Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ capital, known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled facades, legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. Its Museum District houses the Van Gogh Museum, works by Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum, and modern art at the Stedelijk. Cycling is key to the city’s character, and there are numerous bike paths.
What to do and see in Amsterdam
For sure everyone knows about the coffee shops — but what else is fun to do in Amsterdam? Holland’s capital city is a hub for happy cyclists, lazy beers by the canal, and art-lovers. As you start planning what to see, here are ten suggestions you can’t miss.
The Dam square, Amsterdam’s biggest square, has been around since the 13th century after the Amstel River saw the addition of a dam. The dam was constructed to make it impossible for the Zuiderzee Sea to come swarming into the city.
At Dam Square visitors will find many food stands, shops and trendy restaurants. The bars and cafes at Dam Square are almost always packed with people, resulting in a long line to the get into the establishments. During the spring months it is not uncommon for carnivals to take place in Dam Square. Throughout the summer, street performers can often be found there as well.
Located in the heart of Dam Square is the Royal Palace, former home of the Dutch Royal family. Receptions are still held at the Royal Palace often. Located directly outside the Royal Palace is the hotel Krasnapolsky. To the south of Dam Square visitors will find the National Memorial Statue. This statue was erected to serve as a reminder of resistance members and Dutch soldiers that were killed in World War II. The National Memorial Statue was first unveiled during 1956 and Dutch East Indie soils were stored there.
Visitors to Dam Square can also visit Madame Tussauds, a famous wax museum and the Beurs van Berlage, which is a building that used to hold the Stock Exchange and is the site of an exhibition space and concert hall.
A 60 minutes relaxing cruise through Amsterdam’s peaceful canals.
Discover the highlights of Amsterdam from a different angle on a lovely boat with a glass roof.
- 60-minute sightseeing cruise of Amsterdam;
- See all the famous highlights including Anne Frank House, the Skinny Bridge and the old port;
- Cruise the canals in a luxury glass-topped canal boat;
- Recorded commentary in English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
Sightseeing Cruise is an enjoyable way to experience Amsterdam. Note that you can get a free entrance to the Sightseeing Cruise using the I Amsterdam Card – City Pass for Amsterdam.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is where Anne Frank was hiding along with 7 other people from 3 different families for 2 years during World War II. The hiding place that Otto Frank was able to find for his family, the van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer, is where they were hiding until the Nazis revealed their location. Tragically, this happened very close to the end of the war and the entire family was deported to concentration camps from which all other than Otto, her father, did not survive.
It was only after the war that Anne’s father came back to find her diary which she wrote during their stay. The daily, later to become a best seller novel tells the story of the little girl as she grows up during the war. Many of the writings are personal, some relates to the war and some discusses her feelings and the relationships that took place in the small room.
A visit to this house in which she was hiding is truly a remarkable experience.
The museum holds some personal items that belonged to Anne Frank and her family as well as her original bedroom with items such as the personal pictures that Anne Frank had, still hanging on the walls above her bed.
Note that the museum does have a few rules you should know about such as no large bags, no strollers and cell phones must be turned off.
Van Gogh Museum
The largest collection of artwork by Vincent Van Gogh in the world is housed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It is conveniently located in Museum Square, and is one of the most popular art museums to visit in the world. This is a must for any Amsterdam tourist.
The museum is divided in to two buildings. And, in spite of the high volume of visitors every day, the experience is quite pleasant because of the ideal layout of the building and exhibits. It was truly designed with the guests in mind, and is accessible to large crowds trying to enjoy individual pieces of art. The main building holds the permanent collection as well as some temporary or rotating exhibits. It consists of four floors. One floor has the gift shop and café. The next is a chronological look at Van Gogh’s works. Then there is a floor dedicated to the restoration of paintings as well as some minor temporary exhibitions. And finally there is a floor for works of Van Gogh’s contemporaries, which focuses on his influence on their art and how they related to him. The other building holds temporary exhibits, and is accessed through an underground tunnel from the main building.
There is a library associated with the museum, and is in a separate location. However, there are study areas available on every floor of the museum itself where visitors can go more in depth in their study of the art and history of the artist.
Believing in encouraging the next generation of artists, the museum offers extensive programs for children. These include drawing competitions for children from age four to twelve, treasure hunts, diorama making, and guided workshops. Kids can even have a birthday party with activities guided by museum staff.
Since this is one of the most popular museums, with over a million and a half visitors per year, the lines can be long. Be sure to purchase a museum card if you are planning to visit other museums as well, or at least purchase tickets in advance so that your vacation time is not wasted waiting behind the crowds. This will save time and frustration.
Leidseplein, which translates to Leiden Square in English, is a square in southern Amsterdam. It is now the city’s transport hub and serves several tram lines and gives people access to the city’s shopping and nightlife.
Known as an entertainment square, visitors will often find street performers located in east Leidseplein. These performers often dance in the street in order to entertain visitors. During the summer it is not uncommon for the bars in Leidseplein to be packed with people. During the winter the square’s outdoor terrace is covered and an ice skating rink can then be found in the square. There are also many food stalls serving up hot food during the winter months in Leidseplein.
Leidseplein Square is where visitors will find the flagship stores for both Apple and BMW. They are in the Hirschgebouw building that used to serve as the home of a large department store. The interiors of both the Apple and BMW stores are unique and often attract visitors.
The main streets of Leidseplein Square are home to a variety of Argentian, Chinese and Italian restaurants. There are also many high-end restaurants located throughout the square, such as Café America, which can be found in the Eden Amsterdam American Hotel. Many people enjoy Café America’s Sunday afternoon Jazz Brunch.
Visitors looking for more information about the area’s nightlife can go to Kleine Gartmanplantsoen 21. This is an office that helps guide visitors to the nightlife destinations throughout the eastern end of Leiden Square.
The Dutch National Museum, or Rijksmuesem, is a grand four floor museum which leads visitors on an exciting chronological journey through the art and history of the Netherlands. The story of the country is told from an interesting international perspective so patrons get unique experience as they walk through history.
The museum’s main building was recently closed for a period of ten years, but the reopening was a magnificent event and the facility is now better equipped to serve the many tourists who make the trip to learn about Dutch history. The museum’s collection has over one million objects, about 8000 of which are on display there at any given time. Included in this collection are works by famous people such as Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt. There are many beautiful exhibits, but it is important to remember that only photography that does not use a flash is permitted.
This museum is very family friendly, and interesting for visitors of any age. There are even specific tours available that are geared towards families with younger children, to make it exciting for the kids. The guided tour does have a small extra fee, but it includes interactive experiments, stories, and props that everyone is sure to love. And, for those who are looking for a more in depth or educational experience, there are other specific guided tours available as well. Some of the tours focus on specific centuries of history, and some take guests through the highlights of the exhibits. One tour is even focused on the outdoor portion of the museum which has its own unique perspective on the Dutch history and art. There is always more to learn and discover.
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s biggest city park and the Netherlands most famous park. Approximately 10 million people visit Vondelpark on a yearly basis, some come simply to rest while others come the park to enjoy one of its many free concerts. The park has an open-air theatre where performances take place every summer and while admission to the park is free, you may want to make reservations for certain performances.
There are several attractions in Vondelpark including a cast iron music dome, the children’s playground known as Groot Melkhuis and a statue of Vondel, the famous Dutch poet. Vondelpark also has a pavilion that includes a restaurant called Vertigo. Designed in 1878, the pavilion has been standing here ever since and since 1975, it is also the home of The Film Museum.
Nature lovers will enjoy visiting Vondelpark for its various types of flora, such as horse chestnut, Dutch red chestnut and many varieties of birch trees and various types of herbs that grows throughout the park. Notice the many birds such as blue herons and wild ducks while you a walk in this lovely park.
Children will enjoy Vondelpark as it has many play areas and a very large playground. Every year on Queensday, Vonderpark runs a Kinder Market where children are allowed to participate.
Vondelstraat is the street that runs through Vondelpark where you can see many old and beautiful Dutch houses.
Rembrandt House Museum
The Museum Het Rembrandthuis is located in Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam and is where the famous Rembrandt resided while he painted many of his famous paintings. Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the world most famous painters was a Dutch painter who lived in the 1600’s and is considered to be one of the well-known painters of the European Art. Some of his most known paintings include The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and The Stoning of Saint Stephen, along with an extensive amount of etchings.
Several years back, several historians and designers reconstructed the entire house on the inside so that it would be displayed exactly how the area would have appeared during the days when Rembrandt had lived there. The most exciting thing about visiting the Museum Het Rembrandthui is that his house is directly connected to the building where much of his work is currently on display. The known history behind the house is scarce, but we do know that he originally bought his home in 1639 and resided there before he eventually went bankrupt in 1656, and all of his possessions were auctioned off.
The Rembrandt Museum and his home are unique because they provide a setting that isn’t able to be experienced for many other famous painters. While all of his belongings were auctioned off, the list of his belongings were saved and used to reconstruct his entire home and his specific work area.
Rembrandt financed the home with a mortgage for 13,000 guilders, which would eventually be the cause of his bankruptcy and financial issues. It is interesting to think about how he lost all of his possessions, because he used to have rather large revenue for the extensive work that he completed during his lifetime. The best explanation for everything that happened to him was that he loved to spend money and most likely made several poor investments that led him to lose much of his income to owed debts.
While you visit the Museum House of Rembrandt, try to imagine his close Jewish neighbors modeling inside for many of his famous Old Testament scenes that he painted while he lived there. Along with a long list of Rembrandt’s etchings of landscapes and portraits, make sure to also take a close examination of his portrait of Eleazar Swalmius. Swalmius was a Calvanist minister in Amsterdam that Rembrandt painted in 1637 and is on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts for a limited time.
Located in the Netherlands, Zaanse Schans is an attraction that serves as both a museum and an outdoors conservative area. The windmills in the town of the same name have been there since the 1700s and 1800s.
On display at the Zaanse Schans is traditional Dutch rural architecture. The windmills on the grounds of Zaanse Schans, as well as the craftsmans workshops are open to visitors and provides quite an interesting experience. While visiting the attraction itself is free, there is a charge to visit some of the windmills. The types of mills at the Zaanse Schans include saw, paint and oil. At the oil mill, visitors are able to see how peanuts are being grind.
There are workshops and demonstrations held at the Zaanse Schans on a regular basis and if you are travelling with kids this could be a real joy. One of those workshops includes a collection of both older and newer versions of clog shoes and you can see how the shoes are being made. The clog workshop sells pairs of clogs to visitors while a small cheese workshop sell cheese. One of the houses in this lovely village is an old grocery store that shows how these small businesses were typically set up in the 1900s.
The Zaanse Schans Museum also boasts a cafe where you can enjoy a cup coffee or tea and a lovely view of the windmills that line the Zaan River.If you have time, take a boat tour along the Zaan River to fully enjoy the experience.
While in Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is just a day trip away.
Red Light District
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is world renowned for its sex shops and museums and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The area leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination and caters to every whim and fetish, from peep shows to prostitutes in red-lit windows, from elaborate condom shops to exclusive brothels.
Amsterdam’s authorities take a no-nonsense and realistic approach to the city’s sex-industry and provide workers in the industry with a safe area to sell their services. This in itself makes the Red Light District a fascinating place to visit and you will find throngs of tourists day and night. You should note that not everything ‘goes’ in the district and certain rules are still enforced. For example, you are not allowed to take photographs of the women who work their trade in the area.
The Red Light District, also known as the Rosse Buurt to locals, is one of the oldest parts of the city. If you can manage to look beyond the sex-themed store fronts, you will find a quirky neighborhood, full of interesting shops and restaurants and one of the most charming canals in Amsterdam. Some of the more interesting historical spots to visit in the district include the Oude Kerk which dates back to 1250, as well as the vibrant Nieuwmarkt Square where a daily market is held and which is surrounded by lively cafes, bars and restaurants.
Also in close proximity to the Red Light District is Chinatown Amsterdam where you will be treated to bilingual street signs, some of the city’s best Chinese restaurants and Asian-themed stores and delicacies.
Located on the Single canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein in Amsterdam, you will find the world’s only floating flower market. A visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market (bloemen markt) is a treat to your senses of smell and sight, with all the merchandise displayed on floating barges as a nod to yesteryear when the flowers and plants were shipped in by barges from the neighboring countryside. The Single Canal encircled the entire city during the Middle Ages and served as a moat until 1585.
The first flower market was held in 1862, and since then the Amsterdam Flower Market has gone on to obtain a worldwide reputation. You will find practically every type of flower on sale here, ranging from traditional Dutch tulips to rare indoor plants. You will find cut flowers, house plants and seeds, as well as gardening tools and essentials. The market is open every day of the week throughout the year. If you visit during the month of December, you will see Christmas trees and other seasonal greenery for sale.
Beyond the flower stalls, you will find a wide range of souvenir shops along the canal which sell anything from cheese to gadgets. The prices are considered reasonable and this fact alone therefore makes this a good area from which to buy bulbs and other souvenirs to take home.
Planning Your Amsterdam Visit
How many days should you spend in Amsterdam?
There’s no right answer, but you can get a real feel for the city if you allocate three full days. That will give you enough time to hit the big sights, see the canals, and explore your way through some neighborhoods.
Getting around town
Amsterdam is an easy city to navigate. While the public transport is first class, most visitors find that the city is compact enough to be 100% walk able, save for the train to-and-from Schiphol Airport. Plus, you can easily rent a bicycle when the weather’s nice.
How expensive is Amsterdam?
While there are a couple big activities you will have to pay for (like the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum), Amsterdam is full of street markets and small independent galleries. And the city is so walk able that you won’t need to spend a lot on public transportation.
Good to know
- Language: Dutch and lots of English;
- Currency: Euro (€);
- Time Zone: UTC (+01:00);
- Country Code: +31;
- Best time to visit: There’s never a promise of good weather in Amsterdam, but you can expect milder temperatures and longer days between April and September. April is especially lovely — those famous tulips will be blooming, and you can celebrate Holland’s biggest holiday of the year, King’s Day.