Amsterdam is a city of canals, bikes, and well-preserved 17th to 18th-century architecture! Good news for first-timers to Amsterdam, no matter if you are only spending a day or a week, I’ve pulled together a list of options that you can choose based on your time and interests. This is your list of the top things to do in Amsterdam.
First Impressions of Amsterdam
To be honest, Amsterdam was low on my travel list. I always viewed it as a good-time city, with its liberal views on drugs and prostitution, I just didn’t think it would ever appeal to me. Was I ever wrong! I absolutely fell in love with this city. It’s chock-full of amazing museums and art galleries, stylish boutique shops, design-savvy hotels, and trendy restaurants that satisfy any foodie. Amsterdam has definitely cleaned up its act and is no longer just the stag-doe party scene it used to be known for. (Updated: May 2022)
Best Things to Do in Amsterdam
You have to Stroll The 9 Streets
Amsterdam is such a beautiful city with its 200-year-old canals lined with picturesque townhouses. It makes it such a delight to roam and get lost in. The unique architecture of the tall, thin, large-windowed, gabled century canal house is unlike anything else you will find in Europe making this entire area one of the best places to see in Amsterdam.
It is required that each townhome be personalized and distinct from its neighbour while complimenting it. Such care was taken. That is why you see such elaborate details in the gables, brick details, plaster crests, scrolls, or masks.
The townhouses in the Jordaan neighbourhood, specifically in The 9 Streets, were my favourite. This picturesque area is literally made up of nine streets (3 x 3). They sit right in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the canal belt running between Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. It is an area brimming with unique shops and charming eateries making it one of the best things to do in Amsterdam. Time: 2 to 3 hours
Which streets are actually The 9 Streets
Gasthuismolensteeg, Hartenstraat, Reestraat, Oude Spielgelstraat, Wolvenstraat, Berenstraat, Wijde Heistreeg, Huidenstraat and Runstraat
Beyond the 9 Streets, these were some of my absolute favourite streets in this area:
Visit Some of the Best Museums in Amsterdam
Anne Frank House: I can remember the exact moment in time when I first read the Diary of Anne Frank. I knew I needed to see the secret annex, tucked behind a bookcase where Anne and her family hid for 2 years before they were eventually discovered. The museum tells the story of the Frank family as well as a quiet memorial to all the lives lost during the Holocaust. Book your ticket here. Time = 1 hour
Rijksmuseum: This is the most-visited museum in the Netherlands with over two million people a year. It offers a rotating display of artwork and objects that tell the Dutch 800-year story. At the time of our visit, we were fortunate enough to see the world’s largest research and live conservation of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’. The museum itself, both the interior and exterior, is worth a visit alone. Get your Entrance Ticket here. Time = 2 to 3 hours
The Oude Kerk: Oude Kerk, or Old Church is the oldest building in the city, dating back to 1306. Today it is considered a museum showcasing heritage, contemporary art, and music through numerous exhibits, events, and concerts open to the public. Unlike most churches in Europe, this is not free due to its museum status. Book your ticket here. Time = 1 to 2 hours
The Van Gogh Museum: The world’s largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, with around 200 paintings and over 1,000 letters and drawings, tells the story of his life. You gain real insight into his life, his relationships, and his mental health. Each room is a certain time period and you can see how this has influenced his work. Of course, the real highlight is seeing his most famous work, the Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, and The Potato Eaters. Get your skip-the-line ticket here. Time = 1 to 2 hours
Tip: All museums require you to book your tickets on line and in advance.
Wander through VondelPark
Amsterdam’s largest park is lively and well-visited by locals and tourists alike. It includes cycle paths, winding footpaths, pristine lawns, ponds with swans, and tiny cafes. With its close proximity to the main museums and some great foodie cafes and restaurants, it’s a great addition to your itinerary and one of the best free things to do in Amsterdam. Time = 1 to 2 hours
Roam Through Albert Cuypmarkt
The city’s largest and busiest market offers 260 stalls of flowers, produce and cheese; houseware, and clothing. It also includes food vendors full of Dutch treats like frites (fries), poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes dusted with icing sugar), and caramel syrup-filled stroopwafels. As well, the surrounding area is full of cozy cafés and restaurants. Time = 1 hour
Lookout at A’Dam Tower
This 22-story building used to be the Royal Dutch Shell oil company office. Today, it has been turned into one of the city’s biggest attractions and is considered of the top 10 things to do in Amsterdam. It offers visitors an observation deck with 360-degree views of the city and the adrenaline rush on Europe’s highest swing ‘Over the Edge’. It also has a restaurant and cocktail bar and makes a great place to enjoy the sun setting over the city center. Click here to learn more and book tickets online. Time = 1 hour
Walk Through de Wallen
De Wallen is best known as the red light district where there are approximately 300 one-room spaces rented by prostitutes. They are interspersed through a network of alleyways where you will find a high concentration of coffee shops, bars, chain restaurants, and stores. You will also find some beautiful churches and historic buildings. Take a walking tour to learn more about the history and culture of the red light district. The quietest, and best time to explore this area would be in the morning. Time = less than an hour
BIKE AND BOAT TOURS
Aside from it being a walkable city, there are as many bikes as there are people which means it is extremely bike-friendly with its well-planned infrastructure and separate bike lanes. Join the locals and either rent bikes or join a bike tour to do some sightseeing in Amsterdam. Take this Guide 3-hour Bike Tour.
Taking a boat tour is one of the best ways to appreciate the city’s urban canal ring and the city’s other waterways. Take a canal tour and let the guide tell you the history of its 165 canals that were created in the 17th century and watch the attractions of Amsterdam float by. Book your 75 minute City Canal Cruise.
Fun Beer Tasting Tour
The Heineken Experience: Located in the original Heineken Brewery you are told the story of Gerard Adriaan Heineken buying the building back in 1863, when it was the ‘De Hooiberg’ brewery, and how it was turned into the largest producer of beer in the country. It is truly an interactive experience, focusing on keeping it short, fun and entertaining as you walk through this historic brewery and horse stables. Your tour ends in the Heineken bar where you will be treated to 3 beer tickets. Get your Ticket here. Time = 1 to 1. 5 hours
Visit The Royal Palace
Situated on Dam Square is the 17th-century Royal Palace of Amsterdam. It was originally built as the city hall, and today as one of the three Palaces is used for Royal events for state dinners and official receptions. It is considered one of the city’s most prestigious buildings and taking a tour here is considered one of the top things to do in Amsterdam centre. Get your Entry Ticket here. Time = 1 hour
Guide to Amsterdam
Coffee Shop or Café?
Don’t mistake a coffee shop for where you get your latte or espresso, for that you will have to find a café. A coffee shop in Amsterdam is where you are able to consume a small amount of marijuana or hash.
I Amsterdam City Card or Amsterdam Pass?
Amsterdam is home to some world-class museums. I wondered if I Amsterdam City Card or the Amsterdam Pass is worthwhile to take advantage of the city’s top attractions. I did a cost comparison and found it was almost cost-neutral based on the attractions I wanted to visit. What weighed out more in the end for me was flexibility, as I was visiting for a week and wanted to spread out my itinerary. The Card and Pass offer 24, 48, 72, 96, and 120-hour options, and a very attractive perk of ‘skip the line’. If visiting during peak tourist season it is worth it. Almost all museums require you to buy your tickets online and in advance, therefore, ticket-holder lines can get long.
Best Tours in Amsterdam
- Red Light District Tour. See the famous brothel windows, coffee shops, erotic theatres, and narrow streets. Learn about the Red Light District from your informative guide. Book this 2-hour guided tour.
- Zaanse Schans with Cheese Tasting & Clog Factory. See the historic windmills of Zaanse Schans and learn about cheese making, see the interior working windmill and tiny shops. Book this 3.5-hour guided tour.
- Backstreets and Hidden Gems in 3-hour Bike Ride. Discover the hidden gems of Amsterdam on a bike tour of through quiet backstreets. Cross the bridges on the Canal Ring, and uncover secret courtyards and churches, and visit local hotspots. Book this 3 hours guided tour.
Best Day Trips from Amsterdam
After you are done seeing the sights in Amsterdam, why not take a day trip or two? From the central station, there are many beautiful places that are a short train ride away. Here are the top ones to consider:
- Haarlem – 10 minutes by train – use this guide to plan your day in this historic Dutch city
- Utrecht – 20 minutes by train – use this guide to plan your day in this beautiful Dutch city
- Dutch countryside – 30 minutes by bus – use this guide to plan your day to visit Volendam, Edam, and Marken, or book this guided tour.
- Keukenhof Gardens – enjoy a scenic boat cruise offering spectacular views of the fields and windmills. Skip the lines to enter Keukenhof, Holland’s most beautiful garden, and visit an operational windmill. Book your full day tour here.
Best Places to Stay in Amsterdam
Forget a hotel, the best way to really experience Amsterdam is to rent an apartment. All of these apartments are located on the tree-lined Nieuwe Keizersgracht canal. It’s a few steps from some of the best restaurants, local boutiques, cool bars, and historical museums. The Central Station is only fifteen minutes away and everything is within walking distance. There is even a bike rental kiosk right out the front door. Take a look yourself.
- Tulips in the Window – 1 bedroom, 1 bath studio with kitchenette
- Clockwork Orange – 1 bedroom, 1-bath with separate living space with kitchen and dining space
- Green Mandarin – 2 bedrooms, 1 bath with large living space with fireplace, larger kitchen and dining space
- Or, do your own search for more properties.
As a holidaymaker…
Amsterdam is a culturally rich city- full of history and museums. The best area to stay in is The 9 Streets. Not only is it picturesque, but it’s in close proximity to the best boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants. Everything is right at your doorstep.