Planning on visiting Amsterdam for the first time? This buzzing capital city is home to Dutch masters, charming canals, and a greater population of bikes than its residents. That is why it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam is one of the world’s top cities with nearly 20 million tourists visiting per year. Although a popular tourist destination there is certainly so much to do and explore. And for first-time visitors knowing how to navigate Amsterdam can be overwhelming. As a resident of the Netherlands, who has lived in Amsterdam and currently works here, I will give you the inside guide on visiting. Here’s what you need to know.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Amsterdam?
My personal preference is the months of April, May, September, or October. Visiting Amsterdam in Spring or Autumn is ideal because of the temperate weather, smaller crowds, and decent prices. Summer is too hot and icky with temperatures reaching anywhere to 87 Fahrenheit with high humidity. The truth is that Amsterdam is always full of tourists regardless of the season. However, the tourist crowd between June – August is almost unbearable because of the high peak season. The lines are longer, attractions are at max capacity, prices are hiked and it’s hard to enjoy your surroundings with ease due to the crowds. If I were you I would avoid the summer months when visiting Amsterdam for the first time.
What about winter then? It’s not top of the list because of the colder temperatures but winter in Amsterdam has its own beauty and charm. If you want to travel Europe for Cheap then I recommend coming in November or December.
Another tip is that if you choose to arrive in Autumn you may want to avoid mid-October due to the Amsterdam Dance Event. It’s a week-long music conference with workshops and a festival. Nearly half a million people come to ADE each year, which also means most hotels and housing arrangements are booked very early in advance.
While ADE is one of my favorite music events (and this is a post I’ll be sharing in its own time), if you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time and not interested in this sort of thing, I recommend booking your stay for another month.
What is the Weather Like?
Because of the Netherland’s proximity to the North Sea, the climate here is rainy, cloudy, and humid most times of the year. Throughout the Netherlands, this is the general climate but of course, this can vary slightly in some regions. What is the weather like in Amsterdam? Summers can be nice ranging from 65 F to 75 F. Temperatures soar in the hotter months of July, August, and the beginning of September. For the past two years, we’ve had nasty heatwaves from 90 degrees and humidity over 80%!
It can get really wet and rainy in Autumn so I advise bringing a raincoat, a waterproof bag, and shoes. The sun rarely graces us with her presence during winter so please bring warm and weatherproof clothes. These past few years we have received quite some snowfall so I’d also watch the weather forecast closely.
What Languages are Spoken in Amsterdam?
Dutch is the official language in the Netherlands so therefore in Amsterdam as well. However, I understand the confusion with this question because being such a multicultural city, I hear from tourists that they rarely hear Dutch on the streets for example.
Most of the Dutch are bilingual and speak English so well that they are the best non-native speakers. I recommend learning a few basic Dutch phrases to give you more confidence when traveling and as a common courtesy for the locals because they appreciate the effort.
Is Holland the same thing as the Netherlands?
There is a lot of confusion with this one but I will keep it from being a long history lesson. The official name in English is the Netherlands and “Holland” is actually incorrect – this is a part of the country consisting of the two provinces North and South Holland. The Netherlands has 12 provinces and Holland contains the two that house a majority of the Dutch population and economy.
English speakers tend to refer to the Netherlands as Holland and the Dutch won’t really mind and let it slide since it’s easier for foreigners to reference. However, this is incorrect and it’s good to keep the proper name in mind.
How Long Should Our Stay Be?
How many days do you need in Amsterdam? This really depends on the type of trip you are taking and perhaps the type of traveler you are. But I would recommend anywhere from 4-5 days. This gives you enough time to see the most iconic landmarks, biggest attractions and also venture out of Amsterdam to see the rest of the Netherlands. Take a day trip and head to the cheese market in Gouda that has been running since 1395, or explore the largest port city in Europe, Rotterdam. I like to tell any international traveler I meet that there is more to this beautiful country than just Amsterdam.
How Do I Get From Amsterdam Airport to Amsterdam Centraal?
The airport of Amsterdam is called Schiphol and is one of the best in my opinion because of the connections, cleanliness, helpful staff, restaurants, ease to navigate and accessibility to the city. Schiphol Airport is 10 or so miles away from the city center so your travel time won’t be long.
The most efficient and cheapest way to get there is by taking the train. I know that landing in a new country can be overwhelming and so can public transport. If you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time I can assure you that taking the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam city center is easy. You’ll want to take the train that arrives at Centraal Station which runs multiple times per hour and gets you there in about 30 minutes.
How to Get Around in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a compact city and thus very easy to get around. You won’t have any trouble navigating whatever your preferred choice of transport is.
Amsterdam is a very walkable city that is optimized to walk around in. To get from the city center to the outside will only take 30-40 minutes. Not only that but traveling by foot is one of the best ways to explore Amsterdam.
Public transport in the Netherlands is excellent. You have the options of bus, tram and metro to anywhere you want to go. If you’re visiting for a short stay I recommend purchasing single tickets. Day tickets allow you to travel anywhere but cost more. Staying for a longer duration? I recommend purchasing an anonymous OV Chip Card. It’s a contactless card that allows you to travel around the Netherlands on any public transportation system without registering your personal details. You can load it with credit which is more efficient than continuously purchasing tickets.
The Netherlands is the friendliest biking country and Amsterdam is the biking capital of the world. Biking, in my opinion, is the most authentic way to experience Amsterdam and get a taste of Dutch culture. However, is it easy to ride a bike in Amsterdam? Some say that If you have never ridden a bike in a busy or not an experienced cyclist city to avoid it altogether. The probability of getting hit by a bike is quite high – if you aren’t cautious. But if you’re confident in your biking skills I highly renting one and touring around.
There are a number of bike rental locations all over town. This can cost anywhere from €10- €20 euros a day.
Not many locals bother with driving in Amsterdam; the city even discourages it because of the congestion, pollution, and air quality. Street parking is super expensive at around €7 euros an hour and difficult to find. There is a number of garage parking lots but this depends on the location.
If you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time and want a good deal, I suggest a park and ride location. You arrive at a parking garage like Rai station, park your car and take public transport into town. The cool thing about park and ride is that you get a free public transport ticket for return and arrival.
You can find taxis anywhere in Amsterdam but keep in mind that like in every touristic major city, the fee will be fairly expensive.
I hope this post better equips you on your travels when visiting Amsterdam for the first time. Let me know if I’m forgetting anything on this list or you have suggestions yourself. I’d love to hear from you so feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.