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Looking for the 10 best things to do in Amsterdam?
You’re in the right place!
This charming city is all about narrow buildings sandwiched together dating back to the 16th-18th century, about visually poetic canals, picturesque bridges, and unique neighborhoods.
And each time I go back to this cultural capital, I can’t get enough. (note: except in summer, too many crowds!)
Amsterdam is a top-rated destination at any time of year.
Optimize your time according to how long you can stay and what your interests are. (But did I mention to avoid summers if possible?).
If it’s your first time, or if you’re on a return visit, enjoy these 10 worthy stops and start planning things to do in Amsterdam!
GAZE AT THE CANAL VIEWS (top of things to do in Amsterdam)
With over 160 canals throughout the city, Amsterdam is about water, and it’s no surprise that a canal cruise is the most popular activity.
Unesco Heritage recognized the 17th-century canal belt in 2010, which includes the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht.
Amsterdam is very walkable like Barcelona and Paris,
But this beautiful city is also largely about canals and getting unique views from the water.
Keep your eyes open for those tilted narrow buildings, appropriately called the Dancing Houses.
There are quite a few houseboats on the Amsterdam canals and people live on them year-round.
Admire all types of houseboats, from small and simple to more elaborate with a garden and lounge chairs.
If you want to learn the history of Amsterdam’s houseboats, or take a look inside, visit the Houseboat Museum located in an old 1914 cargo ship.
The museum borders the Jordaan district and is a 5-minute walk from Anne Frank’s House along the Prinsengracht 296K.
STROLL THE JORDAAN DISTRICT (on my fav list of things to do in Amsterdam)
The Jordaan district borders 4 canals and is filled with original shops, small eateries, and beautiful views of Amsterdam’s typical buildings.
Stroll this area, have a look at the houseboats and street art.
Pay attention to details. This quiet neighborhood is full of small surprises.
Initially built in the 1600s for the poor working class, it became quickly overcrowded by those with little money, including refugees, and struggling artists.
Due to the run down, lack of hygiene and deplorable conditions, the district was nearly destroyed.
But today, the Jordaan neighborhood is entirely different.
It’s one of Amsterdam’s trendiest and most picturesque neighborhoods with a mix of residents like young professionals, artists, and families.
Make sure you plan the Jordaan District in your Amsterdam itinerary.
Amsterdam has a very high concentration of museums within its small city walls. So of course you should add a few on your list of things to do in Amsterdam.
From famous painters to up and coming photographers and street artists, there IS a museum for everyone, even if you’re not into museums. 🙂
Book online and reserve a slot or, for museums that allow it, just walk in and buy a ticket.
A few museums that might spark your interest
- Masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age: Rijksmuseum
- Impressionist Masters: Van Gogh Museum
- WW II through Anne Frank’s story: Anne Frank Museum
- Secret Church: Our Lord in the Attic Museum
- Modern Art Museum ex: Kandinsky and Warhol: Stedelijk Museum
- Fun and unique street art: Street Art Museum
If you have the Amsterdam City Card, you’ll benefit from discounts or for certain museums a free entrance.
WIDE BRIDGE NARROW HOUSE
Be sure to add to your list of things to do in Amsterdam, the red house.
Many say the red house on the right (in the photo) has the narrowest facade in Amsterdam as it measures just over 1 meter in width. Find it at Singel, 7
During the Dutch Golden Age, property taxes were calculated according to a house’s width. The owner of the narrow red house must have paid very little!
The Torensluis bridge is considered to be the widest across the Singel canal. It had a gate tower, the Jan Roodenpoortstoren, and a prison built underneath.
At the time of horsecarts, the wide bridge was an entry into the city.
If you take a closer look under the bridge, you can still see the cell entrance of the prison. However, the gate tower was demolished a long time ago.
Enjoy the terrace put out by local cafes during the summer.
On the corner sits the statue of Multatuli, an important Dutch author whose real name is Eduard Douwes Dekker.
Make sure to check out another interesting building, considered to be the smallest building dating from 1738. It’s located in Oude Hoogstraat 22.
Today it’s a unique tea room in Amsterdam!
Quite the experience with one table per floor!
TOP VIEW ADAM LOOKOUT (on the list of brave things to do in Amsterdam)
An interesting and very modern structure which stands tall in the middle of the water.
Take a short ferry to get to it.
What makes it worthy is the panoramic view of Amsterdam city once you get to the top.
So take your time, have lunch, take photos, enjoy.
Once you’re up there, and if you’re brave enough, give the highest swing a go. Appropriately called Over the Edge, it’s 100 meters above the ground!
Will you add it to your list of things to do in Amsterdam?
WALK THE JEWISH QUARTER
The Jodenbuurt (Jewish quarter), is a walk through history.
Sephardic Jews fled Portugal and Spain in search of religious tolerance in the late 1400s. The Ashkenazi Jews who came from eastern Europe followed some time after, and both communities settled into what is today the Jewish quarter.
The community became legal citizens of Amsterdam and were able to build a synagogue, sell goods (on the street), and raise their families in a traditional way.
Jodenbuurt was their home until WWII.
Until the Nazis turned the Jewish quarter into a Jewish ghetto. Guard controls and severe restrictions were implemented and well, we all know how it ends.
With the rise of deportations and raids, the Jewish quarter emptied and perished.
Today a few monuments remain to tell the story. Among them, the Portuguese Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum.
Spend some time in the Jewish quarter. Walk with a tour guide and understand how it all happened.
RESPECT THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
The red-light district, also known as De Wallen, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Amsterdam, and because of its very explicit nature attracts quite a mix of people.
Condom shops display the latest models, and prostitution is legal within the district walls.
Sex workers are unionized.and have business licenses, and cameras watch over the crowded streets.
There is an information center close to the church where you can learn about how the red light district works. The ladies at the information center can answer any of your questions and shed some light on the actions implemented to protect the workers.
It’s not obvious at first, but the red light district is also a residential neighborhood with families.
The noise level, however, can seriously rise!
Especially In the evenings, when coffeeshops and bars fill up, and people who drink too much overflow on the sidewalks that line the canals. Peep shows create very long lines that block the streets, and signs everywhere remind you that it’s forbidden to drink in public.
In such an environment, tourists get easily distracted and may forget how to behave. They also make pickpockets very happy.
The small maze-like streets are where the sex workers offer their services behind large windows. Within this maze is Trompettersteeg, a narrow alley less than 40 inches wide, barely large enough for two people to cross at the same time.
Sex workers pay a higher price for their windows in this location as it’s more discreet. However, more often than not, they have to deal with groups of rowdy drunk bachelors who gawk and snap photos.
Written on the alley walls several times over No Photos. So don’t, even if you think no one is watching,
No matter what your opinion is on the red light district, follow the rules and treat the ladies with respect.
Check the Red Light Secrets Museum
OUDE KERK AMSTERDAM
The red light district isn’t all about prostitution.
On Oudekerksplein square, in the middle of the red light district, is the oldest and most impressive church in Amsterdam.
Built back in the 13th century as a simple chapel, its evolution as we see it today is quite grandiose.
Oude Kerk is dedicated to Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. It got the “old church” status when the new church was built on Dam square.
And for a few years now it shows exhibits of contemporary artists.
On the ground in front of the church, there is a flat bronze sculpture of a hand on a breast,
An unknown artist donated his work to the city. It represents the ladies in the red light district.
It’s all worth understanding as part of things to do in Amsterdam.
Museum of Our Lord in the Attic.
Not far from the old church is a secret gem: the Museum of our Lord in the attic.
The outside looks like a typical canal house. But to find the secret church and get a glimpse of life back in the 17th century, you must go to the attic.
The secret church in the attic was created during a time when protestants forbid Catholics from practicing their religion in public.
People gather in Dam square to protest, to celebrate, to take photos.
On the west side, the old city hall became the Royal Palace thanks to Napoleon in 1806.
The interior is quite magnificent with gorgeous ceiling paintings, sculptures and ornate decorations.
Other impressive buildings on Dam square include :
- 15th-century New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)
- Mme Tussauds Wax Museum
- The National Memorial, a 22-meter obelisk, dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives fighting in WWII.
The square is huge and, at any given moment, probably packed with tourists taking pictures, or enjoying street performers.
Make sure to go early, and enjoy the empty square.
FOODHALLEN (on the foodies list of things to do in Amsterdam)
Located in Oud-West, this old tram depot is today a thriving food hall.
Come hungry as the food choices are extensive, from mezze to Asian to special local foods, deserts, and so much more.
Try some delicious bitterballen, a local specialty sold in cafes and bars everywhere in Amsterdam, but I found the best one at the De Ballenbar.
Lots of seating possibilities on individual tables or long large shared tables. Who knows you could meet someone interesting!
There’s a great vibe at Foodhallen and it’s often crowded at night and weekends.
Coffeeshops attract many tourists worldwide. Some are regular users while others come out of curiosity.
However, many tourists make fools of themselves or get in trouble.
Because of this problem, some residents want to implement a tourist ban and make coffeeshops for residents only.
The debate is ongoing.
Authorized sellers have a green and white sticker on their storefront and up to 5g is tolerated by the authorities. Be aware that alcohol or other drugs are not sold in coffeeshops.
Ask the helpful waiters if you need any clarification. Also, remember to follow basic rules and don’t underestimate the effects (and consequences) even if you’re a regular user.
If you don’t smoke and are just curious, make sure to buy something else, like a drink or just something to snack on.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Take your time and explore all these amazing stops and things to do in Amsterdam.
- Go on a canal cruise.
- View the city from way up top.
- Walk and learn about dutch Jewish history.
- Visit classic and secret museums.
- Explore the trendy neighborhoods.
- Walk until your feet hurt?
- Take in all the gorgeous canal views.
- And eat great food!