld for green-thumb tourism.

In the heart of the city center, Amstelveld is taken over by a plant and flower market every Monday. Quiet, relatively depleted of tourists and surrounded by quaint canals, Amstelveld is beloved by local residents.

Amstelveld is also the home of some fine spots for al fresco dining, such as Brasserie Nel and the smaller Café Marcella, whether you’re in for a full meal or just a quick cup of coffee.

Explore the north

There is a small body of water, the IJ, that divides Amsterdam’s city center from its most northern neighborhood, Amsterdam-Noord. From the rear of the main train station, Amsterdam Centraal, one can take a free ferry to cross the water. Once there, the rush of the city center fades, almost making it feel like another city entirely.

It makes for a perfect quick hideaway from the hustle and bustle of central Amsterdam. Explore this area with a rented bicycle (€10 for three hours), roam through street art and vintage halls at the NDSM site, or simply relax at one of the many cafes along the water. Enjoy Café de Ceuvel, for example, or the restaurant of the Eye Film Museum, which, at the edge of Noord, offers a stunning view of the IJ and the city.

Leave town for the day

When you take a country as small as the Netherlands and add a good railroad system, the whole country is yours to roam. There are plenty of beautiful smaller cities that are a lot more manageable than Amsterdam, both in terms of size and the number of tourists.

Only thirty minutes by train is Utrecht (€8.80), with its picturesque Dom Tower — the highest church tower in the country — and the Oudegracht, the canal that stretches out over the entire city.

Or explore Haarlem, the small city that is less than 20 minutes from Amsterdam by train (adults: €4.90). Visit the Frans Hals Museum (adults: €16) and revel in the art of the Dutch master, or roam through the city’s many secluded courtyards. And from Haarlem, even the beach is within reach. Reaching Bloemendaal aan Zee takes just 20 minutes by bus. Alternatively, the coastal haunt Zandvoort aan Zee is just a 10-minute train ride away (adult and children: €2.60).

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