13 Jun 15 Best Things to do in Amsterdam
Are you planning a getaway in Amsterdam in the Netherlands? Great idea: this city is VERY charming! I felt in love at first sight with its unique architecture and its welcoming ambiance! I am offering you here a list of the 15 best things to do in Amsterdam. Although the city is small, there are a lot of things to see and do!
I have visited Amsterdam as a tourist 4 times. And I also lived here for 2 years between the end of 2016 and the end of 2018 and I loved it! Therefore, I have included in this list of the best things to do in Amsterdam both my sightseeing tips as well as my local tips. Discover the best activities to do in Amsterdam as well as the must-see places in Amsterdam, and enjoy!
Table of Contents
Admire the typical canal houses in Damrak waterfront
Amsterdam is particularly charming thanks to its traditional unique architecture. That’s why I am starting the list of the best things to do in Amsterdam by giving you one the top spots to admire it! There is a perfect row of typical canal houses in Damrak. Damrak is an avenue at the center of Amsterdam, running between Amsterdam Centraal – the train station – and Dam Square – the main square and historical center. The traditional houses from Amsterdam have a very narrow frontage with a steeply pitched gable. They date back from the 16th and 17th centuries. They remind me somehow of gingerbread houses! Damrak features a partially filled in canal, allowing you to capture the houses’ reflection. That’s why it’s one of the most famous photo spots in Amsterdam!
If you are coming to Amsterdam by train, you cannot miss it, as it’s almost in front if the train station (Amsterdam Centraal).
A few boat tour companies have their departure here. It might be interesting for you if you want to do a cruise on the canals (as I am recommending it in the best things to do in Amsterdam).
My secret tip: the best moment to take a photo is when the boats are not stationed. But don’t worry, there are a lot of departures in a day, so you won’t have to wait for too long until they leave!
Explore the city by bike
Dutch people love biking! There are over 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, even more than the number of residents! Crazy isn’t it? Therefore if you want to move around the city like a local, you should do it by bike: one of the best things to do in Amsterdam for sure!
Exploring the city by bike has a lot of benefits. Firstly, you will be free to discover any part of the city you want. Secondly, you can get from one place to another faster than if you would be walking – but it’s as pleasant. Thirdly, it’s cheaper than public transport.
You will find a lot of bike rental stores all around the city. You can rent a bike for 3h minimum, but it’s much more interesting to rent it for the day. It will cost you around 8-10 euros a day.
I can assure you, biking in Amsterdam is really fun :)!
My local secret tips:
- Bikes get stolen all the time in Amsterdam, so make sure to lock yours properly when you leave it somewhere.
- There are MANY bikes in the city, so make sure to remember exactly where you parked yours! Otherwise you might look for it for hours in the middle of the others (a simple look at the bike parking in front of Central station and you will understand!)
- Make sure to park your bike in a dedicated area: the police are checking them often and impounding them if they catch them in the wrong spots.
Visit a museum in Museumplein
Museumplein is a large green square where are located the most important museums of Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Moco Museum. You should totally visit at least one of those as part of the best things to do in Amsterdam!
The beautiful Concert Hall, named Concertgebouw in Dutch, is also situated in the area. Additionally Museumplein is often used for festivals and celebrations. For example if you visit during the Holiday, you will find there the Christmas market and a big ice-skating rink. It’s really cool!
To help you choose which museum you should visit in Museumplein, I am giving you a bit more info below.
Location: Museumplein 1071 DJ Amsterdam.
Rijksmuseum is the National Museum for Art and History. If I had to use a reference, I would say that it’s like the Louvre Museum for Amsterdam and the Netherlands. This museum has a stunning architecture, outside and inside: I was very impressed visiting it! The collection includes the most famous art pieces of the Dutch Golden Age, with paintings from Johannes Vermeer (the Milkmaid for ex.), Rembrandt (the Night Watch for ex.), Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and other artists.
More info: Rijksmuseum.
Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum features the world’s largest collection of artworks by Vincent van Gogh: over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and more than 750 letters!
More info: Van Gogh Museum.
Stedelijk Museum is an international museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design. It’s housing some artworks of artists like Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol…
A fun thing to notice is the very curious architecture of the Stedelijk Museum: it has the shape of a bathtub!
More info: Stedelijk.
Moco Museum is a very cool independent museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art. As this museum was created to make art accessible to the public, it has a very original and fun way to display its collections.
Since a few years it’s promoting some Banksy artworks from private collections. Here are some examples of the artists permanently exposed in the Moco Museum: Basquiat, Emin, Haring, Hirst, KAWS, Koons, Kusama, OSGEMEOS, Rothko, Warhol & more.
This museum is not too big and visiting it will not take you too much time. So it can be a good option if you have a lot of things to fit in your schedule!
More info: Moco Museum.
Do some shopping in the 9 Streets
The Nine Streets, aka De Negen Straatjes in Dutch, is my favorite area in Amsterdam! As the name indicates, this area is composed of 9 little streets located in the Jordaan neighborhood on the West side of downtown Amsterdam in the canal belt. Not only the houses are lovely, but the ambiance is very pleasant, and you are surrounded by the canals (Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel). When I was living in Amsterdam, I really enjoyed shopping and window shopping in the 9 Streets! You can basically find anything you like: designer clothes, kid toys, lingerie, houseware, shoes, antique, books, beauty products, bags, gifts… My local secret tip: because there are many local designer boutiques, it’s the best place to find that cute outfit that will make everyone jealous, or the kind of gift that will make someone very happy!
The best way to discover the 9 Streets is to simply get lost in the area! Do not look for a specific spot and keep your eyes open, and you will find some unexpected interesting spots for sure!
If you are hungry or just want to grab a drink, the 9 Streets have a lot of cafes and restaurants. My local secret tip: check out Pluk and Ree7 for a brunch or a snacking break!
Location: the 9 streets are Runstraat, Huidenstraat, Wide Heisteeg, Oude Spiegelstraat, Wolvenstraat, Berenstraat, Reestraat, Hartenstraat, and Gasthuismolensteeg.
Do a boat cruise on the canals
Amsterdam features no less than 165 canals, most of them were built during the 17th century. That’s why Amsterdam is nicknamed “Venice of the North”. All combined the canals are over 100 km long (60 miles): quite a lot! The canal belt with the Prinsengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Herengracht is even listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site! As a consequence, doing a boat tour on Amsterdam canals is a very nice way to explore the city and of course one of the best things to do in Amsterdam! You will get the opportunity to see the city under another angle and it’s really fun!
There are a few companies located in several spots in the city. You can check for example Stromma, Blue Boat and Lovers, which are the main operators.
You can choose a simple one-hour canal cruise, a very good option! It costs around 16 euros and you will get interesting facts about the history and the architecture of Amsterdam along the way. It’s very insightful!
Some cruises offer a hop-on-hop-off options, which can be practical for sightseeing. You can also go an extra mile with a romantic dinner cruise or a private tour.
My local secret tip: if you are visiting Amsterdam with a group of friends you can even rent a boat and drive it on the canal by yourself!
Buy some flowers at the Flower Market
Tulip flowers are one of the symbol of Amsterdam and of the Netherlands! The Amsterdam flower market, aka Bloemenmarkt, is world famous and there you can find tulips of every kind of colors and kinds, in bulbs or in bouquets, and many other plants and flowers, seeds and gardening essentials.
The particularity of the Amsterdam flower market is that it’s the only floating flower market in the world! All the flower shops are standing on houseboats. It exists since the end of the 19th century.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 09:00 to 17:30 and Sunday from 11:30 to 17:30.
My secret tip: It’s also a great place to buy some cheap typical souvenirs like cute magnets!
Location: It runs along the Singel between Koningsplein and Muntplein. Bloemenmarkt Amsterdam, Singel, 1012 WP Amsterdam.
Gaze at the picturesque canal houses from Papiermolensluis bridge
Amsterdam has a lot of beautiful houses, but some of the prettiest and the most photogenic ones are located at the crossing between the 2 canals Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht. The best place to admire and capture them is from the Papiermolensluis bridge. Those traditional canal houses are so picturesque that you cannot miss them, that’s why I have shared them as one the best things to do in Amsterdam!
My secret tip: there is a typical Dutch café at the ground floor of the house on the corner named Het Papeneiland. It’s said to serve good beers and an amazing apple pie (a traditional recipe from the Netherlands). Address: Prinsengracht 2, 1015 DV Amsterdam.
Enjoy a walk in Vondelpark
Vondelpark is the most popular park in Amsterdam and also my favorite! I used to go there for walks, bike rides, picnics or jogging. It’s always a real pleasure to wander here, especially thanks to the all the trees, flowers and few ponds all around the park! With its 47 hectares it’s one of the biggest green spaces in Amsterdam.
Its location is central, so it’s easy to access if you are sightseeing in the city center. There are a few cafes and restaurants inside and you can attend some events and concerts in summer. It’s open 24/7.
My local secret tip: if you want to picnic here, there are some disposable picnic blanket made of recycled plastic and of plant material available for free in the park! There are called “CleanPicnic blanket” and you can use them as trash bag at the end of your picnic: very sustainable!
Try local food in Albert Kuyp Market
Albert Kuypmarkt is the coolest and the most popular market in Amsterdam! It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 17:00. It dates back to 1905 and is as popular amongst the locals than amongst the tourists. The ambiance is really friendly! I used to live right close by and was coming there very often to buy some food and flowers.
If the locals are coming here for daily groceries, for you as a tourist it’s a great place to sample some local delicacies to eat there or take back home, and buy some souvenirs.
Here is a list of the local food that you have to try:
- Herring: a small fish very popular in the Netherlands. Dutch herring is traditionally raw served in pieces on a paper plate with onions and pickles. You can also order it in a sandwich (broodje haring in Dutch). Try this only if you are ready to eat raw fish 😉
- Bitterballen: a kind of meatball. It’s one of the favorite snacks of the Dutch people! They usually eat these crispy deep-fried balls of meaty gravy with mustard and beer! To be honest it’s not the most refined food (far from it lol), but it worth the try!
- Stroopwafels: those waffles are made of two thin waffles stuck together with a layer of sweet syrup. You can buy them fresh to eat here, or bring some back home in a cute tin can. Actually the fresh ones (warm and gooey) you can eat on the go at the market are the best!
- Poffertjes: tiny fluffy pancakes. They are usually eaten sweet and served with powdered sugar and butter. They are very good!
Location: Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD Amsterdam.
Visit Anne Frank House Museum
Anne Frank House is one of the most important museums of Amsterdam. The real house containing the annex where the Jewish girl Anne Frank was hiding from the Nazi’s during the occupation has been turned into a museum in 1960. She was hiding there for more than 2 years and this is where she wrote her famous journal.
This museum is full of educational information. There is an audio tour available in 9 languages. I have to tell you beforehand: it is highly emotional. I am quite a sensitive person and I cried during the visit. Nevertheless I highly recommend it, as part of the “duty of remembrance”.
It’s mandatory to book your ticket in advance for this museum. As it is very popular, there used to be long queues in front of the museum. To avoid the potential nuisance and inconvenience, the museum decided to sell only online ticket for a specific time slot. My secret tip: try not to book it last minute as the tickets are sold out a long time in advance.
More info: Anne Frank House
Enjoy the views from the 7 Bridges
Amsterdam features more than 1200 bridges! Some of them are more than 350 years old. There is a great viewpoint where you can admire 7 arched bridges at the same time! Go where the Reguliersgracht canal joins the Keizersgracht canal, and you will see this very photogenic perspective. The area is very charming, you should definitely take a walk around!
There is also another viewpoint named the bridge of 15 bridges right close by. If you go on the bridge where Reguliersgracht joins Herengracht, you can see 6 bridges across the Reguliersgracht, and 6 bridges to the left plus 2 bridges to the right across the Herengracht – the 15th bridge being the one you are standing on.
Wander around Dam Square
Dam Square is the historical center of Amsterdam and there are a few interesting buildings to admire here. That makes already 2 good reasons to add this place to the best things to do in Amsterdam!
Firstly, the Royal Palace, one of three palaces still in use by the Dutch royal family, is located on Dam Square. It was built in the 17th century and is largest and most prestigious building from the Golden Age. At this time, Amsterdam was the most important city of Europe. It’s still now one of the Netherlands’ most significant monuments. And you can visit it. More info: Paleis Amsterdam.
Next to the Royal Palace there is a 15th century Gothic church named Nieuwe Kerk (New Church in English). It’s no longer used a church but as an exhibition place for art, photography, and inspiring individuals and cultures. More info: Nieuwe Kerk.
On the opposite side of the square, the National Monument is standing with its 22-metres high. This white concrete conical pillar is the Netherlands’ most important memorial to World War II and was built in 1956.
There are other buildings you cannot miss on Dam Square: the Madame Tussauds Amsterdam Wax Museum, the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky and the luxury department store De Bijenkorf.
My local secret tip: if you want to do some shopping Dam Square is a good starting point. You can check De Bijenkorf for some high end shopping experience, or go to long shopping pedestrian streets named Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk.
Walk or bike along the Amstel River
The Amstel River is Amsterdam’s most famous river. Fun fact: Amsterdam was founded in the 12th century as a fishing village and got its name from the Amstel River. This river located on the East side of today’s city center. You can either walk or bike along it. It’s really close to downtown and it’s a quiet area. So, if you want escape the crowd of tourists, it’s a place that you will appreciate!
It’s especially nice at the end of the day at sunset!
On the way along the banks you can admire the Hermitage Amsterdam (an exhibition space and cultural education center focused on Russian history and culture), the Royal Theatre Carré (a Neo-Renaissance theatre mainly used for musicals, cabaret performances, theater and concerts), and the luxurious InterContinental Amstel Hotel.
This was one of my favorite areas for a jogging when I was living in Amsterdam.
My local secret tip: there are many cafes and restaurants on both sides of the river, therefore you can just end your sightseeing day here with a drink and/or a dinner! Check out De Ysbreeker, Loetje Oost and Loulou Pizzabar.
Admire the iconic bridge Magere Brug
Magere Brug, one of the bridges crossing the Amstel River, is especially enchanting! Its name means “skinny bridge” in Dutch, because it used to be so narrow that two pedestrians could barely pass each other! As a consequence, it got replaced by a wider one in 1871. This beautiful wooden drawbridge is even more romantic at night, as hundreds of lights are illuminating it!
Location: Amstel River, Amsteldijk is the left bank and Weesperzijde the right bank.
Have a look at the Red Light District
Why visit the Red Light District?
The infamous Red Light District is the most salacious neighborhood of Amsterdam! It got its nickname from the 300+ room cabins located there that are rented by prostitutes advertising their wares in red-lit windows. Prostitution is indeed legal in the Netherlands since 1811, but not on the streets.
You might wonder why I have put visiting the Red Light District in the top things to do in Amsterdam? Although it might sound weird to do sightseeing in such an area, be aware that it has really become a touristy place! The ambiance is quite friendly and the later you come at night the more animated it is. To get the real “Red Light District” vibes, I recommend you visit between 11pm and 2am. You can pass (more or less) quickly in the streets with the room cabins to see by yourself how it is, or just get a glimpse of it from afar.
FYI it’s forbidden to take videos or pictures of the women behind the windows. Also pay attention to your belongings as there are a lot of pickpockets in the area!
What else to do in the Red Light District?
If you are not interest by the show inside the room cabins, here are other interesting things to do around:
- Have fun visiting one of the sex shops.
- Have a drink in one of the numerous bars. My local secret tip: have a cocktail at the bar The Tailor.
- Take a look at all the cool and funny condoms in the shop Condomerie (only open during the day). Address: Warmoesstraat 141 – 1012 JB Amsterdam.
- Visit Red Light Secrets, the Museum of Prostitution. Address: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 60 – 1012 DP Amsterdam.
- Walk around the canals and look around you: the Red Light district is located in one of the oldest area of Amsterdam and the architecture is beautiful. It’s even cooler at night once the canals are lit by the red neon lights of the cabin rooms!
- Take a look at Oude Kerk: the oldest church of Amsterdam (you can visit it). Address: Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam.
Those are my 15 Best Things to do in Amsterdam! As you can see, this city has all the benefits of a capital city with many things to visit, yet on a human scale. This makes Amsterdam very pleasant and easy to visit, as you won’t lose time in going from one place to another!
If you are looking for great places to eat, check out my other article: the Best Breakfast and Brunch in Amsterdam.
Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any question to plan your visit in Amsterdam!