One of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, Amsterdam is a compact, charming and cosmopolitan city that invites exploration. Known as the “Venice of the North” for its more than 100 canals, the capital of the Netherlands offers easy sight-seeing adventures by foot, bike and boat.
Amsterdam’s well-preserved and appealing 17th-century architecture provides a quaint if incongruous backdrop for a city famous for its modern, progressive attitudes. From the city’s fine art museums to its colorful flower markets, from cannabis-selling “coffeeshops” to the red light district, there’s something exciting and unique to discover in Amsterdam at every turn.
See also: Where to Stay in Amsterdam
22. Moco Museum
A relative newcomer to the scene, the Moco Museum has quickly gathered a reputation as a must-see gallery. Despite being off the so-called ‘tourist trail’, Moco is a private museum that offers guests a permanent Banksy display with over 50 famous works.
You will also find several recreated Banksy Murals such as the iconic Girl With Balloon. Beyond works by the renowned graffiti artist, you can check out rotating exhibits created by some of the best pop-art artists around the world.
21. NEMO Science Museum
One of the best activities in Amsterdam for kids is the NEMO Science Museum. On the inside of the huge green building, which looks like a mastless ship, young and old will discover interactive activities and the evolution of science through history.
Curious minds will love the chance to concoct a series of chemistry experiments or play around with the engineering behind developing buildings. When you need a break, head to the rooftop terrace for excellent views of Amsterdam. You will also find a cafe for drinks and a light snack before returning for more fun.
20. Albert Cuyp Market
This market began as a gathering of street vendors on the busy Albert Cuypstraat in the early 20th century. But it has since grown into one of the busiest markets in Europe. Named after the famous artist, Albert Cuyp, the market runs every day of the week except on Sundays.
The market has grown over the last century and continues to shift based on the demand of the shoppers. Therefore, you will find produce and cuisine from all over the world. For atmosphere, cheap eats and bargain shopping, there’s no better spot in Amsterdam.
19. Dam Square
In the heart of Amsterdam, Dam Square was created in the 15th century and every day since it has been the center-point of the city. Within the square, you will be able to see the picturesque Royal Palace.
To this day, the Royal Palace is where the Dutch royal family hosts prominent visitors from around the world. The good news, however, is that the palace is open for locals and tourists.
Other important attractions include the National Monument, which honors lives lost in combat, Madame Tussauds and the Nieuwe Kerk Church, which hosts art exhibitions throughout the year.
18. A’dam Lookout
If you want to take epic photos of downtown Amsterdam or simply love a magnificent view, then you must head to A’dam Lookout during your time in the city. After opening in 2016, the lookout is located at an observation deck on the 20th floor giving you 360-degree views of canals and historic buildings.
Take things up a notch by experiencing the Over the Edge attraction. This adrenalin pumping attraction is Europe’s highest swing which departs from the building’s rooftop deck. You can also dine at renowned restaurants Madam and Moon on the 20th and 19th floor, respectively.
Found near the Artis Zoo, the Dutch Resistance Museum Verzetsmuseum tells the story of those that lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. Long seen as a hidden gem, this museum is gaining traction with tourists who can enjoy informative, and often inspiring, reflections on this era.
Guests can pick up an audio guide that will take them through the museum and offer more background on the various exhibits. The Dutch Resistance Museum also comes with historic artifacts, film and sound fragments that provide first-hand insight into how the resistance began in the country.
16. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Within the Museum District of Amsterdam and alongside the Van Gogh Museum, you will discover a significant contemporary art gallery. The Stedelijk Museum has a series of permanent exhibits of around 700 pieces from such artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Piet Mondrian and Van Gogh.
Such is the prestige of the museum, however, that the temporary exhibits are just as memorable, creating plenty of reasons for locals and return travelers to come back.
Interestingly, the Stedelijk Museum also puts on a year-round exhibit on the history of pinball machines, to really round out the experience.
15. Heineken Experience
One beer that can be found in the four corners of the globe is Heineken. Amsterdam is the home of this famous beer and the Heineken Experience is all about celebrating it.
On the inside of the building is a fun packed experience that is more than just another brewery tour. On one hand you will be able to see how the beer is made and taste the pure alcohol. But on the other, you will also see several historic artifacts and embark on a 3D ride! The ride takes you through each step and ends with sampling a finished product with a personalized label.
14. Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder
For one of the best insights into early culture in Amsterdam, then you must visit the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder. Translated to the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic, this building is part home, part church. During the 17th century, practicing Catholicism was banned in public thanks to the Alteration of 1578.
Worshipers instead used the top three floors of this historic canal house to pray. To this day, the church has been remarkably well preserved and offers a fascinating look into religious life in Amsterdam during this era. The museum is still used for some services, including weddings, and comes with some brilliant pieces of art.
13. Artis Zoo
It may be small, but it sure is mighty. The beautiful Artis Zoo is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. Set on the canal-side in the neighborhood of Oost, the Artis Zoo also has an aquarium, a planetarium and the only Micropia (microbe museum) on earth.
Kids will love the many wild animals such as big cats, apes, giraffes and elephants. For families, you can have a picnic or a BBQ within the zoo’s boundaries. While in the summer Artis Zoo puts on a series of music performances and special tours.
The former home of the iconic artist Rembrandt is now open to visitors and one of the top attractions in Amsterdam. Once you are inside, you will see the most complete collection of his etchings on display, along with collectibles that helped inform his pieces.
You can pick up an audio guide with your admission, which will help walk you through the home and give a thorough look into the life of this famous artist. One of the best parts of the Rembrandthuis experience is the etching demonstrations held three times daily. You can gain great insight into Rembrandt’s artistic process.
11. De Negen Straatjes
Between the Prinsengracht and Singel Canals are, as the name suggests, nine streets waiting for your footsteps. Originally built in the 17th century, most of the current buildings in the area date from a century later. Along the streets, you will find a slice of local life and culture. Boutique stores, vintage clothing and small eateries line the De Negen Straatjes.
Shopping here is an all-day activity. If you’re going to find the perfect gift or souvenir anywhere in Amsterdam, it will be right here. When you need a break, dine out at Libertine Cafe or grab a coffee at Screaming Beans.
10. Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam
One of three royal palaces in the Netherlands, the Koninklijk Paleis in Amsterdam is located on the western side of Dam Square in the center of the city. The 17th structure began life as the city’s town hall, but was converted into a palace during the Napoleonic Wars when Napoleon’s brother Louis was crowned King Louis I of Holland.
Although the exterior was constructed by Jacob van Campen with sandstone to mimic the public buildings of Rome, the interior is a premier example of the elaborate Empire style of the early 1800s. The palace is still used by the Dutch Royal House for Royal events but is open to the public for most of the year.
9. De Wallen
De Wallen is Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district, the city’s designated area for legalized prostitution. The neighborhood covers several canals and side streets to the south of Central Station. More than one hundred one-room apartments are rented by sex workers who entice onlookers from behind windows illuminated with red lights.
A strong police presence keeps the neighborhood safe. Although taking pictures is not allowed, visitors are welcome. As the oldest section in Amsterdam, the district is also home to several historic buildings, including the city’s oldest church, the Gothic-style Oude Kerk.
Artifacts from Amsterdam’s rich nautical history are housed within the Scheepvaartmuseum, or National Maritime Museum. Formerly a naval storehouse constructed in 1656, the museum features 18 rooms of exhibits and artifacts.
Sea trade made Amsterdam the world’s wealthiest city during the 1600s, and this multi-story museum demonstrates how the Dutch dominated the seas with exhibits that range from depictions of historical sea battles to artfully drawn maps and 17th-century weapons.
The museum’s collection of carvings also gives visitors an up-close look at how sailors passed their time while at sea. Moored outside the museum is a replica of the Amsterdam, an 18th-century ship which sailed between the Netherlands and the East Indies.
Named Nieuwe Park when it opened in 1865, Vondelpark is located in the Oud-Zuid, or Old South district of Amsterdam to the west of the city’s Museum Square. The park earned its current name after a statue of the Joost van den Vondel was placed in the park in 1867.
Designed and crafted by sculptor Louis Royer, the statue of the famous 17th-century Dutch poet and playwright became such a familiar landmark that people began to call the park Vondelpark. The park serves as a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists.
It’s a place where people can relax, play sports on the grass, bike along pathways and enjoy a herring sandwich or Dutch beer at one of the park’s horeca facilities.
Located between Muntplein and Koningsplein on the south bank of the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Seven days a weeks, flower sellers load stands and floating barges with all of the flowers and bulbs for which the Netherlands is famous.
Founded in 1862, the Bloemenmarkt includes more than a dozen different florists and garden shops as well as souvenir stalls. Although locals shop here too, the market is primarily designed to cater to tourists.
The bulbs offered for sale have been designated as ready for export, so visitors can purchase tulip, daffodil, narcissus and other bulbs as a lasting memento of their trip to Amsterdam.
5. Anne Frank House
Amsterdam’s most visited attraction, the Anne Frank Huis is situated along the Prinsengracht canal. The structure that once hid Anne Frank, her family and four other Jewish people from the Nazi authorities during World War II has been viewed as a memorial to the Holocaust since 1947, when Anne’s father published the diary that Anne wrote while they lived hidden within the building.
A plan to preserve the building was hatched in 1955 when developers were planning to demolish the structure. The building opened as a museum in 1960. Visitors can view the rooms where Anne lived as well as exhibits that chronicle her all-too-short life.
The district of Begijnhof, or Beguines Courtyard, occupies the center circle of land in Amsterdam’s circular canal system. In the 14th century, the area was an enclosed courtyard that served as a residence for the sisterhood of Catholic Beguines.
The Begijnhof wasn’t a convent in the traditional sense because the women were free to leave the order if they chose to marry. When the sisterhood’s chapel was confiscated during the Reformation, they began to worship secretly at the Begijnhof Kapel, a charming structure fitted with marble columns and stained-glass windows.
Begijnhof is also home to the English Reformed Church, built around 1392. The city’s oldest preserved wooden house, which dates from around 1465, is located within the Begijnhof as well.
3. Van Gogh Museum
Located on the northwestern side of the Museum Square, or Museumplein, the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of the artist’s paintings and letters. Housed in a four-story building designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1970s, the museum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Amsterdam.
Two hundred paintings from the Dutch Post-Impressionist occupy the second story of the museum. Displayed chronologically, the artwork offers viewers an intimate look at Van Gogh’s evolving style. The third story contains information about the artist’s troubled life and about the efforts taken to restore his paintings. Works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries, including artists like Millet, Gaugin and Daubigny are exhibited on the top floor.
Occupying the northeastern section of the Museum Square, the Rijksmuseum is arguably the most important of the nation’s arts and history museums. The total collection numbers more than one million artifacts dating from the 13th century onward.
For decades, the collection was housed in buildings all over the country until 1876, when the architect Pierre Cuypers won a design contest and the construction of the Rijksmuseum began.
Opened in 1885, the museum currently has around 8,000 objects on display, the most famous of which are paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vemeer. Rembrandt’s masterpiece Night Watch is worth the price of admission alone.
1. Canals of Amsterdam
The famous canals were built during the 17th century to control the flow of the Amstel River and to add acres of dry land to the city. Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants soon discovered that the canals were ideal for showcasing their mansions as well.
A boat ride along one of the city’s 100 canals offers visitors a relaxing way to view traditional Dutch architecture. Lined with elm and lime trees and crossed over by more than a thousand bridges, the canals are home to some 2,000 houseboats, including houseboat hotels. Tour operators offer a variety of cruises, ranging from hour-long excursions to candlelight cruises.