Top things to do and see in Amsterdam

Stuart Forster provides an overview of top things to do and see in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The city of Amsterdam is, by far, the Netherlands’ chief tourist attraction. Buzzing bars and cultural attractions, such as the Van Gogh Museum and Concertgebouw concert hall, count among the Dutch capital’s many attractions.

For the first year ever, more than two million United Kingdom passport holders visited the Netherlands in 2016. Remarkably, visitor feedback suggests that eight out of every ten spent time in Amsterdam.

Many of the stag and hen parties that travel to Amsterdam stagger around the red light district at De Wallen. Red Light Secrets, the museum of prostitution, tells the story of the 900 sex workers that make their living in the area.

Of course, there’s lots more to see and do. Here is an overview of some of Amsterdam’s highlights:

Places to visit in Amsterdam

For art and culture head to the Museumplein. If you only have time to visit one of the museums and want to gain insights into Dutch heritage, take a look inside the Rijksmuseum. For many visitors, the highlight is viewing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and other Golden Age paintings inside the Gallery of Honour. To avoid queuing longer than is absolutely necessary it makes sense to book a ticket online.

Likewise, to visit the Anne Frank House make sure you book your ticket well in advance. Tickets go on sale two months ahead of the visit date. Until 3.30 pm each day, entry to the museum is only possible via allocated time slots. (I learnt this the hard way, by being turned away at the door one morning!)

Also worth a visit - The Hermitage Amsterdam.
Also worth a visit – The Hermitage Amsterdam.

A view of Amsterdam

For an elevated perspective, take a seat in the swing, known as Over the Edge, up on the A’dam Lookout, the A’dam Tower’s observation deck?

Alternatively, board a boat and take a canal tour of the city. Amsterdam’s network of canals is more than 400 years old and holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Tours last about an hour and are an effective way of orientating in the city while listening to a potted history of highlights along the way.

Take your pick of the tours departing from the quays in front of the railway station or from Damrak, a couple of minutes’ walk away.

Clouds gather over a canal on De Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets).
Clouds gather over a canal on De Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets).

A place to eat in Amsterdam

Dutch aficionados say that to enjoy a rijsttafel, a feast-like combination of Indonesian dishes, you really should head to one of the restaurants in The Hague (49 minutes away from Amsterdam by Intercity train). If that sounds too much of a trek for a meal, stay in the capital and book a table at Kantijl en de Tijger, close to the city centre.

For inexpensive but tasty Thai cuisine head to Bird, on Zeedijk, between the central station and De Wallen. Choose between seats in the restaurant and the diner across the street. Sitting at the bench by the window means you can people-watch while eating.

Going Dutch for brunch - an uitsmijter, fried egg served on toasted bread.
Going Dutch for brunch – an uitsmijter, fried egg served on toasted bread.

A place to drink in Amsterdam

To find out how beer is brewed, before downing a couple, pop into the Heineken Experience.

Prefer tradition? Café Hoppe, on the Spui, is a long-established ‘brown bar’. It opened in 1670. Some locals say that traditional brown bars are named after the long-term effects of nicotine staining on the walls. Others suggest the term has more to do with the dark colour schemes used to decorate such bars and to make them cosy.

With sawdust on the floor and a painting of a stern-looking horseman looking down on guests, Café Hoppe is a laid-back place to drink a beer or sample jenever. You can order young and old varieties of the drink that is often described as Dutch gin.

Cafe Hoppe and the Spui in central Amsterdam.
Cafe Hoppe and the Spui in central Amsterdam.

A place to shop in Amsterdam

If you enjoy browsing upscale department stores, pop into the De Bijenkorf, on Dam Square. Open seven days a week, the upscale store — which is essentially a Dutch version of Harrods or Macy’s — has six storeys. The shop’s name, incidentally, means ‘the beehive’.

For boutiques head to De Negen Straatjes, an area of nine streets roughly five minutes’ stroll from Dam Square. Some locals feel that the area is losing the independent vibe that once made it the place to be. Yet it’s by no means cheesy. To sample and buy Dutch cheeses visit Reypenaer (Singel 182).

For vintage goods, browse the market stalls on Waterlooplein. Sometimes it can be worthwhile on other days you may well leave disappointed.

De Bijenkorf department store on Dam Square in Amsterdam.
For discerning shoppers De Bijenkorf department store, on Dam Square, is likely to count among top things to do and see in Amsterdam.

A place to stay in Amsterdam

The Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre is a modern, four-star property with 408 guestrooms.

Ask for a city-facing room on one of the upper floors of the riverside hotel for outstanding views over the River Ij and the Dutch capital. The rooms have Nespresso coffee machines and include the use of high-speed internet. The hotel’s wellness area has a sizable gym plus a Finnish sauna and a temperate bio sauna. A buffet breakfast is available in the hotel’s Silk Road Restaurant.

The hotel is a 15-minute riverside walk from the central railway station or a couple of stops on tram number 26. A free shuttle service runs between the two points.

Night in central Amsterdam, seen from a window in the Moevenpick hotel.
Night in central Amsterdam, seen from a window in the Moevenpick hotel.

Getting there

Amsterdam Centraal Station is a 14-minute journey by Intercity direct train from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. KLM flies to Schiphol from 17 airports around the United Kingdom, plus many more elsewhere in the world.

DFDS Seaways operates a Newcastle – Amsterdam ferry service, running between Port of Tyne and Ijmuiden in the Netherlands.

Further information

Take a look at the I Amsterdam and Holland tourist information websites for ideas about things to do and see in Amsterdam.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post about the top things to do and see in Amsterdam. If you have suggestions that you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment below.

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  • Julia

    March 28, 2017 at 12:57 Reply

    Having lived in Amsterdam for two years, I can definitely second the Thai Bird recommendation. I practically lived in there last winter – their steaming bowls of red and green curry are unsurpassed in the city!

    • Stuart Forster

      March 28, 2017 at 13:25 Reply

      It’s an unfussy place, serves tasty food and is good value. Ideal after spending time exploring the city.

  • Chantal

    April 11, 2017 at 17:25 Reply

    Well I’m Dutch and I love every place that you mentioned in this post! So they would be great for tourist, for sure!

    • Stuart Forster

      April 12, 2017 at 07:55 Reply

      Thanks Chantal. Of course there’s so much more to do in the city too. I’ve heard good things about Micropia, the micro museum.

  • ToursTravel

    May 17, 2023 at 08:01 Reply

    Hello there! I just came across your article on the best things to do in Amsterdam, and I have to say, it’s a fantastic guide for anyone planning a visit to this vibrant city. As someone who has always been captivated by Amsterdam’s rich history and unique culture, I found your recommendations to be spot on and incredibly helpful.

    Your article covers such a wide range of activities and attractions, ensuring that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. From exploring the iconic Anne Frank House and immersing oneself in the Van Gogh Museum to taking leisurely canal cruises and indulging in delicious Dutch cuisine, you’ve certainly captured the essence of what makes Amsterdam such a captivating destination.

    One aspect that I particularly appreciated was the personal touch you added to your descriptions. Sharing your own experiences and anecdotes really brought the city to life and made me feel as though I were right there alongside you, strolling through the picturesque streets and soaking in the atmosphere. Your enthusiasm for the local food scene was contagious, and I can’t wait to try out some of the mouthwatering recommendations you shared.

    Overall, your article serves as a fantastic resource for both first-time visitors and those who have already fallen in love with Amsterdam. Your attention to detail and genuine passion for the city shine through in every paragraph. Thanks for taking the time to write such an informative and enjoyable piece—I’m now even more excited to explore all that Amsterdam has to offer! Keep up the great work, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading more of your travel insights.

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