5 Things To Do in Amsterdam that Steer Clear of the Red Light District
Updated: Feb 25
We love Amsterdam. Jane and I took our only international trip of 2020 there and we also have had some of our best hotel experiences in this picturesque city. Between the two of us, we've visited Amsterdam on 5 different trips and we still can't wait to go back again once we can safely travel again. For those who haven't travelled to Amsterdam, the only thing you might know about it is De Wallen, the city's red light district. We're incredibly happy to report that there is plenty to do in Amsterdam that is family-friendly and still exciting.
Stroll and Shop Along De 9 Straatjes
When the front desk at the Sir Adam Hotel recommended De 9 Straatjes (or in English, The 9 Streets) we weren't sure what to expect. We hoped it wouldn't just be another luxury tourist shopping area where we could find the same American shopping chains that we would see at home. When we entered the three by three block area, a short walk west of the center of the city, we couldn't believe what we had been missing.
Each of the nine streets that give the area its' name will give you different shops, boutiques, and cafes that you can wander around for hours on end. We enjoyed numerous cheese shops with lots of free samples of a variety of delicious Dutch cheeses. We then found a shop that made fresh made stroopwaffels dipped in chocolate and covered in your choice of candy or topping - a great friends and family gift option is to bring back a tin of stroopwaffels! Or a future treat for yourself.
We grabbed a coffee from a local café and wandered through numerous other shops, including art galleries, clothing boutiques, and souvenir shops that give you a lot more than your standard t-shirts and magnets. The area consists of short blocks of walking streets separated by scenic canals and bridges. There is so much to love about De 9 Straatjes and it is well worth a couple of hours
Sit Back and Take in the Beautiful Scenery with a Canal Cruise
Amsterdam is a city where boating is a part of everyday life. Walking around the city, it's impossible not to notice the ferries, house boats, and barges constantly crisscrossing the city. If you are paying attention, you might also notice the short glass-topped boats that are often traveling down even the narrowest canals in Amsterdam.
On our latest trip, we set a goal to take a canal cruise on one of these unique glass-topped boats and we were not disappointed. Seeing Amsterdam from the water gives you a whole new appreciation for the beautiful architecture that makes Amsterdam such a wonderful place. The cruise guides are always locals who knows the history of every nooks and crannies of the city so you get the best stories. Best of all, many of the canal cruises include complimentary adult beverages, blankets, and sometimes even brunch. There are a number of canal cruise operators that advertise around the city center, so make sure you do your research to find the experience that works best for you. (there are night rides too!)
Eat Your Way Through Albert Cuyp Market
In almost any city in Europe you can inevitably find a street market, usually on the weekends, and including mostly produce and grocery items geared towards locals looking to cook dinner for themselves that evening. Albert Cuyp Market is a little bit different.
First, the market taking up a few blocks just south of the city center has been around a LONG time. Albert Cuyp has been proudly going strong since 1905 and boasts 260 market stalls making it the largest and among the oldest in Europe. You'll not only find a diverse lineup of prepared food (we enjoyed Cantonese soup dumplings and English fish and chips a few stalls down from each other) but you can also find a full farmers market if you are looking to whip up your very own Dutch feast later that evening. We also saw cheese and tulip stands that truly embody the city.
Albert Cuyp is neither a tourist market, nor a local farmers market, but instead a beautiful marriage of both, where you will see people from all over the world shopping and strolling from vendor to vendor alongside one another. Be sure to visit Albert Cuyp around lunchtime, and make sure you come hungry!
Find Out How the beer is Made at the Heineken Experience
Speaking of old, our next recommendation is just a few blocks from Albert Cuyp and is housed in the original Heineken brewery dating back to 1867.
While the infamous beer maker has long since outgrown their original home, you'll find a lot to enjoy inside these walls.
The Heineken Experience starts with a short guided tour taking you through the history of Heineken, the original brewery building, and a short tutorial on how beer is made. You'll then go through the original brewing rooms where large vats of barley, hops, and yeast go through the long process of becoming delicious beer. Finally, you'll go through some more modern attractions that have been added in recent years highlighting what the Heineken brand stands for today. There are many interactive components where you can get hands on with production.
Best of all? At the end of the walk through, you will have a tasting experience where a beer expert will walk you through a proper tasting, followed by a visit to the basement bar where you'll get to try two more ice cold Heinekens to round out the Experience. If you are a beer lover, or just looking for something indoors to do on a rainy Amsterdam day, the Heineken Experience is a great stop for you.
Walk Through History at the Anne Frank House
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to one (or more) of it's many world class museums. The city has so many museums to offer that it's important to filter down and focus your time on wherever your interest lie. For me, this was the Anne Frank House and Museum.
The Anne Frank House is an unassuming house on one of Amsterdam's many canals (and only a short walk from De 9 Straatjes). The house and attached museum are worth a stop for anyone who has read the Diary of Anne Frank (and if you haven't read it, immediately close this blog post and head to your local library.) The free audio tour takes you through the unassuming warehouse space below the secret attic, and eventually you get to experience the incredibly small space that the Frank family shared with seven other people while hiding from the atrocities of World War II.
Tickets for the Anne Frank House go fast and are only made available at a specific time the day before so make sure you plan ahead if you make a stop here.
That rounds out Jane and my top 5 experiences in Amsterdam. If you haven't seen our 72 hours in Amsterdam video, here it is!
We'd love to hear what you like about the city, or which activity you're most excited about!