Long layovers can occasionally be a total drag – but they certainly don’t have to be! While en route to Kenya, I purposefully booked a flight that left me eight hours in Amsterdam so that I could get a glimpse of the city between flights. It’s not uncommon to have layovers like this at Schiphol Airport, so if you find yourself “stuck” in Amsterdam here’s how to joyfully kill eight hours!
Leaving The Airport
First order of business when arriving in Schiphol is to find a locker to store your bags that you don’t want to lug around the city. I found some located before security at Arrivals 1 and 3. You will see signs for baggage lockers – just follow those. It was very easy and inexpensive. After I stowed my larger bag I hopped on the railway line that connects the airport directly to Amsterdam Central Station. You’ll find the railway in the main airport arrival plaza, and it takes you right to the center of Amsterdam. Once you exit the train terminal, you are free to roam the streets.
Navigating the City
Speaking of roaming the streets, its wise to download a map of the city beforehand. Maps.me is a great app that lets you download maps and then use them when you are offline. You likely will not have cell service unless you have an international plan so this can be a really useful tool. I downloaded a map beforehand so I could have a general lay of the land, though I will say it didn’t help me much. There are many streets, canals, and side streets to navigate. I got lost a few times, but maybe your sense of direction is better than mine. I still use GPS in my home city.
Anne Frank House
My first priority was to visit the Anne Frank House. Even though I was actively looking for it, I only finally stumbled upon it by accident. Like I said – I’m directionally challenged. I expected long lines out the door but because of the time of year (it was winter and freezing cold) there weren’t as many tourists lined up around the block. It’s a smart idea to purchase tickets on the website ahead of time if you know when you will be there.I waited maybe ten minutes before I could enter and buy my ticket to the former home and hiding place of Anne Frank and her family, now a museum and memorial to the holocaust.
It is a heavy subject matter and a powerful experience for many to visit. Because I was surrounded by people, and was very obviously in a museum environment, the experience was lost on me a bit. It was hard to grasp that I was standing in the actual house that had been written about so long ago. That being said, every room, artifact, and diary page out for display was worth a second look. Once you cycle through the whole house you end in a room where a video is played about the Holocaust. Again, a moving experience. This is the one “tourist” thing I really wanted to do in Amsterdam and I highly recommend you check out this piece of history for yourself if you get the chance.
They say the best way to see the city is by water. After seeing the Anne Frank House I truly had no agenda, and while wandering the streets I passed a shop pitching canal tours. There are many, so it shouldn’t take you long to track one down. It may be a good idea for you to do this first so that you can get a general understanding of the city before walking around. You may feel like a total tourist but check your pride at the door and learn some cool things while getting a lay of the land!
Can you believe I went to Amsterdam and didn’t get the typical “I AMSTERDAM” photo? Me neither. That being said, the iconic I AMSTERDAM sign is located right in front of the Rijksmuseum. Nearby you will also find the Van Gogh Museum. There are several museums to see in the city but these two, along with the Anne Frank House, should be at the top of your list. You will not have time to see everything but any of these would be a great choice on its own.
While strolling the sidewalks I happened upon a place called The Pancake Bakery. It is exactly what it sounds like. They serve pancakes, crepes, and deserts. It isn’t all sweets, as they serve savory foods and beer as well. This was the only spot I could find nearby so I took up an entire four-person table for myself probably causing distress to those queued out the door. A great place, but while you’re in the city make sure you look out for the dutch must-haves including patat – which is essentially dutch french fries, and stroopwaffel (seriously, DO IT).
Maybe you don’t like the idea of museums or a canal tour, in which case you can supplement those activities with a visit to the Red Light District, the sex museum, or one of the city’s famous coffee shops. You can also rent a bike to get around but just use caution because bikes are the main transportation of the locals and you won’t want to get run over by people on their morning commute. It won’t be hard to kill time on a layover here. Enjoy walking the streets, learning some history, viewing the architecture, and taking photos. It takes about 15 minutes to get from Amsterdam Central back to Schiphol airport so make sure to leave time to get back, get through security, and collect your bags. Enjoy your layover!