Canal Cruise in Amsterdam's City Center

Top 23 Things To Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city with a lot of fascinating sides, though many folks only know about its red-light district and coffee shops. It is also a city of immense beauty and culture. Canals form a web around the center, and picture-perfect bridges can make it feel like a small town. There is a fascinating concentrate of museums in Amsterdam. Many are world-class galleries with artwork straight out of the history books. There are also plenty specializing in the quirky and the risqué. Our list of the top 23 things to do in Amsterdam includes some of the typical first time visitor attractions but expands beyond for those who have more time. 

Take a walk, ride a bike, or jump on a canal cruise. There are so many ways to enjoy this historical city.

Map of Amsterdam Sights

In 2010, Amsterdam’s 17th-century expansive canal network became recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The canals and accompanying bridges are defining characteristics of the city they call “the Venice of the North.”

A canal tour is a must while you are in Amsterdam. They are a great way to get your bearings and cover a lot of the city in a short amount of time.  There are dozens of companies to choose from and various options on offer. Standard tours take about 60-90 minutes.

Canal Cruise in Amsterdam's city center

The best tours have a live guide to point out the highlights and answer your questions, others only offer a prerecorded audio tour. There are private cruises, dinner cruises, bring your own booze cruises, and the hop-on-hop-off boats which doubles as a tour and transportation.

If it is a nice day, look for a boat with unobstructed views to get a different angle for your city photos.

There are day and night tours, it is worth doing both if you have the time. A night tour is especially worth it if you are in town for the Amsterdam Light Festival which takes place around the end of November to the end of January.

Cruise With A Cause

PlasticWhale, a non-profit, offers 2-hour plastic “fishing” tours. They then recycle the plastic into everyday goods such as desks, chairs, and even the boats used for the tours.

Money Saving Tip

Many attractions in Amsterdam offer a “combination ticket” option. These tickets often come with a canal cruise included or as a very inexpensive add-on.

City Savings Card

The I amsterdam City Card includes many attractions in its price. Including a canal tour.

It can be good value if you plan to do multiple attractions in a day.

Rijksmuseum

If you pick only one museum for your trip Rijksmuseum is it. Located just south of the city center, this world-class gallery houses over a million artifacts.  Prized pieces include some of Rembrandt’s most famous works such as The Night’s Watch and Self-portrait as Apostle Paul, along with Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and paintings from other masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Frans Hals, and Peter Paul Rubens.

  • Purchase tickets online to skip the line at the ticketing desk.
  • The main collection does not require a time slot ticket unless you are using the I amsterdam card or another multi-pass ticket.
  • The museum is huge, allow at least 3-4 hours to see just the highlights. Tickets are good for the day so you can leave to get lunch and come back if you like.
  • Download the Rijksmuseum app on your phone for an audio guide of the collection.
  • There’s a free manned cloakroom to store day bags and other small items, but lines can be very long so leave them at your hotel if you can.
  • The fenced garden surrounding the museum is lovely in spring and free to visit.
At The Museum

February 15 – June 10, 2019, the museum will feature the “All the Rembrandt’s” collection with 22 paintings, 60 drawings and over 300 prints of Rembrandt’s work. You must book a ticket with a time slot.

Ann Frank House

This moving experience should be on everyone’s must do list. The museum preserves the house and the small annex where Anne Frank, her family, and four others hid from the Nazi’s from 1942-1944. They were ultimately betrayed by an unknown informant. Anne died in a concentration camp at the age of 15. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only survivor. He published Anne’s diary in 1947. 

  • Tickets must be booked online for a specific date and time.
  • 80% of tickets are sold two months in advance. The remaining 20% of tickets are released on the museum’s website at 9 am on the day. You must be quick to grab some.
  • The ticket includes an audio guide which your personal headphones can plug into.
  • There are four floors with very narrow staircases which can be challenging for those with mobility issues.
  • There’s a free manned cloakroom to store day bags and other small items.
Statue of Anne Frank

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh artwork, including the famous Potato Eaters, Almond Blossom and one of the five Sunflowers.  The well laid out museum walks you through the life and tragedy of Van Gogh. It also includes paintings from his famous friends.

  • Tickets are limited, assigned to a time slot, and must be purchased online in advance.
  • Purchasing the audio guide is highly recommended.
  • Allow 2-3 hours to see the full collection.
  • There’s a free manned cloakroom to store day bags and other small items, but lines can be very long so leave them at your hotel if you can.
  • Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night is at the MOMA in New York, but this museum is still well worth your time. 

De Wallen's Red-Light District

Most of what you have probably heard about Amsterdam’s red-light district is true. The pink glow from neon lights set the scene for scantily clad women beckoning behind glass windows. Coffee shops selling various forms of cannabis on every corner. Sex shows, shops, and museums explore and exploit the city’s legal sex trade.

De Wallen is Amsterdam’s most famous red-light district. It is the city’s old medieval center, located just south of Amsterdam Central Train Station. In the center of the neighborhood, Oude Kerk, is Amsterdam’s oldest building, oldest parish church, and the Netherlands’ biggest commissioner of art.

Though the area is generally safe for tourists to go, never go out alone, and stick to the well-lit streets.

Prostitution Information Center (PIC) Amsterdam offers an interesting tour of the district from the perspective of a former or sometimes current sex worker.

Westerkerk Tower

A short walk from the Anne Frank House, this is the clock face frequently mentioned in Anne’s diary. A tour of the tower provides a fascinating understanding of the tower’s history and a narrow staircase takes you to a lookout point.

  • Rembrandt was originally buried here, though his remains were later moved. Today there is a Rembrandt memorial marker.
  • Entrance to Westkerk church is free, with a €7 fee for the tower tour.
  • The church is open every day with services on Sundays.

NOTE: The church is closed to visitors for restoration and expected to reopen Summer 2019. The tower is still open.
Westerkerk Tower Amsterdam

Stedelijk Museum

Next door to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum houses a collection of modern, contemporary and design art including several interactive exhibits. This museum displays works from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Piet Mondrian’s famous Composition No. IV with Red, Blue, and Yellow.

  • The ticket includes an audio guide.
  • Allow 2-3 hours.
  • There’s a free manned cloakroom to store day bags and other small items, but lines can be long.

Heineken Brewery

The Heineken Brewery offers a 1.5 hour self-guided tour around the brewery to learn the company’s history and its brewing process. Includes two beers at the end. Book online for a discount.

Download the audio and video app to enhance the experience. VIP tours with a Heineken Connoisseur are available everyday except Saturdays.

Brouwerij 't IJ (IJ Brewery)

Want an alternative to the Heineken Brewery? Brouwerij ‘t IJ (IJ Bewery) is a little gem that offers English tours Friday through Sunday. Try one of their sampler flights for the full experience.

Tram 14 from Dam Square or Amsterdam Central Station gets you there. Head toward Flevopark and get off at the Pontanusstraat stop. Over the bridge left of the tram stop. It’s hard to miss their giant windmill, the brewery is right next door.

A'dam Lookout

Located on the north side of the city, the A’DAM observation tower provides 360° views of the city. There is a panorama restaurant on the 20th floor and rooftop bar on the 21st.

If you really want to be daring, you can swing “Over the Edge” of the building on Europe’s highest swing. Tickets are a €5 add-on to the Lookout experience.

  • From behind Amsterdam Central Station, take the free ferry to ‘Buiksloterweg.
  • Allow 1-2 hours.

Vondelpark

A short walk from Museum Square lies one of the most peaceful and yet one of the most visited areas of the city. This sprawling 48-hectare park is a popular place for locals and tourists to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors. It’s also a lovely place to have a picnic, so grab some lunch to go at one of the nearby cafes or snack bars.

Keukenhof Gardens

If you are lucky enough to be in Amsterdam between late March and mid-May, Keukenhof Gardens are a must see. They include 32-hectares of over 7 million blooming flowers, including 800 varieties of tulips.

By car, the Keukenhof Gardens are located about 30 minutes southwest of Amsterdam, but there are also several public transportation routes to get you to the gardens. During season, special combination tickets bundle entrance fees and include transport on an express bus which runs from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and from Leiden Central Station.

In 2019, the gardens are only open from March 21st to May 19th.

Bloemenmarkt

This floating flower market is always in season as various flowers pop in color and fragrance. There are several gift shops to pick up your souvenirs and flower bulbs. 

Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam's floating Flower Market

Jordaan Neighborhood

To the west of the city, between the Prinsengracht and Lijnbansgracht canals, lies the trendiest neighborhood in Amsterdam. Small boutiques and tons of sweet cafés nestle between the towering and narrow 17th century buildings. Take a stroll, stop at a café, and enjoy the day as a local. 

Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Often overlooked, probably due to its blackened exterior, the Royal Palace Amsterdam plays an important role in Dutch history. For over 200 years the palace has hosted numerous Dutch Monarchy receptions including royal weddings and successions. Pick up the free audio guide and make your way around the palace.

Royal Palace of Amsterdam in Dam Square

Rembrandt House Museum

The Rembrandt House Museum provides an in-depth look at Rembrandt’s life and work. They have almost a complete collection of his etchings and a significant collection from his pupils. The highlight of this museum are their demonstrations, including etching and paint preparation.  Free audio guides are available.

Museum Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder

The Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) museum showcases a beautifully preserved 17th century house. The attic hides a detailed restoration of a secret Catholic church representing a time where mass was forbidden.  This is a fascinating attraction, but there are narrow and twisting staircases which may cause mobility challenges for some. The audio guide is free.

Moco Museum

Moco Modern Art Museum aims to provide “inspiration and eye-openers” for its visitors through the works of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Currently, there is a Banksy exhibit on until the end of September 2019 which is receiving rave reviews.

ARTIS-Micropia

ARTIS-Micropia is an entire museum dedicated to the world of microbes, the tiniest forms of life. They are all around us and usually too small for us to see. This museum will challenge the way you see the world.

Beurspassage

This work of art is a cut-through passage between Damrak Ave and Niewendijk Street (next to Primark). Famous for its beautiful mosaics and gold chandeliers made of bicycle parts, it is a tribute to the canals of Amsterdam. You can fill your water bottles with tap water at the fish’s mouth – you will see what we mean.

This is Holland

Located next door to the A’DAM Lookout, This is Holland is an informational experience which provides tourists with a brief overview of the country’s history.  Then take a 15-minute virtual helicopter ride over the Netherlands main attractions. It’s a fun experience for adults and kids. 

Amsterdam Catacombs

Like escape rooms and a scare (seriously it’s very scary), then how does finding your way around the catacombs of a historical church sound? Amsterdam Catacombs offers a unique adventure for groups of 3 – 6. It is about a 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Central Station.

Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot

Located along the water east of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot is small, but picture-perfect and well-preserved. It is a favorite of kids.

For more information on Amsterdam, see our post Getting Around Amsterdam

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1 thought on “Top 23 Things To Do in Amsterdam”

  1. Awesome guide. I’m going to Europe next summer and I’m hoping to be able to spend a few days in Amsterdam. I’ll refer to your guide when I create my itinerary. Thanks for posting

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