Amsterdam, the sin city of Europe. I prefer to call it the city of canals because of its charming canal ring. This touristic destination is one where the challenge doesn’t lie in finding stuff to do; but rather, in deciding what are the best things to do in Amsterdam within your limited time there.
Here are some of the top things to do in Amsterdam for first-time visitors! I have thrown in some alternative or complementing activities that might appeal to similar interests.
Amsterdam City Passes
Before you start buying tickets for anything, one important point to know is that there are multiple discount passes available for your selection. We all want to get our bang for the buck when we travel, don’t we!
Tip: Here are some tourist and city passes available in popular European cities. These can be great time and cost savers so always check out if there are worthwhile city passes for what you want to do when visiting Europe.
These passes generally offer discounted prices for entry into several main attractions and provide an express lane entry for some. Some provide all-inclusive access to attractions, and discounts on transportation, while others allow you to mix and match to your liking.
There is a good variety of selection/plans to fit different durations, interests, and budgets. It will likely generate some cost and time savings if you already plan to hit up some of these tourist attractions, so I definitely encourage you to check them out before your trip!
The common ones to look into are iAmsterdam City Pass, Holland Pass, and Amsterdam City Pass. There is also a Museumkaart, which is perfect for museum nuts, and an Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket for the party crowd. I went with the Holland Pass, which had more flexibility to select between a list of different attractions. It also has 3 different tier categories to choose from to fit your needs.
Now here are some of the top things to do in Amsterdam!
Most Popular Thing to Do In Amsterdam
Being the national museum of the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum is one of the most famous museums in Amsterdam. This is a place that you certainly want to visit, just to check out some world-famous pieces, even if you’re not a museum nut. The neo-gothic palace houses an impressive collection of Dutch art and historical artifacts stretching back to the Middle Ages. There are usually around 8,000 pieces of art displayed at any one time. Factor in at least 4-5 hours if you plan to see everything in this museum.
It is best to get the tickets in advance to save time as it is very popular. You also need to reserve a ticket online with a starting time even if you are using one of the city passes.
Popular Things to Do In Amsterdam
Discover Art Mastery At Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum showcases the largest collection of arts and works of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The museum is one of the most visited museums in the Netherlands after receiving 2.3 million visitors in 2017. Need I say more?
I will leave the rest for your self-discovery. What you do need to know now though is that the museum no longer sells tickets on the spot and you should definitely get your ticket online in advance.
All visitors need a ticket with a start time to have access to the museum.
If you want to learn more about the life of Van Gogh and have someone bring you through the famous art pieces, a guided tour is the way to go. Get one with the tickets included to save you the hassle.
If you are also into modern and contemporary art and design, the Stedelijk Museum near Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum will probably form your golden trio.
Follow A Personal Story At Anne Frank House
From Art, let’s come to History. Anne Frank House is where you discover the story of Anne Frank, one of the more well-known victims of the holocaust due to her publication of Het Achterhuis (the diary of Anne Frank). One of the best-known books in the world, Het Achterhuis documents Ann Frank’s experience during the German occupation of the Netherlands from 1942 to 1944.
Anne Frank House also requires a ticket bought online for a specific time slot, so remember to book in advance!
Complementary/Alternative: If you are interested in getting a more detailed picture of this story, the Anne Frank and WWII Walking Tour is a good activity to go along.
Tip: The Museumplein, which is a beautiful ‘plaza’ surrounded by some of the more famous museums, is an extremely great place to sit and chill when the weather is nice. Plan to spend some time there for photo taking and, even to sit and watch life go by as you take a break from your museum tour! You can also pack lunch and have a small picnic break there (Another tip to save some time and money!)
One of the most exciting facts about Amsterdam is that the city is home to more than 50 museums catering to different interests. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that museum hopping is one of the main things to do in Amsterdam. For all you museum fans, there are over 50 museums in Amsterdam; you can find a longer list of museums in this handy checklist.
Indoor Things To Do In Amsterdam
Mix Art And History At Rembrandt House
Amsterdam is not only about art but also about the people behind it. And what better way to know more about one of the world-renowned painters than visiting his former home?
The Rembrandt House Museum used to be the house of Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn from 1639 to 1656. It was turned into a museum in 1911 and since then, has been one of the must-see attractions in Amsterdam.
The museum offers an intimate look into Rembrandt’s life as well as his artistic process. There are also different temporary exhibitions held throughout the year. See the restored 17th-century house interior in this central Amsterdam museum.
Discover More Masterpieces At Stedelijk Museum
Fancy modern and contemporary art? Stedelijk Museum should definitely be on your list of things to do in Amsterdam!
The museum holds an impressive collection of modern art, with artists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky, Picasso, and Warhol represented. There are also changing exhibitions throughout the year, so you can expect to see something new each time you visit.
With a stunning building located right in the Museumplein, be sure to also take some time to admire the architecture of the museum. Get a fast-track ticket to avoid the lines and dive right into the artistic world. And when you’re done with the art inside, don’t forget to explore the surrounding museums too!
Meet Famous Personalities At Madame Tussauds
Experience what it’s like to meet, greet and get up close with your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds. The famous waxwork museum showcases models of globally known personalities.
From George Clooney to Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Einstein; there are a total of 4 different theme zones for you to explore and interact with your favorite celebrity.
Take photos, shake hands or simply give them a hug, it’s all up to you. Get fun, get creative! It is a popular attraction among both adults and kids. Get your ticket online in advance to save time when visiting.
Be Fascinated In The Moco Museum
Moco Museum is a relatively new museum (opened in 2016) that focuses on contemporary culture and street art. The museum is located in the Museumplein, just minutes away from Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum.
Some of the most famous artworks featured in Moco are by Banksy, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, and more. With a large focus on Banksy’s work, the museum showcases more than 10 of his original works and continues to grow its collection.
If you are a fan of street art or modern art, this is definitely a place to go! Grab a ticket to see the best works from some of the modern artists today.
Immerse In Interactive Learning At NEMO Science Museum
NEMO is a science museum that is designed like a huge ship on the Oosterdok wharf. The building architecture itself is already an attraction, and it only gets better when you go inside. This is the largest science center in the Netherlands.
The museum is designed for all ages and has over 19,000 different artifacts for you to explore. It covers topics such as climate change, the human body, and energy. With interactive exhibits and games, it is a great place to learn while having fun at the same time.
Do note that NEMO is extremely popular among families with young children so it can get quite crowded during weekends and holidays. Buy your tickets online in advance to avoid the queues!
Experience Luxury At Amsterdam Royal Palace
Amsterdam Royal Palace (also known as Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam) is one of the three palaces in the Netherlands that are still used for royal events and official functions. It was built in the 17th century as City Hall but became a palace during the French occupation in the early 19th century.
The grand interiors will definitely leave you in awe as you tour the different rooms and halls. From the stunning Gallery of Honor to the Royal Kitchen, every room is more beautiful than the last.
The Amsterdam Royal Palace is open to the public all year round (with the exception of some holidays) and is worth a visit! You can grab your ticket online and explore the palace with an audio guide.
Weird Out At Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a museum that celebrates the weird, wacky and bizarre. From shrunken heads to a piece of the Berlin Wall, there are over 500 exhibits on display for you to see. Crawl into a piece of cheese, or
This museum is perfect if you are looking for something different and unique. With its oddities and curiosities, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a one-of-a-kind experience at all sorts of random, yet interesting stuff. The bonus is that you can get a nice view of Dam square from the museum as well.
Buy your fast-track tickets online to skip the line and enjoy a hassle-free visit to the museum.
Dive Into Anatomy At Body Worlds Amsterdam
Speaking of weird, this might seem scary for some, yet also really educational for others.
If you like learning about human anatomy and our mindsets, thoughts etc, then you will enjoy a trip to Body Worlds Amsterdam! This museum is filled with over 200 real human specimens, all preserved through a process called plastination.
You will get to see different parts of the human body, and how they work together. There are also interactive exhibits where you can learn more about how your body works. This is an eye-opening place to visit if you are interested in science and want to learn more about the human body.
Drink Some Pints At The Heineken Experience
For all you beer lovers, the Heineken Experience is a must-go while you are in Amsterdam. This former brewery has been transformed into a museum to show the history of one of the most popular beers around the world.
The self-guided tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and at the end of it, you get to enjoy 2 glasses (or pints) of Heineken in the bar. You can even learn how to pour the perfect draft pint.
This experience is extremely popular among tourists and it requires the booking of a timeslot in advance for the experience. You can buy your tickets online in advance. There are also options get a bundle ticket with Canal Cruise which brings us to our next point.
Outdoor Things to do in Amsterdam
Discover The Sights With A Canal Cruise
When we talk about Amsterdam, we cannot miss out on the waterway. Experiencing Amsterdam from the water is one of the most relaxing things to do in Amsterdam.
Yes, this is like a typical cliché tourist activity but it is also one worth doing. The view of Amsterdam from the water offers a different perspective. There are many boat cruises available covering differing routes.
The typical canal cruise will be 1 – 2 hours long in a small boat that goes through the city’s canals. I highly recommend grabbing a window seat during the cruise. Choose one with some form of audio explanation that will give you more knowledge of prominent areas as the boat passes by.
If you like to get a more in-depth experience or pamper yourself, other more premium cruises are available that can include dinner or drinks, etc. There is never a lack of options during both day and night.
Connect with Animals At The Royal Zoo
Founded in 1838, Amsterdam Royal Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the Netherlands. The zoo is home to over 1,200 animals from all around the world and it covers an area of almost 10 hectares.
One of the things that set this zoo apart is its focus on giving animals a more natural habitat which makes for a more enriching experience for both the animals and visitors. Some of the popular sections in the zoo are Penguin Garden, Savage Garden, and Elephants of Asia.
There is also a petting zoo for the little ones! If you have some time, you can even spend a full day here discovering not just the fauna but also the flora. Get your ticket to the ARTIS Royal Zoo online to save time.
Get Behind The Scenes At Johan Cruyff Arena Tour
Do you love sports? Or are you a fan of AFC Ajax? If you answered yes to either, then this activity is something you cannot miss out on while in Amsterdam. The Johan Cruyff Arena is home to AFC Ajax and the Dutch national football team.
The stadium tour will bring you behind the scenes of one of the most popular football clubs in Europe. You will get to see the player’s changing room, the press room, dugout, and even the pitch! Essentially places that you usually don’t get access to as a spectator.
The tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and it is available in multiple languages. You can buy your tickets online in advance and even get discounts for the fan shop.
Cheap And Free Things To Do In Amsterdam
Great news for the budget travelers out there! One of the best things about Amsterdam is that there are many interesting districts to visit at no cost! The city constructs offer a great setting for just walking and checking stuff out.
Take Photos At Beautiful Canals
One of the most charming parts of Amsterdam is no doubt the bridges and canals. There are many photogenic spots for your Instagram profile.
Prominent locations with great backdrops that are definitely worth a visit will be Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Singel. Allocate some time to walk around these areas as the buildings along the canals are also interesting and filled with history. One of the best cost-free activities to do in Amsterdam!
As much as I love a casual walk around the city; one of the easiest and most fun ways to discover the city’s sights is via a canal cruise that brings you through various prominent spots.
Get Trendy at Jordaan District
Jordaan is one of the most popular and vibrant areas in Amsterdam. It used to be a working-class district but has since been taken over by hipsters and artists.
This is reflected in the many art galleries, trendy cafes, and boutique stores that you can find here. Walking around Jordaan is a great way to get a feel of the creative atmosphere in Amsterdam.
Some popular streets that are worth checking out are Haarlemmerdijk, Elandsgracht, and Brouwersgracht. If you get hungry, there are also many great restaurants and cafes in the area.
Feel The City Pulse At Leidseplein
Leidseplein is essentially that lively go-to square where you find bars, restaurants, cafés, clubs, theatres, and shopping options. It is very lively and also where street performers come to showcase their skills. Unsurprisingly, it is also well known for its nightlife.
Due to its central location, you will almost certainly pass by here. This is an excellent place to find a bar/pub to catch soccer matches on game days.
Tips: Rembrandtplein is another major square where you will find clubs, restaurants, and bars in its surrounding. For beer and football fans, the Heineken Experience and Johan Cruyff Arena Tour might be interesting to you.
Marvel At History At The Dam
The town square of Amsterdam is another area that you will definitely pass by. The Dam lies in the historical center of Amsterdam.
Apart from being the location of various historical/national events, the Dam is surrounded by many notable icons as well. This includes the Centraal Station, the 15th century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, the National Monument which was erected in 1956 as a memorial to the victims of WWII, and the Royal Palace which can be visited.
Find Local Produces At Albert Cuyp Markt
I am a big fan of visiting local markets because you get to see locals engaging in their daily hustle and bustle. The Albert Cuyp Street Market is one such place! This is the biggest daily market in the Netherlands and it has been around since 1905.
You can find all sorts of things here including fresh produce, flowers, clothes, and even electronics. This is a great place to browse and do some people-watching. The market is open from Monday to Saturday. If you love food markets, it is a great place to just walk and indulge.
Browse The Waterlooplein Flea Market
Featuring over 300 stalls, the Waterlooplein Flea Market is one of the biggest and most popular markets in Amsterdam. It is held every day except Sundays and public holidays.
The market sells a wide variety of things including clothes, books, souvenirs, and vintage items. If you are looking for something particular, it is best to come here with an open mind as there are many interesting items and knick-knacks that might amaze you.
Bargaining is also common practice here so don’t be afraid to try your hand at it. You might just find a gem in the pile at a good price.
Soak Up The Sun In Vondel Park
Vondel Park is one of the most popular parks in the Netherlands, receiving around 10 million visitors each year. It is also Amsterdam’s largest park. The park has lots of greenery and is a good place to get away from the city hustle. However, it can also get crowded with both locals and tourists, partly due to its proximity to the Museumplein, making it really accessible.
Tip: If you want somewhere less crowded, I find Amstel Park to be a better option to enjoy some nice landscape and greenery. Amstel Park, located along the Amstel River, is in Amsterdam-Zuid but further from the touristic zone of Amsterdam.
Things To Do At Night In Amsterdam
Check Out De Wallen (Red Light District)
De Wallen is Amsterdam’s most famous red-light district. It is an interesting area that expresses the Dutch’s more liberal approach toward certain controversial topics. Here you can find things from legal prostitution to coffee shops (as in weed joints, not the usual café) to strip clubs and adult theatres.
It is during the nighttime that the character of this district really comes to life. If you visit at night, please take more care as some of the streets here are narrow and can get crowded.
If you want to learn more about the red-light district and the coffee shop culture, you can take a guided walking tour for a deeper dive.
Important: Taking photos or videos of sex workers is extremely rude and not tolerated, so remember to be respectful.
Get Cozy In The Amsterdam Icebar
The Amsterdam Icebar is one of the coolest things to do, especially during winter. The bar is made entirely out of ice, including the furniture and glasses! This makes for a really unique experience as you drink in negative zero temperatures, from glasses made of ice.
The bar is built from over 30 tons of ice and the impressive place provides plenty of photo opportunities. Warm clothes are also provided if you don’t have yours or need more.
You get a complimentary drink with your entrance ticket with selections of cocktails, as well as both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The Ice Bar is a time-limited experience in order for others to also get a turn at it. You can stay up to 20 minutes in the ice bar but hang out at the lounge for more drinking after. Grab a ticket and book a time slot for an experience.
Romantic Evening Cruise (with Food)
There are various evening cruises to cater to those who prefer the night scene or a more relaxed vibe. The boats have large glass windows so you can still fully enjoy the views of the city during sunset or nighttime. Some cruises also offer food like pizza or BBQ which is great for a group of friends.
For a more special experience, how about a dinner cruise that will take you through the canals of Amsterdam as you enjoy a 3-course meal. The menu comes with a few options as well as drinks.
This is a great option if you want to do something special and romantic while in Amsterdam, particularly with your date or significant other. Booking in advance is recommended as the dinner cruises can fill up quickly, especially during peak season.
Admire The Views From Awe-inspiring Rooftop Bars
For some of the best views in Amsterdam, make your way to one of the city’s many rooftop bars. There are a few to choose from, each with its own vibe and views.
Popular ones include Sky Lounge Amsterdam, Floor 17 to GAPP, and Skybar 747, each offering amazing views but different vibes decoration. Many of them such as Living Kitchen at Zoku Amsterdam and Canvas also serve as restaurants with food items.
Things To Do Outside Amsterdam Central
Get Medevial At Muiderslot Castle
Muiderslot is a medieval castle located about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. The castle has a long and rich history, having been built in 1280 and serving as a key strategic location for various wars. It also was the setting for many important events such as the signing of the Union of Utrecht.
Nowadays, the castle is open to the public as a museum where you can learn more about its history. Simply get a ticket and explore the medieval ages. There is also various greenery surrounding the castle that you can explore. This is just one of the many castles in the Netherlands you can visit.
Taste Delicious Dutch Cheese At A Local Cheese Farm
If you are a fan of cheese, this is something you cannot miss when in Amsterdam! There are a few cheese farms located just outside the city and it makes for a great day trip.
During the tour, you will learn all about how Dutch cheese is made before indulging in some delicious samples. You can even purchase some to bring home as souvenirs. Most of the farms offer other products such as honey, jams, and fresh eggs so make sure to stock up while you’re there!
These countryside tours often tie in with visiting other quaint villages or windmills around the region.
If you want to remain in central Amsterdam, there are also plenty of cheese and wine tasting experiences. You can both sample while learning how to best appreciate these delicious Dutch products
Discover Windmills At The Charming Village Of Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans is a picturesque village located about 45 minutes outside of the city. The village is home to traditional Dutch windmills and quaint houses that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
You can explore the different windmills, each with its own unique history. There are also a few museums, such as the Zaanse Time Museum, where you can learn more about the village and its people. In addition, there are plenty of shops selling Dutch products such as cheese, clogs, and chocolate. Make sure to pick up some souvenirs for friends and family back home!
Take A Day Trip To Keukenhof
Keukenhof is a flower park located in South Holland, about an hour outside of Amsterdam. The park covers 32 hectares and is open for only 8 weeks each year.
During this time, over 7 million tulips of 800 different varieties are in bloom, making for a spectacular sight. If you’re visiting Amsterdam during the springtime, I highly recommend adding Keukenhof to your itinerary. Note that this time-sensitive exhibition always draws a crowd, with both local visitors and international travelers.
For easy planning, you can get there by booking a skip-the-line ticket together with transportation from Amsterdam.
Getting Around Attractions In Amsterdam
Now that we’ve gone over some of the things you can do in Amsterdam, let’s briefly talk about getting around the city.
Walking is the best way to explore Amsterdam as many of the attractions are located in the city center and easily accessible on foot. If you don’t mind getting a little exercise, cycling is one of the most popular activities the Netherlands is famous for. You can rent a bike for the day as it’s a great way to see even more of the city. There are also bike tours available to visit major sites around Amsterdam.
There are also plenty of public transportation options. The city has an extensive tram network that covers most of Amsterdam, as well as the bus or metro if you’re looking to go further out of the city center. You can get a GVB Transport Ticket for unlimited rides on these for a specific number of days. This is a convenient and popular option for travelers.
As with many touristic cities, you can also take the hop-on-hop-off bus that brings you to all the major attractions around the city. Finally, there are also boat tours available if you want to explore Amsterdam from the water.
Amsterdam Airport Transfer
When traveling between the city center and Schipol Airport, the national railway is a common and direct option. From the airport, it takes around 15-20 minutes and brings you to the central station. Another popular option is via airport shuttles, with stops or picks up at some major plazas and sites such as Museumplein and Leidseplein.
For the most convenience, you can always get a private airport transfer, taking you to your accommodation directly. Uber is an option too!
Discovering Things to Do in Amsterdam, Netherlands
These are only a few of the best things to do in Amsterdam but I hope this gives you a good starting point for planning your trip. Amsterdam is a beautiful and historic city with plenty of activities to keep you busy during your visit. From exploring the canals to learning about the city’s rich history, the city can even command multiple visits.
For more things to do in the country, you can check out some of the famous landmarks in the Netherlands.