10 Best Things To Do In Amsterdam, Netherlands
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links through which you can buy things if you like. If you decide to make a purchase, I receive a small commission at zero extra cost to you. This helps me to keep this site running.
The capital of the Netherlands has always been a place that I wanted to love but had struggles with being too emotional about it. On one side, there are so many things to do in Amsterdam, and it strongly commemorates the events of WWII, which interests me a lot. On the other hand, most of the stories I have heard from people who visited Amsterdam were about coffee shops, the things you can smoke, and the cookies you can eat. Smoking weed is not really my thing, so I have been wondering if planning a vacation in Amsterdam is all about that or if I can really enjoy a good city vacation.
Destiny made it easier for me. On one of my trips to Argentina, I had a layover in Amsterdam for half a day. It was a great opportunity to see this city and decide what I think about it, without committing to a full vacation. Needless to say that I found a city that exceeded my expectations! The train ride from the airport to the city was easy and quick, the streets were fun to walk on, the canals were beautiful, and the style was great. Amsterdam vibes were easy-going (the smell of weed in the air is probably one of the reasons for that) and I really enjoyed this short visit.
The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is definitely worth a real visit! Spending a few days here and exploring the city life is something I plan to do one day soon.
Based on my short experience and with the help of fellow bloggers, here are the top 10 things to do in Amsterdam:
Feel The Royalty At The Royal Palace
Suggested by Dymphe from Dymabroad
The Royal Palace in Amsterdam is a very interesting site to visit. Even if you are just one day in Amsterdam, it is worth seeing it! It is located at Dam Square and it is a very impressive building. The architecture is amazing and really stands out from the other buildings in Amsterdam.
You cannot visit the city center of Amsterdam without seeing the Royal Palace. It was built around 1650 during the Dutch Golden Age as the town hall of Amsterdam. What was special about the building is that it was the largest non-religious building in the world when it was built. This was to showcase the wealth and prestige of the city of Amsterdam at that time.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, the building remained in use as the town hall of Amsterdam. After that, it was transformed into a palace and it is still a palace that is used by the Dutch royal house. What’s great is that besides seeing the building from the outside, you can see the interior of the palace, which looks beautiful. Also, there are many beautiful paintings on display and you can learn a lot about the history of the Netherlands.
Stroll And Shop Around Dam Square
Dam square is located in the middle of the busy neighborhood Centrum. On one side of it stand the Royal Palace and on the other side, the National Monument – a memorial for WWII. The streets going out of the square to the north and south are the place for strolling between stores, restaurants and fast food, and tourist attractions.
It is best to start exploring from the Amsterdam Centraal Station and walk on Nieuwendijk street towards Dam Square, where you can take a seat and watch the people passing by – locals and tourists. From here, continue on Kalverstraat towards the 1620 tower, called Munttoren.
While walking on the main streets, don’t forget to explore the surrounding streets as well. Some of the attractions around here are the Madame Tussauds museum, Amsterdam Dudgeon, the Sex Museum, and The Body Worlds exhibition.
Visit The Anne Frank House
suggested by Coni from Experiencing the Globe
Even though you might associate Amsterdam with parties and fun, a top activity in the city is a heartbreaking one. Visiting the house where a little Jewish girl and her family went into hiding during World War II is a must to gain perspective about the painful past of the city.
Walk through the halls of this biographical museum, where Anne’s famous Diary was written. Although it’s an incredibly sad experience, it’s also inspiring to see how something beautiful came from such a tragedy. Photography is prohibited at the museum. So put your phone away during your visit and immerse yourself in her freedomless world. You’ll see quotes, photos, and original items, together with ‘Reflections on Anne Frank’. It is a film where 22 personalities and people who knew her talk about what she meant to them.
Not only you’ll learn about the life of the wartime diarist, but there are also exhibitions about the Holocaust, antisemitism, discrimination, and persecution.
The house is located in Westermarkt 20, only a 20-minute walk from the central station. Book your ticket online to avoid the endless queue at the entrance. It opens daily and with your ticket, you get a free audio guide.
Stroll Around Vondelpark
Suggested by Whitney of Designs for Travel
One of the top sites in Amsterdam is Vondelpark, as seen in this Amsterdam Itinerary. The most famous park in the Netherlands, Vondelpark is 120 acres of landscaped grounds in the middle of the city. This park first opened in 1865, and now over a century and a half later is as popular as ever.
The locals and tourists love this beautiful park for biking, strolling, exercising, sitting on the benches or on the grass, dog walking, and more. It’s a great place to go to relax and even people watch. With 10 million visitors every year, there are lots of people! However, it never feels crowded, but instead, a great escape from the hustle of the big city.
Some of the attractions in Vondelpark include the statue of the poet Vondel, the cast iron music dome, the Groot Melkhuis with a playground for children, and the historical Pavilion. Don’t miss the sculptures including the 1867 bronze monument of Vondel (Dutch poet) and the concrete Fish by Pablo Picasso (1965). The bronze statue, ‘Mama Baranka,’ is by Amsterdam contemporary sculptor Nelson Carillho.
When you visit the city, don’t miss this top site of Amsterdam. If you want to feel Dutch, rent a bike to ride around this outstanding park. This may be your favorite activity in Amsterdam, it was mine!
Explore The City Through The Canals
Suggested by Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Amsterdam’s unique location on the water means that a boat tour is an absolute must-do in this incredible city. With over 100 kilometers of canals, the so-called Grachten, Amsterdam can be explored from the water while seated comfortably. If you’re traveling with children this is a great
way to avoid having to walk long distances while still getting to see many of the attractions that make this city so famous.
The Amsterdam Canal Bus is a great choice for those looking for
variety and value for money. A day ticket costs 23€ and lets you use any of the three different boat lines and their 16 stops. You could also consider buying a 48-hour ticket (35€ per person) and is the best deal available. Children under 12 only pay half of the listed price and under 4-year olds are completely free.
Of course, there are also a number of other tour operators in Amsterdam that offer canal cruises. Some include drinks, snacks, or even dinners
and offer the perfect way to relax after a long day of sightseeing in the city. There are usually audio guides available in multiple languages so you can learn more about the fascinating history and culture of Amsterdam.
Suggested by Chrysoula from Greece Travel Ideas
The Rijksmuseum is in an impressive 19th-century building on Museum Square (Museumplein). The square is surrounded by four museums and is often filled with open-air exhibitions.
The Rijksmuseum is the largest and most popular museum in the Netherlands. It is dedicated to the country’s art and history covering 800 years from 1200 to 2000. The museum closed for ten years for extensive restoration and renovation and re-opened in 2013. It is now described as “the most modern of the old museums”.
Rijksmuseum has 800 exhibits including paintings by Frans Hall and Johannes Vermeer, but its most prized exhibit is the painting by Rembrandt ‘The Night Watch’. The museum often hosts temporary exhibitions and lectures.
Tip: Behind the museum, there are beautifully landscaped gardens. Often they feature sculpture exhibitions with works by Miró and Alexander Calder in the summer months.
Visit The Van Gogh Museum
Suggested by Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
The Vincent Van Goh Museum, housed in a modern glass and steel structure, offers the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world. It is the second most visited museum in Amsterdam, after the Rijksmuseum.
The museum is thoughtfully arranged to take visitors on a tour through Van Gogh’s life and his works. From his earliest art education through his death, the exhibition provides intimate peeks into the artist’s mental illness, relationships with his friends and family, and his ever-evolving perception of himself. Every single painting and sign in the museum has been painstakingly arranged and worded. The museum bans on photography and stringently enforces it. It allows visitors to focus their attention on the paintings’ brushstrokes and colors, rather than capturing a selfie with Sunflowers.
Visitors should consider purchasing tickets online before their visit, as the museum frequently sells out. Pre-purchased tickets are good for entry the half-hour before and after the reserved timeslot. Once inside the museum, an additional €5 for an audio walking tour of the museum is well worth it. It points out the highlights of the museum to visitors who may be short on time and provides additional information and background into this troubled man’s genius.
From the building’s stunning architecture to the intentional design of the museum, the Van Gogh Museum is not to be missed while in Amsterdam.
Discover The Story Behind Heineken
Suggested by Mark from Wyld Family Travel
Nowhere else in the world is a beer and a city as intertwined as Heineken and Amsterdam. The beer itself has become so popular worldwide that Heineken has its own experience at its former brewery site in the middle of the city.
This is no mean feat considering the number of attractions that this amazing city has. The Heineken Experience is no normal brewery tour. From the moment you enter the building, you are immersed in everything Heineken from its history, its production, its taste, and place in popular culture. The Heineken Experience is a multimedia sensory experience that includes beer tastings, interactive events, and more. Board a horse carriage as the Beer is delivered through the streets of 19th century Amsterdam. Become part of the bottle-line as the beer goes from production, into the bottle, and into the pub.
Heineken is a great experience for singles couples and families in Amsterdam. You will find a visit great value as your well-priced entry includes samples of the beer and a gift as you leave. Heineken is easy to get to by tram 1,7,19 and 24. The stop just around the corner from the entry.
Explore The Hidden Churches
Suggested by Nicole from Go Far Grow Close
Amsterdam has several “hidden churches”, also called “clandestine churches”. A hidden church is a house of worship used by religious minorities whose religious practices were tolerated by those of the majority on the condition that it was performed quietly and out of view. Accordingly, they were commonly built inside houses or other buildings, which don’t have any outwardly religious references.
In the case of Amsterdam, hidden churches played a significant role in religious tolerance in the wake of the Reformation (16th and 17th century), an era when minority worship services were often illegal.
There are several hidden churches in Amsterdam. The most famous is the Museum Our Lord In The Attic. From the front, the building looks like a typical well preserved home, however, the attic conceals a beautiful Catholic church. It was originally built in 1663 when the Catholics were no longer allowed to practice their religion. It held around 150 worshippers, with exquisitely carved wood surroundings, and a marble and gilt altar.
The balance of the building became a museum in 1888 and displays refurbished rooms and religious artifacts. Although you are welcome to walk through the church and the museum on your own, tours are available and are highly recommended. This is the way to truly appreciate the history and significance of this hidden church.
Respect The Homomonument in Amsterdam
Suggested by Derek and Mike from Robe Trotting
One of Amsterdam’s most meaningful attractions is the Homomonument. Found along the Keizersgracht canal, the Homomonument in Amsterdam is dedicated to the gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust and all LGBT persons who have been victims of persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
While the calls for memorializing gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust emerged in the period directly after World War II, it only became a reality in the 1980s. At that time, calls were made to expand the memorials dedicated purpose to all LGBT victims of discrimination. The memorial is dedicated to the mission that history can never be repeated.
The memorial is celebrated around the world and is the largest LGBTQ monument in the world. It was designed in the shape of a pink triangle, the symbol used by the Nazi regime to designate homosexuals. The three points of the triangle point to important buildings in remembrance of the Holocaust and LGBT rights. One point of the triangle points to the War Memorial on Dam Square. A second points to the Anne Frank House, across the canal from the Homomonument. The last point of the triangle points towards COC Amsterdam, a Dutch group that advocates for LGBT rights. On the plaza in front of the Homomonument is Pink Point, Amsterdam’s official LGBT information kiosk.
Bicycles are probably the main means of transportation in Amsterdam. The city has 320 miles (515 km) in the city and as the city is flat, it very easy to cycle from place to place. It is the second bicycle-friendly city in the world after Copenhagen. Renting a bike or even taking a bicycle tour is a great way to experience the city. Just make sure to follow the safety rules and enjoy it.
One of the most famous areas of Amsterdam is the Red Light District in De Wallen in the city center. The Red Light District represents the liberalism that Amsterdam is so proud of, and where prostitution is legal. If you go to watch or do more than that, please remember that sex workers are also people and treat them with respect. Guided tours that pass by the windows are actually banned since last year.
One of the most recognizable icons of Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) is the Tulips. The tulip season marks the beginning of the spring, so it is best to see the spectacular color of the tulips between March to May. If you are in Amsterdam in that season, pay a visit to the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens and see a variety of 800 different tulips.
Day Trips From Amsterdam
Rotterdam, the Netherlands second largest city, is an up-and-coming port city that you must visit! It is one of the easiest day trips from Amsterdam too. There are so many great places to eat and things to do in Rotterdam. The city is known for its unique architecture, like the cube houses and the Erasmus Bridge. In addition to the architecture and the waterfront location, what makes Rotterdam so interesting is the innovative projects it undergoes.
Suggested by Elizabeth from The Fearless Foreigner
One of the prettiest castles in the Netherlands, Muiderslot Castle is an easy day trip from Amsterdam. Located only 10 miles from the city, there’s a tourist ferry from Amsterdam Ijburg to Muiderslot Castle most days of the week. Entrance to Muiderslot Castle is included in the IAmsterdam city pass. Muiderslot originates from the 13th century with renovations done to the castle and a Renaissance garden by a famous Dutch playwright in the 16th century. In the late 19th century, Muiderslot got another facelift. This time by the same architect who built the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The castle and gardens are beautiful and show how the Dutch lived during an age when the country was fabulously wealthy. The town itself is easy walking distance and quite charming.
Suggested by Shobha George from Just Go Places
Amsterdam is one of the gems of Europe. The city has suffered from over-tourism in the last few years, and things are probably going to change after the pandemic is over. Banning tourists from weed consumption or moving the red light district outside of the city are part of the topics discussed by the city council. Putting this aside, Amsterdam is full of other attractions, which can easily fill up a weekend and even a full week (including some day trips). I know I will be there again to enjoy more of what this city has to offer.
If you want to get updates about new posts from The Top Ten Traveler, subscribe to my newsletter below, and also get the ultimate packing list for free.