Amsterdam attracts millions of visitors every year, thanks to its beautiful architecture, scenic canals, tulip fields, and other diverse cultural offerings. With so much to see and do, it can be intimidating to plan the perfect itinerary for the Dutch capital. We’ve done the legwork for you and assembled a four-day guide to exploring both the quintessential spots and off-the-beaten-path attractions in Amsterdam.
Where to Stay
The Albus delivers modern design and comfort right in the heart of Amsterdam’s city center. Rokin, the main shopping thoroughfare runs just north of the hotel, while more intimate lanes and bridges web out along and across the canals in every direction. The property’s location is hard to beat, with many attractions and museums accessible in under 10 minutes by foot.
Situated on the border of the city center and the De Pijp neighborhood, The Amsterdam Canal Hotel occupies a charming traditional row house on the Reguliersgracht canal. This location is ideal for exploring the heart of Amsterdam’s city center and canals while staying outside the most crowded tourist areas. Just to the south, the De Pjip neighborhood offers trendy cafes, cozy bars, and superb ethnic cuisine.
The Pulitzer Amsterdam spans several traditional canal-side homes, complete with backyard gardens and a swanky Art Deco bar. The property is conveniently located on the outer ring of the central Canal Loop, while also bordering the Jordaan neighborhood, which is known for its lively cafes and food markets.
Upon arriving in Amsterdam, it’s wise to get the lay of the land -- and water. Amsterdam’s 31 miles of canals can easily be enjoyed from the city’s cobblestone lanes or atop one of the many bridges. That being said, we recommend navigating the waterways by boat to properly appreciate the ingenuity of Dutch engineering, which allows the city to be habitable despite being largely situated below sea level. There are plenty of boat cruise and tour options for all budgets and styles. Eco-friendly Stromma offers a wide range of canal tours upon its electric fleet of boats, including dinner cruises, DIY pedal boats, and an evening cruise during the winter Light Festival. For a unique historical perspective of the city and its canals, consider Lampedusa Cruises, which is operated by a collective of immigrants and asylum seekers. The weekly Saturday canal tour introduces passengers to the history and contributions of immigrants in Amsterdam. Prior to ferrying tourists through the canals, Lampdeusa’s two tour boats transported African refugees across the Mediterranean. They were eventually seized by Italian authorities. Experienced boaters or anyone looking to learn the ropes of navigating Amsterdam’s narrow canals can book a voyage with Amsterdam Boat Company. Participants can maneuver their way through the canals after a ‘Captain of the Amsterdam Canals’ training, which comes with a matching certificate.
Where to Eat: Located in the heart of the Jordaan neighborhood, ‘t Smalle has been popular among locals since 1786. The canal-side bar serves local gin and beer from the tap, as well as traditional Dutch pub fare within its cozy wooden interior.
The Dutch capital boasts a treasure trove of museums, which could fill an entire week’s itinerary. Even if you haven’t dabbled in the arts much, the renowned works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh are a must-see. The Museum het Rembrandthuis (set in Rembrandt’s former home) and the Van Gogh Museum provide insight into the complicated lives of the artists as well as showcase some of their popular and lesser-known works. To see works by both artists, and other Dutch painters like Vermeer, head to the magnificent Rijksmuseum. Though many visitors come largely to gaze upon Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” there are scores of other masterpieces by Dutch and international artists alike. Aside from the interior works, the museum grounds feature a sculpture garden, which is enhanced by the backdrop of the Gothic and Renaissance-styled Rijksmuseum building.
Looking to leave the crowds behind? Art enthusiasts should make a reservation well ahead of their trip to see the private works of the Six Collection. The Six family began acquiring works by Rembrandt and other Dutch greats in the 17th century, and they still remain with their descendants today. Unable to afford the cost of preserving the collection, the Six family received government assistance on the condition that the works were made accessible to the public. Today, visitors can meander through the Six family’s home (where they still live), which offers insight into the Dutch aristocracy and a chance to see original masterpieces.
For some more alternative Dutch art, head north from the Rijksmuseum along the Prinsengracht canal to Electric Ladyland. Here, you’ll find the world’s first museum dedicated solely to art utilizing fluorescent light. Courtesy of black lights overhead, the eccentric sculptures and shapes glow in an array of vibrant colors, creating quite the psychedelic atmosphere.
Tip: Consider purchasing an I Amsterdam City Card to bypass the ticket lines, and save some euros if you’re planning to explore several museums. The card provides free public transportation and access to 60 museums, which can be used for one to five days for 60 to 115 euros.
Where to Eat: The little-known country of Suriname was once a Dutch colony, making Amsterdam perhaps the best location outside its borders to sample Surinamese cuisine. If you’re fortunate to have a sunny or temperate day, head to the Waterkant beer garden to enjoy Surinamese beer and snacks beside the canal. Warung Spang Makandra -- a more off-the-beaten path option -- is an unassuming budget-friendly establishment in a charming section of the De Pijp neighborhood. The menu combines Creole, Indonesian, and Chinese influences with delicious results.
Leave the bustle of Amsterdam for the morning and catch a train to Gouda, a charming town from which the popular yellow cheese derives its name. (The correct Dutch pronunciation for Gouda is “how-da.”) It’s best to visit Gouda between April and August when the cheese market is operating in full swing. If you’re visiting outside of these months, fear not, as the Gouds Kaas- en Ambachtenmuseum showcases the traditional cheese-making process and sells small-batch cheese. Whether or not you’re hoping to take a wheel of unpasteurized gouda home, the market does not disappoint with cheese mongers touting their delicious products beneath the impressive 15th-century Stadhuis (city hall).
In addition to its namesake cheese, Gouda is famous for the stroopwafel, a treat comprised of two thin waffle wafers pressed together with syrup. Try Van Vliet bakery for a stroopwafel before checking out St. Jan church and the impressive selection of independent shops and boutiques. Beyond the dairy and sweets, Gouda’s winding streets -- featuring quaint homes that date back to the 17th century and courtyards with far less crowds than lively Amsterdam -- merit exploration, too.
Make the 55-minute journey back to Amsterdam Centraal Station for a night out on the town. Head to Hiding in Plain Sight, located in the Red Light District, for expertly crafted cocktails among Amsterdam’s young professional crowd. Even more inconspicuous, Door 74, is an ideal spot to escape Amsterdam’s rowdier side, thanks to its Prohibition Era-style interior.
Where to Eat: For a plusher dining experience, D’Vijff Vlieghen delivers exquisite Dutch cuisine in dining rooms spanning five 17th-century canal houses. Each dining room features a unique design, from the map collection in the Print room to original etchings in the Rembrandt room to the opulent gold leather wallpaper in the Glass room.
There’s still plenty left to see in the Dutch capital, so get an earlier start and head to the Negen Straatjes in the Western Canal Ring. Translating to nine streets, Negen Straatjes is a shopping district that spans from Prinsengracht canal to Singel canal. The narrow streets are lined by a variety of tiny storefronts containing specialty shops, design boutiques, vintage stores, and cozy cafes. Snag a table with a view at Ree 7 to people-watch and ponder which boutiques to browse while enjoying breakfast or coffee. This area is also conveniently located near other attractions, such as the Royal Palace and the Houseboat Museum. The former is still utilized by the royal family for special events, but it is usually open to the public. Meanwhile, the modestly sized Houseboat Museum stands in stark contrast to the lavish palace, but it provides interesting information on the history and occupancy of houseboats along the city’s canals.
If you’re visiting during tulip season, venture out of the city to Keukenhof Gardens. Much of the tulip cultivation occurs in the Lisse area south of Amsterdam near the Keukenhof Gardens. It’s advisable to visit early on a weekday to escape the crowds, which can reach over one million people. Renting a bike at the main entrance of Keukenhof will also help put some distance between you and the tour groups. Note that for the 2019 season, Keukenhof will be open from March 21 until May 19.
Where to Eat: Check out Foodhallen’s indoor market in the Oud-West section of the city for a wide variety of snacks and delicacies. Approximately 20 vendors serve up everything from Vietnamese street food to wood-fired pizza to bao sandwiches. Once a former tram depot, Foodhallen has emerged as a popular gathering spot all seven days of the week.
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