Things to do in Amsterdam
One of the most renowned cities in Europe, Amsterdam is known the world over for its wealth of unparalleled cultural, historical and social hubs. All manner of visitors flock to the Dutch capital to walk in the footsteps of world-famous artists, explore streets and squares brimming with character and to cash in on some of the best nightlife on the continent.
Unlike many other seasonal destinations, Amsterdam manages to deliver some of the most engaging activities and attractions year-round. Whether you're an art aficionado or a beer connoisseur, you'll find that there's never any shortage of great things to do in Amsterdam.
Museums & Art Galleries
One of the most important museums in both the Netherlands and indeed Europe as a whole, the Rijksmuseum stands as the largest museum in Amsterdam. Dominating the popular Museumplein, the museum is easily one of the most recognizable monuments in the city, most notably for its striking Renaissance- and Gothic-inspired architecture.
The grand halls of the Rijksmuseum are home to a vast collection of art pieces and historical artifacts, illustrating the art and history of the Netherlands from the Dutch Golden Age to present day. Among its more than 8,000-strong collection are priceless pieces from such renowned Dutch artists as Rembrandt and Vermeer, including the former’s famous Night Watch painting.
Combining both historical artifacts and striking artworks, the Amsterdam Museum stands as the Netherlands’ most complete public chronology of the Dutch capital’s history. The museum sits within the canal band, just a short walk from the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.
The museum documents the city’s growth from a thirteenth-century settlement on the banks of the River Amstel to the thriving cultural center we know today. Everything from archeological finds and historical artifacts to the works of such Dutch masters as Rembrandt help to paint a picture of life in Amsterdam and the Low Countries as a whole throughout various periods in history.
Van Gogh Museum
Having lived and worked in the Netherlands throughout his life, it’s only fitting that Amsterdam’s most significant art gallery be dedicated to the world’s most famous painter, Vincent Van Gogh. Just a brief walk from the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum stands as the most complete permanent collection of the Dutch painter’s works.
Among the gallery’s vast collection of permanent exhibits are over 200 original paintings and 500 drawings from the Post-Impressionist artist, alongside exhibitions showcasing the works of his contemporaries. The museum is separated chronologically into five periods, each exploring a different key period in his life and work.
Anne Frank House
Easily the most visited historical site in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. Once the original house in which the famous wartime diarist evaded German capture, the building now serves as a museum documenting her family’s more than two years in hiding, along with sobering insights into Jewish persecution under the Nazi regime throughout the Second World War.
Located on the outer banks of Amsterdam’s canal band, visitors can explore the former premises of the Frank family business, most notably the original concealed annex in which they managed to remain in hiding. While the rooms of the property now sit empty of original furniture, they still breathe the chilling atmosphere of the period.
ARTIS Royal Zoo
One of the oldest zoos in Europe, the Natura Artis Magistra was established in the mid-1800s and has since continued to offer an enchanting escape from the busy streets of Amsterdam for families and nature lovers alike. Commonly known simply as ARTIS, the location comprises both a botanical garden and zoological garden.
Home to over 200 unique species of trees – many on the brink of extinction – alongside over 900 animals from all manner of habitats around the world, the zoo serves to educate visitors as to the vital role that every living creature plays in nature. The site is also home to an aquarium, a planetarium and an impressive art and sculpture collection.
For a brief escape from the bustling streets of the Dutch capital, Amsterdam is home to a wide selection of beautifully serene green spaces. Most popular among these is the Vondelpark, whose 120-acre footprint houses ancient trees, scenic lakes, charming gardens and a variety of delightful bars and cafés.
Westerpark is another popular choice as, connecting to the Westergasfabriek complex, it serves as a home to some of the city’s most hip bars and restaurants, along with an arthouse cinema. Visitors can hire a boat to cruise along the Haarlemmerweg canal into the city, or attend some of the great food and music festivals hosted in the park throughout the year.
If you happen to visit Amsterdam during the spring, then you should definitely consider a trip to the nearby town of Lisse. Only an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam, Lisse is home to Keukenhof Park, sometimes known as the Garden of Europe, where you’ll find the Netherlands’ best display of tulips and other flowers punctuated by the ever so iconic Dutch windmills.
Home to more bicycles than people, Amsterdam is a city literally built for cycling. With over 470 miles of cycle lanes making up the Amsterdam Bicycle Network, cycling can often be the easiest means of getting around. What’s more, it doesn’t get much more authentically Dutch than exploring the capital on your own pair of wheels.
If you’d like to make your visit a more active one, then you can pick up a bike at one of the many rental shops spread throughout the city. You can expect to pay somewhere in the region of €10/day at most shops, while some may also offer weekly or hourly packages. Once you’re up and running, why not choose one of the city’s many stunning routes to follow for the day?
While Amsterdam’s labyrinth of canals are certainly pretty to look at and make for a fantastic photo op, they also offer a brilliant alternative means of exploring the city. The capital’s huge boating industry comprises countless companies offering all manner of excursions through the canals.
If you’re looking for a unique way to explore Amsterdam, then a hop-on, hop-off boat ride could be the ideal transportation for you. But where the city’s boating industry arguably shines brightest is in its specialist canal tours, offering visitors an overview of many of Amsterdam’s top attractions, complete with audio commentary to provide unique insights into their cultural and historical significance.
Housed within the elegant Neo-Gothic halls of a former nineteenth-century post office, the Magna Plaza is a relatively small shopping center oozing with character and class. Among its various outlets are a number of fashion retailers, along with places to buy unique souvenirs and a host of other miscellaneous vendors.
Standing as a commercial through route between Heiligeweg and Kalverstraat, the Kalverpassage offers a wholly modern shopping experience. Natural light flows from the glass ceilings throughout the mini mall, illuminating its many specialty boutiques, food outlets and art installations. The design of the space allows for those interested to shop at their leisure and those simply passing through to do so without obstruction.
At the beating heart of Amsterdam, De Bijenkorf – ‘The Beehive’ in English – is the Netherland’s most renowned premium department store. Established in 1870, the venue showcases the highest standard of quality throughout the stores in its roster. Luxury is the operative word here, with its five floors of outlets simply brimming with class and style.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Historic home to one of the world’s most iconic beer brands, Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience takes visitors on a unique behind-the-scenes journey through the production and history of the popular pilsner. The tour guides beer fans through various aspects of the brewing process, from product innovation to the brand’s light-hearted marketing efforts, before rounding off with a refreshing tasting session.
Bars & Clubs
Europe’s most famous city for hedonistic pleasures gains its reputation largely from its bustling nightlife scene. Popular venues can be found throughout the city, but as a general rule of thumb, the old area of Jordaan is typically very popular with young people for its trendy bars. Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are particularly popular for their club offerings, while the street of Nes often attracts more of an intellectual theater crowd, particularly around this period.
Few things complement a rainy day better than a steaming cup of coffee, a slice of homemade cake and an expansive collection of family favorite board games. That’s exactly the niche on which Checkpoint Charlie capitalizes. Its cozy aesthetic is bolstered by its sociable table layout, along with a variety of books and board games for customers to enjoy. The venue also hosts intimate gigs from international acts toward the end of the week.
A number of venues throughout Amsterdam offer a similarly jovial atmosphere, with somewhat more of a specialty focus. Mooie Boules, for example, gives visitors the chance to sink a few beers and chat while watching or even playing a few games of classic French boules on the impressive sand pitch at its center.