As a Dutch-American who has visited Amsterdam 20+ times since childhood, my experience of the city is a unique blend of the local and the tourist perspectives.
In this post, I put together my personal highlights of worthy things to do in the city. By no means is this a comprehensive list. The best thing to do in Amsterdam is simply to wander the streets by foot or bike and uncover your own hidden gems.
Below, I organized a sample itinerary for 3-5 days in Amsterdam, but followed this condensed sample with lists of other highlights that are all worthwhile (including a list of the Dutch foods to try).
How to Spend 4 Days in Amsterdam
Day 1: West Side Walk-it-Out (Anne Frank, Jordaan)
- Get to the Anne Frank house before it opens. Book this ahead of time. It will be busy, but not as busy as later in the day.
- When you are done, wander the Negen straatjes (9 streets) which are filled with cute shops and boutiques. Continue to explore into the Jordaan neighborhood and find a cafe on a gracht to have a slice of appelgebaak (apple pie) and coffee or lunch. Bonus if you are there on a day when Noordermarkt is held. (Monday is a flea market and Saturday is a farmers market.)
- In the afternoon, spend a lovely hour at the new Grachtenhuis Museum, which is small, quick to visit, and does a nice job educating you on the history of building Amsterdam and the canals and canal houses you will spend the rest of your trip walking or boating by.
- Have a beer and try bitterballen (a lovely fried Dutch delicacy) on the Spui when you are done. I recommend Cafe Hoppe, which manages to remain the authentic Dutch spot it is despite the hordes of tourists in this part of town.
Day 2: The Rijksmuseum and Oud Zuid
- Start at the Rijksmuseum. Again, buy tickets in advance online to skip the worst of the lines.
- When you are done, you could either do the Van Gogh Museum (that’s a lot of museum, however), or if it’s nice people-watch on Museumplein or head to nearby Vondelpark via browsing some very fancy shopping on Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat.
- Mosey through the neighborhood of Oud Zuid from there to check out a traditional Dutch shopping street (Beethoven Straat) which is home to Boekhandel van Rossum, a brilliant bookstore run by an American (hi Beth!) with an excellent English section.
- Head on over to the Albert Cuyp market and wander the stalls. If you have an appetite, don’t miss the traditional Dutch cheese, stroopwafels, poffertjes, patat met mayonaise, or a broodje harring.
- Continue walking into the Pijp for dinner and drinks. If you plan to catch a later concert at Concertgebouw, circle back to Restaurant Classico, an unpretentious Italian spot right by Vondelpark, and a favorite of our friends Jan and Beth.
Day 3: Go for a bike ride–it’s Holland!
You’re in Holland. Time to get on a bike. There are tons of beautiful routes that meander out of town along the canals, past windmills, through historic, pretty towns etc. One half-day route we did recently was to take the free ferry to Noord and bike to Broek in Waterland returning via Ransdorp and then along the Ij with a lovely stop for drinks and food at Cafe ‘t Sluisje. On the Southern route you can trace a nice hour-long route to Muiderslot, a beautiful 13th century castle which is a fun visit.
When you finish up, assuming you end at Centraal and had a decently early start, return your bike and walk down the west side (Red Light District) via the Oude Kerk (Old Church) to circle back to the Dam in the center of town. I always enjoy browsing de Bijenkorf, Holland’s venerated upscale department store before continuing to mosey down the main shopping drag (Calver Straat) and ending in Leidseplein.
Enjoy a traditional Indonesian rijsstafel feast for dinner. We recently went to Blauw in Zuid, which I highly recommend but there are other options.
Day 4: Mix it Up
Option 1: Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Experience, canal tour (or visit Oost instead of the canal tour)
Option 2: Visit Amsterdam Historical Museum (one of my favorites) or the National Maritime Museum (one of Mica’s favorites), head over to Brouwerij ‘t IJ for a beer at a quaint windmill turned brewery, walk through the flower market, and/or cross to Noord on the ferry to have dinner at the EYE bar restaurant (one of my mom’s favorites)
A Laundry List of Things to do in Amsterdam
- Ann Frank House
- Van Gogh Museum
- Negen Straatjes (9 Streets)
- Rent a bike and get outside of town – The beautiful Dutch polders are just a few minutes outside of town to either the North or South
- Het Grachtenhuis – a lovely small museum about the building of Amsterdam
- Browse the Bijenkorf – Holland’s flagship department store
- Amsterdam Historical Museum – underappreciated
- The National Maritime Museum – Mica’s favorite
- A canal tour – for sure an amazing way to see the city, but the smaller boats are far nicer than a big tour
- Heineken Experience brewery tour
- Museum van Loon
- Catch an Ajax game
- Concert at Concertgebouw
- Stedelijk Museum
- Sampling the wares at a coffeeshop – avoid the obvious tourist traps
- Grab a seat at a cafe on Rembrandtplein and have a beer then wander de Pijp and grab some food
- Find good Middle Eastern in Oost, a rapidly gentrifying area of the city–The Dappermark street market is over 100 years old
Can’t Miss Dutch Snack Foods
- True Gouda Cheese (or cheese from Stolwijk)
- Pannekoeken House–I recommend bacon, apple, and cheese doused in molassesy stroop
- Bitterballen–These are seriously addictive (also, kroketen)
- Patat met mayonise (fries)
- Broodje Harring
- Indonesian Rijsttafel–A collection of small plates of various Indonesian specialties. Vintage Dutch-Indonesian
- Jenever, or Dutch gin–There are a variety of distilleries you can visit
- Droop (Dutch liquorice)
- Two other addictive Dutch candies: Apekoppen and Zure Matjes
- Eierkoeken (a semi-sweet, fluffy, and chewy Dutch cookie)–These are best fresh from a bakery.
- Ontbijtkoek (spiced ginger bread/cake)–Great to wake up to; spread it with butter and enjoy with a cup of tea
- Vla (a Dutch custard eaten as a dessert)
- Oliebollen–Think deep fried sweet dumplings covered with powdered sugar