Top 10 things to do in Amsterdam

You’ve been to most of the biggest museums, toured the canals and eaten your fair share of bitterballen – you’ve now earned the right to call yourself more than just a tourist. But it’s only when you start hanging out at a particular set of Amsterdam’s best bars and restaurants, museums and events - those hidden gems where the locals go - that you can call yourself a real Amsterdammer.

See Amsterdam's amazing museums

The Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum are all some of the best things to do in Amsterdam, but then the city is full of exhibitions, museums and galleries to suit every interest. Visit some of the most unusual museums in Amsterdam to get a real taste of the city’s eclecticism, such as the trippy, fluorescent Electric Ladyland, an underground museum where literally everything is fluorescent. Or you could channel your inner cat lady (if necessary) and tour the Cat Cabinet, a museum that explores the role of our feline friends in art and culture throughout history.

Electric Ladyland Fluorescent Art Museum Amsterdam CC BY 2.0 ilovebutter via Flickr

Go to a festival (or two)

The Dutch love festivals, and tens of thousands of people regularly turn up to see some of the world’s most famous DJs play at music events around the country. But there are a raft of amazing festivals in Amsterdam, both big and small. Every week Amsterdammers will gather to celebrate art, culture, music and food at events around the city. Check out our Weekend Guide for insider tips on the best festivals in the city, or visit the Last Minute Ticket Shop for Amsterdam deals to see something special while saving some cash.

Escape club Amsterdam Patrick van Beek Sander van Doorn

Try and speak some Dutch

Almost everyone in Amsterdam and the Netherlands speaks English, but speaking even just a little bit of Dutch can really help make you feel like part of the community. Learn some key phrases in Dutch to thank the local guides (“Dank je wel!”), greet people on the street and, for the brave, order your meals at restaurants in Amsterdam. The waiters might answer you in English, but they’ll definitely appreciate the effort – and your Dutch friends are guaranteed to be impressed!

Take a seat on the terrace in all weather

No matter if it’s overcast, cold, raining or snowing, you’ll always find people sitting outside on a terrace enjoying coffee, a beer or a snack. And there’s plenty of bars and cafes in Amsterdam that prepare for these all-weather visitors by providing cosy blankets and heaters in the winter. A couple of bars will even light outdoor fires for guests to gather around, such a Meneer Nieges in Westerpark or Amsterdam Noord’s beachside spot Pllek.

Become the captain of your own boat

The canals of Amsterdam are packed with official tourist boats ready to whisk people off on a canal cruise, but you’ll often see a couple sailing by with just a few people enjoying food, drink, music and the company of friends. These are the locals, and they know that the waters are not just for tourists. Rent a boat to sail around Amsterdam’s picturesque canals with your own private group, and escape the tourist trail by sailing to secluded areas where it’s just you, your friends and the water.

Amsterdam canal Merijn Roubroeks

Travel outside Amsterdam city centre

Most of the famous sights in Amsterdam are located within the city centre, but the city offers much more than historic monuments and museums. Step outside the comfort of the canals and explore the neighbourhoods that give Amsterdam its characteristic quirkiness, such as Amsterdam Noord’s industrial-artsy vibes or Oud-West’s culinary and cultural delights. Each neighbourhood has its own history and atmosphere, but you’ll always feel at home.

NDSM Wharf

Expand your culinary horizons

Amsterdam is a cultural melting pot, which is summed up perfectly in its eclectic cuisine. After you’ve had your fill of Dutch treats and sweets, sample some of the foods brought to the city from around the world. Indonesian food is particularly popular – bring a group and order a rijsttafel – or go even further and sample Surinam cuisine. You’ll also see Middle-Eastern influences all around the city, and there are plenty of restaurants in Amsterdam where the cuisine is as warm as the welcome.

Get back on the bike

Courageous tourists will brave the bike lanes in groups and on tours, but people who want to truly feel like a native Nederlander (Dutch guy/girl) will go one further. Cycle to Amsterdamse Bos for a picnic with the kids, or pack them in a bakfiets and take them to the coast for a fun-filled day at the beach. In under an hour you can be wandering through the world-renowned Flower Strip, or checking out the traditional fishing village Volendam – all you need to get there is a little stamina and a bike!

Biking on bridge sunset Amsterdam CC BY-SA 2.0 Daniel Wehner via Flickr

Visit the lesser known entertainment venues

Amsterdammers love a good party, which is why there are so many entertainment venues in the city. The best nights might not be at the most popular ones, though – instead, head to lesser-known venues such as Sugarfactory, p60 and Bitterzoet. Once inside, you’ll instantly become part of the music-loving underground. And if you really want to feel like a true city dweller, make sure you don’t leave until the sun comes up!

See a film at a boutique cinema

Thanks to Netflix, going to the cinema to see a film is becoming less and less popular – but not for the locals in Amsterdam. There are a host of independent, boutique cinemas in the city catering to all cinematic styles: mainstream blockbusters, cult classics, foreign flicks and art-house films. Go to FC Hyena in Amsterdam Noord for handpicked documentaries and comedies, or head to The Movies, one of the oldest cinemas in Amsterdam.

Looking for more things to do in Amsterdam? Check out the latest events and happenings in the city just for the locals.