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How to take a self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam

Updated 10.10.2018:  Amsterdam is an incredible destination. The city is often the embarkation or disembarkation point on a Rhine River cruise.

With its charming canals and laid-back rhythms, the city is a great place to explore on foot. In fact, Donna has already taken our boomer travel readers on a winter walking tour of the Jordaan District.

But there’s so much to see in Amsterdam that one walking tour simply isn’t enough. Guest contributor, Susan Guillory from The Unexplorer, takes us on a self guided Amsterdam walking tour filled with tips for how to best see the city on foot, or as the locals do, by bicycle.

Bicycle parked near a canal on a self guided Amsterdam walking tour

Exploring Amsterdam on foot gives you a different perspective than a tour.

Tips for a self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam

While Amsterdam may be on the Grand Tour for every foreigner to visit while in Europe, intrepid travelers who prefer less touristy cities shouldn’t pass it by. Amsterdam is filled with warm citizens (who have no issue speaking English to you), wonderful food, and picturesque settings.

I recently tacked on a couple of days in one of my most favorite cities in the world after two weeks in France. Faced with a mere day to spend in the city, I made the most of it by exploring on a self guided Amsterdam walking tour. Follow my tips to make the most of your independent exploration of Amsterdam. Although I do recommend a good pair of walking shoes.

Amsterdam is a Walkable City

While, when you first exit Centraal Station, you are overwhelmed by the crowds, the starving students handing out flyers for hostels, and the zinging of what feels like millions of bicycles going by, if you walk a little further out, the crowds disperse and you can breathe more easily.

Passing by an Amsterdam canal on a self guided walking tour.

Slow down and savor life the way the Dutch do.

The streets are wide, with few cars competing against the primary means of transportation: the bicycle. Amsterdam is one of the more pedestrian-conscious cities I’ve traveled to, which makes walking here less stressful. But do keep an eye out for those bikes! They move fast, and like cars, can still mow you down.

A Self Guided Amsterdam Walking Tour for Seeing the City in a Day

Once you leave Centraal Station, you have two choices: if you want a canal view and thinning crowds, stay straight to end up on Damrak, the wide boulevard lined by a canal. Meander down to Dam Square, where often on the weekends and during the summer, throngs of people gather for events.

Just before the square, look for Royal 98 Restaurant on the right. Its desserts, particularly its mini bossche bol (a chocolate drenched confection filled with cream), paired with a cappuccino, make the perfect pick-me-up, no matter what time it is.

Enjoying a mini bossche bol in Amsterdam.

Have a snack to fuel up at Royal 98.

Option two: if you want to get your shopping on right away, veer one block to the right of Damrak when you leave the station to land on the narrow Niewendijk street. It’s lined with stores for both locals and tourists. Hema, a sort of miniature IKEA store, sits nestled among shoe stores and vape shops.

Yes, I said vape. If you’re unaccustomed to smelling the pungent whiff of marijuana in the air, you will be by the end of your walk. But for the most part, people, even tourists partaking, are respectful and not over the top.

Once you arrive at Dam Square (maybe stopping for that break), follow Damrak from either previous path. It turns into Rokin here. As long as the canal is on your left, you’ll be fine.

Do you prefer a guided Amsterdam walking tour? Check out the offerings at Viator.

Let’s Add a Few Tulips to the Tour

Once you cross a bridge over another canal, it’s time to turn right to visit the Bloemenmarkt. (Signs will guide you.) This flower market on the canal has been in existence since 1862.

Your self guided Amsterdam walking tour becomes colorful here as you admire tulips in shades you couldn’t even dream of, as well as a surprising assortment of other plants, seeds, and bulbs. Buy bulbs to take home (it’s allowed) or just take photos.

Bulbs displayed at Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam.

At Bloemenmarkt, you’ll find every kind of bulb under the sun.

There are also several cheese shops across from the market, so meander in for samples of amazing aged Gouda.

I know you’re getting hungry, but we’ve got one more stop before lunch.

I visited Amsterdam in late September, which was perfect. There were fewer tourists, and the weather was still warm.

Go back the way you came into the market and turn right on Vijzelstraat. Follow this street lined with houses (no tourists to be seen) for about 20 minutes.

Suddenly, the Heineken factory will loom largely ahead on the left. Take a photo. Take a tour, if you’re so inclined (free samples!).

Then turn left in front of the factory and then right on Eerstevander Helststraat until you end up in the middle of the bustle of the Albert Cuyp Markt. The street market is open daily, 9-5, and houses all sorts of wares, from clothing to meat to souvenirs. Whether you buy anything or not, it’s a great place to take in the hecklers begging shoppers to sample food as well as people watch.

Include an Amsterdam museum in your walking tour. But skip those long lines!

Time to Dine

Sorry to starve you this long! You’re welcome to pick up a few items for a picnic lunch at the market, then head two blocks south to Sarphatipark to enjoy it. If you run into a fritjes shop, by all means, make that your lunch. I won’t judge.

I personally think the french fries in Amsterdam are the best in the world. They come in a cone, slathered with your choice of sauce. I always opt for Samurai sauce (mayo with sriracha).

Enjoy fritjes slathered in sauce on a self guided Amsterdam walking tour

Fritjes slathered in sauce makes an excellent dinner!

If you want something a bit more substantial, you’re spoiled for choice. Amsterdam is known for great Surinamese food, and I find the Indian and Chinese food to be spectacular as well. Trip Advisor is a great place to find a recommendation in the area you are looking to eat in.

Has this article inspired an Amsterdam boomer adventure? Start your search for hotels in Amsterdam with us.

Time to Relax

I know by now I’ve worn you out, so take it easy on your return to Centraal Station or your hotel. What better way than to rest your tired feet and see Amsterdam than on a canal tour?

Amsterdam canal from inside a canal boat.

A canal tour gives you a peek at how the locals live on the canals.

There are several tours, and you’ll see signs for them on the larger canals. Be smart: buy your tickets ahead with company’s that offer a 24-hour-in-advance cancellation policy:

Just sit back and listen to the guide give some interesting facts and history on the city as a way to round out your self guided Amsterdam walking tour.

We didn’t even touch on any of the major tourist attractions like the Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum, but if you’re inclined to visit them, you can absolutely build them into your walking tour.

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Text on photo: Amsterdam. How to take a self guided walking tour. Photo: Canal in Amsterdam

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