I’m not the first to say it but really the only way to get around Amsterdam is by bicycle. It’s cheap, the city is flat, and you can go where the mood takes you and see the real Amsterdam. But be aware:
-people from the Netherlands don’t wear helmets
-the bikes have back pedal breaks, and no gears
-in winter it is so windy and cold you might form icicles as you pedal
-the increasing car traffic in the center is at odds with the cyclists and it is a hate/hate relationship
-cyclists don’t slow down at cross streets in the central ring of canals, you just dodge
-there is an excellent network of bike lanes on the busier roads
-real Amsterdammers don’t buy expensive bikes as they get stolen
-real Amsterdammers cycle talking on their phones and holding umbrellas over their heads. It’s very impressive.
When I first got to Amsterdam I hadn’t ridden a bicycle for many, many years, and I was terrified. Now I can’t imagine being in Amsterdam without that freedom, and the feel of the wind in my ears. It’s why the Dutch are so fit and never need to go to the gym; cycling and all those narrow stairs.
It’s easy to hire a bike. I’d recommend getting one of the traditional Dutch granny bikes – no gears, back pedal brakes – so you feel local even if the hire bike logo still marks you as a tourist. Here are some recommendations for your bike-rental needs:
MacBikes (Centraal Station) have the biggest logo marking you out, but they also hire the most bikes – maybe it’s good to be marked as a novice and unfamiliar with where you’re going.
Damstraat Rent a Bike has lots of choices and will rent for a few hours at a time.
Viator’s Bike Tours are a great way to see the city on a bike with a guide to show you around, so you can just follow and focus on balancing and braking.
If you’re in town for a while, buy a bike then head to HEMA and buy plastic flowers, locks, lights and panier bags. Now you’re halfway to being Dutch.