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

canal with tall town homes
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:

  • Browersgracht
  • Herengracht
  • Keizersgracht
  • Palmdwarsstraat
  • Prinsengracht
  • Willemstraat
  • Lindenstraat

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

iron gate with trees

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

bike with produce stall

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

water with town homes

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:

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. 

  1. Tulips in the Window – 1 bedroom, 1 bath studio with kitchenette
  2. Clockwork Orange – 1 bedroom, 1-bath with separate living space with kitchen and dining space
  3. Green Mandarin – 2 bedrooms, 1 bath with large living space with fireplace, larger kitchen and dining space
  4. 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. 

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65 Comments

  1. Amsterdam is such a charming city! If I was here, I’d definitely bike around a lot and perhaps spend most of my time reading in one of its cosy cafes sipping on some coffee – or maybe even try out a coffee shop!

  2. I’ve been to Amsterdam once and loved it. So much to do there. I would love to go back. When I return I would enjoy doing a bike tour and a canal boat tour. Also, the Anne Frank house would be interesting to see. Walking around The Nines seems lovely too.

  3. I absolutely loved Amsterdam! And this guide is perfect to plan your visit to the Dutch Capital! so much to see and to discover! Makes me want to go back! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I was JUST in Amsterdam yesterday and I am pinching myself that I didn’t see this post sooner! I did a few of the things on this list, my favorite being my visit to Zaanse Schans. If I can add anything, I’d recommend putting the amazing modern art museum Moco on here as well! Awesome list.

  5. Amsterdam is my favorite city in Europe and I particularly loved it for the vibes it exuded. It has this carefree atmosphere that I loved with oozes of history. It is a pity that I could not go to most of those museums – I particularly wanted to do the Anne Frank house. I did however, explore the canals and loved what I saw along the same. I hope to get back someday again and live here for a bit.

    1. I agree. I love Amsterdam, it just feels differently than other European cities. Next time you visit you have to go to the museums, it was one of the biggest surprises that there are so many great ones.

    2. It was such a long time ago when we visited Amsterdam. I remember Ann Frank House, Vsn Gogh Museum, the Red District, the canals, biking, and the train station. It all came back@

  6. I have been to Amsterdam and I really appreciate how you have summarized the to-do’s and places to stay in one blog. I totally agree that Vondelpark, De Wallen and the 9 Streets must be there in the list for first-timers, of course along with the interesting museums Amsterdam has.

  7. Amsterdam is a city we keep going back! During several visits we have covered all of your suggestions. But I remember when we went the first time for a long weekend, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the options. A guide like this would have been very useful!

    1. So happy to hear you found it helpful. I did cater it to first-timers to the city. We spent an entire week, so got really familiar with the city and the top things to do.

  8. I live in Poland, so quite close to Amsterdam, but I haven’t been to it yet. I hope that I will have time to come out for the weekend to Amsterdam in the coming summer months because it’s a great city. I especially like its architecture, and I love old tenement houses. I would love to use your guide and tips! On my top list are the Van Gogh Museum and Canal Cruise. It’s great that you provide recommendations of accommodation options as well.

    1. Weekends in Amsterdam are extremely busy. If you could, try and visit during the week. You’ll enjoy your mini-getaway so much more. Visiting those museums are a must.

  9. I feel somewhat the same way you did initially about Amsterdam. After reading your post, I now know there are so many things I would enjoy doing in Amsterdam. The Van Gogh museum and Ann Frank Museum would both top my list. I also love the idea of renting an apartment – that seems like it would be a much more authentic experience. (How cool that the apartments must be complimentary to one another but unique!)

  10. Wow! Happy to know that there is so much to see and do. I have read the book Diary of Anne Frank and it would be exciting to visit their house. Thank you for sharing this. Will make sure to include it on our itinerary.

  11. Your tips so much match with what we actually did during our first trip to Amsterdam. Love being there and walking around. And it’s a place we keep going back to.

  12. Great article with such beautiful images. I too remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank as a child. It left a huge impression on me as well, and would love to visit where she spent those years. Hopefully, we can travel freely again soon.

  13. I’m glad to know that Amsterdam beat your expectations and that it was so much more than its reputation! I had no idea that the townhouses had to adhere to such strict rules, but the resulting cohesion of a row of them is really stunning. I would also definitely want to check out the Anne Frank house since her diary is such a memorable and haunting piece of history.

    1. Definitely visiting Anne Frank House is a must visit, it is a haunting time in our history and touring it is a moving experience.

  14. So far I’ve only ever been at Amsterdam airport. The city never really appealed to me for reason similar to yours. But after reading this post I might just change my opinion. The Adam Lookout with the swing sounds like my kind of thing!

    1. Hopefully you get the chance to visit more than just a stopover next time. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  15. I missed so much! I used to live only 3 hours away from Amsterdam so always considered it “too close to home to be exciting”! The one time I went it was for the Anne Frank Museum which was a very moving experience but the rest I have never seen!

    1. Isn’t that funny how our perspective of “too close to home” plays on our ability to explore. I am envious that you lived so close to there, and perhaps you feel the same way about where my “too close to home” is too. Thanks for your comment.

  16. I want to visit Anne Frank’s house. I would also love to stroll around these roads and click a lot of portraits. Amsterdam is a gorgeous place and will be fun to explore.

  17. I am not surprised that I like the look of the parks, canals and back streets, I mean, they all look great for a stroll. But now I have seen it, I also looove the look of the ‘Over the Edge’ swing. Did you go on it? It looks like just the right mix of scary and awesome!

    1. We didn’t go on it. The time we were in that area it wasn’t great weather, yes it rains a lot! But I would definitely love to have gone. Next time. Thanks Josie for your comment!

  18. Amsterdam is a nice city. We’ve visited twice and liked it very much. Winter was cold and foggy, but still awesome to explore around and taste Dutch cheese at every corner of the city! We’ve never been to Vondelpark though, would definitely try to go there next time.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the city that much that you would return a second time. Thanks for stopping by.

  19. It just goes to show what all I missed when I was there ages ago, especially the museums. I love the detail on the number of hours the landmark might take to cover for planning purposes, too.

    1. Thank you Carol for your comment. The museums were a pleasant surprise, it’s not the first place you think of when you hear museums.

  20. Yes! I’ve never been to Amsterdam, but share your thoughts about it exactly. I’ve just never been that interested in it, but I think like you, I would really enjoy it if I visited. So many cool museums and architecture to check out!

  21. We recently visited Amsterdam for the first time and absolutely loved our time there. We checked off many of the things on your list; however, we did not have time to visit the original Heineken Brewery. Although we are not huge beer drinkers, we do enjoy brewery tours as you surprisingly learn so much history about the city. That’s awesome that you get 3 beers at the end. Usually, the brewery tours we’ve done we only get 1 beer or three small samples.

  22. Amsterdam is never really been on my list for the same reasons you had – I’m not a party girl or into all of the things they have legal there lol. But it sounds like I need to give the city a chance! I have always wanted to visit the Anne Frank House – I read that book so many times growing up. Good to know that it’s tricky getting tickets though! And I definitely want to visit Albert Cuypmarkt – there are few things I love more than markets, and the Dutch have such incredible food that I can only bet THAT market is amazing!

    1. You are exactly right Maggie, the market was a great place to explore, and is always on my list of things to do in a new city. I too had the same experience with Anne Frank’s novel, and visiting there is such a powerful experience. It’s worth the visit to the city! Hope you get there one day.

  23. I absolutely adore how all of the Townhouses in the 9 Streets were made to be purposely different. In today’s world everything is run-of-the-mill that it inspires little creativity. This sounds like a really great wrap-up of things to do in Amsterdam to tick the boxes. Even just wandering around, trying out coffee shops and exploring would be a great way to spend a few days there.

    1. Thank you Emma, for your comment, and I agree, I love how they have strict standards about the design details of the townhouses.

  24. I remember walking by the 9 Streets, probably the highlight of our trip to Amsterdam! We did not bike at that time as it was pouring that weekend, next time. These buildings have such fantastic architecture. We did not get to visit the Ann Frank Museum, can’t remember why. We will know to book our tickets ahead of time when we do get back.

    1. Thank you for your comment Patricia. I’m so glad you enjoyed the 9 Streets as much as I did. It is certainly a great place to wander.

  25. We only had one day in Amsterdam on a cruise and would love to go back. So this guide will be helpful in planning. It would be great to start at the A’DAM Tower to get a panoramic view and plot our travels. We did a canal tour but did not get to wander around the streets. The 9 Streets look like the perfect spot for a stroll. The Van Gogh Museum would be on my list for sure. Love to see that large collection. But hubby would be voting for the Heineken Experience. It is one of his favourite beers. Definitely need a return trip.

    1. Thank you for your comment Linda. It indeed sounds like you would love spending more time in this city. Hopefully you get a chance to return so that you can roam the 9 Streets, swing over the edge, visit the largest Van Gogh collection and sip a few Heineken beers!

  26. I haven’t been to Amsterdam for about 30 years so a lot of new things have sprung up including that hair-raising swing at the A’Dam lookout! My son visited for the first time last month and went on it (oh to be young and unafraid again!) Good advice to get Anne Frank tickets in advance, he didn’t and so missed out. I think I need to return at some point.

    1. Definitely time to return! Just think how your perspective might have changed over that 30 years. Thanks so much for commenting Angie.

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