This is a city that’s filled with centuries-old townhomes lining up UNESCO World heritage canals - but it’s also a city that is just the right size to explore on foot or like how us locals do it - by bike and by boat.
It’s a gem of a city for any type of traveller - whether you’re going solo, on a romantic getaway, a family trip or off on a friend's weekend. Amsterdam is like a jewel that reflects its own light onto the traveller - whatever you’re looking for, this city has it for you. That also sums up why Amsterdam is such a city of charming contrast - from top-tier museums like the Rijksmuseum to the more grungy street art of NDSM wharf, from iconic symbols like traditional windmills to the other equally infamous Red Light District. It’s a city Dutch gezelligheid aka cosiness, is a mantra to live by, but also where you can live it up in Golden Age luxury. Each neighbourhood has its own characteristic and vibe, so even within a short amount of time - you’ll experience that snugly comforting feeling of belonging in Amsterdam.
As an Amsterdammer, every time a friend or family is in town for the first time, I take them on this 3 day in Amsterdam tour. There is so much to this Dutch capital, but if you only have a weekend or a stopover, 72 hours is the golden amount of time you would need to get a good taste of Amsterdam. This itinerary has been tried and tested - including the best cultural highlights, and architectural must-sees, with enough room to take it easy like a Dutch local.
Day 1: Centrum and De Jordaan
For your first day in Amsterdam, start out in the Centrum and make your way through the 17th-century canals. This makes for the best way to get a really good first impression of the city, as you’ll hit up favourite spots where Amsterdammers go, but also scenic waterways and heritage buildings that Amsterdam is known for. Whether you’re walking or biking (like renting one from Mike’s Bike Tours), you’ll find that these neighbourhoods are all within reach.
Notable places to eat in this area: Moeders for traditional Dutch cuisine with comfort like a Dutch mom cooking, Winkel 43 for the best Dutch apple tarts in town, Fabel Friet for drool-worthy Dutch fries - but don’t be alarmed if there’s a line-up outside any of these places.
Amsterdam Centraal Station
The beating heart of Amsterdam - the Centraal station is an ornate, Gothic, Renaissance revival building with cast iron platforms. It’s a gorgeous railway hub, whether you’re starting arriving in Amsterdam from this place, departing or just walking by to take in details like its romantic details of astrology in the clocktower, and the waterways that surround it.
Built in 1889, Amsterdam Centraal Station's regalness matches the famed Rijksmuseum's aesthetic since they both share the same Dutch architect, Pierre Cuypers. If you enjoy architecture, this is a must-stop place! And it’ll be worth it to take a peek in the main hall of the station to see how beautiful the interior and mezzanine inside is too. My personal favourite is the gorgeous Delft-blue tile mural that’s in a side tunnel to the left side of the station near the bicycle parking.
The 9 Streets (De 9 Straatjes)
The 9 Streets is absolutely one of my favourite areas of De Jordaan and many other local’s go-to spots too. No matter what the season, this is one of the cosiest and chic streets in Amsterdam. Spread across 4 main canals of Amsterdam (the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht), the 9 streets are filled with little independent cafes, bakeries, and intimate boutiques.
So when you’re here, take it leisurely - be sure to look up at the stunning building facades, pop in for a pastry or a coffee, and enjoy the many quaint benches and sitting spots along the canals. It’s a quirky area of the city, where the cobblestone streets are lined with historically wealthy merchant homes, while below are stunning bridges.
Anne Frank House
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was written at this very location, tucked away in a secret annex where she went into hiding with her family during World War II. Walking around the street of Prinsengracht, it’s still heartbreaking to think of a teenage girl observing life for 2 years from the peep of a window without being able to go outside. The house that then had fallen into a tragedy for Anne Frank and her family, has since become a museum that you can now visit.
As you walk through the Anne Frank House, you’ll see the original diary, what her living quarters were like, and explore the doorway that was concealed behind a moveable bookcase. This is one of the most visited places in Amsterdam - and well deservingly so. If you’re planning a visit, keep in mind you can only go if you purchase a ticket online in advance for a specific time slot as no tickets are sold at the entrance.
Running from Amsterdam Centraal down to the Dam Square is the Damrak. While technically it’s an avenue of tourist shops and crowds, you should still make your way down since there are a few gems along the way that may not be noticeable to the average tourist. First, there are the dancing houses at the Damrak - a series of heritage canal houses that look whimsically toppling over one another in front of the Damrak Canal. This is some of the oldest part of Amsterdam, with the historic Oudekerksplein Tower in the background. My local tip is, if you go in the early morning, there are less crowds and you’ll get less of a glaring light for photos!
The second must-visit spot further down the Damrak is the Beurs van Berlage building. While Beurs van Berlage is now used as a venue for exhibitions and concerts, the red brick Amsterdam School architectural institution was historically a stock market! And get this, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange was founded way back in 1602 (we are talking about this once-port city as a major spot for international trade) and is over 400 years old, making it the world’s oldest stock exchange.
If you have a sweet tooth, do not leave Amsterdam without trying Tony's Chocolonely’s! This is a proud Dutch brand, with roots here in Amsterdam. Known for striving to make completely sustainable and slave-free chocolate, Tony Chocoloney’s has become a much beloved national treat.
There’s a multitude of unique Tony's Chocolonely’s flavours - from white raspberry poppiny candy to my favourite, the almond sea salt. The flagship store itself is a whole Willy Wonka-like experience with bigger than human-size vending machines, a make-your-own chocolate bar experience and a whole lot of free samples (which if you ask me, is my number one reason to pop in the store each time I'm in this neighbourhood!).
You’ll naturally find your way to Dam Square. This important meeting point in Amsterdam is anchored by the New Church to one side, Royal Palace in front, and the National Monument across the street. Dam Square is picturesque for getting the gist of these notable buildings on one spin.
Having said that, it’s also the busiest area of Amsterdam - where street artist performances, pigeons, and protests congregate here. It was originally a marketplace way back in the 14th century, but today you won’t really catch a local hanging around long here. If you’re not one for crowds - definitely take in the sights of Dam Square and then head out from Dam Square.
A true hidden gem in Amsterdam, the Begijnhof is an inner courtyard that has not been touched by time or gentrification. Find your way down an alley to this well-manicured garden, also known as a hofjes. This is one of the oldest hofjes in the city, and one can see why. Surrounded on all sides by stunning private heritage hometowns, the Begijnhof was a modest home complex for groups of unmarried women who took vows of celibacy.
There are also two churches in the Begijnhof, and you can duck into one of them to see what a building in the secluded courtyard looks like. The English Reformed Church of Amsterdam has had a long history - reaching as far back as 1647. It has seen Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of England for both visits back in 2007, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attending for a normal service.
Noorderkerk and the Noordmarkt
The Noorderkerk in De Jordaan is a beautiful architectural gem that overlooks the Prinsengracht, one of the most prominent canals in Amsterdam. Noorderkerk is a church that was built in a cross shape in the 17th century. The interior of the church is humble, reflecting the Protestant style that it was built for.
While there aren’t that many tourists around Noorderkerk, there’s a bustling lively outdoors market that’s in and around the Noorderkerk, making this a true local hangout. The market, known as the Noordermarkt, is a flea market selling antiques, and beautiful vintage clothing (including brands like Burberry). This is where a lot of my friends go to buy their tulips and other flowers (as a Dutch person would) since they have fresh-cut floral stalls and then hang out by the canals after the shopping.
Red Light District
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without visiting the infamous Red Light District at least once, right? When you wander just a few blocks from Amsterdam Centraal Station, you’ll eventually hit up a tight-knit corner of the city called “De Wallen”. This is Amsterdam’s Red Light District, named for big curtain-less rectangle windows, emitting a dimly-lit red glow. In the windows are sex workers offering services.
To most people in the world, this is shocking. But Amsterdammers pride ourselves as being liberal, open, and a tolerant city - where anyone from any background, race, sex, religion, creed are welcome. And that includes professions like prostitution. Also, what people may not know is that this is one of the safest neighbourhoods in Amsterdam (my friend use to have a flat right above the businesses) since there’s always security and police patrolling the streets here. The Red Light District is a huge part of Amsterdam and the city’s history, so whether you’re going to a sex museum, a peep show, a coffee shop or a Hash and Marihuana Museum, the Red Light District has plenty of things to explore both during the day and well after sundown.
Where to stay in and around Amsterdam Centre
Budget - The Flying Pig Uptown: This is your chance to stay in an authentic ship docked right in the city centre of Amsterdam!
Mid-range - Durty Nelly's Inn: Comfort doesn't mean you have to be far away, here you're walking distance of everything.
Luxury - Kimpton De Witt: Every local and insider knows this iconic hotel smack centre of Amsterdam.
Day 2: Zuid and West
On your second day in Amsterdam, we make our way out of the city centre and De Jordaan, down to spending most of the day at Museumplein. Located in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, Museumplein is a stunningly pristine square that’s anchored by the country’s most famous museums. Today is very much a museum-hopping day, but feel free to mix and match whichever museum you want to see and go to. You can always do some of these museums on another day, but the ones below are my recommendations for the essential Dutch experience.
Aside from these storied art houses, the Amsterdam Oud-Zuid neighbourhood is where the affluent and ritzy resides. This is where high society meets posh, where fancy restaurants and designer shops line up the P.C. Hooftstraat (a street that also gets its fair share of luxury cars racing up and down it). The buildings here are centuries old, retaining a classic Dutch elegance but unique from the canal houses we saw on day one. Welcome to the playground of Amsterdam’s elite and wealthy.
Van Gogh Museum
The name Vincent Van Gogh - or the images of Starry night and sunflowers is one that lives rent free in my mind. Such iconoclasm has gained notoriety around the world - built up even more famously with how the artist himself didn’t sell a single painting (aside to his brother) until his death.
Nowadays, Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is well celebrated and his work has taken centre stage around the world. It’s fitting that his home country has a whole museum dedicated to him, finally honouring the gorgeous pieces of art that he dedicated his life to making. My local tip for exploring the Van Gogh Museum? Avoid the peak hours (from 11am-3pm) so you can have more space while experiencing the beautiful artwork. Also definitely book your tickets in advance here instead of waiting in a long line to enter!
The Rijkesmuseum is the all-star when it comes to the Dutch long and enriching culture of the arts. There’s even a whole grand corridor that’s officially named the Gallery of Honor, dedicated to the Golden Age paintings that have put the Netherlands a tour de force when it came to art during that period. Within the Gallery of Honor, there are even four Vermeers paintings and of course the pièce de résistance itself - Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (De Nachtwacht). Oh don’t worry, you definitely won’t be able to miss this immaculately framed artwork.
But my local tip for the Rijksmuseum is as soon as you enter, to skip the tour groups and clog of people, go directly up to the second floor of the museum and see the Night Watch. After that, you can circle back to the other floors and rooms that you missed. To make your experience at since a cultural landmark as flawless and get the most out of it as possible - buy your tickets online here and skip the line with it. That way you’ll get more time to see the incredible art inside.
MOCO Museum or Stedelijk Museum
Now you definitely don’t have to do all of these museums within the same day, or even in the same trip. But if you do have the extra time and want to soak up more culture and art (Amsterdam is in an abundance of it), then as an Amsterdammer, I would highly recommend the MOCO Museum or the Stedelijk Museum. They’re both on Museumplein, aka the museum quarters, within a short walk from each other. Seriously, it’s a few footsteps. But the two art museums offer different viewpoints and focus.
The MOCO Museum are for those who love the wild and public art of Banksy as well as more Instagrammable modern pieces. It’s a fun museum that really catches the eye - from different rooms where you can be interactive with the art, to the famed works from Yaoyi Kusama and Jeff Koons. Also, the MOCO Museum has cheaper tickets if you book online here than buying in person.
For the Stedelijk Museum, it’s one of the country’s premiere cultural institutions - along with the Rijks. So of course you know that what you’ll see at the Stedelijk Museum is going to be true all-time classics. From Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock to Henri Matise and Piet Mondrian, the Stedelijk Museum is home to the great contemporaries of the art world. And that’s just the heavy-hitters - there are over 100,000 pieces of art still showcased throughout the museum. Click here to get your tickets to see it for yourself, and skip the line.
The Seven Country Houses
This spot adds to the unique charm of Amsterdam, that no other city has. On a picturesque corner of Amsterdam Oud-Zuid (ok, which corner near here isn’t scenic? This upper-class neighbourhood knows how to keep this area of the city spotless!) is the Seven Country Houses. Known locally as the Zevenlandenhuizen, the Seven Country Houses will give you the feeling of visiting 7 countries… all in one zipcode.
Back in 1894, Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuipers created this row of seven individual houses - all in different architectural styles representing different European countries. Since it’s out in public, you can walk right by and enjoy how quirky these buildings are (which are now actual live-in private residences). Can you guess which house is inspired by France, Italy, Russia, England, Germany, and of course, the Netherlands?
Right by the Seven Country Houses is what I like to call, Amsterdam’s backyard aka Vondelpark. Sure, there are green spaces all over the city, after all the Dutch know how important the balance is between nature and urban design. But Vondelpark is the biggest park smack right in the city. It’s where you can come and escape into mini woods, where the locals jog and ride their bikes, skateboard and roller-blade.
There are popular areas of the park designated as leash-free for pet dogs to run around. In the summer there are always live performances at the open-air music stage, Vondelpark Openlucht Theatre. The little creaks and bridges around Vondelpark remind you of a country-side cottage feature, even though you’re in the Dutch capital. One of my first memories of Vondelpark was a picnic with coffee shop goodies, passed around between my friends as we lay in the sun. For an introduction to Amsterdam and seeing all the different types of characters that inhabit this wonderful city, Vondelpark is a great place to take it easy, and to people-watch.
Food market at De Hallen
Amsterdam West neighbourhood is right by Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, so skipping over is an easy walk to De Hallen. For lunch or dinner, De Hallen is one of the best places in the city to go for any type of bites you want to try. If you’re in a friend group and there are dietary restrictions, rest assured that everyone will find something to their liken at De Hallen - a huge food market. From taco stands to Vietnamese cuisine stalls, from traditional Dutch snacks to Mediterranian, whichever cuisine you have in mind, this is the place for it.
De Hallen is an industrial old tram depot that has been renovated into a cinema as well as different bar spots. So come for the food, enjoy the nonchalant Dutch vibes, and then if you want, catch a flick. Check that off as a romantic dinner and a movie spot in Amsterdam! Otherwise, there are also cute little craft stores and creative outlets in De Hallen.
Where to stay in and around Amsterdam Zuid
Budget - The Flying Pig Uptown: For a hostel, there's everything within reach including all of the top museums of Amsterdam.
Mid-range - Hotel Heye 130: When you step into this hotel, there's a great mix of modern design and plushy comforts.
Luxury - Conservatorium Hotel: The best of the best, an absolute icon in Amsterdam with all the fine foods in life.
Day 3: Noord and De Pijp
On your last day in Amsterdam, explore the most characteristic neighbourhoods that make up Amsterdam. Amsterdam Noord and De Pijp are neighbourhoods that both debunk what most travellers think Amsterdam is, and at the same time reinforce the ideas of the Dutch capital.
On the one hand, most people see the city as the canal rings and the lanky buildings with huge windows that don’t have any curtains - and this is true, they’re the UNESCO heritage fabric that makes the city so beautiful. Yet De Pijp and Amsterdam Noord don’t have any of this. On the other hand - Noord is a creative up-and-coming neighbourhood where the rustic and eclectic energy of a once-industrial port has come to life. De Pijp is an electrifying and youthful neighbourhood, filled with restaurants and bars, as it’s the most loved area for the city’s 20-somethings.
Curious about authentic traditional Dutch food? Or just want to be part of a long-standing Amsterdam activity? You can’t miss out on the Albert Cuyptmarket when you’re in town. This market is open 6 days a week come rain or shine, as the largest daytime street market in Europe. When you’re exploring De Pijp - you’ll notice that the main street here are much wider than anywhere else in Amsterdam. And this market is the reason why - since it’s been a visceral part of the neighbourhood, De Pijp was designed to accommodate it.
At first it may be overwhelming - there are over 250 stalls and the local vendors are shouting out different words in Dutch, mostly the products they’re selling. But be on the lookout for Dutch delicacies like stroopwafels. Here at the Albert Cuyptmarket, you can get the best ones in the city - all gooey, warm and freshly made right in front of you. Another much-loved Dutch treat is pofterjes - little fluffy pancakes that are dusted with sugar powder. Even telling you about them now got me drooling! Also there are some classic Dutch cheese stands around that you can try free samples of Dutch cheeses.
If you love a good ol cold glass of beer, then you would know that Heineken is like a national treasure for the Netherlands. It’s the green bottle that’s seen all around the world, while it has proud roots stemming from here in the country. In De Pijp, you can go to the Heineken Experience, an epic journey through the famous Heineken brewery.
At the Heineken Experience, you’ll go on a tour through four floors of interactive exhibits, 4D ride adventure, all learning the story of the beer along the way. Then at the end, you’ll get two free Heineken beer at their in-house brewery bar. It’s definitely a one-time activity that most people do once in Amsterdam, but it makes for a fun way to experience another side to such an iconic Dutch drink. The tour is only available in English and you can book your tickets in advance here.
Take the free ferry from Amsterdam Centraal Station across the harbour to Amsterdam Noord. This is one of the most innovative and creative neighbourhoods in Amsterdam - however the thing is, most Amsterdammer barely go here! Amsterdammers that don’t live in Amsterdam Noord actually think that this neighbourhood is too far (even though it’s a free 10-minute ferry ride….) and then misses out on so many gems right in our own city. So if that’s the local approach - can you image for most travellers who don’t even know about this whole neighbourhood?
That includes the NDSM Wharf, a cool art district that channels the neighbourhood heritage as a shipping yard turned cultural hotspot. The NDSM Wharf is definitely where you would want to spend a few hours roaming around, hopping from sustainable cafes and bars to taking in the colourful and expressive street art that lace the neighbourhood. For street art lovers, this place is a haven.
Continuing around Amsterdam Noord, a newer symbol of the neighbourhood is the A’Dam Lookout. Due to the location of Amsterdam Noord being across the IJ river from the city centre, the A’Dam Tower actually takes advantage of this point. From up on top, this is where you can look out and see the rest of the beautiful historical city. Peer into the flowing waterways and watch boats that look like ants cruise around. See the canal-lined homes from its rooftop down.
There’s also a huge A’Dam lookout swing, which is Europe’s highest swing. If you dare and aren’t afraid of heights, you can take a ride and it’ll propel you off the edge of the tower, with your feet dangling high above Amsterdam.
Boat cruise around the canals
Now, you’ve seen them everywhere around Amsterdam and you get that it makes the city even prettier than already possible. We’re talking about the UNESCO heritage canals of course. For just one small city, there are 165 canals that divide Amsterdam into a series of mini islands, all attached to each other by more than 1200 bridges. If you’ve been exploring the city and making memories along the canals from above - it’s time to discover another side of Amsterdam by seeing it from below.
Going on a canal cruise, whether you’re joining a boat tour and renting your own boat to cruise Amsterdam with, is one of my favourite ways to experience the city. From below on the water, when you look up, you’re seeing these canal homes from the vantage point of how they’re supposed to be seen. Here, they’re even more majestic. On a canal cruise tour, you’ll get to learn more about the history of the canals and these heritage wobbly homes, and how the Golden Age of the Netherlands had a big impact on sculpting these waterways all over the country. To book a boat cruise, check out here for the best prices.
Where to stay in and around De Pijp
Budget - ibis Styles Amsterdam City: A solid and reliable chain, though this particular location is the best for being near the electrifying energy of De Pijp.
Mid-range - The Arcade Hotel: In the heart of De Pijp, this hotel has a suitable name since there's a whole arcade that you can play games in!
Luxury - Sir Albert Hotel: Stay in style with this those in the know hotel.
Do you have more time to explore Amsterdam?
This has been an itinerary for your first true bite into the Dutch Capital. But if you find yourself having more time, coming back to the city a second time, and curious for more - definitely check out our other blogs like 17 secret spots in Amsterdam only locals know or if it’s summer, head to one of the many beaches in and around Amsterdam.