Amsterdam. There is no place on earth like it. Ever since watching Eurotrip as an American teenager growing up in the suburbs, I dreamed of living in Europe. Amsterdam was the opposite of everything I grew up being told and it fascinated me. Not just the coffeeshops and the Red Light District but the culture of Dutch open-mindedness and tolerance.
I’ve had this vision of myself wandering through Amsterdam along those charming little canals and backstreets my whole life . Finally in May, it happened!
What can I say, Amsterdam lives up to the hype!
Here’s my guide on everything Amsterdam. If you’re planning a trip to this iconic European city, you’re going to want to skim through this!
Museums in Amsterdam
There’s just about a museum for everyone in Amsterdam. With any big city, visiting a museum or two is a great way to get to know the city culture and makes for a great outing!
There are two especially notable museums in Amsterdam – the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum – most travellers will tell you not to miss these two!
Personally we didn’t make it to those museums but decided to spend a few hours in the MOCO museum which features original Banksy street art among other modern & contemporary artists (keep going to learn more). We also spent a whole day at the NEMO Science Museum (which isn’t just for families and kids!). And we may or may not have taken a wander through the €5 Sex Museum, but you’ll have to keep reading to learn more about that one too.
MOCO Museum, Amsterdam – Modern, Contemporary and Street Art
The MOCO Museum is a small independent gallery featuring works by Banksy, Basquiat, Kusama, Warhol and the likes! If you’re a fan of any of these artists, it is definitely an experience to see them in real life.
We ordered our tickets online for an online discount.
NEMO Science Museum
The NEMO Science Museum is perched on the banks of the water in a unique location of central Amsterdam. The view from the top floor of the museum offers a new perspective to the city.
The NEMO Science Museum is an interactive museum that has a lot to offer to persons of all ages!
As a twenty-something couple, we spent a whole day there and it ended up being a great date! I could have stayed at the DDR machines on the top floor all day.
We didn’t need to get our tickets ahead of time.
The Rijksmuseum is one of the top 3 most popular museums in Amsterdam just after the Van Gogh Museum. It is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history featuring notable works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh.
Skip the line and buy your tickets online.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House lies on the canal in central Amsterdam. It is the home that Anne Frank, the wartime diarist, lived in hiding with her family for 2 years during World War II. The home is now converted into a museum where her original diary is on display.
Get your tickets online ahead of time!
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is one of many in the Netherlands about this famous Dutch artist! The museum in Amsterdam has the most pieces by this artist with some very notable works of art.
It is advised to buy your tickets ahead of time.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
The Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam is in a museum park next to the Van Gogh Museum and the MOCO Museum among others. This is a great gallery full of modern and contemporary artists.
Like other museums in Amsterdam, get your tickets online to skip the line!
Sexmuseum de Venustempel (The Sex Museum)
The Sex Museum is the 4th most popular museum in Amsterdam after the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House. It is in fact a serious museum illustrating the history of sex with paintings, photography, statues and objects.
It’s open late and with an admission fee of €5, it is worth a stroll in!
Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
A museum that takes a look at the history of hash, marijuana & hemp over the ages! Definitely a museum not to miss if you’re looking for a fun and alternative museum experience.
Red Light Secrets
Red Light Secrets is another alternative museum right in the Red Light District dedicated to showcasing the history of Amsterdam’s sex-work industry.
What to Eat in Amsterdam
There are many Dutch foods you should try while you are in Amsterdam from poffertjes (mini pancakes), fried salt cod, herring, stroopwafel (small Dutch waffles), oorlog (fries topped with mayo and peanut sauce!), and bitterballen (fried ground meat balls).
Then if we’re talking about restaurants, Amsterdam boasts a gastronomic scene like no other!
Here are a few of my favourites from our trip to Amsterdam.
Vegan Junk Food Bar
Calling all vegetarians and vegans! Vegan Junk Food Bar is a funky micro chain in Amsterdam. They serve up realistic vegan beef, chicken and lamb burgers along with deliciously messy fries and hot dogs! We went twice at two different locations – it was that good!
For a big bowl of authentic Japanese Ramen noodles, look no further than Ramen-ya. The restaurant is roomy and super comfortable located right in Central Amsterdam in the Red Light District.
Throughout Amsterdam you are sure to run into a Dutch cheese shop or Delicatessen with Gouda galore! Try samples of all types of Gouda from your standard Gouda cheese to aged Gouda, goat’s cheese Gouda to lavender flavoured Gouda!
Have it the Dutch way and dip your Gouda into one of the many mustard or chutney flavours!
Be sure to grab one of these Dutch flatbreads from one of the bakeries or delicatessens in Amsterdam!
Van Stapele Koekmakerij
Van Stapele Koekmakerij is a cookie store that makes ONE TYPE OF COOKIE – their signature chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunk filling. It is divine. We were given this tip by a fellow traveler and we made it there on our last day in Amsterdam and got it a box! Yep, that good!
Sights to See & Things to Do
Here is a run down on the sights to see and things to do in Amsterdam.
This iconic sign has been moved from the city centre in front of Rijksmuseum to the outskirts because of the amount of individuals flocking to the sign for a selfie opportunity. Dutch officials feared that the sign had become a symbol of “mindless mass tourism” as well as giving a message that was “too individualistic.” I had read that it was completely removed but we found it by chance on one of our outings around the city!
The Heineken Beer Experience (or just grab a Heineken)
Calling all beer lovers! The Heineken Experience is a self-guided interactive brewery tour celebrating this world famous beer!
Wander the canal backstreets
My favourite activity had to be just exploring the back streets and charming canals of Amsterdam. These streets are literally straight out of a fairy tale.
Take a canal cruise or a hop on hop off canal cruise around Amsterdam to explore the city from its interconnected waterways.
We hopped on one of these canal cruises during a light sprinkle to beat the rain! But as soon as we hopped on we regretted not getting one of the hop on hop off canal cruises as they offer a more practical experience.
Nonetheless, any canal cruise is one of the best ways to see Amsterdam.
The Red Light District
Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Truly a place that is unlike any other. The Red Light District is one of Amsterdam’s biggest tourists attractions, but too often to the detriment of the sex workers.
If you do decide to pay a visit to the Red Light District, it is important to remember that this is a place where women are earning a living. Be respectful at all times!
The History of the Red Light District
The Red Light District – also known as De Wallen – is an area that makes up the medieval center of Amsterdam. Today there are 300 red-lit windows in this area where women work independently or as a brothel member.
The area has served as a major trading harbour since the Middle Ages. In fact, prostitution has been active in De Wallen since the 1300s. Women would come carrying red lanterns to attract sailors who hopped on to land for entertainment in this area.
Sex work became legal in 1810 in the Netherlands and brothels were legalized in 2000.
In recent years there has been a large crackdown on the Red Light District with brothel windows being shut down and the government looking for ways to deter tourists from coming to the area. Guided tours are now banned and for good reason! 80% of sex workers surveyed have reported that gawking tourists are bad for business.
Rule #1: No Photos.
So let’s get to rule number one: DO NOT TAKE PHOTOS OF THE WOMEN.
It’s as simple as having respect.
As a tourist, you can take photos of the signage and street art, however completely abstain from taking photographs of the women who work in the Red Light District. No photos of the windows! Just don’t. I saw a tourist taking a video on her phone as she walked down the street and it clearly upset the sex workers who banged on the glass windows asking her to put it away.
Live Sex Shows and Peep Shows
Yes, live sex shows and peep shows are a real thing in the Red Light District. For around €40 you can watch a couple have sex on stage in a theater.
For something less pervy, there are peep shows on offer for €2. Just like sticking a quarter in a gumball machine, you can hide behind closed doors and slip a €2 coin into the peep show machine. Your window will open and voilá, peep all you want for 2 minutes.
Museums in the Red Light District
There are 4 museums in the Red Light District: Red Light Secrets, the Erotic Museum, the Sexmuseum Amsterdam and the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. (More info on those in the Museums section of this blog!)
Amsterdam Coffee Shops
Cannabis cafés aka coffeeshops can be found throughout Amsterdam. They are so common that it can be hard to know where you can actually grab a coffee and where to grab a joint. But just to settle this once and for all, most cannabis cafés or coffeeshops also sell coffee too! Many have a food or bar menu so they can be a great place to stop for a cheap snack.
Despite what you may think or what you may have heard – technically speaking, cannabis is not legal in the Netherlands. However, it is largely decriminalised. Any soft drugs like marijuana, hashish and space cakes among others are tolerated in personal quantities. Hard drugs like ecstasy and heroin are criminalised along with marijuana with THC in excess of 15% which is considered to be a hard drug as well.
The Bulldog was the first coffeeshop established in Amsterdam’s Red Light District back in the 70s! In 1975 a man named Henk de Vries inherited his father’s sex shop and turned it into what would be the Bulldog. There is some fascinating history to be learned and the establishment is welcoming to tourists if your curiosity leads you there.