Named one of the best cities in Europe by CN Traveler, Amsterdam is home to the coolest observation deck in the world. In fact, there’s a never-ending list of cool things in this evolving city, not to mention the historic canals, crooked buildings that have stood the test of time and roads dominated by bicycles.
If you’re like me, you would have heard of Amsterdam’s shady past. My recent trip there banished all those preconceptions. Amsterdam has become one of the most exciting cities in Europe. While there are many good times to be had when in Amsterdam, you’ll have to avoid a few mishaps to preserve the good times.
1. Go on the swing on A’DAM LOOKOUT
Spelled with all caps for a reason, A’DAM LOOKOUT is located on top of the A’DAM Tower in Amsterdam North. This attraction is not for the faint-hearted. It’s for you if you want to experience an extreme adrenaline rush. The ‘Over the Edge’ hydraulic swings on the sky deck is the highest in Europe. You’ll swing back and forth over the edge of the tower, 100 meters above the river IJ.
The observation deck offers panoramic views of Amsterdam, the circular ringed layout of the world-famous canals, modern tall buildings and the old gables. A’DAM, a 21-story building was once the Royal Dutch Shell office tower.
2. Visit Museums
Amsterdam has hundreds of museums, but you must get to at least one of these if you’re visiting for the first time:
- Van Gogh Museum
- Anne Frank House
- Rembrandt House Museum
For cool and unusual museums check out:
- Cat Cabinet
- Biblical Museum
- Boathouse Museum
- Spectacles Museum
- Electric Ladyland
- Pipe Museum
- Venustempel Sex Museum
3. Bike tours
Did you know, there are 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam? Get on a bike and explore the city like a local with a tour guide or on your own. Here are a few companies recommended by IAmsterdam, the official tourism website:
1. City Bike Tour Amsterdam – through the harbor, Jordaan quarter, Anne Frank house, Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, the “Skinny Bridge,” Rembrandt’s house and the Red Light District.
2. Amsterdam Day Tour – starts at Amsterdam Central Station with a guide.
3. Countryside Bike Tour – in north Amsterdam through protected parks, villages, waterways and more.
4. Stay in a houseboat
To truly experience the canals, we recommend a stay at one of the houseboats. Step into an authentic houseboat and enjoy your coffee or beer on the deck and see the tourists’ boats cruise by and use the manual toilets. There are only a few houseboats with old manual toilets.
I stayed in one for a night on Amstel, behind the Amsterdam opera house. It was uncomfortable, but the authentic experience was worth it even with the lack of good shower and toilet facilities.
Another way to enjoy the canals is to take a canal cruise. Either join the affordable hop-on-hop-off canal cruise or hire a private boat and dive deep into Amsterdam’s canal culture and history.
Here are three you may like:
1. Hop-on-hop-off with Stromma – get a 24-hour or 48-hour hop on hop off ticket from Stromma and customize your tour of Amsterdam. The cruise takes you to all the major tourist spots.
2. Private boat tours in classic saloon boats.
3. Pannenkoekenboot’s pancake cruise – a 75-minute cruise where you can enjoy unlimited pancakes.
5. Join a food tour
Taste Dutch apple pie with whipped cream, Indonesian chicken satay, herring with vodka shots, cheese, bitterballen and more while you learn about food, history, and culture of Jordaan, a neighborhood in Amsterdam from a local.
We recommend joining the four-hour food tour with Eating Europe. The trip takes you to six stops where you can try the delicious food and drinks, and join a canal cruise in an open-top boat.
Before you leave for Amsterdam
1. Don’t rent a car
It is unnecessary to rent a car when visiting Amsterdam, the city famous for its bicycles. Parking will be a nightmare too in this city.
2. Watch out for bicycles
Don’t walk on bike lanes. These are lanes with white lines and bicycle symbols painted them. Bike lanes are usually on the right side of the streets. In the city center where there are no bike lanes, riders ride along with the cars.
3. Avoid the mistake of thinking the coffee shops are like your neighborhood’s coffee shops
When you need coffee or tea in Amsterdam, go to a café, not a coffee shop. Coffeeshops are places that sell cannabis and other products related to cannabis. It is limited to guests 18 and up.
Photos and article by Claudia Looi