AOL Travel
Print

Best Things To Do in Amsterdam

AOL PICK from our Editors
Planning your itinerary around the best Amsterdam things to do will depend on your interests—you can fill your day visiting one of the many museums and taking in the history of the city, or you can wander through the Red Light District and take in the many “liberal” sights and sounds of Amsterdam. From the canal boats to the Artis Zoo, there are a lot of attractions in Amsterdam. Consider purchasing an I-Amsterdam card, which provides free access to 30 museums, a free canal boat cruise and unlimited use of public transit within the city limits. Cards start at €38 for 24 hours, up to €58 for 72 hours. Before purchasing, do your math and determine whether the price is worth it. In some cases, the extra expense can be justified, because the card allows you to skip ticket lines, giving you more time to enjoy the city. If you’d rather not come face to face with a prostitute waiting for punters in her window, before you set off on foot, explore the city on a map, and determine which Amsterdam neighborhoods to avoid.  

The Rembrandt House Museum

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

The Rembrandt House is where the Dutch artist lived from 1639 till 1658. When Rembrandt failed to pay his mortgage, bill collectors made a detailed inventory of Rembrandt's belongings, which helped the museum curators recreate the interior of the house with a lot of detail. Besides paintings and drawings by Rembrandt himself, the Rembrandt House also displays works by other Dutch artists, like Ferdinand Bol and Pieter Lastman. The museum is really something you need to experience, because you not only get to enjoy the works of art, but you are also inside the same 400-year-old building where the artist lived.

More Details on

The Rembrandt House Museum »

Vondelpark

Neighborhood: Old South/Museum District

At the Vondelpark you’ll find a variety of restaurants and bars, as well as various statues and other artwork. More than 10 million visitors come here annually, and it’s a great place to visit any time of the year. During the summer months, music and dance performances take place at the Openluchttheater (outdoor theater). In the winter, the Vondelpark is an excellent place to skate on the frozen rivers. The summer atmosphere is very relaxed, and we like the fact that there are no laws prohibiting open consumption of alcohol; you are free to bring your own beverages and enjoy them on the lawn. If you’re traveling with children, there are several playgrounds here, including one with a climbing tree.

More Details on

Vondelpark »

Red Light District Walking Tour

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

Love it or loathe it, the Red Light Districts (there are actually three of them) are one of the largest tourist attractions in Amsterdam. The area is home to several hundred prostitution windows, sex clubs, coffee shops (selling cannabis) and sex shops. The “Red Light” name refers to the light in the window telling potential customers where they can find “services.” Not everything in this district revolves around the sex industry; there are also plenty of bars and several hotels. Even if you are not in the market for a prostitute, there is nothing stopping you from wandering through the district, though we do not recommend walking around with children, as many of the women in the windows are not fully dressed. Do be aware that the area attracts a pretty rough crowd, so if you are visiting Amsterdam for a relaxing and romantic trip, wandering through the Red Light District may not be the best plan.

More Details on

Red Light District Walking Tour »

Artis Zoo

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

The Artis Zoo opened in 1838, making it the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in Europe. The zoo is also home to a planetarium and several museums. There are more than 700 animal species and 200 tree varieties here, along with a number of buildings on its property that date back to the 1850s.

More Details on

Artis Zoo »

Anne Frank House

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

As you might guess, the Anne Frank House is dedicated to the life of Anne Frank. During the German occupation of The Netherlands, Anne and her family lived inside a secret hiding place at the back of their home. Inside the 500 square feet “Achterhuis,” the Frank family lived for two years and one month with four other Jewish people seeking refuge from the Nazi authorities. She is best known for her diary, describing the experience. One of the employees of the Frank family was able to rescue the diary from the hiding place. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only family member that survived the concentration camp, and upon his return to Amsterdam, he compiled the diary into a book, “Het Achterhuis”, more commonly known as the "Diary of Anne Frank." The museum has undergone two major renovations since its opening in 1960 and currently receives over one million visitors a year. The story behind the house is an extremely powerful one, and nowadays the Anne Frank Foundation focuses on contributing to better understanding between different religions, and serves the cause of peace between all peoples. The wait to get inside can be up to two hours, but is definitely worth it.

More Details on

Anne Frank House »

Rijksmuseum

Neighborhood: Old South/Museum District

The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum, which displays a massive collection of paintings, sculptures and art in more than 200 rooms. Now, before you get too excited, realize that the museum is currently under renovation and may not reopen until 2012 or 2013. Since the Netherlands has such a rich tradition in arts, you’ll find works by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Vermeer on display. At the end of the main hall is Rembrandt’s Night Watch, perhaps his most famous piece of work. The museum is visited by just under one million visitors each year, and the summer months are especially busy, so plan your day wisely and allow time for waiting in line.

More Details on

Rijksmuseum »

Molen van Sloten

Neighborhood: Sloten

If you arrived in Amsterdam expecting to see windmills as far as the eye can see, you’ll probably be disappointed. To see an authentic windmill, you’ll have to travel to the southwest corner of the city. In the suburb of Sloten, you’ll find the Molen van Sloten (the windmill of Sloten)—the only publicly accessible windmill in Amsterdam. Because the windmill is on the outskirts of the city, you’ll need to take tram line 2 to its final stop in Nieuw Sloten, and take a 10-minute walk. You can also take bus lines 192 from Dutch railway stations at Sloterdijk and Schiphol and 145 from Leidseplein, which will drop you off closer to the mill. After your tour of the windmill, you can cross the road and enjoy lunch at the Halve Maen, an old-fashioned Amsterdam brown café. Best of all, during its reconstruction, this windmill was outfitted with an elevator, making its balcony accessible to anyone. Open daily from 10AM, except on Dec. 25 and 26, Jan. 1 and Queen’s Day on April 30. The last tour starts at 4:30PM.

More Details on

Molen van Sloten »

Gassan Diamond Experience

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

You can learn everything about Amsterdam’s rich history in diamonds at the Gassan Diamond Experience. Ever since trade started with overseas colonies back in the 1500s, the city has been a major player in the sale and polishing of these rocks. The Gassan Diamond Experience takes you through the different stages of creating a perfectly polished diamond. Best of all, the tour is free. If you have someone special you’d like to surprise, we recommend the Champagne & Diamond Surprise Cocktail —guests can enjoy a glass of champagne, and one lucky winner will receive a diamond in their glass. There's a fee and it is by appointment only.

More Details on

Gassan Diamond Experience  

Van Gogh Museum

Neighborhood: Old South/Museum District

The Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh. With over 200 pieces on display by this Dutch master, you’ll come face to face with many of his greatest works, including art from other Dutch artists from the Van Gogh era. The main exhibit chronicles the phases of the artist’s life, from childhood through death. We recommend coming here on Friday evenings, when the museum is open to 10PM. It is one of the quietest times of the week to visit.

More Details on

Van Gogh Museum »

Science Center NEMO

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

This fun museum features various exhibits that explain things like chain reactions, soap bubbles and how hydrogen is the fuel of the future. There seems to be an emphasis on kids, but there is plenty of fun for adults, too—assuming you have an interest in science. The NEMO science center is built on top of IJ Tunnel, which connects the city center with the north. The building was designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano. Split between its five levels are hundreds of science experiments, all designed with a very “hands on” approach. One of our favorite reasons for coming here is that it has one of the best views in the city, and every summer NEMO transforms the roof into a city beach.

More Details on

Science Center NEMO »

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. The gardens were founded by the city council in 1638, and are currently home to over 4,000 plant species. Some of the plants are over 300 years old, and were brought back to the Netherlands on board the Dutch East India Company ships that roamed the seas in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s an outdoor café surrounded by greenhouses in the middle of the museum—we find it a great place to relax. The best part of Hortus is the peace and quiet you experience once you enter the buildings—no matter how busy things are outdoors, once inside you feel far from the hustle and bustle going on outside.

More Details on

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam »

Canal Boats

Neighborhood: Westpoort (Western port)

Amsterdam is often referred to as the “Venice of the North.” And while the city may not have as many canals as the other Venice, its canals split the city into 90 small islands, connected by nearly 1,300 bridges. Approximately 3.5 million travelers take a canal boat tour each year in Amsterdam, making it the second-busiest attraction in the country and a top Amsterdam thing to do. Most canal tours last about an hour and take you past the various canal house designs, showing the clock, spout and neck gables, as well as the many houseboats. You’ll also pass under some of the most impressive bridges in the city, including the famous Magere Brug (skinny bridge). This wooden bascule bridge is one of the reasons canal boats are designed to be so low. Most cruises also sail out into the Amsterdam docks, sailing past a replica of the VOC ship Amsterdam, one of the first ships used by the Dutch to explore the world.

Boarding docks are located at the west side of the central train station and along the Damrak. Daytime cruises start at 9AM and end at 6PM. Some cruise lines offer nighttime candlelight tours and specialty tours to the various museums in the city. Three of the most popular canal boat companies are Rederij Lovers, Rederij Plas and Holland International. Another cool option is to rent your own boat. A six-person rental boat costs EUR50 per hour.

Rederij Lovers—Departs from west docks next to the Central station

Rederij Plas—Departs from Damrak every 20 minutes (during summer months).

Holland International—Departs in front of the Central Station every 15 minutes (during summer months).

The Bulldog Coffeeshop

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

This is neither the time nor place to tell you that drugs are bad. In The Netherlands, they are tolerated, and nothing is stopping you from visiting a coffeeshop. Yes—the “coffeeshop” is where the Dutch sell their soft drugs and many travelers take the opportunity to get high legally. The Bulldog Number 90 was the first coffeeshop in Amsterdam, taking advantage of the liberal Dutch laws regarding sale and consumption of soft drugs. Dutch laws have changed in recent years, and coffeeshops are no longer allowed to sell alcohol if they want to sell soft drugs. Future laws may also prohibit the sale of soft drugs to tourists. The Bulldog is about as commercial as coffeeshops get, so expect high prices and a lot of branded merchandise. Just like the Red Light District, a visit to the Bulldog does not force you to participate, but it is a friendly place to get a bit of an idea what the buzz about Dutch drug laws are all about. One word of warning though - if you do purchase soft drugs, consume them where you purchased them. Even though you may be allowed to smoke in public, smoking pot is frowned upon in most public places. And never bring your “product” back to the United States.

More Details on

The Bulldog Coffeeshop  

Heineken Brewery

Neighborhood: Centrum (Center)

This place is a heaven for beer lovers. The Heineken Experience takes you through four levels of one of the most recognized export products of The Netherlands. The building is one of the original Heineken breweries, though the main brewing facility moved outside the city in 1975. Heineken has been brewing beer since 1873, and still uses the original strain of yeast it started its very first batch with, and during the 90-minute tour, you’ll learn all about the brewing process and the history of this iconic brand. At the end of the tour, each visitor over 16 years old is treated to two free drinks. Yes—the legal drinking age in the Netherlands is 16. Oddly enough, while 16 year olds can drink, those under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult.

More Details on

Heineken Brewery »
See All Amsterdam Things To Do »
ADVERTISEMENT