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Stopover Adventures: 12 Hours in Amsterdam

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

updated: February 2023

The ideal stopover is a major airline hub that permits passengers to disembark and leave the airport; has an interesting city that is close and easily accessible from the airport, and allows enough time to travel into the city to enjoy some activity or sightseeing. In my opinion, Amsterdam's Schipol Airport is one of the best for an interesting stopover.

Some airports are more expensive to fly in/out. Non-stop long-distance flights are becoming increasingly rare and expensive. Budget travellers learn to look for flights to nearby airports and consider creative routing options. I have been lured by fares that included multiple stopovers! I even (foolishly) ONCE convinced myself that one of those 2 stopover flights with two teenagers was a fine plan (it wasn't). After turning what could have been a 2-hour journey into a day-long hellish odyssey, I had a much better understanding of what routings I can tolerate and which are absolute deal-breakers.

I now look at the routing carefully. I either want a connection within 2-3 hours or I want enough time to turn it into a sampler stopover. It's also important that secure luggage storage will be available upon your arrival and return to the airport. Schipol Airport in Amsterdam checks all those boxes.

Schipol offers both luggage lockers and several storage areas very conveniently located throughout the airport. The baggage storage areas do close overnight, so lockers may be a better choice for some travellers. Trains to Amsterdam Centraal Station leave every 5 - 10 minutes arriving approximately 15 minutes later.

Amsterdam's Centraal Railway Station in the afternoon sun with tram stops in front.

Centraal Station is huge and right in the centre of things. If you are craving some chocolate after your flight and train ride, check out the Chocolate Company located in the center of the station. If you prefer something healthier, just across from the Chocolate Company is the Yoghurt Barn with delicious homemade yoghurt and fresh toppings. Walk out of the station and meander around to check out all the bikes and the bike parking lots. Watch out as you cross the streets, there are different signals for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists!

A man crossing an Amsterdam street with a line of bicycles on the right.

After a flight, I always need a good cup of coffee which will lead me to a coffee shop. The pungent scent that greets me when I step through the door always reminds me that coffee isn't the main product being sold in some of these shops. Don't be surprised when the barista casually flips open a menu of cannabis products. For travellers from countries without legal cannabis shops, the choice of products can be quite astonishing. It is assumed that you will order something beyond coffee. Most of the shops have a designated room for smoking. For those that don't want to deal with the odour, there are many other options, often called coffee bars.

Coffee cup in center of table with a cannabis cigarette in front.

After a morning coffee, enjoy the fabulous Open Boat Canal Cruise. This popular hour-long tour passes along some of the city's most beautiful spots and also allows a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life along the canals. While gliding through the old centre of the city you'll see elegant merchant's mansions, carillon-crowned churches and the warehouses with their rich history from Holland's Golden Age. There is a live guide and a cash bar on board.

the underside of a curved bridge from the canal. On the other side of the bridge are two live-aboard anaal boats.

Depending upon your energy level you can meander on foot or rent a bike to ride along the canals. If you have time (and have pre-booked from home), a visit to Anne Frank House is a powerful experience. It is located an easy 20-minute walk from the train station. An average visit is approximately 1 hour. Your silent self-guided tour will take you through the secret annex where Anne and her family hid for more than 2 years during WWII.

A man feeding 5 swans from a ground floor apartment window over the canal

Further meandering will take you through the most famous Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in The Netherlands, but street solicitation is not. The prostitutes in Amsterdam stand up behind a window and have their own room. The name of "Red Light District" comes from the red neon lights that highlight the 300 windows where women are working. Contrary to what a lot of people might think, the Amsterdam Red Light District has a very friendly atmosphere and isn't as dangerous as it used to be. It is actually the safest area in Amsterdam as clusters of policemen, and private bodyguards, employed by the girls themselves, are always on duty. Be polite and remember that it's considered very rude to take photos of the workers without permission and/or compensation.

View of the upper windows of a cheese shop filled with rounds of gouda cheese stored on racks.

By now, it's probably time to head back to the airport and carry on your journey. Enjoy a final slow meander, and look down the streets as you pass. Look in all the cheese shop windows. If you are like me, you will want to go in and enjoy a sample or three. Depending upon your next destination, you might want buy a tasty chunk of cheese to enjoy on the next stage of your journey. Hop on the train and return to Schipol. Pick up your carry-on from storage or its locker and head towards your gate. Now that you’ve had a wee sample of this Dutch capital, you’ll be eager to return to see other wonders like the Van Gogh Museum and the famous tulips.


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