Amsterdam Travel Guide: Where to Stay, Eat and Explore in 2024

Amsterdam, with its picturesque canals, historic architecture, and vibrant cultural scene, remains a favoured destination for travellers from around the globe. Whether it’s the allure of exploring a city rich in art and history, the quest for culinary delights, or the excitement of participating in unique festivals, Amsterdam offers a multitude of experiences that cater to every kind of adventurer. In this comprehensive travel article, we delve into the heart of Amsterdam — from innovative ways to reach the city, such as flying with PLAY airlines via Iceland, to immersive experiences like cheese tastings and neighbourhood explorations.

Amsterdam West - Photo by Joel Levy
Amsterdam West – Photo by Joel Levy

This guide will also assist you through the city’s top accommodations, like the stylish Kimpton De Witt hotel, and uncover the best places to dine, including Men Impossible Ramen and Lila Middle Eastern Restaurant. Join us on a journey through Amsterdam’s enchanting streets, verdant parks, and lively festivals as we uncover the essence of what makes this city truly captivating.

How to get to Amsterdam

I use Amsterdam as a hub for most of my trips to Europe as it is a great place to visit as well as having a lot of airline options to fly into and a lot of European destinations offered to fly to once there. This time I wanted to try something new as I had heard a lot about PLAY airlines‘ flights to several European destinations via Iceland. The flights leave from Hamilton, not Toronto, so I thought I would give it a try and see how the trip from Hamilton played out in terms of cost savings versus the extra time to get to Hamilton airport. If Hamilton airport is a closer option for you anyway, then this airline may be a great choice.

PLAY Airlines plane in Iceland - Photo by Joel Levy
PLAY Airlines plane in Iceland – Photo by Joel Levy

I live in downtown Toronto and usually take the UP express from Union Station to Pearson airport. For this trip, instead of jumping on the Union-Pearson train, I got on the GO train from Union to Hamilton and then a local bus to the airport. The UP Express is usually about 25-30 minutes and the GO train to Hamilton is about 75 minutes. The bus from Hamilton GO train station to the Hamilton airport is about 30 minutes. The time difference was roughly 30 minutes versus 105 minutes. An hour and 15 minutes more to get to Hamilton airport than Pearson from Union station.

PLAY Airlines flies from Hamilton airport to several European cities including: Dusseldorf, Hamburg, London, Paris, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, Cardiff and of course, Amsterdam. The flight from Hamilton to Iceland was about 5 hours and the flight from Iceland to Amsterdam was about 3 hours. The flight being broken down into two shorter trips may also be attractive to those who dread a longer single flight.

Iceland - Photo by Joel Levy
Iceland – Photo by Joel Levy

PLAY’s transatlantic flights include a brief layover in Iceland and you have the option to turn your layover into a multi-day stopover for no additional cost and get the most out of your time in Iceland. If you are interested in visiting the country, then this is a great option as the cost would be lower than booking two flights. PLAY allows you to stay in Iceland for up to 10 days in a stopover booking. Now you just have to find your perfect place to stay to complete your journey.

As for the cost, it depends on the time of year, the sales offered, and the “bundle” you choose. If you pack light, you may want to only bring a carry on bag as well as a small personal item like a handbag or backpack. This could save you an additional $100 CAD. If you want to go extra light and only bring a backpack, maybe just for a weekend, then you could potentially save another $100 CAD. There are also often sales with PLAY airlines for additional savings. Keep in mind that the flights do not serve food and do not have media like TV and films during the flight, similar to EasyJet or RyanAir.

Where to stay in Amsterdam

I have stayed in many different places in Amsterdam from the airport hotels to AirBNBs to hostels over my 20 years visiting the city. This time I visited the Kimpton De Witt hotel located just 5 minutes walk from Centraal Station in the centre of the bustling city. I had stayed at another Kimpton hotel for a Toronto Staycation post and loved their style and service so was excited to see what they had to offer in one of my favourite cities of Amsterdam. The location is perfect, being close to so many attractions, the metro and trains to the airport, as well as many amazing places to eat.

Amsterdam Kimpton De Witt Penthouse room - Photo by Joel Levy
Amsterdam Kimpton De Witt Penthouse room – Photo by Joel Levy

The hotel is very elegant with many types of rooms to choose from, from regular rooms, to a little cottage-type space to their penthouse, which we got to check out this time around. Our suite consisted of a welcome area which led to a winding staircase up to the main unit that featured a toilet room, a storage room, a living room, a bedroom, a walk-through closet and a large washroom that had a large bathtub, another toilet, a shower and his and hers sinks. It also had heated floors which was nice for the chillier mornings. The bedroom and living room also accessed the private and very large rooftop patio that had couches and dining table and views of the city.

Kimpton De Witt Hotel Penthouse - Photo by Joel Levy
Kimpton De Witt Hotel Penthouse – Photo by Joel Levy

The hotel had a lot of other amenities which made the stay very comfortable and entertaining. If you frequent the gym, you will be happy to know that there is a gym at the hotel with various weights, a rowing machine, stationary bikes, treadmills and yoga mats. If you are looking for something to eat or drink, the hotel has a modern American restaurant named Celia that is great for grabbing a drink or a bite to eat. Other amenities include complimentary bicycles, a secured garage for your car, free wi-fi, 24-hour room service, tea and coffee in the lounge and in the rooms as well as being a pet-friendly establishment. It is also an IHG member which means you will get rewards if you a a part of their program.

Kimpton De Witt Hotel Penthouse view - Photo by Joel Levy
Kimpton De Witt Hotel Penthouse view – Photo by Joel Levy

Something cool that we learned about while there is that Kimpton Hotels has teamed up with the retail brand Anthropologie to create a unique experience for guests: the “Forgot It, We’ve Got It” Anthropologie Accessories Collection aims to alleviate the common travel mishap of leaving a beloved accessory behind by offering hand-selected, seasonal accessories curated by Anthropologie stylists that guests can borrow during their stay. Whether it’s a stylish belt, statement sunglasses, or an elegant handbag, Kimpton’s initiative emphasizes ease in travel and a flair for fashion. Guests can not only borrow these items to add a touch of sophistication to their travel wardrobe but also have the option to purchase the products directly from Anthropologie—ensuring that these select styles are waiting for them at home after their travels. This service is available at participating Kimpton hotels across the United States and Europe, offering travellers a stylish and convenient touch to their stay.

What to do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, a city renowned for its picturesque canals and vibrant culture, offers a plethora of activities that cater to all tastes. Whether you are enjoying its unique neighbourhoods, its festivals, its local attractions, its museums or its food scene, you will be pleasantly surprised by the variety of options to choose from.

Neighbourhood Street in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
Neighbourhood Street in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

The city also has a very robust transportation system which makes it easy to get from one place to the next. This system includes, trains, a metro, trams and an elaborate cycling path system. On this trip we mostly took the metro which was very easy too use, with a ticketing system that can be used in multiple languages. Because the city is not too large, walking is also a great way to get around. Visiting different parts of the city on different days broke the city up into easily digestible sections.

Parks and Neighbourhoods in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s charm is encapsulated not only in its iconic canals and historical architecture but also in the distinct personalities of its neighbourhoods, each offering unique experiences and attractions. The city’s layout allows explorers to wander from one vibrant district to another, discovering the cultural, gastronomic, and scenic delights that Amsterdam has to offer.

One of these neighbourhoods is Jordaan, often celebrated for its narrow streets, trendy boutiques, and cozy cafes. Once a working-class area, it has transformed into one of Amsterdam’s most fashionable districts, filled with art galleries and restaurants. The Anne Frank House, an essential and moving historical site, is nestled in this neighbourhood.

Westerpark in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
Westerpark in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

Westerpark, much like the neighbourhood it’s located in, blends green spaces with cultural venues. The park itself hosts an array of events, from open-air cinemas to food festivals like the Rollende Keukens. It’s a place where nature meets creativity, making it a beloved spot for both locals and visitors.

De Pijp is a multicultural hotspot known for its lively atmosphere and diverse dining options. This neighbourhood is home to the Albert Cuyp Market, where one can find everything from fresh produce to authentic Dutch delicacies and international foods. The nearby Sarphatipark offers a peaceful respite from the bustling market, providing a green oasis in the middle of the urban landscape.

East Amsterdam (Oost) invites a laid-back vibe with its mix of Dutch and international residents. The Oosterpark, modelled after English landscape gardens, is an integral part of this neighbourhood. It’s not only a beautiful park for leisure and activities but also a space for cultural festivals and gatherings, reflecting the diversity of the city.

De Hallen in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
De Hallen in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

Oud-West is a dynamic neighbourhood where the old and new coexist harmoniously. It’s where you can visit the De Hallen, a renovated tram depot that now houses a food market, cinema, and fashion boutiques. Close to Oud-West, the expansive Vondelpark welcomes joggers, picnickers, and everyone looking to enjoy a bit of nature in the city. It’s the most famous park in Amsterdam, offering open-air concerts and a vibrant atmosphere in the summer.

Each of these neighbourhoods, with their respective parks and attractions, contributes to the mosaic that is Amsterdam. Whether it’s the historic elegance of Jordaan, the vibrant streets of De Pijp, the innovative spirit of Oud-West, or the diverse charm of Oost, Amsterdam invites all who wander its paths to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of its urban culture.

Old Amsterdam Cheese Tasting & Wine Pairing

Located within the Old Amsterdam Cheese Store on Amsterdam’s main street, Damrak, this cheese tasting and wine pairing class will take you through the history of cheese in Amsterdam and Holland as well as teach you about the history surrounding cheese making, how it related to the different time periods in history as well as the history of the family behind Old Amsterdam Cheese, a well known and award wining brand.

Once settled in the quaint and inviting atmosphere, you’ll be introduced to an array of five exceptional cheeses, each with its unique character and story. From the slightly sweet notes of the award-winning Old Amsterdam cheese to other exemplary varieties, your taste buds are in for a true Dutch delight.

Old Amsterdam Cheese Tasting & Wine Pairing - Photo by Joel Levy
Old Amsterdam Cheese Tasting & Wine Pairing – Photo by Joel Levy

With each cheese, you’ll receive a special pairing of wines, meticulously selected by a sommelier to complement and enhance the cheese’s rich flavours. Throughout the one-hour tasting session, an expert cheese connoisseur will guide you through the lineage of these exquisite Dutch Goudas, sharing insights about the cheese-making process and the time-honoured secrets that make Old Amsterdam cheese a world-class phenomenon.

As you navigate through the subtleties of each cheese, learning how to discern their distinct flavours, your appreciation for the craftsmanship behind these gourmet products will deepen. And, should you wish to take a piece of this culinary adventure home, the downstairs shop offers all the cheeses and more for purchase.

Festivals in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s vibrant pulse is rhythmically maintained by an eclectic array of seasonal and annual festivals that cater to a wide range of interests, illustrating the city’s inclusive and celebratory spirit. Spring ushers in the colourful spectacle of the Tulip Festival, where the city blooms into a kaleidoscopic sea of flowers, emblematic of Dutch floral mastery. Summer is synonymous with open-air music festivals such as the Amsterdam Open Air and Mysteryland, drawing global visitors and showcasing a diverse musical lineup, from electronic beats to classical melodies. The Grachtenfestival on the city’s canals offers a unique blend of classical music with picturesque backdrops, making for an unforgettable auditory and visual experience. Autumn brings the cultural richness of the Amsterdam Dance Event and the thought-provoking documentaries of IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) to the forefront, catering to both cinephiles and the electronically inclined. Winter in Amsterdam sparkles with the Amsterdam Light Festival, transforming the city’s waterways into a mesmerizing exhibition of light art. These festivals, among many others, exemplify Amsterdam’s unwavering commitment to celebrating arts, culture, and the indomitable spirit of community, offering something for every palate, regardless of the season.

Man barbecuing meat at the Rollende Keukens - Photo by Joel Levy
Man barbecuing meat at the Rollende Keukens festival in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

One of the festivals that we got to check out while we were there is the Rollende Keukens (Rolling Kitchens) festival where the city’s innovative food culture takes to wheels and turns the Westergasfabriek, a renovated gasworks in the city’s bustling Westerpark neighbourhood, into a vibrant open-air restaurant. This gastronomical event happens once a year, showcasing an incredible assortment of food trucks that roll into the park, serving up everything from gourmet bites to hearty street food classics.

Duck Bao from the Duck Truck at Rollende Keukens in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
Duck Bao from the Duck Truck at Rollende Keukens in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

Food enthusiasts and casual snackers alike will revel in the variety of tastes as the air fills with aromas of sizzling delicacies, international cuisine, local delights and sweet treats. Picture strolling through a maze of kitchens-on-wheels amidst live music and joyous crowds, each bite a new adventure — a Dutch bitterballen here, a slice of artisan pizza there, or perhaps a taste of exotic fare from far-off lands. We got to try some delicious Duck Bao from the Duck Truck as well as some empanadas from an Argentinian vendor.

The Heineken Experience & Canal Tour

Nestled in the heart of Amsterdam, the Heineken Experience offers a foray into the world of one of the most globally recognized beers – Heineken. Located in the original Heineken brewery which brewed its iconic beer from 1864 until 1988, this attraction has since transformed into a magnificent museum and a tourist experience that attracts beer enthusiasts and curious travellers alike.

The Heineken Experience at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
The Heineken Experience at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

The Heineken Experience allows you to immerse yourself into its rich history through a variety of interactive tours. Visitors can explore the brewing process at their own pace, learning about the ingredients, brewing process, and history that make Heineken stand out. There are also rooms that include information, artifacts and images from some of their international partnerships like Formula 1 and the World Cup of football. One of our favourite interactive installations was the video and photo room when you can have a video of your and a friend or partner cycling through the sites of the city or take photos amongst the highlights of the brewery like the giant brewing kegs. Another attraction was the bottling process that allows you to make your own custom labels for the beer.

A Canal Tour in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
A Canal Tour in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

For those looking to combine a canal sightseeing with their beer discovery, Rock the City includes a canal cruise that offers picturesque views of Amsterdam’s iconic waterways, followed by a visit to the brewery. We got to take part in this activity which included a 75 minute canal tour and then a guided tour of the old brewery. The canal tour pickup and drop-off is right across the street from the brewery entrance making it very easy to move between the two attractions. Our package also included a small snackbag of treats for the time on the boat. The canal tour also comes with headphones for an audio tour accompaniment that can be listened to in many languages.

A City of Museums

Within the city’s graceful canals and narrow lanes lies an extraordinary array of museums catering to an astonishing breadth of interests and tastes. From the hallowed halls of the Rijksmuseum, showcasing masterpieces of Dutch art, to the poignant Anne Frank House that offers a somber glimpse into World War II history, the range is remarkable. The Van Gogh Museum beckons art lovers with the world’s largest collection devoted to the tormented genius, while the Stedelijk presents modern art aficionados with cutting-edge contemporary works.

Transport of Colonial Soldiers, 1887, Isaac Israel - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
Transport of Colonial Soldiers, 1887, Isaac Israel – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

Yet, Amsterdam’s love affair with museums doesn’t end with the conventional; there are museums dedicated to everything imaginable—from the NXT Museum, a museum about New Media Art, to the immersive Heineken Experience, and even a museum that celebrates the city’s culinary icon, the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. This richness ensures that in Amsterdam, you’ll likely find a museum that feels as though it was curated just for your personal intrigue, making it a city where art, history, and curiosity converge in the most delightful ways.

Where to Eat in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s cuisine is as diverse and vibrant as its culture, catering to both the adventurous traveler and the culinary connoisseur, where every bite promises a new discovery. From cozy canal-side cafes to bustling market stalls, the city is a culinary mosaic, blending traditional Dutch flavours with contemporary global influences. As you wander through Amsterdam’s cobbled streets and historic squares, you’ll encounter a variety of dishes that reflect the city’s rich heritage, including creamy Gouda cheese, savoury bitterballen, and indulgent stroopwafels. Our journey through Amsterdam’s food scene takes us to remarkable locations, highlighting not only the classic treats but also the modern twists that make the city’s cuisine truly unique. Whether you’re a fan of sweet or savoury, Amsterdam’s food scene will undoubtedly leave you craving for more.

Men Impossible Ramen

Tucked away in the bustling heart of Amsterdam lies a culinary gem that stands out not just for its cuisine, but for its unwavering commitment to veganism and the art of Japanese cooking. Men Impossible, with “Men” paying homage to the Japanese word for noodles, offers an exceptional gastronomic experience that marries the concepts of ramen and fine dining. As a high-end vegan Japanese ramen restaurant, it piques the curiosity of food aficionados with its exclusive tasting menu, creating a narrative of flavours that unfold with each course.

Men Impossible Cold Appetizer - deep-friend aubergine (eggplant), three flavours tofu, ume cucumber, noodle crisps (Baby Star) - Photo by Joel Levy
Men Impossible – Cold Appetizer – deep-friend aubergine (eggplant), three flavours tofu, ume cucumber, noodle crisps (Baby Star) – Photo by Joel Levy

Upon stepping into the quaint space, one immediately notices the tastefully minimalist decor and the intimate seating arrangement that fosters both privacy and community. The choice is yours: a table for two, perfect for a romantic duo or close friends, or a seat at the grand communal table that hosts 16,. The importance of making a reservation cannot be overstated due to the restaurant’s popular demand and limited seating.

The tasting menu, priced at €58 per person, is meticulously crafted to showcase the versatility and depth of vegan Japanese cuisine. Every course is a testament to the kitchen’s commitment to flavour, quality, and creativity, underscored by the informative staff who take the time to explain each dish as it is served. The journey embarks with warm Japanese tea and an assortment of pickled vegetables, an ode to the country’s tradition of Tsukemono.

Men Impossible - sashimi (men sashi) - Photo by Joel Levy
Men Impossible – sashimi (men sashi) – Photo by Joel Levy

As the courses unfold, diners are treated to a symphony of tastes and textures. The deep-fried aubergine in broth, accompanied by three flavored tofu pieces, ume cucumber, and noodle crisps, offers a harmonious blend of flavors that are both comforting and surprising. A playful twist on sushi, “Men Sashi,” arrives next. This inventive creation involves wrapping shredded vegetables in a thinly sliced noodles, invoking the joy of crafting your own culinary masterpiece right at the table.

Men Impossible - Ramen - Amaze Men - Black Burnt Garlic Oil - Photo by Joel Levy
Men Impossible – Ramen – Amaze Men – Black Burnt Garlic Oil – Photo by Joel Levy

The experience deepens with a delicate wonton soup, followed by a dazzling array of grilled bites and vegetables enveloped in a crisp tempura batter. However, the highlight of the evening is undoubtedly the restaurant’s signature Ramen dish. This is not your traditional Ramen; it is a skilful concoction of vegetables and noodles tossed in a rich, soy milk-based creamy sauce. Diners have the opportunity to choose between intriguing options such as “Black Burnt Garlic Oil” and “Red and White,” each offering a unique palate experience, from smoky and aromatic to spicy and robust.

The meal concludes on a sweet note with a Matcha pudding and a refreshing Tofu Ice Cream, both of which exemplify the restaurant’s ability to transform traditional desserts into vegan delights that satisfy and inspire.

Lila Restaurant

Located on the lively Haarlemmerstraat in Amsterdam, Lila is an easy to access and delicious restaurant for those in search of authentic Middle Eastern fare. This casual dining spot provides the perfect blend of convenience and quality, offering both take-out and dine-in options for an array of palates. Its minimalist décor creates an inviting space that can hold around 30-40 guests, suitable for a relaxed meal amidst the hustle and bustle of one of Amsterdam’s prime shopping and tourist avenues.

Lila Middle Eastern Restaurant in Amsterdam - Photo by Joel Levy
Lila Middle Eastern Restaurant in Amsterdam – Photo by Joel Levy

Upon my visit, the highlight of the menu was the shawarma plate. For 16 euros, this generous offering included succulently seasoned lamb and chicken, accompanied by a vibrant salad of red onion, tomato, and cucumber, alongside cabbage, deliciously crispy French fries, and their phenomenal, fluffy homemade bread. Each bite was enhanced by their exceptional hummus, a recipe that undoubtedly elevates the dish to new heights.

The warmth of Lila extends beyond its dishes; the staff’s friendliness and efficiency ensure a dining experience that feels both personalized and swift, perfect for diners from all walks of life. Furthermore, Lila caters to a wide range of preferences with its beverage selections, from aromatic teas and coffees to chilled drinks, wines, and craft beers.

Local Treats & Eats

Amsterdam’s culinary tapestry is as rich and varied as its history, with a plethora of items that are quintessentially Dutch. Gouda cheese, a golden-hued delight known for its smooth, buttery texture, is one of the Netherlands’ most celebrated exports that comes in a variety of ages and varieties, a must-try for cheese aficionados. Bitterballen, the crispy, deep-fried morsels, is filled with a savoury meat ragout snd served as an appetizer that pairs perfectly with the city’s gezelligheid (a cozy, convivial atmosphere).

Amsterdam Candy Shop - Photo by Joel Levy
Amsterdam Candy Shop – Photo by Joel Levy

For those with a penchant for something sweet, stroopwafels, the iconic Dutch treat composed of two thin waffles stuck together with a layer of sweet caramel, is a must try and something that we kept on hand with us the entirety of our trip. Amsterdam’s pancakes are not to be overlooked; thin, yet hearty, they come in an endless variety of toppings, from sweet syrups and fruits to savoury cheese and bacon. Additionally, Amsterdam is dotted with magnificent candy stores, each filled with an array of colourful, sugary options that reflect the city’s long-standing love affair with sweets. We found many stores that had unique items from around the world. Rare options for flavoured chips, imports like cereal and other sweet treats.

Amsterdam is a city that marvellously blends the richness of history with the vibrancy of modern culture. It’s a place where every corner tells a story, every meal is a celebration of flavours, and every experience leaves an indelible mark on your heart. From the quaint, cobbled streets of Jordaan to the lively food festivals in Westerpark, from the solemn history of Anne Frank House to the jovial ambiance of the Heineken Experience, Amsterdam is a city that invites you to immerse yourself fully. Whether you are navigating its canals, exploring its museums, or indulging in its gastronomic delights, Amsterdam offers a spectrum of experiences that cater to the desires of every traveler. As we conclude this guide, we hope that the insights provided inspire you to embark on your own Amsterdam adventure, exploring its wonders, uncovering hidden gems, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Amsterdam is not just a destination; it’s an experience waiting to be lived.

 

 

 

About Joel Levy 2587 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography