Last Updated: 8/6/2023 | August 6th, 2023
Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love its beautiful brick buildings, majestic canals, open skyline, rich history, and relaxed, easy-going attitude toward life.
Over the years, I’ve visited Amsterdam more times than I can count and have spent countless hours walking the city, making friends with locals (I briefly lived here years ago), and getting under its skin.
The city was founded in the 12th century but came into prominence during the Dutch Golden Age (1588-1672). At that time, Amsterdam was the center of the world economy and was both an economic and cultural powerhouse.
Today, Amsterdam is one of the most popular places in the world to visit (try to avoid the summer when the crowds are a little too much). There are so many things to do in Amsterdam that it deserves more than just a few (and often drug- and alcohol-filled) days most travelers give it.
How should you spend your time in this world-class city?
With so much to see and do, I put together what I think is the perfect itinerary for you. This Amsterdam itinerary can help you get acquainted with this cosmopolitan city, covering the main sights while also taking you off the beaten path to show you the real Amsterdam.
Table of Contents
Day Trips from Amsterdam: Haarlem, Noord, and Windmills
Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Centraal and De Pijp
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 1
Take a Free walking tour
A great way to orient yourself to the city is with a walking tour. You can learn some history, find out where the major sights are, and explore all those winding canals. I think free walking tours are a wonderful first activity in any city. Amsterdam has two really good free walking tours:
Both tours give you a general historical overview of the city and its landmarks. (Be sure to tip your guide at the end though!)
If you’re not on a tight budget and want an in-depth alternative tour, check out Black Heritage Tours. Their tours aren’t free; however, they are incredibly informative (currently only offering private boat tours due to COVID-19). They focus on the impact of slavery during the growth of the Dutch empire and highlight Black contributions to the country and culture. It’s super educational.
For more tours (walking tours, museum tours, food tours), check out my list of the best walking tours in Amsterdam as well as Get Your Guide. I use them a lot to find activities in destinations I visit.
Do a canal tour
Amsterdam is a city tied to the water; it grew around its canals and the taming of the Amstel River. The canals of Amsterdam are incredibly beautiful, and there’s nothing like seeing the city from a boat. Skip the big canal boat tours you see around the city — they’re overpriced. You can instead hire a private boat for about 50 EUR an hour. The boats are small, the tours more intimate, and your captain can give you a personalized tour. If you can split the cost with some other travelers, you’ll get a cheaper and more hands-on experience. If you don’t want to do a private tour, expect to pay around 20-25 EUR for a small-boat canal tour with Flagship Amsterdam.
Explore the Van Gogh Museum
This may be one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, but don’t let the crowds deter you. The museum features many of Van Gogh’s best works of art alongside an excellent biography of his life. I can spend hours just staring at the paintings as Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters. The museum also has paintings by other famous artists of the period, like Monet, Manet, and Matisse. Try to come late in the late afternoon when the crowds subside. You can choose your entry time when you book skip-the-line tickets and avoid the long line to get in.
Museumplein 6, +31 20 570 5200, vangoghmuseum.nl. Open daily from 9am to 6pm in the summer with reduced hours in the spring, fall and winter. Admission is 20 EUR.
Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is located right next to the Van Gogh Museum, and after years of renovation, it’s now beautifully remodeled. The museum still features an extensive Rembrandt collection, and you can see his famous “The Night Watch” painting here. Besides Rembrandt, there’s also an incredible and robust collection of other classic Dutch painters, like Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. Over 1 million works of art, craftworks, and historical objects are kept in the collection, and around 8,000 objects are on display in the museum so be sure to budget a few hours!
Museumstraat 1, +31 20 674 7000, rijksmuseum.nl. Open daily from 9am–5pm. Admission is 22.50 EUR.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 2
Tour Anne Frank House
This is where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II. It showcases her childhood, life in the attic, as well as other information about the Holocaust. There’s also a display of her real handwritten diary.
While it’s a sad and moving place, in all honesty though, I didn’t like it. I found it to be anticlimactic. You basically do a rushed walk through the house as the crowds pack the place. You don’t get to let everything soak in as you’re being pushed from behind by the endless crowds. It’s maddening!
Personally, I think the Jewish History Museum does a more thorough job of relating the events in Anne Frank’s life to the Holocaust. However, if you don’t mind waiting in line and are curious about Anne, it’s worth the wait. Be sure to book your tickets online in advance or you’ll be stuck waiting in line.
Prinsengracht 263–267, +31 20 556 71 05, annefrank.org. Open daily from 9am-10pm. Admission is 16 EUR. Tickets are only sold online on the official Anne Frank House website.
For a more intimate and guided look at Anne Frank’s world in context, this expert-led guided walking tour through the Jewish Quarter covers the life of Anne Frank and the Dutch Resistance during World War II. It’s a really good tour to take!
This heavily residential area is an old working-class neighborhood turned hip. It’s probably the most overlooked part of Amsterdam. Although it’s right near the city center, hardly any tourists enter this maze of restaurants, cafes, and shops. It’s peaceful and a great place to wander while avoiding the mass of tourists crowding the main streets just a few blocks away. While in the area, be sure to eat at Moeders (traditional Dutch food) and Winkel 43 (get the apple pie).
Visit the Tulip Museum
Located in a room inside a tulip shop, this little basement museum does a wonderful job of telling the history of tulips in Holland and the infamous tulip craze that rocked the Dutch economy. It’s one of the best off-the-beaten-path attractions in Amsterdam. It’s never crowded, and it’s only 5 EUR!
Prinsengracht 116, +31 20 421 0095, amsterdamtulipmuseum.com. Open daily from 10am-6pm. Admission is 5 EUR.
Have Lunch at Foodhallen
Located in the western part of Amsterdam, this place is what the name implies — a food hall! This indoor food market has various vendors serving a variety of delicious food. Personal favorites include Viet View, Le Big Fish, and Friska. It’s a very local spot and gets really busy during lunch and dinner.
Bellamyplein 51 or Hannie Dankbaarpassage 47 [both entrances work], foodhallen.nl. Open Sunday-Thursday from 12pm-midnight (Fridays and Saturdays until 1am). Kitchens close 2 hours before the food hall’s closing time.
See the Amsterdam History Museum
This museum features a very thorough history of Amsterdam. It’s big, so you’ll need 3–4 hours to really go through it in detail. There are a lot of relics, maps, paintings, and audiovisual displays throughout the museum. My favorite is the computer graphic at the entrance showing the growth and construction of the city over time. I can’t recommend this museum enough. It’s one of the best history museums I’ve ever visited.
Kalverstraat 92, +31 20 523 1822, amsterdammuseum.nl. Open daily from 10am–5pm. Admission is 25 EUR.
See the Red Light District
Though much tamer than in previous years, the Red Light District manages to balance sex and seediness with being a major international tourist attraction. During the day, it’s a quiet place. If it wasn’t for the red lights and sex signs everywhere, it would almost look like any other part of the city. But, at night, the area becomes awash with drunk, gawking tourists.
For a more educational look, The Prostitute Information Center, or PIC, offers tours of the neighborhood where a current or former sex worker explains the practices of the trade. The center started in the early 1990s and aims to dispel some myths and misconceptions about prostitution, in general, and in Amsterdam, in particular.
Enge Kerksteeg 3. +31 20 420 7328. pic-amsterdam.com. Tours run Wednesday-Saturday at 5pm.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 3
Take a bike tour
Bikes are to Amsterdam like wine is to Bordeaux. The city loves bikes: its inhabitants bike over 2 million kilometers every day, and there are supposedly more bikes than people in Amsterdam! In fact, forget about keeping a lookout for cars — it’s the bikes that will run you over. Seeing Amsterdam and its surroundings on a bike is something I definitely encourage you to do. Mike’s Bike Tours is the best company to use, whether for a tour or to rent a bike on your own. A 2.5-hour city tour costs 34 EUR.
This photography museum houses wonderful pictures and sees few crowds despite being in the main part of the city. It’s a must for any photography lover. The four exhibitions are constantly changing so you never know what you might see (check online for details)! They have a beautiful outdoor garden too. It’s a small museum and doesn’t take long to see.
Keizersgracht 609, +31 20 551 6500, foam.org. Open daily from 10am–6pm (9pm on Thursdays and Fridays). Admission is 15 EUR.
Tour the Jewish Historical Museum
Often overlooked in favor of The Anne Frank House, the Jewish Historical Museum tells the history of the Jews’ prominent and influential position in Amsterdam. The exhibit on World War II does a great job of highlighting Dutch complacency, resistance, and guilt over the Holocaust. With 11,000 items, artifacts, and works of art, it’s the only Jewish history museum in the country. Personally, I think the museum does a better job when it comes to highlighting the history and struggles of Jews in the Netherlands than the Anne Frank House does.
Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1, +31 20 531 0310, jck.nl. Open daily from 10am–5pm. Admission is 17 EUR.
Relax in Oosterpark
Everyone goes to Vondelpark to lounge around, bike, or get high, but east of the main city center is a beautiful park with fewer people that is just as relaxing. Oosterpark is about a 30-minute walk from the city center, but the walk takes you through residential areas of the city not often seen and way off the tourist map. I enjoy coming here because it’s far quieter and more peaceful than Vondelpark. There are sculptures (such as the National Slavery Monument that commemorates the abolition of slavery in 1863), playgrounds, ponds, and plenty of space to picnic or lounge. If you want a quiet park experience, this is it!
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 4
Visit the Rembrandt House Museum
Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is generally considered to be one of the most prolific, most talented artists in history. He lived and worked in this house between 1639 and 1658 during the Dutch Golden Age. Visitors can explore the home to get a sense of how he worked and lived (they’ve recreated how it was decorated during Rembrandt’s time). I wasn’t too impressed (I’d rather spend time admiring his paintings), but Rembrandt enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook it.
Jodenbreestraat 4, +31 20 520 0400, rembrandthuis.nl. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am–6pm. Admission is 17.50 EUR.
Visit Noord – Leave the city center, take the ferry across the IJ, and visit the up-and-coming area of Noord Amsterdam. In the last few years, a lot of people have moved here (it’s cheap), cool markets, restaurants, and bars have opened, and a lot of old industrial land has been reclaimed for public use. It’s the new hip place to be but has much fewer crowds than the central part of the city! Be sure to visit the famous EYE, Amsterdam’s film institute, and consider renting a bike to explore the area.
See Museum Amstelkring
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (“Our Lord in the Attic”) is one of the most interesting churches in the city. Hidden inside a 17th-century canal house, the clandestine Catholic church was built during Protestant rule. It was never really a secret but it was out of sight and out of mind for the authorities. The drawing room here is quite beautiful and the furnishings make it one of the most impressive 17th-century rooms left intact.
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38, +31 20 624 6604, opsolder.nl. Open Tuesday–Saturday from 10am-5pm (Saturdays until 6pm) and Sundays from 1pm–6pm. Admissions is 16.50 EUR.
Explore the Museum Van Loon
The Museum Van Loon is a double-sized canal house built in 1672 that is located on the Keizersgracht canal. The house was owned by the wealthy Van Loon merchant family who curated a beautiful art collection in their home (Willem van Loon co-founded the Dutch East-India Company in 1602, a massive trading firm and often considered the first multinational corporation in the world). Today, their historic house is a museum showcasing period furniture, paintings, porcelain, and family portraits. There’s a beautiful garden here too. This is definitely a place not to miss.
Keizersgracht 672, +31 20 624 5255, museumvanloon.nl. Open daily from 10am–5pm. Admission is 13.50 EUR.
Hang out in Vondelpark
Vondelpark was created in 1865 and spans over 120 acres. It’s Amsterdam’s largest and most popular park is a great place to walk, bike, people-watch, enjoy a picnic, or just relax, especially after a visit to a local coffee shop. There’s a playground as well as places to play sports, and numerous areas for kicking back. During the summer, Vondelpark is filled with people, especially locals who hang out at the café Blauwe Theehuis for drinks in the center.
Try the Heineken Experience
This museum used to be a lot better when it was cheaper and they offered more beer. It’s not a working brewery and, in comparison to the Guinness Museum in Dublin, it’s not great. But the price of admission buys you two beers and the interactive self-guided tour tells you all about how the beer was made and how the company evolved over the centuries (the beer dates back to the 1870s). It’s not a must-see, but if you like Heineken, then it is worth checking out. Get your tickets for the Heineken experience here.
Stadhouderskade 78, +31 020 261 1323, heinekenexperience.com. Open Sunday-Thursday from 10:30am–7:30pm, Friday-Saturday from 10:30am–9pm. Admission is 21 EUR.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 5
If you have five days (or more) in Amsterdam, here are some of my other favorite activities to do in Amsterdam. Mix and match to create your own personal itinerary!
Visit the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
If you like modern art, this is the place in the city to see it! The museum is home to over 90,000 items including works by Jackson Pollock, van Gogh, and Andy Warhol. Founded in 1874, the exhibitions cover paintings, drawings, photography, graphic design, sculptures, sound, and installations. They also have a collection online with over 1.5 million digitized pieces of art.
Museumplein 10, +31 20 573 2911, stedelijk.nl. Open daily from 10am–6pm. Admission is 22.50 EUR.
See the Houseboat Museum
This decorated houseboat provides an interesting glimpse into what living on the canals is like. The museum is located in a former cargo ship (built in 1914) that was later converted into a living museum as the owner was bombarded by questions so often that he thought it would just be easier to open up the boat to the public and let them see it for themselves. I walked away with one impression of life on the canals: super neat, but super cramped. With admission at 5 EUR, it’s one of the cheapest museums in town and is worth a quick visit.
Prinsengracht 296K, Jordaan, Centrum, +31 20 427 0750, houseboatmuseum.nl. Admission is 5 EUR. Hours vary per season.
Take an alternative art tour
I was really blown away by this unique tour that I took last time I was in Amsterdam. You get to see the city’s street art in alleyways, squats, and independent galleries while you learn about Amsterdam’s alternative side and underground and immigrant culture. All the people I took on it loved it. Visit Alltournative Amsterdam for more! (Tickets are 22.50 EUR per person.)
Wander the Amsterdam library
The city’s library is a beautiful modern building built in 2007. It’s gigantic, overlooks the IJ, and has a wonderful top-floor cafe for impressive views of the city. It’s one of my favorite places to relax in the city. It’s quiet, peaceful, and there’s nothing like reading a good book with a great view!
Oosterdokskade 143, Centrum, +31 20 523 0900, oba.nl. Open Monday-Friday from 8am–10pm and Saturday/Sunday from 10am-8pm.
Browse the Waterlooplein Flea Market
This open-air market is the oldest and biggest market in Amsterdam (it became a day market in 1885). It’s like a giant flea market — everything and everyone can be found here. People sell secondhand clothes, hats, antiques, gadgets, and much more. You can also find new and unused items. There are some 300 stalls here, so if there’s something you want, you’ll probably find it here. Even if you don’t, it’s a fun place to explore and people-watch while browsing.
Waterlooplein 2. waterlooplein.amsterdam. Open Monday to Saturday from 9:30am-6pm.
Visit the Erotic Museum
This museum is in the middle of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and highlights eroticism in all its forms through the ages. It has sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, and other artwork from all around the world. Also included here are erotic sketches by John Lennon from The Beatles, which is something you won’t see every day! It’s similar to Sex Museum Amsterdam but focuses more on the “art” side of nudity and sex.
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 54, +31 20 627 8954, erotisch-museum.nl. Open daily from 11am-1am. Admission is 7 EUR.
Check out the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum
This museum presents information about the historical and modern use of cannabis for medicinal, religious, and cultural purposes. The exhibits focus heavily on how hemp can be used for agricultural, consumer, and industrial purposes as well as covering all the medicinal, religious, and cultural uses of the plant. There’s also a section about the ‘reefer madness’ panic of the 1930s, including all kinds of propaganda films and posters. There are also displays on how hash is made, the 1960s counterculture, and more (there are over 9,000 items in the collection so it covers a lot of ground).
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148, +31 20 624 8926, hashmuseum.com. Open daily from 10am-10pm. Admission is 9 EUR.
Day Trips from Amsterdam
If you have a little longer in Amsterdam or just want to explore the surrounding area more, Amsterdam’s train system makes it easy to take quick day trips from the city center. Here are a few of the best:
Day trip to Haarlem – Just a quick 35-kilometer (22-mile) train (or bike) ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem is a quiet walled city that dates back to the Middle Ages. It has a beautiful central church, a great outdoor market, and all the beauty of historic Amsterdam with fewer crowds (there are canal cruises to be had here too). Don’t miss the Corrie ten Boom House, a house used to hide Jews and other refugees during World War II. Some 800 people were sheltered here during the war, and the house has now been converted into a museum that you can tour. The train to Haarlem costs 4-8 EUR and takes about 15 minutes. It’s the perfect place to escape for an afternoon.
See the windmills – The Dutch are famous for their windmills, so why not set out on an adventure to visit the windmills surrounding Amsterdam? There are eight in total — most of which are in Amsterdam West. De Gooyer is the closest to the city center and also happens to be a brewery, making it the perfect place to start (and maybe never leave). It’s just a quick 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central.
You can also take guided tours to Zaanse Schans, an open-air living history museum that is often known as the windmill town. Here, you not only learn about the inner workings of the windmills but other traditional Dutch crafts, like clog- and cheese-making.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Though Amsterdam is fairly small, there are still a number of neighborhoods to choose from, depending on what kind of vibe you want and what you want to see. Centraal is a bustling-but-convenient choice, where you’ll find Dam Square, the Centraal train station, many museums, and tons of shopping.
Personally, I think De Pijp is the best neighborhood to stay in as it’s a lot quieter and less touristy. The streets are lined with cool bars and restaurants, and the Albert Cuyp Market, the biggest street market in Amsterdam, is here too.
For a detailed look at the best areas to stay in, check out my post about Amsterdam’s best neighborhoods and, for more hostel suggestions, be sure to check out my complete list of the best hostels in Amsterdam.
A few days in any city is never enough time to really see it, but given Amsterdam’s compact nature, it’s definitely enough time to hit all the “major” attractions during a quick visit. You don’t have to walk far either (you can walk the length of the city center in about 45 minutes). Spend longer than you think here. There really is a lot to do and the more you get out of the very touristy center, the better feel for real Amsterdam you’ll get.
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Book Your Trip to Amsterdam: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Some of my favorite places to stay are:
If you’re looking for more places to stay, here is a complete list of my favorite hostels in Amsterdam.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They can save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Amsterdam?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Amsterdam for even more planning tips!