It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with possibilities on your first visit to any country and Amsterdam is no exception. Whether you like culture and sightseeing or just want to escape to a haven of liberal minded freedom, there are so many ways to fill your days. Not sure where to start? Skip through our itinerary and you’ll pretty much cover the Top 10 things to see in the Dutch capital.
1. Canal Cruise
Amsterdam is famous for its canals and a cruise is a novel way to go sightseeing. This is a great way to get a sense of the city as a first time visitor and it saves you walking all that way above water level for the same sights. Whether cruising through the day or in the night, you can simultaneously relax while taking in the beauty of Amsterdam. Prices vary but you can get a free cruise as an I Amsterdam card holder.
If you’re an art lover, the Rijksmuseum is unmissable! Considered one of Amsterdam’s grandest and most popular museums, its vast collection showcases over 8000 Dutch and international artefacts. Look out for historic art by Dutch Masters from the Golden Age like Vermeer, Frans Hals, and of course, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.
3. The Van Gogh Museum
Continuing on the art trail, head to the Museum Quarter. The Van Gogh Museum draws crowds and sometimes long queues, but there is free entry with the I Amsterdam city card and there are other opportunities for discounts. No matter the cost, the experience is thoroughly worth it and if you weren’t already a Gogh enthusiast, you will be by the end of your visit. A stone’s throw away is the Stedelijk Museum, a must visit for fans of modern art.
No holiday is complete without a scenic view. Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park – take the time for a relaxing walk through the park or better yet, rent a bike and go cycling. The park is well situated for travellers staying in hotels at the heart of the city. For those who are vacationing on a budget, taking a break from shopping and paying entry fees to spend a relaxing few moments is always a good idea.
5. Anne Frank House
Standing in the Anne Frank House is a haunting experience, transporting you to another time and place. As expected queues are long, but you will be repaid with a tour of the secret annexe where the Frank family went into hiding. If you haven’t yet read The Diary of a Young Girl it is available to buy in several languages from the Museum Bookshop, in a series of beautiful editions. There is also a Museum Café so it is easy to make a day of it with friends.
6. Dam Square
If you’re after some serious shopping, Dam Square is unmissable. Chilled out coffeeshops with scenic views meet crowds of tourists in the apex of the square. Authentic souvenir shops selling clogs, cheese and wooden tulips hide among towering department stores including De Bijenkorf (the Beehive). Here you will also find Madame Tussauds, an attraction in its own right. In addition to the retail possibilities, the square is often host to spectacular parades, bringing natives and out of towners together.
The use of cannabis is decriminalised in Amsterdam, so tourists are welcome to visit coffeeshops and enjoy a joint with their espresso. Some people make this the focus of their stay, so although coffeeshops are everywhere, you may find the more popular ones to be busy. If you want your caffeine with a high and can’t think where to begin, try Bluebird, Amnesia or Greenhouse.
Amsterdam’s floating flower market, or the Bloemenmarkt, is an essential addition to your trip. Flowers are abundant in every colour, to be admired from afar or bought and taken home as a lovely alternative to more traditional souvenirs. Naturally the wonder of this attraction is dependent on the seasons, but it is a hidden gem in the warmer months.
When the evening comes and you’ve had your fill of all the best restaurants, museums and shops, Paradiso should be your next stop. The centre of Amsterdam’s music scene, the venue hosts both gigs and club nights and is loved by locals and travellers alike. Highlights for the year ahead include Daughter, Wolf Alice and Grimes.
10. Red Light District
Sex shops in Amsterdam are a dime a dozen even if you choose to forgo a wander into the Red Light District. You will know it when you see it, though: as prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, women freely display their wares at the windows. Sex shows are open for business should you feel so inclined, as well as the Erotic Museum, for a snapshot of sex through the ages. It should go without saying that you should keep your wits about you, especially when visiting in small groups, but it is guaranteed to be a fun addition to your itinerary.