A Weekend In Amsterdam For First-Timers

If you're in Amsterdam for the weekend be sure to check out the architecture on the canals, there are plenty of amazing photography opportunities

Amsterdam for the weekend

A Weekend In Amsterdam – Guide For First-Timers

Why would you book a weekend in Amsterdam? It isn’t the home of Dutch royalty so there’s no palace residence. No one thought to build a big clock and name it after their family Labrador. And, there aren’t any world-famous giant sculptures resembling electricity pylons.

However, an Amsterdam weekend is such an easy choice with only a short 45 minute flight from the UK – that’s half the time it takes my 14 year old to apply her makeup! And there is still so much to see and do in the Dutch capital despite its lack of famous landmarks and monuments. You’ll be wondering why you didn’t book a weekend trip to Amsterdam sooner!

Personally, I quite like the notion of visiting Amsterdam for a quick clog and tulip fix whilst my daughter gets ready to go out. But, what should you absolutely not miss if this is your first time in Amsterdam for the weekend? And what do you need to know before you book Amsterdam for a weekend?

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We love the Kimpton De Witt Hotel for a long weekend in Amsterdam. It’s close to the river and a great central location for both the old town and this funky port area. It’s so stylish you won’t believe it and yet the staff are so friendly and inviting, not pretentious in the slightest. Plus, the cocktail guy in the bar was amazing! – check out their beautiful rooms and the best deals here. 

The perfect hotel for an Amsterdam weekend for first-timers

Across the River IJ from the hotel is an even older part of the city with cute little fisherman’s cottages that were once part of a thriving industry too – we used the hotel bikes and explored the area. There’s a free ferry every 10 minutes across the river to the city. Along the riverfront on that side is a collection of trendy bars and restaurants, cinemas and museums, all set to a backdrop of shipping containers and usual port regalia – it should look pretty industrial, in theory, but those stylish Dutch seem to have pulled it off.

How To Have The Best Weekend In Amsterdam If You’ve Never Been Before

The minute you arrive in Amsterdam for the weekend you will notice the trails of wealth this city has always enjoyed. Because of its prominent waterways, a strong trading status has existed in Amsterdam since the 1600s and its ships were sent to all four corners of the earth. With such connections, and also strict laws on which immigrants they let settle here (ie. were they rich?), it was a city born of opulence. You will be spending your Amsterdam weekend oo-ing and arr-ing at the fancy houses and beautiful city-scapes.

But it’s not all architecture and old glamour, Amsterdam has some great museums, fantastic shopping areas and amazing food choices. You can see a lot of Amsterdam in a weekend but you’ll never run out of things to do!


From above, the network of canals look like an upturned rainbow. On the ground it’s easy to cut from one canal to another via the interlinking canals and alleyways. You might notice the morning light can be quite ethereal, a regular haze seems to hang around until the sun burns it away. Until 11am the streets are fairly quiet and it’s easy to find a good coffee and Dutch waffle.

Folk in the Netherlands take their coffee seriously; it’s creamy and smooth and is a delicacy to be enjoyed so the cafe culture is prominent and beautiful, there is no shortage to the number of lovely places to have breakfast, each with its own individual style and most with the option of sitting in or out. It’s this pavement culture that we really loved on our Amsterdam weekend.

Start with a wander in two of Amsterdam’s prettiest neighborhoods, Jordan and Grachtengordel. Make sure you peek into the homesteads on the lower floors to get a sense of the Dutch aesthetics – unusual items in bell jars line window sills and walls are littered with art and bookcases. It just seems that every single house you pass is owned by someone with an interior design degree or the very least an artist of some sort. And thankfully the people of Amsterdam seem to have a phobia against curtains and don’t mind the whole world looking in.

Buildings of differing heights and widths are tightly knit together, all with an overhang that defies geometry. Look up and you’ll see the big hooks on the rooftops – a mechanism used for lifting cargo from canal boats down below. The lean on the house front was to stop the cargo crates from damaging the facades of their homes. Now there’s a nation that takes pride in its appearance.

Notice the little plaques above the doorposts on some of the homes which show the trade of the original homeowners, from a time when not everyone could read – there are over 650 of them preserved across the the city.

Amsterdam homes at their finest - a definite must-see for you Amsterdam mini-break

There are only 2 original timber houses left in all of Amsterdam, the rest were destroyed in fires, so if you’re in the area look out for Zeedijk 1 and Begijnhof 34. The latter also being the oldest house too, dating from 1425.

Taxed for their frontage people kept their homes narrow but the house at Singel 7 is of anorexic proportions standing at just 1 meter wide.

And finally, at Keizersgracht 123, check out the house with the heads.

And, if you’re looking for a bridge photo-snapping opportunity then head up to the corner of Reguliersgracht and Herengracht and you can see up to 15 of the city’s bridges in one spot!

Visit Ann Frank’s House

A lot of first-timers visiting Amsterdam want to see Ann Frank’s House, so make sure you book your tickets ahead of time if you want to guarantee a spot. It’s always easier to get the earlier slots too if you don’t mind an early start. The museum is held in the building where Ann Frank and her family were in hiding during Nazi occupation. It’s main curation is to display the diaries of this young girl, tell her story and bring more awareness to discrimination, racism and anti-semitism.

Do I think visiting Amsterdam should absolutely mean seeing the Ann Frank Museum? No, I don’t. It’s an interesting museum but personally, I’d recommend reading the Ann Frank Diaries in your own time and spend your Amsterdam weekend break doing more fun things. Just my opinion.

Hire A Bike In Amsterdam

Once you’re beyond the Singelgracht Canal the city begins to look more like your average European metropolis, albeit old and pretty still – with just the occasional canal.

Hiring a bike is easy and riding one even easier – cars and locals are bike-conscious and there are cycle tracks on 99% of the roads. The only thing to look out for is the unsuspecting tourists who occasionally step out into the road in front of you! The city starts to spread out a little bit now so this is a great area to explore on two wheels.

The Albert Cuypmarkt in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam is the largest and most popular market in all of the Netherlands so you’re not going to want to miss it on your Amsterdam weekend break. Whilst the surrounding shops are more of the ethnic and tie-dye variety, your market buys can range from suitcase to shoes, and door knobs to knitting needles. But even if you have no room in your suitcases for an extra dustpan and brush, you’re always going to have room in your belly for the delights on offer here at the ‘Cuyp’. Every corner of the earth’s cuisine is covered and it’s going to be no problem at all if you don’t have an evening reservation anywhere. Fill your boots!

Finish off your day with an evening in the Overhoeks neighborhood across from your hotel, watching crazy people swing from the A’DAM lookout building and sampling a few cocktails in the pop-up bars.


Book yourselves tickets to the Van Gogh Museum. Never before have I ever discovered more about an artist as quickly and painlessly – a 2 hour stint in this fantastic museum had me feeling like an old friend of Vincent’s by the end! I implore you to pay for the audio guide – starting on the ground floor and working upwards you travel through his life and emerge with a deeper appreciation for one of Holland’s national treasures whilst wrapping your corneas around some of the world’s best preserved art. Along with the National Museum of Denmark and Oxford’s Pitt Rivers I think this museum has now made it into my top 3!

Just around the corner from the Van Gogh Museum is the famous I-Amsterdam sign, I mean, can you even say you’ve had a weekend break to Amsterdam if you’ve not had a photo with the sign? And whilst you’re there you might want to contemplate if you have time for the Rijksmuseum or the Moco (Modern Contemporary) Museum too. I wish we’d had time for the latter as there was an exhibition on Dali and Banksy, both favourites of mine.

Now that you’re all cultured-out, a stone’s throw from the Museums is the famous Vondelpark. It appears that on a Sunday the whole Amsterdamian contingency comes out to play at this picturesque city park. Men in lycra and tourists with cameras litter the grassy knolls, whilst families picnic and cyclists try to pick off pedestrians one by one. Don’t miss the Picasso sculpture just casually hanging around one one of the ponds. And, pizza at Groot Melkhuis, one of the park’s restaurants, is always a good idea.

Check out the nearby neighborhoods of Oud-West and De Pijp, slipping from coffee shop to bar, to unique shops then back to the bar again! These neighbourhoods are really cool and you really get a sense of what the locals do on a weekend in Amsterdam. Back in the central area of the canals, you’re more likely to find yourself rubbing shoulders with hen and stag weekenders but here in the outer rings of Amsterdam you’ll find it a little more cultured and when you step into the De Pijp district you really are with the locals. Bars spill out into the streets and you have to employ ninja stealth to nab yourself a pew, but it’s worth it to order a Heineken and watch the in-crowd noisily discuss their weekend before a new work-week began.

This is also the area for independent little boutiques and concept stores, stuff you just don’t see in shops in the UK, so great for finding an authentic gift or holiday keepsake.

A fabulous way to end your weekend break to Amsterdam is to get back on those hotel bikes and explore the old historic neighborhood of Nieuwendam across the river. Not many tourists bother with this area on their Amsterdam weekends but we think it’s well worth the 15 minute bike ride. Cute little Dutch houses with so much charm and character are interspersed with a few waterside drinking spots where the locals sit and chat in more calmer surroundings than in the hub of Amsterdam. It’s the perfect chilled-out vibe to end a fun-packed busy weekend in Amsterdam.

Practical Information and Tips For A Weekend In Amsterdam

  • Getting into Amsterdam : The train runs from the Airport every 10 minutes and costs just under €10 return. Having cash handy for the machines in the exit hall of the airport might be wise as we found that not all of the machines were working properly and took credit cards.
  • Hiring a bike will cost you about €10 a day but our hotel had some to use for free.
  • If you’re travelling with kids or just don’t fancy seeing the Red Light District then it’s the De Wallen area to avoid, primarily the canal that runs up the middle of the rainbow. It’s a relatively small portion of the city and is easily avoided if you so wish.

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An Amsterdam Travel Guide - tips and suggestions to get the most out of your trip to Amsterdam. What to see, eat and do whilst taking in a few hidden gems as you walk and tour this city.

27 Comments Add yours

  1. Pingback: Weekend i Amsterdam – Suscj
  2. Amanda Sykes says:

    Despite the reputation, I think Amsterdam is a good place to experience, well when we do know where to go, especially when we go with the kids. I think the buildings are beautiful and cycling over the canal seems like fun with all the view they offer. Okay, maybe we gotta think about it again if we’re going to take the kids here, nonetheless it is worth to visit. Probably when it is the season of tulip, that’d be the best time to visit. An interesting weekend you had, thank you! You should try to visit Bali, Indonesia, as Tracy has mentioned, the Dutch colony, Bali is a sunny place. Perfect for your spring trip. Check our website to see our amazing resort to accommodate your stay here. Thank you!

    1. Alex says:

      Bali is definitely on our list, thanks – I’ll take a look

  3. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    Ah.. I never knew Amsterdam homes were taxed based on frontage. That explains all the narrow buildings! I would love to see Singel 7 with my own eyes! #CityTripping

  4. Another cracking blog post, Alex. Amsterdam wasn’t really on our must-see list but we ended up visiting twice in recent years and loved the vibe. The Van Gogh museum was a favourite – we visited on a Friday evening when they had live chilled music and cocktails. I don’t think I have ever looked at priceless exhibits with a mojito in my hand before but I’d do it again.

    1. Alex says:

      Oo that sounds like my cup of tea/sex on the beach too 😉

  5. We are definitely planning an Amsterdam trip – so this made great reading – thanks! I’m also nosey and love looking at other people’s houses – so the tips on where to find some lovely quirky ones are great.

    1. Alex says:

      Fab – hope you enjoy it, and you manage to find the lovely side of it, it is there you just have to look a little harder

  6. I do love Amsterdam – I’ve been without my daughter and with, and would go back again tomorrow if I could (45 minutes away? Maybe I should…) Despite the reputation, I definitely agree there’s so much else to see and do here, and you can very easily avoid the red light district. When your daughter finishes her make-up (I have this to look forward to), the museum of handbags is rather fabulous as well. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    1. Alex says:

      Ha – oh the teenage years! ?

  7. I really enjoy your writing Alex it’s so good!!!

    I really enjoy visiting Amsterdam- I have a Dutch friend so used to go a lot in my 20’s. She lives in Cairo now though so I don’t visit as often. I really am trying to think of a way to see the tulips next month and I would have to incorporate a visit to Amsterdam in that. Also the Indonesian food there is incredible (it was a Dutch colony) and I used to get my fix of stroopwaffels (now available in your local Tesco!) We had a laugh at the museum of sex too ?

    1. Alex says:

      Oo I love those too – brought some back in a lovely tin 🙂

  8. Such interesting post and lovely set of photos! I’ve never been in Amsterdam, but now I really want to go there.

  9. Mel Butler says:

    Oh your post makes me want to go back to Amsterdam. Love the details, the pictures and the tips. We also use the train from the airport super easy.

  10. I can’t wait to visit it! 🙂 nice post! #citytripping

  11. Lolo says:

    I could spend forever in Amsterdam and never get bored, but it makes me so sad that I’ve missed that iconic pretty bunch of houses! Need to make sure I see that next time! #CityTripping

  12. Amanda says:

    I’m not a huge fan of Amsterdam. I went a couple of years ago, and just didnt get it I think. Some bits I loved, but the seedier side just felt too in your face. I should go again, test it out with kids maybe?

    1. Alex says:

      I’m kinda with you Amanda, don’t think I’d go back. I tried to find the good in it and hopefully put it across. I’d choose other places over it though.

  13. Sarah says:

    Now I really want to go to Amsterdam. It’s been on my list of places to visit, just not made it over. Going to insist we go now!!!

    1. Alex says:

      Ha – insist you must Sarah 😉

  14. Catherine says:

    I’ve never visited Amsterdam – whenever we’ve planned city breaks other destinations have been higher up the wish list, but reading this I think I’ve been doing it an injustice! Will definitely be doing a bit of research next time we’re planning a trip.

    1. Alex says:

      I’d still choose other cities over it Catherine but it was a lot nicer than expected. If you’re into art then Van Gogh was definitely a highlight and my hubby says the Ann frank museum was brilliant too.

  15. Jane Taylor says:

    I’ve been to Amsterdam…When I was at Uni, But it was before Mr T and with a Mr C!!! All above board, there were a gang of us…(that sounds worse!) Anyway….Moving on! I’ve heard the Van Gogh museum is good. I love audio tours as well. The Windsor Castle one and the Royal Yacht Britannia ones are brilliant…I am open to non-royal audio tours as well, though. Love the houses and the pictures and your lovely AirBnB find.

    1. Alex says:

      Lol – you’re funny!

  16. Ok, this post did it, Alex. 😉 We really need to get back to Amsterdam for a proper visit, it’s been much too long… Love your descriptions and the area you stayed at looks so picturesque too!
    Definitely saving all the photography location tips.

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks Jurga. We loved it but there are definitely bits I would avoid next time. Plus, I’m not sure it’s so kid friendly.

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