This city knows what it’s doing.
Colorful and quirky, yet intimate in all the right ways, the greatest joy of Amsterdam exploration is setting out sans plan. The Dutch capital is a hive of culture, where art galleries, museums, tech startups, and boutique vendors of every shape and size throng with life along canal-laden streets.
While its Golden Age may have been in the 17th century, the 21st may well be its platinum. But time your visit well. Summer swarms of tourists discovering that Amsterdam is far more than its marijuana-tinged coffee shops can taint a trip.
Hop on your bicycle. This is Amsterdam.
5 things you can’t miss in Amsterdam
Explore the city by boat
Arguably the best intro to Amsterdam is hopping on a boat and cruising through its expansive canal system. Built mainly in the 17th century, when the city flourished as a trade center, the stunning half-moon-shaped system of city canals is a joy to behold.
There is a multitude of options for experiencing the canals, but all offer a chance to see the beautiful city in its entirety and from the best angle possible.
In lieu of a traditional hop-on-hop-off bus, Amsterdam offers the same service by boat. If you’re short on time and want to hit the sights fast, it’s one of the best ways to do so. It takes the hassle out of finding your way, and you get to enjoy a relaxing trip between the big tourist draws.
If you’ve got time, jump on a narrated tour boat. These are a wonderful introduction to the city, letting you get your bearings and delve a little into Amsterdam’s history before you start on your own exploration.
Visit the Anne Frank House
If you’ve passed through the entire school system and not heard Anne Frank’s story, you must have taken a few weeks off at some point. The now world-famous diary is one of the most heartbreaking but insightful pieces of literature of the 20th century, delving into the life of a young Jewish girl who hid from Nazis in a hidden attic in Amsterdam during World War II.
Now, the house where Anne and her family hid is a museum. Visitors can explore the house where the Franks and two other families stayed hidden for two years until their eventual betrayal. The museum was opened with the approval of her father, who was the only surviving member of the family.
As one of the most popular draws in the city, tickets can sell out well in advance. It would be a great idea to book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment. Tickets can only be purchased online and for a specific timeslot, so make sure you plan other outings in the city around the museum.
Few places depict the Jewish experience at that harrowing time with such personality, which is, of course, why Anne is now as famous as she is. It’s an Amsterdam must-do.
Go museum crazy
Nestled among the quirky buildings of Amsterdam’s canals are some of the best museums and art galleries in the world. Whether you’re an art nut or a beer aficionado, there’s something to interest everyone.
At the top of the list are Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The first is home to some of the best works by the Dutch masters – Rembrandt ring any bells? The second speaks for itself. Even if you’re not a big art person, it’s cool to see some of the paintings you’ve been brought up replicating in school. We’ve all got a brutally bad attempt at Van Gogh’s sunflower painting in the attic.
For something a little different, head to the Heineken Experience. One of the best know lagers in the world, Heineken has a storied history spanning 150 years. Its unbelievable growth into one of the largest brewers on the planet is well worth an afternoon. They offer a range of tours, including some that cross with canal rides across the city. You can even end with a nice cold pint.
Delve deeper into Amsterdam itself with the Canal Museum, houseboat museum, and even the Red Light District Secrets Museum. The latter should be on any skeptic’s list, as legalized prostitution is a controversial topic across the world.
Wander the neighborhoods
Rent a bike or slip on some comfy shoes to explore the beautiful neighborhoods of Amsterdam. The canal laced city has some of the most charming and quaint neighborhoods.
The Jordaan neighborhood, for instance, has houses that date back to the 17th-century. Within its narrow alleyways and brick-laid homes hide cozy cafes, speciality shops, and boutiques. The Jordaan neighborhood was built in the 17th-century as a district for the working class and immigrants. Now it boasts some of the best the best food, street musicians, and museums in Amsterdam. Indulge in infamous apple pie from Winkel 43 or head to Moeder’s for a traditional dutch meal with a unique choice of decor.
Another neighborhood you can’t miss is De Negen Straatjes, otherwise known as The Nine Streets. This area is exactly what it sounds like – nine streets in the middle of the canal belt that are filled to the brim with inviting cafes, stellar vintage shops, and delicious food. check out L’Étoile de Saint Honoré for vintage designer handbags or splurge on a pastry instead at the Chocolaterie Pompadour.
Stop and smell the tulips
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without stopping to marvel at the iconic tulips of the Netherlands.
The Keukenhof botanical garden is the perfect place to catch a rainbow array of bright blooms. The park is great for travelers on a tight schedule as it is relatively close to the city – only about 25 miles out – in comparison to other tulip fields.
For the full experience, past visitors highly recommend paying for the boat ride that takes you around the entire park for about $4.50 to $9.
Keep in mind that the best time to visit this 79-acre park is between late March and mid-May, when the tulips have fully blossomed.