A small boat flowing down a river in Amsterdam

“Travel Diaries: Play, Learn, Serve and Rest Well” is a series about the idea of traveling well in a society that minimizes adventure and exploration to mere Instagram likes. 

Picture a peaceful morning sipping coffee at an outdoor table near the street. The crisp air pushes the earliest longboats down the nearby canal. Watch as people wind in and out of the alleys and over bridges, while bicycles and their riders ding-a-ling over cobblestones. 

This dynamic city draws you in with a singular blend of rich history and progressive ideals. Wherever you came from, here, in Amsterdam, you’re a local.

Wherever you came from, here, in Amsterdam, you’re a local. 
Whether you’re visiting The Netherlands during tulip season or popping over during a backpacking trip, this city draws you in instantly.

Here are our favorite spots to play, learn, serve and rest well.

Play

Amsterdam is a city that loves to play: wander the farmer’s markets, saunter around it’s many parks or meet new friends at a show. You can start by renting bikes from Black Bikes. With 14 locations scattered around Amsterdam, you’ll be able to zip from museum to cafe or spend a lazy hour meandering around the loop in Vondelpark (maybe after grabbing a pick-me-up stroopwaffel?) Next head over to Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. Floating house boats line the Single Canal packed with colorful blooms, potted plants and fresh tulip bulbs.

Don’t forget to make your way to the Mouse Mansion. As intriguing as it sounds, this corner store is an entire work of art featuring fictional mice characters in storybook scenes that line the walls. 

If live music is your jam, then look no further than Melkweg. This converted factory features new musicians each night. If music is not your art form but visual arts is, then visit the Vlieger. Amsterdam’s beauty will certainly inspire your inner artist. If you’re itching to grab a sketchbook and some art supplies (or beautiful handmade papers), then stop in.  

A river in Amsterdam flowing behind a row of buildings

Learn

Amsterdam has a plethora of museums, historical buildings and art galleries. Dive into the history of The Netherlands at Zaanse Schans. Just north of Amsterdam is this historical village known for its windmills, handicraft shops and museums. Walk back in history to see chocolatiers and wooden shoe cobblers. Visit copper foundries, barrel makers, weavers and the cheese farm! 

To learn more about the landscape of Amsterdam, book a canal tour. We recommend trying to find a more local guide, smaller boat and intimate experience. Another insightful experience would be to learn Amsterdam’s history through art immersion. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh are just a few of the artists whose work you’ll find hanging on the walls of the grand Rijksmuseum.

Another exhilarating learning experience is a trip to the Anne Frank House. An unforgettable historical site, this museum will take you through the home and Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII.

Serve

On your trip to Amsterdam, give back by volunteering to work on organic farm through WWOOF Netherlands (aka Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). There, you’ll learn sustainable practices and skills as you make friends with local farmers and fellow workers. You are able to work in exchange for room and board on the farm.

You can also give your time at the Rainbow Group and help the people of Amsterdam who are homeless and impoverished by volunteering with this impactful group. If you want a more detailed list of service opportunities, then check out I am Amsterdam. Here you’ll find a comprehensive list of ongoing projects or service opportunities in the city including gardening in parks, teaching English and helping with the city’s sustainability movement.

A bicycle leaned a against a window near a rosebush

Rest

From delightfully original hostels and hotels, to secret courtyard gardens or quiet canals, there are excellent places to sit and simply be present in Amsterdam. For hostels and hotels, check out Cocomama. Located in the bohemian “De Pijp” neighborhood, it is a boutique, bespoke and a former-brothel location. It also has options for private or shared rooms. For a more modern vibe, try The Hoxton, Once the mayor’s home, this hotel’s rooms embrace the structural quirks of the old canal building. In the lobby, you’ll find a cozy armchairs scattered around a common area including a restaurant and a bar. 

For something more low-key, there’s Lloyd Hotel, a “1 to 5 star” hotel that accommodates all types of travelers from backpackers to businessmen. Its 117 rooms are each unique, and its common spaces are curated for a variety of needs from work to leisure.

Last but not least, for the traveler who appreciates the arts, there is Hotel Droog. Much more than a hotel, this eclectic space is part design gallery and part indie-clothes shop. Sit in the upstairs cafe for a midday chat with friends or meander into the courtyard garden for a long sit. 

When you are not resting your body, relax your mind with a visit to the Leidsegracht & Bloemgracht Canals. These are smaller canals with incredible architecture and peaceful vibes. Sit on the edge of the canal and watch longboats sail past. Also, be sure to visit Sarphatipark, a large park near lots of food options. Grab a bite to go and sit in this space for some pleasant people and wildlife watching.  

Have you ever traveled to Amsterdam? What were your favorite places to play, learn, serve and rest?

Images via Kara Alden

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