Set around a ring of picturesque canals, Amsterdam has a magnetic aura that attracts millions of visitors. The city is renowned for its tolerant culture and hedonistic streak and it is probably one of the most eclectic locations in the world, offering something for anyone, from lovers of fine art to cycling enthusiasts.
The elegant architecture and the laid-back atmosphere combined with a unique bustling nightlife and a cosmopolitan attitude. Amsterdam’s contrasting features only add to its immense appeal and here are the top things to do in the city.
Things to do in Amsterdam
Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is a massive Dutch national art and history museum and the most popular cultural institution in the Netherlands. The collections include thousands of works of art and historical artifacts that showcase the richness of the Dutch culture.
Here you can find the works of famous Dutch artists, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Vincent Van Gogh, among many others. Thousands of masterpieces make this place an art lover paradise. As one of the world’s finest art museums, Rijksmuseum also houses events, open-air exhibitions, and markets on a daily basis.
Take a Canal Cruise
The canal ring in Amsterdam creates a unique urban setting and due to its importance in the development of the city, it is now part of UNESCO’s list of protected heritage sites. Created in the 17th-century, the network of canals with their charming bridges gives a magical feel to the city, both during the day and at night when the bridges are brightly lit.
Taking a boat tour on the canals is a great, relaxing way to experience the most enchanting aspects of Amsterdam. The hardest part will be to choose a type of cruise because the options are plenty, from romantic night time cruises with dinner to guided sightseeing tours and hop-on-hop-off canal buses.
Relax in Vondelpark
The largest park in Amsterdam, Vondelpark attracts over 10 million visitors a year. Until recently, it was the only public park in the world where one could legally barbecue and smoke joints.
This makes it a vibrant social place and also a refreshing escape, especially on sunny days, when locals like to retreat amid the lush greenery, enjoying the ample cycle paths, winding footpaths, quaint bridges, and charming cafes.
In the spring and summer, many come to the park to have a picnic, soak up sunlight and relax. The vast green open spaces offer plenty of opportunities for all kinds of activities, from drinking to cycling. A popular free open-air theater operates in the summer months.
Visit the Anne Frank Museum
The Anne Frank House is a 17th-century canal house where 14-year old Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years during World War II.
Now a historical museum and educational center, the place offers a permanent exhibition on Anne’s life and also features other exhibitions on related historical themes.
The cramped secret annex where the family hid is open to visitors as well. Although this is a somber experience, the Anne Frank Museum is definitely worth a visit as it is an essential part of the worlds’ historical legacy.
Visitors can see Anne’s bedroom and have a look at her actual diary.
Take a Bike Tour
Bicycles are a big part of Dutch culture. Not only that the Dutch love cycling but for them, cycling is the primary means of transport in the city. The number of bikes in Amsterdam is astounding, which means that if you want to experience the best of the city and fit in among the locals, a bike tour is an ideal way to do that.
There are many different tours available, some including unique visits or demonstrations of typical local experiences. Renting a bike is extremely easy and the number of bike lanes will allow you to roam the city freely.
Visit the Van Gogh Museum
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most influential painters in the history of art and probably the most famous Dutch artist. The museum dedicated to his life and works is housed in a modernist building near the Rijksmuseum, right in the cultural heart of Amsterdam.
The museum traces Van Gogh’s personal life and artistic career, showcasing both famous masterpieces and less known pieces. The collection is comprised of hundreds of works of art and hundreds of personal letters that Van Gogh sent to family and friends.
The displays tell the story of Van Gogh’s evolution as an artist from the early amateur stage to the incredibly bold and expressive works known worldwide. The museum also includes paintings by Van Gogh’s contemporaries, such as Paul Gauguin and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
Although Amsterdam is surely the most famous place in the Netherlands, the country has a lot to offer and luckily, all the interesting places are within reasonable distances and very well connected. Historic towns, picturesque canals, unique museums, and gorgeous landscapes can be easily explored by taking day trips from Amsterdam.
Best Day Trips from Amsf
Zaanse Shans is a traditional Dutch village and an open-air museum with quaint wooden houses and famous historic windmills set amid lush vegetation and endless green grasslands. Visitors can take a stroll through the picturesque village and imagine how life looked like centuries ago.
Besides being a step back into Dutch history, this is also one of the most photogenic spots in the Netherlands. A tour of the windmills and the traditional local shops and workshops will fill your day with interesting experiences. Visitors can take part in traditional cheese-processing and wooden clog-making demonstrations and the beautiful village has also a museum about its industrial past.
To get to Zaanse Shans, take a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station to the city of Zaanstad. The village is a 1.5 km walk from the platform. Another option is to take bus 301 from Amsterdam towards Zaanse Schans.
A trip to Amsterdam in the spring must definitely include a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens because it is the perfect time to explore the sprawling parkland with its seven million flower bulbs blooming into an extravagance of bright colors and stunning botanical displays.
The flower garden houses 800 kinds of tulips, but the range of floral arrangements is massive. It’s easy to spend a full day at Keukenhof since the garden has 15 kilometers of pathways and the offers for activities abound throughout the day. You can admire the extensive art installations, watch an indoor botanical demonstration, or take a guided tour through the tulip fields.
Keukenhof is a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam, but there are also frequent direct buses that do not take more than an hour.
Utrecht is a beautiful medieval town with a relaxed, yet vibrant atmosphere, where visitors can delve into the historical heritage of the Netherlands. Once the most important city in the country, Utrecht is now home to the largest university, which adds a youthful character to this historic city.
The beautiful streets and numerous winding canals make Utrecht a picturesque location, and there is plenty to do here, from the streets filled with busy sidewalk cafes and inexpensive shopping havens, to beautiful churches, galleries, and intriguing museums. The Dom Toren, the tallest church tower in the country, built-in 1382, offers gorgeous views over Utrecht.
Direct trains from Amsterdam arrive at Utrecht Centraal in 30 minutes.
A quintessential Dutch town, Haarlem is an authentic place packed with cultural and historic sights. Although very close to Amsterdam, Haarlem is much more relaxed. The medieval Gothic architecture is as stunning as in the capital and a boat tour on the canals is much more affordable.
The main attraction of Haarlem is the beautiful central square and its lively market, but the town has plenty of chic boutiques, concept stores, and elegant restaurants to keep you busy. The most unique place in Haarlem is probably the church turned into a brewery where you can have the best beer in town. The nightlife is also worth a visit on its own.
Haarlem is only 15 minutes away by train from Amsterdam and the trains run very often. From the train station, it’s a ten-minute walk to the center.
Marken is a former island in Markermeer turned into a peninsula, where a thriving fishing community developed in the 19th-century. Now a popular seaside getaway, Marken can be reached by land or ferry. The scenic views and the vibrant cultural history of the place attract many visitors since the village has preserved intact relics of its traditional culture, including the beautiful green wooden houses by the harbor.
Besides its rich culture, Marken is worth visiting for the stunning scenery. A beautiful lighthouse from 1838 now surrounded by water has become the most photographed spot on the peninsula. The village also has a museum which showcases the history of the former island. A traditional fisherman’s house is part of the museum’s collection.
To get to Marken, take bus 315 from Amsterdam Central Station. The journey takes under an hour.
Get Insurance before traveling to Amsterdam
Use travel insurance while visiting Amsterdam so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in Amsterdam, and it’s best to have peace of mind while driving, hiking and trying some of the best food in the world.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Traveling abroad soon? Here is my list of things to know before leaving your home country