Are you planning to visit Amsterdam, the City of Canals? Exploring the Dutch capital can be an overwhelming experience, particularly for someone who’s never been to the city before. To help you fully experience Amsterdam, while saving you stress and time mapping out your vacation, we’ve created an itinerary that’s ideal for a first-time Amsterdam tourist.
You’ll first fly into the busy Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, but you’ll need to plan your flights carefully. The Dutch government has recently announced measures to cut flights here from half a million to 440,000 per year to mitigate over tourism and reduce carbon emissions . However, once you arrive, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Amsterdam. Whether you’re a foodie, art enthusiast, or history buff, Amsterdam is a city that seamlessly blends its cultural charm with world-class amenities.
Below, you’ll find our list of the 21 best Amsterdam sightseeing ideas and top tips. At Dreams Abroad, we pride ourselves on our expert recommendations, and our Amsterdam travel guide is no exception. To enhance first-time Amsterdam visits, our global professionals shared their suggestions to make your Amsterdam stay an unforgettable experience.
1. Research the Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
Time your trip to Amsterdam for late spring to get the most out of The Netherlands’ premier city. The city has warmed up from the lows of a bleak winter, and the famous tulip fields in the surrounding countryside are in full bloom. Another seasonal draw is the annual King’s Day Carnival, which celebrates the Dutch monarchy by turning Amsterdam orange, as locals pay tribute at musical events around the city.
But Amsterdam is such a beautiful city, that you are assured an unforgettable stay whenever you visit. Although you never experience four seasons in a day, in Amsterdam three is possible, even in peak season. So, wear layers you can add and remove according to temperature dips and spikes.
2. Book in Advance to Save Money and Time
As an attractive destination, Amsterdam receives many visitors throughout the year. If you reserve accommodations early enough before peak seasons, the additional vacancies could result in more affordable rates. During low season, you can find good last-minute deals around the city, but you must weigh that against less appealing weather conditions.
But you might prefer early fall when the temperatures are still pleasant enough for you to spend plenty of time outdoors in Amsterdam. Winter can be striking, too, as the canals are a beautiful sight.
3. Stay in Ambassade Hotel
Amsterdam accommodations don’t get more iconic than the Ambassade Hotel. We love its city center, canalside location and rate it amongst the best hotels in the Dutch capital. The public spaces double as an art gallery, with over 800 works on display.
While the Ambassade is no budget hotel, you can save money by booking directly. This includes 10% off a reservation made through hotel booking sites. By staying here, you can enjoy free phone calls to Europe and the U.S.
4. Purchase the I amsterdam City Card
The longer you stay in Amsterdam, the more this card will repay you. By purchasing the card, you’ll receive free public transportation across the city, bike rental, a canal cruise, and access to over 70 of the city center’s museums. These include MOCO Amsterdam, with its contemporary art collection featuring artists such as Andy Warhol.
The card costs 60 euros for 24 hours and 125 euros for 120 hours, and covers the most popular tourist destinations. Other top attractions in Amsterdam accessible with this card include the Stedelijk Museum. The focus here is on modern art with artists to look out for such as Jackson Pollock.
5. Relax in Rembrandtpark
Westerly Rembrandtpark offers an interesting contrast to Amsterdam’s historic city center. The surrounding area is altogether more modern. You know you’ve arrived here when the signs are only in Dutch.
The trees offer plenty of welcome shade in summer, and the greenery is a nice contrast to the modern buildings. If you’d like to try some Dutch food, buying takeout and enjoying a picnic here is worth it. If you rent a bike, Rembrandtpark is a lovely spot to cycle through and great for people-watching.
6. Visit the Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum opened in June 1973. It houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s works and paintings by Gauguin and Monet. These artists influenced Van Gogh, whose colorful life is chronicled at the museum. The museum is the most visited tourist attraction in The Netherlands and a must-see attraction for fans of his works.
You’ll find the Van Gogh Museum, along with The Royal Concertgebouw and Stedelijk Museum, in Museumkwartier. This is in the Oud-Zuid, which doesn’t look like it’s changed much since Van Gogh’s time. If you don’t buy the I Amsterdam city card, you can still avoid waiting by purchasing tickets in advance.
7. Take a Guided Walking Tour
If you want to truly get to know Amsterdam, you have to feel it underfoot. A free walking tour provides a valuable overview of the city. Guides rely on tips, so if you think you have learned something, dig deep into your pockets for any spare euros.
Expect to hit Damrak, one of the main streets in central Amsterdam. Then there’s labyrinthine Jordaan, a gentrified working-class district with cool bars and fashionable shops. Guides will take you to Amsterdam’s most famous market, Albert Cuypmarkt, in the hipster De Pijp neighborhood.
8. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is the Louvre of Amsterdam. It chronicles the work of celebrated citizen Rembrandt alongside other famous Dutch Golden Age artists. Your art history lesson starts in the 15th century and continues up to modern day, so allow plenty of time to explore one of Amsterdam’s most popular museums.
This is one of the dozens of art museums in Amsterdam. Many travelers make a beeline here rather than elsewhere because of the sheer scope of the Rijksmuseum. This is one of the best travel tips for visiting art lovers.
9. Shop at the Waterlooplein Flea Market
Approximately 300 stalls jostle for your attention at Waterlooplein Markt, the oldest flea market in town. It’s open from Monday to Saturday, between 9:30 AM and 6:00 PM. For a break from bartering, take time out to people-watch.
Sights include commercial bulk traders who buy clothes by kilo from stallholders. While shopping, you can pick up souvenirs, while more discerning eyes are drawn to the antique and craft jewelry stalls.
10. Eat Your Way Around the Original Foodhallen
Eliminate hunger pangs at this Amsterdam West food hall. It’s situated in a repurposed tram depot. The Foodhallen family has grown with newer Rotterdam and The Hague food halls.
The 2014 prototype remains the best, however. Take a global gastronomic journey at stalls that include the vegetarian street food of Padrón, inspired by Spain’s classic tapa, pimientos de Padrón. Then there’s De Ballenbar, which updates the traditional bitterball, a Dutch croquette recipe for the 21st-century palate.
11. Visit the Amsterdam Museum
Step inside a giant Dutch history book at the Amsterdam Museum. To enjoy the full story, you will need to set aside a few hours. There are relics from Amsterdam’s past and maps to show the city’s evolution from 1538 onwards.
There are permanent and temporary exhibitions. The museum is easily accessible by public transport with nearby metro and tram stops.
12. Explore the Red Light District
The narrow streets adjoining Amsterdam’s docks, De Wallen, are home to the city’s Red Light District, one of the most infamous places to visit in Amsterdam The coffee shops here are not exactly cafes but shops to legally buy marijuana. There are peep shows and sex shops galore.
By day, the Red Light District is sleepy but livens up by night. Solo female travelers may find the rowdy, bachelor party ambiance intimidating, and if you are one, you might want to steer well clear.
13. Navigate the Waterways
When you visit Amsterdam,you’ll discover more than water in and around the city’s celebrated Canal Ring. The city’s Canal Belt also houses Elandsgracht Street, one-time canal turned foodies’ paradise.
Elsewhere, the Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes), an enclave in the western portion of the Canal Ring, is the place for designer gear. This Canal Belt is known as Grachtengordel by locals. Its striking Herengracht, Keizergracht, and Prinsengracht canals have fronted millions of postcards, and you can view them all on a canal cruise.
14. Check Out the Dutch Resistance Museum
Close to the Hortus Botanicus, a famed botanic garden, the Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) educates tourists about how ordinary Dutch citizens responded to Nazism in Holland. At the museum, you are encouraged to picture yourselves in similar scenarios.
Travel back to the World War II era. Pictures and films provide a window into the formation of the Resistance movement. Learn how Jewish children were saved in exhibitions featuring precious archive material.
15. Sample the Heineken Experience
The interactive tour at the Heineken Experience will take a couple of hours. At this former brewery, you get to smell the hops as you stir them. End your visit with a couple of complimentary beers in the tasting room.
The terrace offers fantastic views of downtown Amsterdam. You can combine your visit with a canal cruise. Other pairings available include football and music packages.
16. Squeeze into the Houseboat Museum
For many travelers, the I amsterdam city card is an excellent investment. But there are things to see and do in the city center that it does not cover. One such quirky tourist attraction is the Houseboat Museum.
Tickets here are only available on board. You won’t break the bank with adult entrance costing a mere five euros 5. In return, you will discover what living on the Prinsengracht Canal is like.
17. Stop by Oude Kerk
The Red Light District may be for cultural explorers, as well as lovers of coffee shops and peeping Toms. But amongst the brothels, you can’t help but chance upon Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building, which dates back to the early 13th century.
Once a Gothic church, the Oude Kerk is now one of the city’s newest art galleries. Oude Kerk’s eye-opening exhibitions link Amsterdam’s heritage and its thrilling modernity. Few city center institutions manage to bridge the gap between past and present so well.
18. Visit Anne Frank House
Anne Frank’s diary narrates the horror of the Holocaust. During World War II, this teenager’s family hid above her father’s place of work. This old canal house is now the Anne Frank House museum. Learn about the life and times of Anne Frank through a collection of her personal items, photos, and writings.
You can only purchase tickets via the official website! Every Tuesday at 10:00 AM CEST, all tickets for a visit six weeks in the future become available. Choose between a standard museum visit or a museum visit preceded by an introductory program
19. Drink at the House of Bols
This wouldn’t be an Amsterdam travel guide without including the House of Bols. Smell the juniper berries at this Dutch gin museum. You’ll learn about the importance of maceration and percolation when crafting this traditional liquor.
The House of Bols opens on Sunday to Thursday from 1 to 6.30 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 9 PM. While visiting this 18+ attraction, you can enjoy the perfectly crafted cocktail in the Mirror Bar, or try to mix up your own.
20. Savor the Flavor of Vleminckx de Sausmeester
Flemish fries don’t get crunchier than those served in cones at this iconic kiosk. It’s well worth waiting in the inevitable queue. Open every day, the kiosk is a two-minute walk away from Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market.
This popular takeaway has been satisfying cravings for fried potatoes since 1957. There are 25 different sauces to accompany your fries, but our sauce of choice is the piquant curry ketchup.
21. See the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is located right in the heart of Amsterdam, on Dam Square. Buy your tickets online or in person at the palace itself. The grand 17th-century building was the city’s town hall for 150 years.
When King Louis Napoleon took up residence here in 1808, it became the Royal Palace. Architect Jan van Campen built a building depicting the glamorous Golden Age Amsterdam. Rembrandt’s students, Govert Flinck and Ferdinand Bol, created masterpieces that placed Amsterdam as the center of the universe.
Visiting Amsterdam: In Conclusion
Visit Amsterdam, and you won’t have any shortage of things to see and do in the Dutch capital. One of the best methods for Amsterdam sightseeing is to navigate Amsterdam via its bike lanes. If the thought of bike rentals seems too strenuous, Amsterdam travel is easier on the thighs if you use public transport, which is one of the best in the world.
By following our Amsterdam travel guide, your experience can range from Red Light District tours to diving into the life of Van Gogh. But when you visit Amsterdam, support local businesses to ensure tourism benefits Amsterdam rather than degrades its cultural heritage and charm. Dreams Abroad is about suggesting and creating authentic experiences in European countries like the Netherlands and beyond.