When we lived in Lille, we used to go once a year to spend a weekend in Amsterdam. In only 3 hour’s drive, we were in the capital of the Netherlands. A wonderful city, exotic and exciting, to discover. Discover in this article my essential things to do in Amsterdam.
First, zoom in on Amsterdam.
Renowned for its artistic heritage, narrow, colorful gabled houses, canals, and loose morals, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most exciting cities. Very well connected with the main cities of Europe, it is easy to get to Amsterdam for 2 or 3 days.
Accessible by train, bus, plane, or car, it is easy to travel from Paris to Amsterdam with Omio. A platform that lets you know all the travel options: train, bus, plane, and even ferry.
With 750,000 inhabitants, Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands. It is home to some of the prominent places in the country, like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and the Royal Palace. Of course, as in the whole country, the bicycle is king in Amsterdam. There are many cycle paths and bicycle parking lots.
Finally, it takes its name from the river on which it was built: Amstel. It has earned the nickname “the Venice of the North.” With its magnificent canals that cross the city and its beautiful gabled houses, it has a lot in common with Venice.
Things to do in Amsterdam
There are endless things to do in Amsterdam in any season, and many of the most rewarding experiences lie beyond the well-trodden tourist paths of the city center. We’ve narrowed down a selection to this essential guide to lead you through the wealth of wonders.
Amsterdam canal cruise and walk
Area of more than 100 km, Amsterdam’s canals are the city’s number one charm asset. Whether walking around the canals or on a canal cruise, you will be amazed. Impossible not to fall in love with the canals of Amsterdam. With some 1,500 bridges crossing them, the canals connect nearly 90 islands.
The main canals in the city are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Singel, Brouwersgracht, and Oudezijds Voorburgwal. Surprisingly, thousands of families live on the canals aboard more than 2,500 barges. Finally, the banks of these canals are home to some of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Culture in art museums
Amsterdam is home to some of the finest and most exciting museums in the Netherlands. Namely the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum or the Rembrandt House Museum. Founded in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum has the world’s most extensive collection of works by Vincent van Gogh.
The Rijksmuseum is devoted to fine arts, crafts, and the country’s history. The Stedelijk Museum is a foundation for modern and contemporary art. The Rembrandt House Museum is located in the house in which Rembrandt lived from 1639 to 1656.
It recreates the artist’s living space and exhibits his works and paintings from his entourage. You will understand there is something for everyone.
Impossible for us to visit Amsterdam without discovering one of the city’s art museums.
Take in the Grachtengordel and Jordaan districts.
Both peaceful and lively, the Jordaan and Grachtengordel districts are among the most beautiful residential areas in the city. Green, flowery, and crossed by canals, they have an undeniable charm. With their beautiful typical Dutch houses, cozy cafes, art galleries, and small shops, they are a must in Amsterdam. Lose yourself in the alleys of these neighborhoods to discover the Amsterdam of the locals. If you’re in the neighborhood when schools leave, you’ll see those neighborhoods fill up with bikes.
Indeed, you don’t pick up your children by car when leaving school, but by bike.
Explore Amsterdam’s Red Light District
Visiting Amsterdam without passing through the mythical and historic De Wallen district is impossible. Also called Red Light District because of the red lights of the prostitutes’ windows, it is the city’s red light district. With coffee shops, bars, exotic-themed museums, and shop windows for prostitutes, De Wallen is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It is a must in Amsterdam with its two faces, calm during the day and lively/weird at night. De Wallen is home to some gems of the city, like the Oudezijds Voorburgwa and Oudezijds Achterburgwal canals, as well as the Armbrug bridge.
I recommend this 2-hour guided tour (from 18€) to learn more about the red light district.
Visit the Royal Palace in Amsterdam
The Paleis op de Dam is a royal palace located in the city’s main square (Dam Square). Built between 1648 and 1665, it is intended to be the Town Hall of Amsterdam. Eventually, it will serve as a royal palace, imperial palace, and royal museum. Today the Royal Palace in Amsterdam serves as a reception venue for the royal family. When there are no royal receptions, it is possible to visit the palace’s interior (12.50€)—the opportunity to discover this historic place’s furniture, decoration, architecture, and various works of art.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Enter the Begijnhof convent
A symbolic place, the Begijnhof convent, classified by UNESCO, is a beguinage or monastery for women. Built in 1386, it consists of a large inner courtyard surrounded by houses in which the beguines lived. Women belong to a religious community—a true haven of peace in the heart of Amsterdam. Classical music concerts are held regularly in the courtyard of the Begijnhof on Tuesday evenings in July and August.
Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Buy tulips at the flower market
The Bloemenmarkt is a Dutch flower market permanently established on the Singel canal. The slight peculiarity is the only floating flower market in the world. Filled with vibrant colors and the scent of fresh flowers, the Amsterdam Flower Market welcomes tourists and locals alike. In addition to finding many tulips and plants, you will also find a wide selection of typical Dutch souvenirs (cheese, Christmas balls, jewelry, etc.). The Bloemenmarkt is one of the must-see places to discover in Amsterdam.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Discover the Anne Frank House
And yes, it is in Amsterdam that the Anne Frank house is located (14€). Today, the Anne Frank House is a museum dedicated to the Jewish girl writer of World War II. You will discover the life of the illegal immigrants, the particular content, and the history of his diary. Not to mention temporary exhibitions on fascism and its consequences, then and now.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Admire Amsterdam from the A’DAM Lookout
To gain height over the city, head for the A’DAM Tower with its A’DAM Lookout (14.50€). Rising 100 meters above the ground, it offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Amsterdam. Especially in the historic center, on the port, and even on the canals. In addition to the view, the A’DAM Lookout offers an interactive exhibition and an audio tour about the history and culture of Amsterdam. And even, for thrill seekers, the highest swing in Europe, “Over The Edge” (24.50€).
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Rent a bike and explore Amsterdam’s residential neighborhoods
Among the essential things to do in Amsterdam, there is, of course, the bike tour. You will discover Amsterdam differently with a self-service bike or a guided bike tour. Like a local! Discover our experience visiting Amsterdam by bike in our article: Visit Amsterdam by bike. 2h30 bike ride to discover the ultra-modern and avant-garde architecture of Amsterdam.
As with the guided walking tours, it is possible to take thematic guided bike tours. For example, nature to discover the surroundings of Amsterdam (Zaanse Schans mills, Zaan river, small picturesque and typical villages, etc.), Street Art (graffiti, stencils, mosaics, sculptures, etc.), or even Modern Architecture.
Rest in Vondelpark
Finally, the Vondelpark is the largest park in the city. Open in 1865; it is located south of Leidseplein and west of Museumplein. It is home to an open-air theatre, children’s play areas, and numerous bars and restaurants. It is the ideal place for walking, cycling, playing sports, or resting.
Where to sleep in Amsterdam?
Discover our addresses of hotels and apartments for accommodation in Amsterdam. During your first visit to Amsterdam, I advise you to favor the city center districts such as Binnenstad, Jordaan, Grachtengordel, De Pijp, Oud-West, or Oud-Zuid.
- Conscious Hotel Amsterdam City: We like the eco-friendly concept proposed by a new generation of accommodations. This modern and stylish hotel is ideally located in the heart of Amsterdam. It offers double rooms with private bathrooms, air conditioning, and wifi from €77 per night.
- Motel One Amsterdam-Waterlooplein: We love the contemporary style of this charming hotel, which mixes modernity and old style. Double rooms with king bed, private bathroom, air conditioning, and wifi from €148 per night with free cancellation. Favorite for the bar in the hotel lobby.
- GH Amsterdam: Enjoy an entire apartment on the ground floor with a kitchen, private bathroom, wifi, and terrace in the heart of Amsterdam. From €150 per night with breakfast and with free cancellation. To feel at home while enjoying the city.
- Modern Hideout Ace Location: We appreciate the central location of this hotel in the heart of the city center. Four hundred meters from the Rijksmuseum, this accommodation offers double rooms with private bathrooms, wifi, and a balcony for €155 with free cancellation.
Find your hotel in Amsterdam on booking. And, what are your essential things to do in Amsterdam?