A Local’s Guide on Things to Do in Amsterdam

Are you looking for tips on things to do in Amsterdam?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Monique Rubin, who has lived in The Netherlands and traveled to Amsterdam for 14 years.

Monique shares with us her insider tips on the best things to see and do in Amsterdam, plus recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink, and explore.

things to do in amsterdam

Why Visit Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is home to roughly 750,000 inhabitants is proof positive that good things come in small packages.

There are more museums per capita in Amsterdam than any other European city and its city center has thousands of protected historic buildings, including the famously narrow, lofty former merchants’ houses by the canals.

There are also a number of wonderful attractions, gorgeous parks and trendy neighborhoods teeming with shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Things to Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because it has so many canals, and a canal boat tour is a great way to see some of them, including the four main ones – Singel, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht – which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Anne Frank Museum, housed in the building where Anne and her family lived in hiding during World War II, is an absolute must.

The Museumplein is where you’ll find the world-famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, as well as the city’s contemporary art museum, the Stedelijk.

Though both the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums are currently under renovation, a wing of the Rijksmuseum is still open, where some of its most famous works are displayed, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”, and the museum reopens entirely in spring 2013.

I also recommend the Hermitage Museum and the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Handbags and Purses).

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joanet/5797835372/
Image: [email protected]

Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Amsterdam

I like to wander around the old Jewish quarter, Jodenbuurt, where you’ll find the Waterlooplein fleamarket, held daily, Rembrandt’s House, the Portuguese-Israelite Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum.

The New East is the old dockland area on the River Ij which run alongside Amsterdam is an up and coming area where you’ll find Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen and the museums NEMO and the Scheepvartmuseum (Dutch Maritime Museum).

Where to Eat in Amsterdam

  • The city’s best fries can be found at Vleminckx
  • Be sure to get a dollop of slagroom (whipped cream) on your Appelgebak (apple cake) from Café Winkel 43 
  • Fresh Stroopwafel from Albert Cuyp market are absolutely devine.
  • Housed in an enormous greenhouse, De Kas (greenhouse in Dutch) serves organic, healthy dishes with the emphasis on fresh produce.
  • Go to Blauw for traditional Indonesian cuisine served in trendy setting. The rijsttafel (rice table) is a must.
  • The best sandwiches in Amsterdam can be found at Singel 40 and for as little as €5. The sandwich with avocado, smoked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and melted brie is a definite winner.
things to do in amsterdam
Vleminckx fries. credit: tastytouring

Where to Drink in Amsterdam

  • Enjoy a beer at Brouwerij t’IJ, also known as the brewery at De Gooyer Windmill, is the small brewery found in the former Funen bathhouse next to the windwill.
  • Reservations are a must at the exclusive cocktail bar, Door 74, as well as a discerning eye, because there is nothing that indicates from the outside that it’s a cocktail bar, such as a sign or open door, just the house number 74 and a door bell.
  • Bar Lux is a popular place to hang out and grab a cocktail before going to a club.

Best Place for a Night on the Town in Amsterdam

Get an amazing meal and spectacular views of Amsterdam at Ciel Blu, a 2-Michelin star restaurant on the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura, then dance the night away at Jimmy Woo, the stylish nightclub where you can see Holland’s BWers (famous people).

Places to Stay in Amsterdam

Some of the accommodations I recommend are the Flying Pig Hostel and Hotel The Neighbour’s Magnolia which is located on a quiet residential neighborhood across from Amsterdam’s Vondelpark and the Park Plaza Victoria. Both great for families.

For more high-end options I like the Hotel Pulitzer and the Conservatorium.

If you’re craving a unique and local experience consider booking with Airbnb. Click here to view available apartments and homes during your stay to Amsterdam. 

Markets and Shopping in Amsterdam

Waterlooplein flea market and the Albert Cuyp market are a must.

The bloemenmarkt (flower market) is a floating flower market situated on barges on the Singel Canal is filled with an impressive array of plants and flowers, including the famous Dutch tulips.

De Negen Straatjes or 9 streets is a wonderful shopping area in the heart of Amsterdam filled with boutiques, jewelers, specialty shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. It is the perfect place to spend a day shopping.

things to do in Amsterdam
Image: zac mc

Events and Festivals in Amsterdam

There are close to 100 festivals in Amsterdam every year, including Amsterdam Roots Festival, Amsterdam Pride, De Parade, Uitmarkt Amsterdam and Holland Festival.

There are also a number of festivals which are outside of Amsterdam, but still easy to get to such as, Parkpop in The Hague and North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Viator is the industry leader when it comes to tours, activities, tickets and passes with a list of hand-picked tours and things to do in Amsterdam from local insiders.

Check out their hop-on-hop-off tour.

Getting Around Amsterdam

The trams and buses in Amsterdam are quite efficient and go everywhere. But because the city is so small, walking is actually the best way to get around, or if you want to go Dutch, hop on a bike.

things to do in amsterdam
Image:  TXMagpie

Finding WiFi in Amsterdam

Free WIFI is available at a number of cafes around the city such as Bagels & Beans, and of course McDonald’s and Starbucks.

I suggest going to the Starbucks on Rembrandtplein which is the biggest in Europe and located in the historic Amsterdamshce Bank building, or to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Amsterdam Public Library) where you not only get free wifi, but also a look at the largest public library in Europe which has received awards for its intelligent, ecological design.

For other places in Amsterdam that offer free WIFI, check www.wifi-amsterdam.nl.

Best Time to Visit Amsterdam

The best time of year to visit Amsterdam is the spring so that you can take a day trip to Keukenhof to see the tulips or autumn. In autumn, the weather is often nicer than it is during the summer and it is much less crowded.

things to do in amsterdam
tulips at Keukenhof. Image:  Toni Escuder

Favorite Side trip from Amsterdam

My favorite side trip from Amsterdam would be a full day in Rotterdam. It takes less than an hour on the train, and the city has a totally different vibe: contemporary, gritty and much more ethnically diverse.

Getting There and Away?

You can always find reasonable airfares to Amsterdam on EasyJet and Transavia.

Amsterdam is an easy 20-minute train ride from the airport. Trains, especially hi-speed ones are a great option for those traveling from Belgium, Paris or even some places in Germany and the ferry is an easy option from those traveling from the UK.

Best insiders tip for Amsterdam

For a panoramic view of the city, go to the sloped-roof terrace of NEMO Science Center. Take a (free) boat ride across the River IJ to North Amsterdam. Be mindful of trams AND bikes.

things to do in amsterdam
NEMO science center. Image:   redjar

I love Amsterdam because?

It’s everything I could want or need, all wrapped up in one pretty, little package.

Plan Your Trip to Amsterdam

We’ve been traveling 20  years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners. If you book through these links, we do receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps us continue to provide inspiring and helpful travel content for free on this site.

Accommodation in Amsterdam

Flights to Amsterdam

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Tours in Amsterdam

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BIO: Monique Rubin is a freelancer and the travel blogger behind Mo Travels where she shares her journeys about travel from the Netherlands to Zanzibar. She’s also a big social media enthusiast and can be found on twitter and facebook.

Do you have any tips on things to do in Amsterdam? Share in the comments.

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50 thoughts on “A Local’s Guide on Things to Do in Amsterdam”

  1. We really enjoyed visiting the House of Bols on our last visit to Amsterdam. The Bols distillery is the oldest still working distillery in the world. They produce Genever (a Dutch liquor kind of like gin) and flavored liquors. They have a great interactive exhibit and the entrance fee includes some generous cocktails at the end.

    1. Hey Boyde,

      It was mentioned here:

      Where to Stay?
      Some of the accommodations I recommend are the Flying Pig Hostel and Hotel Zandbergen, which is located on a quiet residential neighborhood across from Amsterdam’s Vondelpark and the Park Plaza Victoria. Both great for families.

      For more high-end options I like the Hotel Pulizer and the Conservatorium.

  2. What an informative artilce. Definitely one to bookmark for any future trips to Amsterdam. Funny, I worked just outside the city when I was 18 and don’t remember an awful lot, so this was a memory jerker.

    1. Nice tips on Aussie holidays too thanks.

      I used to live in Amsterdam…18 as well. It keeps changing yet remains the same…no Starbucks!

  3. Great tips on Amsterdam. Been a few years since I’ve been there so I need to go back. So much more of the city that I want to experience. I was there in Spring but was a little jet lagged with cool temps and cloudy. Would love to explore the city on a bike and just get lost.

  4. Being Dutch and having lived in Amsterdam for years i’m always surprised what kind of things people do when in Amsterdam. These are good tips!
    For me the best way to experience Amsterdam is the Vondelpark in the summer. It’s the best place to escape the heat and relax on the grass with some beers and friends.
    Also, go to Haarlem. It’s only a 10/15 minute train ride from Amsterdam. It’s Hollands coolest city, close to the beach, good city center, loads of very good restaurants. If we are ever coming back to Holland, it will be for Haarlem!

  5. I’m just home from a few days in Amsterdam. Although I did visit most of what is recommended in this post, there’s so much more that is excellent too!
    As mentioned about, the House of Bols is great. Although the tour is short and self-guided, it is quite interesting and the free cocktail and 2 shots at the end were great!
    I also visited the Heineken Brewery, which is possibly one of the best tours I have done. It too is self-guided but very interactive and the staff are incredible – so knowledgeable and helpful! They give you plenty of samples and 2 free drinks are included in the entry fee. Well worth a visit!!
    We stayed in De Pijp district – Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter. It is by far my favourite area. It is a little off the tourist trail which I loved – Dam Sq was fine during the day, but it was lovely to get to a quieter area for dinner at night.
    Another area that is slightly off the tourist trail is Jordaan. It is absolutely beautiful and well worth attempting to navigate the tiny streets for a walk around.
    Anne Frank’s House tour is a must, although be prepared – buy tickets in advance or go early in the morning or just before closing.
    And finally, I agree about the library! It’s a hidden treasure. I could have happily spent all day on the music floor of it. Shelves after shelves of CDs and plenty of iMacs to listen on – bliss. The cafe on the top floor is absolutely fantastic. Food is cooked fresh in front of you and the selection is incredible. Great value too! Go on a still day, and you can enjoy your lunch on the terrace over-looking all of Amsterdam.

    I’ve just blogged about my time in Amsterdam if you would like to read about it – http://ramblingsofhannah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/amsterdam.html

    1. You’re a legend Hannah!! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your suggestions for our readers. This is such an awesome resource for them. And cheers for sharing more with your blog post.

  6. I’m heading to Amsterdam in October with a mate and looking forward to sampling all of the above suggestions. very helpful ideas, 🙂

  7. Thanks for such informative post on the eternal beauty of The Netherlands. You just portrayed everything so perfectly. I still remember my trip. It was a delightful read.

  8. Dear Ytravelblog Readers,
    Most of the tips are still excellent choices. One edition however. The Hotel Zandbergen has been completely renovated by us, the new owners. And now sails under the flag of Hotel The Neighbour’s Magnolia.
    Hope to see you all soon in this great city! Elvira

  9. This is a great post! My brother and sister in law took a trip in October and blogged about it on http://peekabootravel.com/blog/?p=119. They stayed at the Banks Mansion which had a full breakfast, open bar, complimentary liquor in the room and a canal view! Most of the activities they did were pretty touristy so this is a great list of other places to see and do, thanks!

  10. One of the real must being in Amsterdam is a visit to “Concertgebouw” built in the late 19th century, the home of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is known for outstanding acoustics, “A pilgrimage spot for music lovers”

  11. I live in the netherlands and I’ve gone many times to Amsterdam so I just wanna say you REALLY need to watch out for the bikes because in the netherlands a lot of people ride on the bike almost everywhere and they will go fast (or slow), but just to be sure there’s also a special red bicycle lane and make sure you don’t step on it if there are people riding on bikes, because I’m pretty sure you’re gonna get yelled at or you will hear a bell ringing. But anyway I hope you have a good time in Amsterdam because it’s a beautiful city and the people can be really Nice (as long as you’re a good chatter). You can also visit Utrecht it’s about 30 minuten with the train and it’s a beautiful city with Some history

  12. A revolution in Amsterdam canal cruising
    For the first time in the hundred year history of Amsterdam canal cruising you can buy a ticket for a scheduled cruise on the oldest canals in the city. There was always embarrassment about these canals because they also lead through the center of Amsterdam’s Red light district.
    But the new ‘Friendship’ cruise company broke the taboo. With a luxurious scheduled ‘Champagne Cruise’ departing from the dock of Hotel Krasnapolsky, they offer a fascinating alternative to the ‘beaten tracks’ of the established cruise companies.’Friendship’ operates this new line with electrically powered boats. On youtube,a video of this cruise can be found at this URL:

  13. Great list of recommendations! My wife and I lived in Amsterdam from 2008 to 2011 and it’s the prettiest city we’ve ever lived in. I love the Ij Brewery and also think Arendsnest is a must pub as they focus solely on Dutch beers and have craft beer from so many small Dutch breweries.

    I live in Boston these days but I’m leading a tour to Belgium and Amsterdam in September 2015 if anyone is interested to be guided through these beautiful places! 🙂 http://wanderlustmarriage.com/belgium-and-netherlands-tour-september-2015/

  14. This is a fantastic guide to traveling in Amsterdam. It’s been so hard to find good information. I’m planning my vacations in Amsterdam next month– we’ve ended up getting most of our info and travel recommendations from fellow travelers in our hostels. I’m excited to check out your reading recommendations as well!

  15. Thanks for sharing, Craig. My personal suggestion: don’t miss a cup of coffe at Espresso Fabriek – Gosschalklaan 7, one of the best places to take a coffee in Amsterdam

  16. I lovee Amsterdam, I’ve been here few times, and every vacation was such perfect as I want. I got lots inspiration in the Van Gogh Museum. And I also like the city, some tiny and comfortable places! 🙂
    Thank’s for your helpful review and such awesome vacation ideas! Wish you luck! 🙂

    1. Hi John, my name is Deon and I’m from South Africa. my family and I will be visiting Amsterdam in July. I want to know if you have any tips or ideas of what we could do there and which places to visit. We will be staying in Utrecht and taking the train to Amsterdam every day. I would like to hear your ideas if you have the time.

      1. I’m not John, but I also live in Amsterdam! There are a lot of websites on the internet who give a pretty accurate list of the best attractions to see in Amsterdam, so be sure to check those out if you haven’t done so yet. I personally love the Rijksmuseum, but probably because it has a lot of national history opposed to the van Gogh museum who, as the name implies, is more of an exhibition of van Gogh’s art.

        However, the real attraction is in my opinion to just wander around the picturesque canals and alleys in Amsterdam. Especially at night, when they’re all lit up, it is a beautiful scene to look at!

  17. I’ve been there few times but just in Airport. While traveling to my hometown I had halt at Amsterdam Airport. I always read article about Amsterdam but finally this coming summer I am heading for Amsterdam Holidays.

    Thanks CRAIG for such useful post and amazing heart pulling pictures. It will be really useful for traveller to decide their holiday plan.

  18. Really cool guide! Makes me miss my hometown. I would also add De Foodhallen to the list, really cool place to try different food, beers and just hang out.

    For people arriving by car, know that its very expensive! Come by public transport or try this website: http://www.freeparkingmapamsterdam.nl. It’s the only website I found that shows you free parking spots in Amsterdam.

    Anyways, thanks!

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