Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city in the Netherlands. It is also well known for its canals, coffeeshops, museums, red light district, and tulips. Whether you are visiting for a week or a few days, here are 10 things you must do during your trip.
#1 Visit the Van Gough Museum
This was my absolute favorite museum in Amsterdam! I’m not really into art, but this museum was everything! Having an audio guide (included with admission) really helped me understand Van Gough’s life (beginning to end), his artwork, his family, artists who influenced him, and artists influenced by him. The tour took about 1.5 hours. The museum also hosted a special exhibit which was also very interesting and accompanied by the audio guide (1 hour).
#2 Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is huge and has lots of things to see! Before arriving to the museum, make sure you download their free app on your cell phone. The app provides you with various audio guides to choose from and will direct you to the places that you want to see in the museum. I chose to the highlights tour audio guide which covers most of the popular artworks, collections, and exhibits. Without this audio tour, I would have missed out on quite a bit since the museum is huge and you could easily get lost. With the highlights tour, I saw the following: Dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman, the Cuypers Library, Van Gogh’s self-portrait, the Milkmaid, the Great Hall, and the Night Watch, just to name a few. Unfortunately during my visit, the The Night Watch was under construction. Hopefully, by the time of your visit, The Night Watch will no longer be under construction.
#3 Learn about the history of the Anne Frank House
If you want to visit the Anne Frank House, make sure you purchase your ticket in advance. I purchased my ticket for the Anne Frank House two months prior to my arrival, because I heard they sell out pretty fast. This house is definitely worth visiting whether you have read the Diary of Anne Frank or not, because the self-guided tour (audio) will give you an in depth understanding of the Frank’s family life prior to and during their hideout (in the secret annex), and later on (via Frank Otto’s interviews). It is amazing to see how they functioned on a daily basis within that small space and with another family whom were also hiding out with them. The tour is very moving and one that you do not want to miss. The self-guided audio tour takes about an hour.
#4 See Amsterdam from the water on a canal cruise
Immediately after finishing my tour of the Anne Frank House, I went on a canal cruise with Flagship Amsterdam which is docked directly in front of the house. This was an hour long cruise through the Jordaan neighborhood. Viewing Amsterdam, its houses, bridges, bikes, and everything else from the water was amazing! If you go during the off season and it is very cold, the company will provide blankets for free. Food and drinks are also available for purchase. This is definitely a must when visiting Amsterdam. The company also docks from two other locations (see website for details).
#5 Take a food tour
Hungry Birds is a food tour company in Amsterdam that not only introduces visitors to great food, but gives an in depth tour of the neighborhood where the food tour takes place. I decided to take their “Daytime Experience” 4 hour food tour which covers the De Pijp neighborhood of Amsterdam. De Pijp is best known for its busy street market (Albert Cuyp), the Heineken brewery, and its eclectic food scene with restaurants serving Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese cuisines and many more.
If you want to taste a wide variety of food from local (Dutch) to international, I highly recommend this tour company. If you do not eat meat no worries! This tour company is very accommodating to your dietary concerns (see my tofu and vegetarian options above). The company offers food tours both in the day and night.
#6 Learn about the past and present history of the Red Light District
I took a tour of the red light district with Sandemans New Europe. This tour provided the past and present history of the red light district. I thought the tour was great because it not only covered the general stereotypes about the sex workers and their services, but also discussed the nursery school located in the district (how it is viewed by locals, children who attend it, the teachers, the school’s rating–which is very good), and surprisingly provided a more humane perspective about the sex workers (new laws and how it negatively affects them, the need for safer working conditions, how they protect themselves and each other, and how the union fights for their protections, etc.). Overall, very interesting.
#7 Do what the locals do and ride a bike through the city!
Amsterdam is well known for its bike culture. Everywhere you turn, you will see a bike whether it is chained to a bridge, a bike rack, or if it is coming directly at you because you failed to watch out for cyclists, along with cars and scooters. Whew! I took a bike tour with We Bike Amsterdam Tours and chose to do their “Hidden Gems Tour.” This tour covered Jordaan, Vondelpark, and the Museum Quarter. Seeing the city via bike tour was great! It made me feel like a local for a few hours. If you prefer to bike away from the city (less hectic and best for beginners), then We Bike Amsterdam also provides a countryside tour.
#8 Get a slice of the best apple pie at Winkel 43
Winkel 43 is located in the Jordaan neighborhood and infamously known as having the best apple pie in Amsterdam! If you go at a less crowded time, then service will be pretty quick (this restaurant can get quite crowded). So go early, buy a slice, take a seat outside, and savor the deliciousness of the best apple pie Amsterdam has to offer.
#9 Liven up your instagram feed with Moak Pancakes
When you’ve had enough dutch pancakes and are craving American style pancakes with a twist, head to Moak Pancakes. This music themed restaurant has a creative menu with various types of pancake toppings. The food is instagram worthy! Equally instagram worthy is the restaurant which is beautifully decorated with famous lyrics from various rap songs (i.e. “started from the bottom now I’m here” is on the steps). You can also find these lyrics on artwork, wallpapers, and even the tip cup . Definitely worth a visit!
You must eat at FEBO! You cannot leave Amsterdam without trying FEBO. It is so worth it! It’s fast food, cheap eats, and dispensed from a vending machine (well more like opening the door of an easy baked oven after inserting the correct change). At first, I was not sure about trying the food because I did not like the concept, but when I learned that food was freshly prepared and does not sit there all day, I felt better about my purchase. The food is amazing, and definitely better than fast food from McDonald’s (although compared to America, the McDonald’s in Amsterdam is great and has more diverse menu).
- From the end of March to early May, go see the tulips in Keukenhof
- Take a bike tour of the countryside
- Take a day trip (to Rotterdam, Edam, Zaanse Schans, Marken, etc.)
- Have a drink at the Heineken Experience or the Ice Bar
- Get great city views of Amsterdam from the A’Dam Lookout
- Explore modern, contemporary, and street art at the Moco Museum
- Stay at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center. It’s connected to the airport (bridge) and only 15-20 minutes via train from the city center. Also, if you’re a frequent Marriott hotel visitor, apply for their bonvoy card for rewards and other awesome benefits including TSA precheck and global entry, priority pass lounge access, $300 yearly bonus and many more!