Whatever you’re looking for in a European adventure, you’ll find it in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is drenched with welcoming Dutch locals, museums, galleries, coffee shops, festivals, and a bustling nightlife.
As one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, Amsterdam invites visitors to rent bikes and see the city like it was meant to be seen: on wheels.
Besides cycling through the city, travelers can partake in the exciting activities listed below for a true Amsterdam experience.
I loved Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It’s quirky, interesting, friendly, colorful, ethnically diverse, jammed packed with history and the architecture is amazing. I loved exploring the network of canals and assorted districts.You can bike just about anywhere. The people-watching from sidewalk cafes and coffee houses is second to none! There are also several museums to wander through, housing Masters like Rembrandt and van Gogh.
— Lea Cramer, writer, Fine Dining On Discourse
1. Take a canal cruise
Known as the “Venice of the North,” Amsterdam has a total of 165 canals stretching approximately 31 miles. Before Amsterdam was what it is today, the area consisted mostly of swampland. These marshes were systematically drained to make way for construction, leaving islands surrounded by canals.
Amsterdam Canal Cruises is one of the best ways to explore the city and see all that it has to offer. Daytime cruises are great for families, while nighttime cruises offer dinner on board.
From Nov. 19 through Jan. 20, Blueboat Company takes visitors on a journey through the city’s 7th Annual Amsterdam Light Festival, displaying light artworks designed especially for Amsterdam by artists from around the world.
2. Spend an afternoon in Dam Square
One of the most well-known and prominent locations in Amsterdam, Dam Square is filled with notable buildings and frequently hosts events throughout the year.
Regardless of the season, tourists and locals alike head to Dam Square for food stalls, restaurants, cafes, bars, and shopping, most importantly Amsterdam Diamond Centre, Amsterdam’s largest department store, De Bijenkorf, and the trendy Magna Plaza.
Located in an elegant 19th-century building directly behind the Queen’s Palace on Dam Square, Magna Plaza is one of Amsterdam’s few shopping malls and the leading shopping center for designer clothing and fashion accessories.
3. Visit Rijksmuseum and the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign
A Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum first opened its doors in 1800 in The Hague and moved to Amsterdam in 1808.
Famous artworks at Rijksmuseum include Adriaen Thomasz Key’s William of Orange, Bartholomeus van der Helst’s 1648 Treaty of Munster, and collections from Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn.
Outside Rijksmuseum’s doors lies the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign, a popular photo-op hotspot filled with tourists, pictured below.
4. See some of the world’s finest art at Van Gogh Museum
With queues wrapping around the building on a daily basis, you’ll want to arrive early at Van Gogh Museum, one of Amsterdam’s leading attractions.
Van Gogh Museum contains the world’s largest collection of works by the renowned Dutch Post-Impressionist painter. Here you can gaze upon famous works such as Sunflowers, The Sower, Almond Blossom, Irises, The Bedroom, Wheatfield with Crows, and various self-portraits.
Van Gogh Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Fridays until 9:00 p.m. Tickets are 18€ for adults, and free for visitors under the age of 18. Click here to purchase your tickets online.
5. Rent a bike and cycle through the city
When arriving in Amsterdam, the first thing you’ll surely notice is its abundance of bicycles.
Amsterdam is one of the world’s most significant cycling cities. With approximately 850,000 residents and 847,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, the city contains almost as many bikes as it does humans. That means that each household contains 1.91 bicycles, and 78% of people 12 and under own at least one bike. The city even fishes up between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes from its canals per year.
With all of these fun facts about Amsterdam’s biking culture, visitors should consider renting a bike and cycling around the city while visiting the Dutch capital. Akin to the canal cruises, renting a bike is another great way to see the most of Amsterdam.
6. Learn about history at Anne Frank House
A writer’s house and biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank, Anne Frank House invites visitors to wander around the furnished spaces of the Secret Annex, the site where Anne Frank hid for more than two years during WWII and wrote her diary.
The Diary of Anne Frank has now been translated into more than 70 languages. Visitors can discover the story behind the diary, and learn about the Van Pels family that hid Anne Frank and her other family members.
From the beginning of Nov. until Mar. 31, Anne Frank House is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. From Apr. 1 until Oct. 31, the museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Tickets must be purchased in advance online.
7. Partake in the Heineken Experience
Heineken’s original brewery is located in the heart of Amsterdam and invites travelers to partake in its sensational interactive tour.
The original Heineken brewery was established in 1867 and served as the company’s primary facility until 1988 when a more modern and larger facility was constructed on the outskirts of the city.
In 1991, the former brewery opened its doors to the public as a brewery tour and visitor center. The Heineken Experience is dedicated to educating the public on the process of pilsner brewing, along with bringing the product and brand to life.
The Heineken Experience runs Monday to Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Those that book online will receive a 3€ discount.
8. Visit the Red Light District
It’s likely that if you’re traveling to Amsterdam, you’ve probably heard about the city’s Red Light District, located in De Wallen neighborhood.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a huge tourist attraction, and anything you’ve heard about it is probably true. Lined with sex shops, museums, brothels and window prostitution, De Wallen has it all.
Despite common misconceptions about Amsterdam’s Red Light District, it is actually very safe and filled with a friendly atmosphere and plenty of international tourists. You may not be looking to buy, but it’s still a neighborhood that must be seen to be believed.
9. Check out Amsterdam’s coffee shops
Another activity home to Amsterdam that you’ve probably heard about is its coffee shops that serve as legal dispensaries for marijuana.
Travelers from around the world flock to Amsterdam to get their hands on some legal greenery and the city is teeming with famous coffee shops.
Whether or not you’re a toker, you may want to check out one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops simply for the cultural experience. Keeping the munchies in mind, many coffee shops offer delicious breakfast and lunch menus and are a great place to kick back and relax with a cup of coffee after a long day of sightseeing. Click here for a list of the most famous coffee shops in Amsterdam.
While Amsterdam’s coffee shops are in fact legal, there is still some etiquette travelers should consider. Be sure to check out The Dos and Don’ts of Amsterdam Coffeeshops for some useful information on how to visit a coffee shop in Amsterdam.