Between Bali and Budapest we snuck in a quick trip to Amsterdam and Brussels through some world-class flight ninja-ing (if I do say so myself). For the most part, we had no idea what one was supposed to do in Amsterdam; generally, people seem to follow the all-art-and-tulips itinerary, or they come here exclusively for the nightlife and illicit attractions. Neither really appealed to us, so we forged a patchwork foodie-culture-nature trip. Here’s what we recommend if you’ve got 3-4 days to spend in Amsterdam.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Be prepared for absurdly high prices for lodging in Amsterdam. We initially wanted to avoid these by using Couchsurfing, but even the competition for that was too fierce for Couchsurfing newbies for us. If you can Couchsurf, I recommend going that route. With rooms near the city center starting at $70-80 and up per night (plus fees) on AirBnB, we decided to expand our search and try staying at an AirBnB in nearby Utrecht.
Overall, we were really happy with our decision to stay outside the city. We were able to take the commuter rail into the city for €32.80 per day (roundtrip for the two of us), and since that left us right in the city center, we didn’t need to pay for any other public transportation. Unfortunately, the one week we were in town, our Utrecht train station was under construction, so there was a complicated shuttle bus situation, but under normal circumstances, this would have been a great way to stay for cheap, save on public transit in Amsterdam, shop and cook at home for cheap, and have easier access to some of The Netherlands’ countryside attractions.
What to Do in Amsterdam
I’ll just assume you’re already familiar with Amsterdam’s red light and coffeeshop attractions. Moving on…
Here are our favorite PG-rated attractions and activities in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas:
- Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Walking Tour: Sandeman’s is the king of free walking tours, and Amsterdam is no exception. The tour was a great introduction to the canals and neighborhoods of the city. It was also a good way to keep ourselves awake as we adjusted to the new time zone (we flew in that morning from Singapore.) Be prepared to tip at least €5 per person (I’ve heard €10-20 is more standard in a high-cost city like Amsterdam, though), and sign up in advance to make sure you make it on a tour.
- Reypenaer Cheese Tasting: You can’t imagine the depth of flavor that aging can add to seemingly identical cheese until you taste high-quality Dutch cheeses like these. The cheese tasting also comes with free accompanying wines, and if you’re shameless you can basically make a meal of this (if you consider wine and cheese a meal, which I do). The tasting is €16.50 per person including the booking fee.
- Van Gogh Museum: Amsterdam is full of museums and you could easily spend your entire trip in them. However, the weather was — shockingly — spectacular when we visited, so hanging in museums the entire time would have been criminal. I recommend doing a deep-dive at one museum, and the Van Gogh Museum is a great candidate. I strongly suggest renting the audio guide to get the most out of your €17 ticket. Note: The special exhibition when I was there was also excellent and included in the ticket price. If you reserve in advance (very far in advance), the Anne Frank House is also supposed to be worth your time.
- Picnic on the canals: Restaurants, like just about everything else in Amsterdam, are very expensive. Conveniently, grocery stores are more reasonable, and there are plenty of benches along the canals where you can enjoy a sammie and a bottle of wine.
- Ride a bike: We suggest saving your bike riding for the countryside unless you’re very comfortable navigating a bicycle through hordes of tourists. We loved renting bikes in Utrecht to see the local sights there (again, saving on transit costs).
- Rietveld Schröder House and Centraal Museum Utrecht: If you have even a passing interest in architecture I highly highly highly recommend a visit to the Rietveld Schröder House. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its significance in the De Stijl architecture movement, and it is totally fascinating. Tickets are pricey (€15.50 per person with fees), but tours are very small and personalized, so I think it’s worth it. The Centraal Museum in Utrecht houses a hodge-podge of permanent and temporary exhibits and is included in admission to the house.
- The canals of Utrecht: It’s a little-known fact that Utrecht (and, I would assume, several other Dutch towns) also boasts a canal system like Amsterdam’s. A bike ride in this area will not be nearly as challenging as the crowded streets of Amsterdam.
Where to Eat in Amsterdam
As mentioned above, I’m a big proponent of picnicking if the weather is good while you’re visiting Amsterdam. Additionally, I can recommend the following restaurants in Amsterdam and Utrecht:
- Toastable: Hearty sandwiches for breakfast and lunch at reasonable prices. They have Several locations throughout the city.
- The Pancake Bakery: The Dutch love their pancakes, and these ones are the real deal. Not as budget-friendly as some other options, but a nice alternative to more sandwiches.
- Van Dobben: This classic diner serves up some awesome croquettes along with a slew of other meat-heavy sandwiches at crazy-cheap prices. This was probably our favorite cheap eat in Amsterdam.
- Bagel and Beans Utrecht: Surprisingly good bagels with awesome sandwiches and gourmet spreads. (Free WiFi, too.)
- Oproer Brewery Utrecht: Funky brewery in an industrial space with yummy vegan snacks.
- Koffie & Ik Utrecht: Translated “Coffee and Me,” this sweet cafe is a great place to get some work done. They have a breakfast menu in addition to the standard coffeeshop fare (coffeeshop fare as in food, not marijuana).
What We Spent in Amsterdam
We did a pretty good job of keeping things cheap while still managing to get in all the highlights of Amsterdam. I would definitely allow that you could see all of the sights above in just 3 days, saving yourself on lodging and food for that 4th day. Here’s how our budget broke down (all of the below is for two people):
Food & Alcohol: About $180 or $45 per day. We spent quite a bit on food on our fourth day; we didn’t have much to do, so we were bouncing between a cafe, a restaurant, and then the brewery in order to keep using wifi and keep ourselves entertained. We bought only 1 bottle of wine and two beers, so we spent only €16.50 total on alcohol.
Transportation: $84 or $21 per day. We spent a bit more on transportation staying outside Amsterdam in order to save on lodging and food, and I think the math here worked out in our favor.
Lodging: $182 or $45.50 per day. We saved by staying with AirBnB (private room in a shared home). In the high season, it’s basically impossible to stay anywhere in Amsterdam with two people for this cheap.
Attractions: About $128 or $32 per day. Activities in Amsterdam are very pricey, which is why we recommend limiting yourself to one expensive paid activity per day. In addition to the paid attractions listed above, we paid €20 to rent 2 bikes for 24 hours in Utrecht.
Total: $575 or $144 per day.