Laid-Back Amsterdam: 7 Tips for a Relaxing Trip

Amsterdam is a city with a complex personality. The quirky houseboats and skinny gabled houses that line the canals cultivate a quaint, fairytale atmosphere. But when the sun sets and the red lights flicker on, Amsterdam can begin to feel like the Las Vegas of Europe—cannabis clouds, late night raves, psychedelic “smart shops,” and general revelry abound.

For those who are looking for an unforgettable trip without tripping out, here are seven suggestions for a low-key Amsterdam adventure.

1. Biking for Beginners in Vondelpark

Cycling in Amsterdam can be intimidating to say the least. When pedaling with locals, it can feel like you’re in the middle of Le Tour de France on a tricycle. For a less harrowing experience, skip the bike lane of the Damrak and head straight for Vondelpark.

Arguably the most famous park in the Netherlands, Vondelpark is home to a stunning expanse of green lawns, gardens, fountains, and statues. Even better, Vondelpark has wide, tarmac roads for both pedestrians and cyclists. That means no cars, trams, or mopeds to watch out for! Pack a picnic, take in the storybook scenery, and (gently) put the pedal to the metal.

Enjoy biking in Amsterdam. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

Enjoy biking in Amsterdam. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

2. Go Van Gogh!

Museums can be a wonderful sightseeing option for folks who want to take it easy. Thankfully, Amsterdam has one of the best in the world. The Van Gogh Museum is small enough to see it all in a couple of hours, but popular enough that you’ll want to plan ahead to avoid the long lines and overwhelming crowds. Buy your tickets online to skip the queue and arrive extra early (9 a.m.) or extra late (5 p.m.) to miss the midday rush.

The museum features an impressive array of Van Gogh’s works, arranged chronologically. From floor to floor, the collection follows the artist’s tumultuous life and revolutionary works, from his early drawings and watercolors to his ecstatic flowers and darkening landscapes. Ready yourself for a sensory overload (no magic truffles required).

3. You’ve got Some Museumplein-in’ to do

Yes, you’ll look like a tourist, but it’s a rite of passage to snap a selfie with the I Amsterdam sculpture in Museumplein. This vast public square is home to many of the city’s famous museums and is a prime locale for picnicking, people watching, and (in the wintertime) ice-skating. After hitting up the food carts serving traditional Dutch snacks, take your treats over to watch the skaters in the Museumplein skate park.

Museumplein. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

Museumplein. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

4. Goofing Off in Keukenhof

If you’re visiting Amsterdam in the spring (mid-March through mid-May), take a day trip to Lisse to explore Holland’s famous technicolor tulips. You can either buy a combination ticket that includes the bus ride to and from Schiphol Airport and the entrance fee to Keukenhof (~€24), or just buy the bus ticket separately (~€8), rent a bike (~€10) outside the Keukenhof gates, and take a self-guided tour of the flower fields in the surrounding area. For travelers who prefer to save a couple bucks and avoid crowds, the latter option is your best bet.

Located in the Keukenhof parking lot, Rent-A-Bike Van Dam has free maps with several suggested routes ranging from 4-35 km along dedicated cycling paths and roads. This is the perfect opportunity to “choose your own adventure” and see the blooms of Lisse on your own terms.

P.S. If pedaling through the petals has you hankering for a snack, stop by Como & Co. on the shores of beautiful Lake Como for a snack (their pumpkin soup is delicious!) and a local brew.

Explore Holland’s famous technicolor tulips with a trip to Lisse. Photo © Anna Gallagher.

Explore Holland’s famous technicolor tulips with a trip to Lisse. Photo © Anna Gallagher.

5. Choose Your Cruise

What could be more laid-back than spending an hour or two drifting through the winding canals of Amsterdam? Hopping on board a canal cruise is a fantastic way to see the city, especially when you can select the tour that appeals most to you. Whether you opt for an all-day hop-on-hop-off excursion, a night tour, a romantic cruise for two, or a one-hour ride, there is a canal cruise tailored to your sensibilities.

For an almost guaranteed stress-free experience, take a stroll down Damrak, compare prices and departure times (all clearly listed next to the docks), and pick one out on the spot!

Cruise the winding canals of Amsterdam. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

Cruise the winding canals of Amsterdam. Photo © Courtney Mazzei.

6. Stroll the Streets of the Jordaan

The Jordaan neighborhood of Amsterdam provides a respite from the shoppers on Kalverstraat, the bustling Red Light District, and the hordes of commuters on the Damrak. Charming and tranquil, the streets of the Jordaan are easy to explore on foot and are mainly traveled by native Amsterdammers on their way home from work or heading out to the market. Wander around the small streets and narrow alleyways and you’ll come across plenty of boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and art studios scattered throughout.

For a delectable Dutch experience visit Café ‘t Smalle, a cozy, historical eatery bordering the Jordaan district. If it’s warm outside, grab a seat on the front patio bordering the canal with an order of smoked raw sausage called Ossenworst (if you dare!) or a plate of melt-in-your-mouth poffertjes—mini pancakes dusted with powdered sugar. Yum!

7. Don’t Get Lost

Bring a guide book! We’re partial to Andy Steves’ Europe because it’s updated, accessible, and it pays special attention to a modern traveler’s mindset and budget. In Amsterdam, it can be pricey and inconvenient to access the internet, so having a physical back-up of travel tips, maps, and suggested destinations is super helpful in a pinch. Happy traveling!

Anna with Andy Steves Europe

Anna with a copy of Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget. Photo © Anna Gallagher.

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