Amsterdam: Must-See, Must-Do Attractions and Experiences for First Time Travelers
Amsterdam, capital city of the Netherlands, may be small in size but it is definitely big in attractions to admire and experiences to enjoy. Despite not being a first-choice destination for those visiting Europe for the first time (cities like London or Paris are usually preferred), it definitely acts as a magnet for tourists from all around the world.
Famous for its picturesque canal network, its love for bikes, its rich and varied cultural scene, its open-mindedness and vibrant nightlife, Amsterdam is a unique destination. Almost 7000 buildings dating from the XVI to XVIII centuries are crowded in a relatively small surface, dissected by more than 150 canals and many bridges. Eight of them are old wooden bascule bridges, including the famous and instagrammable Magere Brug.
Despite renting a car is usually a great way to move around Europe and visit different countries, regions and cities and you’ve probably made your own research on car rental damage insurance on pages like this, you’re advised to ditch the four wheels and embrace the bike.
Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities on Earth and its urban design makes it super easy for locals and tourists to discover the various interesting spots in the city by bike. You can hire out bikes and locks and there are bikes available in different speeds.
Being compact in size is definitely helpful as you can reach different places in just a few minutes.
Besides, it’s a great way to live Amsterdam as locals do!
The Jordaan is a charming residential neighborhood that invites you to discover the authentic residential Amsterdam far from the tourist attractions. You’ll definitely find enjoyable the chance of walking along the narrow streets, losing yourself in each twist and turn, exploring the picturesque environment.
There are quite a few interesting shops where you’ll be able to find nice souvenirs and gifts for the ones back home, cafes and bars.
Right off the city centre, the Begijnhof is a hidden gem. It is one of Amsterdam’s oldest inner courtyards, a small area where you can find houses, a church and two original wood houses.
The Begijnhof used to be home to the Beguines, a group of unmarried religious women who chose to live together in a close community. You’ll find the discreet entrance to this medieval enclosure via the Begijnsteeg, off the Kalverstraat.
It’s open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
Bikes, canals, tulips open-mindedness and the Red Light District. Those are probably the few things why Amsterdam is famous for. And even if you don’t approve of the pragmatic approach of sex trade in the Netherlands, the Red Light District is an area you definitely have to see.
Beware that this area looks totally different at night and during the day. While it looks like any ordinary neighborhood in the city during the day, you’ll be surprised with lots of glowing red lights and women standing in windows trying to lure people in at night.
Going on a canal cruise in Amsterdam is one of the activities you definitely must do. Some people recommend that you do it on your first day in the city but I suggest that you walk around a bit, explore the canals on foot (it’s a lovely experience!) and then take a relaxing and nice canal cruise.
Seeing the city by boat is just delightful. You can lie back and discover its beauty and charm from a totally different point of view.
There’s an impressive variety of companies offering cruises. Do your research beforehand as not all of them offer the same service and in some cases you may not receive what you expect.
Considered Amsterdam’s top museum and a world-class reference reservoir of top masterpieces, the Rijsk Museum is a must-go-to place for visitors. You’re advised to allow yourself plenty of time to fully enjoy the many exhibitions on offer. Apart from an impressive permanent collection and a jaw-dropping external architecture, there are usually temporary exhibitions that are equally awesomel.
It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm. You can book online to avoid queues.
The Rijks Museum is home to an impressive collection of works of art by renowned Dutch artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer mostly from the 15th to 17th centuries though its stunning collection stretches across 800 years: there are 5000 paintings distributed in 250 rooms!
There are also invaluable historical artifacts, medieval sculpture and traditional handicrafts.
Whether you learnt about Anne Frank’s at school or read her diary, to have the opportunity of visiting the house where she hid with her family from the Nazis for two years is a touching and reflective experience. Mind you! Tickets can only be bought online and they can be bought 2 months in advance. There are a few sold for the day.
Located on the Prinsengraacht, the front of the house is a thought-provoking museum, but the back annex has been preserved to give an idea of what life was like for Anne and the families she was hiding with. The videos, at the end of the tour, showing real-life scenes from concentration camps are really emotive.
Your stay in Amsterdam would be lacking something essential if you missed visiting Van Gogh’s museum. This modern building building on Museumplein features a stunning collection of over 1000 paintings, drawings and letters from the Impressionist artist Van Gogh.
Visitors can appreciate some of the Vincent’s most important and well-known pieces of work but also learn about the artists that inspired him. It is one of those museums to which you’ll go back more than once as you may need more than a visit to really take in the stunning beauty of his drawings and paintings. There’s an amazing gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and memorabilia from the experience.
Who said that Amsterdam is not a kid-friendly city? If the Rijks or Anne Frank’s House seems to be too much for a child, you can rest assured that they’ll have a blast at NEMO Science Museum. Housed inside the ship-like green building on the harbor.
It’s a science museum packed with plenty of hands-on activities that entice children to spend hours on end discovering, touching, enjoying and learning with hand-on activities that teach them about chemistry, building, etc.
Rembrandt is one of the most famous and classical Dutch artists and locals pay homage to his artistic genius in the Museum Het Rembrandt Huis. Located in the house where he once lived and worked, it invites visitors to appreciate the most complete collection of etchings, objets d’art, musical instruments and Roman busts.
Spending some time in the museum is a great opportunity to see what life was like for Rembrandt in the XVII century.
Climb the steps of the Westertoren and enjoy the unparalleled views from the of Amsterdam from the top. Located in the centre of the city, it is only open in summer. It’s a super historic place (it dates back to 1638) and you can only enter with a guided tour. Since only 6 people can climb every half an hour, show up as early as possible so that you can choose your favorite time slot.
Our Lord in the Attic Museum is one of the most impressive historic attractions in Amsterdam. Located in the Red Light District, a small canal house that doesn’t stand out at all hides a secret little church at the top. There are some stairs to climb but the displays you’ll see and the history of the place make it a great place to visit.
The church was built in 1663 to give Catholics place for worship once they lost their right to do so. On the lower floors there is an amazing collection of religious artifacts.
The Royal Palace is located in the heart of the city, on Dam Square. It is often used for royal events and official receptions and the general public can visit it almost all year round. It was originally built as a town hall in the 1650’s but it has served as a palace since the XIX century.
It is exquisitely decorated and it houses a stunning collection of furniture and works of art that you’re invited to admire. There are free audio guides available in various languages. Children have their own as well, but only available in Dutch and English.
You’ll fall in love with the impressive chandeliers that can be appreciated in some of the rooms!
The Dam Square dates from the XIII century and it’s known not only for being surrounded by some of the most typical and instagrammable attractions in Amsterdam but also because of its special vibe.
Around the square you can see the Royal Palace, the Neiuwe Kerk (New Church) , Madame Tussaud’s Museum, the Diamond Center, the Bijenkor, Magna Plaza, the Krasnapolsky Hotel, the Beurs van Berlage and much more.
You can easily find it on your way out of the Central Station. Just walk along the Dam Rak and you can’t miss it. There are plenty of nice shops nearby and there are some cozy cafeterias where you can grab something to eat and drink.
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without spending some time at the Oude Kerk or Old Church. It is the oldest building in the city and it was built in 1306 to honor St Nicholas. Its tower offers one of the best views of Amsterdam 360°.
Located on the Red Light District, it is now used for religious and cultural activities. The original building suffered various additions, such as the large side chapels in the early 1500’s, the portal leading to the Iron Chapel also from that time an the impressive tower that was added in the XVI century.
The interior of the church is also beautiful. There are three stunning large windows from the Dutch High Renaissance and the choir stalls are finely carved in wood.
If you watched the coronation of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima you probably remember the magnificent church where the ceremony took place: the Nieuwe Kerk. Situated in the heart of Amsterdam, next to the Royal Palace is also home of beautiful organ concerts. One of its most striking features is its magnificent pulpit from 1649, a jaw-dropping Baroque wood carving decorated with the four evangelists and figures symbolizing Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice and Prudence.
The Nieuwe Kerk is also known for its beautiful stained glass windows .
The Stedelijk Museum is the Municipal Museum of Amsterdam and it s home of one of the most impressive collections of modern art In Europe. The focus is on French and Dutch paintings from the XIX and XX centuries. Amongst the artists whose works you can admire here are De Kooning, Chagall, Mondrian, Visser, Rodin, Moore, Visser, Renoir, Rietveld and Van Doesburg as well. There are also some works from Picasso, Miró and Dalí and it is definitely on of the most favorite museums amongst locals! It offers an interesting package of family activities!
It’s not surprising at all that many of the houses along the canals are quite narrow. However, the one on Singel 7 is the narrowest in the world. It’s only 1 meter wide, a bit wider than its own front door. As you reach it, get your camera ready as you’ll definitely want to take some pictures of it!
If you love beer and you’re spending some time in Amsterdam, you can’t leave the city without visiting the Heineken Experience, which takes place in the old Heineken Brouwerij. Heineken is one of the most popular beers in the world, and what can be more attractive than learning from the experts how this fermented beer is made?
A downloadable app takes visitors on a historical journey through the factory, a virtual reality ride and those older than 18 can enjoy a free tasting as well!
Amsterdam offers tourists amazing opportunities for retail therapy There are plenty of open markets where you can buy delicious local food products, grab something to eat, find flowers, art objects and antiques. In many of them, the immigrants offer their traditional products in a colorful and multicultural experience.
If you are looking for boutiques and souvenirs, the Nine Streets is the place to go. You’ll be able to find there original souvenirs, and clothes stores.