top of page
  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

The Best Things to Do in Amsterdam!

I recently got back from my first trip to Amsterdam. I loved it! There is so much to see and do in this city you could spend weeks there and not get bored. However, I only had a few days so I had to be selective with how I spent my time. This blog will highlight things I did in Amsterdam that I really enjoyed. Again, there are many more sights I didn't get a chance to see, but this list will get you started planning your visit to this amazing city!

Canal Cruise

Amsterdam is known for its extensive canal system that runs throughout the city. There are many different companies that provide cruises on the canals. Our canal cruise was organized through AMA Waterways, so I didn't do a lot of research on the different cruise services. I do know that there are variations in the length of the cruise, whether food and drinks are offered (some include wine and cheese!) and cost. You can walk up and down the canal by the central train station and see the different cruise companies to evaluate your options. Whichever company you choose will provide a lovely view of Amsterdam from the water and the knowledgeable guide will entertain you with interesting stories of Amsterdam's history. This is a must do when in Amsterdam!

Ann Frank House

Visiting the Ann Frank House is a sobering thing to do, but I couldn't come to Amsterdam and not see it. To actually walk through the Secret Annex where eight people spent two years in a small space hiding from the Nazis is surreal. What they had to endure to survive is incomprehensible and the way their time in hiding ended is heartbreaking. But I believe it is our obligation to remember the horrors that the Frank family and all other Jewish people went through at the hands of the Nazis to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I will say that visiting the Ann Frank House is also inspiring. Going through the office building and the Secret Annex reminds you of the amazing bravery that many people displayed during that time in order to protect others and fight back against the hate that was being spread. The Ann Frank House is a very popular tourist site so if you want to go you will need to make reservations ahead of time. Click here for more information on visiting the Ann Frank House and to make a reservation. You can also do a virtual tour of the Secret Annex on the website if you don't plan on going to Amsterdam any time soon.

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of Van Gogh art works in the world. This year is the Museum's 50th Anniversary. The Museum has some of the most popular Van Gogh paintings that even non-artsy people like me will recognize. The Museum has a self-guided audio tour that provides interesting information about the life and art work of Vincent Van Gogh, including his famous mental break down where he cut off his ear. I was disappointed that the Starry Night painting was not at this Museum, but it is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. The Amsterdam Museum does have one of his famous Sunflowers painting as well as several of his self portraits. Like the Ann Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum is very popular and advance reservations are required. Click here for information about the Van Gogh Museum and to make a reservation.

Rijks Museum

The Rijks Museum is the museum of the Netherlands featuring 800 years of Dutch history and art work of the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. As luck would have it, our trip happened to fall during a time when Rijks was holding a once-in-a-lifetime Vermeer exhibit. They obtained loans from other museums and were able to create an exhibit with 28 of the 37 or so known works of Johannes Vermeer. My friend Ann was able to secure us tickets even though all 450,000 tickets sold out in a matter of days. Rumor has it that these tickets are being resold by people on line for thousands of dollars! Vermeer is one of Ann's favorite artists and his art has special meaning to her so I am so glad that timing and luck was on our side. Even if you don't get the opportunity to see the Vermeer Exhibit, the Rijks Museum still has amazing artifacts and art work and is a world renowned museum that you should visit when in Amsterdam. One of the most famous paintings you can view at Rijks is Rembrant's larger than life "Night Watch". It is a wall sized painting secured behind a large glass wall. There is a special sheet you can used when viewing the painting that points out relevant features. Find information on the Rijks Museum including hours, ticket prices and reservations here.

Heineken Experience

After all that culture and history, it was time to let our hair down and do something just for fun. That is exactly what we got at the Heineken Experience. The Heineken Experience is housed in the original Heineken brewery. The self-guided tour includes just a brief bit of history and the rest of the tour is an interactive brand experience using modern technology. There is an immersive experience where you take the journey of beer being bottled and distributed. There are also fun activities where we had the opportunity to make and download pictures or videos incorporating the Heineken logo. Christina actually designed her own bottle to take back a sample of Heineken beer to her dad. Of course the best part of the tour is the two beers you get in the Heineken bar at the end. I recommend adding the Rooftop experience to your entry ticket. For only 4 additional Euro we gained access to the Heineken Rooftop Bar with incredible views of Amsterdam. The Heineken Experience was a very entertaining and fun way to spend the afternoon! Again, reservations are recommended, especially if traveling during peak times. Click here for more information. Proost!

Keukenhof Gardens

If you happen to be visiting Amsterdam from late March to mid May, be sure to reserve tickets to visit Keukenhof Gardens to see an amazing display of tulips and other flowers. Keukenhof had just opened for the season when we returned from our riverboat cruise so we were fortunate to be able to visit. Not all the flowers were blooming as we were there on the early side, but it was still definitely worth the trip. In addition to beautifully landscaped flower gardens outside (that were not completely filled in yet), there are also amazing floral displays housed inside several buildings on Keukenhof's grounds which have been designed by the different flower suppliers. There were tulips in colors I had never seen before. The whole experience was breathtaking. I can only imagine how it will look in full bloom! Keukenhof Gardens is outside of Amsterdam so you will need to figure out how to get there. There are a variety of ways you can take this tour. Several tour companies provide round trip transportation and an entry ticket. We chose to arrange for our own transportation and go on our own time. It is fairly easy to figure out as there is an express bus that goes right to Keukenhof from Amsterdam City Center (but we had to take a Metro to get to that bus stop). It was nice to be able to come and go as we wanted instead of being tied to the time constraints of an organized tour. Check out the Keukenhof Garden website for information on when they are open, ticket prices and reservations.

Amsterdam Flower Market

Even if your trip to Amsterdam doesn't fall in the narrow window of tulip season, don't despair! You can still experience the beauty of multiple colors and varieties of flowers at the Amsterdam Flower Market. It is the only floating flower market in the world! All the separate vendor stalls are located on houseboats in reference to the history of the flower market when the flowers were supplied to the market daily by boat. Regardless of the time of year, the Flower Market will be filled with an abundance of blooms making it one of the most colorful and fragrant spots in the city. You can buy bouquets, single flowers or bulbs. If you buy bulbs to take home make sure they are packaged appropriately to get through customs. The market is open every day until 5:30 (17:30 European time). It is located on the Singel Canal between Koningsplein and the Muntplein.

Visit the Red Light District

The Red Light District may or may not be your cup of tea, but if you aren't easily offended, a walk through the area should be on your list. Amsterdam is known for its "anything goes" attitude and the Red Light District is the perfect illustration of this mindset. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and the Red Light District is the hub of most this activity. We decided to take a stroll through the area because we couldn't visit Amsterdam and not check out the most infamous part of the city! I have to say it was a little anticlimactic. Of course we did go during the day and early evening. Regardless of the time you go, there will be a heavy scent of marijuana in the air and there are the expected sex shops with interesting window displays. Even during the day, there were a few women sitting in the oblong windows eating lunch or checking their phones waiting for interested clientele. I have to say they honestly had more clothes on than I normally see at a beach on a summer day. My friends did go again at night and the vibe was a little more lively. They actually heard some visitors negotiating with the women for additional services, but they said it was all very respectful and transactional. If you go you should know that you may NOT take any pictures of the women in the windows in order to protect their privacy. Additionally, it is illegal for any tours to take groups through the Red Light District so do not accept any offer to provide a guided tour of the area. The Red Light District wasn't my favorite part of the city, but I'm glad I experienced this unique aspect of Amsterdam.

Walk the Canals at Night

The canals are the centerpiece of Amsterdam's beauty. I took so many beautiful pictures of the houseboats on the canals, the canal houses lining the sides of each canal and historic buildings viewed from the perspective of the canals. But make sure you don't miss the opportunity to walk through the city after dark and see the canals at night. Many of the houses along the canal purposely leave their windows open and their lights on in order to create a beautiful scene as you stroll down the street. The magic of the canals at night should not be missed.

These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg of things to do in Amsterdam, but I really enjoyed every single thing I mentioned in this blog and would highly recommend including them all in your itinerary. If you have been to Amsterdam and did something else that you think people should be aware of, please comment below and share your tips! I have so many other places on my travel bucket list I am not sure I will make it back to Amsterdam, but I did love this city and there is so much left to explore! I may just have to go back!


bottom of page