One of Europe’s most popular destinations, Amsterdam, located in the western part of the Netherlands, is widely known for its party atmosphere, cannabis practice and red light district. But there is so much more to this city.
Amsterdam started out as a small fishing village in the late 12th century and became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age. During the 19th and 20th centuries, before World War I, the city began to expand with new neighbourhoods and suburbs built.
In World War II Amsterdam saw the deportation of approximately 60,000 Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps including one of its most well know residents Anne Frank and her family. Near the end of the War, communication with the rest of the Netherlands broke down, and basic supplies such as food and fuel were hard to come by. The entire city was in disrepair by the end of the War.
Soon after the end of the war, politicians and other influential figures began making plans to redesign the city. It didn’t take long before there were new parks and districts sprouting up all over the city.
Today Amsterdam is the economic capital of the country and considered one of the top financial centres in Europe. Among the abundance of things to do in Amsterdam, visitors will find world class museums, beautiful canals, historical buildings, famous attractions and lovely green spaces.
Amsterdam’s canals began being built in the 17th century for the purpose of transport, defence and water management. Of the over 100 km of canals, the three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht form concentric belts around the city and are crossed by around 1,500 bridges and lined by around 1,550 monumental buildings. There are a number of ways to explore the canals or use a combination of all three to maximise your canal viewing.
- Boat – Whether you climb aboard a canal tour or hire your own canal boat, cruising the canals is a great way to spend a few hours seeing the sights and hearing the sounds of the city from the water.
- Bicycle – One of the first things that comes to my mind when people think of Amsterdam is bicycles. They are everywhere throughout the city and probably the main mode of transport for locals these days. Hiring a bike and riding around the canals for a half day is a great way to see more in a short space of time.
- Walking – Amsterdam is a very flat city so it is ideal for walking. You could spend days walking around its canals exploring if you wanted.
Cost: One hour sightseeing cruises starts from €15.00 with longer cruises and private hires costing up to €90.00 depending on the company, number of people and time. | Bicycles can we hired for a little as a few euros from the varies hire points throughout the city as well as some hostels offering them for free with a nights accommodation.
Hours: The canals are at their best during daylight hours especially in the early morning and late afternoon light.
More Information: There are lots of different canal boat companies ranging from one hour sightseeing cruises to private small boat hires. Check with your hotel/hostel about what they recommend. | Check with your hotel/hostel for the nearest bicycle hire place.
Amsterdam has a world class collection of museums and galleries for you to enjoy during your visit. Here are a few of the best.
- The Rijksmuseum – The largest and most prestigious museum for art and history in the Netherlands. Its large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age include works by Vermeer and Rembrandt.
- Van Gogh Museum – This museum houses some 200 paintings and 550 sketches showing Van Gogh in all his moods. Combining hundreds of letters by Van Gogh and select works by his contemporaries and friends, this is the biggest collection in the world.
- Rembrandt House Museum – This restored interior reproduces the atmosphere of the artist’s former residence.
- Stedelijk Museum – Comparable to some of the greatest museums in the world, the Stedelijk Museum is dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design. Highlights include works from Malevich, Edward Kienholz, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol.
- NEMO Science Centre – Packed with fun and useful knowledge about science and technology. A great place for curious minds. It’s worth a look even just for the building itself.
More Information: Use the links above for more information on each museum such as address, cost and hours.
Anne Frank House
While technically a museum which I could have included above, I felt so much emotion visiting Anne Frank House that I thought it deserved its own entry. Anne Frank House is where Anne Frank lived in hiding with her family for over two years during World War II. The house has now been converted into a museum which contains a sobering exhibition showing what life was like during those two years, the persecution of the Jews during the war, as well as discrimination in general.
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam
Cost: Adults €9.00, Under 17 €4.50, Under 9 Free | I recommend pre-purchasing timed tickets online using the link below to avoid the long queues.
Hours: November to March 09:00-19:00 and until 21:00 on Saturday | April to October 09:00-21:00, sometimes until 22:00 |
More Information: http://www.annefrank.org/
The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the oldest church and the oldest building in Amsterdam. Dating back to about 1250, it is surprisingly located in the red light district. The church has been renovated and expanded multiple times over its lifetime. Luckily some original and early features still remain such as its hand-painted wooden roof and some stained glass windows that date back to the 16th century.
Address: Oudekerksplein 23, Amsterdam
Cost: Adults €7.50, Child/Student €5.00, Under 13 Free
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00-18:00 | Sunday 13:00-17:30
More Information: http://www.oudekerk.nl/
Red Light District
Most of you have probably heard about Amsterdam’s Red Light District. And no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a curious walk through it. Leaving nothing to the imagination, most of the stereotypes about this area you have heard are true: there are plenty of sex shops, peep shows, brothels, a sex museum and prostitutes in red-lit windows. But things are changing. The Amsterdam municipal council’s 1012 project aims to discourage crime and corruption in the city centre by reducing the types of businesses that are conducive to crime and by permitting prostitution in just two areas. The area is always full of tourists but it is best to travel in pairs due some of the seedier characters the area attracts. And a word of warning, don’t try to take photos of the prostitutes in the windows or the burly looking bouncers on the street won’t be happy.
Address: The main Red Light District is an area called Walletjes which runs between Centraal Station and Nieuwamarkt.
Cost: Free to wander around. Entry fees apply to see a show of visit the Sex Museum.
Hours: After dark
More Information: I found this website to have more useful info and maps on the area.
Read More: Renting an Amsterdam Houseboat on 5 Lost Together
The largest green space in Amsterdam, Vondelpark is the perfect place to go for a picnic, bike ride or just simply relax on a sunny day. During summer the park is full of locals and visitors enjoying the sunshine while listening to music and taking part various activities put on throughout the summer months.
Address: Southwest of the city centre
Hours: Best enjoyed during daylight hours.
More Information: http://www.hetvondelpark.net/
Heineken is one of the most well know brewers of beer in the world with its beers being drunk all over the world. For beer lovers, a visit to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Heineken Experience housed in an old Heineken Brewery. While the brewery itself hasn’t produced beer in over 20 years, it is however a very interesting and entertaining interactive experience and great way to spend a few hours learning about the brewing process and tasting a few of the Heinekens brews to gain a greater appreciation for the amber liquid. Your entry ticket includes access to the full experience including guided beer tasting and a free beer in the bar at the end of your visit.
Address: Stadhouderskade 78, Amsterdam
Cost: Adults €18.00, Child €12.50, Under 11 Free | Save €2.00 on adult tickets when pre-purchased online
Hours: Monday to Thursday 11:00-19:30 | Friday to Sunday 10:30-21:00
More Information: http://www.heineken.com/
About a 45 minute drive from the city centre is the spectacular Keukenhof Gardens. During the spring months these gardens come alive with tulips and other spring favourites with masses and masses of colour. Each year over seven million bulbs are blooming in the 32 hectare gardens. If you happen to be in Amsterdam at the right time of year, this is an absolute must visit not only to see these beautiful flowers but for the carnival like atmosphere of events that happen throughout spring.
Address: Stationsweg 166a, 2161 AM Lisse
Cost: Adults €16.00, Child €8.00
Hours: In 2015 the Gardens will be open from 20th March until 17th May from 08:00-19:30 daily
More Information: http://www.keukenhof.nl/
Singel Floating Flower Market
If you’re not visiting Amsterdam in the Spring or you have limited time, then the easiest way to see some of the famous tulips is at the Singel Floating Flower Market near the centre of the of the city. You can wander through the rows of tiny shops on barges that line the lanes with not just tulips but with just about every flower you can think of.
Address: Singel canal between Koningsplein and the Muntplein
Hours: Monday to Saturday 09:00-17:30 | Sunday 11:00-17:30
Over to you!
What do you most want to see and do in Amsterdam?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
22 thoughts on “Things to Do in Amsterdam”
I had really bad luck with my last trip to Amsterdam – ended up with terrible laryngitis and a fever, still loved Keukenhof but spent half the rest of the time in bed! Will have to go back and give it another go sometime soon and try to actually see a bit more.
That’s no good Lucy. You will definitely need to go back sometime soon. I haven’t had the best luck with Amsterdam either so would like to visit there again someday too.
Great article Jen, I have always been unsure about visiting Amsterdam, I’m not really bothered about the whole Red Light district and cannabis malarky. This article shows me that there is actually a great deal more to experience in Amsterdam – Thanks for enlightening me!
Thanks Paul. I had no interest in those things either and was hesitant at first about visiting. But I did enjoy it, maybe not as much as other places in Europe, but I believe it’s definitely worth a visit.
Great list for Amsterdam Jen. I loved biking around the City, exploring the canals and visiting Anne Frank House. I would love to go back one day
Thanks Katie. I’m not a big museum person but visiting Anne Frank Haus was one of the highlights of my travels through Europe.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit, as it’s very “un-cultural” of me, but I think the Heineken Experience was my favorite part of Amsterdam. It might have been the people I was with or the fact that it poured the entire time I was in Amsterdam and I was just happy to be out of the rain, but I had so much fun there. The Anne Frank House was also really interesting, although incredibly sobering. Great list, Jen!
Hahaha I think it’s totally cultural Amy!
I haven’t been to Amsterdam yet, but your list is awesome! definitely bookmarking for the future. I’d love to mostly see the Anne Frank house, I remember reading her diary when I was younger.. Oh, and of course those famous canals and red light district! The tulips, markets and Heineken tour would be great too!
Its a really nice city Katie. If you liked reading Anne Franks diary you will love visiting the house. It’s so moving and thought provoking. I loved it!
Amsterdam is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit! It looks beautiful and of course I’d have to try some pot brownies while there. Lol!
Ahhh of course Cory. That is something a lot of people like to do when in Amsterdam.
You have listed the main tourist attractions in your list except the Old Church which is not. Small note on the private boat tours as they range from 90 – 300 euros per hour. A good introductory overview.
Thank you for taking the time to comment Kieren.
This is great Jen! Such a comprehensive list. I’ll for sure put it to use this weekend in Amsterdam 🙂
Cool thanks Valeria. Hope you have a great time!
A tip for those visiting the Anne Frank House. They recently changed the policy for visiting. Now from 09:00- 15:30 the entrance is only for people that have already booked their tickets online. It tends to sell out well in advance so it’s best to plan a few weeks ahead.
Thanks for this Gessell.
This is a great guide for us as we are planning our trip to Amsterdam for Sept. now! Thanks for the tips as well!
Thanks Jazzy. Hope you guys have a great time in Amsterdam.
The Nazi deportation is beyond unfortunate. Realizing Anne Frank, a girl many of came to know through her writing while still in our youth, was part of this history is definitely sobering. While cannabis and other features of the red light district may be attractive, it’s nice to learn that the area has such a rich history as well.
Visiting the museum was very moving. I certainly couldn’t have imagined myself at her age dealing with what she did.