Amsterdam Travel Guide

After 5 years of dreaming, planning and missing flights, I finally made it to Amsterdam! While I enjoyed the unique coffee shops, incredible food spots and independent businesses (and the entrepreneurial spirit of the city!) what I loved most about this particular trip was the chance to meet up with some of my wonderful kindred spirits! My friend, Amy, took a train from Utrecht to grab some food and coffee with me and Leanne and her lovely friend Lior traveled from Tel Aviv to explore the sights!

I also had two family sessions booked (one in the outskirts of Amsterdam and another in Antwerp, Belgium) but both were rain checked due to the rain storms that flooded the area that weekend! As well as an audition for Disney, where I made it through until the intense dance combination (totally blanked out midway through the combo!) and made some great new friends! Overall, it was an incredible trip, and while Amsterdam may not be one of my favorite cities (I’m just not much of a city girl these days), I adored the coffee spots, food joints and nightlife! Here is my quick 4 day travel guide to my favorite spots in Amsterdam!

Best Things to Do in Amsterdam

Bike Vondelpark

Do what the locals do – and hop on a bike! And what better place to bike than the open roads of the popular and very green Vondelpark in Amsterdam! This park is massive and popular amongst everyone. It is the Central Park of Amsterdam and should not be missed!

Visit the Anne Frank House

There are three main museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. For this trip, I chose to see the Anne Frank House, and boy, is it chilling. It feels both distant and so tragically recent, and you can feel the energy and history from the moment you step inside. It was a truly life-changing experience for myself. I’ve seen all the films, television mini series and read her diary several times, but one can never truly connect with her until you experience the Secret Annex in real life. It is intensely educational and beautifully preserved. If you only get the chance to see one museum, make it the Anne France House.

Experience an Amsterdam “Coffee House”

Alright, alright, I may not drink alcohol or smoke…well, anything for that matter, but when in Amsterdam…right? I did, indeed, try a Bubblegum rolled blunt, and it was a very relaxing and peaceful experience for me while I listened to live jazz and chatted with the local artists in town. In Amsterdam, a “coffee house” is a weed shop and lounge where you can buy joints, edibles, everything. Just look for a “coffee shop” sign in the window. We found plenty of them in the Southern Belt along Prinsengracht. 

Jam with the locals in the Southern Belt

When it comes to nightlife, stick to the Southern Belt Canals! We asked plenty of locals and were told by all of them to experience two clubs: Milkyway and Sugarfactory – both are located right next to each other. Make sure to look up the showtimes prior to arriving. AIR is another great spot for dancing and DJ music, from hip-hop to house and from disco to techno.

Listen to Live Jazz at Jazz Cafe Alto

My favorite experience in Amsterdam, several locals told us about this little hole-in-the-wall gem with it’s live jazz, tiny theatre and glowing bar. Artists, musicians and the creative community come out to Jazz Cafe Alto to listen to the old tunes, and it’s always packed. It’s a cozy little spot that reminds me of concert venues like Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, New York. Doors open at 9pm, so get there early to grab a seat near the stage! If you get there later like we did, crowds start to trickle off at midnight. Enjoy…

Get Lost Wandering the Jordaan Canals

Lastly, you can’t miss out on exploring, wandering and getting lost along the quaint, picturesque canals in Jordaan and the Western Canals. It’s quiet, peaceful and located near many of Amsterdam’s cutest spots. Don’t forget your camera!

Best Places to Eat in Amsterdam

if you’re in the mood for amazing vegetarian….

Lavinia Good Food

I read about this little gem in a copy of Pocket Lonely Planet, and I am so glad I decided to venture out to it! The restaurant was eccentrically decorated, cozy and warm with loads of delicious vegan and vegetarian foods. The truffle veggie burger, portobello bacon and sweet potato fries are famously well-known. Come here even if you aren’t a vegetarian – you won’t even realize how good vegetarian can be!

if you’re in the mood for something pretty to ‘gram…

The Avocado Show

For avocado lovers like myself, you must not skip out on the Avocado Show! While the dishes are good (not amazing), it’s the aesthetic of the colorfully decorated avocado dishes that makes this spot special! Famous on Instagram, the Avocado Show is a favorite for those that love beautiful food. From delicately placed flowers to gorgeously perfected poached eggs and nachos, if you love taking pictures of your food, you cannot miss this place! Note: Be prepared for a long wait time. Get your name on the list and go explore the vibrant neighborhood of the De Pijp District.

if you’re in the mood for quality Amsterdam favorites…

In de Buurt

If you’re looking for simple, quality and delicious food, look no further! In de Buurt has delicious dishes, a wide variety of beers (many coming from local breweries!) Both locals and travelers fill this spot up, and it’s no wonder why: the sunny terrace right next to the canal, with the possibility to dine on a boat that belongs to it? You cannot get better than those views! Be sure to try the crispy french fries

if you’re in the mood to try a bit of everything…

Food Hallen 

My favorite food spot in Amsterdam, the famous Food Hallen is located in Jordaan with it’s massive indoor food hall! Every type of food is available here, from Japanese to traditional Dutch, gyros and Mexican tacos! Locals flock to this spot, with picnic benches covering the floor and birds soaring up above. And this is all indoors! Don’t leave this off your list.

Best Coffee Spots to Write

My favorite quiet moments spent during my four days in Amsterdam were not wandering the canals or getting lost on the Metro/Train/Tram (seriously – how many modes of transportation does there have to be in one city?!), but it was spent writing hours away in my little travel notebook, quietly people-watching and sipping a cappuccino with a fluffy tabby at my feet. Some of my most wonderful and joyous feelings were spent here…in these local treasures.

1. Back to Black

2. Koffie Shop

3. Two for Joy!

4. Sweet Cup

My four days in Amsterdam went by in a blur, but the memories I remember most in those short days were the feelings I felt with my warm-hearted friends and the thoughts I pondered all day writing in coffee shops. I will most remember Amsterdam for those two things. I may not remember the taste of the portobello mushrooms or the smell of the fresh rain on the wet pavement (it literally rained 90% of my time there – hence: not as many photographs captured), but I will remember the love I felt, the light that swept over me as I observed the quiet streets from my writing desk, and the moments of aliveness I felt while listening to the The Lion King’s Circle of Life while getting lost in the rain.

Experience the adventure through VIDEO!

Helena Woods’s Travel Vlog Series Episode #7: Amsterdam!

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Lifestyle Portraits From My 4 Day Adventure in Amsterdam!

Travel Guide: 4 Days in Amsterdam? Here is What You Cannot Miss!

September 27, 2018

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Helena Woods is a destination family photographer currently based in France but travels worldwide. She lives for diving the world's oceans, recording her experiences traveling the world on her blog, and documenting moments of joyful and magical human connection. Her style is modern classic, emotive and honest. She believes in wild adventures, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.

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