I never wanted to visit Amsterdam when I was younger. I ignorantly assumed it had nothing more to offer than weed and sex. Extreme pothead teen peers would yap on and on about it being their bucket list destination and opinionated adults would yell that females visited Amsterdam to become whores.
Nope. Not for me.
Then I started traveling and experiencing people, cities, and cultures beyond stereotypes and assumptions. Amsterdam joined my bucket list along with many other adventures previously avoided based on hearsay.
Does Amsterdam have an abundance of marijuana and sex? Yes. Pot and prostitution are legal. Is there more to Amsterdam for people (like me) who aren't interested in that? Absolutely.
Here is a list of awesome things to do that will make you fall in love with Amsterdam.
Visit the Top Museums:
The recently renovated Rijksmuseum is open everyday until 5:00pm. Created and dedicated to Amsterdam art, history, and crafts, the Rijksmuseum is one of the most visited locations in the Netherlands, for visitors and locals alike. Featuring moving collections, Rembrandts and Frans Hals, the highly acclaimed architectural masterpiece also has a library and Asian pavilion.
If you are itching to take a step back in history and explore the last years of the famous Anne Frank, you must visit this now established museum and historical home, and former 17th century canal house and hiding place for Anne and her family escaping the Nazis. Get there early and be prepared to wait on line to get in!
Nearby, you can stop by the Houseboat Museum and check out what house boats look like on the inside!
The Rembrandt House, and Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums are also top rated experiences for painting and drawing collections of 17th century Rembrandt; Van Gogh and Gauguin; and Picasso, Matisse, and more.
Join the Heineken Experience:
On a whim we decided to join the Heineken experience, and although I am not much of a beer drinker, it was very much an enjoyable adventure.
Not only do you get a souvenir, but you also get 2-4 glasses of free beer throughout your tour and opportunities to play games and trivia; create music videos; send photos to friends and family; and even create your own bottle!
Interactive activities, lessons on the beer-making process, and the history of the Heineken family, ownership, and marketing over the years leaves you with a positive impression of the Heineken brand.
Ride Along a Canal:
Choose a nice day to cruise along one of the 60 miles (100KM) worth of canals flowing through Amsterdam. It is a great way to relax while taking in city sights without the fear of being hit by a bike. Yes. I had that fear.
Check out Activities in Amstel Park:
While staying at the NH Amsterdam Zuid, just a short walk from Amstel Park, we were lucky enough to be in Amsterdam during the food truck weekend. We spent a fun-filled Sunday dancing to DJ sets and tasting various Dutch fares.
There are parks like this throughout Amsterdam and activities are almost always scheduled. Check out the Amsterdam event calendar to see what's going on during your visit. They have over 300 festivals a year, so there's always something to do!
Explore the Countryside of Holland by Bike:
Guideholland.com offers a great guided bike tour along the countryside of Holland from the town Weesp.
The owner, Edmond, offers full and half-day tours (I chose half-day because bikes hurt my butt) and provides an in depth historical narrative of the surrounding areas, including a medieval castle, old-Jewish cemeteries, working flour windmill, forts, bunkers, and more.
For full information on the bicycle day tour and other bike tour options, view Guide Holland's website at http://www.guideholland.com/whatcycling.html. Edmond also includes a lunch pack for each guest with the tours.
Visit the Museum of Prostitution:
I must admit, Alex and I had a few prostitution arguments while in Amsterdam:
He thought a lot of the women there were happy making big bucks and felt self empowered in their rental booths.
I argued they were most likely tricked into it and got used to the money.
He argued if they were there by choice then who cares what they do?
We settled the disagreement with a visit to the Museum of Prostitution and were both shocked at how informative it was. It started off with a documentary of a prostitute's daily routine, and took us deeper into the red light district experience. The interactive museum featured a historical overview, funny stories and positive testimonials (how much prostitution has helped pay for school, etc.), but also highlighted darker truths of the industry like trafficking and unsolved murders.
I don't want to spoil the experience for you but let's just say we had a much better understanding of each other's arguments, the industry itself, and what the red light district means to a sex worker. I totally recommend the visit.
Have a Picnic on the Lawn:
Head over to the big IAMSTERDAM letters for a touristic photo and follow up with a day relaxing on the lawn. Feel free to pack a lunch and people watch.
Take a Tour of the Tulips (seasonal):
If you come at the right time, tell your friends and family to prepare to be flooded with colorful photos of tulips! During April and May, take a day trip to the lesser known Flevoland's flower-bulb route and tulip festival and explore 2,500 acres of floral fields. Flevoland is just a 50 minute drive outside of Amsterdam.
Wondering where to stay in Amsterdam?
Did this post entice you to explore Amsterdam's many offerings? I hope so!
Note, this guide is for the first-time visitor who is just getting over their stereotyped assumptions of what Amsterdam is only about, so it's just the beginning.
The list of what to see and explore is never ending, really!