Start at Central Station, the beautiful 19th century gateway into the city. Arm yourself with a travel card that lets you use most public transport for free for 24, 48 or 72 hours. If you’re planning to visit museums and other attractions, the Amsterdam City card might be a wise investment, with free entry at many attractions and discounts at many others. Add to this a city map, and you’re all set to begin your fun weekend!
Day 1: Canals and Entertainment
The West Canal Belt:
A peek at the map of Amsterdam shows you three main concentric semicircles that make up the canal belt of Amsterdam: The Herengracht, Keizersgracht. and Prinsengracht. The western section of the canal belt, a short walk from the station, is called the Jordaan. Enjoy a leisurely walk or a boat ride through the canals here, and pose for pictures on the bridges, admire the architecture, and stop at a quaint café or brown bar for a drink and a snack. Stop by at the Anne Frank House for a visit; be prepared for a queue in good weather and bad.
As you criss-cross though the streets, you find yourself back in the centre of the city, at the historic Dam Square. The imposing Royal Palace and Nieuwe Kerk await your visit, unless you’re busy shaking hands with Hollywood royalty and the nearby Madame Tussauds exhibit! The imposing façade of the oldest departmental store of the Netherlands, the famous Bijenkorf, is sure to catch your eye, and lighten your wallet with its range of designer labels. The shopping street Kalverstraat beckons you next with its festive cheer, souvenir and brand stores, and a branch of the first ever “loo” chain, 2theLoo!
The Nine Streets:
Head back westwards and you’re by the waters of the West Canal Belt once more, and if you’re looking for handmade trinkets and souvenirs, or brands you’ve never heard of, look no further than the Nine Streets (de Negen Straatjes). Vintage and designer goods await you, as do a host of restaurants with cuisines from all over the world. Don’t forget your camera as you walk about (the canal belt is a conserved UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is no public transport along the canals).
When the calm and serenity of the canals gives way to the bustle of retail again, you know you’ve reached Leidsestraat! Turn onto it and dodge the trams that run right through the narrow lane to make your way to the theatre, club and entertainment hub of Amsterdam: Leidseplein. Stop for a drink and stay till the wee hours if you are so inclined! The Stadsschouwburg (city theatre), comedy clubs, and open air pubs abound in the area, and narrow lanes host some very affordable restaurants offering cuisines from all around the world. You could always dig into some patat (fries/chips) with the cheesy and artery-clogging frietsaus to enhance your Dutch experience.
The Red Light District:
Get back to Dam Square and head east this time, and you’ll find yourself back among canals, but with a world of difference. This is the historical Old Town, and together with Amsterdam’s oldest buildings, and a beautiful “Chinatown”, houses the notorious Red Light District. You’ll have to stow your camera away for this leg of your trip, or risk being doused with water or chased by very angry ladies in very high heels! If you’re looking to walk into and experience an Amsterdam “coffee shop” (where coffee is never at the top of the menu) you’ll find branches of some of Amsterdam’s most famous establishments here.
Day 2: Museums, Parks and Music
If you’ve followed our tips for Day 1, you’ll be waking up pretty late! After the evening we’ve had, it’s time to get some culture, and what better way to do it than a visit to a museum (of which Amsterdam has more than any other place). The renovated Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum (yes, they’re all bright and shiny while being home to landmark historical masterpieces) await you in the aptly-named Museumplein. If your museum tastes are different, you’ll find museums for everything under the sun - sex to handbags, tulips to cheese, hemp to shipbuilding – dotting the city! If being indoors in the presence of human genius gets a bit overwhelming, step out for some fresh air into one of Amsterdam’s many beautiful parks: the most famous being Vondelpark very close to the main museums. A boat tour or a cycling tour of the city adds a new dimension to your visit, and they both can be accessed in the area as well.
If you haven’t had a taste of the (loved and hated in equal measure) Dutch cuisine so far, here’s your chance! Get some pannekoeken at the Pancake Bakery with a range of sweet or savory toppings, try the famous stamppot in the winter, slurp some pea soup, or get yourself a taste of bitterballen at Dutch restaurant Haesje Claes. No lunch can be complete without some famous Dutch beer, of course, and your lunch break might just inspire you to check out the Heineken Experience where hundreds of beer fans can be found hanging around.
Getting into the Amsterdam rhythm
Whatever you musical tastes, entertainment is at hand in the evening. The world-renowned Het Concertgebouw (Royal Concert Hall) is a delight to the classically trained ear (even if it is attached to a denim-clad body: there’s no intimidating dress code). If you’re visiting on a weekend when there’s a big concert, you can head to the Heineken Music Hall or Ziggo Dome a bit further south and east, or if you’re in the mood for a night at the club, it’s time to head back to the Leidseplein, home to Amsterdam legends such as Paradiso and the Melkweg, where new and reputed artists make every evening special.
This two-day itinerary will serve you well on most weekends, and weekdays as well (although shops open for shorter hours and many museums are closed on Mondays). Chop and mix as per your taste, and do it all on a bike for a real Dutch experience! Whatever the weather, Amsterdam will make sure you had a weekend break to remember!
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