As an American living in Amsterdam, I am asked monthly, if not weekly, for Amsterdam recommendations... and I can't say I blame people for struggling with what to do here (I was in your shoes every time I visited before moving to the Netherlands).
With that said, and admittedly biased as a now-resident, I think Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in Europe. Accordingly, I feel it is actually my duty to help people see the *real* Amsterdam - the one with which I have become enamored - and enjoy it in all of its glory, even if for just a weekend.
My goal in writing this list is to get people off the beaten path, not just walking around the riff-raffy Amsterdam you hear about in tales and guide books from decades ago. The city has become quite gentrified and is no longer the red light window-dominated scene that it used to be. It's interesting, modern, forward-thinking, and full of charm - if you know where to look.
Without further ado, these are my recommendations for this city I have grown to love so dearly. I think these locations give tourists at least a preliminary sense of Dutch culture, city life - but with a touch of hospitality since you are on vacation after all. Of course, these are just my recommendations, and I certainly have not tried everything - but I feel comfortable sending people to each and every one of these, and they have impressed me time and time again - enough that I just keep going back!
The Hoxton - super mod, posh, and a lobby / lounge scene enjoyed by even locals. You can never go wrong staying at a Hoxton and the rooms are super quirky, Amsterdammy, and many offer canal views.
The Pulitzer - a unique hotel, as it is made up of an intricate maze of 25 connecting Golden Age canal houses. They also offer a really unique wooden boat tour (far less touristy than the stretch limo Lover's Canal Cruise boats) of Amsterdam (cost not included), which can be arranged at the front desk.
The Weavery - for a real, authentic canal house experience. The owners are just lovely (tell Bettina and Driss that I sent you!) and it's a B&B type experience (but don't worry, they are hands-off and won't be in your space if you so choose.
Mr. Jordaan - slightly off the beaten path, in a good way - a fun opportunity to stay in one of the hip Amsterdam neighborhoods, the Jordaan district. Near weekend markets, fun shops, etc.
Buffet van Odette - you actually can't go wrong with anything on their menu - believe me, I've tried it all
Winkel 43 - this place has been around for decades. You only need to know two words when you go there: Apple Pie. I've never had a better one.
Omelegg - if you are a fan of omelettes and eggs, then head here. There are two locations: the Red Light District (tourist central) and one in De Pijp. I'd recommend the latter.
Cafe de Blaffende Vis - a rotating small menu of Dutch favorites and snacks - a great place to spend the night drinking Heineken after Heineken
La Perla - absolute best pizza in town - you can take away from across the street, if you prefer
Foodhallen - a large hall of food vendors, open 7 days a week - large variety of food/drinks to try and a fun scene!
Boca's - sharing platters of classic favorites with a local twist; get the fries sampler
Thrill Grill - great burger spot which has Beyond Meat on offer; lots of meatless options!
VEGAN OPTION: Meatless District - consistently voted one of the best vegan options in the Netherlands, but definitely not a sleeper option even for those who enjoy meat; every meal is divine.
Cafe de Tuin - quite a fun local scene, get the bitterballen - it makes all of the lists for being the best in town
Moeders - the most Dutch that you can get; the walls are adorned with photos of actual moms and antiques. A quirky place that can't be missed
NICE EVENING OUT:
Choux Restaurant - a less traditional menu which you choose by selecting ingredients which appeal, and are presented with surprising, unexpected dishes. An amazing wine selection as well.
Restaurant Vlaming - classic, extremely well prepared dishes in a fun neighborhood with cozy scene. Even Bill Clinton recently went here!
Repeat from above: Buffet van Odette - they can do no wrong.
I'm convinced the best way to see a city is to go on a pub/cafe crawl - this definitely applies in Amsterdam. Here's my prior list of the Best Brown Cafes of Amsterdam
Special mentions go to Proeflokaal Arendsnest (huge selection of local Dutch beers), Brouwerij 't IJ (excellent local brewery at the base of a windmill), and Cafe 't Smalle - none of these three should be missed.
FOODS TO TRY:
Fries with various mayos/ketchups/sauces
Tony's Chocolonely (buy a bunch and bring em home - they make great gifts! The orange flavor, salty chocolate, is the most popular and for good reason!)