What should you see first when visiting Amsterdam? What are the best things to do in Amsterdam? Discover the top attractions, must-see museums, cool activities and more.
Yes, Amsterdam’s relaxed attitude toward what many would consider to be vices has earned this Dutch city a hedonistic reputation. Vice isn’t the only appeal. Amsterdam is a city of intellect by virtue of its amazing assortment of museums and galleries.
Known as the “Venice of the North” due to its intricate canals, Amsterdam offers attraction after attraction for visitors to explore throughout a chessboard of palaces, gardens and wharfs intersecting with brightly colored row houses with gabled facades dating back to the Dutch Golden Age of the 17 century.
Of course, the city’s cannabis coffee houses, high-energy nightclubs and world-class festivals make it clear to visitors that the party never stops in the Netherlands.
For tourists in love with the idea of biking to everything, this cycling-friendly city will truly have your gears spinning in delight while exploring the paths and lanes that web through its neighborhoods flawlessly.
Ready to get your Amsterdam itinerary settled? Take a look at the best things to do in Amsterdam.
Get the I Amsterdam City Card and save money (visit attractions and museums for free, enjoy a free canal cruise and unlimited access to Amsterdam´s public transport)
The 25 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam
1. Paint the Town at the Van Gogh Museum
The presence of Van Gogh striking his milky canvas with color is something that’s felt all throughout Amsterdam. That’s why visiting the Van Gogh Museum early on in your visit can be a great way to shape the mood of your experience in the city.
Designed by Gerrit Rietveld, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum houses the largest Van Gogh collection in the world. The permanent collection features more than 700 works in total.
A perk of visiting the Van Gogh Museum soon after getting into the city is that the museum’s location places it in the high-profile spot of Museum Square in Amsterdam South.
That means that treasure like the Stedelijk Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Concertgebouw are all just short walks away. You can purchase your entry ticket here.
2. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The iconic Rijksmuseum is a national museum dedicated to history and the arts. Located in the heart of Museum Square, this museum is not to be missed when you’re in the neighborhood to check out Concertgebouw and the Van Gogh Museum.
Featuring more than 8,000 pieces within its collection, the Rijksmuseum was founded in The Hague in 1798 before being relocated to Amsterdam in 1808. Its 2.47 million annual visitors make it the top museum in Amsterdam.
Visitors can browse a 2,000-piece collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age that includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals. The Asian pavilion that was opened in 2013 to house the museum’s Asian collection is also considered a highlight.
3. Go Wild at the ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo
The oldest zoo in the Netherlands, ARTIS is located right in the center of Amsterdam. This beautiful space is actually one of the oldest zoos in Europe.
Visitors are treated to a beautiful landscape that is both exciting and educational as they browse the 27 historic buildings containing the zoo’s exhibits.
The landscape is also peppered with bridges and ponds that weave through the animal enclosures. In addition to providing a traditional zoo experience, ARTIS also features a planetarium and arboretum, and there is a collection featuring art and sculptures on the property.
Book your ticket: here.
4. See the City From Above at the A’dam Lookout
The only thing higher than the view at the A’dam Lookout is the adrenaline level. That’s because this spot is both an observation deck and a swing. Zip to the observation deck by elevator for 360-degree views at 100 meters.
All of the canals, bridges and gilded buildings of Amsterdam are on display from up high!
For those seeking additional thrills, the Over The Edge swing is a unique feature that dangles 100 meters above the city to bring you on a back-and-forth ride suspended from the tower.
The view from the swing is simply one of the most amazing things to see in Amsterdam!
Read also: Where to stay in Amsterdam
5. Tour the Canal Ring (Grachtengordel)
A canal is one of the first things to see in Amsterdam if you want to start falling in love with the city. It can be hard to know where to start with exploring the many intertwining canals of Amsterdam.
Luckily, focusing on the city’s Canal Ring will let you cover lots of ground. A 17th-century district tied to the Old Centre of Amsterdam, the entire Canal Ring district is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Popular Amsterdam attractions like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Cat Cabinet and the Anne Frank House are all located adjacent to the Canal Ring.
Many visitors choose to rent bikes to hop from attraction to attraction while taking in the beautiful architecture lining the canals.
6. Rent a Bike
Amsterdam is a cycling city. In fact, the Dutch capital is also known as the “Bike Capital of the World.” Exploring Amsterdam by bike allows you to see more because the city’s tight streets and canals aren’t designed for cars. Renting a bike here is a breeze.
While you’ll find bike shops scattered through Amsterdam, renting from one of the many rental spots near Central Station or Dam Square is often easiest.
Something that cyclists from out of town really appreciate about Amsterdam is how respected cyclists are on roads and trails. In fact, bikes are simply considered to be part of the flow of traffic here.
While you can easily tour the whole city by bike, consider heading to some designated trail areas that offer tons of visual treats for cyclists. Oosterdok contains a system of cycling paths that allow you to weave through the docklands.
The Amsterdamse Bos is a “planned forest” that allows you to do a little off-road cycling surrounded by artificial lakes, rivers and grasslands.
Check out this Small-Group Bike Tour of Central Amsterdam
7. Uncover Hip Amsterdam at NDSM-Werf (NDSM-Wharf)
If you want to know where hip things happen in Amsterdam, NDSM-Werf is a vibrant spot by the water that is quickly emerging as one of the city’s biggest cultural hubs.
Once a shipyard, modern-day NDSM-Werf is a favorite spot of artists due to its industrial vibe. It is alive with music and chatter from bars and restaurants.
The wharf area is also where many of the edgiest and coolest exhibits, performances and festivals take place just steps from the fun studios and galleries that have cropped up in the neighborhood.
Of course, what draws most people to NDSM-Werf is the famed Botel. Botel is Amsterdam’s one-of-a-kind floating hotel that can be admired from land.
8. Pull Some Strings to Visit Concertgebouw
Considered one of the best concert halls in Europe, Concertgebouw is a busy theater that hosts up to 900 shows in a normal year. The building has been rocking strong since it was constructed back in 1888.
It’s very common for people planning trips to Amsterdam to check ahead of time to see if any classical concerts are taking place during their anticipated travel dates. Seeing one of the many free shows here is considered one of the best things to do in Amsterdam on a budget.
Snagging seats ahead of time can ensure that there’s an opportunity for a formal night at the theater during a vacation!
Visitors hoping to score tickets to one of the venue’s many free concerts should know to show up early because freebies are given out at random based on who gets there first!
9. Shop the Nine Little Streets (De 9 Straatjes)
Designed as an official Amsterdam neighborhood in 1997, the Little Nine Streets district is where you’ll find some of Holland’s trendiest shops and boutiques tucked in the shadows of Amsterdam’s Singel and Prinsengracht canals.
This is a great area to cover if you’re looking for designer shops. However, the string of elite retailers is broken up by vintage shops, antique stores, one-of-a-kind boutiques and quirky shops.
This is also one of the best spots in the city for high-concept dining at experimental restaurants.
10. Book a Canal Cruise
While you may feel like you saw all that the glistening waterways of Amsterdam have to offer when admiring them on foot during a stroll through the Canal Ring, the truth is that you only just scratched the surface if you stayed on the surface.
Booking a canal cruise is one of the most magical things to do in Amsterdam!
The key is to book an after-dark canal cruise to gain an entirely new perspective by watching the lights of the city pass by. The lit canals create a romantic sightseeing experience.
Most tours last between 75 minutes and 150 minutes.
11. See a Dutch Beach at Blijburg aan Zee
Considered the official swimming hole of Amsterdam, Blijburg aan Zee is a beautiful city beach with real sand. Visitors can gather with the locals to swim in the beach’s designated swimming area.
The beach also has a few restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. Overall, Blijburg aan Zee offers an unexpected retreat experience in the last place you’d expect to find “a sea.”
12. Feast at Foodhallen
Foodhallen offers the ultimate food haul for foodies! It’s always a great place to stop if you’re looking for things to do in Amsterdam that involve eating.
Established in 2014, Foodhallen is a contemporary food hall that features more than 20 culinary stands to choose from. Many of the stands provide craft beers, wines and liquors.
While you’re likely to find Dutch favorites like kibbeling (deep-fried cod fish) and poffertjes (tiny pancake puffs) in the market, you can also eat your way “around the world” with Italian, Lebanese, Mexican and Indian cuisine.
Do look for some famed sweet-and-salty Dutch licorice before wrapping up your visit.
13. Feel the Heat in the Red Light District (De Wallen)
While many people picture the Red Light District first when they think of Amsterdam, the fact of the matter is that this neighborhood is just one strand in the vibrant tapestry that is Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Red Light District is located in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
This neighborhood is only intended to be appreciated by those who feel comfortable with Holland’s tolerant and receptive attitude toward activities and substances that are largely illegal in other places.
Yes, prostitutions and drugs are the things that the Red Light District is known for around the world. However, the edgy atmosphere in the neighborhood also includes lots of interesting museums, galleries and clubs.
For those looking for the full Red Light experience, showing up at around 11 p.m. to see the peak of the fanfare will give you a few hours to enjoy the neighborhood before shops begin shutting down at around 3 a.m.
The list of interesting and educational things to see in Amsterdam while in the Red Light District include the University of Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum, the Museum of Prostitution, the Erotic Museum and the Nieuwmarkt Market.
Walking tours are available.
14. Claw Your Way Through KattenKabinet (Cat Cabinet)
Cat lovers can’t prowl Amsterdam without making a stop at the world-famous KattenKabinet. This art museum devoted entirely to cats features works of art by many of the most iconic artists in history.
Proving that cats have been around for far longer than nine lifetimes, the drawings, painting and sculptures in KattenKabinet come from greats like Rembrandt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jože and Pablo Picasso.
What adds to the allure of this museum is that it is housed inside the famed house De Kattenkabinet that was constructed in 1667 for William and Adrian van Loon.
The house is presently the residence of five beautiful cats that will almost surely grace you with their presence during your tour!
15. Remember History at the Anne Frank House
Visiting the Anne Frank House is one of the most important things to do in Amsterdam. Located on the Prinsengracht canal in the city’s center, the Anne Frank House is where Anne Frank’s diary is housed.
Visitors can also tour the preserved secret annex that was the hiding place of the Frank family. One of the most visited museums in the Netherlands, the Anne Frank House welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors annually.
Book your tickets in well in advance (visit spots are quite limited) in the official Anne Frank House website, and learn about Anne Frank’s life, the history of the Jewish Quarter and Second World War with this walking tour.
16. Visit Our Lord in the Attic
Considered one of the most interesting things to see in Amsterdam, Our Lord in the Attic contains a house church constructed within a 17th-century canal house.
Built by religious dissenters during a time when the Dutch Reformed Church banned Catholic worship, this clandestine church has served as a museum since 1888.
Visitors can tour a perfectly preserved front room, hall, church, chapel, confessional and kitchen.
17. Prance Through the Royal Palace Amsterdam
Home to the Dutch Royal House, Royal Palace Amsterdam is open to visitors for most of the year. This is the ultimate place for taking in the opulence and honor of the monarchy.
Built during the 17th century by Jacob van Campen, the Royal Palace Amsterdam has served as the setting for town hall meetings, official events and visits from foreign dignitaries.
Self-guided tours allow visitors to enjoy the artwork and furnishings throughout the estate.
18. Enjoy the Boho, Beatnik Vibe of the De Pijp Neighborhood
Once a hub of Amsterdam’s working class, De Pijp is now a trendy residential neighborhood within the Quartier Latin. De Pijp is where people who are “too cool” for the city’s bustling center come to enjoy restaurants and nightclubs.
It’s also considered one of the best places located “off the beaten path” for diverse cuisine in Amsterdam. Discover dozens of restaurants serving up Moroccan, Turkish, Japanese, Syrian and Turkish flavors in this food wonderland.
19. Shop for the Rare and Beautiful at Albert Cuyp Market
If you’re in the De Pijp district, it’s an easy hop to the Albert Cuyp Market located between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat. Named after one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age painters, the Albert Cuyp Market is the largest outdoor market in Amsterdam.
Founded in 1905, this market spread out over more than 250 stalls that sell everything from steaming stroopwafels to handknit scarves. Just make sure you show up between Monday and Saturday because the market is closed on Sundays!
20. Tour the Official Heineken Brewery
Holland is the birthplace of Heineken. The world-famous brewery offers something called the Heineken Experience that allows guests to take a self-guided journey through the Heineken universe.
Considered one of the essential things to do in Amsterdam, the tour covers everything from the company’s history to the brewing process. Of course, the tasting room is considered to be the highlight of the experience for most people who complete it.
Once you’ve found your way to the tasting room at the end of the Heineken Experience tour, you can redeem your ticket for two Heineken beverages.
21. Visit a Tasting Room
Many of Amsterdam’s tasting rooms have been in existence for hundreds of years! There’s one drink that must be on your bucket list when pouring the spirits in the Netherlands. Genever (jenever) is a style of Dutch gin that’s known for its juniper hints.
This clear, botanical drink is usually enjoyed on its own. However, you can ask for it as part of a mixed drink if you’re not a fan of strong pours. A fun piece of trivia about genevers is that it can only be made in Holland based on European Union laws.
22. Chill in Vondelpark
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s Central Park. Spanning 120 acres across a painting-like landscape, the park first opened to the public in 1865. It attracts more than 10 million visitors annually.
It’s easy to relax in the grass, take a stroll along a bike path or admire the large ponds in the park while imagining all the ways that this spot has inspired some of the greatest Dutch artists and thinkers over the past 200 years.
The Vondelpark Openluchttheater is considered the jewel of the park. This open-air theatre hosts an array of classical performances, pop concerts, dance events, cabaret shows and more throughout June, July and August.
23. See the Tulips in Keukenhof
While Keukenhof isn’t located inside Amsterdam, it can be reached easily by car in less than 30 minutes. Several of the train stations throughout the city offer bus routes from Amsterdam to Keukenhof.
Known as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof hosts one of the largest flower gardens in the world. While roses, irises, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies and carnations are in the mix, it’s the tulips that attract people from around the globe!
Covering 79 acres, this beautiful space offers opportunities to see more than 800 different varieties of tulips grown from the 7 million flower bulbs that are planted annually.
While Keukenhof Castle is open to visitors throughout the year, the best time to visit is between April and May if you wish to see the tulip gardens in bloom.
Book this combo: Fast-Track Keukenhof Ticket and Transfer
24. Visit the Stedelijk Museum
Considered one of the top museums in Europe for modern and contemporary art, the Stedelijk Museum boasts a collection featuring works from iconic artists like Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock.
Offering a little something from every medium, the museum displays a mix of drawings, paintings, prints, photographs and films. It’s a great companion museum for visitors coming to the neighborhood to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
Buy your entry ticket online and skip the line.
25. Explore the Nightlife
Amsterdam stays up until the morning light! While this city is known for being a business center, you’ll find just as many people staying up all night as you see getting up early to trade stocks on the Euronext Amsterdam.
There are many different hot spots for nightlife in Amsterdam. However, two specific spots stand out for providing access to the best scenes without the need to run all over the city.
An area called Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) in central Amsterdam is generally considered to be the center of the more refined nightlife scene in Amsterdam.
When you arrive in Rembrandtplein, expect to hear live Dutch folk music spilling out of cafés. The area is especially known for its bars with packed terraces.
The second nightlife hot spot in Amsterdam is called Leidseplein. Perched on the southern side of the central canal ring, Leidseplein is a bustling square with a carnival-like atmosphere.
Enjoy busy bars and restaurants surrounded by fun local theaters hosting everything from classical music to comedy shows. For those looking for a classic European club experience with live DJs, iconic spots like Paradiso and Melkweg cannot be missed!