From its historic canal belt to world-class museums, Amsterdam offers a plethora of memorable experiences. On the flip side, many popular venues can be expensive tourist traps. Keep this in mind before adding these oft-visited sights to your itinerary:
Amsterdam’s most famous tourist attraction also has the longest lines.
1. The Anne Frank House. It’s the attraction that tops many bucket lists: the annex where the Holocaust’s most famous diarist hid with her family before the Nazis hauled them away during World War II. It’s also the one with the longest lines; arrive mid-day without a reservation and you’ll spend more time in line than the hour or so it takes to view a historic monument-turned-museum, now shrouded by modern glass and steel. While the courageous teenager is undeniably inspiring, do you really want to pay more than €10 to view her ordeal amidst hordes of tourists?
Instead: Visit the Dutch Resistance Museum, where you’ll find a thoughtful perspective of Holland during Hitler’s tyrannical reign without standing in line.
2. Canal Boat Tours. Sure, Amsterdam is stunning from the water. Gliding along scenic waterways, you look up at gabled mansions and Golden Age monuments. Yet most canal tours cram guests under a glass dome and subject them to 60-minutes of trite commentary surrounded by foreigners blocking their views.
Most canal tours cram guests under a glass dome and subject them to 60-minutes of trite commentary.
Instead: Opt for a cozier experience—a candlelit dinner on Jewel Cruises‘ 19th-century salon boat with up to 19 of your best friends. Or head for Rotterdam (just an hour from Amsterdam via direct GVB train), where you can steam down the canals with family, friends and colleagues in a wood-fired Hot Tug.
Even Amsterdam Marketing suggests you get drunk before visiting The Heineken Experience, an homage to a beer now produced by a multinational firm.
3. The Heineken Experience. Since 1864, Amsterdam has been renowned for the pale pilsner that once permeated De Pijp with the fragrance of fermenting hops. Closed in 1988, the brewery transformed into a museum that offered tours for fans. After a 2008 renovation, ticket prices skyrocketed, bottomless tastings became two-beer samplings, and a brand promotion became a pricey tourist trap.
Brouwerij ‘t Ij produces some of Amsterdam’s finest craft beers.
Instead: Heineken may be Holland’s most renowned export, but it pales in pizzazz compared to beers made at local craft breweries like Brouwerij de Prael in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and Brouwerij ’t IJ, marked by a giant windmill in East Amsterdam. Both offer tours and tastings.
4. Madame Tussauds. This branch of London’s wax homage to celebrity is similar to Madame Tussauds attractions around the world. Enjoy the panoramic view of Dam Square from the giant top floor window—virtually the only redeeming feature of a tacky wax collection.
Instead: Recall one of Amsterdam’s most famous celebrities in Rembrandt’s Studio, filled with 17th-century curiosities and some of the artist’s best etchings.
5. Faux museums. Throughout Amsterdam, shops masquerading as museums sell overpriced cheese, tulips and even vodka. Once inside, it’s clear you’ve paid to visit a commercial store disguised as a museum.
Enter the feline world at the Katten Kabinet.
Instead: In a city rife with world-class culture, there’s a museum for every mood: Museum van Loon, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of 17th-century Holland, or the award-winning Tassenmuseum, an homage to small bags and purses. On the Ij River, EYE salutes international cinema while Katten Kabinet celebrates cats in a canal house replete with art by Picasso, Rembrandt and Toulouse-Lautrec, all with felines on center stage.
6. Tourist coffeeshops. Want to be ripped off for inferior weed? Patronize The Bulldog, Barney’s, or any of the dives around Warmoesstraat and Leidseplein. While some may be fine for a smoke, most offer sub-par product and a touristy environment.
George Clooney and Brad Pitt famously chilled at Dampkring in Oceans 12.
Instead: Find local flavor and good product at Tweede Kamer, one of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshops, off Spuistraat, or Dampkring, where George Clooney and Brad Pitt famously romped around in Hollywood’s Oceans 12. Better yet, chill out with residents in Vondelpark or any of the city’s other green spaces.
7. Damrak. Although it’s home to Beurs van Berlage (the former stock exchange) and posh department store The Bijenkorf, the artery leading from Central Station to Dam Square is an embarrassment to both locals and city government. While there’s a movement to transform it into Amsterdam’s Champs-Élysées, replacement of its tacky shops, cheap hotels, fast food joints and tourist restaurants with chic boutiques has a long way to go.
See and be seen at Food Hallen, an indoor food court in the Oud-West’s transformed tram depot.
Instead: Explore cool neighborhoods outside city center, from the picturesque Jordaan to De Pijp, home of the Albert Cuyp market. In the Oud-West, visit De Hallen, a transformed tram depot now housing an indoor food court, movie theaters, library, hotel, and eclectic businesses.
8. Wooden shoes. Countless tourists photograph themselves in the giant wooden clogs off Dam Square, on Reguliersbreestraat and elsewhere in town. Why?
Amsterdam’s canal belt is a free outdoor museum and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Instead: Amsterdam’s 17th-century grachtengordel (canal belt) was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2010, making it a free outdoor museum. With its Golden Age mansions, graceful bridges and historic monuments, it offers limitless photogenic vistas.
9. Live Sex at Casa Rosso. In Europe’s erotic capital, live sex performed on stage may surprise no one. See how seductive it is (or not) at De Wallen’s oldest live sex theater, where couples engage in sexual intercourse while thinking about paying bills. If you’re part of a bachelor party, it may be worth more than €40 to experience the iconic club marked by a neon pink elephant. If not, consider less expensive, more erotic options.
Instead: Be a voyeur in a Red Light District cabin for a mere €2. Have a stack of €2 coins ready to view more than a few minutes of sexual interaction. Gain deeper insight into the practice of sex for money at the Prostitute Information Center run by Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute.
Find cheese, fish and trinkets priced especially for visitors at touristy Zaanse Schans.
Kinderdijk features 19 spinning windmills in their natural habitat, just outside Amsterdam.
Instead: Skip the kitsch and visit Kinderdijk, 19 spinning windmills in a natural habitat east of Rotterdam that adds credibility to an old saying: “God made the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”