Get stuck into the Museum Quarter
How could we list things to do in central Amsterdam without insisting you hot foot it straight to the Museum Quarter. This small area is crammed with some of the most impressive art collections in the world, from old to modern masters by way of the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums. Armed with the I amsterdam City Card, you’ll have access to all this and heaps more. If you’re a real culture vulture, keep up with our seasonal exhibition guide to see which shows coincide with your trip.
There is so much outstanding architecture in Centrum, the oldest part of Amsterdam, the main challenge is not bumping into people as you’re walking around and gawping up at things. Take your time to appreciate all the beautiful hidden details from elegant canal house façades with gable stones to quirky statues, monuments, and narrow steegjes (passages). The city’s cherished secret gardens - sometimes hidden behind the doors of unique museums - offer a welcome retreat from a day of sightseeing.
Sample age-old jenever recipes
Centrum’s cobbled streets conceal some charming proeflokaals (tasting rooms), many of which have been in existence for centuries. Wynand Fockink retains its 17th-century character and product assortment, offering punters the opportunity to sample a variety of jenever (Dutch gin), draft beers and fruit brandies. Impress the bartender by maintaining the tradition of bowing before taking your first slurp. Likewise, De Admiraal is a tasting room for the Van Wees Distillery which continues to make delicious house-made liqueurs and spirits - the perfect aperitif before tucking into the menu of traditional dishes. Have a read of this list of Dutch cuisine to try in Amsterdam to find out what you're getting yourself in for.
Explore on foot
Amsterdam Centrum is an extremely walkable area, with much to explore crammed into a compact area. Those endless canal rings can sometimes feel a bit disorientating, so why not plan your route using a self-guided itinerary? These themed walking tours have been put together by the city’s best guides, encompassing fascinating topics like the LGBTQ history of Amsterdam, maritime trade and sustainability or the romantic stories hiding behind some of the city’s most iconic buildings. All routes include some great suggestions for coffee and cake pitstops too.
Hop on a canal cruise
Whether you’re a first-time or frequent visitor, Amsterdam’s UNESCO-listed canal belt is all the more magical when viewed from the water. Glide past the city’s historic offerings on one of the famous canal cruises, witnessing 16th-century churches and iconic drawbridges like the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) from a new angle. With so much to see and so many cruise companies on offer, we’ve assembled an entire page dedicated to canal cruising with some hints and tips for what to book to suit your travel plans.
Chill at the Marineterrein
This up and coming former-docklands area east of Centraal Station is teeming with hotspots to explore. Pension Homeland encompasses a hotel, restaurant and brewery with a large waterfront deck that enjoys a lovely perspective over the National Maritime Museum and the VOC ship replica. There’s even a designated swimming spot nearby to cool off in the summer. Blissfully off the beaten track on the opposite bank, Hannekes Boom exudes a quirky vibe and boasts one of Amsterdam’s best beer gardens. Locals and savvy visitors gather on sunny days to enjoy the funky vibes, good music and home-cooked BBQ food.
Step into Anne Frank’s diary pages
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without exploring the house where a thoughtful teenager whose name is now known across the world hid during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. Opened in 1960, Anne Frank House Museum in the Jordaan neighbourhood preserves the annexe where Frank lived with her family for two years. View Anne’s original red-checked diary up close and see the hinged bookcase that led to their concealed living quarters. For more museums and cultural hotspots in central Amsterdam, check out this dedicated guide.
Browse the markets
Amsterdam’s historic market squares are taken over by traders and stalls flogging all kinds of wares throughout the week. Nieuwmarkt is the place to go for locally-grown fruit and veg on Saturdays, and in the summer, you can haggle for vintage bargains on Sundays. A flea market and farmers’ market in one, Noordermarkt is a haven for delicious, organic produce including honey, cheese and homemade cakes, as well as antiques, books and vintage fashion (Monday mornings and Saturdays). Or have a rummage at Spui for rare, second-hand and out-of-print books on Fridays and affordable local art on Sundays.
Indulge in some retail therapy
Amsterdam Centrum is home to many of the Netherland’s flagship stores, grandest department stores and most chic boutiques. For luxury shopping, there’s no better place to start than De Bijenkorf and Magna Plaza, two iconic department stores which tower over Dam Square. Nearby, hit Kalvertoren on Kalverstraat - one of the busiest retail thoroughfares lined with the biggest Dutch and international brands. Or for independent boutiques and vintage finds, head to some of the centre’s more alternative shopping districts including De Negen Straatjes (9 Streets), Haarlemmerbuurt or the Spiegelkwartier.