Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe and a highly visited destination year round. This charming city is known for its’ 165 canals, narrow row houses, biking culture, history and world class museums. Exploring beyond the iconic gingerbread houses of Damrak and wildly popular Dam Square, these are the best things to do in Amsterdam.
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WHERE IS AMSTERDAM LOCATED?
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands located in the North Holland province. Amsterdam is famous for its’ picturesque canals, iconic row houses, coffeeshops, the red light district and so much more.
You can find all the best things to do on this Amsterdam map which you can download and save for your travels to this popular European city.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN AMSTERDAM
The Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is one of the most important museums to visit in Amsterdam. It is within this house that Anne Frank and her family hid in the Secret Annex for 761 days during the Holocaust. The family had to remain completely silent during the entirety of the day for fear of getting caught by the Nazi’s.
The story of Anne Frank is based on her own diary and short stories that she wrote while in hiding and plays a huge role in our World History. After 25 months in the Secret Annex, the family was discovered by the Gestapo through an anonymous tip and transferred to concentration camps. Ultimately the only survivor was Anne’s father Otto Frank who later confirmed the truth behind Anne Frank’s diaries.
» Photo Tip: Photography is not allowed inside of the Secret Annex. Please follow the rules and don’t try to sneak photos while you are there.
Once you enter the Secret Annex, you can walk through the entire house at your own pace. In each of the rooms there are numerous artifacts and educational information about this somber time in history. Keep in mind that some of the stair cases are narrow and steep which makes it not very suitable for those with mobility issues.
» Tip: The Anne Frank House can only be visited with a pre-purchased ticket for a specific time. Be sure to book your ticket far in advance as the slots are limited and fill up quickly. You can purchase your ticket HERE.
Situated at the entrance of the museum district area of Amsterdam, the Rijkesmuseum is a strikingly beautiful building dating back to 1885. This famous Amsterdam museum houses an extensive display of contemporary and historical works of the nations great art.
Additionally, the museum showcases a large collection of 17th and 18th century Dutch works of art by Dutch masters including Rembrandt, Bermeer, Hals, and Steen.
You can walk through the Rijksmuseum towards the Museumplein park to find the famously large ‘I AMSTERDAM’ letters out back.
»Tickets: The entrance fee is €19 for adults 18 years and older. Entrance is free if you have purchased a Museum Card or I Amsterdam City Card. Currently you will need to pre-book a date and time to explore the museums. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
The I AMSTERDAM Sign
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without getting a picture at the famous IAMSTERDAM sign. The 6 foot tall iconic letters are located directly behind the Rijkesmuseum right in front of Museumplein.
There are a few other locations throughout Amsterdam where you can also find these letters.
The MOCO Museum
Located in the charming Villa Alsberg in Amsterdam’s museum square, the Modern Contemporary (MOCO) Museum strives to bring the world of modern and contemporary art to the public eye.
With a rotating gallery, be sure to check which artists will be on display during your visit. I was lucky to be in Amsterdam during the Banksy & Warhol exhibition.
» Tickets: The entrance fee for an adult is €19,50 however if you purchase your ticket online you can get it for a discount of €13,50. There are also discounts for students, teenagers and children. Keep in mind that if you book your ticket online you will need to choose a specific date and time and tickets are non-refundable. Book your tickets online HERE.
The Heineken Experience
The fun and interactive Heineken Brouwerij (Heineken Brewery) is a great way to explore the history and production of the world famous Heineken beer. Started over 150 years ago this famous Dutch brew is popular all over the world.
The experience at the Heineken Brewery is fun, educational and has a tasting room at the end! During the tour you will be able to touch, smell and taste all the ingredients that go into producing the world famous beer.
»Tickets: The cost of an adult ticket is €21 (€18 if you book online) and includes a 1.5 hour self guided tour throughout the interactive brewery and 2 pints of Heineken at the end. Currently you can only purchase tickets online to help regulate the number of people inside the brewery at any given time. You can purchase your ticket and book your time slot HERE.
House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience
The House of Bols offers a fun & interactive tour of their 445 year old gin museum including a tasting room and cocktails. The self guided tour can be done at your own pace and is perfect for those wanting to learn a little more about genever (Dutch gin).
Genever, also called Jenever, is a traditional liquor in the Netherlands that is distilled from rye, malted barley and corn. There are two types of Jenever, Old and Young, which is based on the distilling techniques rather than age. The young Jenever taste is similar to vodka while the old Jenever has a slight whisky taste.
There are even Bols Bartending classes available for those who want to learn how to make the perfect cocktail or just improve their skills. Check out their website for all the details.
» Tickets: A regular ticket costs €16 with certain discounts for students or pass holders. The tickets must be purchased online for a specific date and time. Tickets are non-refundable and you must be 18 years old to enter. You can purchase your tickets HERE.
Red Light District Amsterdam
The Red Light District is a fascinating part of Amsterdam’s history and an experience like no other. In fact, prostitution has been legal in Amsterdam since 1811 however it is not legal on the streets. The main canal with the red lit windows is Oudezijds Voorburgwal but you can see the red lights around many of the surrounding streets and canals as well.
The best place to start your walk around this area is at De Oude Kerk (The Old Church). It is definitely interesting to walk around at night and you will surely experience something unlike anywhere else in the world.
Around this area you will also find lots of lively bars, cafes and live sex shows. I would not recommend eating dinner in this area as the food is quite touristy, more expensive and not very good.
» Photography Tip: You are NOT ALLOWED to take any photos of the girls in the windows so please be respectful.
Explore the Jordaan Neighborhood
The Jordaan neighborhood is the most charming area in Amsterdam. Bordered by Amsterdam’s historic canal belt, this area is full of picturesque canals, iconic gingerbread houses and boutique shops. The quiet, cozy canals of this residential area are far less touristy than the nearby streets making it perfect for cycling or walking around.
The Jordaan neighborhood is located between the Lijnbaansgracht, Prinsengracht, Leidsegracht and Brouwersgracht canals. The 9 Streets (De Negen Straatjes) lies just at the border of the Jordaan neighborhood which is next up on the list of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
De 9 Straatjes (9 Streets)
One of the top things to do in Amsterdam is to wander around and shop along the picturesque alleyways that make up the 9 Streets. Part of Amsterdam’s UNESCO World Heritage canal belt, this area is situated between the Prinsengracht and Singel canals.
The 9 Straatjes are lined with many boutique shops, charming cafes and vintage clothing stores making this one of the best shopping areas. The architecture along the 9 Streets is especially beautiful so be sure to visit this area while in Amsterdam. You can easily find the 9 Straatjes behind Dam Square and nearby the Anne Frank House.
The 9 Streets are: Gasthuismolensteeg, Hartenstraat, Reestraat, Berenstraat, Wolvenstraat, Oude Spiegelstraat, Wijde Heisteeg, Huidenstraat and Runstraat.
Go on an Amsterdam Guided Canal Tour
Exploring the city by boat is one of the top things to do in Amsterdam. In fact there are 165 canals throughout Amsterdam spanning over 100 kilometers (60 miles). Cruising the Amsterdam canals offers a unique perspective of the city and it’s really fun to sail underneath the small bridges.
There are quite a few companies in Amsterdam that offer informative canal tours usually lasting about 1 hour. The most popular tour operators are Stromma Canal Tours, Leemstar Amsterdam and Amsterdam Canal Cruises.
The best time for an Amsterdam canal cruise would be during sunset when the city is covered in the golden light or in the morning for sunrise.
» Amsterdam Canal Tour Tip: If the weather is rainy or cold choose a boat tour with a closed roof to keep yourself dry and warm. However, opt for an open boat if you get one of those rare sunny days in Amsterdam.
Rent a Boat to Cruise the Amsterdam Canals
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam is to rent a small boat to cruise around the canals. There are quite a few boat rental companies that offer this and you can split the cost between a group of friends. We rented with Boaty Amsterdam Rent a Boat and the cost starts at €79 for 3 hours.
Before heading off on your own you will receive some instructions like how to steer the boat, which canals you can enter and a few other important things to know. The boats rented from Boaty are all electric boats which is more sustainable and better for the economy!
Steering your own boat through the Amsterdam canals is such fun way to explore the city by water and is a must do as long as you feel comfortable. Keep in mind that the canals are busy with other boats including the larger tour boats so you’ll want to be comfortable driving.
I drove most of the time with our boat and it was fairly easy once I got the hang of it. The best part about renting your own boat is that you can purchase cheese, wine and snacks from the local grocery store to take with you!
One of my favorite Amsterdam restaurants, G’s, has the only brunch boat in the city where you can enjoy a delicious brunch while touring the famous canals. The G’s Brunch Boat is only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are 2 departure times on Friday and 3 departure times on Saturday and Sunday.
The departure location is Keizersgracht 198 near the Homomonument memorial. The entire journey including brunch lasts for 1.5 hours and costs €42,50 per person. You can make your reservation HERE.
Eat at an Amsterdam Cafe
Amsterdam is full of charming cafes and restaurants with menus catering to all types of palates. From international cuisine to local Dutch favorites you’ll be sure to find somewhere delicious to eat within the city.
New Amsterdam restaurants are opening up all the time, many of them with vegetarian or vegan options as well.
A few of the best restaurants in Amsterdam are:
- De FoodHallen
- The Avocado Show
- Winkel 43
- The Pancake Bakery
- Bakers and Roasters
Eat Stroopwafels and Poffertjes
An absolute must do in Amsterdam is to eat the famous gooey stroopwafel and fluffy poffertjes! These are two traditional Dutch sweets which are incredibly delicious, especially when they are freshly made.
A stroopwafel is made by combining two thin waffles with a layer of sweet, caramel syrup. The stroopwafels are especially delicious when they are freshly made and still warm. They come in various sizes and you can even get some in a tin can to take home with you. Cans of stroopwafels are my favorite thing to bring home with me after a trip to Amsterdam.
Poffertjes are basically bite sized, fluffy pancakes served with fresh butter and powdered sugar. You can also get your poffertjes topped with fresh fruit, whipped cream or chocolate sauce for an added treat.
Albert Cuyp Markt
Albert Cuyp Markt is a popular and lively market located in the heart of the De Pijp neighborhood in Amsterdam. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, the market runs Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and dates all the way back to 1905.
Within the market you can find a wide variety of food, flowers and products for sale. It is the perfect place to try small bites of traditional Dutch cuisines while on the go. My favorite thing to eat at the Albert Cuyp Markt is the fresh baked stroopwafel.
Stay in a Traditional Houseboat on Amsterdam’s Famous Canals
Houseboats are an iconic part of the Netherlands culture and make for a really unique stay in Amsterdam. I’ve stayed on a houseboat twice during my visits to Amsterdam and it was an experience I will never forget. Many of the houseboats are quite large and can accommodate up to four or five people. You can also find houseboats in Amsterdam that are equipped with full kitchens.
» Full Guide: Staying on a Houseboat on Amsterdam’s Amstel River Canal
Bike Around Amsterdam
Take a Guided Bike Tour
A really fun way to explore the city and get an overview of the area is to take a guided bike tour with one of the many companies in Amsterdam.
This allows you to stop at some of Amsterdam’s most famous spots while having fun and meeting some new people! There are quite a few bike tour companies you can choose from, however make sure to find one that is reputable and gets good reviews.
A guided bike tour is also a great way to get a feel for riding a bike through Amsterdam to see if you are comfortable to rent your own.
Rent a Bike in Amsterdam
The bike culture in the Netherlands is unlike anywhere else in the world. The majority of people in Amsterdam commute by bike so why not try it yourself! It is a fun and unique way to explore the city, plus you can get around a lot quicker.
The Jordaan neighborhood is my favorite in Amsterdam and is one of the easiest areas to bike around.
Some of the bike rental shops in Amsterdam are:
- Frederick’s Bike Rental
- Black Bike
- Mac Bike
- Yellow Bike
» Biking Tips: DO NOT use your phone while biking around Amsterdam, this could result in a hefty fine. Also, be sure to stay in the designated bike lanes, watch out for pedestrians and lock your bike. If you do not feel comfortable biking through Amsterdam then it probably isn’t a good idea. I’ve done it twice but lived in Europe for 6 years and am a road biker so I am very comfortable on a bicycle.
Explore the Hidden Courtyard of Begijnhof
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest hofjes (almshouses) in Amsterdam and is located in an enclosed, hidden courtyard. The courtyard and gardens of Begijnhof is free to visit and is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Dating back to the 14 century, Begijnhof is a circle of almshouses where unmarried religious women who took chastity vows would live together in seclusion.
Begijnhof 34 is the oldest house in Amsterdam and is located inside this protected garden. It is known at Houten Huys (The Wooden House) and has been there since the 16th century.
The Oude Kerk (old church) is Amsterdam’s oldest building dating back to 1213 when it was just a small wooden chapel. Over the next few centuries more sections were built onto the chapel creating the grand church that you see today.
Situated on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal at the edge of the Red Light district, the Oude Kerk now contains a museum while still holding regular church services.
Go on a Ganja Walking Tour
One of the most interesting things to do in Amsterdam, Netherlands is to take a guided ganja walking tour. During the tour you will learn all about the culture and history of cannabis in Amsterdam. You will visit some famous coffeeshops and have the opportunity to smell, purchase and learn how to roll your own joint.
During one of my visits to Amsterdam I went on a 3 hour cannabis culture tour in Amsterdam for the sole purpose of wanting to learn more about the history and influence of marijuana in the Netherlands. The tour was very informative and the guide we had was entertaining.
Disclaimer: I do not smoke marijuana and never felt obligated to do so on this tour. Keep in mind that while it is legal to use cannabis (marijuana) in Amsterdam, you may be visiting from a country where it is illegal. Make sure that you aren’t going to be drug tested when you go back to work after your trip.
» Tip: Smoking marijuana (weed) is legal but only inside the designated coffeeshops or in your own home. You can get fined by police for smoking on the streets.
Visit the Historic Windmills at Zaanse Schans on a Day Trip from Amsterdam
Zaanse Schans is a small village near Amsterdam where you can visit numerous well preserved windmills and historical houses. The windmills are an iconic part of Dutch heritage and the wooden ones at Zaanse Schans are extremely colorful and picturesque.
There is a walking path around the Zaanse Schans area and it is the best way to see the windmills.
Zaanse Schans is located in North Holland very close to Amsterdam making it perfect for a day trip from the city. You can reach the windmills at Zaanse Schans by taking a train, bus, tour or driving yourself.
The area is free to visit and you only need to pay for an entrance fee for each windmill you’d like to enter. The cost is around €4 per windmill and €12,50 to enter the Zaans Museum.
Take a Day Trip to the Famous Keukenhof Gardens to See the Tulips
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam during the spring is to visit the Keukenhof Gardens or any of the nearby tulip fields. Tulips are an iconic symbol of the Netherlands and seeing rows of colorful tulip fields is truly a beautiful sight.
The tulip fields are located in Lisse and not in Amsterdam so you will need to take a day or half day trip out to see them.
Keukenhof Gardens is a 79 acre park in Lisse where over 7 million tulip bulbs bloom from March until May every year. Within the park you can see over 800 different kinds of tulips displayed in elaborate designs both indoors and outdoors. You can also climb up a traditional Dutch windmill and savor a freshly made stroopwafel at the park.
» Tickets: Keukenhof will open again from Saturday March 20, 2021 until Sunday May 9, 2021. You can find all the information and purchase your ticket starting in the fall of 2020 on their official website.
HOW TO GET TO AMSTERDAM
To reach Amsterdam you will fly into the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS). Since the Amsterdam airport is a huge international hub you shouldn’t have any issues finding flights.
Getting to and From the Amsterdam Airport
The fastest and cheapest way to travel from the Amsterdam airport to the city center is to take the train. Once you go through baggage claim and exit the terminals you will see the train station without having to exit the airport.
The train you will take is NS (Dutch Railways), costs €5,50 and takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the city center.
You’ll see numerous kiosks where you can very easily purchase your train ticket. If you are going directly to Amsterdam Centraal station in the city center there is a very easy and well identified button that you can select. This brings you to the purchasing options and you can pay via credit card.
Take your printed ticket and head to the platform where your train is. It will say Amsterdam Centraal on the sign, however if you are unsure just ask someone.
To get back to the airport you will do the same in reverse departing from the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station in the city. It is one of the easiest airport to city transfers in Europe.
HOW TO GET AROUND AMSTERDAM
The city of Amsterdam is well connected via public transportation including trains and trams. While the easiest way to get around Amsterdam as a tourist is to walk, some of the sights are a bit spread out.
Therefore you can always rent a bike to move around the city quicker if you’re comfortable or you can ride the tram. Tram tickets can be purchased at Amsterdam Centraal Station or on the tram itself. You can also find and purchase tram, metro or bus tickets HERE.
WHERE TO STAY IN AMSTERDAM
There are many options for Amsterdam hotels located within or around the canal belt in the heart of the city. During my many travels to Amsterdam I have stayed in multiple centrally located accommodations which are the best areas to stay in Amsterdam. These are some of the best hotels and Airbnb’s in Amsterdam and my recommended places to stay.
In the Jordaan Neighborhood:
Near the Rijksmuseum:
Additionally, you can stay in a houseboat along one of Amsterdam’s famous canals. I’ve stayed in a beautiful houseboat along the Amstel River parked in front of the Magere Brug (skinny bridge).
AMSTERDAM WEATHER- BEST TIME TO GO
The best time to visit Amsterdam is between the months of April and September. During these months you will experience the most amount of sunshine and in the spring the tulips will be in bloom.
The tulip season is from March until May every year with rows of beautiful flowers just outside the city. This also means that Amsterdam will be more crowded with tourists during these months.
The winter can also be a beautiful time to visit Amsterdam but you will experience higher chance of rain or even snow with much colder temperatures.
HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN AMSTERDAM
There are plenty of things to do and see in Amsterdam that you could easily stay busy for a few weeks. However, if you are limited on time then I recommend spending at least 4 days in the city. This will allow you to see all the main sights as well as take some time to relax and explore the picturesque canals.
WHAT TO PACK FOR AMSTERDAM
- A rain jacket is very useful in Amsterdam as the weather can change very quickly. Don’t bother bringing an umbrella because the wind is very strong and will turn your umbrella inside out!
- A travel adaptor is a necessity if you are coming from a country outside of Europe
- A power bank is essential so you can charge your phone or devices on the go
- A light sweater if you are traveling there in the summer as the evenings can sometimes get a little cool
- Comfortable and preferably water resistant shoes since you’ll be walking around the city