From magnificent museums to beautiful canals and quirky architecture, my travel guide has 10 things you must do in Amsterdam, the best way to get around, and where to stay in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam often gets a reputation of being a party capital of Europe, but when travel journalist, Clodagh Dooley enjoyed a weekend in Amsterdam with her partner recently, she realised there’s so much more to the city. She kindly agreed to write this Amsterdam travel guide which is packed with things you must do in Amsterdam, and top tips to make the most of your visit.
Not only did Clodagh find Amsterdam to be one of the prettiest places she has ever visited, with winding canals, architectural treasures and tree-lined streets, it is also home to some of the most famous museums in the world, as well as some quirky attractions you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Clodagh has compiled a list of the top things to do in Amsterdam below, and I have picked some great places to stay for the perfect Amsterdam city break.
Did you know the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, is known as ‘The Venice of the North’? That’s due to its abundance of canals. In fact, Amsterdam is home to more canals than Venice, with 165 canals covering more than one hundred kilometres and 1,753 bridges. Venice has just 391 bridges crossing 150 canals!
And just like there are canals at almost every turn, you’ll also notice there are bicycles galore in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the world’s second-most bike-friendly city (just behind Copenhagen), which makes it ideal for avid cyclists, or simply those who want a fun, eco-friendly and cheaper way to explore the city. We learned very fast that taxis can be expensive – we were quoted €20 for a short 10-minute drive!
There are up to 400 kilometres of bicycle paths leading just about everywhere in town and you will find bike rental shops on most street corners. (Do be alert, as they can creep up on you quickly!)
However, Amsterdam’s compact centre is easy to get around by foot and you’ll be sure to stumble across some unique hidden gems including pretty cobblestone lanes and clandestine cafés and restaurants.
Whether you decide to explore by bicycle, foot or tram (a day pass is approximately €8), there are many things you simply must do in Amsterdam.
10 things you must do in Amsterdam
1. Follow the footsteps of Anne Frank and see her diary and hiding place
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Amsterdam is its connection with Anne Frank – the young Jewish girl who kept a diary when she was in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. I read the famous ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ when I was younger and became fascinated with her story.
The Anne Frank House is one of the top attractions in Amsterdam, and it was quite a surreal experience to walk within the Secret Annex the family hid in, and to witness original items, including the bookcase that concealed the entrance to the annex. You can also view Anne’s original diary.
Going through the house and discovering Anne’s background puts a touching human element on the horrors of WWII. Plus, it’s forbidden to take pictures while exploring the museum, so it’s an opportunity to put away the phone and really immerse yourself in the reality she faced.
Top Tip for visiting Anne Frank’s House: If adding on a visit to the Anne Frank House to your walking tour, a ticket can only be bought from the official website for a specific time slot.
The first Tuesday of the month, tickets become available for the following month, and they do tend to sell out quickly. When visiting the house, it’s relatively small, can feel cramped and the stairs are quite steep, but this is must see in Amsterdam, don’t miss it!
Beyond Anne Frank’s House, there are a number of destinations around Amsterdam linked to Anne which provide an insight into life in the city during the war. A guided Anne Frank walking tour is one of the best ways to see associated sights including a still-operational synagogue, while learning about Anne’s story.
2. Discover the story of Heineken
The immersive Heineken Experience was one my boyfriend really enjoyed. The experience takes you through the story of Heineken, and how a small Dutch brewery became the world’s most premium brand of beer.
We got to visit the brew rooms, discover the brewing process, deep dive into the history of Heineken and get tastings of the beer, along with enjoying two pints in the brewery bar at the end. Plus, there are opportunities to get fun photos throughout.
3. Taste the best Stroopwafel in town!
The Dutch Stroopwafel is a treat that is unique to the Netherlands – a type of cookie consisting of two thin waffles with a gooey filling of caramel syrup.
One of the most well-known places to get a delicious, freshly-made Stroopwafel is van Wonderen Stroopwafels on Kalverstraat near Dam Square. You’ll probably have spotted it on Instagram or TikTok at some stage, and if not, look it up (you’ll drool!).
But also topping the list of where to get a warm homemade Stroopwafel is Rudi’s Original Stroopwafels, a food truck in the middle of the Albert Cuyp Market.
They’ve been in the buisness for over 40 years, and have their own traditional family recipe. Perfectly paired with a rich hot chocolate or coffee while watching the world go by, this is a must do in Amsterdam.
4. Get arty in Amsterdam
One of my first thoughts about Amsterdam is that it looked like something from a painting. It certainly inspired some of the painting world’s greats, having been home to the prolific Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt. Amsterdam is renowned for its artistic heritage and is an art lover’s dream. A visit to at least one art gallery is a must do in Amsterdam.
I’d recommend visiting the Van Gogh Museum to witness around 200 of his paintings and 2,500 drawings, while the Rijksmuseum houses over 7,500 masterpieces including works from Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
You can also take a guided tour at Museum Het Rembrandthuis (the Rembrandt House Museum), which not only showcases the artist’s collection but it’s the place where the artist lived and worked for almost two decades.
And, if you’re not hugely into art history, consider exploring the modern world of art in Amsterdam. MOCO Museum showcases unique works by contemporary artists, featuring a mix of pop art, Amsterdam street art and interactive art, adding a playful element. It also boasts an impressive Banksy collection.
View tour here
Top Tip: The streets of Amsterdam are also filled with striking street art and murals – NSDM is a famous graffiti neighbourhood, with an impressive giant mural of Anne Frank, while an original Picasso sculpture is free to view in Vondelpark.
5. Swing 100 metres above the city
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This Amsterdam attraction is not for the faint-hearted! For an incredible panoramic view across Amsterdam, head to the A’dam Lookout. You can take the ferry from behind Centraal Station, which leaves every 15 minutes – this is one of the free things to do in Amsterdam. This will take you on a five-minute journey across the waters to Overhoeksplein, where the A’dam Lookout is based.
The A’dam Lookout tower has 22 floors and is in the top 30 tallest buildings in Amsterdam. An elevator with a flashing light show will bring you right to the top, where you can get a 360-degree view of the city, and daredevils can also choose to ride the sensational over-the-edge swing, almost 100 metres over Amsterdam.
We were under time-pressure to get to the airport though, so we didn’t have time for a swing (and also scaredy-cats!) but the views were well worth it. When booking, the swing must be added on as an addition to the regular entrance ticket.
6. Cruise the canals
Amsterdam’s canals are both scenic and historic – they date back to the 17th century, having been dug for the defence and transport of goods. Oudezijds Voorburgwal, which was constructed in 1385, is Amsterdam’s oldest canal.
Going on a canal cruise is a great way to see Amsterdam from a different viewpoint and there are a range of experiences you can book, including romantic cruises for couples. Choose a candlelight cruise at night or a wine and cheese evening cruise – they say Paris is the ‘city of love’ but Amsterdam is definitely up there too!
This is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam for couples and you can also choose to combine one with a tour of the Heineken Experience.
7. Visit an adult playground!
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We all need a bit of fun in our lives, no matter what age we are. The WONDR Experience is basically an indoor playground for adults (and accompanied kids). and it will take you back to the magic of childhood imagination.
The interactive experience has 15 colourful rooms filled with fantastical concepts and adventure. One minute you could be singing along in their glamorous karaoke, zooming around in an 80s skating rink, or jumping into a large ball pit – you’ll get some amazing colourful pictures for Instagram too!
Top Tip: Also worth checking out for some endless fun and Instagram-worthy memories is the Upside Down Museum. With 25 themed rooms and a variety of optical illusions, this quirky spot provides both young and old with plenty of laughs and is one of the top things to do in Amsterdam with kids.
8. Shop the Nine Streets
I love searching for clothes and items to bring home from places that are not available in Ireland. I especially adore finding something a little funky and different – Amsterdam certainly excels in this area!
Amsterdam is home to a variety of vintage shops and designer boutiques, and you’ll find a range of stores on The Nine Streets (De 9 Straatjes). For art and antiques, check out Nieuw Spiegelstratt, which is also home to one of the largest second-hand stores in Europe, Episode.
Primark at Damrak 77 is worth checking out for its intricately designed alleyway alone. And if you’re travelling at Christmas, you have the Christmas market at Museumplein to look forward to.
9. Drink from a glass of ice!
After speaking to some people who visited Xtracold Icebar, I heard some hit-and-miss reviews, mainly about the experience being too short and there not being enough drink options in the ice bar itself – you choose from a beer, shots or orange juice.
Personally, I thought it was very cool (no pun intended!) and it is one of the fun things to do in Amsterdam. For starters, when are you ever going to get the chance again to drink in a room adorned with ice and from a glass made entirely from ice?
At the entrance, you’ll get three tokens, one for a drink at the premises’ regular, heated bar and two tokens to be used in the Ice Bar – a room of ice with a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius.
You’re given gloves and a jacket to wear before you head in. But if you tend to get cold easily, you actually might find the half-an-hour experience a little too long – my boyfriend was shivering and needed a hot whiskey by the end!
10. Take a day trip from Amsterdam
If time allows, I would recommend planning a day trip from the city to the Amsterdam countryside. It’s something I regret not adding to our Amsterdam three day itinerary, after hearing stories from fellow travellers. So I want to help you avoid making the same mistake!
Some day trip options include Zaanse Schans, a distinctive neighbourhood in the town of Zaandam – approximately a 20-minute drive from Amsterdam. This area once featured more than 1,000 windmills and today, you can admire some of these historic windmills and green wooden houses, as well as discover its various museums.
Other options include the quaint town of Edam (yes, famous for its cheese of the same name!) and the Keukenhof Gardens and Lisse Tulip Fields (best visited from mid-April to May).
Top tips on saving money in Amsterdam
According to a UK Post Office survey, Amsterdam is the costliest cities in Europe. But don’t let that put you off – my top tips for visiting Amsterdam will help you save some money!
Consider Amsterdam passes
If you plan on visiting a variety of attractions, I suggest purchasing a Go City All-Inclusive 1, 2, 3 or 5-Day Pass. This allows you to book your activities and attractions through the app and simply show your pass at the entrance. You could save up to 50% off Amsterdam attractions.
The I amsterdam City Card, allows you to save money on a variety of museums and attractions, as well as travel on public transport and bicycle rental. The Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum are not included in the card, however, you can get discounted ticket prices to over 70 attractions including the Heineken Experience, A’dam Lookout and the WONDR Experience.
You can order the City Card online, or pop by the I amsterdam Store at Amsterdam Central Station to buy one. The Card is activated at the first time you visit a museum, attraction, or use public transport. The Card costs €60 for 24 hours, €85 for 48 hours, €100 for 72 hours, €115 for 96 hours and €125 for 120 hours.
Stay outside Amsterdam city centre
Amsterdam has super tram and metro links, not to mention cycle lanes, so you could save yourself a lot of money if you stay outside the city centre. Hostels like Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark could also be an option.
Choose inexpensive dining options
When you are wondering where to eat in Amsterdam, remember that eating in a touristy location like Dam Square will be a lot more expensive than eating in a side street away from main attractions.
Try to look for street food options or restaurants away from tourist traps. Check out Foodhallen for a selection of food stalls and vendors – you’re sure to find something suitable for your budget.
Where to stay in Amsterdam – My Top 10 Picks
Amsterdam has a wide variety of accommodation options to choose from including hotels, boat houses and Airbnbs. I have selected the best places to stay in Amsterdam below and have a choice of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels, as well as some unique stays and apartments that are ideal for groups and families.
3 Star Hotels in Amsterdam
Ibis Amsterdam Centre
Clodagh stayed Ibis Amsterdam Centre and loved its central location. The Anne Frank House is a 20-minute walk away and it is located beside the main train station in the city, Amsterdam Centraal. You can reach the airport from here in 20-minutes.
The hotel itself was basic, but modern, with a bar and snacks available in the reception area. Clodagh’s room was quite small and as it was right beside the train tracks, this can be disruptive if you’re a light sleeper.
Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam – City Hall, an IHG Hotel
This centrally located hotel is one of the top rated hotels on TripAdvisor and offers complimentary breakfast each morning. There is a metro station around the corner where you can reach the airport in 30 minutes and it boasts gorgeous canal views, which you can see above.
4 Star Hotels in Amsterdam
Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam
Finding a centrally located hotel in Amsterdam with a swimming pool is not easy, but a stay in the Park Plaza Victoria offers both, as well as the popular VIC’s Bar and a contemporary Brasserie. This is a great all round option offering super facilities and a central location. – it is just 5 minutes walk from Dam Square.
This is also one of the top hotels in Amsterdam for families as there are large rooms and suites that can sleep up to four, and the swimming pool will be warmly received after a day exploring the city.
This four-star boutique hotel has just 81 rooms and is ideally located in Amsterdam city centre. Guests love its location and stylish interiors which have warm Asian influences.
This superbly located hotel offers a unique stay in the city – it is a collection of buildings joined together where no two rooms are the same. With Rembrandt Square around the corner and a host of dining options and attractions on your doorstep, its no surprise it was a Travellers Choice Award winner this year.
Top Tip – upgrade to a canal view room if available.
5 Star Hotels in Amsterdam
Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam, an IHG Hotel
The Kimpton De Witt is the first Kimpton hotel in Europe and you should find the same superb service that we have grown to expect from this luxury brand.
This is a pet-friendly hotel in Amsterdam, and no matter what size or breed, your pet will be welcomed free of charge. It is also centrally located in the heart of the city and is one of the top luxury hotels in Amsterdam.
NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace
The NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace is centrally located just 550 metres from Dam Square and is one of the best value five star hotels in Amsterdam. There is a bar, restaurant and health club onsite and family rooms can accommodate four people.
Anantara Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky
Dam Square is arguably the best area in stay in Amsterdam and the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky is right on it. Now part of the exclusive Anantara brand, it is housed in a historic building and combines old world glamour with modern amenities beautifully.
You will find the White Room Michelin Star restaurant here as well as Amsterdam’s top attractions on your doorstep. This is arguably the best hotel in Amsterdam.
Houseboats, Apartments and Air b&b Amsterdam
If you are looking for a unique place to stay in Amsterdam, look no further than Houseboat Amsterdam. Located close to Dam Square and with walking distance from Central Station, this is a great choice for friends or families as there are two-bedroom apartments available.
Amsterdam ID Aparthotel
The Amsterdam ID Aparthotel is the top rated apartments in Amsterdam on TripAdvisor and offers one, two, three and four-bedroomed self catering apartments with a 24 hour reception, a full-service spa, restaurant, bar and fitness centre.
The apartments are located outside the city centre but most of Amsterdam’s top attractions are easily reached by the nearby metro. This is a perfect choice for groups or family stays in Amsterdam.
How to get to Amsterdam
Ryanair, Aer Lingus and KLM all fly direct to Amsterdam from Dublin, and Aer Lingus fly from Cork, with a flight time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. Getting from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to Amsterdam city centre is easy. Conveniently located downstairs in the airport is a train station and the journey takes approximately 20 minutes, with a ticket costing between €5-€9.
Whether you travel with your partner, friend, family or solo, I hope my post on the top things you must do in Amsterdam will help you make unforgettable memories in the ‘Venice of the North’. Clodagh Dooley.
Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links where I receive a commission if a booking is made, but at no additional charge to you. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, prices and attractions are subject to change.