16 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam for an Unforgettable Trip

| @aqui_c / Unsplash
Ben West

Amsterdam’s heady mix of elegant, historic gabled buildings and magnificent canals, coupled with a vibrant nightlife and an impressive range of attractions, landmarks and cultural sites, ensures visitors can enjoy a fascinating stay at any time of year.

To help guide travellers around the city, here is Culture Trip’s list of top things to see and do in Amsterdam.

1. Hop on a captivating Amsterdam canal cruise

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Red passenger boat sailing through a city canal, Amsterdam, Netherlands
@x_vinicius / Unsplash

A boat tour provides a great introduction to and overview of the city. Amsterdam’s beautiful 17th-century canal belt, forming a multi-tiered crescent around the historic centre, ensures one stunning panorama after another. You’re surrounded by more than a thousand national monuments, including Anne Frank’s House, Westerkerk and the Rijksmuseum. A variety of tours are on offer, including guided historic cruises, candlelit dinner and drink excursions and even an eco-friendly trip where passengers are encouraged to fish for discarded plastic.

2. Relax in Vondelpark

Park, Theater

Lose yourself in this green oasis of lawns, ponds, woodlands and twisting paths at the heart of the city. Among the lively backdrop of strollers, cyclists, skaters, playful children and, in summer, a sea of picnics, there are 69 sculptures to admire, including a Picasso, as well as an impressive rose garden, cafés and bars with terraces. As well as buskers and street entertainers, an open-air theatre provides music, dance, jazz, cabaret, comedy and children’s theatre during the summer months.

3. Immerse yourself in art at the Van Gogh Museum


sunset at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
@frns / Unsplash
You’re not only treated to the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh here, but also works by contemporaries such as Gauguin, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec. More than 200 paintings and 500 drawings from every period of van Gogh’s career range from his early, sombre work in the Netherlands and Belgium to the colourful portraits and still lifes from his French period. The museum regularly organises temporary exhibitions.

4. Cycle around the city

Architectural Landmark

Two people cycling in amserdam
@momhasapples / Unsplash

It’s great to experience Amsterdam as the locals do, on a bike. The city is awash with good cycle paths and some great routes, and it’s well worth heading out to outlying districts, such as Noord, Oost, Zuid and West. Each has a completely different vibe to the centre, and their own cultural attractions and highlights.

5. Visit Anne Frank’s House


Anne Frank is, of course, one of Amsterdam’s most famous residents, living in a secret annex during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II before being taken to a concentration camp. You can visit the hidden apartment on Prinsengracht canal where Anne and her family and several others lived, behind a secret door, concealed behind a hinged bookcase. It is bare of furniture yet very poignant, and magazine pictures stuck on the walls by Anne remain. Neighbouring buildings house a museum dedicated to Anne’s tragic story. Very long queues to visit are common, so it is best to book tickets online in advance.

6. Visit the animal kingdom at Artis Zoo


Located in the leafy Plantage district, Amsterdam’s zoo is situated in beautifully landscaped grounds and boasts more than 900 animal species. It also has a planetarium, an aquarium with coral reefs, a kids’ petting zoo, African savannah and tropical rainforest areas and the Micropia exhibition, focussing on microbes, which is a lot more engaging than you may think.

7. Take a food tour around Jordaan


Jordaan Food Tour is so much more than meets the eye: it’s a guided walk through the unique cultural and historical sights of the Jordaan neighbourhood and a substantial meal in the form of a dozen delicious Dutch tastings from plenty of authentic foodie stops along the way! You will visit our locals in the very same shops and cafes they’ve been running for generations. (You’ll even experience their uniquely Jordanian sense of humour!) You’ll visit hidden courtyards, wander tiny back streets, and watch the boats drift by on the canals. Our local guides love to tell you their own Amsterdam stories, enhancing your experience while you eat, drink and walk along our canals with friends. Take a break from being a tourist and experience the real Amsterdam with us.

8. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam


See stunning artworks dating from 1870 to the present day at the Stedelijk, including pieces by Picasso, Warhol, Monet, Matisse, Rothko, De Kooning and many others. Temporary contemporary exhibitions run alongside those from the 90,000-strong permanent collection, and there are family-friendly hands-on installations and activities in the Rabo Lab. During busy times, it’s worth obtaining a skip-the-queue ticket.

9. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


You could spend many days visiting the 80 galleries at the Rijksmuseum, arguably the most popular and prominent museum in the Netherlands. The huge collection contains many masterpieces, including works by Dutch masters Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, but also everything from ship models and swords to Delftware and dollhouses. The museum is also home to a free sculpture garden and a Michelin-star restaurant, RIJKS.

10. The Portuguese Synagogue

Library, Synagogue, Historical Landmark

When completed in 1675, this classically styled building was Europe’s largest synagogue – built for the thousands of Jews who fled to Amsterdam escaping religious persecution on the Iberian Peninsula. Situated in the attractive Jewish Quarter and inspired by the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, it has no electric lighting, and its wooden barrel-vaulted ceilings and beautiful interior are instead illuminated by more than 1,000 candles and the light from 72 windows.

11. Dam Square

Historical Landmark

This ever-busy central square contains Amsterdam’s Royal Palace, the National Monument and the Nieuwe Kerk. With origins going back to the 13th century, Dam Square historically held a thriving marketplace, and today, Amsterdammers and tourists alike flock to its shops, cafes, bars and sights.

12. The Heineken Experience


Heineken’s historic brewery (which closed in 1988) now houses an interactive museum, taking visitors on a journey from the history of the Heineken family through to the brewing and bottling processes, as well as including a stop at the stables and copper beer tanks. Guests will also get to view Heineken commercials from around the world.

13. Micropia


Micropia is the only zoo in the world dedicated to microorganisms. These tiny creatures cover every inch of our bodies and help to sustain the world as we know it. The zoo is eager to convey this message and uses several impressive interactive exhibitions to uncover the invisible world of microbes. There’s plenty to see inside Micropia and the zoo actually functions as a microbiological laboratory.

Stroll the city’s markets

There are a number of open-air street markets around the city, and visiting them can help give you a feel of the ‘real’ Amsterdam. The biggest and best known, Albert Cuypmarkt, situated in the 19th-century neighbourhood of de Pijp, has more than 300 stalls, selling everything from traditional Dutch delicacies such as stroopwafels to cheese, meats, fruit and seafood, jewellery and clothes. The Bloemenmarkt on the Singel canal is the only floating flower market in the world, established in 1862. As well as flowers, its florists sell a host of bulbs. Waterlooplein flea market offers a great choice of second-hand clothing, shoes and antiques.

Chill out at a brown café

The traditional Dutch local pub is known as a bruin café, the name coming from years of smoke stains on the walls. Typically they have dark-brown wood panelling and furniture, low lighting and perhaps candles on the tables, and are irresistibly cosy, friendly and conducive to conversation. Often selling food too, they may be found down side streets or in 17th-century canal houses.

Catch a movie at one of Amsterdam’s striking independent cinemas

Most of the city’s independent cinemas have something special or quirky to offer, whether it’s the luscious Pathé Tuschinski, considered one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world; the striking Postmodern building that houses the EYE Film Institute; Movies, the city’s oldest cinema, dating from 1912; or the Filmtheater Kriterion, established by former members of the Dutch Resistance after World War II.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Tom Coggins.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article