Amsterdam is amazing. There is a reason why people flock to this city. It's big but feels small. It's got personality but feels welcoming at the same time. If you have felt like a tourist in other cities, you won't get that feeling with Amsterdam. The locals are nice and there are no communication barriers. It's one of those places that you can just fit in, hang out, and not worry. Of course we wanted to spend longer here, but 3 days was still enough to give us a sense of the place, and to see some pretty awesome art along the way. We know we will be back as soon as we can.
I say "on the cheap" because we never do luxury accommodations, we try to weed out the senseless expenses of travel so we can spend that money on more delicious food and drink (and future trips). While this is not a "100 free things to do" or a "backpackers guide" style of itinerary - it's also not a budget buster. Here are my itinerary suggestions.
Day 1: Jordaan District
Take some time to get to know the neighborhood you are staying in. People rave about the Jordaan district so we stayed just on the edge of it, in a very cheap (for Amsterdam) and plenty comfortable hotel called Hotel Paris. We got the economy room which is indeed, VERY small. Like comically small. But here's the deal - how much time do you spend in your hotel room? If you are doing it right, not much. Plus breakfast was included. Staying near this district will get you within walking distance to everything you need, plus it's a cool place to hang out at night. Amsterdam is just as gorgeous at night! As you can see from the image below.
Day 2: Anne Frank House, Canal Tour, and Flea Market
Get your Anne Frank House tickets online in advance through the museum's official website. Tickets do sell out, but if you find yourself in Amsterdam on a whim (lucky you) they do release a certain number of tickets online each day for that specific day only. So that is your last resort if you end up not reserving your spot in time. The tour takes about 1.5 hours with a little history lesson before hand and then a very solemn, quiet walk through the house. It is eery, touching, and riveting. There is a cafe and bookstore inside the museum.
Waterloopleinmarkt flea market is open 9am to 6pm every day but Sunday and is a fun place to wander around and shake off that Anne Frank sadness. There are stalls upon stalls along the street stuffed with just about everything. There are a few cafes in the area for a coffee or more before your afternoon canal tour.
A canal tour is a must! We went with Those Dam Boat Guys which was right up our alley. They are laid back with quirky, interesting facts that you won't find in a guide book. Plus you can bring your own food and drink on board! Cruising along the canal is an amazing way to see the city.
Day 3: Museums, Museums, and more Museums (then lots of food)
The museum district of Amsterdam is very well laid out. There is a central area/park that actually had a skating rink in it while we were there. The museums are arranged around that lawn in a circle, the biggest and most well known being the Rijksmuseum. Among the other museums are the Van Gogh Museum, Moco Museum, and the Stedelijk.
*Book your tickets in advance to avoid the lines*
Granted, there was no line at Van Gogh at 10am, but there were troves of people coming in as we were leaving at 11am. We rented the multimedia guide which ended up being more than just an audioguide, it had a few interactive games, images of the artist's house, and some very helpful visuals if you are into art. For 5 euros, it's worth getting. Get your tickets and reserve your time and guide here. The entry price for Van Gogh is 19 euros, which is not cheap, but I wasn't going to Amsterdam and NOT going right??
We also scheduled a Rijksmuseum tour for 5 euros that was quick, and a nice way to bypass the ticket line. I wouldn't say you NEED the tour, they take you to about 5 paintings, but it's also very cheap if you want an intro. I personally feel lost in large museums so an intro is nice for me. The museum also has a fantastic restaurant so stop in for some soup or a drink (or both).
Foodhallen is open 11am to 11pm everyday, and stays open even later until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights. This is the perfect place to stop and get a drink and several unique bites of food. It's filled with dozens of innovative vendors selling all kinds of cuisine. We ended up getting a bite from at least 4 different food stalls, all of it was amazing. Since it's open late, it's a great place to go for a late dinner if you've been in a museum all day.
Transportation and getting around
Bikes are everywhere. They have designated lanes and even their own traffic lights! If you want to rent one to travel around on, they're very cheap and easy to rent. You can also just follow those in front of you if you don't know what you are doing. There are always bikes in all of the lanes, so you can watch and follow others until you are comfortable.
Amsterdam is totally walkable. The main sites and areas are all within a 20 minute walk so there really is no need for a bike unless you just want to give it a try! To and from the train station is probably going to be your longest walk. The trains are also very inexpensive and can take you to Germany and Belgium in just a few hours. The train system in Europe is truly amazing! Car access is limited and difficult. I wouldn't try to Uber or drive here, and there is really no need.
All in all, I would say that Amsterdam is an extremely relaxed and welcoming city. We didn't feel out of place or uncomfortable one time the entire trip. The food, sites, and general atmosphere is something miss quite often. It's a city you can visit without much planning and still have a wonderful time. It's definitely in my top 5 destinations.