Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Ah yes, Amsterdam. What a wild place! I have actually been fortunate enough to visit Amsterdam twice in my lifetime—once, as a sophomore in high school, and then again as a senior.
A photo I took of Amsterdam soon after we heard the news we would be stuck in the city for a few extra days.
I was able to go to Amsterdam through my high school orchestra. I was a bass player in my school's philharmonic orchestra. In the class, we had an exchange program with our sister orchestra in Detmold, Germany. Our exchange would occur every year, and we would take turns alternating between who would visit who. When we would visit Germany, we would always end the trip in Amsterdam before flying out of the city's airport.
When we went to Amsterdam my sophomore year, I didn't really get enough time to explore the city—we were only there for the afternoon and that evening. Upon first impression, I actually didn't like the city; the day we were there, it was cold and dreary, and I thought the city seemed dirty—in more ways than one, ha!
Sorry, that was a terrible pun...
Anyways, when we visited my senior year, we actually got stuck in Amsterdam. There was a terrible snowstorm on the east coast and we weren't able to get home for several days. So, we had extra time to do more fun things in Amsterdam; because I was a senior and was in the orchestra for all four years of high school, I was able to help plan a schedule of what to do for the remaining days we were there. Along with friends, I designated shops, restaurants and museums we wanted to visit. We had so much fun trying traditional Dutch cuisine at restaurants, checking out Amsterdam's eclectic art scene and taking photos by some of the many charming canals of the city.
If you are visited Amsterdam in the near future, check out some of my recommendations; the city has so many cool streets to explore and restaurants to try, and I hope you consider visiting some of these stops on your trip.
1. The Rijksmuseum
This is a photo of me, taking a photo of one of my favorite Rembrandt paintings. Rembrandt is known for his exquisite utilization of light in his work.
This would definitely be my first stop on my trip to Amsterdam. I am art junkie (I am actually planning on being an Art History & Archaeology minor) and this museum is full of beautiful artwork, including Rembrandt (seen above). It's also near a bunch of great restaurants, so it's a perfect afternoon activity—especially if it's rainy outside (like it was when I visited the museum).
2. The Jordaan
This photo was taken outside of a row of art galleries; in this district, you will find a lot of interesting graffiti.
If you are an art lover but don't enjoy spending hours at museums, I'd definitely point you in the direction of The Jordaan, which is considered to be the city's "quiet" arts district. There are not as many tourists in this area, which means there are less crowds and more opportunities for you to take leisurely strolls between gallery hopping, instead of being forced down a small alley due to crowds (which tends to happen in a city as popular as Amsterdam).
3. Amsterdam Centraal Station
When you go to Amsterdam, you can't miss Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Due to the fact that my orchestra was spending the night just outside of the city, we had to take the train into Amsterdam Centraal Station each day; once you emerge from the building, you are greeted with the stunning architecture of the outside of the building and a beautiful view of the horizon of the city. If you don't have to travel through the train station, I would at least recommend taking a photo in front of it, considering it is one of the city's landmarks. The station is also close to the Visitor Centre at Stationsplein, which has great souvenirs and employees who are able to give you further recommendations of places to go to in the city.
A photo of my best friend Chris and I between Amsterdam Centraal Station and Amsterdam's Visitor Centre at Stationsplein.
4. The Red Light District
Do not be fooled—these aren't your typical coffeeshops.
So, the Red Light District in Amsterdam is something you have to experience, but definitely at your own risk. If you are looking for a relatively tame taste of Amsterdam's famous district, I would definitely recommend going during the day and sticking to the outskirts of the district if you can; in other words, if you are on a school trip, this was the preferred option.
However, if you want the, well ~full experience~, I would recommend going in the late hours of the night...The Red Light District is unique for a lot of reasons, and I'll just leave it at that.
5. Candy Freaks
A mannequin in one of the windows of Candy Freaks.
One of the craziest stores I went to in Amsterdam was called Candy Freaks. The store has every kind of candy you can imagine, and seems to embody the tone of Amsterdam in more ways than one...as you can probably tell from the photo above! For truly memorable souvenirs and a once-in-a-lifetime candy experience, definitely check this place out. My friends and I also made friends with the employee who was in the shop at the time—he was one of the nicest people we met in the city, and gave us some great recommendations on where to go.
6. Mary Go Wild
Mary Go Wild is by far my favorite store that I went to in Amsterdam. During the day, it's a record store that also sells hipster clothing; at night, however, when you go down the stairs behind one of it's hidden doors, it's a rave club! Although I obviously did not get to experience the latter, it's definitely a cool place to check out.
7. Canal Cruise
This photo was taken on our last day in Amsterdam.
I would definitely recommend going on a canal tour of Amsterdam, but only on two conditions—if you are no longer jet lagged and if you are trying to kill time. Similarly to spending money to go on a gondola ride in Venice, the canal tours tend to be overpriced. When I went on a canal tour in Amsterdam my sophomore year, everyone was so tried from all the traveling that we were doing that we fell asleep on the tour—and wasted our money!
I would recommend going on the canal tour to see a different side of Amsterdam when you are awake and looking for something to do between activities; it wouldn't be one of my first activities I would do there, but it would be a fun way to see a different side of the city and gain a little more historical knowledge of Amsterdam.
In addition to these suggestions, here are some more places to check out:
Anne Frank's House (I went, but don't have any photos of it. I definitely recommend)!
Van Gogh Museum (also went)
Rent a bike
Visit the I Amsterdam sign (a must)
Bloemenmarkt—the world's only floating flower market
Stroll through the many parks in the city!
Food Hallen—a wide selection of upmarket street food in De Hallen, a new center for arts, food, fashion and more
Have you been to Amsterdam? Where are your favorite places to go? I'd love to hear from you!