The capital of the Netherlands is a popular destination for backpackers and culture vultures alike. The city is rich in history and alive with a thriving nightlife. Visitors here find that there is a seemingly endless list of things to do in Amsterdam.
It certainly has more than enough to offer visitors coming here for a short break. If you stay longer, you just may discover it has more than many people ever find, and you could soon fall deeply in love with the city and its enchanting canals.
Best Things to Do in Amsterdam
Perhaps you only have a day or two, so the choice is going to be difficult. Here are the top picks you should consider before leaving the ‘Dam.
Cycle the City
Believe it or not, but there are more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people.
You can even cycle through the Rijksmuseum, making it the only museum in the world that allows such behavior! But, that’s Amsterdam – it’s a normal thing here.
Cycling is a way of life here, and its incredible network is unrivalled, and enhanced by the flat landscape. There really is no better way to explore this city than to hop on a bike and get lost around the little streets and canals.
A lot of people stick to the city centre when they visit the Dutch capital. Jumping on the ferry will open up a wonderful new area of Amsterdam that many people never visit, allowing you to see a different cultural scene that boasts great food and drink at some of the many events and festivals across the water.
Take a Tour of the Canals
The canal belt of Amsterdam was created in the 17th century, originally to protect the city from the sea. However, it is since become an iconic site in the city and is equally pretty in day or night.
Get a feel for the city with a guided boat tour, enjoying a candlelit cruise with a glass of wine as your guide gives you the history of this magical place.
Get Lost in JordaAn
Stepping into the most charming district of the city is like being transported to a time gone by. The narrow alleys and pretty buildings of Jordaan are peppered with scenic gardens, vibrant bars and cute antique stores.
There are plenty of places to shop in Amsterdam, but this is easily one of the best, if only for the experience of roaming around this delightful area.
Visit Anne Frank’s House
A more somber activity is a visit to the house where the famous Anne Frank hid with her family during the persecution of Jewish people in World War II. The house is now a museum that gives visitors pause for thought, while the back area has largely been preserved to show you just what their life was like during their time in hiding.
This is one of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam, so you’ll need to book ahead or arrive early in order to beat the crowds.
Immerse Yourself in the Genius of Van Gogh
One of the more obvious things to do in Amsterdam is also one of the best. The legendary Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh left behind an immense collection of drawings, paintings and letters, which are now being housed in the Museumplein.
Forget what you’ve saw in the history books and just get yourself there to inspect his marvelous works for yourself. You can learn more about the man himself in the Van Gogh Museum, and discover many other artists who were inspired by his work.
Taste Beers Under a Windmill
This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam. The city has eight windmills, with the most visited being the de Gooyer windmill, located in the Oostelijke Eilanden neighborhood.
If you only visit one windmill in Amsterdam, make it this one. Underneath its sails you’ll find an artisan microbrewery, that has won many awards.
It’s easy to see why. From a large outdoor terrace, to guided tasting tours, this brewery is a beer drinker’s delight, offering a wide selection of great ales and seasonal craft beers.
Enjoy the Park Life
Parks are big part of the culture in Amsterdam, no more so than when the sun is out. There are over 30 parks in the city, meaning you’ll never be stuck for tranquil walks, picnics or lazy days with a book under a tree.
The biggest is Vondelpark, which has a three bars and restaurants, as well as a large outdoor theatre that hosts live concerts in the summertime.
Tour the Tulip Fields
This symbol of Dutch culture may be a cliché, but that shouldn’t deter you from making a visit to the famous Bloemenmarkt. This is the only floating flower market in the world, and is a sight to behold, whether you like flowers or not.
If you visit in the Springtime, it’s worth the short trip to the famous tulip fields of Bollenstreek to see how the flowers decorate the landscape near Harleem.
Climb up the Westertoren Tower
Stretching 40 meters into the sky, this pretty structure is the tallest tower in the city, offering the best views in Amsterdam. It dates back to 1638, and has a lot of history behind it, from the Hapsburg Emperor on the top and many other famous dignitaries buried in the church at the bottom.
Admission is controlled, with just six people permitted to enter every half-hour. The best move is to show up early in the morning to reserve a spot for later in the day.
Visit the Markets
Even if you have no intention of buying anything at all, a trip to the markets in Amsterdam is an experience you should not skip out on. You can find pretty much everything imaginable, from clothes and books, to food, antiques and furniture.
There are plenty of good markets to choose from, scattered throughout the city. Among the best are the Saturday Lindengracht market in the Jordaan, and the huge Waterlooplein flea market, which is open every day except Sunday.
Enjoy the Nightlife
The Netherlands is home to some of the world’s greatest DJs, hosting large annual events such as Sensation. Naturally, the capital has quite a few clubs that ensure their 24-hour club license doesn’t go to waste. Check out RADION, or De School to get a taste of the party scene in Amsterdam.
Sample the Smoke
It may not be everyone’s gig, but the world knows that Amsterdam has traditionally had a very open-minded attitude where cannabis is concerned. From the famous "brown cafes” that offer space cakes and a unique style of green teas, to relaxed laws on smoking joints in certain areas, Amsterdam really is unlike any other city in Europe.
Connoisseurs will happily work their way around the city sampling the very best that Amsterdam has to offer, but even if you’re a novice, you can join in the fun. Find a good café and speak to the staff to let them know you’re a curious newbie. They’ll take care of you and make sure you have an unforgettable experience, even if the memories are somewhat foggy!
Play a Game of Giant Chess
There are two great chessboards in Amsterdam. One is in front of the Tropenmuseum, and it’s rarely busy. This makes it the best choice for those who want to get stuck in to a good game of chess, or also those people who are afraid of having an audience scrutinize their every move.
If you don’t mind onlookers, check out the famous board at Max Euweplein. This tribute to the most famous chess player from the Netherlands is a popular spot for chess fans and random tourists alike. If you’re playing here, you can expect a challenging game…and a long queue.
Get The Heineken Experience
If you like Heineken, then this should be a top priority. Even those who only have a mild interest in beer can have fun on this tour, as it is one of the most exciting and interesting brewery tours in Europe. As well as getting a rundown on the history of the Heineken family, you can take a virtual-reality ride and enjoy a free beer tasting session.
Have a Damn Good Time
AIt’s easy to see why this city is so popular. The friendly locals, charming café culture and picturesque canals set the scene, and it’s all too easy to get comfortable.
With great beers and a fantastic food and nightlife scene, you’ll forever be content. Throw in a deep, enthralling history and wonderful arts scene that can entrance visitors, and very soon you can find yourself becoming a big fan of Amsterdam.
Checking off your list of great things to do in Amsterdam is easy. The most difficult part is finding a way to stop adding to the list.
Get on your bike and get started.