Things to do in Amsterdam: the 18 best attractions to see
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The most beautiful places & sights in Amsterdam
The best tips for your trip to the Dutch capital
I ended up in Amsterdam on a stag night. After all, it’s a well-known fact that Amsterdam is excellent for partying. But the Dutch capital has so much more to offer than good clubs, stylish bars, the vivid red-light district and the many coffee shops where you can legally buy and consume cannabis.
On Saturday, we went out to party – but on Sunday, we wanted to see the city and its many sights. We didn’t have much time, so the tips we present to you are easily doable on a weekend. Apart from our top sights, we would also like to give you some tips on partying and hotels as well as a bit of general advice for your trip to Amsterdam.
Things to see and do in Amsterdam
1. The red-light district
If you go to Amsterdam, you just have to see the city centre and especially the red-light district. At night, it’s incredibly crowded here. There are sex museums, sex shops, strip clubs and brothels on every corner.
And you can’t imagine the Amsterdam red-light district without the women waiting for clients in the red-seamed windows. The streets are filled with groups of men, couples holding hands and women celebrating their hen night.
You will also meet crowds of Asian tourists capturing every bit with their cameras and smartphones. Taking photos of the women in the windows is strictly forbidden, though.
Apart from all the sex shops, there are a lot of burger joints, cafés and so on that make the Rossebuurt, as the locals call the red-light district, worth a visit. On our tour through the red-light district, everything was totally relaxed. There were no grim figures, only jolly people just wanting to party and have fun.
But please remember one thing during your visit: the women behind the windows presumably don’t enjoy being gaped at. Yes, it is a hotspot for tourists, but you should still be respectful to the people there.
2. The Oude Kerk
When in the red-light district, you absolutely have to visit the Oude Kerk. The “Old Church” is the oldest preserved building in Amsterdam and a must see. What might be unique about it: since the Oude Kerk is in the middle of the red-light district, it’s surrounded by brothels.
In combination with the many cafés in the area, the image is truly odd. When you walk around the church, you will repeatedly see provocative women in their windows, while the church walls are a mere 5 metres away. If you’re looking for a stunning view of the Oude Kerk, check out the nearby bridge Oudekennissteeg.
Adress: Oudekerksplein 23 | → Website
3. The Trompettersteeg – the narrowest alley in Amsterdam
Just a few metres from the Oude Kerk, you will find the Trompettersteeg (→ Google Maps). But watch out: the alley’s easy to miss. With a width of no more than a metre, the Trompettersteeg is the narrowest alley in Amsterdam and a true highlight.
Here too, you will pass scantily clad women in their windows. At night, crowds of tourists try to squeeze through the alley (“Gass”) – at last, the Trompettersteeg is a prime address in Amsterdam. If you visit the Trompettersteeg during the day, however, you can walk through the around 30-metre long alley without too much hustle.
4. The coffee shops
There’s no way I would incite you to do drugs – in Amsterdam, however, the consumption of cannabis is completely legal at the famous coffee shops known worldwide. The coffee shops are an integral part of the cityscape.
At the coffee shop, you can have the cannabis weighed per gram and enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee. For beginners, there are also pre-rolled joints – but the more experienced do it themselves.
Please don’t even think about taking some home with you – at customs, they don’t really approve of that. By the way, hard drugs are just as illegal in the Netherlands as in every other country on earth. When walking through the red-light district, you will be offered something every now and then. You’ll find more info on the coffee shops further along in the article.
5. The Rijksmuseum
Obviously, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than the red-light district: one great museum after the other, for example. The Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, is the most famous one with more than two million visitors a year.
In the Rijksmuseum, you’ll find an extensive collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, with works like The Night Watch by Rembrandt, one of the most famous paintings in the world. Other renowned artists whose opuses you can admire in the impressive building include Jan Vermeer and Frans Hals. The Rijksmuseum also houses a big collection of Asian art objects and artefacts of Dutch history.
If you’re not interested in art or if you’re short on time, just walk around the building for a bit. There are two huge glass fronts that might allow a glance into the complex and there’s also a regular flea market directly in front of the museum.
Address: Museumstraat 1 | → Website | → Skip-the-queue entry ticket* | → Skip-the-queue entry ticket and city canal cruise*
6. The Van Gogh Museum
A stone’s throw from the Rijksmuseum, in a modern edifice, there’s the Van Gogh Museum. In it, you’ll find the biggest collection of works by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Like the Rijksmuseum, it is among the most popular museums in Amsterdam with around 1.5 million visitors per year. If you’re interested in art, a visit to this world-famous museum is a must.
Address: Museumplein 6 | → Website | → Skip-the-queue entry ticket* | → Skip-the-queue entry ticket and city canal cruise*
7. The Anne Frank House
If you have time, you should pay a visit to the Anne Frank House. In this building, among others, Otto Frank, his wife Edith Frank-Holländer and their two children Margot and Anne hid from the Nazis. They succeeded for over two years until their hiding place was revealed. On 4 August 1944, Anne Frank and her family were arrested and deported by the German Gestapo. Anne Frank died just before the end of the Second World War at only 15 years of age in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
Today, the Diary of Anne Frank about her life in the dark hideout is world-famous. The architectural complex houses a museum about the Nazi prosecution and oppression which, from 9am to 3:30pm, can only be accessed by people with an online ticket for a specific time slot. From 3:30pm until closing time, you can visit the Anne Frank House without an online ticket and just buy one at the museum’s entrance (Retrieved 2015).
The Anne Frank House includes a museum about the Nazi prosecution and oppression and can only be visited with a ticket bought online for a specific time slot. You should buy it well ahead of time as they sell out very fast. Tickets are not sold at the door (Retrieved 2019).
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267 | → Website
8. The Canal District
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam is to just walk along the Grachten, which is the Dutch word for the canals in the city. It’s not for nothing that Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North.
Many Amsterdamers have their own boat so that it’s all go on the canals. You can admire the gorgeous view over the water and the city from all the bridges, but if you have more time, you should definitely go on a Canal Cruise and enjoy the city from the water.
By the way, works on the Grachtengordel, the Canal District, began in 1612 and lasted for around 40 years. The canals were predominantly used for transporting goods inside the city but also played a role in defence. In 2010, the canals of Amsterdam were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Canal Cruises: → 1.5-Hour Evening Canal Cruise* | → Canal Cruise & Heineken Experience*
9. The narrowest house in Amsterdam
When you stroll through Amsterdam, you’ll quickly notice the narrow and sometimes extremely crooked houses. The city flourished during a time when taxes used to be calculated according to the width of a building, more accurately the side that faces the canal. For that reason, a lot of houses with very narrow frontages to the canals were built in Amsterdam.
To create enough living space, the houses are comparatively long and high. This also means that the staircases are very narrow and extremely steep. When trying to get bulky objects or furniture into the houses, pulleys still come in very handy even today. Because of the soft ground, a lot of houses are very crooked. Try finding the oldest, the most crooked or the narrowest house.
Spoiler alert: it’s at Singel 7 and the façade is only a metre wide. To be fair, it’s the back of the house. The front is considerably wider.
Address: Singel 7
10. The Nieuwe Kerk
The Nieuwe Kerk is the church where Dutch monarchs are crowned and the second oldest one in Amsterdam after the Oude Kerk. The “New Church” also stands out due to its central location and is an ideal starting point for exploring the city.
Address: Gravenstraat 17 | → Website
11. Paleis op de Dam
The Paleis op de Dam – also known as Koninklijk Paleis – is in the immediate vicinity of the Nieuwe Kerk and is considered to be the most important historic and cultural building of the Dutch Golden Age.
The Royal Palace on Dam Square is nowadays used as a residence for foreign guests during state visits. The members of the royal family are only present at the palace for official functions, the Queen, in general, only for the New Year reception. The Paleis op de Dam was built on 13,659 wooden piles, which is why the poet Constantijn Huygens once called it “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Address: Dam | → Website
12. The Bloemenmarkt
The Bloemenmarkt (flower market) is a must see on every trip to Amsterdam. Some of the stalls are actually floating on the water and the visitors dive into a colourful sea of flowers. Of course, the Bloemenmarkt is influenced by all the tourists – but how could that be different in a city like Amsterdam. If you don’t want to take home flowers, just buy a tulip bulb and grow the plant yourself.
13. The NDSM wharf
From the main train station Amsterdam Centraal, ferries take you to the other side of the city. A very special tip is the NDSM wharf. The ferry takes about 15 minutes and is free of charge. The NDSM wharf (Nederlandschen Dok en Scheepbouw Maatschappij) went bankrupt in 1984.
Today, the creative industries have taken over the former shipyard and some hotels also chose to locate there. If you’re looking for an extraordinary place to stay, take a look at the Amstel Botel, which is on a ship. By the way, the creative workshop “Kunststad” is not just a workplace but also a location where house parties take place.
When strolling through what used to be a shipyard, you’ll find posters and flyers everywhere. Old cranes and jetties are reminiscent of a time when ships still used to be launched there. At the ferry dock, there’s even an old submarine rusting away.
A ten-minute walk from the pier, you’ll find the Noorderlicht Café. The mood here is very apocalyptic – but also amazing. With a bit of luck, a band will be playing. Food and drinks aren’t exactly cheap and the staff seems quite overworked, but the atmosphere makes up for it.
Address: Tt. Neveritaweg | → Website NDSM | → Website Noorderlicht Café
Things you must do in Amsterdam
Rent a bike
Bikes are the most important means of transport in Amsterdam, and I’ve never seen so many of them in one place! There are cyclists all over the city – with the exception of the narrow alleys in the city centre, of course.
If you don’t want to explore Amsterdam on foot, just rent a bike and do it like the locals. There are bike rentals in all parts of the city and prices start at about 10 Euros a day. If you don’t want people to know you’re a tourist, go to Black Bikes – they have real Dutch roadsters in plain black so they won’t be recognized as hire bikes.
Guided bike tours: → 2.5-hour bike tour* | → Private bike tour*
Try the best burger in town
If you love burgers, you should definitely check out the Burger Bar – there are three of them in the Amsterdam city centre alone. The burgers there are freshly prepared and they’re gigantic.
All of us agreed that these are the best burgers in town, and the reviews on Tripadvisor seem to confirm that. For vegetarians like myself, the options are unfortunately limited to chips. However, these also taste amazing and you can add some extra flavour with an array of delicious sauces like BBQ, Garlic, Samurai or Blue Cheese.
→ Addresses | → Website
Get a delicious piece of cake and a cup of coffee
When wandering through the streets of Amsterdam, I stumbled upon the Banketbakkerij Lanskroon. The small bakery has been offering delicious cakes and pastries as well as aromatic coffee for more than 100 years. Inside, there are some tables and chairs and during summer, you can observe the busy streets on a wooden bench outside the bakery. If all tables are occupied, you can of course order a coffee and a pastry to go.
Address: Singel 385 | → Website
Discover the cheese shops
The Netherlands are the biggest exporter of cheese worldwide. When strolling through Amsterdam, you’ll see many cheese shops trying to lure you in. Don’t try to resist and just have a look inside. You’ll be rewarded with the possibility to try the different cheeses, and a cheese loaf makes for an excellent gift!
The coffee shops
Many travellers come to Amsterdam just for one thing: the about 150 to 170 coffee shops in the city where you can legally buy and consume hashish or weed. However, selling soft drugs on the street is also prohibited in Amsterdam (and hard drugs are taboo anyway). But watch out: not all coffee shops in Amsterdam are recommendable and there are some shifty establishments just waiting to rip off tourists. It’s best to check the reviews of the coffee shop beforehand, for example on Google.
The most popular coffee shops in Amsterdam include
• Coffeeshop Amsterdam (Haarlemmerstraat 44, direkt am Hauptbahnhof, → Google)
• Barney’s Coffeeshop Amsterdam (Haarlemmerstraat 102, direkt am Hauptbahnhof, → Google)
• Original Dampkring (Handboogstraat 29, → Google)
• Abraxas (Jonge Roelensteeg 12-14, → Google)
• The Bulldog The First (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 90, → Google)
• Bluebird (Sint Antoniesbreestraat 71, → Google)
• Grey Area (Oude Leliestraat 2, → Google)
Just like in a restaurant, you can usually pick different kinds of hashish or weed from a menu. If you don’t know what to choose, just ask – the people who work there are experts. One gram of hemp normally costs between ten and 20 Euros. But don’t overdo it! The hemp (or cannabis, which is the female hemp plant) you get at the coffee shops is very strong. If you’re not used to it, just take it slow. And: as a guest, you won’t get more than five grams of cannabis at a coffee shop. You can buy it pure or in a pre-rolled joint.
Alcohol and hard drugs are strictly prohibited at the coffee shops, just like tobacco. If you don’t want to smoke the cannabis, you can also order hemp cookies or brownies most of the time, or drink a cannabis milk shake. In general, the atmosphere at the coffee shops is very relaxed, so don’t be afraid of only strange people hanging out there.
Can you export cannabis to other countries?
No, of course you’re not allowed to export cannabis from the Netherlands to other countries. There are regular controls at the airports and borders and it’s not a good idea to drive under the influence of drugs anyway.
Apart from the safety aspect, you’ll be facing serious charges if you’re caught. In Germany, the first misdemeanour will cost you up to 500 Euros, a one-month suspension of your driver’s license and two penalty points in Flensburg – and that is if you don’t put someone else at risk. The punishment for the second or third misdemeanour will be much more severe. In a case “of public interest”, that means if you expose someone else to the drugs, you might even face a prison sentence. So stick to the rules and you’ll be fine.
Stroll through the alleys
Check out not only the famous sights in Amsterdam. Take your time and stroll through the beautiful streets and alleys without a plan. You will see: there is an infinite amount to discover in the city.
⭐ Where to sleep in Amsterdam – our very special hotel tips
You should at least arrange two full days to paint the town red. Our top tip for fans of everything extravagant is the → Hotel TwentySeven*. In this 5-star hotel, you pay more than 1000 euros per night for a suite. Indeed, that is a loooot of money – but it’s also an unforgettable experience. The 5-star hotel → Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht* also provides pure luxury. It’s located in the heart of the Canal District and is thus the ideal starting point for discovering Amsterdam.
The 4-star hotel → The Toren* is another great address with very elegant rooms at the famous Keizersgracht. If you’re on more of a shoestring budget, you should take a look at the → Boutique Hotel View*. It stuns with a modern design and classic splendour and is affordable as well. Plus, the many positive reviews speak for themselves. If you prefer an inexpensive and more private stay, you can get a → 25-euro discount on Airbnb here*.
What else you can do in and around Amsterdam
Do you want to dive deep into the red-light district? Then book a → Guide* who can show you all the secret spots. From the → observation deck A’DAM Lookout* you have an amazing view over the city, all while enjoying a delicious cocktail. Or explore Amsterdam on an exciting → open-top bus and canal boat tour*. Or are you looking for something crazy? Then you might want to visit the → Icebar* – we guarantee you it’s the coolest bar in Amsterdam. You can find more unforgettable → Amsterdam adventures* here.
Arriving by plane
If you travel to Amsterdam by plane, you’ll be landing at the airport Schiphol. That airport is modern and huge – please keep that in mind when catching your return flight.
The cheapest way to get into the city centre is by train. A one-way ticket in second class is 4.20 Euros (Retrieved September 2016) and the train to the central station takes about 20 minutes. If you’re staying in Amsterdam for a longer time and want to use buses and trains, you might want to think about buying an → Amsterdam Travel Ticket, which covers the ride from and to the airport as well as local public transportation.
So how did we like Amsterdam?
We were immediately overwhelmed by Amsterdam. The old town with its canals and churches is really inviting and also has the best nightlife. In good weather, the people sit outside on the streets in cafés and restaurants and just enjoy life.
Those of you looking for more action should just stroll through the city’s red-light district. For us personally, the NDSM wharf was a highlight as well. Amsterdam, we’ll be back!
But the culture doesn’t come up short either. Museums like the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum are unique. If you’re staying more than a couple of hours, you should think about getting the “I Amsterdam City Card”. With that card, you’ll get free entry into many museums and attractions and a lot of other discounts, plus you can use the buses, trams and metros for free. Order the → “I Amsterdam City Card” here*.
Numbers and facts about Amsterdam
• Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, but the seat of government
and royal residence is Den Haag
• The city was founded in the 13th century
• In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the Olympic Games
• Around 840,000 people live in Amsterdam
• In the Greater Amsterdam area, there are 2.4 million people
• 8863 buildings from the 16th, 17th and 18th century are still standing in the city
• According to estimates, there are around 880,000 bikes in Amsterdam
• About 200 coffee shops sell soft drugs
• Every fourth tourist will visit a coffee shop at least once
• In the red-light district, there are around 400 “window prostitutes”
• You should always carry an umbrella – there are 234 rainy das a year on average
• The driest month is February with 16 rainy days and in November and December, it rains on 23 days
• The most famous shopping street is the Kalverstraat. It counts around 100,000 visitors a day
• Amsterdam has more canals than Venice – 165, to be exact
• And more bridges than Paris – a whole 1281