5 Unmissable Amsterdam Experiences

With its network of canals, world-class art and homey traditional bars, vibrant Amsterdam has a feast of unique experiences

So what makes Amsterdam so special? Actually, the city shouldn’t really exist. It was dragged out of marshy bogs, dried and carved into the place we know today. It was an unconventional start, and one which seems to have set the tone for things to come. Today, despite something of conservative Dutch backlash, Amsterdam remains Europe’s most nonconformist city. Experience its canals, art and traditional bars to make your trip to vibrant Amsterdam truly unforgettable. 

Travel by bike

Cyclist in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Locals shun the car and choose instead to career around on bicycles. Take a look around in the mornings–locals use their bikes for commuting to work, doing their grocery shopping, taking the young kids to school and even furniture removal. In fact, this is the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world. There are plenty of options for bike hire and it will add a new dimension as you explore Amsterdam. There are cycle lanes everywhere—just don’t get your wheels stuck in the tram lines—and watch out for trams! Enjoy a cycling tour around the city or rent your own to experience at your own pace. 

Experience the canals

Iced-over canal Keizersgracht, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam’s 165 canals form an intricate part of the city’s character and in fact the entire ring was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2010. Not only are they stunning backdrops, but also the perfect way to experience the city. Take a cruise, whether it be a sightseeing boat trip or a Canal Bus hop-on, hop-off service. You can even rent your own—you don’t even need a special license. In winter, when many canals freeze over, why not get your skates on and join locals skating, sledding or just walking on the ice.

Unique art pieces

Anne Frank's diary at Anne Frank Huis, Netherlands, Amsterdam

Despite Amsterdam’s nonconformity and progressive attitude, it’s also home to some of Europe’s greatest traditional attractions. The newly renovated Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum hold two of the finest art collections in the world.  Rembrandt’s "The Night Watch" even has its own room. Take your time in the city’s smaller museums: Anne Frank House, with the moving diary of the imprisoned girl, and Rembrandthuis, where the great painter lived, both produce a fascinating insight into the city’s past.

Is it a bar? Is it a café?

Holland’s brown (bruin) cafes are a unique flavor of local culture, a traditional local café-pub which takes its name from the dark, cozy wooden furnishings and interior. In fact, most of the brown color is due to years of nicotine stains—something which will fade with today’s non-smoking laws. Some of these bruin cafes date back to the 1600s; others are much more contemporary. For many locals, these comfortable watering holes are an extension of their own living rooms. In addition to local and regional beers, it’s also a place for light meals and snacks. A typical Dutch snack is bitterballen, breaded, deep-fried balls with a meaty filling. 

Exploring Jordaan

Jordaan neighborhood in Amsterdan, Netherlands

It’s arguably the most-attractive Amsterdam neighborhood to explore on foot and one of the country’s most famous. The Jordaan was an overcrowded, working-class district, a tight community with radical politics. Its 17th-century narrow canal-side houses had low rents and later housed political refugees including Spanish and Portuguese Jews, French Huguenots plus artists and writers. These days, after decades of gentrification, it is more likely to be art studios, artisan street markets and bijou restaurants that fill its scenic streets.