Insider's guide: Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a mix of culture, fine arts and scenic waterways and has long been on the backpacking bucket list for young Aussie travellers.

Insider's top 10 things to do in Amsterdam

Insider's top 10 things to do in Amsterdam

But if you’ve only got a few days to explore this uber-cool city – what are the ‘must-dos’? We asked the experts at Contiki Tours to show us around. After all, they’ve been bringing backpackers here since backpacking was invented.

1. Cycle along the canals

Source: Holly O'Sullivan

Cycling in Amsterdam is serious business to the locals, but for travellers it’s the perfect way to see the city. As the city is almost entirely flat, you’re able to ride alongside the hundreds of kilometres of canals at your leisure – on one of the many many bike lanes. Dug out in the 17th century, the canals are what gives Amsterdam its iconic look, and provide a stunning backdrop in this historical city.

2. Get the classic 'I Amsterdam' shot

Source: Holly O’Sullivan

You may have seen the giant white and red ‘I amsterdam’ sign on everyone’s Amsterdam Instagram feed. Located in the museum quarter (Museumplein), it is probably the most popular selfie spot for tourists, and is completely free.

3. Spot the sunflowers at the Van Gogh Museum

Source: Holly O'Sullivan

Dedicated to the works of Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries in the Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum is one of the most popular museums in the world – with over 1.5 million visitors each year.

The exhibits give you an insight into his life, including his history, family, and mental illnesses, and of course you can get up close to his most recognised works including Sunflowers 1889, The Bedroom 1888, Irises 1890, and many of his self-portraits.

4. Try cheese in Edam

Source: Holly O’Sullivan

Edam is located about a half an hour drive from the city of Amsterdam, a small town where the semi-hard cheese ‘Edam’ originated from. Learn about how the different cheese are made and of course, taste a few along the way.

5. Have a taste of the Heineken Experience

Source: Heineken/Supplied

Heineken beer was founded by Gerard Adriaan Heineken in Amsterdam in 1864 when he bought the largest modern brewery of the time.

Today, you are able to visit the brewery as an interactive tour through the world and history of Heineken before finishing with a tasting of five premium beers served with a selection of Dutch cheese and ‘bitterballen’.

6. Dine on pancakes, chips and mayonnaise and Rijstaffel

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In Amsterdam, pancakes are called pannenkoeken, and they are served like a thin crepe with sweet or savoury toppings – and best of all, you can eat them any time of the day.

Another fast food favourite is a paper cone of hot chips with mayonnaise – or better still, drawing on the Dutch colonial heritage, with peanut satay sauce.

More of the Dutch East Indies colonial heritage can be sampled at a ‘Rijstaffel’ restaurant, where you are served a selection of Indonesian food in 12 or so small bowls.

7. Experience the real Holland in Edam

Source: Holly O’Sullivan

Edam is the perfect chance to take a step into the real Holland, away from the bustling canals of Amsterdam.

With clogs, cheese, tulips, windmills and push bikes you’re able to get an idea of what Holland looked like many years ago. Learn how clogs are made and wander under the canal-side greenery.

8. Visit the red-light district

Red light district. Source: Holly O’Sullivan

No visit to Amsterdam is complete without exploring the red-light district. From brothels to sex shops, shows and coffee shops, nothing is left to the imagination – and your visit can be as much as you make of it.

Some stereotypes are relatively true, but it’s also a great place to take a wander in the evenings and grab something to eat or step into a local pub beside the canals.

9. Take an evening canal cruise

Amsterdam canal cruise Source: Wikimedia Common


If you were amazed by the canals by day, they are a whole new experience by night.

With the nearby buildings lit up, the reflections in the rippling water will keep you spellbound as your cruise through the city.

10. Spot a windmill

To spot a working mill, it’s best to take a trip out to Edam. Source: Holly O’Sullivan

Windmill spotting is a great way to explore Amsterdam. The city centre used to be filled with windmills, but now there are only eight left.

To spot a working mill, it’s best to take a trip out to the neighbouring village Edam so that you can take in some of the area’s history.

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