Amsterdam really needs no introduction. It is a major international tourist destination, renowned for its architecture, history, culture and shopping opportunities, as well as it is canals, quaint neighborhoods and a wide range of coffee shops. It is no wonder it is one of Europe’s most visited destination cities.
Amsterdam is obviously a very popular tourist destination and it was voted as one of the best places to visit in Europe by Lonely Planet. There are many things to do in Amsterdam and it has been ranked as one of Europe’s top ten destinations for culture, cuisine, nightlife, shopping, and more according to TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards winners list in 2018.
Amsterdam’s Historical Beginnings
The name Amsterdam is derived from is historical beginnings, when a couple local fisherman took it upon themselves to build a dam over the Amstel river (thus, Amstel + dam became Amsterdam).
It is readily apparent that Amsterdam is a sailor town, with its clearly evident maritime history and its roots in international trade. In fact, the history of Amsterdam’s famous red light district can be traced back to the cross section of merchant fleet sailors from around the world.
The Dutch are known for their tolerance and openness to other cultures, which dates back to the 17th century when Amsterdam became a hub for international trade and commerce. This attitude is still apparent in today’s society as well as in Amsterdam’s architecture: people from all around the world live side by side here, and Amsterdam is truly an international city.
And without question, Amsterdam has emerged as a center for culture, home to a number of the most impressive museums in Europe, if not the world. And this before we start talking about the history and architecture that greets at every turn.
So if you are planning a visit to Amsterdam, be ready for a wide range of views, tastes and experiences.
Amsterdam First Impressions
Amsterdam is a city of canals, bikes, and tulips. It’s a city of culture and art, with a rich history that has left its mark on the architecture, cuisine and people.
The culture is such a blend of history and other factors that there isn’t just one thing that jumps out. There is the obvious geography of the place, with it’s canals. And right away you will get a sense of it’s maritime identity. And it is very much a multi-cultural city, with a Latin Quarter and an open welcoming tradition for which it has become famous.
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Amsterdam is that it’s a very green city. You can find parks and trees everywhere, which makes it easy to forget that you’re in one of the biggest cities in Europe.
You may also notice how clean this city is – there’s not a lot of litter on the streets or graffiti on buildings, compared to major cities of this size back home.
Enjoy some amazing views in this ten minute travel break in one of the most unique and engaging cities in the world: Amsterdam.
Take a virtual city tour and see the famous attractions and tourist spots that attract millions of travelers to this ever-popular and remarkable destination every year.
This city is just begging to be explored by foot or better, by bicycle. There is no shortage of bike rental shops in Amsterdam, offering an alternative means of transportation around the city. You can even book scooters or motorcycles if you prefer to move around at a bit more interesting pace, or even explore the Dutch countryside outside Amsterdam proper.
And of course, no visit to Amsterdam is really complete without a boat tour or a canal cruise.
This city has been known as the Venice of the North for hundreds of years. Amsterdam’s network of canals is one of its most defining features. The canals are lined with houseboats and historic buildings that date back to the 17th century.
They were originally built as a defense against flooding and have now become an integral part of the city’s cultural heritage. A quick glance at a map of the city should a concentric pattern of canals around the center of the city, which is often referred to as the Canal Belt.
As part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Canal Belt is a 17th-century neighborhood fully designed and constructed around the 160 waterways and canals. This area is the very heart of Amsterdam, and part of its identity as one of the world’s most iconic cities.
You won’t see all the canals in one day, so be sure to plan some boat tours, walking tours, or even some biking tours so that you can cover more ground, enjoy your vistas and take in more of the city.
Amsterdam Tourist Spots to Visit
The main points of attractions in Amsterdam are: the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Red Light District, Dam Square, and Leidseplein.
- Dam Square is the central square of Amsterdam. The Dam is located in the center of Amsterdam, between the Rijksmuseum, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the Royal Palace. It was originally a defensive dam that helped protect the city from flooding.
- The Anne Frank House: This museum is dedicated to Anne Frank and her family during their time in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. It’s a very moving experience that you won’t forget easily.
- The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum are two of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam, but there are several more that you might not want to miss – consider a visit to the NEMO Science Museum, or the Stedelijk Museum of modern art. Read more below.
- Start to your visit with a trip to the A’DAM Lookout Tower, located on the north side of the IJ river across from Amsterdam Centraal Station.
- Visit the the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market.
- Leidseplein is a square in the city center of Amsterdam near the Leidsegracht and the Amstel river and offers many shops, bars, restaurants and theaters. In the middle of the square stands a statue called “Man at Work” by Dutch sculptor Pieter Jansz Saenredam.
- Work in a visit to the Artis Royal Zoo and the Botanical Garden while you are in Amsterdam. And take some visit to stroll through Vondelpark.
- The Red Light District in Amsterdam is just one of many you’ll want to visit – also see the Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) and De Pijp District, the Latin Quarter with it’s famous Albert Cuyp market.
You won’t run out of things to see and do in Amsterdam. See our list here of the top 19 places to see in Amsterdam during your visit.
Amsterdam Museums and Attractions
Amsterdam has many museums, including the Rijksmuseum which houses Rembrandt’s paintings and Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ painting.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is a museum for modern art, contemporary art, and design. It is located just a short walk from the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in the Museumplein district.
NEMO Science Museum is an impressive five-story boat-shaped structure in the Oosterdok area that will be hard to miss. This is a great option for kids.
The Rembrandt House Museum is a house in the center of the city where the well-known Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn lived and worked in his studio here between 1639 and 1658.
The National Maritime Museum is recently reopened after renovation. The Het Scheepvaartmuseum is housed in a 17th century house, and incorporates large replica of a historical sailing ship standing right outside on the waterfront.
Amsterdam Neighborhoods and Districts to Visit
Amsterdam is so much more than just the central area, and there area several well known districts and neighborhoods that are well worth a visit.
The De Pijp district is often referred to as the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam, as it was home to the working class people, often that moved here from another parts of the world. Of course it is home to the Amsterdam’s most famous Albert Cuyp market, which is worth of a visit.
De Wallen is best known for being home to the red light district in Amsterdam, but it is one of the oldest parts of the city and home to some architectural landmarks, such as De Oude Kerk, the oldest building in Amsterdam, among others.
Oud-West is another trendy area, with no shortage of bars, restaurants and concert venues. It is located along the northern side of Vondelpark, so after exploring this area, you’ll want to plan a stop in the Food Hallen, a modern food court built in a converted warehouse offering tastes from around the world.
The Nine Streets area is one of Amsterdam’s most photogenic neighborhoods, with quaint typically Dutch streets set in among the famous canals of city. Great shopping here, and just a great place to go for a walk and enjoy the experience of being in Amsterdam.
Westerpark, named after the largest park in the neighborhood, is among the greenest parts of Amsterdam. The other obvious green area is the De Plantage district on the southwest side of the Canal Belt, which is home to Artis Royal Zoo and the Botanical gardens.
Amsterdam at Night
Amsterdam comes alive at night, as the canals and historic buildings light up. Really this is true to some degree in almost any major city, but Amsterdam comes alive at night unlike really any other. Obviously, the red light district in De Wallen is something you will want to see, but there is much more than this.
Be sure you allow some time to enjoy the city at dusk as the daylight gradually fades away, and the city lights take over. Bring your camera gear or just use your smart phone. You’ll be glad you did.
In fact, you might consider making a trip over to the A’DAM Lookout Tower to observe this transformation at dusk from a wider vantage point that takes in the entire city.
Amsterdam city tour options
I like doing a short guided tour early, just to get my bearings, preferably on day one of my stay. This gives me a high level feel for what there is to see, and gets me thinking about those areas that I might want to explore in a bit more details – and how I might want to go about exploring it. Because in Amsterdam, there is no shortage of tour options.
You aren’t limited to the standard guided walking tour – there are plenty of other fun and unique ways to take a tour in Amsterdam such as cycling along the canals or taking a boat tour around town. In fact, you might want to start with cycling or a canal tour by boat, in order to cover a bit more ground and see more of the more popular areas, eg. Dam Square, etc., and then work in a walking tour that is a little more focused on some particular area or interest.
Walking Tours in Amsterdam
Take a couple hours and let a local show you around. Most of these walking tours range from 90 minutes to three hours, with two hours being about the average. And this is just enough to provide some local insights that you might otherwise miss, and get you started on your own independent exploration of the city.
Take a pub tour, a coffee shop tour or a local food tour. Maybe you would prefer some history in your tour, like a Anne Frank / WWII history tour. Or take on one of the many tours through the Red Light district or one of the various other interesting neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Take a tour of Amsterdam after dark. Option abound.
Bicycle Tours in Amsterdam
Experience the local culture as you ride the streets of Amsterdam on a guided bike tour that highlights the rich history of the iconic canal-lined city. See Amsterdam like a local on a bike tour of the city’s major attractions. Riding with an experienced guide, see fascinating sites and districts, such at the Museum Quarter.
Bike tours are also great options to venture outside the city a little bit. See Keukenhof gardens, or Volendam, tour the Dutch countryside and see the windmills in Zaanse Schans.
Boat Tours in Amsterdam
Now here’s a fun way to put your feet up and relax while you take in the sights and experience the city in it’s true element: take a canal tour.
Take a day cruise, take an evening cruise. Take a dinner cruise, or a wine and cheese tour. Travel on a public cruise tour or book your private cruise. Take a beer cruise. Take a drag queen bingo cruise with unlimited drinks. Seriously, if you can imagine it, there is probably an option available. You’ll want to scroll the list of cruise tour options available.
Find a great place to stay in Amsterdam
It is really easy to pay a lot for a hotel stay in Amsterdam, especially during the summer. But there are a lot of great deals to be found if you know where to look.
Typically my recommendations are to find a good predictable option with a reasonable location next to the metro/rail station or near a public transportation hub. Stay with the major European hotel brands, where you know more or less what you are getting.
Remember there is a super convenient train connect from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station, and the river port is literally right in front of the train station. The river cruise operators will generally use the Movenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre and the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, just because of close proximity.
But with that said, you won’t need to stay right there at Amsterdam Centraal station or Dam Square to enjoy your visit. Anything in that Canal ring will be a very good location, but also take a look at other great areas to stay in Amsterdam. You’ll find great hotels near Vondelpark, Museumplein or Leidseplein. Other good options can be found in Noord Amsterdam and near Frederiksplein, and you’ll have to trouble accessing local transportation and getting everywhere you will want to go.
Visiting Amsterdam on a Budget
It is no secret that Amsterdam in another one of those comparatively expensive western European capital cities, but it doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive. By exploring some of the more budget-friendly destinations in Amsterdam, you’ll not only witness the iconic landmarks but also delve into the city’s cultural richness and local charm. Amsterdam, with its canals, museums, markets, and parks, has much to offer at a wife range of price points.
If you are looking for a more unique experience, consider a short stay on a houseboat in Amsterdam. Here are some great options for a houseboat stay in Amsterdam for your review.
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