Get ready to experience the best that Amsterdam has to offer with our bucket list of must-see things to see and do in the exciting Dutch capital.
With its world-famous canal belt, rich history, and thriving cultural scene, Amsterdam is one of the most vibrant cities in the world. But with an overwhelming number of sites and attractions to explore, narrowing down your options can be a challenge. With this in mind, we’re here to help with our pick of the best things to see and do in Amsterdam. From world-famous museums and bustling markets to sprawling parks and swinging lookouts, here are the must-see attractions.
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1. Visit the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and many more
With over 50 museums on offer, you have plenty of opportunities to get your culture fix in Amsterdam. The grandest and most well-known of these is the Rijksmuseum. This houses the Netherlands’s most famous works created by the Old Masters of the Dutch Golden Age. These include masterpieces such as Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, Rembrandt’s Night Watch, and Van Gogh’s Self-portrait. Covering 30,000 square meters over four floors, the colossal museum is also home to 8,000 objects on display. This includes a vast collection of sculptures, glass, Delftware, furniture, clothing, and archaeological artifacts. Needless to say, there is more than enough to fill an afternoon visit. If you cherish the work of impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh, you will also find 200 of his paintings and 500 of his drawings on display at the Van Gogh Museum.
These include many of his self-portraits as well as his most famous works Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters, and Almond Blossom. You will also discover works by his contemporaries Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet at the museum. If you prefer to experience the quirky side of Amsterdam’s museum scene, however, you have plenty of options. If you’re feeling particularly fearless, then check out the Torture Museum, and if you love cats, you can go moggy-mad at the Kattenkabinet (Cat Cabinet). The collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other works depict the fascinating role of cats in art and culture throughout the centuries.
The Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum, Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam
2. Shop for bulbs at the floating flower market
Although very touristy, the Amsterdam flower market is still a must-visit. The iconic floating Bloemenmarkt is, unsurprisingly, one of the most fragrant places to visit in Amsterdam. It consists of 15 flower and garden shops moored together on the Singel canal between Koningsplein and Muntplein. The old market dates back to 1862 when flowers and bulbs arrived in the city by boat via the Amstel River. Now cars have taken that job, but the boats remain. You will find all varieties of flowers and bulbs on sale here every Monday to Saturday; including geraniums, gerberas, and of course, tulips. These come as bouquets, single flowers, or bulbs that are packaged and preapproved for export; meaning you can easily take them home.
You can also buy a wide variety of typically Dutch souvenirs at the adjoining gift shops in the market. These include everything from keychains and magnets to wooden tulips and comical clog slippers! If you’re curious to know how the flowers are transported to the floating market, you can peek behind the scenes at the Royal FloraHolland flower auction. Located in Aalsmeer, not far from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, this is the world’s largest trading center for plants and flowers. Thousands of visitors come to the auction each year to discover the massive logistics operation required to transport them. The auction is open to the public from 07:00 to 11:00 on Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from 07:00 to 09:00 on Thursdays. Just make sure you arrive as early as possible to catch the action.
Bloemenmarkt, Singel, 1012 DH Amsterdam
3. Visit the Anne Frank House
No story about the Nazi witch hunt and genocide of the Netherlands’ Jewish population during World War II is more famous than that of Anne Frank. The Jewish teenager hid from the Nazis for more than two years during WWII, along with her own family and four others. Their secret hiding place was concealed behind a movable bookcase in the sealed-off upper rooms of the annex at the back of Otto’s company building at Prinsengracht 263. They remained there until August 1944 when they were discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps. Tragically, only Otto Frank survived the war and Anne died in Bergen-Belsen at age 15.
Anne’s diary, which she wrote during her time in hiding, is now one of the most famous and important books in history. The Diary of Anne Frank has been published in more than 60 languages and has inspired various plays and movie adaptations about the Dutch girl. In 1960, the Anne Frank House opened its doors as a museum and is now one of the most visited museums in the Netherlands. Over a million visitors per year come to walk through the tiny 75-meter-square annex where Anne and the others lived. During their visit, they can gain a sense of what her life must have been like. The collection of personal belongings, family portrait photos, and original red-checked diary are also preserved inside the small museum. The house is only open to visitors with an online ticket for a specific time slot between 9:00 and 15:00.
Anne Frank House, Westermarkt 20, 1016 GV Amsterdam
4. Take a cruise on Amsterdam’s famous canal belt
Amsterdam is famous for its picturesque canal belt which is lined with grand 17th-century gabled houses, charming cafés, and 80 bridges. The network of intersecting waterways was created in the Dutch Golden Age to protect the city from the sea. The Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, and the Prinsengracht are the four canals that make up the inner canal belt. Known in Dutch as the Grachtengordel, this was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010. Strolling around the inner canal belt is a great way to experience the heart of Amsterdam. However, nothing quite beats hopping aboard a boat to enjoy a unique perspective from the water. You can either join a tour or hire your own boat or pedalo to navigate the waterways.
On a sunny day, taking an open-boat tour is a fantastic way to see some of the 1,550 monumental buildings along the main canals. There is a huge variety of boat tour operators to choose from, depending on your budget. That said, Friendship Amsterdam has earned a glowing reputation for its affordable one-hour Luxury Cruise. During the tour, an entertaining skipper explains the history of the city and lets you in on some fun facts. For instance, how the ‘dancing houses’ earned their name and why you should kiss your lover when passing under the Skinny Bridge. If you’re hungry, though, you can hop aboard the Pannenkoekenboot and scoff on all the pancakes you can manage in 75 minutes. You can also learn more about the canal belt at the Het Grachtenhuis (Museum of the Canals) or peek inside a 17th-century canal-side mansion at Museum Willet-Holthuysen.
Friendship Amsterdam, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 230, 1012 EL Amsterdam
5. Take a tour of a local Dutch brewery
Dutch pale lagers are particularly well-quaffed in the Netherlands, especially Bavaria, Grolsch, and Heineken. It also exports the largest proportion of beer of any country in the world. So what better way to spend an afternoon in Amsterdam than by sipping on a local brew at a city brewery. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the Heineken Experience. Located in the heart of the city, the facility was built as the first Heineken brewery back in 1867. However, when a more modern facility was constructed on the city outskirts, it opened for public tours in 1991. Each year, thousands of visitors come to enjoy an interactive tour through the brand’s history in the former brewery. Sitting in reclining futuristic chairs and watching historical TV commercials is a particular highlight. And of course, no visit is complete without enjoying a nice, cold Heineken beer in the bar.
While not as well known as Heineken, Amsterdam local beer brewer Brouwerij ‘t IJ is also worth a visit. Twenty-minute tours are available in English every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 15:30; this will set you back a reasonable €6.50 per person which includes a glass of beer. You can only register at the bar on the day itself, so arrive early to secure your spot. A visit to the brewery also comes with the added bonus of being able to sip on a cold beer against the fantastic backdrop of Molen de Gooyer. This is the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands and stands at 26.6 meters high. The striking landmark is not used to produce Brouwerij ‘t IJ beer and cannot be visited. That said, it helps to create even more of an authentic Dutch vibe when enjoying a beer on the brewery’s large outside terrace.
Heineken Experience, Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam
Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Funenkade 7, 1018 AL Amsterdam
6. Peek inside the Royal Palace and New Church in Dam Square
Located in the heart of Amsterdam, Dam Square is home to several important landmarks. These include The Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the National Monument. Although this makes it one of the most crowded places in Amsterdam, it is still worth visiting. The Royal Palace is the official reception palace of King Willem-Alexander and the largest and most prestigious building from the Golden Age. It is one of three palaces used by the Dutch monarch for state visits, award ceremonies, and other official functions. It was originally built as a town hall in 1684 and only became a palace in the 19th century; when Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) became King Louis I of Holland. The palace is open to visitors by reservation. Once inside, notice the large maps on the marble floor of the central hall. These show the Dutch colonial influence in the Golden Age.
To the right of the Royal Palace lies the 15th-century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Many heads of state have been inaugurated and married in the magnificent building. In the center of Dam Square lies the National Monument, the most important Dutch memorial to World War II. Every National Remembrance Day, on 4 May, the royal family and locals gather here to pay their respects to all the fallen soldiers. A short walk from Dam Square, the famous Red Light District is home to Amsterdam’s oldest building, the Oude Kerk. Dating all the way back to 1306, the towering landmark is now a center for contemporary art and heritage. Artists, musicians, and churchgoers continue to congregate here. It is also seen as a liberal church and has hosted LGBTQ events in the past.
The Royal Palace, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 147, 1012 RJ Amsterdam
Nieuwe Kerk, De Dam, 1012 NL Amsterdam
Oude Kerk, Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam
7. Take a leisurely stroll around Vondelpark
Named after the 17th-century Dutch playwright and poet Joost van den Vondel, Vondelpark is the most famous park in Amsterdam. Located west of Leidseplein and Museumplein, the 47-hectare is also a hotspot of activity throughout the year. Around 10 million visitors come here every year to relax in the greenery and socialize at the quaint cafés and restaurants. The park is also home to an open-air theater that stages various performances of classical music, pop music, world music, dance, and musical theatre. Whether you want to lay on the grass and soak up some rays, enjoy a cold drink on one of the café terraces, or catch an open-air concert, the park offers something for everyone.
There are some hidden treasures too, such as the beautiful rose garden and several statues and sculptures. One of these is even designed by Pablo Picasso, called Figure découpée l’Oiseau (the bird). He created the concrete sculpture in 1956 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Vondelpark. Although the artist intended it to be a bird, it is known by Amsterdammers as Picasso’s fish statue. The park is also the starting point for the Friday Night Skate group which gathers every week for a 20km skating tour around the city. If you don’t fancy joining them, though, you can always rent a pair of skates at the park entrance.
8. Immerse yourself in movies at the Eye Filmmuseum
If you’re an avid movie buff, a visit to the Eye Filmmuseum is an absolute must. The popular film archive and museum is located on Amsterdam’s IJ harbor, just behind Central Station. You can get there by hopping on a free ferry. The striking building is unmissable, owing to the fact that it resembles a piece of origami made from folded card. Inside, you can explore a collection of around 37,000 Dutch and foreign films, 60,000 posters, 700,000 photographs, and 20,000 books. You can also enjoy screenings, talks, live music, and exhibitions. The museum houses four cinemas, workshops, an exhibition space, and a café that offers fantastic views across the IJ waterfront.
The highlight of the museum, however, is the 360-degree immersive Panorama exhibit. Here, you can completely surround yourself with almost a hundred floor-to-ceiling projected images in the form of 15-minute film clips. For an even more intense experience, you can settle down in one of the futuristic-looking movie pods and watch – or even act in – a film. But if you don’t fancy venturing across the harbor, you can visit the Pathé Tuschinski cinema in the city center. Located close to the Rembrandtplein, the Art Deco-style cinema screens a mixture of mainstream Hollywood movies and art-house films.
Eye Filmmuseum, IJpromenade 1, 1031 KT Amsterdam
9. Grab some bargains and bites at the many markets
From bustling food halls to sprawling flea markets, there are plenty of places to grab a bargain in Amsterdam. Located in the heart of the trendy Pijp neighborhood, the Albert Cuyp Markt is the biggest and most popular street market in the Netherlands. You can easily while away an afternoon browsing the 260 stands on offer which sell everything from fresh meat, fruit, and veg to clothing, accessories, and flowers. Popular with locals and tourists alike, this is the perfect spot to experience the real Amsterdam. It is also a great place to tuck into some typical Dutch snacks such as raw herring and freshly-made stroopwafels. Make sure to check out the cozy cafés, bars, and small ethnic shops in the area, too. Foodies can also sample delights from all over the world at the Foodhallen.
Housed inside a refurbished tram depot in Amsterdam-West, the huge indoor street food mecca is a foodie paradise. There are 21 vendors serving everything from Chinese dim sum to Peruvian burritos and Korean fried chicken to Italian pizzas. You can also enjoy local craft beers, fancy cocktails, and delicious G&Ts from the four specialty bars. If you’re looking to pick up some art, you will discover a great selection of paintings, sketches, and sculptures at the Sunday Art Market on Spui Square. And for second-hand and out-of-print books, head to the Friday Boekenmarkt in the same location. Antique enthusiasts, meanwhile, can hunt for ornaments, furniture, and bric-a-brac at the Sunday Antiques Market on Nieuwmarkt. And for everything else, head to the IJ Hallen Flea Market. Held in a converted shipbuilding warehouse one weekend a month, this is Europe’s largest flea market and boasts 500 stalls selling all manner of treasures.
Albert Cuyp Markt, Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD Amsterdam
Foodhallen, Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam
IJ Hallen Flea Market, T.T. Neveritaweg 15, 1033 WB Amsterdam
10. Swing ‘Over the Edge’ at A’DAM Toren
Granted, this might not be your cup of tea if you aren’t a fan of heights. But brave souls looking to take in the sights of Amsterdam from a totally different perspective can do so at A’DAM Toren. Located on the waterfront by the River IJ, the 22-story tower is home to Europe’s highest swing. Perched on the tower’s LOOKOUT observation deck, the aptly named ‘Over the Edge’ swing invites guests to enjoy aerial views of the city as they rock back and forth at a height of 100 meters. For a mere €5, you could literally have the whole of Amsterdam at your feet! But if you’d rather keep them firmly on the ground, you can still lap up the sensational 360-degree view of the historical city center and famous canal belt from the LOOKOUT. You can also have a photo taken of you balancing above the city.
A’DAM Toren was formerly the headquarters of Shell, but was renovated and opened in May 2016 as part of a drive to regenerate Amsterdam-Noord – and it certainly delivers. Aside from the nail-biting swing, the iconic multifunctional tower is now home to offices, cafés, restaurants, a hotel, and a revolving restaurant with panoramic views. Whether you want to sip on a signature cocktail in the tower’s swanky sky bar, Madam, eat in one of the two gourmet restaurants on the top floors, or simply enjoy an epic sunset from the observation deck, it’s the perfect place to unwind. The futuristic elevator ride is reason enough to visit the tower. Decked out with spectacular light and sound effects, and a transparent ceiling, this takes you from the first to the 20th floor in just 20 seconds.
A’DAM Toren, Overhoeksplein 1, 1031 KS Amsterdam