Trying to decide where to stay in Amsterdam? Get excited because this city is happening!
I first visited Amsterdam back in 2018 and was extremely impressed – clean, safe, impeccably designed and pleasantly spacious. Some call this city ‘the Dam’. Some call it ‘the Venice of the North’. Both sum it up nicely – it’s hip, and it’s beautiful.
In this guide
- An introduction
- Where to stay in Amsterdam
- Centrum– All the tourist spots, and Central Station is beautiful.
- Oud West– Family and kid friendly, Vondelpark’s greenery, close but away from the center’s hustle and bustle.
- Noord– An up and coming area.
- Zuid– Families, students, financial district, de Pijp.
- Oost – Lesser known area, more alternative.
- Things to do in Amsterdam
- How to get around Amsterdam
- Getting a SIM card in Amsterdam
- Safety in Amsterdam
An Amsterdam Introduction
Amsterdam is known for its crawling canals and trendy architecture, diverse variety of museums and restaurants, for its cannabis shops and also the famous Red Light District that exhibits pretty women (and men as well!). These are the well known pieces, but spend time in the right places, and you will discover Amsterdam is a city that has a lot more interesting things hiding along its canals as well.
Only 800,000 people live in Amsterdam and there are more bikes in the city than that. The way the city is designed, you can get around almost everywhere with a bicycle. The city was built on 11 million wood poles back in the 12th century (some people rumor it is falling, that’s why some of the building are a bit crooked), but today it’s an architectural marvel.
There are 75 museums in total and Museumplein gathers the top ones, including the Van Gogh Museum.
Amsterdam is also pretty good for shopping. Alongside department stores and shopping centers, there are many indie and boutique shops, and one of the best places in Europe for thrift shopping and local antique and concept stores.
Where to stay in Amsterdam?
The highlight of Amsterdam’s Centrum is the Canal Ring; waterways that originally were drainage, then protection for the financial center and nowadays a beautiful walking attraction.
The loop of canals and streets follows the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and closes with Prinsengracht. Centrum has pretty much everything: souvenir shops, shopping, a cinema, theatres, bars and clubs, museums, plazas (Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein), several of Amsterdam’s best hotels and hostels, and all types of restaurants.
You should stay in Centrum if:
-You like bars and people watching!
-You like to party and dance: Leidseplein has many pubs, bars and nightclubs and for clubbing overall, this is likely one of the best places to stay in Amsterdam.
-You like to shop! Kalverstraat and Niewendijk have fashion brands, Jordaan and 9 Straatjes have more local and concept stores while Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk will have the main American and European brands like Adidas, H&M, Zara, Top Shop, etc. Thrift shops all within walking distance too.
-You don’t mind being in the tourist centre.
-You plan on frequenting coffee shops – they are clustered around here so it’s definitely the best place to stay in Amsterdam if you’ll be going regularly.
-You plan on frequenting the red light district.
Where to stay in Amsterdam Centrum?
For the backpacker (€15+):
Stay at International Budget Hostel City Center. Only 300 metres from Leidseplein, this hostel is close to most of the attractions in Centrum. Some rooms have canal views, it has a 24 hour front desk, luggage storage and a vending machine. You should be able to book a dorm bed for $11 per night. The latest rates can be found here.
For the budget traveller (€30+):
Stay at Budget Hotel Hortus. It’s a no-frills hotel right in the centre, with clean rooms and wifi. You can choose a shared bathroom or pay a little extra for a private ensuite. Click here for the most recent rates.
For the luxury seeker: (€80+):
Comfort blended with art nouveau style, beautiful canal views and proximity to Centraal Station, take a look at Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam. It has a spa & wellness center with saunas, steam cabins, gym, and an indoor swimming pool. The bar overlooks the canals and there’s a well reviewed restaurant on site. It’s not in the hustle and bustle of what the center typically is, has great views and a great location. Super stylish and fit for those wanting to spend their Amsterdam nights in the highest comfort. Check the latest rates here.
Insider Tip: Mellie’s Cookie Bar around the corner from Dam Plaza sells amazing caramel-filled South American cookies called alfajores, great coffee and has a small and cozy atmosphere.
Amsterdam Oud West
The West is a slightly more family oriented neighborhood with several playgrounds, parks, toy stores and relaxing spaces. It is also a good mix of socioeconomic and ethnicities, making it a vibrant and interesting place to visit. Amsterdam has a long history with immigrants making Oud West a very international area.
The main streets are the Overtoom, that is decorated with design shops, bike stores, bars, restaurants and more; and Kinkerstraat, with more of these. One of the most popular places to visit in the West is the famous FoodHallen, a roofed food market that is open almost every day of the week. Most street food and other known restaurants in the city have their stall here and it is packed almost every night. Tacos, Spanish tapas, Vietnamese, local bitterballen and other Dutch fingerfood, Chinese dim sum and a whole bunch of others.
You should stay in Amsterdam West if:
-You have kids! Not only are there many parks, but several concept stores are aimed at toys and kids specifically. Definitely one of the best places to stay in Amsterdam when coming with a family.
-You love eating: there is Lebanese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Surinamese, Indonesian, and of course the Food Hallen which offers endless choice.
-You want something more laid back: The West has a great location to sip a beer (or two or three) by the water called Waterkant. There is no music in the outside terrace and it gets cold during winter, but the atmosphere inside is cozy. It’s a great place to meet people, enjoy some Surinamese food and relax by the canal.
-You want green spaces: Vondelpark is a highlight of the zone. It’s 120 acres of green, some lakes and easily bikeable and walkable pathways. It has a restaurant and pub, bathrooms and exits to multiple parts of the city.
Where to stay in Amsterdam West?
For the backpacker (€15+):
Stay at StayOkay Amsterdam Vondelpark. The location is literally on the park doorstep and an 8 minute walk to the Van Gogh Museum. Dorms for around $30 per night depending on season. It’s very close to Centraal Station, tram stops, Dam Square and most tourists attractions both in the Center and the West. Check the latest rates here.
For the budget traveller (€30+):
Stay at Hotel Abba! It is located in a central part of the West and has a tram stop right by the front door. Staff is great and rooms are spotless. Free wifi and breakfast! Budget traveller’s dream. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker (€80+):
If you want very plushy and comfortable pillows, fresh bread every morning, and a spectacular canal view, check out Boutique B&B Nassau. This penthouse is not only comfy but also very clean, close to many attractions, and the host is very friendly. Books out quick so book early. You can find the latest rates here.
Insider Tip: Stop by corner food shop Stach, located between Overtoom main street and Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat. It has almost anything you need last minute: fresh bread, a great wine and beer selection, soft drinks and healthy juices, salads and bowls, snacks and more. It is somewhat pricey, like most of Amsterdam, but it has a good variety of things you can pick up on a way to a dinner or on the way to work.
Amsterdam Noord (North)
The North part of town is technically separate from the rest of Amsterdam. You have to take very short (and free) ferry ride across the IJ river from Centraal Station to this part of town.
It’s completely worth it. The North is modern, spacious and has a lot of potential. The views, parks and houses are definitely bigger than what the croweded and tiny spaces in the Center offer. It combines both artists, students and families into one big and growing district.
You should stay in Amsterdam North if:
-You want something more spacious.
-You’re into arts and movies: the EYE Film Museum is a very cool exhibition space that hosts movies and movie exhibitions in a beautiful huge building by the water. Arts scene is vibrant in general.
-You want a more neighbourhood feel: the Nieuwendammerdijk has small and pretty one story houses around the streets where many families live.
-Want some less touristy bars and restaurants: Oedipus Brewing recently opened a location here and they offer a good selection. You can also enjoy a beer by the water at ‘beach’ bar Plleck by the IJ.
Where to stay in Amsterdam North?
For the backpacker (€15+):
Stay at ClinkNoord Hostel. It is very spacious and loungey, has free wifi and an all you can eat breakfast buffet. The staff is very friendly and the place is clean. You should be able to find a dorm bed for around $40 per night. Best rates here.
For the budget traveller (€30+):
Stay at Botel for a unique experience and affordable price. Basically, you will be sleeping and living on a mini cruise ship. Botel has a pool area, video games, bar, and the night includes breakfast. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker (€80+):
If you feel like splurging, consider this funky luxury: the Crane Hotel Faralda. It used to be a harbour crane, and now the suites are each decorated in different themes. The king size bed, flat screen TV and panoramic views of the city and canals are just a start. Don’t miss the spa pool. Warning: Not cheap! Best rates here.
Insider Tip: Check out Skatecafé for a different bar restaurant experience. It has a skating bowl for skaters but also an area for drinks and food. You can go for both and enjoy soups, mussels and well prepared meals.
Amsterdam Zuid (South)
The Zuid of Amsterdam is the financial center of the country. Tall buildings and a very busy train station full of suited people are characteristic of the center of this area.
It also has a cute hipster neighborhood a bit further up towards Vondelpark called de Pijp, which is where I stayed, and is probably the best place for a cheap stay in Amsterdam. Museumplein has a lot of movement with all its museums and being a big green area, but further south it is residential and quiet. Amsterdamse Bos is a good place to take a break from the city.
You should stay in Amsterdam South if:
-You like museums: Museumplein is a green area that has the Stedelijk, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. You can spend many hours here if you enjoy museums.
-You love markets: Albert Cuyp Markt is one of Amsterdam’s most fun markets. It’s open almost everyday and has many things to offer, from souvenirs, to stroopwaffels, to vegetables to clothes.
-You want green spaces: Amsterdam Bos is 1,000 hectares big. This is three times New York’s Central Park. It is man made and one of Europe’s biggest city parks.
-You’re on hipster vibes: Between De Pijp and the Jordaan (Center towards West), these two neighborhoods are trending among the hipster crowd, both Dutch and non Dutch. You have a strip of bars, a lot of international restaurants and cool concept stores.
Where to stay in Amsterdam South?
For the backpacker (€30+):
Stay at a&o Amsterdam Zuidoost. It has parking, 24 hour front desk, and bike rentals. It’s conveniently close to Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam RAI train and tram station. The place is very clean and the staff very friendly. You should be able to book a dorm bed for around $45. Best rates here.
For the budget traveller (€50+):
Stay at Dina-Perla Lodges right next to the museums. You can use their hot tub and will be located a 500 meters away from the Van Gogh museum. If you book ahead and in low season, you can have your own private room for $75+. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker (€80+):
For a relaxed and luxurious experience, check out the Conservatorium Hotel. It prides itself on its Wellness Center that offers massages, has a fitness center and a hammam as well! The Asian chef at the main restaurant is a sort-of celebrity and the bar also has a great menu. Beds are big and comfortable and the roof top suite has marble floors. Best rates here.
Insider Tip: Calle Ocho is one of the best bars in de Pijp. It is Mexican and Latin American inspired and serves really good Hispanic food. Their tequila and mezcal selection is great and despite being small, the atmosphere is great.
Amsterdam Oost (East)
The East or Oost is recognized by the mix of cultures that can be observed both in the people on the streets and the diversity of ethnic shops.
The highlight is the Indische Buurt that despite being named for one of the Netherland’s biggest colonies, Indonesia, it hosts families, markets and restaurants from all over the world. The most common are Turkish bakeries, Surnamese shops and Middle Eastern reastaurants. It is estimated that at least 100 languages are spoken in the East of Amsterdam.
This isn’t a popular area to stay and I wouldn’t recommend it for first timers, as most of the things you want to see are going to be in the centre or west. But it’s a really cool spot! Second and third timers might want to stay here for something different.
You should stay in Amsterdam East if:
-You want parks! Oosterpark, Amstelpark, Flevopark and Frankendaelpark are just a few green spaces to check out. If you are really into green, nature, check out Hortus Botanicus, claimed to be the oldest botanical garden in Europe.
-You want animals? The Artis Zoo is a cool space to visit. During summer they offer open air concerts.
-You want good beer and good music: check out Roest during the summer you can relax outside, tan, get good food and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in an old warehouse. They have concerts and other events as well.
-You’re a museum fiend: Don’t miss out on the Tropenmuseum, or Museum of the Tropics, one of the biggest museums in Amsterdam. It has eight ongoing exhibitions with photography, visual arts and collections of items from all over the world.
Where to stay in Amsterdam East?
For the backpacker (€15+):
Your best bet is probably Generator Amsterdam, part of the new designer hostel chain in Western Europe. The one in East Amsterdam is close to Oosterpark, has free and stable wifi, a secret bar and private bathrooms. A low season dorm bed might run you $40. Find out the lastest rates here.
For the budget traveller (€40+):
Stay at the Q-Factory Hotel. Amsterdam East isn’t the cheapest area so this is slightly pricier than most budget options, however it’s also much nicer too! Onsite restaurant and bar, beautiful rooms and free wifi everywhere. Might be pricey for solo budget travellers but perfect for couples or pairs. Best rates here.
For the luxury seeker (€80+):
If you are a luxury and comfort seeker, consider staying at The Manor Amsterdam. The Italian decoration inside is only bested by the beautiful exterior. The restaurant offers fine wine and food. Terrace and garden. Five star breakfast. Everything you could want. Best rates here.
Insider Tip: Volkshotel is one of the coolest places in the East. You have a bar restaurant that hosts live music at least once a week and has a short but delicious menu. You have a space for studying or working and stable WiFi. They have a sauna and a private boat on Sundays.
Things to do in Amsterdam
A favourite for tourists. With 47 hectares and a central location, and it really does not feel crowded unless it’s a very sunny summer weekend. It’s nicely spread out with many ponds and green patches.
It also has an open air theatre, four bar restaurants, and you can see dancers on skates during the weekends displaying a great show. There is a Picasso statue called The Fish and a few other pieces of art around the park. It’s a cool place to picnic, play sports (frisbee, soccer with some friends, yoga) or just walk around and explore.
Vondelpark was built on mud and many different trees were planted. Nature is vast and if you are into birdwatching, you can actually find many species here. Overall it’s a great green area for all types of people.
How to get there: You can take tram 1, 2 or 5 from Centraal Station, get off at the station in Leidseplein, and walk two minutes towards the Park Hotel and you will see the entrance.
Rent a Bike and Enjoy
Biking around Amsterdam is a must! It can take some getting used to in the centre because bike lanes can be crowded and it might take you a while to get accustomed to the rules and so on. That being said, the whole city (and country) is designed for bikes.
Consider renting a bike for a day or two. It will make it easier to get around and can be lots of fun. A few recommended bike shops are: A-Bike, Black Bikes (they have 14 locations and really good service!), Mike’s Bikes and Rent a Bike.
This is one of the most popular markets in Amsterdam and aims to have the healthiest foods in town. The owner of Winkel café (the best apple pie in town too!) started opening biological food stalls on Saturday mornings back in the 80s to attract more clients. It blew up and nowadays there are three parts to this huge trendy healthy market place: Boerenmarkt on the left is your typical farmer’s market, Noordermarkt on the right has vintage clothes, antiques, books etc, and then Lindengrachtmarkt, a smaller part of the market with more unique food and trinkets.
You can get anything very fresh and very organic from cheese to cakes to bread to spices. Mushrooms are highly sought after and brought from other countries. It actually feels small and you will see Dutch people from other towns come on Saturdays to buy fresh food for the week. Make sure to stop by, and try the pancakes!
How to get there: Use tram 3 or 10 and get off at Marnixbad station. You can walk from the Anne Frank House and it should take 10 minutes.
Another iconic symbol of the Netherlands. All throughout history, they were used to pump the water from the low lands and rechannel it back to the rivers. This allowed the Dutch to farm. They were also used for mauling, shredding, mixing, grinding and any process that could allow them to produce more. There are hundreds of windmills all over the Netherlands.
If you are in Amsterdam, consider a cityscape a few miles north to Zaanse Schans. You’ll learn all about the windmill history (see lots of them too) pls you can check out the cheese factory and authentic Zaans houses. There is also a bakery museum and an old chocolate factory that you can visit. It can feel like a tourist trap, but tourist traps can be fun sometimes 😉
How to get there: from Centraal Station, you can take the 391 bus that runs every 15 minutes, and should take around 40 minutes. You can also take a train from Centraal Station to Zaandijk-Zaanse Schans that is a bit more expensive but faster (17 minutes) and then walk to Zaanse Schans (it should be a 5 minute walk to the small town and maybe 10 minutes to the iconic windmill and museum area).
Canal Boat Ride
All types of canal cruises are offered in Amsterdam. Again it’s a very touristy thing to do but is great for couples and quite a nice way to see the city.
How to do it: You can find cruise rental spots all over the city. If in doubt, ask your accommodation.
Amsterdam has every kind of shopping.
De Negen Straatjes, or The Nine Little Streets, is between the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. This small neighborhood of little shops has old brick lanes, cute cafes, vintage shops and designer boutiques.
Hooftstraat could be compared to New York’s Fifth Avenue, boasting brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Hermes, Prada, Rolex, Cartier and other luxury stores. Apartments in this area are amongst the most expensive in Amsterdam.
In the hip centre towards west neighborhood Jordaan, you can find art studios and galleries, second hand stores and cute boutiques. Haarlemmerstraat has a variety of clothing and concept stores.
Kalverstraat close to the centre has the basic chain clothing stores such as Zara, H&M and is always packed. HEMA is a Dutch staple store that sells pretty much anything. It could be compared to Target in the United States but a smaller, very Dutch version.
Dam Square is the most touristy part of Amsterdam but is also a good location for shopping on a rainy day. The street behind the Royal Plaza has a shopping center close to the Magna Plaza with a variety of stores ranging from Lacoste and Mango to Sissy Boy and Swarovski.
Amsterdam has over 400 museums. Here’s just a few of them:
The State museum. It’s located in Centrum towards the south at Museum Square so access is easy. It displays over 8,000 historical and art objects related to Amsterdam’s history. You’ll see: Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, three antique doll houses from the 17th century and Jan Asselijn’s The Threatened Swan. The gardens that Pierre Cuypers designed are also worth checking out, especially during the summer exhibitions. The passage that connects the South and the Centre is a must! People bike through this beautiful passageway everyday and there are always musicians or performers.
How to get there: There is a tram stop called Rijksmuseum that is part of the tram 2, 5, 12 and 19. You can also take the bus 288 from Marnixstraat or bus 397 from Schiphol Amsterdam Airport.
Just the building is impressive. It’s outside architecture imitates a bathtub and a huge roof extends over the entrance. It houses 90,000 modern and contemporary art pieces and it’s located next to the Rijks and Van Gogh in the famous Museum Square. It is home to French artist Matisse’s pieces in The Oasis of Matisse exhibition. Other artists include Robert Lelaunay, Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman Cathedra, Andy Warhol and others.
How to get there: Same as Rijksmuseum, this is all Museumplein and easy to access.
Anne Frank Huis
The line is long and you should buy tickets online. Here you’ll learn the Jewish history from the war. It is located on a small house in Prinsengracht that does not look like a museum except for the line that stretches out into a little area selling pancakes.
How to get there: You can walk from Central Station and it should take 20 minutes, otherwise take the tram 13, 14 or 17 to Westermarkt stop. Buses 170, 172 and 174 also stop here.
Other museums worth checking out: EYE Filmmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, FOAM, Meuseum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, Museum of Bags and Purses, Hermitage Museum, Micropia, NEMO, Electric Ladyland, Joods Historisch Museum, The Cobra Museum, Museum het Rembrandthuis, Allard Pierson Museum, Tropenmuseum, and well, more.
Depending on what you are looking for, whether it is fashion, history, science, there is definitely a museum in Amsterdam for you!
Every first Saturday of November, there is an event called Museumnacht, in which 50 museums around the city are open from 7:00 PM to 2:00 AM with food, music, workshops and of course their art and exhibitions. Tickets are around 15 euros and include access to clubs and afterpartys.
How to get around Amsterdam
From the Airport to the City
If you arrive (fly into, or take a train from another Dutch or European city) to Amsterdam into Schiphol, the best option is to take a train into the city. The machines let you purchase a one way ticket in the second class trains for 3,70 euros and should take 15 minutes to arrive to Centraal.
Trams & Buses
Once you are in the city, you can get a public transport pass for the amount of days you are staying, which will give you access to both trams and buses from 6:00 AM to 12:30 at night. After that, you need to buy separate tickets for nightbuses. The prices for the day tickets range from 7.50 euros for a day to 32 euros for a 7 days.
If you feel like you are going to walk and bike more than take the tram (consider winter can be cold), you can buy a simple tram ticket for one hour for 2,60 euros.
The tram system is very easy to use. Simply buy a ticket (make sure its valid for that hour or that day) and scan it on the little gray scanner and it will beep you in. You can buy tickets on the tram as well, or in some of the stations before hand. They take change and most ticket sellers are helpful. The trams have a map and names of the stations, and a sign is always being read by a machine out loud of the upcoming station. There is a driver that most likely speaks English too (most Dutch people have excellent English). Beep yourself on the way out and that’s it!
Do NOT try and sneak in. This is easy to do in sister city Berlin, where it is cool and kind of acceptable to ‘schwarz reisen’ or black ride. In Amsterdam, most drivers are watching and some stations you must check in beforehand.
Buses are slower but also get you almost anywhere. The same system are used.
Rent a bike! The lanes are well made, and outside Centrum, it’s not too hectic. There are bike shops all around town. From Centraal Station to RAI Station in the South, it takes 20 minutes to bike the 5 kilometers. From Rembrandtpark in the West to Frankendael Park in the East, it takes 30 minutes to bike 8 kilometers. Most places have bike racks and biking is very much part of the culture.
Unfortunately stealing bikes is also part of the culture, so make sure you rent a lock or two, and properly secure you bike to a post or a canal rail if you are not close to it for the night.
Taxis and Ubers
Because it’s such a bike friendly city, taxis and ubers are expensive. Consider them a luxury. It’s also a very small city and the streets are hard to navigate because of the cobblestones. A car takes its time arriving to pick you up and has to drive slow because the road is actually shared between cars, the tram and the bikes.
Getting a SIM card
There is wifi in most restaurants, bars, hostels and even Central Station. Nonetheless, getting a sim card is easy. Lebara is the most popular and common to find at the airport, street shops and other parts of the Netherlands. The quality and speed is not the best, but if you are going for cheap and accessible anywhere, it’s a good option.
Other prepaid Dutch internet providers are: KPN, T-Mobile, Telfort and Vodafone. They all have shops around Centrum. Most of their offers range between 10, 15 and 20 euros for 1 GB to 2 GB.
Safety in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in the world.
There are not many car accidents because the majority of people use bikes and the lanes are very well thought out. Although cannabis and other drugs are legal, they are generally used responsibly and the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Pickpocketing can happen so keep an eye out. Don’t leave your phone or bag unattended in places where a lot of people circulate. Bikes are also stolen if left unlocked. Bike theft is the biggest crime problem in the city (which in a weird way is probably a good thing!).
The most ‘dangerous’ part of Amsterdam could be Bijlmer, down in the Southeast. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Even then, ‘dangerous’ is relative and unless you’re walking around alone here at night you’ll probably be fine. There’s probably no reason for the average tourist to visit this part of town anyway but do keep it in mind if you are heading that way.
As always, common sense is your best friend. Incidents with tourists are very rare in Amsterdam. Be safe and enjoy!