I had the fortune to visit Amsterdam twice in 2018. My first visit was in March for 2 days—a quick stop on my way back home from my Africa visit—and then again in late September for the Framer Loupe design conference.
Visiting Amsterdam had always been high on my list of places to visit. When I was yonger I had flown through the Schiphol airport numerous times en route to Greece for summer vacations with family; enough to get a glimpse of The Netherlands from seeing tulip fields and windmills from above to getting a tiny taste of the language and culture from the airport.
Canals, houseboats, windmills, museums, tulips, loads of cyclists: these are all things the capital of The Netherlands might bring to mind (and of course their historically liberal culture from the red-light district to legalized marijuana coffee shops).
Amsterdam claims the title as the most watery city in the world with some 65 miles of canals that consume the center of the city. It's an extraordinarily walkable city with a convivial, cozy charm from the narrow bike-filled streets to the historic, tilted buildings lining the canals. On a warm evening the canals are filled with folks enjoying snacks on boats or sitting along the water with friends.
I was only in Amsterdam for two full days on this first trip so I spent a lot of time just walking around and exploring as much as I could. Despite the frigid weather, folks were out and about everywhere.
I got my first taste of how pervasive the biking culture is here. Bikes rule the roads here and you really need to be aware of your surroundings as a pedestrian when you're walking around.
This is the city flag for Amsterdam. Everywhere you go in Amsterdam you see things adorned with variations of these three X's. I think it's one of the more aesthetically minimal and successful city flag designs.
Dining & places enjoyed
Amsterdam has a myriad of lovely dining options for when you're looking to go out.
There were quite a few I enjoyed so I decided to try something new here and put up a more compact list of a few places I enjoyed. Then take a look at my friend Owen's guide to Amsterdam for great suggestions from a local.
Funky multi-level laptop-friendly cafe and restaurant with great coffee and drinks. Get the burger and a paloma after a long day of walking around.De Pijp
Buzzy indoor food market and bar featuring tasty high-end street food from about 20 vendors. It's located inside what used to be an old tram parking structure. There's also few neat little shops nearby in the complex.
Pair a Heineken with a truffle burger from The Butcher and grab a seat. 😋OUD-WEST
Amazing Argentinian steakhouse and mezcaleria devoted to quality meat-based dishes. Eat at the bar, get to know your bartender, try their favorite spirits and you'll have a great time.Jordaan
Casual canal-side spot with outdoor seating. Sit outside on a warm evening, grab a drink and enjoy some people watching.OUD-WEST
Swing by this great little coffee shop for a rest after exploring Vondelpark on a toasty afternoon. A few blocks from the Leica store if you want to look around there on the way over...OUD-WEST · Vondelbuurt
There are tons of great traditional Dutch pancake places in Amsterdam. I just happened to go to this one and I enjoyed it. Sit outside, grab a coffee and pancake (I got a delicious apple bacon one) and watch the morning bicycle traffic whizz by.
Related: visit Winkel 43 for apple pie. I wasn't able to make it there but it's on my list for a future trip.Centrum
Cozy and very popular Lebanese manoushe to-go spot near the canals fit for a snack while wandering around.Centrum
Great wood-fired pizza place that's not too fancy. If you're looking for something more wholesome go next door to La Perla for Italian fare.Jordaan
Excellent brunch spot in an interesting glass-enclosed building (with great outdoor seating if the weather is nice). It's near the Amsterdam Centraal train station so grab a cappuccino and their impressive avocado toast before embarking on a day trip to Zaanse Schans.CENTRUM
Ridiculously impressive cocktail bar nestled in a narrow alley. The menu itself is as much a spectacle as the cocktails. Ask for the "Smoke & Mirrors" (no longer on the menu but they were still able to make it when I was there).
The spot is a bit touristy so expect a wait if visiting during prime hours.CENTRUM
Lively 3 star hotel along the Herengracht canal. The two story lobby area is filled with 20 and 30-somethings working on their laptops, taking meetings and just enjoying a bite and coffee from the lobby restaurant.
In the evening they serve great cocktails and the place becomes quite active. Would definitely stay here again. If you're familiar with Ace hotels in the United States, it has a similar vibe.CENTRUM
On my last day in Amsterdam in September I moved from the Sir Adam Hotel, where I had stayed for the conference, to this upscale 4 star hotel in the lively De Pijp neighborhood.DE PIJP
Luxury 5 star hotel along the central Keizersgracht canal. I stayed here in the winter for a few nights on my way back from Tanzania.
Great bar and lounge areas as well as a Michelin star restaurant — Vinkeles — inside the hotel. A relatively quiet and sleepy hotel.CENTRUM
Strolling around the canals in the center of Amsterdam at night was so pleasant and serene. I made sure to bring my mini tripod to capture a few long exposures.
One day of the trip I decided to take a day trip somewhere outside of Amsterdam. A few options turned up while searching around a bit: Zaanse Schans, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Kinderdijk, The Hague and Keukenhof Gardens (famous tulip fields but not a good time to visit in September).
I went with Zaanse Schans as it wasn't too far away and I wanted to see the little North Holland town with historic preserved windmills.
That day trip didn't take long and I was back in Amsterdam in the late afternoon. I met up with a friend and we ended up grabbing cocktails at Tales & Spirits in central Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has a plethora of museums — around 75 — including several highly regarded ones such as the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum.
Located in Museum Square (Museumplein) in the southern Amsterdam-Zuid region of the city, Rijksmuseum is known for their 8,000 artifacts on display including famous Dutch Golden Age paintings from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer and others.
Amsterdam also has the largest Van Gogh collection in the world with 200 paintings, 400 drawings and 700 letters from the Dutch post-impressionist painter at the Van Gogh Museum. I tried to visit it on my last day in Amsterdam but it was unfortunately completely sold out.
It's hard to walk through Museum Square and not see the stunning building for Stedelijk Museum. The Stedelijk is dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design.
After seeing the museums I continued on to the nearby Vondelpark, the largest city park in Amsterdam.
After several days staying in central Amsterdam, I moved to a hotel in North Amsterdam (Amsterdam-Noord) across the IJ for the Framer Loupe design conference. It was held in the stunning spaceship-like EYE Filmmuseum.
We took a nice canal tour as part of the conference one evening. Afterwards I transferred to a hotel in De Pijp for my last night in Amsterdam.