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Amsterdam is one of the most unique European cities, famous for its winding canals and narrow houses, giving it the nickname “Venice of the North.”
While most people associate Amsterdam with the Red Light District, windmills and tulips, there is in fact plenty of things to do in Amsterdam for any visitor, including families with kids.
If you’re not sure what to do in Amsterdam, then you’re in luck, as we interviewed a local resident, Monique Rubin, who has lived in The Netherlands for over 14 years.
Monique shares with us a locals insider tips on the best attractions in Amsterdam, plus gave us recommendations on where to eat, drink, shop and explore.
Go see what she recommends…
Is Amsterdam Worth Visiting?
Amsterdam is home to roughly 750,000 inhabitants, and is proof positive that good things come in small packages.
There are more museums per capita in Amsterdam than any other European city and its city center has thousands of protected historic buildings, including the famously narrow, lofty former merchants’ canal houses.
There are also a number of wonderful attractions, gorgeous parks and trendy neighborhoods teeming with shops, restaurants, and cafes.
All of this makes Amsterdam one of the most unique destinations in Europe, and for that reason, it’s definitely worth visiting.
Amsterdam Go City Pass
Before we get into the top things to do in Amsterdam, we just want to give you a heads up on ways you can save money on Amsterdam’s attractions.
The Go City Pass allows you to save money on several top attractions in the city as well as allow you to skip those pesky lines.
Get free entrance to the Moco Museum or kick back and relax on a canal cruise. Choose from over 25 attractions in the city, including the Heineken Experience.
Things to Do in Amsterdam
Not sure what to do in Amsterdam? Don’t worry, these are the most unmissable attractions in Amsterdam to add to your to-do list.
1. Take a Canal Cruise
Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because it has so many canals.
A canal cruise is the perfect way to take in the unique architecture and landscape of the city, as well as pass by four main sites in Amsterdam; Singel, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht – which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
As you sail around the canals, you will be given an expert commentary of the sites before you, as well as a little bit of history of the city.
It’s one of the most relaxing things to do in Amsterdam.
2. Visit the Anne Frank House Museum
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the Anne Frank Museum, housed in the 17th century building where Anne and her family hid in a secret annex during World War II.
If you are unaware of who Anne Frank was, she was a young Dutch Jewish girl who was one of the most famous victims of the atrocious holocaust in the Second World War.
She became famous for writing a diary of her time in hiding in an attic in Amsterdam, and so the house, which is now a museum, has been set up in the same way, taking visitors on a biographical journey through her life, as well as other Jewish victims of the time.
You can see photographs, letters and documents, as well as exhibits detailing the contents of the diary and what life would have been like for Anne.
The museum is a somber and important reminder that humanity needs to do better.
3. Visit the World-Class Museums in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a mecca of museums, offering everything from iconic history museums such as the Rijksmuseum, to the weird and wonderful niche museums such as the Torture Museum.
The Museumplein is where you’ll find the world-famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, as well as the city’s contemporary art museum, the Stedelijk.
Though both the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums are without a doubt the must-see museums in Amsterdam. If you only have time for one or two, make it these ones.
The Rijksmuseum is considered one of the best museums in the world, and is the largest museum in the whole of the Netherlands. Some of its most famous works are Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” “” by Frans Hals, and “Woman Reading A Letter” by Johannes Vermeer.
I also recommend the Hermitage Museum and the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Handbags and Purses).
Get your priority entrance tickets for these museums in Amsterdam here:
4. Explore in The Neighbourhoods of Amsterdam
In my opinion, the best way to get to know a city is to explore the neighborhoods and just walk around.
I like to wander around the old Jewish quarter, Jodenbuurt, where you’ll find the Waterlooplein fleamarket, held daily, Rembrandt’s House, the Portuguese-Israelite Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum.
The Jordaan neighborhood near the Anne Frank Museum is a beautiful area with boutique shops and cute eateries.
The New East is the old dockland area on the River Ij which run alongside Amsterdam is an up and coming area where you’ll find Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen and the museums NEMO and the Scheepvartmuseum (Dutch Maritime Museum).
5. Try a Stroopwafel
When you think of Dutch food, your mind instantly goes to cheese, fries and stroopwafel. This tasty dessert is a thin, round waffle cookie with a caramel filling, and while it’s common to find it abroad, it’s simply not as good as ones made fresh in Amsterdam.
You can find some yummy and fresh stroopwafel from Albert Cuyp market, they are absolutely devine!
6. Take a Tour of the Heineken Factory
The Heineken Experience is an immersive tour of the famous Dutch beer brand’s first factory in Amsterdam.
Over 150 years ago, the first brewery opened up in this exact spot. You learn how the beer is made, get a behind-the-scenes tour of its distillery, and even get to see the Heineken horses in their stables, which were used for marketing back in the day.
At the end of the tour, you get to enjoy a free cold one. If you’re looking for things to do in Amsterdam for adults, this is a fun and exciting experience.
7. Get a cocktail at Xtracold Ice Bar
Those looking for things to do in Amsterdam at night will not find a more unique experience than sipping a cold vodka shot or cocktail in an ice bar.
At -10 degrees celsius, it’s one of the coldest attractions in the city. The entire bar is made of ice and snow, with ice sculptures and igloos that you can use as backdrops for photos.
Even your drinks are served in an ice glass! But don’t worry, they give you a special warm jacket to wear so you will still stay warm.
For a cold beer, that’s not that cold, you might also like the Brouwerij t’IJ, also known as the brewery at De Gooyer Windmill, which is the small brewery found in the former Funen bathhouse next to the windmill.
8. Dine on 2-Michelin Star Food
The food in Amsterdam is simply incredible. You can find world-class food here, with restaurants serving up fresh and tasty meals.
For an amazing meal with spectacular views of Amsterdam, head over to Ciel Blu, a 2-Michelin star restaurant on the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura.
The restaurant is elegant and classy, with luxury oozing from every corner. This is your chance to dress up and enjoy a romantic evening. This is certainly one of the most romantic things to do in Amsterdam for couples.
If you’re not fussy about what you eat, try the surprise menu that’s been composed by the restaurants Michelin star chef Arjan Speelman.
9. Hit Up the Amsterdam Markets
Waterlooplein flea market and the Albert Cuyp street market are a must visit in Amsterdam.
The bloemenmarkt (flower market) is the only floating flower market in the world and is situated on barges on the Singel Canal. It’s filled with an impressive array of plants and flowers, including the famous Dutch tulips.
De Negen Straatjes or 9 streets is a wonderful shopping area in the heart of Amsterdam filled with boutiques, jewelers, specialty shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. It is the perfect place to spend a day shopping.
10. Attend one of the 100+ Events in Amsterdam
There are close to 100 festivals in Amsterdam every year, including Amsterdam Roots Festival, Amsterdam Pride, De Parade, Uitmarkt Amsterdam and Holland Festival.
There are also a number of festivals which are outside of Amsterdam, but still easy to get to such as, Parkpop in The Hague and North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.
No doubt there is something going on during the time you are visiting, so be sure to look up what events are happening and soak up the electric atmosphere you can only find at a festival in Amsterdam.
11. Take a Day Trip to Rotterdam
My favorite side trip from Amsterdam would be to Rotterdam, the second largest city in The Netherlands, which has so much to see it really needs a full day to explore.
It takes less than an hour on the train, and the city has a totally different vibe: contemporary, gritty and much more ethnically diverse.
Rotterdam is similar to Amsterdam in that it is made up of canals, and if you only have a day here, be sure to take a harbor cruise to take in the city’s imposing skyline and unique architecture.
Some other famous attractions in Rotterdam to check out are the famous Market hall and Cube Houses, Wereldmuseum, and the Laurenskerk Rotterdam.
If you have more time, combine it with a trip to the city of Delft, the birthplace and resting place of Johannes Vermeer, The Hague or the Zaanse Schans windmills on the way back.
12. Check Out the Views from the NEMO Science Center Roof
One of the most unique things to do in Amsterdam is to take in the panoramic view of the city from the sloped-roof terrace of NEMO Science Center.
Of course, if you are visiting the NEMO, be sure to check out the museum too. This science and technology museum is an interactive experience that will be loved by both adults and kids.
It has five floors of exhibitions, and even holds experiments and workshops for kids.
13. Check Out Views at A’Dam Lookout Observation Deck
Although Amsterdam is known for its historic architecture, it is also an emerging city with some unique modern constructions too.
The A’Dam lookout, a 20-story rooftop with a restaurant and bar, and Europe’s highest swing over the edge of the building.
The ‘Over The Edge’ swing is one for the thrill seekers, who wish to dangle 100 metres above the ground, with the city of Amsterdam below you.
If this sounds too nerve-wracking for you, simply enjoy the 360° view from the sky deck.
14. Admire the Architecture of Royal Palace Amsterdam
Any tourists visiting Amsterdam will surely find themselves walking past the Royal Palace Amsterdam the official reception palace of King Willem-Alexander.
The Palace sits on Dam Square and is used as a reception palace for the royal family, including where they host gala dinners and award ceremonies.
When it’s not in use by the royals, the palace is open to visitors who can wander down the intricately designed halls and step foot in the imposing rooms.
15. Watch a Free Concert at Concertgebouw
The Concertgebouw, which translates to “concert hall” is a music theatre of remarkable beauty. It was built in 1883 and has incredible acoustics considering its age.
Because of this, it is regarded as one of the finest concert halls in the world.
For those looking for free things to do in Amsterdam, be sure to head here between 12.30-1.00pm on Wednesdays as there are often free concerts!
Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
The best time of year to visit Amsterdam is the spring so that you can take a day trip to Keukenhof to see the tulips or autumn.
In autumn, the weather is often nicer than it is during the summer and it is much less crowded.
Getting To and Around Amsterdam
You can always find reasonable airfares to Amsterdam on EasyJet and Transavia.
Amsterdam city centre is an easy 20-minute train ride from the airport. Trains, especially hi-speed ones are a great option for those traveling from Belgium, Paris or even some places in Germany.
The ferry is also an easy option from those traveling from the UK.
When it comes to getting around, the trams and buses in Amsterdam are quite efficient and go everywhere.
But because the city is so small, walking is actually the best way to get around, but be mindful of trams AND bikes. Or if you want to go Dutch, hop on a bike.
You can also take a (free) boat ride across the River IJ to North Amsterdam.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Some of the accommodations I recommend are the Flying Pig Hostel and Hotel The Neighbour’s Magnolia which is located on a quiet residential neighborhood across from Amsterdam’s Vondelpark and the Park Plaza Victoria. Both great for families.
For more high-end options I like the Hotel Pulitzer and the Conservatorium.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is everything I could want or need, all wrapped up in one pretty, little package.
It has the perfect mixture of fascinating sightseeing and world-class museums, blended with relaxing places to chill out before hitting the town for some amazing nightlife.
No matter what your travel style is, you can always find some amazing things to do in Amsterdam, and we hope this guide helped you pick a few attractions to add to your to-do list.
BIO: Monique Rubin is a freelancer and the travel blogger behind Mo Travels where she shares her journeys about travel from the Netherlands to Zanzibar. She’s also a big social media enthusiast and can be found on twitter and facebook.
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