What To Do on a Layover in Amsterdam

Reestraat corner in the Nine Streets neighbourhood of Amsterdam
Reestraat corner in the Nine Streets neighbourhood of Amsterdam | © Dutch Cities / Alamy Stock Photo
Tom Coggins

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport lies close to the city centre and travel between these two locations takes roughly 20 minutes by train – which means that even short layovers can provide enough time for quick excursions.

Whether you’ve only got a couple of hours to spare or an entire afternoon at your disposal, there are plenty of awesome things to do in Amsterdam on layovers.

If you have two hours

While it might seem impossible to fit anything into such a small window of time, it is worth remembering that Amsterdam’s main travel hub, Centraal station, is surrounded by several popular attractions. The city’s infamous red-light district, for example, is around five minutes’ walk from the station and features many important landmarks (such as the city’s oldest building, de Oude Kerk), and a charming, socially conscious craft brewery called Brouwerij de Prael. There are also places to eat nearby, such as the floating Chinese restaurant Sea Palace, or Mediamatic ETEN, which serves, fresh vegan meals made from ingredients grown in an on-site greenhouse.

De Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building

An extra three hours in Amsterdam leaves room for considerably more opportunities, though it’s still wise to stay close to Centraal station. Anyone looking for modern cultural hotspots, for instance, can take the boat from behind Centraal station across the river IJ to Veer Buiksloterweg dock. This harbour serves as a gateway to the city’s trendy Overhoeks neighbourhood, which features many important sites such as the state-of-the-art EYE Filmmuseum, the multistorey cultural hub A’Dam Toren and ground-level venue Tolhuistuin. Each of these landmarks contains at least one restaurant and bar, meaning that it is easy enough to spend a whole afternoon wandering around Overhoeks before heading back to the southern side of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam EYE Filmmuseum

If you have seven hours

Even though Museumplein is only 20 minutes away from Centraal station via tram number 5, it is always worth setting aside at least five hours to visit the area, as it contains some of the largest and most iconic museums in Europe. In fact, the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk are all located on the square and form a semicircle around its centre. Spending an afternoon exploring one or more of these museums is always rewarding, in part due to the large number of groundbreaking artworks that are contained within their collections. After taking in some culture, grab some fresh air in Vondelpark, which is within walking distance of Museumplein. Feeling hungry? Head over to ‘t Blauwe Theethuis or Vondelpark3, which are both located inside the park.

Inside Rijksmuseum

If you have 12 hours

Here’s some good news for anyone with 12 hours to spare in Amsterdam. The city is actually pretty small compared to other European capitals, and many of its main attractions are concentrated around its canal belt. These waterways are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and form a concentric network around Amsterdam’s city centre, which means that they are easily accessible from Centraal station. Walking around Amsterdam’s canals is among the best ways to experience the city, and there are literally thousands of other landmarks located on their banks, including Anne Frank House. Although paying your respects at Anne Frank House is certainly possible within this timeframe, it is important to remember that queues for the museum are notoriously long (but avoidable if you book tickets in advance).

Amsterdam’s canal belt is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Other possible destinations include FOAM on Keizersgracht, which ranks among the most respected photography museums in the Netherlands, or a delightful gallery on Herengracht, called KattenKabinet, that exclusively exhibits artwork featuring cats. There are plenty of places to eat in this part of Amsterdam, including many spots inside one of the city’s most popular shopping areas, de Negen Straatjes (‘the nine little streets’). Aside from boutique and brand stores, this picturesque neighbourhood also features many excellent restaurants that range from high-end brasseries like Ambassade to down-to-earth takeout joints such as The Lebanese Sajeria.

Negen Straatjes in Amsterdam

Lily Niu contributed additional reporting to this article.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article