Amsterdam Highlights - Things to Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city with many things to do and see. Amsterdam highlights abound - it doesn't matter whether you're looking to see the sights of this old European trading centre or simply to go and see the infamous Red Light District with your own eyes…

Deciding what to do can be a challenge and so knowing some of the top things to do in Amsterdam ahead of time can help you to make sure your trip to the city is as fun packed as possible.

The Old City and the Canals

amsterdam city center

Amsterdam has a beautiful old city center, largely stemming from the 17th century (the Golden Age) when Amsterdam was one of the strongest trading cities in the world. Some buildings (like the Old Church) even date back to the 13th century.

The city center is packed with old canal mansions and churches, criss-crossed by hundreds of canals and over a thousand small bridges. It makes for great walking, and you can take one-hour or longer canal cruises. Some companies offer specialty canal cruises, e.g. a candlelight dinner cruise after dark, when many canals and bridges are beautifully lit.

Everywhere there are cosy cafes, terraces and small curiosity shops. Next to canal boats, the best ways to cross the old city center is by walking or bycicling (you can rent bikes at various spots, including the Central Station).

Brown Cafes

The distinctive wooden pubs, or brown cafes, are some of the most characterful Amsterdam highlights. In these gezellige (cosy and welcoming) bars you can while the day away with a newspaper or good friends over some quality Dutch or Belgian beers. And don't forget to try the typically Dutch tosti that most cafés serve for lunch.

To experience some of the best brown cafés Amsterdam has to offer, visit Café de Oranjerie, at Binnen Oranjestraat 15 west of the city centre in the Jordaan, or Café Thijssen around the corner at Brouwersgracht 107. For something closer to the city centre, pop into Hoppe at Spui 18 to drink a beer in one of the city's most historically political brown cafés. For more, see our pub guide.

King's Day

On April 30th every year Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands throw one of Europe's biggest street parties in honour of their King. King's Day (koningsdag) celebrates the official birthday of the King and as Amsterdam highlights go, is one of the most fun to experience.

Deck yourself out in all the orange gear you can find, grab some beers from a shop or one of the many stalls ran by the cafés and hit the streets in the Jordaan and city centre for the best King's Day experience. Don't forget to check out the street stalls ran by Dutch locals who use the day to sell off their knick knacks and curiosities - everybody is allowed to sell on the streets this day.

Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House, in the attic (Secret Annex) of which Anne Frank hid from persecution and wrote her famous diary, is definitely one of the Amsterdam highlights that everyone must see at least once. If this is your first trip to Amsterdam, you can't leave the city without visiting this sight at Prinsengracht 263-267, the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

If you don't want to spend most of your stay in the city waiting in line however, you must be sure to buy your tickets beforehand. Visit the tourist information office just outside Central Station and pick up tickets for a set time, then you can spend your day relaxing in the city, show up at the appointed hour and waltz right past the huge, slow moving queue.

This holds true for most of Amsterdam's tourist sights, including the museums on Museumplein (the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum).

Tip! Get the I amsterdam City Card.

  • Pay a one time fee
  • Free public transport
  • Free entrance to top attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt's House
  • Many discounts within the city
  • The pass is valid for up to 3 days

Get the I amsterdam City Card here!

The Jordaan

The picturesque Jordaan area is the home of much of Amsterdam's artistic community and can be found west of the city centre, starting just past the Singel canal.

A far cry from the seediness of the Red Light District or the touristy Museumplein, this part of the city is packed with art galleries, trendy cafés and a great open air flea market on Mondays at Noordermarkt. Many other Amsterdam highlights, such as the brown cafés can be found here, as well as some of the most beautiful canal-side views in the city.

The Red Light District

One of the more shocking Amsterdam highlights, to some, is the infamous red light district (known within the Netherlands as the Wallen). Almost nowhere else is prostitution more out in the open than here. The women sit behind red-lit windows, immediately visible from the streets. In between the windows, there are adult theaters, sex shops, regular cafés and even quite some respectable company offices and houses.

Even when most of the prostitutes and most of their clients are foreigners nowadays, the red light district has been an integral part of Amsterdam for ages. Just like the freely available soft drugs, the Dutch believe that prostitution can never be fully eradicated from society, so you better allow it because you can then regulate and control it. Many companies offer walking tours where you'll learn everything about the prostitution trade.

Amsterdam ArenA

One for the boys, the ArenA is one of those Amsterdam highlights that just has to be seen by any football fan (for Americans: it's soccer we're talking about here!) The first stadium in Europe with a sliding roof and the first in the world with an underground passage, Amsterdam ArenA is a marvel of mechanics as well as being home to Ajax football club.

It's not just football that the ArenA hosts however; those of us with more of a musical bent should check out one of the many big name concerts held here or pay a visit to Sensation & Black, the huge annual indoor dance party. You can find the Amsterdam ArenA just outside the city at ArenA Boulevard 1, take the metro lines 50 or 54 to Strandvliet / ArenA or Bijlmer.

Related Pages:

Skip the Lines!

Book your museum, tour and canal tickets here with a discount and without the (long!) waiting lines!

We are able to offer this through an Amsterdam ticket broker whith exclusive deals with all major Amsterdam attractions.

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Amsterdam-Advisor.com is written by local residents who once arrived in Amsterdam for the first time, just like you...
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