Twenty years ago, the idyllic city of Amsterdam was practically a ghost town compared to what it is today. Though it’s always been plainly gorgeous, bursting with creativity, and turning out generation after generation of happy, healthy locals, it wasn’t in league with other European heavy hitters like Paris or Rome when it came to tourism.
Today, it’s a different story. Visitors outnumber locals by 20 to 1, and weekends bring in large groups of partying Europeans who come for the city’s permissive attitudes towards sex and drugs (don’t let that put you off if it’s not your scene; it’s easy to avoid).
With its abundance of beautiful art, picturesque canals, exciting design, and two-wheeled transit, Amsterdam’s status as a boomtown isn’t changing any time soon. If you decide to visit, chances are high that you’ll fall in love with the city… just be sure to follow our advice on how to do so without also falling into any tourist traps.
Art and history lovers, groups of friends, adventurous couples, anyone curious about the intersection of design and sustainability, bike enthusiasts
Amsterdam has amassed a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but while it isn’t cheap, there’s no reason a trip here has to break the bank. Hotels generally cost $100+ for a good stay, whereas vacation rentals range from $75-$200/night. The restaurant scene is certainly posh, so if you plan to eat your heart out, budget $100/day for food, while if your tastes are more simple, you can get by on $30 for three square meals.
It sounds cliche to wax on about how places in northern Europe like the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway have achieved near-utopia, devoid of societal ills like pollution, flawed healthcare, and crime.
There’s more nuance to it all, of course, but the fact remains that safety-wise, Amsterdam is among the best cities in the world. Yes, there is pickpocketing; tourists also fall victim to mugging on an occasional basis. But on the whole, Amsterdam is safe for LGBTQIA+ travelers, BIPOC travelers, solo women, and families with kids. Just be careful when you’re crossing the street as a pedestrian. The city’s many cyclists can appear as if out of thin air.
Amsterdam’s more northerly location keeps the weather fairly temperate, with summer highs ranging from 68° to 71°F and most winter days hovering around 42° F. While snow is a rare occurrence, and it doesn’t often get cold enough to freeze the city’s canals, winter (November to February) can be damp and drizzly.
Summer brings the best weather—warm, sunny, and dry—but also the most visitors and highest prices. The fall months of September and October are a good compromise, with good weather but fewer crowds. Spring is also a popular time to visit as this is when the tulip fields are in bloom and the Keukenhof Gardens (generally open March to May each year) are awash in more than 7 million flowers.
Grab an I amsterdam city card for access to more than 70 museums and attractions, free public transport, and other discounts.
Picnic in the park. Amsterdam has dozens of beautiful green spaces, like Oosterpark and the famous Vondelpark. Hit one of the markets like Nieuwmarkt and Noorderkerk to pack a picnic and enjoy lunch or dinner with a side of people watching.
Go long. If you plan to rent a bike, rent by the day instead of the hour or for multiple days instead of one. Generally the longer the rental, the better the value.
Amsterdam churns out posh, exciting cuisine with the best of them, perpetually vying for the element of surprise in both execution and ambience. A foodie will surely fall in love with Amsterdam’s many cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, but less passionate eaters can also be heard making yummy sounds in every corner of town. From upscale to down-home, there’s something to satisfy every appetite here.
Amsterdam is extremely heavily trafficked by tourists, so while the city center offers plenty in the way of attractions, you’re likely to enjoy your stay more if you’re able to remove yourself from the throngs. Westerpark is a great option, full of green spaces. De Pijp and Jordaan are also fun; the former is a bit of a nightlife hub and the latter is full of eclectic, hip places to eat, drink, and shop.
How to traipse through Amsterdam? Let us count the ways. There’s the metro, the rail line, the bus, the ferry, and the train—and that’s to say nothing of the complex cycling infrastructure throughout town. In fact, biking is the preferred method of transport in Amsterdam: The city is mostly flat, there are hundreds of miles’ worth of bike lanes, and bike-share and rental companies abound. If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, the tram and Uber are your best bets; if you’re in need of wheelchair accessibility, hop on the tram, as Amsterdam’s cobblestones and steep bridges can pose a problem.
The largest and busiest airport in the Netherlands is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), often called simply Schiphol Airport. It’s less than six miles from Amsterdam’s city center and the hub for KLM as well as a hub city for Martinair, Transavia, and TUI fly Netherlands.
Only have a short time in the city between flights? Check out our layover guide to Amsterdam.
There is a train station underneath the airport, and from there it takes less than 20 minutes to arrive at Amsterdam’s Central Station. A single ticket costs €4.50, or a day pass (for unlimited public transit trips) is €17. The Amsterdam Airport Express bus, number 397, is also covered by the same day pass and that trip takes about 25 minutes. Taxi rides take about 15 minutes and fares start at around €45. An Uber ride may cost from €30-60.
Take a 40-minute train ride southwest from Amsterdam to The Hague, arguably the poshest city in the Netherlands. Be sure to go to the coastline district known as Scheveningen.
Take an hour-long train ride southeast to Rotterdam, a modern urban oasis in the country of gingerbread houses, tiny narrow streets, and bikes, plus lots of great spots to eat and drink.
Ride the train for 1.5 hours southwest to Keukenhof in the springtime to witness the tulip fields. It’s touristy, but it’s also incredible.
Take an hour-long bike ride to Zaanse Shans to see the classic Dutch windmills and 18th-century architecture.
Hop on a 2-hour train southward to Brussels and use the capital as a starting point as you explore Belgium in all its glory.
Continue the party theme with an hour-long flight or 6.5-hour train ride to Berlin and prepare to be amazed, confused, entertained, and up all night.
Fly an hour southwest or take a 3.5-hour train ride to Paris for more art museums and amazing food.
Amsterdam doesn’t show up on the large or small screens as often as some other European cities, but there are a few shows and movies to check out for a glimpse at the city’s canals before you visit. Check out The Diary of Anne Frank (read the book first), Girl With a Pearl Earring, and the Fault in Our Stars to get started.