Advice for a friend going to Amsterdam for a long weekend

If you ask around where to go for a weekend in Europe, I’m sure Amsterdam will be at the top of the list. We all remember the images of the famous canals. You won’t be disappointed! They’re magnificent. Clichés aside, Amsterdam remains a rich and exciting city.

As it happens, I lived there for 5 years between 2015 and 2020. So I’m in a position to give you a few tips on this city that I love so much!

Amsterdam is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, so travel blogs are a dime a dozen. There is a considerable supply of paper guides. You’ll have no trouble discovering the “must-sees” that every tourist must visit.

So, in a series of articles, I’m going to share with you my experience and give you my personal and very subjective vision of this city. It’s what I’d recommend to a friend who wants to spend a few days in the Venice of the North!

Visit Amsterdam

I’ve written three articles to help you plan your trip:

In this article I give you some tips on the following topics:

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Bridge at Amsterdam East

When to go?

That was the first question I was asked by friends who wanted to visit me, and my answer was simple: any time!

There’s no such thing as a bad season!

Amsterdam has a climate similar to Paris, but more oceanic and a little cooler. The weather can be very rainy in July and very sunny in February. Or vice versa. Things change very quickly on the same day too. An umbrella or raincoat should always be close at hand! Be prepared for the wind, especially if you’re cycling around the city.

All seasons are equal. Then it’s a question of luck for the weather. But Amsterdam’s charm still works!

Amsterdam in the snow
Amsterdam in August
February in Amsterdam
Rainbow over Amsterdam

Avoid weekend bridges

Amsterdam is above all a weekend destination, so I advise you to avoid the long bank holidays in May. The city is invaded by the French, Germans, and British!

Three annual events stand out and can give you a different experience if you choose to come at those times:

  • King’s Day on April 27
  • Canal pride” on the first weekend in August
  • The New Year

King’s Day

The first is King’s Day on April 27. The country commemorates the birthday of its king, Willem-Alexander. Everyone is dressed in orange, the official color of the royal household. The day gets off to a good start with numerous street flea markets, where everyone is free to sell whatever they like. Unfortunately, as the evening progresses, it becomes more alcoholic and less enjoyable. But that’s just my personal opinion, and you might want to give it a try to better understand the Dutch soul.

King's Day flea market
King's Day in Amsterdam
King's Day in Amsterdam

Canal pride

Another major event is Canal Pride, held on the first weekend in August. The city uses this as a strong promotional argument. The rainbow flag is everywhere and everyone is gay that weekend!

Canal pride” is gay pride as elsewhere, but the floats are replaced by boats or barges. The parade takes place on the Prinsengracht and the Amstel River, with the quays packed!

The Netherlands has been one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of LGBT rights. As a result, pride is more about celebration than protest. And so much the better! Let’s hope this Dutch tolerance is exported to more countries. Straight or gay, you’ll have a great time that weekend. Expect a huge crowd. It’s a party where all (kind) excesses are allowed. The video below will give you an idea.

Canal Pride
Atmosphere at canal pride

New Year’s Eve

Finally, the last event I found spectacular was New Year’s Eve. At midnight, for at least an hour, the sky lights up with hundreds of fireworks set off by private individuals. Choose a spot with a good view of the sky and, above all, a sheltered spot! Fireworkers are amateurs, and accidents are frequent. But the show is worth the trip.

New Year's Eve in Amsterdam
New Year's Eve in Amsterdam

Finding your way around Amsterdam and where to stay?

There’s plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets. What’s more, prices are highly volatile, depending on demand. So giving you a list is pointless, as there’s little chance that it will suit you.

The right approach is to choose your preferred neighborhood, then your style of accommodation, hotel or rental, and make your choice on the internet, starting with and Airbnb. Unless you have financial constraints, I’d advise you not to stray too far from the center, so that you can walk around easily without having to take public transport.

By the way, did you know that this company is Dutch?

Amsterdam is a very easy city to discover. The first step is to locate the different districts of the city. There’s nothing better than viewing the map below.

Map of central Amsterdam

“Centrum”: the historic city center of the Golden Age.

The city center, bounded by the Ij and Singelgracht rivers, is the historic heart. This is where you’ll visit the emblematic canal belt with its superb mansions of wealthy merchants. Accommodation is easy to find, but often very expensive. If you can afford it, this is the sector to choose.

To the west of the “Centrum” district lies the Jordaan. It’s a former working-class neighborhood that’s become a bohemian nightlife center with numerous cafés and restaurants. Accommodation in the Jordaan is an excellent choice. From here, you can visit almost everything on foot.

To the east, the “Plantage” district. Less touristy and quieter, it’s a place to feel like a true Amstellodammers. If you’re staying for a long time, it might be a good idea to find an Airbnb there. You’ll need a bike to get around.

Canal in Amsterdam's historic center
Floating house on Prinsengracht

“Zuid”: bohemian chic or bourgeois atmosphere

It was only at the end of the 19th century that the city expanded beyond the center. You’ll find pleasant neighborhoods to live in and a few tourist attractions, such as the Rijkmuseum, that shouldn’t be overlooked.

For accommodation, choose the two sub-neighborhoods closest to the center:

  • De Pijp, east of the Amstel. It’s a favorite with thirty-somethings and forty-somethings people. Like the Jordaan, the neighborhood is bohemian chic.
  • The streets around the Vondelpark and the Museum Quarter have a Parisian 16th or 17th-century feel.

If you can find a hotel or Airbnb there that’s a little more out of the way, but less expensive that suits you, go for it. By bike, streetcar, or metro, you’ll be in the center in no time.

Many expatriates choose to live in the “Zuid” because of its bourgeois environment and large apartments.

Pijp district
Museumplein Esplanade with the Rijksmuseum

“Noord: the Amsterdam of tomorrow

The “northern” neighborhood beyond the Ij is undergoing a complete metamorphosis. It’s a former industrial zone in the process of being urbanized. Access is by ferry (free) or metro. It’s part of the city I like because it’s so different. It is, however, less suitable as accommodation for a short visit to Amsterdam.

The best way to discover this area is to rent a bike.


“Oost” and “West”: the outlying districts

More recent, less charming, and more difficult to access, they will be of less interest to passing visitors. In return for this remoteness, you can find cheaper accommodation. The social architecture is interesting. In this case, make sure you know in advance how to get to the center by public transport.


Where to dine?

In Dutch culture, eating is a utilitarian act. Locals are more likely to socialize in a bar with a glass of beer than over a meal in a restaurant as in France. That said, Amsterdam is an international city, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from. It’s all part of the fun of discovering the city. You’ll be spoilt for choice!

I’d like to mention a few that I would like to return to. This is a personal selection, so please don’t limit yourself to these. Be curious, search on the internet or in your guidebooks, and if you come across one you particularly like, let me know in the comments!

Of course, I urge you to try the local cuisine. I highly recommend Moeders. It’s a restaurant that serves family-style cuisine and celebrates mothers. Bring a photo of your mom and it will join hundreds of others on the restaurant’s walls.

Moeders Restaurant

If I was in the mood for pizza, I’d go to La Perla in the Jordaan. They’re excellent. Even my boss at the time, an Italian, told me so!

Chez Georges in the northern part of the canal district, offers excellent traditional Belgian cuisine.

Incanto is an Italian restaurant offering refined cuisine in an old apartment with a beautiful view of the canals.

For a young and trendy atmosphere, I liked to go to Foodhallen located in the “west” district. It’s a place that brings together food stalls from all over the world in former streetcar sheds. It’s a bit noisy, but very lively and cheerful.

We celebrated one of my birthdays at an excellent Michelin-starred restaurant, Bord’eau. Since summer 2021, it has been replaced by the Restaurant Flore which I have not personally tested. It is, however, highly rated.

A little far from the center, you can try the organic and gourmet restaurant De Kas.

Finally, for an evening out in a slightly trendier atmosphere, try the Lobby.

Restaurant le Lobby

Important: book right away! On Friday and Saturday evenings, you’ll need to book several days in advance to avoid disappointment.

After dinner, head for Reguliersdwarsstraat with its gay bars. Even if you’re straight, it’s worth a visit. The atmosphere is young and friendly. In some cases, you can even dance if you feel like it!

A local experience

Here are four that will make you a true Amstellodammers.

Experiment “borrelen”.

The first is to experiment “borrelen”. It’s an institution, especially on Friday evenings after work. The idea is to get together with colleagues or friends for a glass (or several) of beer with “borrels”. These are small fried appetizers eaten with the fingers. Amsterdam boasts several brown cafés and trendy bars with an ambiance almost unchanged since the Golden Age. While you’re out and about, spot one with an atmosphere you like and go for it!

Rent your own boat

The second local experience is to hire your own electric boat to cruise the city’s canals. Pack a picnic lunch and a pack of beer and set off for two or three hours to discover the city at a leisurely pace.

You’ll notice that it’s one of the locals’ great pleasures, especially on long summer evenings. It’s not difficult, but be careful, as there’s a lot of traffic. Several companies offer this service, but I recommend Mokumboot which I used personally.

Amstellodammers on the Amsterdam canals

Going to a spa

Finally, experience a spa in the simplest outfit. Nordic countries like the Netherlands and Germany have a passion for spas. As it happens, there’s one in Amsterdam: the Zuiver Spa which is magnificent.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are bathing suit days. The others are nudists. For a truly Dutch experience, I recommend you go on those days. You’ll realize that nudity rhymes with simplicity!

Going to a concert at the Concertgebouw

The third, going to a show at the Concertgebouw in the museum district! The hall is magnificent and has some of the best acoustics in the world. Check out their program on the Internet and book well in advance of your trip. I have fond memories of a Cécilia Bartoli recital.


Advice for a friend!

During my stay in Amsterdam I was lucky enough to have many friends visit me. We introduced them to the city in our own way. I’ll tell you more in the following two articles:

It is in this spirit that I have written this series of three articles. So they reflect my vision of the city. I’ve tried to show you that even in a city as touristy as Amsterdam it’s possible to find something other than the so-called “must-sees” that everyone thinks it’s compulsory to visit.

So be careful when planning your trip. There is no “must”! It doesn’t matter if you’re touring Amsterdam without having set foot in a single museum, or if, on the contrary, you’ve spent two whole days at the Rijksmuseum! Treat yourself and visit the city according to your own instincts and desires!

Remember that there are plenty of ways to explore this city other than those I’ve suggested or that you can read about in other blogs. Be curious and tell me, in the comments, what you’ve found!

Finally, one last suggestion: go to Amsterdam for more than just a weekend. Why not a week? It’s a rich city, and staying longer will allow you to get off the beaten track and make Amsterdam your own.

Sunset over Amsterdam



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