There’s a never ending selection of things to do in Amsterdam in any weather, with many of the most rewarding experiences to be found when you step out of the well-trodden tourist paths of the city centre. So whether you’re visiting for the weekend or a fortnight, here’s your essential checklist of the best Amsterdam attractions and unmissable experiences.
Many of the attractions and experiences below are covered by the I amsterdam City Card - a handy visitor pass which gets you free entry to dozens of museums and attractions, plus free public transport for the duration of your stay.
There are over 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. That’s more bikes than people! Cycling in Amsterdam is a way of life, made easier by the city’s unbeatable network of cycle routes and flat landscape. Amsterdam regularly comes out on top in lists of the world’s most cycle-friendly cities, and there’s no finer way to explore the city’s streets, canals and attractions than by pedal power. Cycling in Amsterdam is safe, enjoyable and invigorating - so join the locals and hop on your bike. Find out more about cycling and bike hire in Amsterdam.
Often cited as Amsterdam’s most charming neighbourhood, wandering into the Jordaan feels like stepping back in time. Originally a working class area, the Jordaan’s narrow streets and quaint buildings now make up one of Amsterdam’s most desirable quarters, dotted with independent art galleries, antiques shops, courtyard gardens and atmospheric bars and restaurants. Ditch the map and lose yourself in the labyrinth of narrow lanes that sprawl eastwards from Prinsengracht canal known as the 9 Streets; one of Amsterdam's most rewarding shopping experiences.
Home to the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Museumplein is the cultural beating heart of Amsterdam. Having recently been renovated to a world class standard, the leafy 19th century district of Oud-Zuid is an art lover’s utopia, and the open square between the buildings pulses with activity all day; with open-air exhibitions, markets and a large paddling pool to dip your toes into on warmer days. In the winter months, the square transforms with a vast outdoor ice rink.
Alternative tip: Escape the crowds at Amsterdam's biggest museums by checking out some of the city's lesser known - but no less worthy - museums, such as FOAM photography museum, the spectacular Tropenmuseum, and the Willet Holthuysen, where you can explore the perfectly preserved home of a rich Golden Age family.
Many visitors to Amsterdam never manage to venture north of Amsterdam Central Station- which is a shame, considering the vibrant food, drink and cultural scene that’s burgeoned across the water, along the banks of the IJ. A short (free) ferry trip will take you to a number of drop off points including cultural hotspot NDSM, where you can enjoy a host of hip waterside hangouts, frequent festivals and events.
Created in the 17th century to keep the sea at bay, Amsterdam’s UNESCO protected canal belt is the quintessential picture-postcard vision of Amsterdam, and an unbelievably pretty sight by both day and night - when the bridges are lit up by fairy lights and the whole area takes on a magical feel. Floating along the canals by guided boat tour is a great way to get under the fabric of the city, and you’ll learn lots of fascinating facts along the way – such as why the tilting homes along the canals are known as ‘dancing houses’. There are many different canal cruises to choose from, from hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tours to atmospheric candlelit night time cruises with food and wine. Get a free canal cruise with the I amsterdam City Card, or book a canal cruise online with the Canal Cruise Ticket.
Try herring from a herring cart
Raw herring may sound a little scary to the uninitiated, but every visitor to Amsterdam should give it a go. You’ll spot haringhandels (herring carts) serving up this Dutch speciality all over the city - ask for a ‘broodje haring’ to get the fish served in a small sandwich with pickles and onions. The best time to try raw herring is between May and July when the herring is said to be at its sweetest.
Still hungry? See if you can taste your way through all of these traditional Dutch snacks during your visit
Discover Amsterdam's independent shopping streets
While many visitors head straight to the busy chain-store mecca of Kalverstraat, those in the know get their retail therapy at one of the city's more locally flavoured shopping meccas. The most well known of these is De Negen Straatjes or ‘The Nine Streets’ ate a quaint warren of cobbled streets that connect the main canals between Leidsegracht and Raadhuisstraat. Here you’ll find over 200 retailers, including a fine selection of independent boutiques, vintage shops and specialty stores selling everything from designer dresses to handmade cosmetics. You'll find a similar shopping experience with less crowds on the hip Haarlemmerdijk, the Utrechtsestraat, or the delightful Czaar Peterstraat in Amsterdam East.
Alternative tip: If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home, skip the tourist traps and shop for authentic Dutch design and quality Amsterdam brands at the Local Goods Store in De Hallen or the I amsterdam Store in Central Station.
Reflect on the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II at the Prinsengracht house where diarist Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years after feeling persecution in Germany. The front of the house is now a thought-provoking museum but the back annex has been preserved to give an idea of what life was like for Anne and the families she hid with. Waiting times are often lengthy; so visit early in the morning or book online in advance to beat the queues. Find out more about visiting Anne Frank House.
There are eight remaining windmills in Amsterdam, the most easy to visit being de Gooyer in the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Islands) neighbourhood. And this isn’t just any windmill – for under the sails of this striking landmark is Brouwerij‘t Ij; an award winning artisan microbrewery with a large outdoor drinking terrace and 30-minute guided tasting tours. The brewery produces a range of organic standard and seasonal ales that you'll find in many Amsterdam bars, though nothing tastes quite as good as beer brewed on the premises. Find more of the city's top craft beer bars and microbreweries.
Located at Westerpark, this sprawling complex of former industrial buildings used to be the city’s municipal gasworks. Now transformed into a colourful cultural hub, Westergasfabriek is home to a variety of tempting bars, restaurants, coffee roasters, a microbrewery, arthouse cinema, and a whole host of creative businesses. Look out for regular food markets, mini festivals and events held here, such as the vibrant Sunday market held on the first Sunday of every month.
Yes, they’re as clichéd as clogs, but Tulips are a definitive symbol of Dutch culture, and a trip to the Netherlands wouldn’t be complete without feasting your eyes on these beautiful blooms. The most famous place to buy tulips and bulbs in Amsterdam is at the Bloemenmarkt – the world’s only floating flower market which lines the Singel with colourful flower stalls. If you’re visiting Amsterdam in spring, then take the short 20-minute trip out to the world famous tulip fields (Bollenstreek) – stretching out in colourful stripes across miles of lowland fields between Harleem and Leiden.
With over 30 parks to choose from, you’ll never be short of a picnic spot in Amsterdam. More than just leafy escapes from the urban hustle, parks are at the heart of Amsterdam culture – and every time the sun rears its head you’ll see locals packing up the disposable barbecue and bunting and heading down to their nearest garden. The 47 acre Vondelpark is the largest; housing an outdoor theatre with live concerts in summer, three bars and restaurants and a range of other attractions. Other notable parks are the cultural hub of Westerpark, Sarphatipark in De Pijp and Rembrandtpark in the West – home to the oldest petting zoo in the city.
If you’re in town for more than a few days, then head out of the city to explore the diverse attractions of the surrounding area. Just a short hop from Amsterdam lies a rich landscape of gorgeous countryside, beaches, castles, windmills and historic towns – all easily reachable from the city centre. Just 20 minutes from Amsterdam Central by train, the picturesque city of Haarlem overflows with history and culture, plus a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. In the surrounding countryside you’ll also find plenty of old castles, fortified towns and ruins, of which Muiden is one of the most spectacular examples. And if lying on a beach is more your thing, then the beautiful golden stretches at Bloemendaal aan Zee and Zandvoort aan Zee will be happy to oblige with golden sands, dunes and plenty of watersports. Find out more about the best day trips from Amsterdam.
To experience the real Amsterdam, step out of the touristy centre and discover the city’s many charming neighbourhoods – each with their own distinct personality. From the lively food, drink and shopping hotspots of De Pijp to the 19th century elegance of De Plantage and the vibrant multiculturalism of Oosterpark, there’s so much to discover when you stray from the well trodden path. Head to our Amsterdam neighbourhood guide to find out more.
Whether you’re looking to snag a bargain, try some local delicacies or just soak up the atmosphere, visiting one of the many markets in Amsterdam is a unique and unforgettable experience. Markets selling everything from antiques to books and artisan food to vintage clothes are held all over the city every day. Some of the most popular Amsterdam markets include the Albert Cuypmarket in De Pijp (Mon - Sat) Lindengracht market in the Jordaan (Saturdays), and the Waterlooplein flea market (Mon – Sat).
Alternative tip: For treasure hunting opportunities galore, look out for the IJ Hallen flea market, held once a month in a huge warehouse at NDSM Wharf.
Located in the hip Oud-West neighbourhood, De Hallen is a brand new centre for the arts, crafts, fashion and food in a recently refurbished industrial building dating from 1902. De Hallen houses a cinema, independent stores and a boutique hotel, as well as the impressive Food Hallen – a food and drink heaven where visitors can munch their way through a selection of upmarket street food from one of many vendors located around a central bar. Every other weekend, a fortnightly local goods market sets up stall in the building’s central passageway.
Come face to face with original Van Goghs
No trip to Amsterdam could be complete without paying homage to Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gogh. The modern building on Museumplein is home to more than 1000 of the artist’s paintings, drawings and letters, and offers visitors the chance to not only get up close and personal with some of his instantly recognisable works, but also to track his development and learn more about the artists who inspired – and were inspired by – him. Find out more about visiting the Van Gogh Museum and get free entry to the Van Gogh museum with the I amsterdam City Card.
Discover a secret courtyard in the heart of the city
The Begijnhof is one of Amsterdam’s oldest inner courtyards, and is a surprisingly tranquil escape from the city commotion. Formerly home to the Beguines – a group of unmarried religious women who chose to live together in a close community – this quaint medieval enclosed court houses a group of historical buildings arranged around a central green, including the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam. It’s a surreal experience and well worth finding the discreet entrance via the Begijnensteeg, off the Kalverstraat.
Alternative tip: Explore some really secret courtyards during Open Garden Days, when some of Amsterdam's most impressive private canal houses open up their normally-hidden gardens to the public for one weekend every June.
Dominating the view from the southern shore of the IJ behind Central Station, this striking white building has rapidly become one of Amsterdam’s most iconic landmarks since it opened in Spring 2012. An absolute must for film fans, the EYE Film Institute houses a permanent exhibition space which showcases retrospectives and contemporary exhibits, as well as a vast film library, cinema and fabulous restaurant bar with a terrace overlooking the water. Catch the free ’Buiksloterwg’ ferry from behind Central Station, which takes three minutes. Get free entry to the EYE film museum with the I amsterdam City Card.
You can also track down the travelling I amsterdam letters which move around the city - find out where the travelling letters are right now.
Camera at the ready? Take a look at 7 of Amsterdam's best photo hotspotsWords: Jayne Robinson