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Best things to do in Amsterdam

Updated on May 7, 2015

2 Day Amsterdam Break

Amsterdam is a great city for a short break or stopover on your trip to Paris or London. A beautiful old city set on 160 man-made canals, it is known as the Venice of the East. The crooked houses that line the canals and the abundance of trees were my favourite features of the city. As much as I appreciated the architecture and history of the city there was one thing that drove me nuts!

So while I liked Amsterdam I did not fall in love with it like I had with most of the other European cities I have visited. Perhaps if I had had a little longer to settle in and explore more slowly I would change my mind. We really had a whirlwind tour in our two days and as we were travelling with our daughter did not explore the seedy side on this visit. In fact we went out of our way to avoid it which at times was difficult.

Below is a little of I enjoyed about Amsterdam. I hope to get back one day to give it another try.

My 5 favourite things to do Amsterdam

  1. Ride the canals - Try the Canal Hopper - Amsterdam's equivalent of the hop on hop off bus tour
  2. Wandering around looking at all the lopsided houses - Check out the narrowest house officially it at Singel nr. 7, but there is another at Singel 166 - you decide.
  3. The great range of good value dining choices in Zeedijk - we chose an Indonesian and a Nepalese restaurant - both were great.
  4. Shopping in the Nine Streets area - De 9 Straatjes
  5. Exploring the smaller canals like Bloemgracht and Egelantiersgracht


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One thing I did not like about Amsterdam - Bicycles!

This photo was taken at 11pm at the main bicycle parking station near the Central train station. Imagine, you have had a few beers and then find yourself trying to extract your bicycle from this mess.

The cyclists drove me mad.. I found it really hard to avoid them while walking around staring at the sites. I think this page on bicycle safety in Amsterdam is a must read, even more so if you plan on riding one.

Image taken with my i-Phone after 1/2 a bottle of wine - apologies for the quality.

The Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh bedroom in Arles
Van Gogh bedroom in Arles

The Van Gogh Museum was number one on our list of things to see in Amsterdam so we made it first stop on Day 1. While I was very familiar with Van Gogh's work I knew little of his life. We took the audio tour and I learned so much about his life that the time we had here flew. I would recommend allowing at least 2 hours for a visit.

The museum often has long lines so pre-purchase tickets could be worthwhile in high season; we waited about 20 minutes in April. It is open late on Friday evenings when there is a bar and live music to add atmosphere to your visit.

You might like to download their free You Vincent app for i-Phone and touch.

Image via Wikimedia public domain

My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them. Terry Prachett

The Museum of Bags and Purses - Yes, really a handbag museum

Museum of handbags and purses
Museum of handbags and purses

The Museum of Bags and Purses or Tassenmuseum was added to our itinerary by my almost teenage daughter. She did her own research for our trip and was allowed to add one place to our itinerary for each city. I was not expecting much from this visit but it was really very good. If you have an interest in fashion a visit here is something I think you will enjoy. The museum traces the history of purses and bags with the oldest bag dating back to 1664. There are over 3000 bags in the collection and the beautiful building they are displayed in is an added bonus.

Image by my daughter Erin

The Anne Frank House - Get there early to miss the crowds

Queue for Anne Frank House
Queue for Anne Frank House | Source

I ignored all the advice I read absolutely everywhere and did not buy my tickets in advance mainly because I was not sure when I wanted to go. We arrived at about 15 mins before opening to a queue almost as long as the one above. It took about 45 minutes to get inside which was about twice as long as I waited to get into the Vatican early that month. My advice, book in advance

Allow about an hour to visit here. Even though it was very crowded people were respectful and moved fairly quietly around the museum. The video and the written description were very well done. I highly recommend a visit here.

The Diary of Anne Frank

I re-read this just before our visit to Amsterdam. I am not sure if it made the visit more special or if I would have been equally moved but I certainly recommend a re-read if you have not read this book since childhood.

Catch a Canal Cruise - I like the hop on hop off canal bus

There are lots of operators offering cruises on the canals and despite a ton of research I ended up on one of the poorer ones because I was tired and lost and just wanted a rest! Big tip, wait for the next boat if it's almost full. It was impossible to get decent photos on my cruise because we were not allowed to stand up and were jammed in the middle of the boat. If I am there again I think I would do the hop on hop off canal bus.

Image by Brent Simpson via wikicommons

Some less well known sites in Amsterdam - slightly off the beaten track

  1. Homomonument - The first monument to represent Gay persecution in the world - Three granite triangles similar to the badge Hitler forced homosexuals to wear.
  2. The Amsterdam Cat Boat sanctuary or De Poezenboot is a canal boat that is refuge to over 50 cats.
  3. The Dutch Resistance Museum - Learn more about what it was like for the people of Holland during WW2 in this well presented and insightful museum.
  4. Begijnhof - The hidden courtyard with a history

Amsterdam: The Brief Life of a City

Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City
Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City

Using historical fact and stories of everyday people this book is a highly readable account of over 800 years of Amsterdam's history. A great insight into this intriguing city.


Have you got any great Amsterdam Tips?

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This is a great hub about what to do and see in Amsterdam. It's very useful for those who's traveling to Europe this year. Voted up!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My son agrees with you. He claims multi tasking cyclists are adept at simultaneously speeding, smoking a ciggie , talking on mobile & swearing in two languages at pedestrians all whilst running red lights! Pretty impressive really when you think about it!

    • profile image

      jibbajab 6 years ago

      I am likely to be visiting in July - looking forward to it!. My mum has visited before, and she said she was very much annoyed by the bikes too.

    • profile image

      DavedHope 6 years ago

      If i got a chance to visit to Amsterdam i definitely keep you advices and tips in my mind!!

      cheap accommodation Amsterdam

    • seeker2011 lm profile image

      seeker2011 lm 6 years ago

      There is so much history to seekout in Amsterdam, and I just like to ride the streets on a free bike mixing with the locals.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I would love to visit Holland some day, as I am part Dutch, and Amsterdam would have to be part of the trip. Enjoyed your 'tour'.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 7 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Despite the fact that I'm a Dutchie, I don't like to visit Amsterdam, because it's just too crowded. It's a beautiful city with a great history, but there are just too many people in it and to travel by car is almost impossible. You get in easily, but you can't get out LOL because of all the one way traffic and no parking space. As for the bikes: it's the number one way (and only fast way) of transportation in cities like these.

      Next time you should travel South and visit me (see my lens Zeeuws-Vlaanderen) in the quietness of nature.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 7 years ago

      Excellent trip around Amsterdam, it is so full oh history and you listed the best spots to see

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 7 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Haven't managed to get to Amsterdam yet, but your personal perspective helps with planning a visit.

    • LadyFlashman profile image

      LadyFlashman 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I loved visiting the Rijksmuseum, with art from the Dutch Golden Age. Also, the Noordermarkt is a great market, with a farmers market on Saturdays (I think) where you can gorge yourself silly on lovely Dutch cheese!