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What to Do in Amsterdam: Top Amsterdam Attractions You NEED On Your Itinerary
Up there with Paris and Rome, Amsterdam holds the title as one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world. It has the best of cities and towns, which makes people continue to visit. There are international restaurants, lively nightlife, rich culture, and great transportation like a big city. But it’s also quiet due to the light traffic and the canals. The extensive Amsterdam attractions make it absolutely irresistible.
The city itself is like a sanctuary for all types of people. You’ll see tolerance and diversity all around it. This is a place where you can make friends wherever you go. Also take a look at our Amsterdam itinerary.
The Amsterdam Card – Save Money on the Best Places to Visit in Amsterdam
Like all major cities, Amsterdam has a city card to make seeing all these awesome things easier. Their city card includes free entry to 44 of the top Amsterdam attractions. Free entry includes Haarlem, the Naarden museum, and Zaanse Schans, so some of the top place to visit in Amsterdam.
On top of the free entry, holders of the Amsterdam card get various discounts in shops and restaurants as well as entry into monthly giveaways as well as unlimited public transport.
The card is available for up to 120 hours depending on which card you get. Holders get discounts at attractions, restaurants, concerts, shows, and so much more. It will save you hundreds of dollars on multi-day and single-day Amsterdam visits. I recommend it for anybody planning their trip.
Top Things to Do in Amsterdam
The one downfall of Amsterdam is that there is just so many things to do and they’re all tempting. How do you decide what to in Amsterdam on your trip? Lucky for you, we have gathered a few seasoned travelers to help you out. To tell you exactly what Amsterdam attractions are a must on your vacation. So let’s get started.
Active/Outdoor Amsterdam Activities
Royal Botanic Gardens
One of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam is to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens – De Hortus Botanicus. In the upmarket area of the Plantage, the Hortus Botanicus is a great way to wile away a couple of hours. The botanic gardens are a great thing to do no matter what time of year you visit because of the amazing glasshouses that provide year round greenery. However my favourite time to visit the Amsterdam Botanic Gardens is in the spring.
Spring is my favourite time to visit Amsterdam full stop because it is the best time to see the famous Amsterdam tulips. If you want to see tulips in Amsterdam without having to do a day trip outside of the city then the best place to see them is in the botanic gardens. Hortus Botanica. While they aren’t the rolling fields of Keukenhof the displays here give you a good overview of the types of tulips grown in the Amsterdam area.
Other highlights of the Hortus Botanicus Gardens include the Snippendaal garden – a herbal medicine garden, an example of one of the worlds rarest trees – the Wollemi pine, and a huge glasshouse with plants from the landscape of South Africa. One of my favourite things to do in the glass house is to do the canopy walk which gives you a completely different perspective on the plants. Kids will also love exploring the butterfly glasshouse.
Once you finish perusing the gardens, be sure to stop for lunch at the botanical gardens cafe.
Visit the Street Market Like a Local
If you want to see a more authentic and local side of Amsterdam, then heading to a street market is the thing to do for you! There are actually quite a few street markets in Amsterdam, all with their own unique findings and characteristics, but there is one that is better than them all. And this is Westerstraat Market.
This market is located in the beautiful Jordan area of Amsterdam and is full of exciting goodies. Some of the things you can find are fresh flowers, fresh meat, fish, cheese, clothing, jewelry, and much more. The flowers are beautiful to look at and are such a quintessential Dutch symbol, especially tulips in Amsterdam.
And since the flowers have a good price, it is a fun idea to buy a bouquet and take some fantastic photos along one of the canals nearby! More so, if you are staying in accommodation that allows you to cook, you can buy some goodies for dinner to prepare a market made meal.
Evidently, this market is a great place to pick up some goodies either to bring home for yourself or for others. You can find unique homemade jewelry, paintings, and more! Plus, it is the best place to try a homemade, fresh Stroopwafel.
What makes Westerstraat Street market very different from the others is that it is only open Mondays from 9 AM – 1 PM. This makes it very exclusive, and because of the hours and day it is open, it is much less busy than the others! This is great because there is nothing worse than strolling a street market with a ton of other people mulling around you. At Westerstraat, you can be a part of a street market few tourists know about and walk the market in peace.
Be sure to make a stop here during your visit to Amsterdam, you will not be disappointed.
Vondelpark: For The Outdoorsy Travelers
Many people in Amsterdam are passionate about nature and getting outdoors. They love to hop on their bikes and explore the beautiful countryside outside of the city. But you don’t need to leave Amsterdam to get in touch with nature. Just head to the gorgeous Vondelpark!
It’s within walking distance from major tourist attractions like the Van Gogh Museum. But when you’re in Vondelpark, you can forget about all the tourists and just enjoy the colorful flowers and peaceful fountains. You’ll never get stuck in the kinds of crowds that line the canals.
Vondelpark is huge, about 120 acres (47 hectares). You won’t be able to see all of it in one day. If you want lots of entertainment options, it’s best to visit in the summer. The flowers will be in full bloom, so the park will be at its most splendid. The roses of Vondelpark are the most famous blooms, and you can find them in almost every color of the rainbow from yellow to purple.
In the summer during the evening, there will be free performances in the open-air theater, concerts, and big screen movies. And if you are traveling with kids, there is more than one children’s playground. The children’s playground at the restaurant Groot Melkhuis even has a jumpy castle on weekends.
Even if you don’t visit in the summer, there’s interesting public art year-round. The most famous sculpture is The Fish by Pablo Picasso. You can’t miss it because it looks exactly like a giant Cubist fish. But one word of caution: keep an eye out for the public urinals. They’re fairly out in the open, so if you’re not careful, you can see more of the locals than you would probably like.
The best way to explore Amsterdam is on a bike, after all, Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the World (2d after Copenhagen). Even if you aren’t an experienced rider, don’t worry, Amsterdam is a lowland city without hills. It has extensive cycle tracks, signals and traffic lights designated solely for cyclists.
The Dutch love bicycles, as you will notice when you arrive at the central station, there are thousands of bicycles all over. It is part of their culture, and they go by bicycle everywhere, to work, or taking their kids to school, even when it is raining or snowing. So, the most practical and cheapest way of touring Amsterdam is doing it “the Dutch way” – by bicycle.
It is fairly easy to rent a bike in Amsterdam, there are several shops and it costs about 10 € per day, depending on the type of bike you want. Be aware that there are two types of bicycle, bikes with foot brakes (the cheapest to rent) and bicycles with hand brakes. We advise you to rent the one you feel more comfortable using.
Although it is fun to cruise Amsterdam by bike, you have to pay attention to some cycling rules and safety. The Dutch are experienced riders and sometimes impatient and will overtake you, so ride on the right lane. Always ride on the bike paths and obey the signs and traffic lights even if the others don’t if you want to turn left or right use hand signs. Be careful with the Trams, Tram tracks, and the pedestrians, there are plenty of tourists in Amsterdam. And never forget to lock your bike, about 100,000 bicycles are stolen in Amsterdam each year. There are also guided bike tours if you want to give it a try.
Cruising The Netherlands
We took our first river cruise through The Netherlands during spring. It was a beautiful time of year for a vacation there. We enjoyed eye-opening stops at various sites that helped form our love of the country. Tulips were in bloom, the weather was favorable and the skies were blue. One visit on our itinerary that was a stand out was the Zaans Schans windmills.
The area is a flashback to the 19th century when classic windmills, that have grown to be icons of The Netherlands, were abundant and in operation. Technology has made the classic windmills obsolete it’s not easy to see them throughout the countryside unless you seek them out. Luckily there’s a wonderful concentration of them at Zaans Schans.
The area is just outside of Amsterdam about thirty to forty minutes away. It depends on where you are traveling from within the city. It’s incredibly easy to arrive via train, bus or car. (There is a fee to park in the lot next to the museum.) It’s a short walk to the windmill area by foot from the train station, perhaps about fifteen minutes. (And it’s a lovely walk at that through a very pretty neighborhood!) You should arrive very early in the morning before majority of tourists arrive by the busload. You can also arrive later in the afternoon after they have left.
There’s no fee to walk around the windmill area. If you want to visit the adjacent Zaans Schans museums, it’s simply €15 per adult to enhance your experience. (Note there is also a combination bus and museum ticket for €22.) It’s also possible to pay a small fee to enter one of the windmills still working today on site. We cannot recommend it enough – the waterfront view and photo opportunity make it a very pleasant. An absolutely necessary stop when you visit Amsterdam!
Take a Free Walking Tour
Let’s be real, traveling is expensive so it’s important to find things to do to keep costs low. One way to do this is by participating in free walking tours when visiting new cities. These free tours give visitors a high-level overview of the city. It shows off many of the highlights that there are to see.
Like many European cities, Amsterdam has a couple different tour companies that offer free walking tours. This includes Sandeman’s, Strawberry Tours and even a local company, Free Walking Tours Amsterdam. All of the tours include an overview of Amsterdam’s history. Each tour stops at popular attractions like Dam Square, the Red Light District and the Anne Frank House. The tour guides also give tips on other places visitors should check out. Take a look at other Amsterdam attractions, restaurants, bars and even coffee shops!
Between the various tour companies, there are free tours daily, at various times, and in multiple languages. Tourists can find the perfect tour that fits their needs and schedule. The tours are approximately two to three hours long. It will require a leisurely walk of about two to three miles total. Many of the tours even offer a break in the middle to grab a coffee, beer or snack.
At the end of the free walking tour, be sure to tip the guide. While the tours are free, don’t forget to tip your guide!
The Beautiful Keukenhof Gardens
This world-famous attraction is home to over 7 million bulbs of 800 varieties of tulips. They bloom over 79 acres each year. Impressive, right? To realize there are that many varieties of tulips. Then visualize them is unlike anything I have ever seen before and certainly unlike anything I can adequately describe.
Unlike many attractions, there is no offseason or high season. Keukenhof has one season each year that runs for about eight weeks mid-March through mid-May. With that in mind, I recommend not visiting when it first opens or the last few days before closing. It is possible to miss the tulips in their prime.
Mid-April is typically a great time, but do keep in mind the weather varies each year. Weekdays are always better than weekends unless that weekday is a local holiday. Heads up if you’re visiting on a Monday in March or May, make sure it isn’t the Monday after Easter. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it will be a madhouse!
Also, be advised that like most parks, the food is expensive, though. But unlike most parks, you can pack your own food and have a picnic. There is free wifi throughout, luggage storage, skip-the-line tickets. You can even rent bikes and ride alongside beautiful tulip fields!
Historical and Cultural Amsterdam Attractions
History and Culture of The Church of Our Lady in the Attic
The Church of Our Lady in the Attic is a throwback to an interesting period in Amsterdam’s history. Although Amsterdam was strong-armed into turning Protestant in the late 16th century, the city did not want to lose its ideas of religious tolerance.
Religions other than the official state religion (Protestant Calvinism) were permitted if people practiced them in private. This tacit allowance led to people building churches in their homes away from prying eyes. Amsterdam still has many Catholics in the city as well as other religions such as Jewish, Huguenots and Lutherans.
One of the wealthy German merchants who lived in the city built this Church of Our Lady in the Attic across the top of 3 of his homes near the city center (very near Central Station). The attic was basically carved out as a shell and a church put in its place. The beams supporting the buildings were replaced by steel rods at the top. It has separate spaces for an organ, a little chapel, a sacristy etc. – all the things you would see in a regular free-standing church. With the height of the interior of the attic, you even got the sense of soaring ceilings.
The owner’s family lived out of one of the buildings downstairs. Rooms were rented out to another family as well as the priest of the church. For all intents and purposes, the buildings looked to the outside world as if they were just the usual Amsterdam tall narrow homes.
This church is now a museum because it is the best preserved of the clandestine churches in Amsterdam from historic times to survive into modern times. It is definitely one of the more unusual sites in the city (and has free entry included in the Amsterdam Pass).
Begijnhof: Charming and Complex
One of my favourite places to visit in Amsterdam is the city’s small yet charming begijnhof.
Right in the city centre, the begijnhof is a historical complex of traditional Dutch houses overlooking an internal courtyard, with peculiar origins.
It dates back to medieval times and takes its name from its first inhabitants, the ‘beguines’, unmarried catholic women who took a vote of chastity and lived together here, attending mass and religious services in the yard chapel.
The place is a pleasure to visit. At first glance it looks like just a pretty garden however, its real charm is in the details.
The first thing that catches the visitors’ attention is the yard itself: this is small and enclosed, very well kept and it is dotted with religious statues that give away the origins of the place.
Around the central lawn, you have houses built in traditional Dutch fashion, with straight facades and elaborate roofs. Among the many, number 34 stands out: this is one of the oldest houses in the whole of the city and one of the only 2 remaining made of wood!
Begijnhof Visiting Tips
You can visit the Begijnhof all year round and entrance is free. Info panels with information about its origins are available in Dutch and English inside the courtyard and allow you to learn about the place in your own time.
When visiting, just be aware that people still live in the houses and some areas of the yard are off limits to visitors, something to consider when exploring but also when taking photos.
Since it is right in the heart of the canal ring, you can easily add it to your Amsterdam itinerary and it makes an excellent stop especially in spring. At this time, small daisies dot the green patches of the begijnhof and, on a good day, the blue sky makes the perfect backdrop to Amsterdam’s fairy tale architecture.
The Rijksmuseum is in the heart of Amsterdam’s Museum Square. It is one of the most picturesque and impressive galleries in the world with famous artwork from the likes of Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Van Gogh. The whole museum houses over 8000 pieces in their collection. So it is a real gem for art lovers and those who want a slice of culture during their trip to Amsterdam.
Rijksmuseum is open daily from 9am-5pm. Since it is such a popular attraction it’s worth getting their early (or late) to avoid the crowds. It’s best to buy your tickets online in advance so that you can skip the line at the ticket counter and get straight in there to explore the collection. Online ticket purchases also allow you to book your tour in advance, ensuring you don’t miss out, as well as having the chance to head directly to Operation Night Watch, the live research and restoration project of Rembrandt’s renowned painting ‘The Night Watch’.
Why Go To Rijksmuseum
Regardless of whether you are an art buff or not, you’re sure to enjoy the Rijksmuseum and will want to spend hours wandering the halls of this stunning gallery. The multimedia guides offer accessible information about the artwork. This allows you to understanding it in greater depth without being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art displayed here. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time, as even if you just come for one special exhibition, you’re sure to want additional time to explore the other works on show.
The great thing about the Rijksmuseum is that you could visit time and time again without getting bored of feeling like you have ‘seen it all’. The museum features ever-changing exhibitions as well as having favourites displayed in prime positions throughout the gallery.
If you’re short on time but still want to visit the Rijksmuseum, head to the Gallery of Honour which features breath-taking paintings by Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer and Rembrandt.
Moco Museum on the Museumsplein
Situated on the famous Museumplein, the Moco Museum in Amsterdam exhibits modern, contemporary. Not to mention the street art from some of the most amazing artists across the world.
When the Moco Museum opened in April of 2016, it immediately made its mark by presenting an exhibition of the famous, yet mysterious street artist, Banksy. (I was able to visit just a few months later while I was studying abroad in Switzerland!) Banksy’s most famous works, including Girl with a Balloon and Keep It Real, are still proudly hung in the museum.
The museum’s ongoing displays include pieces by contemporary artistic masters, including Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. There are also revolving exhibits showcasing the works of world-renowned artists, such as American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein and Japanese polka dot-lover Yayoi Kusama.
The one downside of the Moco Museum is the fact that it is quite small. That means that, during peak hours, the museum gets extremely packed! In order to avoid a situation where other people are a bit too close for comfort, head to the Moco Museum right when it opens at 9AM. Then, by the time you head out, you’ll have successfully avoided the crowds!
If art museums are at the top of your list of things to do in Amsterdam, be sure to explore the rest of Museumplein. Within this small area, there is also the famous Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum just steps away from the Moco Museum. Oh, and you certainly can’t forget to take a picture with the famous “I Amsterdam” sign located in that very same square!
The Van Gogh Museum
by Maps ‘N Bags
One of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam is visiting the Van Gogh Museum, a fantastic art institution that deserves a place in your Dutch itinerary.
The Van Gogh Museum is strategically located on a beautiful square surrounded by the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk, and Moco museums. Which also are excellent places to visit.
During springtime, they fill the artificial lake on this square with tulip vases from the Keukenhof. It’s a photo-worthy spot!
While the other museums in the area are excellent, the Van Gogh Museum is unique. It’s unique because it showcases significant artworks of the most famous Dutch artist.
The highlights of his collection are the Sunflowers and the Almond Blossom paintings. The latter is my favorite one. But Almond Blossom also was a gift Van Gogh made for Theo and Jo, his brother and sister-in-law, respectively, who had just had a baby son, Vincent Willem.
Fun fact: His nephew, Vincent Willem, founded this museum.
However, so much value comes with a price – tickets can be expensive (€19).
The good thing is that if you are visiting more museums in the Netherlands, you might consider purchasing the Museum Card for 60 euros. It gives you access to over 400 Dutch institutions, including the Anne Frank House.
As for the best time to visit, early in the morning. Be there when the museum is opening its doors. Seriously. Van Gogh Museum usually has huge lines.
Otherwise, be sure to purchase the skip-the-line ticket online. It will save you lots of precious time whileexploring Amsterdam.
The Royal Palace
This is one of four royal palaces in the Netherlands and is very conveniently located right in the heart of the city on Dam Square, next to Nieuwe Kerk and just opposite the War Memorial. It was originally built as a town hall in the 17th century, during the period known as the Dutch Golden Age. It’s the largest and most prestigious work of architecture from this period.
The building was converted to a palace by Louis Napoleon, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, when he acquired the title of King Louis I of Holland in 1806. Nowadays, it is used by the royal family mainly for entertaining important visitors, such as heads of State. Since 2009, the palace has been open to the public and can now be visited on most days, except when an official function is being held.
Opening hours are from 10 am to 5 pm, and the entrance fee is 10 euros for adults and 9 for students, while anyone under the age of 18 can enter free of charge. A free audio guide is available in various languages, and there’s even a special audio guide for children available in Dutch and English. It’s also possible to book a guided tour for an additional fee.
Inside, visitors will find an impressive display of King Louis’ Empire furniture, as well as intricately detailed sculptures and luxuriously decorated rooms. One of the palace’s most famous features is the world map etched into the marble floor in the central hall. Created in the mid-18th century, the map shows the sphere of Dutch colonial influence at that time.
Expect to spend about an hour touring the inside of the palace. There’s no café inside, but nearby SunLight Lounge does delicious burgers, sandwiches and milkshakes, with plenty of options for vegetarian and vegan travelers.
Explore NDSM Neighborhood
Amsterdam is a charming city that offers many fun things to do year-round. It is also undeniably crowded with a slew of tourists. If you want to get out of the Centrum and chill out with locals, NDSM is a great neighborhood you can explore.
Amsterdam NDSM is only a five-minute ferry ride away from the Centraal Station. The ferry runs frequently and is free of charge. During the short trip, you can enjoy the best view of Amsterdam skyline on the IJ river.
Once you set your foot onto the NDSM wharf, you will immediately notice a change of scenes. The neighborhood exudes the industrial vibes and features colorful outdoor arts and graffitis. The most eye-catching and famous one is “Let me be myself”. It’s a large wall art of Anne Frank Portrait by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra.
NDSM is also an outdoor cultural hub, where many performances and cultural events take place. There’s even a monthly flea market at IJ-Hallen. If you want to spend a lazy afternoon with the fantastic view, there are a few unique cafes in the area, including the pancake boat.
Before you hop on a ferry back to the Centrum, don’t forget to check out the quirky Crane Hotel. It will be hard to miss, though, as it is one of many things at NDSM that catch your eyes!
Family Friendly Amsterdam Sightseeing
Awesome Museum Visits
With so many wonderful museums in Amsterdam, the one NOT TO MISS is the NEMO Science Center, especially if you have your kiddos in tow. With everything from hand-on science exhibitions (five floors of them) to a science lab, a ball factory, a movie and performance hall, a gift shop, and even a cafeteria.
You can spend all day here having fun and enjoying the things that they have to offer, including lunch. Of all the museums in Amsterdam, it is the eighth most visited! Plus, you can’t miss the building it is in, which is a replica of a giant ship and designed by a famous Italian architect. It stands out along the water and you will notice it right away!
My favorite floor is the first floor which is about DNA and chain reactions. Here they have a show that lasts for about a half hour that features a large chain reaction circuit. This is great for kids and adults alike to learn more about how DNA works. They also have giant dominoes with enormous contraptions like flying cars, giant bells, and other interesting things to see.
I also enjoyed going to the science lab on the third floor where you can actually do experiments related to DNA and also the fourth floor, which is about the human mind. There really isn’t anything more complex than that! Here you can all kinds of memory tests about different mind theories and how the mind works. Be sure and also visit the eerie fourth floor for a surprise!
NEMO Museum of Science
The NEMO museum in Amsterdam is among the best science museums in Europe as its clear dedication to educating children and hands on activities makes it an amazing place to visit with children. The 5 story science center has hundreds of hands on science exhibitions and experiment and take a close look at certain topics to teach kids in depth about the different ideas presented.
One of the most fun parts of the museum is the area where children can play with bubbles. There are huge bubble wand stations set up in one area and children can climb onto the inside metal ring and “lift” a bubble wand around them, creating a bubble around themselves. Near the bubble station, are also pulley stations where children can sit in a chair and see if they can pull themselves up using only their upper body strength. This is a favorite for older children in particular as many will race each other to see who will get to the top first.
There is a chain reaction set up on the first floor where visitors can see the cause and effect of a large set up that includes balls, pops and electricity. On the upper floors there is a sectioned off laboratory where adults and children can put on white lab coats and do a variety of experiments inside with the help of nearby “scientists.” Another fascinating exhibit is the ball factory where the logistics process is in full display, and visitors can take turns helping to sort the balls in an automated process.
The museum is open year-round, though it is closed about 20 days out of the year for holidays. The least busy times are right at opening or in the late afternoon. It is better to visit the museum when the weather is pleasant outside as less people will be drawn indoors. There is also a spectacular café on the top floor with an open outdoor area where you can get a full view of the city.
The Amsterdam Cheese Museum
Amsterdam has no shortage of world-class museums. Whether you’re interested in art, history, or something a bit more off the beaten path, there’s something for everyone. The Amsterdam Cheese Museum definitely falls into that last category, and is one of the coolest untraditional museums I’ve come across anywhere. I’ve been to many museums in Amsterdam alone, and will never return without stopping by the Cheese Museum. It’s educational, fun, delicious, and affordable.
The Cheese Museum is incredibly underrated; it belongs on every Amsterdam itinerary, if you ask me. There are hundreds of free samples of multicolored cheeses (I tried at least 20), cute cow statues, and interactive museum dioramas. It is a two-story building, filled with mouthwatering displays of every kind of cheese you can imagine from Holland and beyond. While you can certainly buy your favorites, the sampling room and museum are completely free.
The Amsterdam Cheese Museum is conveniently located directly across the canal from the Anne Frank House, so there’s a good chance you’ll be in the area at some point on your Amsterdam trip. It’s appropriate and enjoyable for people of all ages, whether you’re a solo traveler, cheese-loving couple, or family with kids. The museum displays themselves are interactive, full of props and photos teaching visitors about cheese-making in Holland.
Every type you sample, from the smoked gouda to the spicy brie, is for sale. I can think of no better place to explore rich flavors and pick up cheesy keepsakes. Not to mention some fascinating Dutch dairy history!
The Iconic Damrak
Damrak is one of the most iconic places in Amsterdam. It’s perhaps one of the most photographed canals in the city, if not the whole country. It’s truly a beautiful spot with iconic houses in the traditional Dutch style. No matter the time of the day you visit, it’s a bliss to admire the houses in Damrak. The architecture truly is stunning!
At night, they will light up and display gorgeous reflections in the still water. During the day, you can truly see all the details of the houses. From here, you can also take many of the boats that go around the Amsterdam canals. It’s a popular place to hang out, especially among tourists, and it has a relaxing and romantic vibe to it.
It’s very easy to reach Damrak. Literally on the opposite side of the road from the Centraal station. It takes just 2-3 minutes to reach the canal and avenue. There you can get a closer look at the famous houses.
Damrak is also an avenue that runs between the Amsterdam Centraal and Dam square. It’s served by various tram routes such as the lines 4, 9, 16, and 25. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Amsterdam. There’s a good reason why it’s a popular tourist attraction. Not only photographers come here, but other tourists also come to admire the old houses. They could also just have a little picnic. You can even dine at one of the nearby restaurants overlooking the beautiful Damrak canal.
Amsterdam Food, Fun & Nightlife
The Old and Famous Reguliersdwarsstraat
Reguliersdwarsstraat is one of Amsterdam’s oldest and now most famous gay streets. Located behind the bloemenmarkt (flower market), this street is just as colorful and exciting as the beautiful displays you have to pass to reach it. As well as being home to some of the trendiest gay bars and clubs in Amsterdam, Reguliersdwarsstraat also has plenty for those who might not necessarily be into the gay clubbing scene.
The Duke of Tokyo: Bonus!
One of my favorite things to do on Reguliersdwarsstraat is to spend an evening at The Duke of Tokyo… THE Amsterdam karaoke bar! From the outside, you wouldn’t expect this fairly toned-down (compared to the rest of the street) looking bar to be hiding away a traditional Japanese karaoke house. However, once you step inside, the Japanese themed bar and club in the front lead back into a makeshift street in Tokyo boasting eight private karaoke booths that are available for private hire.
The private karaoke booths are available for groups of 4, 6, 8, 10, 15 and 25, so are great for small groups all the way up to bigger parties. And if you’re heading to the Duke of Tokyo for date night, you can still book the smaller rooms for just 2 people. The rooms are booked in 2-hour slots and cost between €12-€18pp depending on the size of the room and group. The selection of songs is great and you’re even given an iPad on which you can order drinks to be delivered directly to your private booth – which means no wasting your time slot queuing at the bar.
The Duke of Tokyo is particularly popular with the locals and therefore can get pretty busy, particularly during the weekends. The best way to ensure a booth is to book online in advance or turn up early and hope there’s availability on the day.
Amsterdam’s Chocolate Company Cafe
The Chocolate Company may not have the most original name, but it’s one of the best foodie experiences in Amsterdam and certainly delivers what it promises. Specialising in all things chocolate, the central Amsterdam Chocolate Company Cafe sells an unbelievable array of chocolate products – so make sure you leave room for dessert when you’re eating in Amsterdam!
If you’re looking for a gift to take home, there are plenty of delicious treats that will easily fit in your cabin bag. Or, if you can’t resist the tempting scents of – it’s strong! – you can sit and enjoy a chocolate or two in their cosy seating area.
If something can be made with chocolate, you can bet that the Chocolate Company Cafe makes it. The product that they’re most famous for, though, is their unique “hotchocspoon”. It’s a hot chocolate like no other and comes in hundreds of classic and quirky flavours. They include red velvet, milk cookie coconut and dark chai latte. Simply heat up some milk (they have non-dairy options and vegan options available) and dip the chocolate coated wooden spoon in for a creamy, delicious chocolatey experience. The hotchocspoon is where the Chocolate Company started and has largely fueled their recent growth to more than 20 locations.
For something totally different, the Chocolate Company Cafe also offers “High Choc” experience. It’s a bit like high tea, but better – because it’s all chocolate! During this experience, you’ll get to sample several of the Chocolate Company’s finest treats, including brownies and gourmet chocolates, and was it all down with an iconic hotchocspoon.
Take a Cruise Around the Canals
Amsterdam is beautiful during the day, but there is just something special about exploring this amazing city at night, especially from the water. The entire vibe of the city changes at night, as does the city itself with the lighted canals. So, what better way to explore the city at night then to hop on an evening canal cruise?
We took our cruise with Blue Boat Amsterdam Canal Cruises. This 90-minute evening cruise included one alcoholic drink, as well as an audio guide that comes in 21 languages. At a cost of only €19 each, we couldn’t ask for much more. The cruise takes you all over the city, including a trip through the infamous Red Light District. Being able to take in the views from the boat while avoiding the crowds, made it that much more relaxing.
Be sure to bring a jacket with you no matter what time of year you go, as it is likely that it will be cooler out at night. While the interior of the boat is heated, nothing beats the fresh air you get while sitting on the open deck taking it all in. We were there in September, and it was quite chilly in the evenings, especially while on a moving boat through windy canals. Depending on when your cruise is, we would suggest grabbing dinner at the Foodhallen either before or after. There are a ton of options at this multi-restaurant venue, so there is sure to be something for everyone in your group.
Rijsttafel: Dutch-Indonesian Food
One of the most popular cuisines in Amsterdam is Indonesian food. You’ll find plenty of places selling tasty Indonesian fare, ranging from budget to high-end restaurant experiences.
The most unique Dutch-Indonesian experience is called Rijsttafel, which literally means “rice table.” Rijsttafel is an elaborate dinner with smaller, tapas-style dishes, often with no fewer than twenty rice, meat, and vegetable plates prepared in multiple ways.
Rijsttafel’s origins came from the West Sumatran style dinner called Nasi Padang during the Dutch Colonial era in Indonesia. To put on a show for European visitors to Indonesia, the Dutch developed Rijsttafel to highlight their colony’s exotic abundance.
Rijsttafel is a unique culinary style that you can only have in the Netherlands and you’ll find many of the best Rijsttafel experiences in the capital city.
Try Some Tasty Sweets
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Amsterdam is will satisfy! Here are three sweet treats you can sample as you explore this walkable city. First up is appeltaart. More like a cake than a pie, this Dutch favorite is flavored with a traditional spice mix called Speculaaskruiden.
Where to find appeltaart? All over the city! That said, Winkle 43 (Noordermarkt 43) is a popular choice and was recommended to me by a local. Be sure to add a cup of hot, fresh mint tea and a dollop of whipped cream to your order; they’re the perfect complement to the sweet appeltart.
The second Amsterdam must-try? Dutch pannenkoeken (pancakes). You’ll find options for both sweet and savory pancakes (gluten free, too), as well as a wide range of toppings at the Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191 near the Anne Frank House) and Pancakes Amsterdam (Berenstraat 38). I tried both sweet (lemon, raspberry and crème fraiche) and savory (cheese and mushroom) pancakes and loved them both. Dutch stroop syrup is another popular topping choice.
Speaking of stroop…another Amsterdam favorite is the famous stroopwafel. You can pick up a package of them at any store in Amsterdam, but I recommend heading to the Original stroopwafel stall at the the Albert Cuyp street market for a hot, freshly made, big-as-your-head stroopwafel. Warning: you won’t be able to eat just one!
Classic Freshly Baked Cookie
My last recommendation is to pick up a package of freshly baked chocolate from a tiny place called Van Stapele (located in an alley off of Spuistraat). When I stopped by, there was a line out the door. But the short wait was more than worth it. Van Stapele specializes in baking a Valrhona chocolate cookie with a gooey white chocolate center. What I love about their cookies is that they actually taste like chocolate, rather than just being sweet. Stop by in the morning or call ahead to make sure they still have cookies or to reserve a batch. If you order several cookies, they’ll package them into a cute little box. What a sweet way to remember Amsterdam!
The Heineken Experience
When we set out to visit Amsterdam, the Heineken Experience was at the top of our bucket list of things to do. We suggest you put it on yours, too! After all, you would not want to miss learning a little bit about how they make the “World’s Most Famous Beer”. You get to taste some of it at the source!
The Heineken Brewery is located right in the center of the city, in the De Pijp neighborhood. You can get to it easily from wherever you may be staying in Amsterdam. Once inside the building, you can start your self guided tour which you should allow about an hour and a half to complete. The tour is in English and guides you through the brewery where you will learn a lot about the brewing process. You even get a chance to interact a bit to get a better feel for it.
To make it more of an “experience” they have set up a few different rooms where you can play games and try out some fun activities as well as have some fun photo opportunities to show off to your friends.
We had some fun designing our personalized bottle label at one of their interactive stations. It is on a bottle of Heineken for us to purchase from the gift shop.
Not only do you get to learn a lot at the Heineken brewery, you get to be a little goofy with your friends and have some fun at the end before enjoying a couple of glasses of this popular brew. Oh! And did I mention how tasty the beer is in Amsterdam?! I have never really been a huge fan of Heineken beer myself, but having it at the brewery was so delicious!
They even teach you the proper way to pour the drink, so you can go back home and impress your friends!
We visited in July, which would be considered the “high season,” but didn’t really feel that it was a hectic time to visit the Heineken Experience. We would suggest purchasing your tickets ahead of time. You should plan it in advance if you are limited in you time and availability just so you don’t miss your chance. The best option for purchasing your ticket would be to get it along with another attraction, like a canal cruise. You will get a better deal that way and enjoy 2 bucket list items in one shot!
The Red Light District
It’s hard to write about Amsterdam without mentioning the Red Light District. This small quarter of Amsterdam is renown for its infamous windows, however it’s also the center of nightlife in Amsterdam for tourists. Historically, this was an area for prostitution. The Netherlands has chosen to regulate prostitution. It’s in the interest of ensuring that those working in the industries are treated fairly.
In recent years, the Red Light District has become at the heart of the controversy about Amsterdam. This area is hated by locals and if you visit, please be consider of those who live here. The noise and the rowdy crowds are why Amsterdam is considering banning tourists from freely entering this area. If you visit the Red Light District, be warned that you are NOT allowed to take photos as this endangers the women in the windows whose identities are often separate from their work.
Beyond the windows, you’ll find some beautiful buildings in Amsterdam. There are even some historic liquor distilleries where you can sample jenever. Jenever is a liquor similar to gin that is made from jenever berries. You can try this at Wynand Fockink Distillery, which is in the heart of the Red Light District!
You’ll also find a cute street filled with book stalls. It’s the perfect place to pick up a book to bring home with you! Lastly, you’ll find many beautiful old buildings along the canals. There are the former VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) building and the University of Amsterdam. It can be a charming place to explore if you find the right spots!
Get A Taste of Herring
Herring is a traditional dutch food, and can be eaten all over the country. In Amsterdam, you can find plenty of herring wagons around the town, especially in the central areas.
You can eat the herring in various ways. You can eat it raw, in a bread or accompanied with some onion and other toppings. It’s delicious and works great as a quick snack on the go.
It’s not for everyone though of course, since Herring has a very distinct flavor and texture. But even if you don’t like to eat fish in general, it’s fun to try the dutch herring in Amsterdam. For just a few euros, you can get herring on a plate with toppings.
My personal favorite is to eat it in a bread, and that’s a local classic as well. Some of the herring stalls have been standing here for decades, and have gone in heritage from generation to generation. Some popular herring stalls are Frens Haringhandel, Volendammer Haringhandel, Stubbe Haring, Haring & Zo, and Herring Stall Jonk. All of these serve high-quality herring to reasonable prices which is also very fresh and tasty.
They are usually open during the day, from noon to 18:00 on weekdays and weekends. Stubbe’s haring is one of my favorite places to eat the traditional street food in Amsterdam. It’s located close to the Centraal station on the Singel street. You can easily walk from the central station to Stubbe’s haring.
Hopefully, with the help of the wonderful travelers, we have helped make planning your Amsterdam trip much easier. It is such a beautiful city with so much substance to it. There is no reason why anybody could be bored there. Discover your substance in Amsterdam.