Whether you’re in Amsterdam to explore historic canals or lose yourself in a night of debauchery, one thing’s for sure: your stay in this 700-year old city is an experience you’ll never forget.
Here, you’re bound to find something curious in every corner. Lining its canal-woven core are narrow pathways flanked with vintage boutiques, ultra-niche restaurants, hipster art galleries, and craft breweries beckoning midnight revelers to visit.
From the historic Van Gogh Museum to the glorious Rijksmuseum, this city gives art aficionados plenty of reasons to celebrate.
If you’re not in it for the art, there a hundred other reasons to stay. To show you how to spend a trip in Amsterdam, we’ve whittled down the choices to twenty of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Not too keen on winging it? We’ve also listed down the best Amsterdam tours to take for your convenience.
Table of Contents
1. Cycle your way through the city.
With its flat landscape, narrow streets, and easily accessible cycle routes, pedal power is the best way to explore the city (you’ll miss out on a lot from the comfort of a car).
Take a 30-minute bike ride from the city center to explore Ouderker aan de Amstel, an idyllic village surrounded by huge swaths of greenery. Once you’re winded from the bike ride, grab a bite at any of the village’s charming restaurants (try the Jaime van Heije for top-notch French-International cuisine).
Cycling is one of the things Amsterdam is famous for.
2. Get lost in the vibrant Jordaan.
No neighborhood in Amsterdam screams personality more than the Jordaan.
Formerly a worker’s quarter, this extraordinary destination features quaint buildings, offbeat galleries, old homes, courtyard gardens, beery bars, and charming vintage shops scattered across a grid of tiny lanes.
Here, the food is divine and the shopping is unparalleled – if you had to pick just one neighborhood to stay in, the Jordaan should top the list.
With so many sights to see, exploring the Jordaan is easily one of the top things to do in Amsterdam. (PS: You could spend a week here and still have not explored everything).
We suggest exploring the city sans the map, but if you must, take this 90-minute guided tour to explore the best local sights.
See Related: 9 Best Weekend Trips from Amsterdam
3. Take a gondola cruise.
A head-scratching question: why are we calling Amsterdam the “Venice of the North” when Amsterdam actually has more canals – 15 more to be precise?
With over 165 canals collectively extending 50 km long and winding under 1,281 bridges, Amsterdam is actually more Venice than Venice is.
Though its canals are largely underrated, tourists say that exploring the city on a canal cruise is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Take the city by boat and rent out the services of a gondolier for only €140-250 for two hours. A bottle of champagne and/or prosecco is usually thrown in as a bonus.
See Related: How to Plan a Girls Trip to Amsterdam
4. Dare to eat raw herring.
Scary for the uninitiated but mouth-smackingly delicious for locals, raw herring is something every Amsterdam visitor must try.
If you’re up for trying this Dutch specialty, visit any of the herring carts or haringhandels located all over the city.
The delicacy is usually served as is with only pickles and onions, but if you’re looking to moderate the fish’s stringent saltiness, ask for a broodje haring to enjoy the dish in sandwich form.
Raw herring is said to be at its sweetest between May and July, so watch out for these dates.
If you’re still hungry and wondering what to eat in Amsterdam, taste your way through the city with this private food tour with a local.
If you prefer to do something a little less risky, try these other amazing Amsterdam food options.
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5. Sunbathe at Amsterdam’s beaches.
How you approach Amsterdam’s beaches is entirely up to you. For the laid back, Amsterdam’s coasts are perfect spots for sunbathing lazily with a book in hand. For hardcore revelers, these are where wild, unforgettable beach parties happen (or forgettable, during moments of alcohol amnesia).
Most beaches are located within half an hour for Amsterdam, so it’s easy to drop everything and go if you’re raring for a beach fix.
Laze in a funky beach bar at Zandvoort aan Zee, paraglide at IJmuiden, or hit the dance floor at Bloemendaal.
Amsterdam’s beautiful stretches of coastline are the perfect playground for all types of water lovers; there’s literally something here for everyone no matter the season.
See Related: Amsterdam vs Copenhagen
6. Catch a glimpse of zoo animals (for free).
Looking for free things to do in Amsterdam? We recommend buying a ticket to Artis to get the full zoological experience, but if shallow pockets are stopping you from entering one of Netherland’s oldest zoos (it’s €24.00 for ages 10 and over), we’ve got tips on how to ‘steal’ a peek at its robust collection of fauna.
If you come by boat from the Entrepotdok, you can spy right into the giraffe enclosure without having to enter the zoo.
You’ll also see antelopes, zebras, and other animals. Cafe-Restaurant de Plantage also offers splendid views of the Artis aviary, as well as flamingos, camels, and goats.
See Related: Best Museums in Amsterdam
7. Hit up an old brewery.
De Gooyer in the Easter Island neighborhood is one of Amsterdam’s eight remaining windmills and is also the easiest to access. Don’t let the non-descript facade fool you, as this is not just a regular windmill.
De Gooyer towers over an award-winning artisan microbrewery called Brouwerikj ‘t IJ, which features a spacious outdoor drinking terrace. Here, you’ll find a delicious variety of organic standard and seasonal ales (but hands-down, nothing compares to their in-house brew).
Though the beer here is good, we advise you to drink moderately as bar hopping is the best way to experience Amsterdam’s beer scene.
Brouwerikj ‘t IJ is just one of the city’s best pubs, and you’ll find that Amsterdam has a lot more to offer.
Read more about all the other top beers in Amsterdam to try.
8. Go on a culture trip at Museumplein.
Enjoying Amsterdam without appreciating its art is a serious crime. Travelers looking for the best things to do in Amsterdam must explore the city’s art scene – one of its most stunning features.
Take a relaxed stroll around Museumplein and visit the Van Gogh Museum, The Royal Concertgebouw, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk Museum.
Following a decade of meticulous renovations, Amsterdam’s most popular cultural hub is ready for culture vultures looking to hob-nob with fellow art lovers. The spacious public space between the buildings is rife with life all day, featuring bustling markets, open-air exhibitions, and a large paddling pool that turns into a vast outdoor skating rink in the winter.
Skip the lines to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum with this tour which includes a cruise of the charming Canal Belt.
9. Attend a concert at a renowned venue.
Looking for fun things to do in Amsterdam?
When it comes to live music, Amsterdam’s concert scene is unparalleled. Paradiso, a church-turned-concert hall, has hosted various A-listers including The Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones, and up until today showcases a plethora of world-renowned talent.
For something more classical, head to Concertgebouw for world-class orchestras performing alongside famous musicians.
De School’s basement nightclub if flocked by throngs of young music lovers with its diverse program of live music. If you’re looking for something more intimate, head to Roode Bioscoop for live concerts, cabaret, stand-up comedy, poetry, and more.
10. Get creative at Hembrugterrein.
Now a hangout for hipsters and a thriving cultural center, Hembrugterrein is a creative’s paradise. This artsy paradise was once a hub for the production of weaponry and ammunition. It has since reopened in 2014 to feature a rejuvenated complex with museums, restaurants, and several creative venues.
Het Hem, the cultural center for its artistic activities, runs various seasonal art programs that include theater, music, philosophy, and dance.
Once you’ve had your art fix, there are a number of spaces here where you can relax: a coffee bar, library, and a restaurant with a terrace and bar that hosts live acts and DJs.
11. Breakaway from the crowd in Westerpark.
If you need a break from the throngs of tourists, head to Westerpark, a public urban park that features bars, coffee roasters, restaurants, an art-house cinema, a microbrewery, and a plethora of creative businesses.
While Amsterdam parks are flooded with visitors during the weekends, Westarpark remains relatively quiet.
Westerpark served as the first urban public garden in the city, founded during the 19th century. Several landscaped areas allow you to laze around with just a book in hand, while water features and unique architecture offer even more eye candy.
The Westergasfabriek, an old gasworks converted into a cultural pavilion, is located just a stone’s throw away.
Here, you can explore TonTon Club, an old-school video game arcade, Kettelhouse arthouse cinema, and Gashouder, one of Amsterdam’s most popular live music venues.
See Related: 2 Days in Amsterdam Itinerary
12. Take in the views at a rooftop bar.
Once you’ve soaked in all the street-level sights, level-up your city experience with a brand new vantage point at any of Amsterdam’s modern rooftop bars. Here, you can sip on inventive cocktails and nibble on gastronomical delights while marveling at the city skyline.
For a 360-degree view of the city center and Amstel River, head to Canvas on the seventh floor of the Volkshotel building.
On Fridays and Saturdays, it transforms into Club Canvas beckoning night revelers to come and visit. If you’re looking for a more breathtaking view, swing by the 80-meter-high A’DAM Tower located just across River IJ.
A’DAM is its stylish sky bar that not only offers picturesque views of Amsterdam but delectable dishes as well.
13. Live the royal life.
Not blessed to be born into royalty? Amsterdam offers several regal experiences that can help you live out your fairytale fantasies. The city is home to several palaces, castles, and fortresses, all offering opportunities to explore the region’s royal past.
Swing by The Royal Palace Amsterdam, which is open to visitors during much of the year, and feel like a proper diplomat.
As King Willem-Alexander’s official reception palace, this is where heads of state and world leaders are entertained.
For a more medieval experience, head to Muiderslot – a 13th-century Disney-like castle complete with a moat, a drawbridge, and five towers. Explore the castle at your own pace with this private tour.
14. Go bargain hunting at Europe’s largest flea market.
If you’re raring for retail therapy, head to IJ-Hallen for an unparalleled shopping experience in Amsterdam. This massive second-hand market should be included in your itinerary, because, well, IJ-Hallen sells almost everything.
Once every month, IJ-Hallen’s two big industrial warehouses are converted into a bustling bazaar. Around 750 stands sell a massive assortment of items that include shoes, second-hand clothes, books, antiques, furniture, and jewelry; shopping here is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Take your time in exploring the treasure trove of special finds and bargains, but don’t forget to relax and grab a bite at any of the market’s food stalls. Keep an eye out for souvenirs to bring home. Here are some other top Amsterdam souvenirs you need to keep an eye out for.
15. Live in the shoes of Anne Frank.
After fleeing persecution in Germany, diarist Anne Frank hid from the Nazis at the Prinsengracht house during World War II.
Today, there’s a museum located at the front of the house while the back annex has been preserved to show how life was like for Anne and her family. The house, arguably the most well-known building in Amsterdam, is visited by more than a million visitors every year.
Tickets are only available online and only during certain times and dates. Know that waiting times are lengthy, and around 80% of the tickets sold are released two months before the admission date.
While tickets are hard to get a hold of, there are other ways to learn about Anne Frank’s life in Amsterdam (this World War II walking tour offers insights about Amsterdam’s centuries-old Jewish Quarter with anecdotes about Anne Frank’s life).
Want to see more for less? Here are some of the other best Amsterdam tours out there.
16. Indulge in art at the EYE Filmmuseum.
Located in the Overhoeks neighborhood, the EYE Filmmuseum is a museum and film archive that offers screenings of both Dutch and foreign films. If you’re a film buff, visiting this cultural landmark is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Eye Filmmuseum features an impressive collection of 60,000 posters, 37,000 film titles, 20,000 books, and 700,000 photographs with the oldest materials dating back to the advent of Netherland’s film industry in 1895.
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17. Nibble your way around Food Hallen
For anyone wondering what to eat in Amsterdam, try a little bit of everything at Food Hallen. Situated in the trendy De Hallen cultural complex at the fashionable Oud-West neighborhood, Food Hallen is a bustling indoor food market that offers a variety of high-end street food and drinks.
If you’re looking for a place to relax while munching on snacks with a beer in hand, this market hall offers 20 food vendors offering artisanal burgers, wood-fired pizzas, and Vietnamese summer rolls, among others.
Right smack at the center is a large island bar surrounded by perches and tables. Venture further and you’ll discover specialty bars, extra rooms, and an upstairs seating area with splendid views of the expansive space.
18. Tread around tulips.
Cliche as it may seem, a trip to the Netherlands will never be complete without admiring the city’s multicolored tulips.
Visit Amsterdam in spring and swing by the world-famous Bollenstreek, an expansive tulip field just a short 20-minute ride from the city center. Here, stunning tulips stretch out across miles of lowland fields between Leiden and Haarlem.
If you don’t want to make the trip, there are plenty of opportunities to admire these perennial blooms right at the heart of the city: lining the windows of the Tulip Museum or for sale at the Bloemenmarkt.
19. Feed goats at Central Park.
Stop by Amsterdam’s largest park and recreational area for picnics, bike rides, swimming, barbecuing with friends, lazing along flower-blanketed valleys, and our favorite: feeding goats at the Goat Farm Ridammerhoeve.
Here, you can hob-nob with a large assortment of goats, lambs, pigs, chickens, horses, and cows.
Once you’ve had your fill of farm animals, head over to its charming restaurant for their homemade goat cheese. If that doesn’t fill you up, swing by the Meerzicht Farm and Pancake House for fluffy Dutch-style pancakes.
There is also an outdoor theater, a vibrant botanical garden, and a winding canal named bosbaan were the city’s rowing competitions are held.
If you’re looking for some action, you can also rent your own canoe, kayak, pedal boat, or bicycle at the Amsterdamse Bros.
See Related: How Many Days to You Need in Amsterdam
20. Explore the Red Light District.
This one’s mainly for the adults, but if you’re looking for a hedonistic, eye-opening experience, a trip to the Red Light District may be one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Globally renowned as a hotspot for unbridled debauchery, Amsterdam’s Red Light District thrives with life at night and until the wee hours of the morning.
Things here may get rowdy (you’ve been forewarned) and maybe a bit too much for the uninitiated.
Much more than its erotic appeal, Amsterdam’s Red Light District is also intriguingly historic: it is the city’s oldest neighborhood complete with churches, monuments, and charming squares worth visiting. It’s another reason why Amsterdam makes for a great vacation for a group of friends.
See Related: Best Hidden Gems of Amsterdam
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