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Top 10 Things To Do in Amsterdam

Updated on July 8, 2015

Visit Amsterdam in the Netherlands

Amsterdam is an interesting melting pot that has all the advantages of a big city with its diverse culture and world-reknowned art museums. However, in some aspects such as traffic and ambience, it is more like a small city with small alleys and of course its lovely canals. The great thing about the city of Amsterdam is that there is a little something for everyone. Whether you like taking quiet strolls or bike rides, perusing fine art, smoking a little pot, or having a little romance, Amsterdam has it covered.

I'm sure it was because we were there in the Spring when weather is unpredictable and a bit dreary, but I personally didn't find Amsterdam nearly as fun as our sidetrip adventures out of the city to places like Edam and Gouda, Zaanse Schans, and of course Keukenhof Gardens. That said, Amsterdam certainly warrants a stop on any comprehensive European tour.

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Amsterdam Travel Guides from Amazon

#1 Cruising The Canals

Canal cruises are the most popular tourist attraction in Amsterdam for good reason. You get to see many of the best sites in Amsterdam while relaxing on a great boat ride. Over 3 million people a year partake in this activity. Cruise options range from the cheap hop on/hop off water taxis to the luxury saloon boats that can be chartered by individuals or groups. The canals are more than 100 km long and are bridged by at least 1500 bridges. They were dug in concentric circles around the historic center of Amsterdam in the 17th century and are lined with historic well-preserved buildings that are famous for their gabled roofs.

The hop on/hop off water taxis or buses stop at many of the major attractions, museums and shopping areas throughout Amsterdam. Most of these lines cost around 20 Euro for a one to two day pass. Since we hadn't been to Amsterdam before, we opted for this inexpensive option which gave us access to all of the sites that we wanted to see in the city. The above photo shows sites along the Prinsengracht canal include the Noorderkerk (Northern Church) and the Westerkerk (Western Church) with the Homomonument (Gay Monument).

If you'd like to dine while cruising, many boat operators offer breakfast, lunch and dinner cruises with just about every style of cuisine you can think of - Thai, French, Indonesian, traditional pancakes and more. And for the more theatrical types, there are theatre, comedy, jazz and blues cruises. No matter what you interests, there will likely be a cruise for you.

Cruising The Canals Videos from YouTube

#2 Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is the National Art Museum of the Netherlands. It houses a huge collection of paintings by famous artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jacob van Ruysdael. The most well-known paintings are The Night Watch by Rembrandt and The Milkmaid by Vermeer.

Unfortunately, the main Rijksmuseum building has been under construction for the past few years and isn't slated for completion until 2012. It is my understanding that until that time, the most prized artworks will still be open to the public in what is called The Masterpieces exhibit. For more information regarding the museum, visit their official website.

#3 Dam Square

As you can see from the above photo, a carnival was covering Dam Square during our visit. Because it is the main square in Amsterdam, Dam Square is frequently the scene of many city-wide events and festivities.

The photo is taken toward the west - the large building is the Royal Palace which served as the city hall from 1655 until it was converted to the royal residence in 1808. To the right of the Royal Palace is the Niewe Kerk (New Church) built in the 15th century. The Gothic style church is used for the royal coronations.

The square is a great place to do some people watching. If you don't like crowds, this won't be your favorite place and it may not be the prettiest site in Amsterdam, but it truly is the heart of the city and is worth a visit. The fun thing about the carnival was that we found all kinds of junk food gifts ranging from cotton candy and chocolates to some local Amsterdam favorites.

#4 The Begijnhof

Although this old inner courtyard can be a bit difficult to find, it is well worth the effort. It is located on the inner ring of the Singel canal and there are actually two well hidden entrances (one off of Spui street) so just ask the locals for directions and they'll be happy to oblige.

The Begijnhof (Beguines' court) was where single females who took a vow of chastity lived. They were similar to nuns in a convent in that they had to attend daily mass and pray specific prayers. However, they were free to leave the court at any time to marry.

Forty seven tall town-houses that were likely built in the 17th and 18th centuries surround a serene inner courtyard. About 105 single females still live in the Begijnhof today. A medieval church and the oldest house (no. 34) in Amsterdam sit on the property as well.

#5 The Attic Church (Museum Amstelkring)

Walking down this quiet canal-side street, you'd never guess that the tall white and tan gabled house holds a 150 seat Catholic church in the attic. And that was the point after all. The church was built during the reformation when Catholicism was outlawed in Amsterdam. It features marbled columns, gold gilding and hand-painted frescos. Sunday and wedding ceremony services are still held in the church today.

The merchant house including the attic church are open for public touring (usually daily from from 10 AM - 5 PM). Visit their website for more detailed information.

#6 Van Gogh Museum

Housing the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings in the world, the Van Gogh museum is well worth a visit. The collections of the Dutch artist are shown in chronological order so it is interesting to see how the artists perspective and paintings evolved over time. Highlights include his Bedroom in Arles and one of the his Sunflower paintings with a yellow background.

The modern building is located near the Rijksmuseum. For more information about visiting, go to the official website. Many special Van Gogh exhibits visit the museum. For instance, an evening and night exhibit featuring paintings like The Starry Night will begin in February 2009.

And just outside the museum is a large park where you'll find vendors selling sunflower cookies, paintings, and hot drinks to warm yourself on a cool and dreary day.

Van Gogh Museum Books on Amazon

#7 Red Light District

The Red Light District is the anything goes area of Amsterdam. Brothels with scantily-clad prostitutes in the windows, sex shops, and cannabis coffee break houses line the streets. If you are on a family holiday, I don't recommend taking them for a stroll in the red light district at night.

The red light district leaves little to the imagination and you've likely heard plenty about the area. So if your curiosity gets the best of you, the action in the area really gets started around 11 PM and lasts until about 3 AM. That is when the crowds are out and the district is ablaze with red neon lights.

Don't miss the Oude Kerk (old church) which provides a calm respite in the otherwise crazy red light district. Just look for the octagonal shaped bell tower amongst the shorter gabled buildings.

#8 Anne Frank House

To see this photo and get more information about the Anne Frank Huis, visit

Located on the Prinsengracht canal, the Anne Frank House is a museum dedicated to the WWII Jewish diary writer. Anne, her family, and four others hid from Nazi's in the small 500 square foot rear room of this canal-side home which was hidden behind a bookcase. The group hid in the small room for just over two years at which point they were found by Nazi authorities and taken to concentration camps. All of them died in the camps except Otto Frank, Anne's father. The 'Diary of Anne Frank' is a novel based on Anne Frank's writings during her period of hiding. The original diary is among the objects on display in the museum.

The lines for the Anne Frank House can get quite long so try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon/early evening. For more information about visiting, go to the official website.

#9 Floating Flower Market

For flower lovers and gardeners such as me, the flower market that so effortlessly floats on the Singel Canal is a dream come true. Where else can you buy beautiful huge tulips and flower cookie bouquets for less than $5? If I lived in Amsterdam, I'd be stopping at this market every few days to pick up fresh flowers for my house or apartment.

And if you are a tourist looking to take a little of Amsterdam home with you, you'll find gift baskets and bags full of tulip, daffodil and hyacinths bulbs ready for you to tote home.

#10 Sunset Bike Around Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world with bike-paths galore and bike racks everywhere. Nearly 500,000 bikes call Amsterdam home and once you gaze upon the racks upon racks of bikes, you'll see that this number is indeed true. The narrow streets, canal layout and expensive parking fees make the city not so car friendly. You can find bike rental booths throughout the city so pick one up and take it for a spin.

We found the best time to check out the city was in the evening at sunset when the daytime crowds have died time and you are able to soak up the sites. Sit on a bridge and watch the sunset over the canals with your sure is romantic!

Bonus - Sidetrips from Amsterdam

Honestly, I found the sidetrips from Amsterdam much more exciting than the city itself. Of course, this might be because I'm all about color and everything in Amsterdam seemed to be quite gray and monotone. My favorite sidetrips were to the small towns of Edam and Gouda (of cheese fame) as well as to Zaanse Schans (photos above) and Keukenhof Gardens (photos below).

The village of Zaanse Schans is an open air museum featuring well-preserved historic windmills and houses. It is located just 10 miles north of Amsterdam and is easily accessible via car or train. Many bus tour companies offer day trips from Amsterdam as well.

Thousands of windmills used to line the Zaan, but today just six remain and are open to the public in this village. We toured the 'De Kat' windmill which processes materials to make paint pigments. We could climb to the blades and see how the wind turned the gears to make the two large stone wheels crush the chalk for the paint pigments. The village also has traditional cheese, clog, and Dutch craft-making shops. We watched a demonstration of how clogs are made (see photo). It was very interesting. The village also has a collection of museums and restaurants catering to the tourists. The village is open pretty much every day of the year. For details about visiting, go to the Zaanse Schans website.

If you are visiting Amsterdam in the Spring (mid March to mid May), the Kuekenhof gardens are an absolute must see. The garden is only open for a few months each year when the nearly 7 million hand-planted flower bulbs are blooming. I've written an entire lens about my visit to Keukenhof Gardens so please click through for valuable tips and lots more photographs.

No matter which of these sites you visit, be sure to leave some extra time to pick up souvenirs and even some holiday gifts for your family back home!

Amsterdam Poll

What was your favorite Amsterdam activity?

See results

Leave Your Comments About Amsterdam! - I'd love to hear from you....

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    • Happimess LM profile image

      Happimess LM 4 years ago

      I was born in and am still living in Amsterdam, so it's great to see this lens!

    • cyberflutist profile image

      cyberflutist 4 years ago

      I want to visit Amsterdam some day! I would love to see the Anne Frank house. I read the book a long time ago. I can't imagine actually being in that spot.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Beautiful place, I would love to see Amsterdam, but it want happens. Thanks for sharing. Blessed.

    • profile image

      wordpress-guru 4 years ago

      i can't wait to go again ! I just loved it in amsterdam !

    • KillahBabe profile image

      KillahBabe 5 years ago

      I'm going there in May, can't wait :)

    • LifestyleNetwork profile image

      LifestyleNetwork 5 years ago

      great lens...but having the purple badge, obviously u know this already :-)

    • profile image

      Surfbay 5 years ago

      I wish someone would bring me tulips from Amsterdam.

    • LadyKeesh profile image

      LadyKeesh 5 years ago

      my husband and i would love to visit Amsterdam.

    • deified profile image

      deified 5 years ago

      stunning photos, i soooo want to visit!

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      I've never been there so it's neat to see pics!!

    • danniblaze profile image

      danniblaze 5 years ago

      Amazing lens I hope to go Amsterdam one day. Some good tips and places thank you.

    • profile image

      thepranksta 5 years ago

      Very nice! I love the pictures.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Excellent lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am going to Amsterdam in July. Thanks for the tips where to bisit.

    • profile image

      andrews23456 5 years ago

      I voted and it made me laugh that nearly all of the votes go to the red light district! If anything that is what put me off visiting the liberal city - but then its quaint canals and beautiful architecture was a sight for sore eyes.

      I enjoyed the Anne Frank museum the most, but then I am a huge fan of the book and that is partly why I wanted to visit the city - that and to visit the Ten kate flea market! Saying that, even though we booked a Amsterdam serviced apartment, I would recommend getting out of the centre of town and seeing the fields and fields of tulips! I would also recommend taking a boat through the canal - perfect, especially in the sunshine.

    • profile image

      DavedHope 5 years ago

      Beautiful pics of Amsterdam and what a lovely sights!

      Lovely Lens!

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 5 years ago

      Love Amsterdam !!!

    • profile image

      Adrijan 5 years ago

      great lens

    • profile image

      Amsterdam-Apartments 5 years ago

      Both the sights in and out of Amsterdam are very fun to visit covering all dutch elements: from the fields of the tulps to the wooden shoes in the centre. This list is a recommendation for all of Amsterdams short stayers.

    • franstan lm profile image

      franstan lm 6 years ago

      This is a fabulous lens. Blessed by a visiting Squid Angel

    • profile image

      dessertlover 6 years ago

      Looks like you had a fabulous trip! The gardens look amazing.

    • profile image

      elsiehui 6 years ago

      Ahh... I wasn't in Amsterdam long enough! :( we were only there basically for the afternoon with our guide, and I only visited the Dam Square and outside of Anne Franks house. Thanks for the information though! :) Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to return to Amsterdam!

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 6 years ago

      Looks like a fun trip! These are great tips for anyone venturing out that way.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 6 years ago

      Despite the dreary day those photographs are wonderful. Blessed by the western european angel.

    • SafetySteph profile image

      SafetySteph 6 years ago

      Going to Amsterdam is on top of my traveling list which includes many other cities and places in Europe, thanks for the wonderful information.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 7 years ago

      Thank you for this Great Lens about Amsterdam and the places to see and do

    • profile image

      peteriannuzzi 7 years ago

      good stuff

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 7 years ago from New York City

      Having spent some very enjoyable days in Amsterdam, this was an enjoyable return visit and the side trips were a pleasant extra. The only thing I would add were there excellent history museums, especially The Museum of the Dutch Resistance with it honest and well-documented stories of the Dutch efforts to resist the Nazis.

    • mivvy profile image

      mivvy 7 years ago

      You covered all important sights in Amsterdam, a pleasure to read. I find the floating flower market a bit of a disappointment, loads of tourists, steep prices and no Amsterdamers. I love your 'big' photos

    • profile image

      WriterBuzz 7 years ago

      Your lens is great. Very informative. I liked your lens with a thumbs up.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Came back to leave an ~*~* Angel Blessing *~*~ for this beautiful Amsterdam lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      This is wonderful! Having just seen Amsterdam with frozen canals, I'd love to go back at tulip time and see some of the nearby towns and villages.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens, but you knew that :) Just wanted to remind you that this is featured on the The Netherlands Headquarters

      It's now transformed into a lensography and I would love it if you could show your appreciation by featuring it here, or lensrolling it or something.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      Your photos are beautiful. I think I did most of these things when I was in Amsterdam. I remember biking to an old church with hundreds of steps to the tippity top. Would love to go back someday... Squid Angel Blessed.

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 8 years ago

      What a beautiful lens!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Wow - i have a business and we also work within the Netherlands, I did not have much knowledge of the area and i find your lens wonderful - if i ever meet a prospect i now feel i can talk about their heritage

      Many thanks


    • profile image

      g-anderson 8 years ago

      This lens was great, the wife and I will be visiting Amsterdam in the very near future. Thanks again-George and Kathy Anderson