1. Canal tour
The best way to explore Amsterdam, especially if you are tight on time, is to cruise the three main canals: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht. Our favourite operator is Canal Company. Aside from luxury and dinner cruises, it operates a hop on hop off boat that stops at the main attractions and is great if you are travelling with young children or suffer from mobility problems. Tickets can be bought in advance for a day (€19.80 for adults), 24 hours (€21.60) or 48 hours (€30.60).
TOP TIP: If you are staying for a few days and by the end of the tour you want to know more about the maritime history of Amsterdam and the Netherlands, you can visit the impressive Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Kattenburgerplein 1, 1018 KK). If so, make sure you reach it by crossing the Magere Brug or Skinny Bridge (Kerkstraat with Amstel), a traditional Dutch double draw bridge that still opens to let ships through.
2. Dam Square & Royal Palace
Don’t surprise yourself if you always seem to walk into Dam Square (Dam, 1012 JS) when getting out or returning to your hotel. This quaint square is the beating heart of the city and is frequented by both locals and tourists. Located a short walk away from Amsterdam Central Station (Stationsplein, 1012 AB) it is also home to stunning buildings that include the Royal Palace, one of the three residences of the Dutch royal family. The palace is open to visitors but closes on Mondays and when royal events take place so it is advisable to check beforehand. You can buy tickets (€10, free for under 18s) online or enjoy free entry if you are a holder of a Museumkaart.
TOP TIP: While the Museumkaart is a great option if you plan to see several museums, our favourite card in the city is without a doubt the I amsterdam City Card. Aside from granting free entrance to the best museums, you can also enjoy free canal cruises and free public transportation in the city. Cards are available for 24 hours at a price of €47, 48 hours at €57 or for 72 hours at €67.
The National Museum of Amsterdam (Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX) is home to the largest collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings and some of the best masterpieces ever created by national artists like Rembrant van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals. It also features works by other European painters (Goya, Fra Angelico), porcelain objects, antique furniture, instruments and doll houses, Delft pottery and a small Asian collection. Tickets are €15 for adults and free for under 18s. Open daily from 9am ‘til 5pm.
TOP TIP: Weather permitting treat yourself to a picnic on the grass at the nearby Museumplein (Museum Square) before going to the nearby Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX). If the weather is unpleasant, the cafeteria at Van Gogh Museum has great delicacies such as smoked salmon bagels and the popular Chocomel cocoa drink.
The Begijnhof (Begijnhof 30) is one of those Secret Amsterdam gems that make this city so enchanting. An inner court – one of the oldest in the city – it was founded during the Middle Ages as a béguinage, a semi-monastic community of religious women, and is nowadays a haven of tranquillity where silence offers tourists and locals piece of mind as they admire the gorgeous traditional Amsterdam houses that form it. The most popular entrance is the Spui gate leading to the popular Spui square while the old Begijnesloot gate is less frequented although equally delightful; if you can find it!
TOP TIP: No trip to the Spui is complete without a visit to one of its many bookstores and of the most famous and lively bruin cafés (brown cafés) of Amsterdam: Café Hoppe (Spuistraat 18-20, 1012 XA). This charming traditional Dutch pub has been open since 1670 and is the meeting point for friends, locals and office suits. It is a must-visit for tourists wishing to experience an authentic atmosphere and try local beers and delicious snacks like bitterballen. A beer (Amstel) costs €2.50. Open from 8am ‘til 1am (2am on Fridays and Saturdays).
Welcome to the only floating flower market in the world! Set along the Singel canal (Singel 610-616) between Muntplein and Koningsplein, Bloemenmarkt is a paradise for flower lovers and gardeners. From the famous Dutch tulips to delicate roses, locals and tourists can explore over 15 colourful florist and garden shop stands. Aside from flowers, you can also buy souvenirs. If you wish to buy seeds, please check with your country’s policy on imports beforehand as you may have to declare them on customs or may not even be allowed to fly them into the country.
TOP TIP: There is perhaps only one more thing as Dutch as tulips and that’s Heineken. The former brewery of the famous beer is a pleasant walk away (Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE) and has been turned into an interactive experience sure to please the real beer lovers as beer tastings are included in the tour. Online tickets cost €16 for adults (€2 cheaper than at Heineken Experience ticket office) and €12.50 for kids aged 11-17. It opens daily.
6. Oude Kerk
The oldest building and church in Amsterdam is ironically located in the heart of the Red Light District (Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX) one of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions. But don’t let preconceptions put you off visiting, what most people don’t know about this area is that it conceals enchanting narrow cobbled streets and architecture dating back to the 14th century such as the Old Church. It features the largest medieval wooden vault in Europe, four organ pipes, impressive tinted glasses and 2,500 graves that include that of Rembrandt’s wife as the painter was a frequent visitor and christened all his children here. The entry fee is €7.50 for adults and free for children under 13.
TOP TIP: Although the Red Light District is generally safe – police officers patrol the streets and there are CCTV cameras – it is recommended to walk in pairs or groups when visiting at night as pickpockets do operate in the area and if on your own you can attract unwanted attention. Also please be aware that it is prohibited to take pictures of the occupied windows.
7. Anne Frank House
One of the city’s most beloved museums the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV) allows visitors to experience a tiny piece of what the Frank family and 7 more Jewish went through during German-occupied-Amsterdam when they were forced into hiding for two years in a secret annex. Visitors can access the old part of the house and the secret annex (unfortunately due to its steep staircase it is not accessible to wheelchair users) and learn more about Anne Frank’s story and the history of Amsterdam during that troubled period of time. Booking in advance is highly recommended as there are always huge queues to enter the museum. Tickets cost €9 for adults and €4.50 for kids between 10 and 17. The I amsterdam City Card is not accepted.
TOP TIP: A visit to the museum can often be an emotional experience so in order to lighten up the mood, we recommend you to walk to the nearby The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191, 1015 DS) and try their delicious pancakes (similar to French crêpes and available from €6,10 with sugar and syrup) and traditional poffertjes (from as little as €5,15 with butter and sugar). Children’s pancakes are also served with delightful surprises for the younger ones. There is a wide choice of coffees (from €2,60), alcoholic beverages (from €2,50) and soft drinks (from €2,11).