Planning a Getaway? Here’s The Millennial Woman’s Complete Guide to Amsterdam on Every Budget

amsterdam
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So…Why Amsterdam?

A beautiful city with flowers hanging off bridges over canals often more beautiful and well lit at night…why not?

Amsterdam.

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Whether your budget can afford you a fancy candle-lit dinner cruise through the canals or more of a canal dinner spectator position on a self-guided walking tour with a wine-filled coffee cup (as was my budget), Amsterdam is a must. Enchanting tree lined canals, cobblestone streets, corner cafes, ivy-covered allies, and more bikes than people, the city is absolutely endearing.

Which brings me to the only hesitation I’ve heard anyone express over Amsterdam:

The Bikes.

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While the cycling culture in the city has always been something drawing me to Amsterdam, apparently some others are terrified of getting taken out by a distracted cycler. My (very over-protective) mother almost had a heart attack when I messaged her “hit by a bike, so I’ve officially been initiated into the city,” which I thought was hilarious, but apparently she didn’t.

There are approximately 1.2 million bikes in Amsterdam, compared to just 850 thousand people, but I wouldn’t at all consider them a danger. According to my canal guide, statistically there are only a few recorded accidents in Amsterdam every day and very rarely does someone get hurt. I managed to navigate the city very easily by bike, simultaneously peddling and snapping photos.

And for the record, it was more of a light bump as I accidentally wandered into a busy bike intersection while trying to take a photo; trust me, I was the idiot.

In fact, I didn’t feel unsafe at any point. As a solo female traveler, one of my main concerns is always my safety. I’ve traveled to 15 different countries and dozens of cities, but I’ve never felt safer than I did in Amsterdam; I was walking around late at night within the red light district and on the outskirts of the canals without any issue.

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So Now Let’s Get To Trip Planning!

Amsterdam is a part of Northern Europe which is notorious for its cold and rainy weather. However, the city’s wind tosses things up, making the weather slightly less predictable. My week began with heavy rains and weather so cold I bought an extra sweater to put under my heavy jacket, in addition to a scarf and beanie. By the end of the week, I was carrying all my jackets while slightly sweating in a t-shirt. So whatever the season, pack a rain jacket and layers.

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(Spring) Tulip Season: March – May

The flower boxes hanging off of every canal rail will be in full bloom, and the crowds will be average. Be aware that Queen’s Day lies on the last weekend of April which will give you fun festivities with the addition of extra large crowds and inflated hotel prices.

(Summer) Peak Tourist Season: June – August

Still plan on some rain mixed with heat and humidity, but an especially lively Amsterdam. It’ll be absolutely beautiful, just expect long lines for attractions and pricey accommodation.

(Fall) Autumn Colors & Lower Prices: September – October

The price of travel is definitely lower in Fall,;the canals, streets, and exhibits less congested, but the weather is increasingly fickle and the nightlife will have slightly died down.

(Winter) Snow & Amsterdam Indoors: November – February

Amsterdam is extra romantic with a winter blanket and you can definitely enjoy ice skating! The prices are the lowest in the first months of the new year, but as the canals may freeze over, prepare to plan for more indoor activities.

Transportation: On Foot, By Bike, Boat, Scooter…Just Avoid the Car

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From the Airport:

$ By Train: Trains to the city center (Centraal Station) come frequently, the trip is around twenty minutes and it’ll only cost you €5.50.

$$$ Uber/Lyft: Just no. I met some friends at my hostel who paid €40.00 for a car from the airport to Centraal Station and it took almost two hours. The train is clean, comfy, and has great views.

Around the City:

FREE Walking. The main attractions are all within a couple mile radius of each other, making the city very walk-able. This also gives you the opportunity to see all of the less touristy streets and canals that, in my opinion, are the most beautiful attractions anyhow.

$ GVB Metro: You can buy an hour pass for €3, a 24hr pass for €7, all the way up to a full week pass for €34.50. They also have every time period in between. The rails run very often and will easily take you all throughout the city without much complication.

$ Bike Rental: There are bike rentals everywhere and often hostels will have their own rental services.

$$ Scooter Rental: A great way to get around and you can safely stay on the bike paths and side streets! Here are a few places to rent from around €25 a day.

$$ Car Rental: Even if you have the money, I don’t whatsoever recommend renting a car. There’s no need for a car to navigate the city and I guarantee it would waste a mass amount of time, especially when trying to park.

Accommodation: From Hostels to a Hotel Room in a Crane

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$ Hostels: On average, the hostel rooms in Amsterdam range between €15 and €50 for a standard dorm room (yes, a bit of a wider price range because there are a lot of hostels). I use the Hostelworld app for all of my bookings and found ClinkNOORD to be one of the cheapest options.

Just a quick free ferry ride across from the central station, ClinkNOORD was an awesome hostel with hundreds of rooms, an open kitchen for guests to cook in, a restaurant and cafe, a lively bar with nightly events like karaoke and trivia, in addition to having its own bike rental and free daily walking tours.

There was even a free Thursday Yoga class! Directly behind the hostel is an Albert Heijn grocery store – just make sure you bring cash to pay because they don’t accept Visa and I learned that the hard way. On average it’s €30 per night.

$$ Hotels: There are many unique hotels in Amsterdam starting around €100 per night. While I did not stay in any, here are ten of the best hotels with all of their quirky features, from the perspective of a previous Amsterdam local who often goes back to the city to visit.

There’s also the Pulitzer Amsterdam Hotel that encompasses 25 canal houses once owned to aristocrats and merchants from the 17th and 18th century! Or if you have around  €1,000 you can stay in one of the three rooms located on the inside of an old crane.

Food: Eat ALL the Fresh Caramel Waffles

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$ Albert Heijn: These are the best grocery stores. You will see a variety of “Supermarkets” but they’re mostly small shops dedicated to liquor, weed, and white pasta that’ll cost you €5 (WHICH IS A JOKE). Make sure you find a hostel that has a communal kitchen; most will allow you to share refrigerator space as well!  

$$ Eating Out: There are cafes all over the city with a wide variety of world dishes that’ll cost you around €6 – €13 for the average meal. One of my favorites was Cafe Noorderlicht: located in the old NDSM ship wharf, it’s design is greenhouse meets art studio and there’s a beautiful patio right alongside the water. There are many other intriguing dining experiences in Amsterdam, from a restaurant where you dine in the dark, to a trend of restaurants designed as living rooms for comfy, communal dining experiences.

FREE & Inexpensive Amsterdam Attractions

While the attractions are diverse and abundant, my favorite moments were the many times I approached an intersection of canals or the colorful house lined streets, deciding at random which bridge to cross or ally to meander down.

FREE The Catboat: This is exactly what it sounds like, a canal boat with cats where you can play with a dozen or so cats on most days of the week from 1-3pm! Although there’s no fee, they are a cat shelter so even a small donation of a couple euros is very appreciated.

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FREE Noordermarket & the Tiny Houses: Walk around this farmers market for fresh produce, cheese, and a variety of both local and imported crafts. This was my favorite neighborhood to meander through and finding the tiny houses felt like discovering a true Amsterdam secret.

Near Noordermarket is 54 Westerstraat – the address where these tiny houses appeared after Natwerk, a local advertising agency, noticed that the addresses jumped from 54 to 70, so they installed five mini houses within a space between the walls to take the missing addresses.

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FREE Floating Flower Market: Another great market to walk through, the Floating Flower Market is a string of small vendors selling an array of flowers in shops floating within the canal.

FREE Library Viewpoint: While also a great place to read a book while the weather is dreary, the central library, Openbare Bibliotheek, is a tall building with large windows that offer a great view out over Amsterdam and it won’t cost you a thing!

FREE NDSM: A ship wharf with exquisite street art, just take one of the free ferries that depart every 15 minutes from Centraal Station. Additionally, NDSM often holds artist events, so be sure to check out their website!

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FREE Vondelpark: One of the largest parks in Amsterdam, you can stroll through or bike around the tree covered streets and it’s incredibly beautiful.

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FREE I amsterdam Sign: Located inside Museum Square, the I amsterdam sign is an iconic art piece that is definitely worth getting a picture in front of.

FREE Vondelbunker: Another secret spot hidden under a bridge in Vondelpark, Vondelbunker refers to itself as a “shelter for independent culture” and hosts a variety of events including live music, art exhibits, cinema nights, dinners, and performances that are almost always free (just ask for a donation).

Originally a Cold War bomb shelter, it became a nightclub in the 60s named Studio 7 and Pink Floyd frequented the spot. If you’re keen for a beer, there’s even a microbrewery here called Bunkerbier!

$ The Red Light District: Before you go, understand that in general, the sex workers don’t enjoy being a tourist attraction, so be extra respectful. Pictures are not at all allowed.

If you are intrigued and wish to book a tour to hear more about the history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and how new laws have been implemented to keep the women safe and combat human trafficking, it is an eye-opening experience. Just watch out for pick-pocketers since the large tourist crowds definitely attract that kind of activity!

$ A Canal Tour: This was one of my favorite ways to view Amsterdam. There are various kinds of tours for all budgets; the cheaper ones are around €11 and last an hour and the pricier options often include night cruises with a candle-lit dinner.

I went for a more private tour, lasting a little under two hours for €25. Those Dam Boat Guys are a great company; the tours are hilarious and informative (especially if your primary language is English since the guides are originally from the US), AND you may bring as much alcohol, food, and weed with you on the boat (which definitely added to my favorable experience).

Additionally, if you are in Amsterdam between the 30th of November and the 21st of January, be sure to book a canal tour after 5 pm so you can enjoy the city’s Light Festival which includes twenty different light-art installations from both local and international artists!

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$ Secret Canal Cafe: Although I never figured out the name, there’s the tiniest cafe with fresh desserts, pastries, sandwiches, and coffee with a little patio fitting no more than 6 people hanging right over the canal! Since you can’t find the restaurant on a map, it is located right next to the well-known La Margarita Restaurant.

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$ A’DAM Swing: Located at the A’Dam Hotel’s rooftop bar, for €18.50 (€13.50 to arrive at the rooftop bar plus €5 to swing) you can swing out over the top of the hotel and look out to all of Amsterdam! They’ll even take your photo which you can access online for free.

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$ SEXYLAND: Not actually a strip club despite the name, SEXYLAND is essentially a tabula rasa type space which is taken over by a different owner every day, featuring all sorts of events which you can check out on their website. On October 10th, there’s a “hip hop graffiti” event with “bboying, djing, mcing, and knowledge” and on November 15th, there’s a festival of “impro-jazz and punk mixed with the music, art and poetry” of younger generations.

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Museums: Amsterdam Provides for ALL Audiences, Truly.

With around 124 museums in the city alone, Amsterdam has museums ranging from the Katten Kabinet (dedicated to cat art), the Museum of Bags and Purses (from the 16th century until now), Madame Tussauds (prominent current and historical people as wax figures), and even a Cow Museum (not quite sure what it entails, but I was intrigued).

$ The Erotic Museum, €5. Among quite a few different sex museums in the Red Light District, this museum holds erotic art from all over the world!

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$ Foam Photography Museum, €11. This museum is definitely a must-see for photography lovers such as myself. There are all sorts of photographs from artists worldwide, sometime in combination with other art forms which really make for a splendid experience. Some of the photography is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and that’s what I loved most.

$ The Anne Frank House,  €12. Be sure to book your tickets online in advance! They release a limited amount of same-day tickets, but it is incredibly hard to get them. The museum is very thorough and provides a free audio tour. Seeing the actual bookshelf that hid the Frank family and walking through their home was really a humbling experience. This was by far one of my favorite activities in Amsterdam.

$ Moco Museum, €12. Also one of my favorite museums, the Moco currently has a large Banksy exhibit, in addition to incredible art by the street artists Icy & Sot. If you love political street art as much as I do, this museum will not disappoint.

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$ The CoBrA Museum of Modern Art, €12.  Displaying pieces inspired by the art of children and people with mental disorders, the founders – from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam (CoBrA) – intend for the art to be political and counter to Western ideologies and common narratives. So awesome.

$ Rembrandt House, €12.50. Although I didn’t make it to this museum, it is one of the most visited museums in Amsterdam, containing hundreds of original Rembrandt works.

$$ Stedelijk Museum, €15. Containing around 90,000 art pieces from photography to mixed media, the Stedelijk is the largest museum for contemporary art in Amsterdam and included works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Henri Matisse.

$$ Rijksmuseum, €17.50. The most visited museum in the county, Rijksmuseum has a rotating display of 8,000 art pieces, which is just a fraction of their one million or so art collection. Comparable to the New York Met, it’s more than worth the cost of admission!

$$ Van Gogh Museum, €18. If you’re just going to see the famous Starry Night, it’s currently in New York. However, Van Gogh was an interesting character with many incredible pieces; this museum thoroughly narrates his life and various art inspirations.

$$ The Heineken Experience, €18. The most important thing to note is that the cost of admission includes two chilled Heineken beers. Although I didn’t go on this tour, even the non-beer lovers I met had a good time and highly recommended it. The museum is supposedly very interactive and definitely one of the more popular attractions in Amsterdam.

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Fun Fact: Heineken beer in the U.S. is not the same as it is in Amsterdam – or all of Europe. When Heineken first began shipping to the states, those iconic green bottles allowed light in during the journey, therefore skunking the beer.

Heineken eventually fixed the problem, however, American Heineken consumers were upset and asked why the company “changed the flavor.” Thus, to this day Heineken purposefully skunks their beer for their American customers. So indulge in the true taste of Heineken in Amsterdam!

Also, if many of the top museums interest you, check out the I amsterdam City Card. The city card gives you free entrance to many of these museums in addition to other top attractions such as a free canal cruise and includes free public transport. A card lasting 24 hours will cost you  €59, 48 hours for  €74, 72 hours for  €87, or 96 hours for  €98. The top museums are mostly all located in or around museum square, so you can easily museum hop.

Nightlife, Drinking…& Other Shenanigans

$ Pubs in the Red Light District: A central location, the Red Light District is full of small pubs with no cover charge and on average €3 to €4 per beer. You can also find many smoke shops around this area if that’s more your activity!

$$ Xtracold Icebar: An all ice bar kept at -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s surely an extra-cool activity for an Amsterdam evening out! It’ll cost you €20, but that includes three drinks of your choosing. Book your tickets in advance online since they sell out fast, especially on weekend nights, and be sure to dress warm, but don’t worry too much since they’ll provide you with a thermal coat and gloves upon arrival.

$$ A’DAM Lookout Bar: A rooftop bar overlooking all of Amsterdam, this bar is best for a sunset drink. It’s a €14 entrance fee, but the beers are still just €3 and come with one stellar view AND a variety of fun bean bag chairs (referred to as “fat boys” at the bar) to sit on.

$$ Rembrandtplein Square: Known as the heart of the Amsterdam club scene, this square definitely has some of the best nightlife around!

$$ “Coffee Shops”: You’ll quickly realize that cafes are for coffee, and “coffee shops” are for alcohol and legal drugs such as weed and mushrooms. Indulge as you’d wish!

So Hop on a Plane. And a Bike. And a Boat.

Oh and seriously, whatever your budget, the wine-filled coffee cup trick is a great idea. Cheers!

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amsterdam
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