Amsterdam is among the most beautiful European capitals to see: here’s when to go, what to do and how best to organize your trip. Amsterdam is one of the most modern and bustling cities in Europe, a cosmopolitan capital that has managed to keep its identity intact, despite thousands of tourists from all over the world visiting it every year.
Planning a trip to Amsterdam means spending a few days between the charm of the canals, the art of the city’s famous museums and the carefree nightlife of the Dutch capital. Here’s what to see and do in Amsterdam.
The canals are certainly the most characteristic part of Amsterdam, a network of artificial waterways that regulate the flow of water, preventing the city from being submerged by the sea. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2010, the Dutch canals of Amsterdam are always an impressive sight, creating a unique and unmistakable atmosphere that has made the capital of the Netherlands famous throughout the world. Among the most important canals are Keizersgracht, Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Singel.
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These structures were built between the 16th and 17th centuries by the local aristocracy, who were worried that rising sea levels would ruin the flourishing trade of those times. Today the system is controlled thanks to modern technology, but along the banks there are still the stately buildings of the time. In addition, moored in the canals are boats transformed into hotels and B&Bs, trendy clubs and private boats.
What to see in Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum
One of the most important museums in Amsterdam is the Rijksmuseum, a true cultural icon of the Dutch city and the Flemish current, located in Stadhouderskade. Inside there are over 800 works of art, created by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and of course Van Gogh, including his famous portrait of 1887, a masterpiece of extraordinary beauty and artistic intensity.
In 2019 the museum celebrates Rembrandt’s 350th anniversary, which will be honoured with exhibitions and events throughout the year. In particular, until June 10, you can attend the event “All the Rembrandt”, an exceptional exhibition that allows you to admire more than 380 drafts, paintings, drawings and prints of the famous artist.
Not to be missed in Amsterdam: Dam Square
Dam Square is a landmark of the Dutch capital, the true heart of Amsterdam, located near the busy central station. The area is always a crossroads of tourists and inhabitants, an almost incessant flow of people and the inevitable bicycles, which whizz from one side of the square to the other. Built in the 13th century to house the old market, today it still has some of the most important monuments of the city.
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These include the Royal Palace, also known as the Town Hall, the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk), dating back to 1380 and the setting for official ceremonies of the Dutch aristocracy of the time, the Nationaal Museum, a 22-metre-high tower and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Amsterdam’s shopping streets start from Dam Square, where you can find objects, souvenirs and various shopping centres.
What to visit in Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum
Considered one of the three most prestigious museums in Amsterdam, the Stedelijk Museum is entirely focused on modern art, exhibiting unique paintings by artists such as Mondrian, Chagall, Kandinskij and Picasso. Once in Hobbemastraat the visit starts from the external structure, characterized by contemporary and minimalist architecture, which gives an idea of the activities inside.
The Stedelijk Museum houses masterpieces of German Pop Art, Realism and Expressionism, with an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, art objects and avant-garde interpretative works. In addition to the permanent exhibitions, there are also temporary exhibitions and performances by contemporary artists, which always give strong emotions.
The Anne Frank House: Amsterdam’s must-see destination
A must visit in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, located in the city centre, near the central station. It is the house where she lived her last days, after a long stay in hiding together with her family, before being discovered and deported to concentration camps.
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The Anne Frank house allows you to relive the pulsating pages of the diary, a best seller translated into dozens of different languages and studied in schools around the world. A difficult visit that excites every time, a touching experience that recalls the importance of civil and social commitment. Particularly striking is the passage through the secret rooms, which amaze for their small size.
The unmissable Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is Amsterdam’s most important cultural centre, located in the Museumkwartier district, near the Stedelijk Museum and the Rijksmuseum. The building houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh, with more than 200 paintings and hundreds of sketches and drawings, arranged in chronological order within the three floors of the museum, to offer a path that shows the artistic life of the Dutch master.
There are several masterpieces of inestimable value, including the “Potato Eaters”, the “Sunflowers” and the “Wheat Field with Crows”. In addition to Van Gogh’s works you can admire paintings by artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, Monet and Gauguin, while for the little ones there are often educational workshops and treasure hunts, to learn art while having fun.
What to see in Amsterdam: Vondelpark
Determining what to see in Amsterdam is never easy, because although it is a small city, it contains dozens of fascinating places. Among the places not to be missed is Vondelpark, the green lung of Amsterdam, built in the heart of the city by the architect Zocher in 1864, always very popular with tourists and locals, to go running and doing outdoor sports, both in winter and summer.
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During the summer season musical events, theatrical performances, dance performances and jazz concerts of international importance are organized. Inside Vondelpark there is also the Film Museum, the museum of cinema, where important screenings and auteur film festivals take place. Otherwise you can simply lie back and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the place, or have a coffee in one of the three bars in the park.
Amsterdam’s flower market
To see in Amsterdam is the flower market, the Bloemenmarkt, located on the Singel canal, the oldest in the city. The market was built over a series of floating barges, an ingenious solution to solve the perennial problems of space. Built in 1862, it is the centre of intense commercial activity, which has made Amsterdam famous throughout the world for its iconic product, flowers and tulip bulbs.
Where to go in Amsterdam: the Joordan district
Developed thanks to the strength of immigrant workers over the past centuries, the Joordan district is definitely an area to visit during your trip to Amsterdam. It is a popular area, where artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt used to meet, but also intellectuals of the likes of Descartes and Thijssen, now almost completely restored and renovated, thanks to the commercial activities and numerous tourists.
In addition to the Anne Frank House, the Theo Thijssen Museum and the Pianola Museum are located in the Joordan district, where you can admire some very old musical instruments. A vantage point is the Westertoren Tower, 85 meters high and dating back to 1620, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of this part of the city, flanked by the Westerkerk Church.
Red light district
The area is known as De Wallen and is located near the centre in Oude Kerk, while the main street where the shop windows alternate is Oudezijds Achterburgwal, near the Singel canal. Outside Amsterdam’s cultural routes, the red light district has always been a symbol of the modernity of the Dutch city, able to attract thousands of curious people every year and, precisely because the local administration does not want prostitutes to be considered tourist attractions, from next year tours in the red light district will be banned.
Amsterdam coffee shops
Another symbol of Dutch liberalism are the coffee shops, bars where you can smoke marijuana legally. Some bars are quite quiet and elegant, such as the Green House Centrum, Dampkring and Barney’s, which are characterized by high prices and select incoming customers, while others are more popular and frequented by European tourists looking for different experiences.
Things to do in Amsterdam
The activities to do in Amsterdam are truly countless, in fact the Dutch capital is one of the busiest and most animated cities in Europe. An unmissable experience is a boat tour through the canals, to discover hidden places and look at Amsterdam from another perspective. Likewise, it is necessary to rent a bike, to live a few days like a real Dutchman, but with a lot of attention.
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Cyclists here are quite undisciplined, they are used to always take precedence, even over pedestrians, and bicycles often have no brakes, so to stop you need to lock the wheels with the pedals or reverse the direction of rotation. It is just as important for fans to attend a jazz concert, as internationally renowned performers and conservatory students from all over Europe often perform in Amsterdam.
Dutch cuisine is not the best, especially for Italians, but some typical cheeses offer good quality and are definitely worth trying. Finally, for the more animated you have to live the crazy nights in Amsterdam, spending the evening in some of the clubs in the center, considering that most bars close before midnight, so you have to leave home early and avoid places too isolated, or of dubious frequentation.
What to visit around Amsterdam
A trip to Amsterdam also allows you to visit the surroundings of the Dutch capital, to discover the typical landscapes of the area, with windmills and characteristic buildings with sloping roofs. Among the most beautiful places are the windmills of Zaanse, just 30 minutes away and reachable by train or bicycle, although with a minimum of training.
Not to be missed is also a visit to Haarlem, located just over 10 km from the capital, with its baroque church and its unmistakable sunset. A must outside Amsterdam is the medieval castle of Muiderslot, the oldest in the country, built in the late 1200s to protect the city. By public transport you can also reach the town of Marken, to breathe in the quiet of the Dutch countryside, or take a boat ride to Volendam.
The small towns around Amsterdam are truly fascinating, many of which may look like tourists on holiday for the first time, but each has its own history and identity. These include Edam, renowned for its artisan cheeses and navigable canals, Gieethorn the Dutch Venice and Hoorn, from where ships set sail to explore new lands to return filled with riches and treasures from the most remote places on the planet.
When to go to Amsterdam: the best time to travel
To plan a trip to Amsterdam you need to consider the particular climate of the area, which is characterized by hot but cool summers, with cold winters and strong winds from the north. The weather in Amsterdam is often not very generous, especially in January and February, when temperatures can fall below freezing, giving a unique landscape with the canals completely frozen.
In the summer months temperatures hardly ever rise above 25°C, so it’s definitely the best time to visit Amsterdam. In autumn and winter conditions are quite harsh, so it is important to wear thermal and layered clothing. Inside the buildings the heating is very high, so it is essential to take off your heavy coats quickly, otherwise you risk getting the flu. In general, the best months to go to Amsterdam are from April to September, while in winter you should protect yourself from the wind with high neck sweaters and anoraks.
Spring offers an unmissable opportunity to see the city in bloom, an explosion of colours that allows you to take beautiful photographs. However, each season allows you to discover Amsterdam from a different perspective, so you may want to come back at different times of the year. If you only have a few days, it is worth booking a guided tour with local experts who will take you to the most hidden corners of the city.