Hallo Amsterdam!
September 19, 2022 6:27 PM   Subscribe

The last Amsterdam question was in 2019 so .. what do I need to know before I go (from the US) this fall? This is a family trip that includes a teenager who loves to walk around on her own - which neighborhoods should we stay in? Which should we avoid? Any specific visitor tips or recs? Assume we have the basic sightseeing stuff covered. Bedankt!
posted by nkknkk to Travel & Transportation around Amsterdam, Netherlands (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My wife and I stayed for about 5 days in Zandvoort, which is oh most of an hour outside Amsterdam on the regional train. We actually didn't spend that much time in Amsterdam itself...

Visit Haarlem, it's easy to reach from the Amsterdam central station and is simply lovely, while also being much lower-key than Amsterdam itself was. It had a museum windmill (Windmill De Adriaan (1779)) that was actually operating (sails turning, not milling any grain) the day we were there. Haarlem Centrum (the oldest core of the city) is south of the station, and the windmill is East. Great for aimless wandering.

Back in Amsterdam, the botanic garden, Hortus Botanicus, is modest in size but a nice change of pace from the rest of the city.

The press of tourists near the central station was a bit much for us. If you're up for a bit more walking, just go one canal further away and it's markedly calmer.

We wanted to find fresh stroopwafels. It turned out to be harder than we expected. I think we finally ended up at a little joint called Lanskroon Bakery with the address Singel 385, 1012 WL Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Only plan to use the transit app if your phones have a full time data connection, not if you depend on wifi. If you aren't sure you'll have data, it's better to go with the single use tickets even though it costs a bit more. (There may be better multi-day tourist tickets within the city itself, but again we were mostly outside Amsterdam)

Vondelpark was really nice for a stroll. It's right by the van Gogh and Stedlijk museums.

Do look at the price of booking accomodations outside Amsterdam, imo. Haarlem to Amsterdam Centraal is just 19 minutes and runs every 10 minutes, and is about 5€ per person each way. (for Haarlem to Schiphol, change at Amsterdam Sloterdijk and be aware that for the change you basically walk between 2 stations a block away from each other...! you even have to scan out/back in with your ticket. that was a fun surprise on our last day)

We used a website called eatwith to book a home meal with some locals, again, in Haarlem. In our case it was a professional couple in their 30s who spoke excellent english. We had a laid back dinner and got to know each other a little bit. More of a splurge than most of our meals, but a nice change from a restaurant.

We had zero interest in the drug culture or red light district, so I can't report on those.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 7:35 PM on September 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was there a few weeks ago for the first time (I'm American), but it was for a specific event so I didn't do much general sightseeing. I do have some practical advice:

You need to have contactless payment set up to buy a lot of important things, such as bus fare and snacks. I only spent cash once the entire time I was there (at a grocery store that didn't take US cards).

There were like 7 different options to buy tourist "travel cards" for using the metro and bus, so I bought the wrong one (it only worked on half the buses) and wasted like 30 euros. If I were going again I would buy one of the refillable cards instead, although I'm not sure how it would work for a family.

You need to pay attention on sidewalks, as many of them are split for bikes and walking and there are a LOT of bikes. The biking sections were clearly marked, but I kept forgetting about it at intersections and almost got run over once.

Other than those minor things, it was very easy to get around Amsterdam as an American. Basically everyone I interacted with spoke very good English and I felt very safe.
posted by JZig at 7:52 PM on September 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're interested in staying in Haarlem: there's a bus running between Schiphol Airport and Haarlem, which terminates at Haarlem railway station and has a couple of stops in the Haarlem city center. It's bus line 300, the company is Connexxion, and it runs at least every 15 minutes.
posted by rjs at 10:55 PM on September 19, 2022

Best answer: The Dutch railways have an app were you can plan your journey by public transit: NS journey planner. It has information about all public transit, not just the trains.
posted by rjs at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2022

Best answer: One more and then I'll stop: there are a couple of travel tips at the bottom of this IRL thread. Some of the locations mentioned are in Utrecht, which is also easy to reach by train. And though it's not completely off the beaten track, the nine streets might be fun. And if you like to get out of the urban environment for a bit, the Amsterdam forest may be an option.
posted by rjs at 11:37 PM on September 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Amsterdam and to answer your questions:

- Amsterdam is pretty safe for your teenager to walk around on her own. This includes anywhere in the city center. Heck, I see younger kids here out on their own all the time.

- I can't think of any neighborhoods to avoid. Amsterdam is a very walkable city. There is no need to rent bikes and in fact I would discourage it. Bikes are for us jaded locals to get across town quickly not for people who are here to sightsee.

- Some people might point to outer neighborhoods as less safe such as the area around the sports arena but I don't think of that as the city center which I would define liberally as the area bounded by Centraal Station, inner Westerpark, outer Vondelpark, The TropenMuseum. The inner historic canal district is encircled by the canal that is right in front of the RijksMuseum.

- Don't avoid the red light district. It is the oldest, most historical part of the city. Do go there during the day and not at night when it gets a little...crazy. The Oude Kerk is there which is one of my favorite buildings in the city.

- You've probably got the major museums covered but let me recommend two which are often overlooked and are fantastic and also small. Rembrandt House - the house where Rembrandt actually lived and worked. Our Lord in the Attic - a 17th century canal house with something very surprising on the top floor.

- I'd recommend going on a walking tour. I don't have a specific one to recommend although a food tour such as this one by Hungry Birds is both a good way to walk around town and also sample some unique food.

- Don't take the huge boat tours. They are soul-less. There are more manageable boats which depart from Anne Frank house for example and other places around town. I'd recommend these guys if you want something even cosier and more personalized. Those are the guys I used when my family came to visit.
posted by vacapinta at 3:07 AM on September 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Stay in Jordaan. Super walkable, neighborly, beautiful.
posted by sandmanwv at 4:37 AM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Good point amor contactless payments. My wife and I both had Google pay (wallet?) set up in this way. It was very smooth and convenient.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 5:39 AM on September 20, 2022

When my parents last visited us, they did the This Holland 5D "flying experience" and they were (a bit surprisingly) really enthusiastic about it. Haven't been there myself though.

I've allowed my kids to visit Amsterdam independently as teenagers with their friends, the city center is safe if you have your wits about you, but teenage girls and young women may experience street harrassment. Also, watch out for pickpockets.

I prefer to avoid the red light district, I find it disturbing on many levels and certainly not something I wanted to stroll through with my kids when they were young. So our day trips had some oops, let's not go that way moments. I think it's not as big as it used to be nowadays, but anyway you might want to study the city map, it's a very central area. Many tourists consider it a must see though.
posted by muuratsaari at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2022

> the antecedent of that pronoun: "We wanted to find fresh stroopwafels. It turned out to be harder than we expected."

Fwiw, when I visited Amsterdam in 2019, I was able to get fresh stroopwafels at the Albert Cuyp market in the De Pijp neighborhood, which I would recommend stopping by in any case if you like outdoor markets (although, to be clear, I haven't been back since 2019 so I don't know how it's like right now).
posted by mhum at 8:38 AM on September 20, 2022

Best answer: The best place to get stroopwafels is indeed at the Albert Cuyp Markt but be careful there are a lot of Wafel vendors. You only want one. You want Rudi's.
posted by vacapinta at 8:44 AM on September 20, 2022

Best answer: > mhum:"I would recommend stopping by in any case in any case if you like outdoor markets"

Come to think of it, I like outdoor markets, which is probably why I spent so much time in them when I visited Amsterdam last time. So I might as well give a quick rundown of the ones I visited (and, as previously mentioned, my info is very much pre-pandemic):
  • Albert Cuyp market in De Pijp
    • similar vibe to Seattle's Pike Place market but with slightly less emphasis on fresh produce/meats
    • surrounding neighborhood is also very tourist-friendly with lots of cute shops and restaurants
  • Westerstraat market in Jordaan
    • very similar to weekend farmer's markets that you find in many (most?) big US cities
  • Waterlooplein market near the Rembrandt House
    • kind of a flea market vibe with a mix of vintage/memorabilia stuff as well as downmarket stuff like blacklight posters and weed-themed blankets
  • IJ Hallen flea market event
    • only happens on certain weekends, check the schedule
    • the location is on the north side of the IJ river so you'll likely need to take a ferry to get there (it was super convenient, though, when I went)
    • it is billed as the largest flea market in Europe and it sure felt that way (think of a giant stadium parking lot filled with vendors)
    • very much a flea market vibe, lots of downmarket stuff with occasional upmarket stuff mixed in

posted by mhum at 9:47 AM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

My recs are old because I was last in Amsterdam in 2017, but I loved staying in Oost! Well-connected to the city center by transit or walking, lots of nearby restaurants and attractions. We spent a lot of time strolling around De Pijp, which was hipper and more heavily trafficked, but similar to Oost.

Seconding the outdoor markets and botanical gardens, and while you're absolutely spoiled for choice in museums, I'll put in a good word for the Katten Kabinet and (as long as everyone is ok with seeing human remains on display) Museum Vrolik.
posted by quatsch at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I marked several awesome answers but they were all helpful. Keep them coming!
posted by nkknkk at 4:58 PM on September 20, 2022

Best answer: I've only ever been there as a tourist. (Though, I visited last month and have friends nearby.)

My very naive advice is: stay slightly west or south of the center. Not too far. Definitely not an airport hotel. It's a *long* way to the airport. Neighborhoods just south of the center and within 10 blocks of Volndelpark are lovely and full of good food and interesting art galleries. (The park is also really nice and a great place for a teenager to walk alone.)

Depending on how old the teen is, the red light district after sunset might be worth avoiding. Frankly, it's unpleasant as a thoroughly jaded adult, mostly because of how crowded it is. But, it's fun to visit before lunch.

The Anne Frank house and the Rijksmuseum aren't worth the lines, in my opinion. The Resistance Museum and the Rembrandthauis and the Amsterdam Museum are. The science museum is very surprisingly fun for adults and older kids even though it's advertised for youngsters. Do tell us what you discover. Cheers!
posted by eotvos at 5:11 AM on September 21, 2022

Best answer: Also, plan for a picnic on a rental boat. It's touristy as hell and kind of embarrassing, but also ridiculously fun.
posted by eotvos at 5:14 AM on September 21, 2022

And if you've ever read Anne Frank's diary, visit the place she lived.
posted by DreamerFi at 6:24 AM on September 21, 2022

Best answer: I live here :) I'd love to give you some terrace dining recommendations, but the weather has started turning so I think it's going to be too cold for that. Well, if you like to brunch, Dignita Hoftuin is in a garden courtyard behind the (former Hermitage, not sure what the new name is), and it's lovely. And there is an indoors if the weather is bad. And Bakers and Roasters has excellent Australian brunch with perfect folded eggs. And if you go to Piqniq you will likely meet our favorite cat, Pedro. But you probably want to get pannenkoeken (large Dutch pancakes that are more like crepes), and the best ones are at Pancakes Upstairs. But they only have 3 tables and they're hardly ever open, so if you don't luck out and get a seat, Pancake Bakery is also nice despite being touristy. Be sure to get rijsttaffel at an Indonesian restaurant. Blauw is a good choice. Show up hungry.

If you want to DIY a boat tour, Mokum Boats is a good choice. They have little 8-seater electrics. Grab some snacks from the AH and bring warm layers -- it's always colder on the water. They'll have maps and they'll tell you where you can and can't go. Get them to show you how to remove a plastic bag from the intake before you head out because we seem to suck one up every time we go in reverse.

If you want to see the insides of working windmills, Zaanse Schans is a short train ride north. Don't miss De Kat (paint/pigment mill, say hi to the chickens) and the sawmill. The sawmill is a working windmill that supplies lumber for historic building projects and such, so you can watch it in operation while the pensioners tell you about the history and how it works. Really cool.

Seconding Rembrandthuis museum. It's short and sweet. I think the Resistance museum is closed for renovation right now, unfortunately. This country does museums well, though, so any museum you go to is going to be great.

There's no part of this city I feel unsafe in. I find the central area at the very center of the ring and up by the station unpleasant because it's full of tourist trap shops and coffehouses, but everywhere else is delightful.

Our transit is checkin-checkout -- scan your card at the beginning and end of your trip. It's easy to forget on the trams where there is no turnstyle. The ferries north of the station are free if you want a free boat ride across the IJ. There's a little artsy area called NDSM up there that was popular before the pandemic, and is probably a thing again.

If you like to bike back home, do rent a bike. The Netherlands has the best and safest cycling infrastructure on the planet -- but be aware that Amsterdam is a busy city and cycling through the center can be hectic. The outer ring and beyond are going to be more pleasant. (And the cycling infrastructure actually gets better the further from the city center you get.)

As a pedestrian the bikes can be unnerving at first, especially coming from the States where all your mental road physics is geared towards cars. And because it takes a while to learn all the ways bike lanes can look, which means you'll probably walk in a bike lane at some point thinking it's the sidewalk. Once you've been here for a while and adjusted it's actually really nice, but if you're just visiting you'll need to keep reminding yourself to look behind you and around the corners before crossing the street because it will feel like the bikes are coming out of nowhere.

Ok, one more thing -- take the train from Schiphol. It's cheaper, faster, and more pleasant than a taxi. I never Uber or taxi here, transit is ubiquitous, clean, and nice.
posted by antinomia at 2:00 PM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

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