Top Things to Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam – a truly unique and lively city which is the capital of the Netherlands. With its beautiful canals, laid back people and a crazy number of bikes around you, Amsterdam is definitely a city you have to visit. What the Netherlands is famous for is the fact that soft drugs and prostitution are legal. This openness of the Dutch definitely makes their capital have a relaxed atmosphere and is one of the reasons why Amsterdam is fun and attractive for tourists. But, Amsterdam is so much more than coffeeshops and the Red Light District. So, whatever your interests are, you’ll find plenty of things to do and have a good time in this great city.

I’ll tell you a little bit about my favorite activities that I recommend in Amsterdam and a few useful tips and tricks. Since Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe I included 7 activities that are completely free so you can still manage to have a budget-friendly trip.

1. Anne Frank House

When Anne Frank and her family were in hiding from the Nazis during World War II, they were in a Secret Annex in a house in Amsterdam. The house where their Secret Annex was is now a museum. This house-museum tells a story about Anne and the Frank family, explains what life in hiding was like and describes the tragic faith of the Jews during World War II. When you are standing in the place where Anne wrote her diary and think about her life you’ll probably be overwhelmed with emotions and sadness. Still, we can all learn a lot from Anne’s story and the museum and that is why I tell everyone to visit the Anne Frank House. There are also stories about how Anne’s story influenced individuals and the whole world which makes visitors walk out with a feeling of hope.

You need 1-2 hours for the tour. The tickets are only sold online and I suggest you buy them in advance, because the number of visitors per time slot is limited. The price of the tickets for adults is 10€, for visitors aged 10-17 it’s 5€ and for younger visitors the entrance is free.

The Anne Frank House is located in one of the most charming neighborhoods in Amsterdam – Jordaan. So, after your visit to the museum, make sure to roam around the narrow streets and look at the beautiful architecture. In Jordaan, you’ll find art galleries, unique shops, hipster cafés, great restaurants and much more. 

2. Canal Cruise

Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and they are something that’s typical for this city. One my favorite memories from Amsterdam is the boat ride through the canals. During this cruise you’ll see Amsterdam’s beautiful sights from a different perspective. Besides that, the captain/tour guide will tell you a story about Amsterdam, its history and the famous places, so this is a great way to get to know the city and its attractions.

There are many companies in Amsterdam that organize canal cruises and there are many departures during the day. Apart from the typical canal cruise that usually lasts between 1 and 1.5 hours, there are also Dinner Cruises, Champagne Cruises, Kids Cruises, etc. There is even a boat that is like an Amsterdam coffeeshop inside and they organize tours as well.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise

Of course, you should explore the canals on foot, too. Take a walk in the city centre’s pretty streets and numerous bridges. In this stroll you’ll definitely find a spot for an Instagram-worthy photo.

3. Taste the Dutch Cheese 

As you probably already know, the Netherlands is famous for its cheese production and is one of the biggest exporters of cheese in the world. Because of this, cheese shops are everywhere you go. Most of them offer a few types of cheese that you can taste for free. The most famous cheese is gouda, but there are many more kinds. By visiting these shops you can taste many different types of Dutch cheese and you can buy your favorite one to bring home as a souvenir (I think this is one of my favorite things I ever brought home for a trip).

Dutch Cheese

If you are a true cheese lover, you can also visit the Cheese Museum.

4. Red Light District

This neighborhood of Amsterdam definitely isn’t everybody’s favorite, but it is one of the most popular attractions that is visited by almost every tourist. Since prostitution in the Netherlands is legal, in the Red Light District or De Wallen you’ll find prostitutes offering their services, from behind a window as well as many sex shops and sex shows. The atmosphere on the street is completely different during the day and during the night, but it is safe for tourists at any time (just watch out for pickpockets). In this area you’ll also find unusual museums like the Museum of Prostitution where you can learn about the legalization of prostitution and the lives of prostitutes.

Red Light District

It’s important to know that taking photos in the Red Light District is strictly forbidden and you mustn’t take photos of women in the windows.

5. Van Gogh Museum

Apart from the Rijksmuseum, this is probably the most famous museum in Amsterdam. It’s a must see for all art lovers. In the Van Gogh Museum you’ll be able to see the famous Sunflowers and the biggest collection of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in the world. Besides the paintings and drawings, you’ll also find Van Gogh’s letters which tell a story about the troubled life the artist had. Even though the museum is dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh, there are also works of Monet, Cezanne, Gaugin, etc. I don’t know what left a bigger impression on me – the Anne Frank’s House or the Van Gogh Museum and I absolutely recommend that you visit both places.

You can get the tickets for 19€ if you’re an adult and the entrance is free if you’re younger than 18. I suggest you buy the tickets online to avoid waiting in long lines (this is a suggestion for all museums).

6. Free City Tour with a Local Guide 

Here you’ll find tours in English that are organized every day and are free of charge. You only have to reserve your spot in advance, because the maximum number of people per tour is 20. Even though the tour is free, you should leave a tip for your guide. If you like to have a guide show you around a new city this is a great option for you. The great thing about these tours is that the tour guides are locals so they’ll make you experience the Dutch culture in the best way.

Ema Kaplani

7. Eat Herring from a Food Stall

Herring is something you must try if you visit Amsterdam. There are many food stalls in the city centre where you can buy herring or a herring sandwich. The taste is salty and strong, so it might not be your cup of tea if you’re generally not a fish fan. I personally loved it, since I adore fish and it was the most interesting type of street food I’ve tried in the Netherlands. On the other hand, the famous fries with toppings I didn’t like as much (they’re not bad, but herring is definitely more unique).

8. Smell the Flowers at Bloemenmarkt

The only floating flower market in the world is located on the Singel river. At the market you can enjoy looking at the beautiful flowers of all colors including the most famous – Dutch tulips. At the market you can buy fresh flowers, souvenirs and tulip bulbs that you can bring back home. 

Amsterdam Tulips

The narrowest house in Amsterdam is in the neighborhood (and one of the narrowest houses in the world). This unusual attraction is located on Singel Street, number 7. The width of the front of the house is about one meter which is only a little bit wider than its front door, but the back of the house is a little wider.

9. Visit One of the Unique Museums

Amsterdam is full of museums, not only traditional history museums and galleries, but also many museums that are pretty unique and even a little bit strange. Some of them are:

Heineken Experience – a museum dedicated to Heineken beer where you’ll learn how beer is made and hear the history of the brand and, of course, taste the beer

Electric Ladyland – the museum of fluorescent art

KattenKabinet – a museum dedicated to cats

Museum of Bags and Purses – where you’ll see many different kinds of bags that were fashionable in Western Europe from the 15th century up until today

Houseboat Museum – where you’ll see what life in a floating house is like

Rembrandt House Museum – where you’ll hear the life story of the famous painter

There’s also a museum of cheese, sex, prostitution, cannabis

10. Take a break in Vondelpark

The best known park in Amsterdam is without a doubt Vondelpark. It’s a great place to relax and get some rest from the busy streets and noise of the city. You’ll easily find it since it’s located in the centre of Amsterdam. This park is the ideal place for a picnic so pack a sandwich and take a break from all the sightseeing. In the summer many concerts and plays are organized in Vondelpark so check out if there are any events you find interesting before you come to Amsterdam. Other popular parks in Amsterdam park are Rembrantpark, Sarpatipark and Vesterpark.

11. Dam Square 

This is the most important and main square in the city that you will definitely not miss, because the walk to other attractions will take you through it at least once. This is where the former Royal Palace is located, as well as a memorial monument to the Dutch who fought in World War Two, Madame Tussauds Museum, many cafés, restaurants, food stalls and places to shop. Here you’ll also find one of the most famous churches in Amsterdam – Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). You’ll probably see some street performers, too.

Dam Square

12. Rijksmuseum

One of the most visited museums in the Netherlands is home to its national collection. Rijksmuseum showcases history and art of the country in different periods and some parts of the museum are dedicated to European and Asian art. Here you’ll have a chance to see masterpieces of the famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. I didn’t get a chance to visit this museum yet, but I got many recommendations for it so it’s one of the first things on my to do list for the next time I visit Amsterdam.

Like in the Van Gogh museum, the tickets are 19€ for adults and free if you’re under 18. If you have an EYCA card, the price is 9.5€. These prices apply to online purchasing and if you buy tickets at the museum there is 1€ added to the original prices.

13. Chill at Begijnhof 

Begijnhof is another great place for taking a short break from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can get to this old hidden courtyard through the entrance on Spui Street which is in the centre of the city. In this courtyard you’ll find medieval houses and gardens as well as two churches. This is also where the oldest house in Amsterdam is located. It’s a wooden house built in 1475 and people still live in it.

14. Free Concerts, Festivals and Plays  

During the warmer months there are many free concerts, plays and other cultural programs in Amsterdam’s parks and squares. So, my tip is to check online and find out if something you’re interested in is taking place at the time of your visit. There are also some huge events organized in Amsterdam annually. The biggest event is probably King’s Day that takes place in April. At this time Amsterdam’s streets, canals and pretty much the whole city becomes a huge open-air orange party enjoyed by both locals and tourists. Amsterdam Gay Pride is a huge event dedicated to equality for the LGBTQ+ communities and the biggest part of it is the Canal Parade when around 80 boats sail through the canal. It is held in the summer.

Coffeeshops in Amsterdam

Finally, if you plan to visit the famous Amsterdam coffeeshops, there are a few things you should know. Coffeeshops are places in Amsterdam where you can buy marijuana legally, while cafés, coffee houses, coffee shops are your typical coffee selling places. If you want to buy anything in a coffeeshop you must be at least 18 and you’ll be asked for your passport. Even at coffeeshops, smoking tobacco is usually not allowed. There are so many coffeeshops in Amsterdam and all are different, just like regular cafés. Don’t buy anything from random street dealers since this is not safe. If you plan to go to coffeeshops, just be responsible.

Amsterdam Coffeeshop

A few extra tips before you head to Amsterdam:

  • Watch out for cyclists – they’re everywhere and are very fast. Or, you can join them – rent a bike and explore Amsterdam like a local!
  • Iamsterdam letters have been removed – the letters that appeared in photos of many Amsterdam tourists have been removed from Museumplein by the City of Amsterdam at least for now.
  • Bring an umbrella – the weather in the Netherlands is similar to the UK weather, so you shouldn’t be surprised by frequent showers, especially if you’re there in fall or winter.
  • Prepare yourselves for huge crowds of tourists at any time of the year. I think there are fewer tourists during the colder months, but the weather is so much nicer during spring and summer.