- Travel and Places
Top 10 Things To Do in Amsterdam
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.
Purple Star Award
I'm seeing purple :)
Woohoo! This lens was awarded a purple star on December 1, 2009. The giant squid organizers here at Squidoo award purple stars each week to their favorite lenses created by all-star Giant Squids. And to whoever nominated this lens....thank you! To learn more about the Purple Star Program, click here.
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.
Amsterdam Canal Cruise Resources
Cruising The Canals Videos from YouTube
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 Wikipedia.com.
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 sweetie....it sure is romantic!
More Amsterdam Activity Websites
- Trip Advisor Amsterdam
Find out what other people thing about Amsterdam activities with the rating system at Trip Advisor.
Their list of the Top 5 Things to Do in Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Tourist Board
Everything you need to know about visiting Amsterdam.
- Amsterdam Info
Amsterdam tourist guide and information about hotels and activities
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!
What was your favorite Amsterdam activity?
More Travel Resources
- Vacation Home Rental Tips
Renting a vacation home can be a great option for your next trip. We've used this option a few times during our travels and I'll give you some advantages and disadvantages to consider, as well as my tips on making your next vacation rental successful
- What to Pack For An Overnight Trip with Baby or Toddler
Your first overnight away from home with your new baby is a milestone! You may feel slightly anxious about how baby will act at your host's home or at a hotel. Don't worry. As long as you are there,...
- Thanksgiving Travel Tips
Every year, over 38 million Americans take to the road to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It can be a hectic, busy time, especially because many of us are given four days at the most...