Amsterdam City Guide

You'll know from my Instagram (@emmagracer) that I spent just under a week in Amsterdam at the end of June with two friends. Weather-wise, it was disappointing - constant rain and wind, with a few exceptions - but experience-wise, it's a trip I'll never forget. If you're thinking of heading over to the capital of the Netherlands, here are a few ideas for you. (click the header to read this post in full.)


We picked Volkshotel, situated just slightly out of the centre in Amsterdam East (/-Oost). I couldn’t recommend it enough - with a Metro station right outside the front door and trains running regularly throughout the day, it was really easy to travel into the centre to see the sights. It also meant that we were able to mix with locals a bit more, away from the weed-scented centre of the city!
We didn’t make much use of the extra facilities for guests at Volkshotel (think canal tour, hairdresser, hot-tub, club, yoga….) - quite simply because we had too many other things to see. However, I know that if I went back I would definitely try them out and take another trip up to the rooftop to watch the sun go down over the city. 


We found that it was relatively easy to eat on a budget in Amsterdam. Most days we managed to keep below the 20-euro mark. We generally had one ‘proper’ meal in a restaurant per day (just main course, no dessert and occasionally a soft drink), and bought food from street vendors or the supermarket next door to the hotel.

  • Coffee Bru: in the Oost district, we stopped here because I was determined to get one fancy coffee during our stay. The others were happy to acquise, mainly because they also sell caramel-scented appeltaart 
  • Rotisserie East: just across the way from Coffee Bru, we had our first meal here and were pleasantly surprised. It looks like a garden shack from the outside, but serves a range of tasty food.
  • The Pool: directly opposite our hotel, this is a very cool sort of place. They sell mezze/tapas-style dishes as well as pasta and great pizza. It feels light and airy, and you can sit outside if it’s really sunny. 
  • Albert Cuyp market: everyone recommends this market, but it’s a must if you’re trying to eat cheaply. We had some really great food here, breakfasting on poffertjes (dutch pancakes) and some of the best waffles I’ve ever tasted. (To be honest, I haven’t eaten that many waffles. But these were goooood.) 
  • Bagels and Beans: a local chain of cafés, you can find their stores at various places round the city - near the Cuyp market, and up the road from Volkshotel. As you may have guessed, they sell bagels (sweet and savoury) and coffee. 
  • Vlaamsch Broodhuys: we stepped in here out of the torrential rain, looking for somewhere warm to rest and refuel. Lunchtime is definitely the best time to visit; you’ll find it difficult to choose just one sandwich - sourdough with gouda, pickles and mustard, anyone? -  and even more difficult to resist the tempting display of freshly baked bread! 

To be honest, you can spend the majority of your time in Amsterdam just wandering round 
the canals and taking photographs. It didn’t feel too touristy away from the main sights, and I loved being able to look into people’s houses (no judgement, please) and glimpse them going about their everyday business. 
But here are a few suggestions of things to do: 
  • Anne Frank House: it’s on everyone’s bucket list, and with entry costing 9 euros, it’s a sight not to be missed. Book online before you go, and be prepared for a lot of standing around waiting for the people in the next room to move on. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It gives ample time to reflect upon the empty house and the heartbreaking story of the young families who once lived there.) 
  • Rijksmuseum (pronounced Reichsmuseum):  home to the famous I AMSTERDAM sign, you can admire this building from the outside and get photos with your friends without spending a penny. Better still, if you’re 18 and under (and can provide photographic evidence of your age), you can get into the museum absolutely free. Head up to the Rembrandts and Vermeers in the Gallery of Honour if you haven’t got much time on your hands, but do stop by the Dutch delftware exhibition and the big clocks if you’ve got another hour to spare. 
  • Begijnhof: nestled among a busy street, you could easily pass by this pretty little courtyard if it wasn’t for the sign outside saying “no cameras”. It’s a courtyard that was originally a haven for Catholic nuns at the height of the Reformation, and an exclusively female community still lives there today. Have a little wander around the shops outside, or stop for a coffee at one of the many cafés. 
  • Artis Zoo: this would have to be one of my favourite parts of our trip. Yes, 21 euros seems steep for entry to a zoo, but it was the most expensive activity out of our whole trip and 100% worthwhile. Firstly, it’s a brilliant zoo - have you ever walked through a wallaby enclosure before? - with beautiful surroundings; but what’s even more exciting is that during the summer months they keep the zoo open until sunset on Saturdays and invite a musician in to play in the bandstand. Bring a picnic (the pizza is extremely overpriced) and a blanket to sit on.
  • Oosterpark: the little cousin of the famous Vondelpark, this park is no less charming. It’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon stroll (stop at Coffee Bru for refreshments on the way back) or the International Roots music festival, which just happened to be taking place when we were there. 
  • Nieumarkt: we made the spontaneous decision to get off the metro here, and were not disappointed. This area is full of vintage shops and if you wander too far you’ll hit Centraal Station, so you can’t really get lost. (You'll also hit the Red Light District, but that's another story.)
  • STACH delicatessen: quite pricy (for student budgets, at any rate), apart from their stroopwaffels. These are the perfect souvenir for your family - caramel-rich, crunchy, and under 3 euros - but be warned, they’re heavier than they look. 
  • Episode: this was the first vintage shop we visited, and when we came out the first thing we all said was, “I love Amsterdam”. Honestly - a real treasure trove, if you’re willing to search a little bit. 
  • Centraal Station: worth it for the stunning architecture alone, you'll soon get to know this station if you plan on using the metro and the tram system. We spent a few evenings just sitting on the bridge over the river watching people coming in and out of the station - great entertainment at no cost.


  • Don’t eat in McDonalds. It’s not even that cheap. 
  • You may think you know where the Red Light District is. You may think it will be hard to miss. Perhaps not at nighttime, but during the day…. only the overpowering smell of marijuana and the occasional moving mannequin will alert you to your whereabouts and by then, you’re too far gone.
  • The GVB pass was indispensable for us. Amsterdam is easy enough to walk around, but when you’ve been walking for a whole day and can’t be bothered to walk to the metro stop, this was a great asset. There are machines near the exit of Centraal Station and you can use the tickets on the metro and on the tram. 
  • Regarding trams: get on at the front or in the middle. Get off in the middle or at the back. (It took us four attempts to get this right.) Don’t worry, though - if you miss one, there’ll be another before you can blink. 
  • Be prepared for people to be a lot more forward. (Well, more forward that people in Northern Ireland, which to be honest isn’t that difficult). People will smile at you in the street, but they’ll also catcall you. Just wear your sunglasses and keep walking. 
  • You'll also meet some lovely shopkeepers. Take the time to chat to them and tell them about where you're from. English is widely spoken, so we had no problems communication-wise.
  • To truly look like a local, you’ll need to have a denim or a leather jacket (pick one up in a vintage shop).

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What was your favourite part?