A weekend in Amsterdam is barely enough time to scratch its surface. With a mind-boggling amount of museums (seemingly for every persuasion), markets, and parks, not to mention cafes, coffeeshops, and canals – it’s impossible to do it all. But, 48 hours in Amsterdam is better than no hours at all. And with tulip-seekers flocking to the country for the Netherland’s famous colorful blooms, spring is a lovely time to visit the Dutch capital.
First, a Few Things to Keep in Mind.
- One, remember that a coffeeshop = weed cafe. Marijuana is legal in Amsterdam. If that is not your thing, you are probably looking for a “cafe,” which will serve coffee.
- Two, avoid the city center if you can, and with it the hordes of tourists and bachelor parties.
- Three, definitely book any and all museum tickets in advance, otherwise, your entire weekend will be spent waiting in lines.
- Four, remember that the best part about Amsterdam is what you discover for yourself. Aimlessly wander, pop into shops, get lost among the streets and canals. Just watch out for those bikes!
- Five, although most people will speak English in the Netherlands…it’s both polite and fun to learn a few essential phrases in Dutch: Download our Pimsleur Dutch lessons, or try your first Dutch lesson free!
Your Perfect Weekend in Amsterdam in Four Easy Steps:
1. Decide on a Neighborhood – Jordaan or De Pijp
Neighborhood competition is fierce in Amsterdam, and they all have their own unique qualities. The main two who duke it out, though, are the Jordaan vs. the De Pijp.
The historic Jordaan neighborhood is one of the best-loved neighborhoods in Amsterdam, and rightfully so. There are flower boxes full of colorful geraniums, there are bicycles, there are boats gliding under bridges, and there are the charmingly crooked canal houses. Part hipster, part bohemian, all Dutch. It’s everything you expect Amsterdam to be, and then some. Jordaan is quiet and sleepy until noon, and then it bangs and bustles into action. But consider yourself warned: the Jordaan is full of winding streets with small sidewalks, and bicycles rule the road here. In fact, this is advice to heed for the whole weekend: that ding-ding-ding of the bells may sound cute, but the underlying message is “get out of the way!”
De Pijp is also a popular neighborhood but stands in somewhat stark contrast to the picturesque Jordaan. Think less canal houses, more street art. It’s dynamic and diverse, with comparisons to the Latin Quarter in Paris (but I think this Dutch neighborhood is even better!). De Pijp feels less touristy and still a smidge undiscovered, with just as many eclectic independent shops and similar beatnik vibe at the Jordaan.
2. Wander a Street Market
Amsterdam loves them and there are plenty to go around. There’s one for every mood, every need, and every day of the week.
The Saturday Noorderkerk market, smack in the middle of the Jordaan, is a great first choice. It’s deliciously local, and the vendors are very generous with the free samples (don’t miss the stand with pesto-infused Gouda cheese. You are welcome). If you see people walking around with paper cones of thick cut Dutch fries doused with mayo, follow them until you find the stand to get the best freshly-fried chips you’ve ever had. The food market connects with a flea market and all of a sudden you go from tasting sticky sweet blood-orange slices to rummaging through vintage postcards and cassette tapes and faux fur stoles.
If you happen to be in Amsterdam on the third Sunday of the month, you are in luck! Make sure to stop by the Museum Markt, filled with local designers, artisans, artists, food stalls, and live entertainment. This is combined nicely with a visit to either the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, or the Stedelijk, which are all located around the Museumplein. What you won’t get? A selfie in front of the insta-famous red and white “I amsterdam” sign. The city removed it in December 2018.
If you miss the Noodermarkt or the Museum Markt, there’s always the Albert Cuypmarkt (De Pijp), ZuiderMRKT (Oud-Zuid), Dappermarkt (Amsterdam Oost) – the list goes on and on. There’s even an indoor market called Foodhallen (Oud-West), which has a diverse array of 21 food-truck style stands with meals from around the world. And, if you are like me and books feed you as much as food does, there’s the Boekenmarkt (Het Spui), too.
3. Find a Park
Amsterdam is a busy, bustling city, and sometimes it can feel like an assault on all the senses. But, tucked among the crowds are pockets of green tranquility.
Vondelpark, undeniably a favorite of both tourists and locals alike, is a huge and sprawling oasis in the center of the city. With its tree-lined paths, grassy knolls, small lakes, and public art displayed throughout (supposedly Picasso’s sculpture, The Fish, is here), it is a lovely place to laze away an afternoon.
For a hip park, try Westerpark. This whole area is buzzy and up-and-coming, and the park inside the neighborhood is no different. You’ll get open green spaces and spots to relax along the river, but also a chance to explore Westergasfabriek. Once the city’s gasworks, it reopened in 2003, repurposing the historic industrial buildings into an avant-garde cultural complex. There’s always something going on, whether it’s a food hall, market, art exhibition, concert or festival.
Sarphatipark, a small park in the De Pijp neighborhood, is perfect for an afternoon picnic. It’s right next to the famous Albert Cuyp market, where you can pick up all the provisions you may need. You won’t feel like you are in the middle of the forest, like some areas of Vondelpark or Westerpark, but it’s calm and relaxing nonetheless.
4. Lastly, Don’t Forget the Museums!
It seems as though there is a museum for every hobby and interest, but make sure to include at least one of Amsterdam’s heavy-hitters.
Personally, I’d say the Van Gogh Museum is a must-visit. Yes, it’s popular and crowded, and maybe you can’t linger over the Sunflowers as long as you’d like, but it’s incredibly curated and fascinating to see, if only to appreciate the sheer volume of work the man produced. Especially once you realize he painted over 900 pieces in less than 10 years, and the bulk of those in the last year of his life while in an asylum. That’s remarkable.
The Rijksmuseum houses work from all of the Dutch greats: Ruisdael, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and many more, from the Middle Ages to present. Even the building itself is monumentally beautiful, and it’s so big you actually have space to spread out and linger (I once got lost trying to find the bathroom!). Rembrandt might not be everyone’s style, but it’s hard not to appreciate the uncompromising and intricate human detail in his portrait paintings. And, there is an entire gallery dedicated to showcasing Rembrandt’s famous “The Night Watch.”
For modern art, head to the Stedelijk Museum. It might not be as well curated as the Van Gogh or the Rijks, but it’s well worth a wander. You’ll stumble across famous pieces by Koons and Picasso and Pollock and Rothko, along with newer artists and Insta-worthy exhibits.
And, the Anne Frank Haus. It’s an important landmark and piece of history that should not be forgotten. Even though it is almost impossibly crowded (1 million tourists visit each year), try to find a quiet moment inside to reflect on where you are, the people who lived here, and the millions of other stories they represent.
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