When I first came to Amsterdam, I thought it’s possible to visit all the most important landmarks within one day. Also, I am very often asked by friends on how many days are enough to visit Amsterdam. Now I know that one day is surely not enough. I have decided to work on a list of must-sees to check what the most optimal period of time to stay in Amsterdam is.
Three days is enough to visit the most important spots in Amsterdam. Within this time you can see the museums, stroll the canals and parks and spend some time in the trendiest local restaurants. However, it is worth to stay longer to wander the charming Amsterdam’s streets.
Open skyline, rich history, classy brick buildings – Amsterdam is definitely a place you want to stay a little longer. When you add its easy-going approach, it turns out that it might be one of the greatest cities to live in. The city is very easy to fall in love with and I hope you will feel the same while coming here for the first time.
What Are Amsterdam’s Must-Sees? How Much Time Do You Need To See Them?
There are so many things to do in Amsterdam. To me, a foreigner, Amsterdam is just a charming capital of various attractions. There are beautiful canals, green parks, and impressive buildings. I Amsterdam are world-leading museums and examples of state-of-the-art architecture. To visit the key places, it is enough for you to spend 3-4 days here. However, you can easily deep dive in Amsterdam’s atmosphere – if so, you can spend a couple of weeks here and still feel you haven’t seen everything you wanted. In fact, the longer I live in Amsterdam, the more I understand that I will never discover all the hidden gems of this amazing city. Below you will find a list of all the things I recommend you see if you’re staying in Amsterdam just for a few days.
West Canal Ring
I must admit that this is my favorite part of the city. This is Amsterdam you see in postcards – bridges with bicycles, old Dutch houses and flower boxes – I could be wandering there forever. The canal belt was built in the 17th century. Walking along the canals is an amazing way to get to know Amsterdam better. A canal cruise is a must-do activity!
Amsterdam’s Museums Are a Must!
There are so many museums in Amsterdam. It is almost impossible to visit them all while staying in the city only for a few days. I will share with you some of my favorites:
- Anne Frank Museum
Anne Frank Museum is located in Jordaan district, one of the most beautiful areas of Amsterdam. An exhibition is placed in a 17th-century canal house. Anna Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis for two years. This museum is one of the most important historical sites in the whole world and it’s the most popular attraction in Amsterdam. Yeah, when I say popular I mean that it’s not easy to get there. You can buy tickets up to 60 days before. If you are already in Amsterdam and you want to visit Anne Frank Tickets, it’s not going to be easy. It’s almost impossible. In this case, I would suggest you go for Anne Frank Walking Tour, just like this one here. On this tour, you will hear about the life of Anne Frank and about the history of the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam during the Second World War.
- Van Gogh Museum
This museum is the largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world. Besides Van Gogh’s creations, there are also works by his friends and followers. Also, the museum offers many other activities like musical and artistic events. The Van Gogh Museum is located next to the Rijksmuseum in Museum Square. A ticket costs 21 Euro and you can get it here. Better buy it in advance so you don’t have to wait in the line. Sometimes it is ridiculous how long you must wait.
Rijksmuseum owns more than a million works of art. I believe this is one of the world’s most impressive collections ever. It is believed to host over two million people a year. The museum is located on the Museum Square and entrance is free for minors. Adults have to pay 17.50 Euro. What is more, the building itself is on the UNESCO heritage list. It is just breathtaking, both from inside and outside. You can get a skip the line ticket to Rijksmuseum on this website.
If you prefer less-crowded places, you can also visit the lesser known museums – FOAM photography museum or Tropenmuseum.
The Red Light District
For many of you, this is the first place you think about while hearing the word ‘Amsterdam’, right? But definitely not the only one. Red Light District is the oldest part of Amsterdam. In this area, there are coffee shops, cafes and sex shops, canal houses and historic churches. If you would like to learn more about this district I can recommend a great city guide, and a friend of mine, Otto – you can sign up for a tour with him on this website.
I can’t imagine Amsterdam without Vondelpark. Called the lungs of the city, Vondelpark is the only public park (in the world) where you can smoke joints or barbecue legally. Amsterdammers come to Vondelpark to cycle, play sports, run or chill. There is also a nice rose garden and, sometimes, the open-air theatre. Amsterdam is a green city and there are multiple parks. Among my favorites are Vondelpark, Sarphati and Amstel park. Sarphati is a little bit smaller with a little pond in the middle and it’s dog-friendly. When it comes to Amstel park I like it so much because you won’t get bored there. It’s full of things to do, there are a zoo and a playground for kids. You’ll also find there a lake, a beautiful fountain, and two cafes.
Did you know that Amsterdam has one of the oldest zoos in Europe? Besides the usual animals like elephants or big cats, there is also a planetarium and aquarium and the only microbe museum in the world – Micropia. It’s definitely a great spot for a date or for a family day. I advise you to get skip the line tickets in advance. You can find them on this website.
Have you ever seen a floating flower market? If you weren’t in Amsterdam before, probably not, as this is the only floating flower market in the world. It’s overcrowded, however, Bloemenmarkt is worth visiting. There are about 15 florist shops with blooming flowers, souvenirs, and bulbs. The floating market is there for a long time. At first, vendors used to bring their flowers and tulip bulbs to the city center on their boats. They were selling their goods directly from the boats. Today vendors sell their flowers from exactly the same place. The difference is that now boats are permanently anchored.
Take a bike trip
No other city in the world has so many bicycles. For Amsterdammers, cycling is not just riding a bike, this is more like a way of life. The network of cycle routes is impressive and it makes cycling in Amsterdam exceptionally easy and enjoyable. I think that there is no better way to explore main Amsterdam’s attractions than by bike. If this is your first time in Amsterdam, you will be surprised by a large number of bikes in the city center.
If you are planning to rent a bike in Amsterdam, there are a few affordable places I can recommend. The best way to rent a bike is to do it online from MacBike – Here you can book your bike.
What If I Have Only 1 day?
No worries. It is possible to make most of Amsterdam in one day. Obviously, you will spend your day on the move but you will enjoy this time. When your itinerary is tight, it’s good to book some of the attractions in advance. For sure, you need to do that if you want to take a canal trip. If you are in Amsterdam for a day only, I assume you do not want to waste your time. This is why I have prepared a quick itinerary with the best things to do in Amsterdam (in one day). You could also consider renting a bike to move quickly from one place to another. A bike is the best and the cheapest way to get around the city center. But be aware that cycling in the city center may be quite stressful for those who don’t have experience with riding a bike. Areas close to Red Light District, Dam and Central Station are very, very overcrowded. In this article of mine, you’ll find some information you should learn before riding a bike in Amsterdam.
Start With Museums
I would start with the museums because they expect some concentration and focus. Later I would go for activities where you can just relax. I have also a little advice for you. If you have only one day, don’t spend your day on the run. Just enjoy this beautiful city. You can even spend a day walking along the canal belt and you this will be one of the best things you could do. But coming back to museums. You can start with the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. These two are the most famous museums in Amsterdam (unless the the crowds deter you). It will probably take around 3 hours. You should also go to the Tulip Museum, located inside a tulip shop nearby. It’s never overcrowded and it costs only 5 Euro. Highly recommended! As you have only 1 day I would get some skip the line tickets, so you don’t have to wait, you can get that kind of tickets here.
Anne Frank House
A visit to Amsterdam will lack something if you miss the Anne Frank House. The house is full of hidden rooms and movable bookcases – you just cannot miss that. If you plan to visit Anne Frank House you must buy tickets in advance. It’s not easy to get tickets. Yesterday I wanted to book tickets to Anne Frank House and when I booked my tickets I had a waiting number 1246… I believe only 200 people a day get a ticket. You can book tickets 60 days in advance, so if you plan your trip to Amsterdam you can already try to book your ticket. It’s really not easy to get there. You can try to book tickets here –> Link
It’s highly probable that you won’t get tickets to the Anne Franks house and if that happen I encourage you to go for a Anne Frank Walking Tour with a guide who will tell you a story of little Anne and share a history of Jewish District during the Second World War. You can sign up for this tour here on GetYourGuide.
Have Lunch in Museum Square
There are many food stands there. You can also have a nice lunch at the Museum Café which is located inside the Van Gogh Museum.
Go to Vondelpark and Bloemenmarkt
Vondelpark is where Amsterdammers relax. If it’s summer, you can enjoy a bit of sunbathing. After a few hours in museums, this is perfectly refreshing. Then, you should jump onto the world’s only floating flower market. If you are looking for some souvenirs, here you will find some. Even if you are not planning to buy any flowers, it’s a cool place close to Rembrandplein and Dam.
Amsterdam literally grew around the canals. The canals are probably one of the most recognizable parts of the city. And nothing can compare to seeing Amsterdam right from the boat. You can go for an agency canal cruise and they are totally fine. I went to one of these and I enjoyed it a lot. You can also hire a private boat for a tour or go for a private guided tour. There are many different options. It isn’t expensive – around 20 Euro an hour. Private tour is much more expensive but if you can afford it I can definitely recommend this because this experience is exceptional. If you only have 1 day in Amsterdam, there are some canals that you should start with: Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht, and Singel. There are many different companies offering canal cruises in Amsterdam. If you would like something affordable I suggest you go for this tour — Link. If you want a tailored canal cruise with a private guide I love these guys — A canal cruise with Carl.
Go to Haarlem
When the day is coming to an end you can continue exploring Amsterdam or consider a quick trip to Haarlem. You can go by train – it is only 15 minutes from Amsterdam. In fact, I was living in Haarlem for 5 years and I must admit that it’s an exceptionally beautiful medieval city. As I said before it would be fun to go there only for a few hours and walk along Spaarne but I encourage you to go for the whole day. What will you find there? In the morning you can visit multiple markets which take place in the city. Then I would suggest dinner in JinLai (A little crowded but definitely worth it). Among cool things to do are also visit a windmill Adriaan or go to the National Park Zuid Kennemerland. In the evening I can recommend you to visit Jopenkerk – a former church and today it’s a brewery.
Do Not Forget To Visit Brown Cafes
London has its traditional pubs. Amsterdam has its brown cafes (bruine cafes). You cannot miss visiting at least one brown café while in Amsterdam. There are many of them at Leidseplein and on the way to Rembrandtplein. There is a very special vibe and if you are a beer lover you won’t be disappointed. In Brown Cafes you’ll get some traditional Dutch foods such as bitterballen, kroket, or frikadel. Try them served with ‘frietjes‘ and beer. Traditional Dutch mayonnaise is a must in this case. To spend an authentic evening with someone living in Amsterdam, try Dutch foods and drink a beer, I recommend you to go for this Withlocals tour –> Link
When To Come To Amsterdam
The best time to visit Amsterdam is just before the summertime season (or right after it). This is the only way to make most of the visit but avoid the high tourist season at the same time. ‘The season’ is between mid-April and mid-October in Amsterdam and the high sean from the beginning of July to the end of August. During the summer vacation, it is extremely difficult to find hotel rooms so you should be aware that your summer trip to Amsterdam should be planned and booked at least several months in advance. Really, I’ve been working in the hotel in Amsterdam and most of the time all the rooms were booked. I received calls from people saying that this is the 15th hotel they call and everything is packed.
So, in my opinion, the best months to visit the city are April, May and then September. If you want to book a hotel I recommend you booking.com
A Few Words About The Weather
The beginning of summer, as well as the beginning of autumn, are just a perfect time to visit Amsterdam. The climate is a bit similar to that in the UK – winters are quite wet and summers are hot in general but there are also some rainy days. The climate in the Netherlands is never really extreme.
Personally, I like Amsterdam’s summer most. Sometimes the temperature gets over 30 degrees and there is hardly any rain. The summer climate is balm and pleasant. If you want to try some in-line skating in Vondelpark, you should definitely come to Amsterdam in July or August.
If you choose summer for your visit, you will also enjoy a bit of sunbathing on café terraces and maybe even go topless on the Zandvoort’s beach. Summertime is also best for cycling and everyone know that cycling is a must-do while in Amsterdam. And if you decide to come a bit earlier – in March – April, this is the best time to see the tulips blooms.
Winters in Amsterdam are also beautiful. There are plenty of bright days. If the temperature is low enough, you will have a chance to see the rivers, lakes and canals frozen. If you are a skater, you should definitely try out one of those sparkling highways! Besides, winters in Amsterdam are a bit cheaper when it comes to accommodation and leisure activities. Hotels, restaurants, and cafes are less crowded. And if you come between November and February, you will have a chance to see all those beautiful displays, Christmas markets, and ice rinks.
Holidays in Amsterdam
There are some dates in the Dutch calendar that can make your trip even more exceptional. The most important holidays in Amsterdam are New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday and Monday, Ascension Day, Christmas Day (and December 26), Good Friday, Queen’s Day and Pentecost Sunday and Monday. However, while traveling to Amsterdam on those days, expect offices, banks, some shops and museums to be closed. Also, make sure you are equipped with public transportation’s Sunday schedule. Here you can learn more about the schedule of Dutch Holidays.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
It is not easy to decide where to stay while visiting Amsterdam for a few days. There are so many hotels and hostels there. Amsterdam is one of the most desired city-break destinations in Europe so no matter what your requirements and expectations are, for sure you will find a place that will suit your needs best. It is quite important to decide, what area you want to stay in. Amsterdam is a kind of a diverse city, so choosing the best area of the city is crucial to spend here a good time. As Amsterdam is not very big (a bit more than 220 square kilometers), you can easily travel through the city every day.
In brief, Amsterdam is divided into 8 districts and those are divided into neighborhoods. Also, the center of the city is called the Ring area and everything beyond is just ‘outside of the ring’. It may be a bit confusing for a first-time visitor but if you spend here some time, it will be much easier.
Choosing the right area to stay is dependent on your preferences. If you are a party person, it will be best for you to find a hotel or hostel close to the city center. If you are traveling with your family (kids included) you will probably prefer the outskirts of the center, still quite close to most attractions.
According to my personal experience, as well as the experience of people I know, there are some nice places worth considering:
- Vondelpark House B&B – a very famous Amsterdam’s B&B. The price can be a bit discouraging but it is located in a very center of the city! LINK
- Mokum Suites – a beautiful place to stay in a canal ring. This may be a bit pricey but definitely worth it! Herengracht is an amazing spot. LINK
- Zoku – if you are looking for an apartment in the city center, this is one of the best choices you can make. There’s even a private spa! LINK
- Flying Pig Downtown – a budget solution for those who do not want to spend much money on accommodation. Located close to the city center, the hostel has its own downstairs bar.LINK
Is Amsterdam safe for visitors?
Yes. I can definitely say that Amsterdam is one of the safest cities I have seen. No matter if you are with your family, if you are a student or a woman traveling alone, it is relatively safe to visit Amsterdam. Actually, in 2017 Amsterdam was ranked the 6th place in the list of the safest cities in the whole world. Its public transportation system is well-designed, bikes, cars, and pedestrians cooperate quite ok. There are not many traffic accidents. What is more, the air isn’t very polluted. The municipality plan to make Amsterdam Co2 free until the year 2030. Diesel and petrol cars won’t be allowed anymore within the city.
Amsterdam is also safe when it comes to crime issues. The risk of being assaulted is rather low and it must be highlighted that crime rates have been going down year by year. Of course incidents occur, as anywhere. There is very little harassment though, even if you are walking alone in unpopulated or poorly lit areas. If a crime occurs, it is mainly pickpocketing and it happens to tourists most often. In average, there are approximately 5 robbings in Amsterdam’s streets every day. When you compare it to e.g. Paris (even 30-40 handbags or suitcases stolen every day), this is not much. The most often it’s a mobile phone that is being stolen. I am living here for 6 years now and I’ve never got robbed.
Anyways, if you follow some basic safety rules, you do not have to be worried about getting robbed. Make sure you keep an eye on your bag and do not leave it anywhere. It is also recommended not to use a big wallet. As pickpockets usually try their luck while you are distracted, so always be careful when someone asks you direction or ‘falls’ at you accidentally.
What About The Red Light District?
Of course it is recommended to avoid eye-contact with junks, boors and bores but in general, the Red Light District is safe for visitors. And to be honest, you rarely see any junkies in this area. It’s very safe. Red Light Disctrict is very interesting area of the Amsterdam. It’s not only about prostitutes and coffeeshops. If you would like to learn more about RLD I recommend you to go on this tour with Otto – LINK HERE.
On the other hand if you want to rent an apartment in Red Light District I recommend you hotel Krasnopolsky but keep in mind that it can be a little pricey. If you search for something more affordable you can go for St Christophers Inn at The Winston. On the other hand, if you want a smoke friendly hotel you can read another article here.
Eat, Party And Get High in Amsterdam
No matter what hotel or hostel you choose, and what is the purpose of your visit, it is always important to try some local food and try as many local activities as possible. Below you will find a short list of some of my favorite spots to visit while traveling to Amsterdam. If you would like to read my ultimate guide on things to do in Amsterdam – you can read it here!
Eat like a local
What might sound a bit weird, the most popular Dutch dish in Amsterdam is… rijsttafel – a big set of small side dishes (pickles, egg rolls and satay) with rice prepared in different ways. Rijsttafel is originally an Indonesian dish but it was brought to the Netherlands by Dutch colonialists. There are many Indonesian restaurants where you can try it for about 30 Euro. Anyways, the Amsterdam dining scene is just flourishing and there are hundreds of unordinary places to visit. However, I would like to especially recommend:
- BAK restaurant
In my opinion, this is one of the most surprising restaurants in Amsterdam. Dishes are seasonal, beautifully composed and prices are ok for a regular visitor. On weekends you can have a three-course menu for as little as 32.50 Euro. What I also like in BAK is that there’s a huge selection of natural wines and grape varieties.
- Bar Fisk
Cosy atmosphere, rattan chairs, fishing poles hanging form the wall – a seaside-patio climate is something you will really enjoy, especially in the middle of the winter. Bar Fisk is especially famous for Tel Aviv cuisine. There’s amazing seafood but also crispy pitas, yoghurt tahini and some other exotic flavors.
- Gs Jordaan
If you feel like an American brunch, this is a place for you. Gs jordaan is funky and trendy – it’s popularity has been growing rapidly in the last years. I love their chicken waffle burger and amazing bloody mary. Do not forget to book a set online in advance!
For those who are crazy about Italian food. Toscanini is probably the oldest Italian restaurant in Amsterdam. However, there is no pizza there. Instead, you can try extraordinary antipasti and exquisite Italian dishes. Natural ingredients, jaw-dropping wine list and unique atmosphere. Unfortunately, Toscanini is quite expensive.
- Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs
One of the best places in the whole Amsterdam. A tiny (four tables only!) café in a 16th-century house. In menu you will only find pancakes with savory or sweet toppings. For me this is like a quintessential Amsterdam – there are teapots hanging from the ceiling and a very narrow staircase. Make sure you try the Indonesian ‘Bali’ pancake with a Dutch liqueur.
Are You a Fan of Beer?
If so, here is something for you. If you like top craft beers and microbreweries, you should definitely go to de Gooyer in the Oostelijke Eilanden. Another popular brewery in Amsterdam is Brouwerij’t lj – a famous, often awarded microbrewery with a variety of organic standard and seasonal ales. A large outdoor drinking terrace and a guided tasting tour – what can be better than that? If you like beer you’ll definitely enjoy this craft beer tasting with Otto -> check his tour here.
For those who like to party…
There are some really good clubs in Amsterdam. With a rapidly growing number of venues open 24-hours, it is finally possible to party round-the-clock in Amsterdam. For nightlife in Amsterdam I have chosen the following:
- Warehouse Elementenstraat
This is an old peanut factory and at the same time one of the first large-scale rave hangouts. Its hangar-like space is just legendary.
- AIR Amsterdam
You will love their LED wall and exceptional design (created by Marcel Wanders), as well as five funky bars. Even if there are plenty of rooms, it still feels quite intimate. AIR is now one of the hottest spots in town, partly because of their crystal-clear Void Acoustic sound system.
This is what you call clubbing. Literally. Trouw has it all – amazing people, a bare environment and kind of a brutal sound system. The preferred music here is techno and minimal. Same with design – industrial with lots of steel and concrete.
Here is an article about the best clubs in Amsterdam.
Ready to roll a joint?
Last but not least – Amsterdam is a perfect place to experiment with soft drugs. You just cannot come to Amsterdam without visiting at least one coffeeshop. Even if you are not ready to try a joint or weed, you can always start with a space cake or brownie – they are often very strong. There are many coffeeshops with great customer service, amazing stuff, and just good vibes. Go to some of my articles to learn more about Amsterdam’s coffeeshops.
Did you notice the name of this coffeeshop? It’s the “Grey Area”. Why do you think it’s called that way? Cannabis regulations in the Netherlands are quite confusing. Selling weed isn’t illegal but it isn’t 100% legal. It’s allowed to sell weed but there is something missing in the distribution chain. It’s not allowed to own a large quantity of weed and it’s not allowed to grow over 5 plants per household. Coffeeshops needs are huge and they want to buy a lot of weed. This means that it’s not possible to provide such a big amount of weed to coffeeshops. That’s why this is a grey area. Coffeeshops sell big amounts of weed but no one knows where this weed come from. Of course, everyone knows where they come from… but we are still missing some regulations for this.
The final word
I think that among other European cities Amsterdam might be one of the best places to visit if you only have 2-3 days. This is enough time to visit the most important museums and enjoy your time in the capital of the Netherlands without being rushed. If you visit Amsterdam just for a few days, don’t spend all your time on the move. You should also chill, relax, walk along beautiful canals, drink some tea and enjoy a moment. That’s what I like the most.
What I really like about Amsterdam is that you have many options on what to do no matter the weather. Here you can read my article on 67 things to do in Amsterdam. There are so many attractions and unmissable experiences! And what is really cool, each visit to Amsterdam brings something new. I heard it many times and I also feel the same – every time in Amsterdam feels like the first time.