Oh, Amsterdam. This city is definitely a special place. Step off the train, and inhale the sweet smell of…weed? Yes, the “weed smell” seems to be literally everywhere in the city. But no fear, even if you don’t partake, Amsterdam has plenty of awesome things to offer. Check out my guide for top things to do in Amsterdam (that don’t involve drugs!)
Amsterdam is one of the most popular city breaks in Europe and for good reason. The city teems with history and culture, but also offers tasty food and a nightlife like nowhere else. Most folks have heard of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, but that’s not all there is to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s majestic canals give the city such a unique feel that you can’t help but fall a little bit in love with it every day. Here’s a look at some of my top things to do in Amsterdam.
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10 Top Things to Do in Amsterdam
1. Cruise Down the Canals
Make sure to take a canal tour while you’re in Amsterdam. You’ll cruise through the city on a boat, while learning about the history. A canal tour is definitely one of the top things to do in Amsterdam!
Fun fact: taxes were based on the width of the house, which is why you see so many skinny houses with extensions added on the back. The issue with this is that the staircases were built so narrowly, that you couldn’t move large furniture in. If you look at the top of the houses, you can see furniture hooks that allow you to move furniture in through the windows. I definitely support this kind of tax loophole!
2. Visit the I Amsterdam Sign at the Rijksmuseum
If you’ve spent any time on social media (or basically not lived under a rock), you know that you have to visit the I Amsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum. Be warned: it will feel like you and literally every other tourist in Amsterdam will be trying to climb the sign at the same time. It’s ok to give up and not climb it.
While you’re over there, take a look at the Rijksmuseum –you can even get schedule your tour in advance to make your life easier. Also, make sure to check out the pedestrian walkway on your way to the sign. I rushed through the first time, but it’s actually really cool architecturally.
3. Eat Dutch Pancakes
Do yourself a favor and order some Dutch pancakes…you can find them sweet or savory throughout the city. I personally opted for sweet ones with apples and cinnamon and felt like I had died and gone to heaven. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Amsterdam.
4. Take a Day Trip to the Countryside
If you have a few days in Amsterdam, take one of the days to visit Volendam, Marken, and the Zaans Schans windmills. Volendam and Marken are little coastal towns that are definitely worth a visit. You can either check them out through the tour above, or via public busses (like I did!)
5. Snack your Way through the Henry Willig Shops
Ok, I’m going to let you in on a secret of top things to do in Amsterdam. There are these little cheese shops called Henry Willig and they all have samples of cheese. You can go in and sample them all (pesto cheese, aged goat cheese, even the occasional stroopwaffel!)…this may or may not have been my afternoon snack for several days. I did end up buying some to take home though!
6. Visit the Sex Museum
When in Amsterdam, you might as well check out the Sex Museum. Looking at pornography and reading about strange fetishes at 3:00 in the afternoon surrounded by strangers sounds like it might be awkward, and it is (kind of). Go anyway, there’s some cool history about sex in ancient times and around the world. Plus, you get some more background on Amsterdam’s Red Light district!
7. Visit the Red Light District
Speaking of the Red Light District, you have to visit here at night. In case you’re wondering, yes, the windows are actually lit up red at night. (I appreciated that, considering the name.) You can either meander around on your own, or if you’re interested in learning more about it, take a Red Light District walking tour.
Another option is eating and drinking your way through the area on a Red Light District Food Tour.
8. Laugh your face off at a Quartier Putain Comedy Show
I may have just lucked into this one, but there was a hilarious stand-up comedy show at Quartier Putain in the Red Light District. Even if you can’t catch a show there, it’s a pretty chill bar to check out anyway.
This isn’t quite Chicago’s Second City, but it was an incredibly intimate show, which made it so much fun.
9. Stare at the Ceiling of the Magna Plaza
So full disclosure, the Magna Plaza is a mall. I typically avoid malls like the plague, especially when I’m traveling. But my map kept trying to direct me to walk through this building, so I went in, and the ceiling is absolutely gorgeous. I definitely went full tourist status snapping pictures of the roof, but it’s fine.
10. Wander the Canals
Amsterdam has more than 1000 bridges and 100 canals, but my favorite area was the “De 9 Straatjes” (The 9 Streets). Not only were the bridges filled with flowers, but the houses were some of the most gorgeous in the city. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Amsterdam. For a unique way to see the city, try an Amsterdam bike tour.
Flights to Amsterdam
For cheap flights to Amsterdam, I’d recommend searching through eDreams.net. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and feature special flight deals. Amsterdam is conveniently a major hub in Europe and is incredibly easy to reach from the United States.
To get from Amsterdam airport to the city center, you have several options:
- Taxi: 15-20 minutes, $50. There are plenty of private taxis if you opt to take this route. Make sure you hire a taxi from the line instead of an individual walking around. Note that Uber is also available from Amsterdam airport, but to get an Uber, you’ll need a data plan that works in the Netherlands or WiFi access
- Bus: 30 minutes, $6. The Amsterdam Airport Express is the cheapest option and has multiple departures an hour between 5:00am and 12:30am. The Airport Express is hard to miss – it’s a large red bus outside the main airport hall.
- Train: 15 – 20 minutes, $7. This was my personal choice after factoring in time and effort for myself as a solo female traveler. Trains run frequently (every 10-15 minutes from 6am to 1am and every hour during the wee hours of the morning). Read through NS Online (the Netherlands’ railroad website) to stay up to date on timetables and any planned maintenance that may affect you.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Luxury: Try the NH Collection Amsterdam Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. This 5 star hotel has a prime location in Amsterdam’s city center across from the Royal Palace. The rooms are spacious, and the hotel boasts unique amenities like Michelin star cuisine (in the White Room) and a winter garden.
Mid-Range: Park Plaza Vondelpark is located near Amsterdam’s exciting “Little Paris,” well renowned for its wide selections of shops, restaurants, and bars. The hotel also offers unique touches like bike rentals (very handy!), access to an award winning Italian restaurant on site, and a private garden. Plus, you’re walking distance to the tram, which gives direct access to Amsterdam City Center.
Budget: If you’re looking to avoid hotels and go the hostel route, I recommend checking out Hostelworld; there are plenty of options in Amsterdam! My personal hostel recommendation is Flying Pig Downtown. It’s an awesome location; you’re minutes from the train station, as well as the Red Light District and bars. You also have a sweet hostel bar downstairs with breakfast every morning!
I hope you found this guide on the unique top things to do in Amsterdam helpful. If you haven’t been, it should definitely be on your bucket list! Tell me—have you visited Amsterdam and loved it as much as me? Let me know some of your favorite things to do in the comments!