Amsterdam is my home and my favourite city in the world. I vividly remember the first time I visited Amsterdam in the early 1990’s: I walked down the Damrak, the main thoroughfare from the Central Station to the Dam Square, and the buzz I felt was almost tangible. My love affair with Amsterdam continues till today. There are countless things to do in Amsterdam and I’ve created this travel guide to help you explore and enjoy my city like a local. This Amsterdam guide covers the main historic and cultural attractions, recommended restaurants, architectural highlights and local experiences. It’s not by all means exhaustive but I hope you find lots of good tips!
This Amsterdam travel guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.
Amsterdam travel guide
With its charming canals, bridges and beautiful houses, Amsterdam is easily one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. It also has a fascinating and colourful history that goes back centuries. During its Golden Age in the 17th century, the city was one of the wealthiest in the world and attracted merchants, noblemen and artists from across Europe. Rembrandt’s masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum capture this period in great detail.
These days, the city is even more cosmopolitan, with a population of about 1 million comprising about 200 different nationalities. This cosmopolitan landscape, combined with the city’s tolerant attitude, have fostered a vibrant cultural and culinary scene that can easily vie with any big city….. and all this within an area that can be covered on foot. To me, Amsterdam is the only true ‘global village’!
Sixteen things to do in Amsterdam
1. Explore the city on foot
Amsterdam is very compact, making it easy to explore on foot. There are many things to see such as national monuments like the Royal Palace on the Dam (a must visit in my book), the historic canals, the Flower Market, the world-famous Red Light district, street markets, quaint neighbourhoods like the Jordaan, and the list goes on. I’ve included several walking routes below to get you started.
Amsterdam walking routes
Here are a few Amsterdam walking routes:
View Quick walk around Amsterdam in a larger map
Bring your camera and discover the most beautiful photo spots in Amsterdam. Before you start, I recommend getting the IAmsterdam City Card which includes public transportation (when you get tired from all that walking!), free admission to selected museums and attractions, a free canal cruise and lots of discounts.
Stroll around the canals in the evening
One of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam is stroll around the canals in the evenings when the daytrippers have left and the lights are on. It’s a simply magical experience! Read about an evening walk in Amsterdam.
A walk along the Amstel River
Another Amsterdam walking route I can recommend is along the Amstel River. Start at the Hermitage Museum (map) and continue walking southwards along the river past the Carré Theatre and Amstel Hotel (walk past the front of the hotel to continue on the route) till the Berlage bridge (map). There are many cafés along the way where you can stop for a refreshment or meal and enjoy the scenery.
2. See the city from the water
In my view, the best way to see Amsterdam is from the water. I always recommend visitors to go on a canal cruise.
An alternative is to hire a boat, pack a picnic and go on a leisurely boat ride around the canals, preferably on a balmy summer evening. It simply is a gorgeous experience! The IAmsterdam City Card includes a free canal cruise as well as discounts on boat hire. You can hire an electric boat at Mokum Boats or Boaty Rent-a-Boat.
Amsterdam boat trip routes
Here are some suggested canal routes if you opt to hire your own boat:
View Amsterdam canal routes in a larger map
3. Visit world-class museums
Amsterdam has an impressive array of world-class museums. The most famous are the Rijksmuseum (with its stunning collection of Rembrandts and works by other Dutch masters), the Van Gogh museum (a must-visit in my book) and the Anne Frank House. There are often long queues at the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House. I recommend visiting these museums in the late-afternoon or purchasing a Skip-the-Line ticket.
Some of my personal favourites include the Hermitage, the Maritime or Scheepvaart museum (I love the replica of one of the most famous Dutch ships), the Tropical Museum (that focuses on cultures in tropical countries) and the Stedelijk Museum (modern art) with its bath-tub-like appearance.
Here’s a list of other special interest museums:
- Het Grachtenhuis – Canal House Museum (Herengracht 386): Located in one of the most beautiful canal houses in Amsterdam, this museum provides visitors with wonderful insights to the 17th century canals of Amsterdam, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Museum van Loon (Prinsengracht 672): A stunning museum, located in a magnificent canal mansion, that provides a unique peek into the lives of one of Amsterdam’s wealthiest families.
- Rembrandt House (Jodenbreestraat 4): The house where Rembrandt lived now houses many of his etchings and you get to see the great master’s studio.
- Our Lord in the Attic (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40): One of Amsterdam’s best-kept secrets!
- Jewish Museum (Jonas Danielplein): this popular museum is dedicated to the history and culture of Jews in the Netherlands.
- FOAM (Keizersgracht 609): eclectic photography museum.
- Moco Museum (Honthorststraat 20): art museum with works by amongst others Banksy and Dalí.
- De Kattenkabinet – the Cat Cabinet (Herengracht 497): If you love cats, you’ll love this museum! It houses a grand collection of paintings, sculptures, books and posters featuring erm… cats from around the world.
- Sex Museum (Damrak 18): Also called the Venus Temple, the Sex Museum houses pretty graphic displays of sex and related objects through the centuries from around the world.
- Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78): This museum traces the history of this world-famous beer brand. The highlight is the thrilling beer-ride!
4. Go shopping and browse the markets
Amsterdam is a great city for shopping. From the high street brands in the Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk and swanky boutiques in the P.C. Hooftstraat, to quirky design and vintage shops in the Nine Streets neighbourhood and numerous flea and antique markets, there’s something for every kind of shopper. The premier department store is De Bijenkorf, with its flagship store at the Damrak, just off Dam Square. Some of the larger shopping malls worth checking out include Magna Plaza (behind the Royal Palace), Gelderlandplein (in the Buitenveldert suburb) and Amstelveen, south of the city.
For markets, I can recommend a stroll around the Waterlooplein and Ijhallen flea markets (located in Amsterdam North, is Europe’s largest flea market), the Albert Cuyp market (don’t miss stepping into the stores behind the stalls), the Noordermarkt, and De Looier antique market (Jordaan neighbourhood).
5. Have a unique foodie experience
With about 200 different nationalities living in the city, Amsterdam has a very diverse culinary scene. From Michelin star restaurants to seafood stalls, there’s something for everyone and for every budget. A visit to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without trying the local ‘frites’ (french fries); ‘haring’ (raw herring served with chopped onions) and kibbeling (chunks of deep-fried fish) at one of the seafood stores (‘visboer’); Dutch apple pie; pancakes; and rijsttafel (Indonesian fare – a remnant of the Dutch colonial past – that consists of steamed rice and up to 25 side dishes).
In my book, the best fries can be found at Fleminckx (Voetboogstraat 31) and the best apple pie (‘appelgebak’) at Café Winkel (at the Noordermarkt). For a true Amsterdam pancake experience, head for the Pannenkoekhuis (Grimburgwal 2). For some wonderfully spicy rijsttafel, I recommend Tempo Doeloe (Utrechtsestraat 75) and the stunning Hotel Jakarta.
Many first-time visitors always stop-and-stare whenever they pass a FEBO. This is a chain of Dutch fast-food joints where people quite literally eat out of a wall! The fare is typical fast-food such as burgers, deep-fried croquettes, chicken wings, etc… The FEBO is a perennial favourite for locals, especially after a night on the town. If you’re intrigued, I recommend the veal croquette (kalfsvlees kroket), frikandel or the spicy noodle croquette (bami kroket).
Fine dining in Amsterdam
There’s also a plethora of fine-dining venues throughout the city, including a host of Michelin-starred restaurants. For a fabulous Michelin-starred meal with a view, I recommend MOS Amsterdam (one star; near the Central Station) which offers beautiful harbour views and Ciel Bleu (two stars; in the Okura Hotel).
Other fine-dining restaurants in Amsterdam I can recommend include Vinkeles (at The Dylan), Rijks (next to the Rijksmuseum), Bridges (at the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam) and De Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60). For a unique dining experience at a cool location, check out REM!
6. Visit a theatre
Amsterdam has a vibrant cultural scene with world-renowned venues to match. There’s a plethora of cultural performances to choose from: from modern dance to classical ballet, operas and concerts. Check the schedules of the National Opera (operas and ballet), Concertgebouw (a world-class concert hall and philharmonic orchestra), International Theatre Amsterdam or Carré for current performances and tickets.
One other theatre I can recommend for a visit is the Pathé Tuschinski cinema (Reguliersbreestraat 26-34, near Rembrandtplein), arguably one of the most beautiful movie theatres anywhere around. The Art Nouveau interior in the main foyer and Hall 1 is simply stunning! Check at the bar for guided tours.
7. Mingle with locals in a ‘bruin café’
‘Bruin’ or brown cafés are traditional Amsterdam pubs, some of them centuries old, where locals gather over a beer and talk about everything. They’re called brown cafés because of the heavy use of wood in the interior, nicotine-stained walls and dimmed lighting. A visit to one of the brown cafés is a great way to meet the locals and engage with them in an animated conversation, and try one of the many varieties of ‘jenever’ (Dutch gin).
There are brown cafés scattered around the city – some of my favourites include Hoppe (Spuistraat); Café ‘t Smalle (Jordaan neighbourhood); and De Pieper (Prinsengracht, near Leidseplein. In the Zeedijk area near the Central Station, check out Louis Bar, Het Elfde Gebod or ‘The Eleventh Commandment’ (with a surreal religious theme) and In ‘t Aepjen (located inside the oldest medieval wooden house in Amsterdam).
8. Chill like a local
The Netherlands has a very strong and visible café culture that’s similar to many southern European countries. Cafés, that more often than not spill out onto the street, are an integral part of daily life in Amsterdam where people come to relax, meet friends or people-watch. It certainly is one of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam! Alfresco cafés with great drinks, food and vibes include Fonteyn (Nieuwmarkt), Flinck (Eerste van der Helststraat 51), the rooftop of the Doubletree by Hilton Central Station, PRIK (Spuistraat 109), Spanjer & van Twist (Leliegracht 60), THT (IjPromenade, Amsterdam North).
9. Stay in a houseboat
It’s a simply magical experience to stay in a houseboat on one of the canals or the Amstel River. There are various houseboat B&B’s to choose from but my favourite is the 2 Houseboat Suites (Booking.com) on the Prinsengracht canal. As the name says, there are just two suites, called Rembrandt and Van Gogh. In addition to the lovely hosts and a fantastic location in the historic city centre, this newly-built boat has large windows, a comfortable bed and all the amenities that will make your stay comfortable, such as an en-suite bathroom, heated floors, a Nespresso coffee-maker and mini-bar. I could just sit there all day and enjoy the gorgeous view!
10. Hire a bike and head for the country
Many people say hiring a bike and exploring Amsterdam’s city centre is a must-do for visitors. It’s something I personally don’t recommend (especially if you’re not an experienced cyclist) because there are so many distractions in the city centre: you have to look out for tram rails (cycling into a rail means a sure flip-over and an injury), trams, cars, pedestrians and Amsterdammers on bikes (who quite literally own the roads)!
As an alternative, I recommend you rent a bike in Amsterdam and explore the nearby countryside. It’s a more leisurely experience and the scenery is beautiful. My two favourite routes are the path that winds along the western bank of the Amstel River from the heart of Amsterdam to the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, and another path that runs from Amsterdam North to Durgerdam and along the Ijselmeer shore, passing centuries-old fishing villages. Another option is to join a bike tour. Various companies, like Yellow Bike and MacBike, offer a variety of guided bike tours in and around Amsterdam.
Read about other recommended Amsterdam day trips.
11. Visit a local brewery
The home of Heineken is also the home of a multitude of smaller breweries, each with their own unique selection of brews. My favourites (which also make for a great visit) include Brouwerij ‘t Ij (brewery and bar in a windmill and produces some of my favourite local beers), De Bekeerde Suster, De Prael, De Eeuwige Jeugd (Eternal Youth) and Oedipus.
12. Venture outside the historic city centre
There’s a lot to see and do in the city centre but I recommend venturing into the surrounding neighbourhoods to get a more local perspective away from the masses of tourists.
One of the most popular neighbourhoods is De Pijp which is young, hip and constantly buzzing. Situated roughly between the Stadhouderskade and Jozef Israëlkade, De Pijp has a multitude of bars, restaurants, cafés and shops to check out as well as the famous Albert Cuyp Market. One of my favourite hangouts in this neighbourhood is Wijnbar Boelen, a wine bar with fabulous food (Eerste van der Helststraat 50). If you enjoy seafood, check out the Seafood Bar in the Ferdinand Bolstraat (there’s another terrific branch in Spui in the city centre).
Amsterdam West is an up-and-coming neighbourhood with its burgeoning café scene, cool bars and ethnic restaurants. One of the most popular attractions in West is the Foodhallen (map), a hip, cavernous hall with a multitude of food stalls. While you’re here, stroll along the Kinkerstraat and Bilderdijkstraat to browse around its shops and cafés. Further to the north lies the Westergasfabriek complex (map). This cluster of old factories and a gas plant is now a favourite jaunt for locals. Many concerts, festivals and markets are organised here and the adjacent Westerpark throughout the year. The latest attraction in this complex is the Fabrique des Lumières, an amazing digital art centre. Read about my visit to Fabrique des Lumières.
Amsterdam Oost (East)
In the east, explore the neighbourhoods east of the Oosterpark (a lovely park for a stroll) towards Dapperplein (home to the bustling Dapper market) and along the Eerste van Swindenstraat and Javastraat, with its distinct Middle Eastern/northern African atmosphere. You’ll find lots of eateries and Middle eastern shops, as well as one of my favourite cafés: Bar Botanique. At the Tigris & Eufraat supermarket (Javastraat 20), you’ll find some of the best falafel in Amsterdam!
Amsterdam Noord (North)
Take the free ferry across the harbour to Amsterdam North and explore this exciting part of the city. The ferries leave from the piers directly behind the Central Station and there are various lines. Take the ferry to Buiksloterweg to visit the EYE Film Museum and A’dam Tower. At the tower, you’ll find the Amsterdam Lookout (with panoramic views of the city and harbour), Moon revolving restaurant and the Sir Adam Hotel. Behind the tower is the cool This is Holland 5D flight experience.
I also recommend taking the ferry to NDSM (map) to explore this up-and-coming area with its big warehouses (one of which houses the Ij Hallen flea market), hip cafés and restaurants such as Pllek, IJver, Noorderlicht, Brooklyn and Cannibale Royale du Nord. A must-visit in NDSM, especially if you love street art, is the STRAAT Museum. Housed in an old industrial warehouse, this museum is a visual feast!
13. Admire unique contemporary architecture
For those interested in architecture, Amsterdam has an incredible array of unique architectural styles. The city is famous for its 17th century architecture but there are also many contemporary gems. For instance, stroll along the Haarlemmerstraat (map) and you’ll find beautiful Art Deco buildings.
At Deco in Amsterdam
Amsterdam School architecture
Amsterdam is also the birthplace of the Amsterdam School movement, an architectural style that was prominent in the Netherlands in the first half of the 20th century. During this period, entire neighbourhoods were designed in the style of the Amsterdam School.
Neighbourhoods where you can find examples of the Amsterdam School include Zuid (South) in the areas immediately north of the Jozef Israëlskade (visit De Dageraad museum there) and the Spaarndammerbuurt in West (visit Het Schip museum). Read more about Amsterdam School architecture in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Zuidas architecture
There are also many great examples of cutting-edge modern architecture in Amsterdam. Many of the newest buildings can be found in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and the RAI exhibition halls (map).
The architectural highlight in the Zuidas district is arguably The Valley, a stunning new complex. With its stacked towers with protruding balconies, this complex is certainly an eye-catcher!
14. Catch one of the annual events
There’s always something going on in Amsterdam every day. From performing arts to musicals, concerts, cabaret shows and festivals, the locals are truly spoiled for choice 365 days a year! There are also annual events that the city celebrates with great gusto.
King’s Day is one such event. Taking place on April 27th, this is the only day of the year that anyone is allowed to open a street stall and sell anything they want (usually old junk but a lucky gentleman once picked up a small painting for several Euros, got it examined by experts and it turned out to be an original Rembrandt!). The streets of Amsterdam turn into a massive open-air flea market with many street parties just for this special day.
Gay Pride (around the first weekend of August) is the other major annual event. The highlight is the Canal Parade when dozens of boats cruise along the entire length of the Prinsengracht canal, cheered on by hundreds of thousands of people!
Other annual events that I can highly recommend include the Holland Festival (a celebration of culture and arts) in June, the Open Garden Days (when privately-owned canal mansions open their doors to visitors) in June, Taste of Amsterdam (a culinary festival) in May/June, Amsterdam Light Festival in December/January, Amsterdam Dance Event (one of the world’s largest dance events), Milkshake (a summer dance and cultural festival) and the Grachtenfestival (a festival of jazz and classical music in unique locations) in August.
One bit of advice: if you plan to visit Amsterdam for one of these events or festivals, I recommend booking your trip and accommodation at least six months in advance.
15. Visit the flower auction in Aalsmeer
The world’s biggest flower auction is a spectacular sensory experience. Each day, more than 20 million flowers from around the world are auctioned in a building that ranks as one of the largest in the world. Located in Aalsmeer, a small town on the fringe of Amsterdam, it’s something I recommend to all visitors. You can go there on your own (get there early, around 7am) or join a guided tour.
16. Go on a day trip
If you’re staying longer in Amsterdam, consider a day trip to the beach, the tulip fields (in spring) or one of the nearby historic towns. There’s lots to do and see within a one-hour drive or train ride from Amsterdam. Visit the train service website for schedules. Here’s a list of interesting places to visit:
Just 30 minutes from Amsterdam, Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the country and an absolute delight to explore. Read more about things to see in Utrecht (including a walking route).
Less than an hour away, Alkmaar is a historic town with charming canals and a world famous cheese market. Read more about things to see in Alkmaar (with a walking route).
This charming medieval town is less than an hour from Amsterdam. Read about things to see in Amersfoort.
The city of Vermeer is also famous for its Delft Blue ceramics and antique market. Read about things to see in Delft.
Gouda cheese is world famous but there’s a lot more to the town than cheese. Read more about things to see in Gouda.
About an hour by away by train, Rotterdam is a vibrant port city with world class museums and beautiful modern architecture. Read about things to do in Rotterdam.
Read more about day trips from Amsterdam.
There you go. My suggestions for things to do in Amsterdam! Believe me, it was a very tough challenge and I hope I did my home city some justice. There are so many more things that I can recommend but I guess the best is simply to come on over and experience Amsterdam yourself and you’ll see why this city is simply my favourite!
You can also find lots more information at iamsterdam.
Getting to and around Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the most well-connected cities in Europe. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a major European hub with frequent flights to all corners of the world. There are also international train connections from Amsterdam Centraal Station and Schiphol Airport to major European capitals. Frequent trains (at least one every 15 minutes) connect Schiphol Airport with Amsterdam Centraal Station and other peripheral stations. Search for flights to Amsterdam with KLM.
I don’t recommend visiting Amsterdam by car as parking (especially in the city centre) is costly (up to €10/hour).
Public transport in Amsterdam
There are various public transport systems in the city. The metro connects the city centre with the outer suburbs. For visitors, the most relevant line is perhaps the North-South line which runs from Amsterdam North (Noord) and continues under the harbour and the historic city centre to Amsterdam South (Zuidas business district). To utilise public transport, you can purchase single tickets at the stations or in the trams/buses, or a debit card (at the stations). You can also opt to purchase the IAmsterdam City Card (which includes free admission to 60+ museums, a canal cruise, free public transport and many discounts).
There are also numerous tram and bus lines which crisscross the city. For train, metro, tram and bus schedules, check OV9292 or your preferred map app. In addition, there are also taxi and Uber services.