So Amsterdam is not exactly for the prudish or faint hearted. Amongst beautiful architecture, winding canals, and tonnes of bicycles you will also get to see the infamous Red Light District, and experience the whiff of marijuana every so often!
Taboos aside Amsterdam is a wonderful city to visit; rich in culture, art and history. You will find several art museums and galleries, such as the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Wanrooij Gallery. Amsterdam is also home to Anne Frank’s house and Museum which offers a glimpse into what life was like during the terrifying time of World War II.
We visited during the winter months so it was a little chilly as we wandered around, but as long as you’re wearing layers you’ll be fine. We spent most of one day cycling around the lanes and canals of Amsterdam (neither of us are avid cyclists) and had a great day, although was glad to soak in a hot tub on our return to the hotel to warm up again! I’d love to go back and visit during the summer months and sit outside amongst the cafes watching the world go by.
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- Visa – Foreign nationals from the EU, EEA or Switzerland are exempt from the visa requirement. For some nationalities outside the EU, there is no visa requirement either. Full details can be found on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Immunisations – some are required – check out my go-to website for up to date information: www.nathnac.net
- Safety – always keep up to date with your local foreign travel advice service for relevant news and information. I felt completely safe in Amsterdam, although adopted usual common sense when in any major city – being mindful of my belongings and whereabouts.
- Currency – Euro
- Language – Dutch
Flights to Amsterdam take just over an hour so it’s a great nearby city break for Brits. Flights run every day through several airlines, and after a quick search using Sky Scanner, we decided to choose Easy Jet to take us on our journey.
If you’re not a fan of flying you can actually get the Eurostar from London to Amsterdam, however, the journey is a lot longer at several hours, and after a quick comparison search, it appears that flying is still the cheapest option (in most cases). It’s worth double checking though, and Lastminute.com also offer hotel + Eurostar holidays, which could offer some savings.
Where to stay
After searching online, we settled upon Hotel JL No. 76. The location was ideal, situated in the Museum and Fashion district. Our hotel was just a five-minute walk from the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, and just over a mile away from Anne Frank’s house and Museum, and Dam Square. The boutique hotel set in a 19th Century townhouse offers beautiful interiors and luxurious amenities for a reasonable cost too!
Amsterdam is pretty renowned for being the cycling capital of Europe, and according to Awesome Amsterdam, combined, Amsterdammers bicycle about two million kilometres every day, and there are a whopping 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. That’s four times the number of cars. With this in mind, we of course, had to hire some bicycles and cruise around the city Amsterdammer style! Our wonderful hotel provided bicycles to rent, along with padlocks, so we started our day on two wheels from the get-go. We used the bicycles all around the city, cobbled streets, and canals, getting lost on various occasions too I might add. Neither I or my friend could quite work out google maps that day, but we managed to make it back to the safety of our hotel and a hot bath in the end!
One evening we went for a leisurely walk from our hotel in the Museum District up to the Red Light District to hit some bars. On the way back, however, considerably colder and slightly drunk, we decided to hop on a tram to take us home. Trams are very convenient and easy to use around the city. The Tram system is made up of 200 trams on 14 tram lines with 500 stops over a total track length of 200km, so chances are you’ll find a tram stop nearby to help get you where you need to go if walking isn’t on the cards. The fares are also very reasonable too, for more information visit GVB Tram Tourist Guide.
Dam Square is often the focal point for many large events, as it is home to The Royal Palace, one of which is the yearly remembrance held on 4th May to commemorate the lives lost during the Second World War. As it is a large space, Dam square also attracts fun fairs, concerts and other events throughout the year as well as organised protests.
As well as the Royal Place, you will find the national monument which commemorates the lives of those which were lost during the Second World War. It was erected in 1956 and on the front of the pillar is a relief entitled ‘De Vrede’ translated in English as ‘Peace’, consisting of four chained male figures representing the suffering endured during the war. The monument represents liberty and has been a popular meeting spot for visitors and tourists. Just outside of Dam Square and opposite Dam Square Souvenirs, you can also have your photo taken sitting in a giant yellow clog (which obviously we couldn’t resist!)
The Museumplein is a public space in the Museum District neighbourhood. Located at the Museumplein are three major museums – the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, and the concert hall. It is a wide open space consisting of walkways, large green space and a large pond which can be converted into an ice rink during the winter. Similar to Dam Square, the Museumplein often hosts large events such as fairs, concerts and organised protests.
It is also home to this interesting ‘mirror cube’ which actually has quite a practical use of storing technical equipment for the underground car park. Of course, being surrounded by the arts, the room had to be given an interesting overhaul. Passersby are always intrigued by the odd piece of architecture and the interesting reflections which can be seen from different angles in the surrounding museums.
Also found in the Museumplein area, are the famous ‘I Amsterdam’ large letters just in front of the Rijksmuseum. Unfortunately much like the thousands of locks across love lock bridges in Paris, the letters have now been removed. They were originally installed in 2004 as a marketing campaign by communications agency KesselsKramer and represented symbols of inclusion and diversity, marked by the play on words ‘I Amsterdam’.
Since the letters were installed, 6,000 selfies were taken in front of it every day! Sadly though, the council felt that the letters lost all meaning and simply became a symbol of mass tourism; with visitors more interested in taking a selfie than viewing the magnificent artworks inside the Rijksmuseum just behind them, so in December 2018, the decision was made to remove the letters completely. Fear not, however, if you missed your chance, the letters are currently being held in storage for renovation, and the plan is for them to travel around the city.
Van Gogh Museum
Excitingly, some of Van Gogh’s works have been transported from The Netherlands to the UK, and are currently presented at the EY Exhibition in the Tate Britain Gallery, London. Consisting of 50 works, the exhibition will remain in London over the summer until 11th August 2019, so if you haven’t admired Van Gogh’s works yet, now is your chance to in London. Van Gogh actually lived in London as a young man and was influenced by other British painters such as Constable, and too went on to influence other British painters such as Francis Bacon. If you’d like to know more about his extensive works then the Van Gogh (Basic Art Album) provides an excellent overview, I picked up a copy when we visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh is obviously most famous for his works the ‘Starry Night’ which is currently exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art, which I had the privilege to see first hand on my recent trip to New York. Sadly though, Van Gogh is also well known for his unstable mental health. On 23rd December 1888, Vincent cut off his left ear. It was the first of several serious breakdowns that plagued him until his tragic suicide just a year and a half later.
When you visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, you will be greeted with hundreds of his original works, including paintings, drawings and letters, which make up the permanent exhibition. The Museum also displays several changing exhibitions, currently, there stands a comparison and analysis of David Hockney’s works and how Van Gogh influenced his work – drawing on parallels between the two. If you wanted to try your hand at painting, Van Gogh’s Museum offers free walk-in workshops every Saturday. For more information, visit their official website here.
Following on from the Van Gogh museum, the next museum we visited was the Rijksmuseum. Much like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Rijksmuseum is huge! The imposing building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened in 1885. The building received extensive restoration which took over ten years to complete and reopened in 2013. It is the largest art museum in the country and displays 8,000 objects of art and history from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000.
Currently, the Museum is exhibiting ‘2019: The Year of Rembrandt’, which commemorates the 350th anniversary of Dutch painter, Rembrandt’s death. The permanent gallery in the Rijksmuseum offers a wide range of fascinating artworks and objects, including paintings and sculptures from the middles ages and Renaissance, to works dating from the 18th-20th Century. A particular favourite of mine is the pavilion, a beautifully designed space full of light dedicated to displaying works from all over Asia, including artefacts such as jewellery, statues and paintings. The artefacts originate from all over Asia including China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Thailand from 2000 BC to 2000 AC – definitely worth a visit whilst you’re in Amsterdam. For more information on visiting, current exhibitions, and ticket prices, visit the official website here.
Anne Frank’s House and Museum
It was very important to me to visit the Anne Frank House and Museum following my trip to Berlin where I visited the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’. You can read more about our 3 day trip to Berlin here. If you’re not already aware of the significance of Anne Frank’s story, then a good place to start would be to read The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. I bought it from the museum and couldn’t put it down! However, I would recommend reading it before visiting if possible, as it provides further background information.
In the House and Museum, you will be provided with a free audio tour and as you wander around the building you will see images, text and original artefacts from this period, such as postcards and posters Anne had glued to her wall, as well as her original red checked diary! You will also see video footage interviewing those that knew Anne and asking them what she was like, as well as the famous bookcase which hid the family from the Nazis in their secret Annexe for more than two years!
Anne always wanted to be a writer and hoped that after the war ended her story would be published. Within her diary, she provides a glimpse of what life was like during her two year stay in the secret annexe, the kindness she experienced from those who risked their lives protecting her and her family, the boredom and monotony being trapped in the annexe, and the terror when they were raided and taken to the concentration camps.
Sadly Anne was taken to Bergen-Belsen and later died in 1945, aged 15, just weeks before the camp was liberated. In 1947, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, the only surviving member of the family had her diary published, and in the years that followed, her gripping story was made into a play and film.
When we visited Anne Frank’s House and Museum, we pre-booked our tickets online, now this is the only way you can visit the House and Museum and you will not be able to buy tickets in person on the day. For ticket information and prices please visit the official website here.
The Jewish Quarter is an important neighbourhood rich in culture and history. It is home to several museums and historically important buildings. You can purchase one ticket for entrance to all of the buildings, including The Portuguese Synagogue, The Jewish Historical Museum, The National Holocaust Memorial Hollandsche Schouwburg, and The National Holocaust Museum. The Jewish Quarter is definitely worth a visit and beautifully preserves Jewish life and culture.
You can easily visit these buildings solo by purchasing a single ticket as I mentioned earlier, however, there are also walking tours available through companies like Viator, where the tour guides will be able to provide you with a more in-depth description of what life was like during World War 2 for the residents of Amsterdam.
House of Bols
One evening we decided to visit House of Bols to kick off our night. The tour lasts around an hour and also includes a free cocktail at the end, served in their ‘Mirror Bar’. Lucas Bols is the founder of Bols, which is a Dutch distiller of alcoholic beverages. The brand line currently consists of vodkas, gins, genevers and liqueurs. The House of Bols celebrates all that is Bols, and provides a brief history and sensory experience where you will learn about the distilling and flavour processes. A great way to ease into an evening of dinner and cocktails! You can also purchase combination tickets which provide entry to either the Moco Museum, dinner at Restaurant Solo, or unlimited entrance to a choice of 20 nightclubs if you want to party the night away.
The good news – out of the 30 liquors available, most of them are vegan friendly! (I always refer to Barnivore for reliable information about vegan alcohol). Here are some of my favourites, Bols Raspberry Liqueur, Bols Vanilla Liqueur, Bols Passion Fruit liqueur, Bols Coconut Liqueur, Bols Mango Liqueur, Bols Elderflower Liqueur, Bols Creme de Cacao Brown Chocolate Liqueur and Bols Creme de Cacao White Liqueur.
Red Light District
Not for the faint-hearted, the Red light District is home to numerous sex shops, peep shows, brothels, sex museums and fancy condom shops – like the ‘Condomerie‘. The Red Light District should be on your itinerary to visit; this area however, isn’t just all about sex, there are numerous restaurants, bars and shops to visit.
We visited The Sex Museum; home to all things sex, the museum encompasses a history of sex, trends, the sex tree, and other weird and wonderful objects! There is also a giant penis you can sit on and have your photo taken (and yes, of course, I did in case you were wondering). It’s all just a bit of fun though and worth a visit.
There are some important points to remember when visiting the Red Light District: photography of the women in the windows is strictly prohibited and enforced, and as with anywhere, you should remain vigilant with your belongings. It was quite a surreal experience to see dozens of beautiful women wearing lingerie, posing, and seductively dancing as we walked through the district. We also saw several visitors enter the brothels or peep shows. Being immersed in Amsterdam’s liberal attitude towards sex, is quite a stark contrast to the typical introvert attitudes of the UK!
So they’re not your typical cafe serving half-caf, decaf, soya, venti, latte-chinos and gluten-free, sugar-free, taste-free scones. The coffee shops in Amsterdam are a little different. Found primarily in the Red Light District are the coffee shops selling marijuana. There are coffee shops outside of this area, but the Red Light District houses around 250 of these cafes.
When we experienced the coffee shops of Amsterdam I felt like a naughty teenager. Both of us were quite nervous about getting ‘too high’, as we were both novices, so we bought a pre-rolled joint and exited the coffee shop swiftly embarrassed by our inexperience. We decided to smoke said joint in a secluded quiet area of the green in Museumplein. However in our worry to not get too high, I didn’t actually get high at all!
Don’t do what we did though, plenty of visitors who have never smoked weed will try it for the first time in Amsterdam, and I’m sure the coffee shops are adept at looking after them. What you should do is visit a coffee shop, ask for advice and get comfortable. You are then in the best place if you started to feel ‘too high’ or wanted to buy some more, and will be able to have a better overall experience. Also, it’s actually against Dutch Law to smoke cannabis outside, although this is rarely enforced and many Amsterdammers and tourists smoke outside without issue as long as they are not causing a nuisance.
There is a whole host of hidden bars on offer in Amsterdam, and we settled upon Door 74 for one of our evenings. Door 74 is the first speakeasy-style cocktail bar in The Netherlands. It has beautiful interiors and a great ambience, which we were glad to appreciate when we finally got inside, as this place is most definitely well hidden! We stood nervously outside the plain door for around 10 minutes, until thankfully another couple arrived and had the sense to actually knock on the door…maybe that weed did have an effect!
When we finally made it into the bar there weren’t any tables available so we took a pew at the bar, and marvelled as the bartender whipped up the cocktails in front of us. Door 74 offers a range of cocktails, and from what we tried they were exceptionally good, especially the pornstar martini – a firm favourite of mine. If you would prefer to be seated at a table or are visiting as a large group, I’d recommend making a reservation. For more information visit Door 74’s website here.
For more detailed information and advice, why not check out these useful guides and books –Lonely Planet Amsterdam Travel Guide,DK Eyewitness Amsterdam Travel Guide,Time Out Amsterdam City Guide with Pull-Out Map (Travel Guide) and The Rough Guides to Amsterdam – Amsterdam Travel Guide.
So that’s ‘How to spend 3 days in Amsterdam’ I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I’ve offered some helpful information about what to see and do in this arty capital. I hope to go back in the summer months one year and revisit the Van Gogh museum to take part in the Saturday workshop, as well as trying to get an authentic experience of an Amsterdam coffee shop, and a boat tour along the canals!
What have been your experiences? Do you have any recommendations or questions? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.