Visiting Amsterdam for the second or tenth time is both culturally and visually stimulating, but if you’re planning your first trip to Amsterdam, you’re in for a real treat.
I’ve put together a list of my top 13 things to do.
1. Explore the city on bike
Amsterdam is hands-down one of the largest bike capitals in the world. With an estimated 900,000 bikes circulating, this number surpasses the population of 800,000. Due to traffic congestion and high parking costs, travelling by bike is the most affordable and efficient mode of transport.
Here are some companies that do day hire:
We used Mac Bike. I can definitely recommend them because they were really easy to deal with and have pick ups/drop offs all around town.
2. Take a canal cruise
Apparently Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North. Not sure why Venice isn’t actually known as the Amsterdam of the South, because the canals here don’t smell and are very well maintained. With over 100 kilometers of canals, around 90 islands and 1500 bridges, traveling by water is a great way to see the city.
Here are the famous leaning houses. Because most of the structures were built on wooden piers, they have sunk over the years.
Here are some companies that do canal cruises:
3. Have a picnic in Vondelpark
Named after the famous 17 century poet and playwright, Vondel, it is Amsterdam’s central park. The park was created in 1864 after Victorian England made such gardens popular. It has a Picasso sculpture, accessible bike paths and houses the film museum and a theater.
The grass is lush and green, making it the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic in the sun with friends.
4. Visit the windmills
In Western Europe’s oldest industrial area, the Zaan region, there used to be more than 600 windmills running at the same time. At Zaanse Schans, just outside Amsterdam, ten pairs of sails continue to turn. There are several tours which run half day trips out to visit this historical landmark. The mills are used for sawing wood and grinding oil, flower, spices and colourings.
However if you don’t have time to take a trip out there, just south of Amsterdam, at the joining of the Amstel and Bullewijk Rivers, lies the quaint Dutch village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. It’s hard to believe such quiet countryside exists so close to bustling Amsterdam, but this village and other Dutch rural sights are an easy 30-45 minute bike ride from the city.
The bike ride takes you past the skinny bridge.
And along the Amstel River, offering you views of meadows, farmhouses and then finally arriving at the Rieker Windmill. Built in 1636, this mill and an electric pumping-engine drain the garden city of Buitenveldert with a size of 515 hectare in the Amstelland area.
Afterwards, make sure you pop over to the village of Ouderkerk itself, which boasts relaxing waterside cafés perfect for an afternoon drink and boat-watching.
5. Visit the Museum of Bags & Purses
You girls can die and go to handbag heaven! This museum is dedicated to 500 years of history of the Western ladies bag – set in a beautiful and historic canal house from 1666, located in the centre of Amsterdam.
I didn’t see this place until my last day in Amsterdam so unfortunately didn’t actually get to go in – but I guess that means I will just have to come back one day!
6. Vintage/thrift shopping in the Jordaan district
You vintage/op-shoppers will love trolling through the shops in the Jordaan district. Read my detailed post on Jordaan for more details.
7. Visit the Rijksmuseum
This museum houses the greatest collection of Dutch art and history in the Netherlands. Normally ranked in the top 20 of museums in the world, the masterpieces are layed out in a new style with focus still on the grand hallway of Masters. You will be able to view classics by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer.
There is a massive area of lush grass in between all the major museums, so pack a picnic if you’re visiting a few in a day.
8. Visit the Van Gogh Museum
This museum is dedicated to the work of the expressionist painter famous for his rough style, sharp colours and considered a trail blazer for modern art. The museum is home to the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings under one roof and tells the story of the man from child hood to his end at 37 years old.
Sadly we didn’t realise that tickets sell out so if you only have a few days, make sure you pre-book tickets.
9. Visit Anne Frank House
Housed in the hiding place of a Jewish family during WWII, this museum is dedicated to the life of Anne Frank. Teenage Anne documented her experience from the annex of this Amsterdam house during Nazi occupation. The book has become one of the world’s most widely read. This popularity accounts for approximately 1 million visitors a year to this museum.
We tried to go to this museum several times over the weekend however the line was crazy long – so make sure you bring a good book to read while you wait.
10. Visit the Jordaan Markets
There are several great markets in the Jordaan district – operating both Saturday and Mondays. Read my detailed post on Jordaan for more details.
11. Find Amsterdam’s narrowest house
Located on Singel 7, I loved finding this little house which is only just over 1m wide, barely wider than it’s front door. Given my size, I think this could be my little slice of Amsterdam, if not for the fact that this house could go for around 400,000 euros? Ouch.
12. Taste traditional Dutch Gouda
Holland is home to the world famous Gouda. The yellow cheese is made from cow’s milk and is named after the city of Gouda, but unlike Champagne, it’s name is not protected. One of the most popular cheeses worldwide, the name is used today as a general term for a variety of similar cheese produced in the traditional Dutch manner.
While you’re in Amsterdam, you have to make a trip to the Cheese & More by Henri Willig Cheese Shop. They do demonstrations on how the cheese is made and you can taste all types of traditional gouda, cured meats and sweets.
13. Taste traditional herring
Eating raw herring in the streets of Amsterdam seems to be one of those things you know you have to do but might not be able to bring yourself to do, especially if raw fish isn’t your thing.
Herring from the North Sea fishery has played a huge role in Amsterdam since the city was founded. Herring and beer traders were some of the first to pass through the city’s canals which led the Dutch to invent herring curing. Herring is high in omega-3’s and is great for your health.
The herring you’ll find in Amsterdam is lightly cured in salt and in the fish’s pancreatic enzymes. It tastes soft, smooth, slightly salty and is perfect with pickles and onions. I absolutely loved it! We stopped at Stubbe Haring, which I can definitely recommend.
I hope you enjoy your time in Amsterdam!
Anisa – The Macadames. xx