Things To Do In Amsterdam: Our Top 7 Attractions in Amsterdam

What are the top things to do in Amsterdam if you're visiting the city? Below are our top 7 attractions in Amsterdam.

Want more tips? Read what authors Declan, Georgeta and Arjen like to do on their perfect day in Amsterdam.

1. Exploring The Old City Center

Amsterdam has a beautiful old city center, crossed by 165 canals and over 1,200, often old bridges. Amsterdam's 17th century architecture is world famous: canal houses, ware houses, churches and palaces.

Things to do in Amsterdam

Many were built in the Golden Age (1650-1750 AD), when rich Amsterdam was the centre of world trade. However, buildings like the Old Church even date back to the 13th century.

Moreover, the city centre is much more quiet than other cities. As there's little traffic in the old, small canal lanes, it's a perfect area for relaxed sight seeing.

A tip: Do like the Dutch and rent a bike. They're relatively cheap and will often even get you quicker across the small Amsterdam city centre than trams or the subway. You can also join guided tours, of course - ask at your hotel desk.

2. Taking A Canal Boat Tour

While walking or biking are excellent ways to explore the Amsterdam canals, you should absolutely take one, or several, canal cruises in Amsterdam.

Tip! Look for the specialty cruises.

There are evening dinner cruises and candlelight cruises. In the evening, especially after dark, some of the canals and buildings are beautifully lit.

Take a look at the different canal tour types.

Amsterdam canals

Canal cruises take place in low boats with glass ceilings, and they give you a wonderful perspective on the city. They last about an hour and cost around 7,50 euros. Most leave from the Damrak, just outside the Central Station, and the area around the Leidseplein.

There's also the hop-on-hop-off canal boat, that brings you almost everywhere in Amsterdam's old city centre, and the Museum Boat that brings you to 7 of the leading Amsterdam museums. Anyway, some kind of canal cruise should be high on your list of things to do in Amsterdam.

3. Visiting Museums And Other Cultural Venues

Amsterdam has the most museums per inhabitant of the world. The three best visited (who all draw over a million visitors a year) are:

  • the Van Gogh Museum, dedicated to Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh who arguably is the most important 19th century painter...

  • ... the Anne Frank House, which was the actual hiding place ('Secret Annex') of this world famous Jewish Holocaust diarist during the Second World War...

  • ... and the Rijksmuseum, which shows world famous paintings from Rembrandt and other 17th century 'Dutch Masters'.

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!

Here's more about the most popular Amsterdam museums, as well as a much longer list of museums in Amsterdam.

Don't forget there are more cultural things to do in Amsterdam besides museums. Each night, there are concerts and live music in Amsterdam.

The city is also known for it's art galleries and it has the best theatres of the Netherlands. For some lighter cultural things to do in Amsterdam, visit the comedy shows of Boom Chicago (entirely in English). More is on my Amsterdam nightlife page.

4. Going Out: Cafes, Restaurants, Nightlife

Leidseplein AmsterdamTerraces at the Leidseplein

Typical of Amsterdam are the 'brown cafes': the neighborhood pubs which serve as extension of the living room of ordinary Amsterdammers, and where many Amsterdam folk singer began their careers.

Another type of the Amsterdam café is the stylish grand café with soft couches and reading table with newspapers. They are great for spending lazy afternoons there with my favorite newspaper and a cup of designer coffee.

Try the cafés around the Spui square, Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein. Many have lovely terraces for sunny days. However, bring your own stuff to read since most on the reading table is Dutch.

Amsterdam restaurants are too numerous to mention: from the cheap Thai, Surinam and Indonesian eateries of the Nieuwmarkt area to the classical restaurants of the canal streets and the trendy ones such as George and the Supperclub.

More about going out is on our Amsterdam nightlife page.

5. Shopping In Bohemian Amsterdam

Waterlooplein flea marketShopping at Waterlooplein flea market, Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famous for it's bohemian shops, flea markets, second-hand and antique shops and in general anything-out-of-the-ordinary.

Amsterdammers love arty junk and hip gadgets. So shopping is certainly one of the top things to do in Amsterdam.

Much more interesting than the Kalverstraat & Nieuwendijk (the famous Amsterdam shopping streets) are, for example, the shops at the Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk.

The best antique shops you will find in the Spiegelstraat and other canal streets. Nice specialty shops are in the Oude and Nieuwe Hoogstraat.

Among my favorite things to do in Amsterdam is browsing the daily Waterlooplein flea market, where folksy Amsterdam salesmen sell about anything conceivable: from army clothes and water pipes to jewelry and rather questionable art.

Backpackers can find everything they're looking for at the Nieuwendijk, while the really exclusive stuff can be bought at the P.C. Hooftstraat.

Touring The Red Light District

Red Light District Amsterdam"Paid love" in Amsterdam

Nowhere in the world is window prostitution more out in the open than in the laid-back Amsterdam Red Light District.

Scantily dressed women stand in the windows, hoping to seduce passing men (or the odd couple) to come inside. In between the 'windows', there are sex shops, video cabins and sex theaters - but also regular offices and houses, as it's actually a popular area to live, with beautiful 17th century architecture.

The best time to visit is right after sunset, when the red lights shining over the canals create a very special atmosphere. It's also busier then.

The area is just as safe as the rest of the city centre, and although the occasional guy will whisper 'Psstt! Cocaine!' to you, there are always police, shop owners, and lots of bystanders present.

There are also guided tours, among others by the Prostitution Information Center (Enge Kerksteeg 3) which is run by former sex workers. Whatever you think of the Red Light District, many tourists put a little Red Light sight seeing on their list of things to do in Amsterdam.

7. Visiting A Coffee Shop

Marihuana joints in Amsterdam coffee shopCoffee shop in Amsterdam

Another part of the 'controlled sleaze' in Amsterdam, the coffee shops where you can legally buy up to 5 grams of weed or hash, and smoke it right there if you want. Are you looking for places that actually serve coffee instead of soft drugs? Then see our Amsterdam coffee houses page.

The atmosphere inside differs widely: while some coffee shops still look like the 1970s counter culture where they originated from, others have adopted more trendy or even New Age styles. Some are very relaxed, others have loud music, etc.

Coffee shops are not allowed to advertise, but you can recognize most of them by the green 'palm' leaf (actually a cannabis leaf) or by the use of the Rastafari colors (green, red and yellow). And they're in most travel guides and the phone book, of course.

Obviously, there are many different possible things to do in Amsterdam... but we hope this page has given you some ideas.

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About Us is written by local residents who once arrived in Amsterdam for the first time, just like you...
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