Amsterdam is a city famed for its canals, red light district and world famous coffee shops. It’s also a place full of history, culture and nightlife, making it one of the top destinations in Europe for weekend breaks. It’s a small city and can get a little cramped in the narrow streets, but this just adds to its famously lively atmosphere. It also means that the city is compact enough to walk or cycle anywhere (or if you feel a bit lazy Amsterdam also has an excellent public transport system). You may be a little alarmed at the amount of bicycle traffic, with two-wheelers far outnumbering the cars in the city but you’ll quickly get used to it!
The Dutch capital is very easy to get to from the UK, with flights departing each day from nearly all of the major UK airports. Plus, Eurostar trains run every day from London St Pancras to Amsterdam with rates starting at just £99 return. Better still, if you don’t mind a longer no-frills journey you can get the coach to Amsterdam with fares starting from £1 - you can’t argue with that.
Explore the city
The Red Light District
Amsterdam’s world famous Red Light District leaves nothing to the imagination. Anything goes in the neighbourhood that is devoted to sex shops, erotic shows, brothels and sex museums. Make sure you never take photos of the girls in the red light district, there are bouncers watching who will destroy your camera if they see you take any pics - naughty!
You can buy weed legally at acoffeeshop in Amsterdam, and you’ll find hundreds of them spread across the city with every establishment having their own unique atmosphere. Make sure you go to a real coffeeshop though, rather than a ‘cafe’ or ‘coffee shop’, as these are usually bars or actual coffee houses.
Get your mates on aBeer Bikeand take in the great views of the city - you can even pour yourselves pints as you pedal during this boozy guided tour! There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam, it's one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world, so there's no better way to explore the city’s streets than by pedal power.
Canal Boat Cruise
A great way to experience the city is to take acanal cruisealong the Amsterdam Canals. After boarding your canal boat, you can get the drinks flowing as you set sail along the river while taking in the best sights of Amsterdam. After a few drinks, you can even hit the dancefloor and cut some shapes to the onboard soundtrack.
Heineken Brewery Tour
This self-guided tour takes you aroundthe original Heineken brewery, which dates back to 1867 and has now been converted into a unique interactive experience. You'll learn about the history of the world famous Amsterdam beer, the ingredients behind it and the brewing process, before topping off the tour with two free pints - nice!
The city is famous for its world class nightlife venues. It has something for everyone, whether you prefer casual drinks inone of the Amsterdam’s many barsor a wild night in one of the city’s lively nightclubs. Amsterdam will deliver.
Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein
Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein are considered to be the main nightlife areas in Amsterdam, with most of the popular venues found in these two districts. Rembrandtplein has become a vibrant hub of activity for both locals and visitors full of bars, nightclubs and live music for you to dance the night away in. Leidseplein is also a busy spot - on any night, young people can be seen coming and going from the many venues around the square, with most not shutting until the early hours.
Located on the Leidseplein, this stylish, boutique nightclub offers exclusive table service and VIP tables. The club is also great for big groups with a massive dance floor and one of the best sound systems in the city blasting the hottest nightclub classics.
Guided Bar Crawl and Club Entry
Eat like a local
When in Amsterdam you have to try some of the famous Dutch delicacies such as pickled herring (nicer than it sounds) or bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs!). If that's not your thing then never fear, there are plenty of international restaurants spread across the city that will feel a bit more like home.
This huge indoor food market is set in an old tram depot in Amsterdam west. There is a huge bar in the centre of the market surrounded by around 20 different food vendors inside serving both local and international dishes. Try the Entrecôte Mobiel (steak sandwiches), The Butcher (gourmet burgers) and Jabugo (authentic Spanish deli) stalls.
Febo is the ultimate fast food chain. The Dutch restaurant keeps its products in small warm compartments in a vending machine. Just put your coins in, and the door to your snack will open. No waiting - this is the ultimate fast food. With prices between €1,20 and €3,00, it's a great cheap spot. Plus, with most Febos open until 3am in the main nightlife hotspots, it will satisfy all of your drunken cravings.
Where to stay
On a tight budget? When staying in Amsterdam, there are a lot of trendy and affordable accommodation choices. If you’re just looking for a cheap place to dump your bags, a dorm room is your best bet. Or, if you want to splurge on somewhere a bit more impressive, you’ll find a lot of stylish hotels in the city. Whatever you choose, Amsterdam is a compact city so it’s likely to be close to the city centre.
Your ultimate guide to Europe's liberal city
Amsterdam is a city famed for its canals, red light district and super ‘smoky’ coffee shops, but, it’s also a place full of history and culture, making it one of the top destinations in Europe for weekend breaks. It's striking to look at with its tall, narrow buildings and winding streets. It can get a little cramped in these narrow roads but it all helps create a lively atmosphere. First time visitors may be a little alarmed at the amount of bicycle traffic, with two-wheelers far outnumbering cars in the city.
Amsterdam at a glance:
- One of Europe’s largest cities, Amsterdam has a strong cosmopolitan feel and diverse culture
- Well known for its red light district and open-minded sex shows
- Fun and lively with hundreds of events taking place throughout the year
- Recognisable for its well used waterways and the huge swarms of bicycles wherever you go
De Pijp – a little slice of heaven for foodies
This area of Amsterdam is well known for its trendy bars, upmarket restaurants and a huge variety of ethnic eateries. De Pijp is also home to the famous Heineken brewery which offers tours to the public and is a real hit with tourists.
Noord – look north for bohemian vibes
With a distinctly bohemian vibe, Noord (Dutch for ‘north’) is where you’ll find an exciting mix of festivals, quaint villages and unique restaurants. Originally a shipyard on the other side of the IJ lakes, the area has been transformed into a cultural hotspot. The ferry to Noord is located behind Amsterdam’s Central Station and runs every couple of minutes. Free to ride, it’s a great way to see the city from the river.
Oostelijk Havengebied – Amsterdam’s ultra modern east side
The Eastern Docklands is the best place to take in and admire the city’s modern architecture. It’s also one of the best areas for late nights, with many of its quirky restaurants and bars staying open until the early hours of the morning.
Oud-West – a relaxed area for Amsterdam’s residents
Oud-West is predominantly a residential area dotted with large mansions and cool, laid-back places to eat. There is a much slower pace of life here compared to the Centrum and other areas.
Westpark – Centrum’s lively next door neighbour
Westpark is next to Centrum and there’s always something going on. A great location for eating out, late night drinks and clubs, Westpark’s architecture is also a key focal point. De Amsterdamse School can be found here, and interested parties can learn about the city’s unique architecture. The creative spaces at Westergasfabriek are also worth a visit, with many events held there during the summer months.
Red Light District – Amsterdam’s adults only zone
Despite being one of many cities in Europe with a designated area for pleasures of the flesh, Amsterdam’s red light district has to be the most famous. A whole section of the city is devoted to carnal pleasures, with pubs and bars sandwiched between scantily clad ladies in windows beckoning you into their ‘offices’ to talk shop.
Best bars in Amsterdam:
Café Belgique, Gravenstraat
A tiny bar offering a wide selection of beers, with eight on tap and 30 different bottles. 8 on tap and 30 bottled. Despite being located close to the tourist traps, it still manages to hold on to its unique charm. It’s also the main hangout for many local DJs and artists.
De Zotte, Raamstraat
A Dutch take on a classic Belgian beer cellar. Serves over 130 beers with a specialist glass to match each one. An absolute haven for beer connoisseurs.
De Doffer, Runstraat
De Doffer is one of Amsterdam’s many classic ‘brown cafes’ – traditional Dutch pubs with wooden interiors and smoked stained ceilings. But unlike most, this one plays host to a wonderfully mixed crowd. Offers a fantastic selection of beers and is also a great place to meet the locals.
Brouwerij ’t IJ
The Brewery Mill, as it is commonly known, brews its own beer in the windmill towering above it. This place serves very high percentage beer at relatively cheap prices in one of the coolest settings in the city. Be warned though, locals refer to the drunk tourists who stagger out of here as having been ‘spinmilled’ – and with good reason.
Canvas op de 7e, Wibautstraat
Located on the top floor of a building previously occupied by a Dutch newspaper, Canvas on the 7th is an excellent roof top bar providing unmatched views across the city. This is where creative types meet to eat, drink and dance. After dinner the place turns into one big dancefloor.
One of the few bars you can enter after 3am, Bloemenbar always has a crowd and a buzzing atmosphere. Comfortable sofas surround the dancefloor so you can catch your breath between songs.
Pacific Parc, Polonceaukade
Located in Westerpark, Pacific Parc has a wonderfully mixed vibe, catering to a huge range of music tastes from rock’n’roll to dance. This place has the biggest sun terrace in the area and is a great place to spend late nights.
In De Olofspoort, Nieuwebrugsteeg
A totally unique gin bar in the heart of Amsterdam, where the only music comes from a piano in the corner. Not many tourists know about it but it’s somewhere that, once you find it, you’ll never want to leave.
Roest, Jacob Bontiusplaats
An utterly cool and laid-back bar, with a self-service ordering style allowing to you to choose from a wide variety of drinks. Comfy sofas dotted around complement open fires that are lit on colder nights.
NJOY, Korte Leidsedwarsstraat
Although small, NJOY’s low arched roof and modern décor give it an edge only found in the hippest of bars. All the drinks in its impressive cocktail list are made from premium spirits and fresh fruit.
An acronym for ‘hiding in plain sight’, this bar is styled after a prohibition speakeasy with a Dutch twist. The cocktails are all carefully crafted to your palette. With Chesterfields to relax in and ultra-luxe wallpaper decorating the walls, this is one swanky place to have a few drinks. As it’s such a small venue, they ask for groups of four or more to call in advance and reserve a table. On weekends, the maximum is eight people in a group.
Best clubs in Amsterdam:
Cooldown Café, Rembrandtplein
A popular hangout with a large bar offering late night parties on the Rembrandtplein. Split into several areas and dancefloors, there is plenty going on here. DJs pump up the volume playing the latest chart music.
Het Feest Van Joop, Lange Leidsedwarsstraat
Positioned near the Leidseplein, Het Feest Van Joop is a club frequented by locals. Resident DJs play a mixture of music, from R’n’B to fresh tunes from the Dutch charts.
Jantjes Verjaardag, Rembrandtplein
This venue is split over two levels with five different bars between them. Plays current music and if you arrive before 12am, you’re guaranteed free entry.
Food: eat like a local:
When out and about, stop off at Albert Cuyp Market, Amsterdam’s longest running open air street market. Over 300 stalls serve up home-cooked food from around the world, as well as traditional Dutch delicacies.
For truly authentic Dutch cuisine Moeders provides an ever-changing seasonal menu in an informal setting.
Gourmet Asian restaurant BAUT not only offers some of the finest seasonal produce the city has to offer, but doubles up as an art gallery and music venue. It’s best to book in advance to guarantee a table as it fills up fast.
The best view of the city:
Cafe Bleu at the top of the Kalvertoren shopping centre is the best place for a bird’s eye view of the city. Its unique design—a semi-circular build made almost entirely of glass—offers a nearly complete 360 degree view of the centre.
Bicycles are the most popular way of getting round and can be hired throughout the city for a few days. Beerbikes are a common sight and are perfect for large groups of booze-loving stags. Simply pedal your way round the city, helping yourself to the onboard lager tap, and take in some culture in the most unique way possible.
Alternatively, canal cruises let you see the city from the water without too much effort and have frequent stops so you can get around easily. Buses are limited because the city is trying to reduce congestion. If you need to travel further afield, taxis are probably your best bet. They are expensive however, usually costing around €1,50c per mile.
Be vigilant of the bicycle routes that run through the city. This is a popular means of transport and taken just as seriously as crossing a road. Keep an eye out for swarms of cyclists and always look left and right. Also be wary of the canals, more people fall in than you may think, and some sadly never get back out.
Kunt u nij helpen? = Can you help me?
Kan ik je lets vragen? = Can I ask you something?
Kan ik lets bestellen? = Could I order?
Ik ben op zoek naar… = I’m looking for…
Kunt u mij vertellen waar de toiletten zijn? = Where are the toilets?
Kan ik een biertje bestellen? = Could I order a beer?
Kunt u mij vertellen hoe laat het is? = Could you tell me how much that is?
Hoe veel kost dit? = How much does it cost?
Kan ik betalen? = Can I pay?