Amsterdam in Two Days: My Top 10 Things to Do

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Shaina Moran
September 25, 2018

When you study abroad in Europe, Amsterdam is a quick weekend trip away….and so worth it!

While I didn’t study abroad in Europe myself, I did take a last minute trip to Brussels and Amsterdam from the States. By last minute, I mean I booked my flight on Tuesday and departed on Friday—you’ve got to take advantage of those good deals when you can, right?! And while I don’t know if there is truly a best time to visit Amsterdam, it was a lovely 82 degrees (or 27 C, if you prefer) and sunny, so this might have been it. Though this might not be the norm, there are so many cool things to see and do in Amsterdam, regardless of weather conditions. 

And so, without further ado, I give you...

My Top 10 Tips to Make the Most of Two Days in Amsterdam

a red city card saying "I amsterdam city card 48 hours 2018"

1. Buy a City Card

I opted to purchase the I amsterdam City Card, which offers free entry to a number of museums and attractions, free food samples, discounts at restaurants and other sites, free public transportation, and one boat ride on the canal. We opted for the 48-hour card, but they offer 24- and 72-hour cards. I found this card to be helpful for discovering things you hadn’t considered visiting, as well.

a monument of anne frank near anne frank house

2. Visit the Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House is a must do! Unfortunately, I was not able to, but with some planning you can make it happen! If you’ve heard that ‘if you don’t have tickets you can just go wait in the really long line outside until you get in,’ this is no longer an option. I confirmed this with the staff member managing the line [of ticketholders] out front. You also cannot book tickets online a week (or month) in advance. However, the good news is, if you know well ahead of time that you’ll be visiting Amsterdam, you’ll be able to book this months in advance. This is not the type of attraction where you can even catch a glimpse from the outside, as the whole house is now encased in a museum, so it's ticket or skip it. 

amsterdam museum garden

3. Visit Other Houses

Though the Anne Frank House (which I mentioned in number two and will stop talking about it by bullet eight, I promise) didn’t work out, we did visit two other houses: Rembrandt and Van Loon (yes, that’s a real name), both of which are ‘from’ the 17th century and were included in our City Card. Of course, everything in the Rembrandt House Museum was a reproduction, but the accompanying audio tour made it interesting, speaking to the way people lived in Rembrandt’s time, how many wives he had, things like that.

The Museum Van Loon is the former home of Ferdinand Bol, who was a pupil of Rembrandt’s. In the 19th Century, the Van Loon family, who have left their mark throughout Dutch history—including co-founding the Dutch East-India Company—moved in and lived there until 1945. It’s an opulent home with beautiful gardens and a coach house, which serves coffee, tea, and pie. If you need a break from walking along the canals, this is a lovely place to stop and have a cuppa.

two dutch pancakes on the table

4. Eat a Dutch Pancake

One of the top tourist pancake eateries happened to be right by the Anne Frank House, so our fortune had turned. But we went to a different one up the block, which offered a discount through our City Card. There, we finally enjoyed the opportunity to wait in a line, and it was well worth it. My partner ordered a sweet pancake while I, a savory. We did not finish either, but felt sufficiently full and ready to take on the rest of our day.

boats in the amsterdam canal

5. Float Your Boat

Our City Card came with a free ride on the Hop-On-Hop-Off canal boat. It’s exactly like the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus you may have seen or experienced in New York, London, or Paris, but without wheels. While this was an easy way to take to the canals, it served more as a mode of transportation than a complete canal cruise experience.

Therefore, we booked an additional (which cost extra) boat cruise where we could really get the lay of the land, er, water. We went with Those Dam Boat Guys—clever, right?! TDBG, as I will call them, offers ‘alternative’ canal cruises. What this means is that it’s less structured than your standard boat tour where you pass each landmark and the guide provides information in rehearsed (if not pre-recorded) detail.

Our captain provided a very relaxed, familiar atmosphere. She based the discussion around what we were interested in learning, while still being sure to touch on things that she felt were important. We were in great mixed company comprised of study abroad students, a family from Hamburg, and a couple from Washington, D.C. I felt like we saw and learned so much in that short time without it being dry (though we stayed dry, as the captain ensured smooth sailing).

cheese sampling

6. Sample All the Cheese, Please

Amsterdam is home to the most cheese shops per capita in the world. I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it feels like it. The best part is they all have samples! The bad news is they don’t all have toothpicks for the samples. Back to the good news—it seems like the shops are used to people sampling without purchasing, so if you’re feeling peckish, stop by one of the ubiquitous Henri Willig shops or the Amsterdam Cheese Museum.

If you’re a curd nerd like me who’s looking for something more substantial than miniscule cubes, I highly recommend a cheese tasting or a cheese tour. We did the cheese tasting at Reypanaer (which was discounted with the City Card), but there are certainly others in the city. For €16 you learn about cheese, slice your own cheese with a cool contraption, and eat five different cheeses paired with a glass of red, white, and port wine. One word of advice: cut the cheese (ha!) very thinly or you’ll hear about it from the instructor. Another word of advice: gouda. It’s pronounce “how-dah” not “goo-dah”.

a painting of man in the museum

7. Visit Three Amsterdam Museums (in the order that I liked them):

Visit 3 Amsterdam Museums in the order that I liked them:

  1. Van Gogh Museum: I thoroughly enjoyed this museum and recommend booking a timeslot online in advance (they do this for crowd control) as well as purchasing the audio-visual tour devices. The latter definitely enhanced the experience, especially for an art history geek like me. This a great stop, whether you know a lot about Van Gogh, or just the crazy ear story.
  2. Hermitage Amsterdam: Not that I’ve ever been, but I don’t think this Hermitage is quite like the one in St. Petersburg. That said, it does have some cool exhibits including an interactive “The Night Watch” light show of sorts.
  3. Rijksmuseum: Just a hop away from the Van Gogh Museum and I Amsterdam sign, this humongous place is considered the best museum in A’dam. Having visited the Hermitage and Van Gogh museums prior, though, I felt like I had seen some form of most of the ‘famous stuff’ here already. If you want to see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in all its glory, though, this is where you do it.
people looking at "I amsterdam" sign

8. Attempt to see the "I amsterdam" Sign

I know this seems obvious, but you may have heard about how crowded it gets and feel discouraged. The good news is it’s right between the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum and practically unavoidable. Plus, you’ll regret it if you don’t. And, if you have enough patience (like my partner), you might be able to snap a shot with minimal (relatively speaking) people blocking the sign. Pictured: my hurriedly taken photo as I was eager to get to the Rijksmuseum.

a container wityh fish, eggs, cucumbers, shrimp

9. Hit Up Albert Cuyp Market

I can’t pronounce “Cuyp”, but I can say that this long-running street market is where the good stuff is. And by good stuff, I mean herring and other raw fish. I suggest trying a traditional rollmop: a skin-on slice of pickled herring rolled around pickles and pickled onions—deeeeelicious. My partner opted for tuna and salmon sashimi, which is also fine and very Dutch. In addition to delicacies of the sea, the market has stalls with clothing, gifts, toiletries, fresh-squeezed juices, and world-famous stroopwafel (syrup waffle).

amsterdam central station

10. Take the Train

This isn’t a must do, but it’s likely that you will. If you’re coming from a nearby European city, you’ll be taking a train into Amsterdam Centraal station. The must-do part of this is giving yourself ample time to wait for your train to get cancelled and then wait an hour for another one. That would be for the way in to the city. On the way out, make sure you’re wearing sneakers so you can swiftly race up and down flights of stairs and escalators with luggage when they cancel train after train until the fourth or fifth one to the airport actually runs. Not that I had this experience…just a hunch. Note that this experience may also not be typical.

And, one more thing…

Clearly, there are a ton of fun things to do in Amsterdam that don’t require advance planning. You might be wondering, however, why I haven’t mentioned the most obvious one: biking. I found it easy enough to get around on foot and by boat, but some people might feel they didn’t truly experience A’dam unless they’ve done so by bike. Well good news - a couple IES Abroad Amsterdam Writing Correspondents can show you the way. Check out their posts on wheels:

While I’m still not an expert on travel or Amsterdam, and especially not in the Dutch language, I am confident in my ability to see a whole lot of city in just two days. I didn’t do everything by the book, got lost a bit (why are there so many Spuis?!), and didn’t eat nearly enough cheese, but I experienced a small part of Dutch culture and created some great memories (though the selfies may not have been so great). I hope this inspires you to squeeze in that last-minute trip you’ve wanted to go on while you study abroad. Now, go forth and do 10 things in two days in a new city, yourself!

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Shaina Moran, Marketing Manager

As the Marketing Specialist at IES Abroad, Shaina promotes Customized & Faculty-Led Programs and IES Internships. Though she regrets not studying abroad during college, she has led students on short-term trips overseas in a previous role, as well as traveled internationally with family and friends. Outside of travel, her interests include fashion, finding free food and events, and following dogs on Instagram. 

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Shaina Moran

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