Things To Do in Amsterdam If You Don’t Smoke Weed
I never wanted to visit Amsterdam. I assumed it had nothing more to offer than pot and sex. Peers would yap on and on about smoking being their ultimate Amsterdam bucket list and opinionated adults would yell that women visited Amsterdam to be whores.
Nope. Amsterdam wasn’t for little ol’ me.
Then I started traveling and experiencing people, cities, and cultures beyond stereotypes and assumptions. I started learning that I can’t define an entire city by one attraction or experience. I don’t do it in the States, so why internationally?
Eventually, Amsterdam joined my vacation bucket list along with many other destinations previously avoided based on hearsay.
Does Amsterdam have an abundance of marijuana and sex? Yes. Pot and prostitution are legal.
But there’s more to Amsterdam than weed & prostitutes!
The best cultural activities & attractions in Amsterdam for first-timers
If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, be sure to see these sights and attractions during your Dutch vacation. Perfect for someone (or a couple, like us) interested in culture travel, bucket list attractions, a bit of nature in an urban landscape, and more!
1. Visit the top museums in Amsterdam
Here are six museums in Amsterdam that you must visit.
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.
2. 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.
3. Ride Along a Canal in Amsterdam
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.
4. 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!
5. 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.
6. Visit the Museum of Prostitution
I must admit, Alex and I had a few prostitution arguments while in Amsterdam. Like I mentioned earlier, I really wanted nothing to do with the scene. Highlights from our discussion:
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 why should we judge them?
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.
7. Have a Picnic on the Lawn
Head over to the big IAMSTERDAM letters for a tourist photo and follow up with a day relaxing on the lawn. Feel free to pack a lunch and people watch. It is walking distance from the top attractions in Amsterdam so can be the base where you rest, eat, and save money!
8. 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.
Bonus Amsterdam tip:
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam doesn’t have very budget-friendly accommodations, in my opinion (beyond cramming in a hostel with a bunch of other people). On average we spent $100-200 per night at hotels — though, to be fair — we were visiting during the ultimate peak season. I found that staying a bit farther from the center saves money.
Read my review of the NH Amsterdam Zuid, where I stayed and found it to give you much more for your money (including an epic spread of free breakfast food). Alternatively, check out booking.com (my favorite cheap accommodation resource) for other affordable hotel options.
If you are thinking of staying at an Airbnb for the first time, here is an Airbnb coupon for $40 off your first booking.
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! It is a great city.
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