Home | Europe | Things to do in Amsterdam

Home to 1.36 million, Amsterdam is the cultural and financial capital of the Netherlands.

Situated on the Amstel river, and founded in the 12th century, Amsterdam has character, beauty, history and a modern edge. Thus, Amsterdam was the world's financial centre in the 17th century and is filled with grand old buildings, concentric canals, world-class museums (think the Rijksmuseum, van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank's House), hundreds of coffee shops in which the smoking of cannabis is (currently) legal, and a large and popular red light district.

where? Amsterdam is usually accessed by flights to Schiphol airport (a few kilometres from the city centre), by ferry (from the UK or Scandinavia) or by international train from the UK, France, Belgium and Germany.

when? Amsterdam's mild climate makes it tourist-friendly all year round, with average temperatures of between 21 and 26 degrees Celsius between June and August.

£$€¥ Some aspects of Amsterdam are fairly expensive. Expect to pay €100+ for a hotel room. Public transport is affordable, with a one-hour public transport pass costing €2.90 and one to seven day tickets costing from €7.50 to €34 (Feb 2017).

1. A trip down the canals

One of Amsterdam's beautiful canals.  Click to enlarge. Amsterdam's concentric canals. Click to enlarge. Amsterdam's canals by night. Click to enlarge.

Amsterdam is also known as the Venice of the North, on account of having over 100 kilometres of canals.

There are four main waterways—the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht canals—which form concentric semi-circles around Amsterdam, and are the result of meticulous city planning in the 17th century.

About 1,500 pretty bridges cross those canals, and roughly the same number of monumental buildings can be seen from them.

Taking a canal boat tour is a good way to get your bearings (for instance, Amsterdam Canal Cruises' tours pass the Wester Church, Anne Frank's House, the Central Station, the Rembrandt House, City Hall, Dam Square and the Rijksmuseum).

If you decide to take to the water, you'll be in good company: 3 million people take canal trips every year (including, in bygone years, Churchill, the Beatles and Nelson Mandela).

where? Trips organised by Amsterdam Canal Cruises depart from Stadhouderskade 550 (opposite Heineken Experience) T: +31 (0)20 679 13 70, E: [email protected]

when? Amsterdam Canal Cruises tours last for 75 minutes and depart every 30 mins from 10 am between Apr and Sept, and every hour from Oct to Mar.

£$€¥ Amsterdam Canal Cruises charge €16 for adults and €10 for children (Feb 2017).

2. The Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh's Wheatfields with Crows.  Click to enlarge image. Claude Monet's Japanese Bridge. Click to enlarge image.

Self-taught impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) lived for a short time in Amsterdam.

The city's eponymous museum contains the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, together with selected pieces by other nineteenth century masters.

Housed in one of Amsterdam's few modern buildings, designed by De Stijl architect Gerrit Rietveld and opened in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum is Amsterdam's most popular tourist destination, attracting over 1.3 million visitors a year.

The collection is arranged into five sections—early woks (to 1886), Paris (works from 1886 to 1888), Arles (1888-1889), St Remy (1889) and Auvers (1890)—each representing a different period of van Gogh's painting life.

The works on permanent display include eight van-Gogh self-portraits, Banks of the Seine, The Yellow House, The Bedroom, Wheatfield with Crows, The Potato Eaters (pictured), Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles, Gaugin's Chair, three versions of Sunflowers, and Irises.

Other artists represented at the Museum include Gaugin, Manet, Monet and Pissarro. Claude Monet's Japanese Bridge, pictured, is probably the most famous painting by another artist.

2017's exhibitions include Prints in Paris 1900 (from early March), Van Gogh Returns (from late March, exhibiting two stolen paintings that have been recovered), In the Woods (from July, exhibiting paintings of woodlands by Van Gogh, Rousseau and Corot) and the Dutch in Paris (from October).

where? The Van Gogh Museum is on Museumplein in Amsterdam, between the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. T +31 (0)20 570 5200. E [email protected]

when? The museum is open seven days a week, 10 am to 6 pm (late opening on Fri until 10 pm). Closed 1 Jan.

£$€¥ Adults €17 (Feb 2017); under-18s go free.

3. Anne Frank's House

Anne Frank's House.  Click to enlarge image.

The part-Jewish Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 and moved with her parents to Holland in the mid-1930s after Hitler had come to power.

Holland was invaded in 1940, and in 1942 Anne Frank and her family received a 'call-up' to the German concentration camps. Fearing that this day would arrive, Frank's family had made preparations to go into hiding in the empty rear section of a building owned by Frank's father's company.

The building was converted into the Anne Frank Museum in 1960. Visitors can explore the secret annex, cleverly concealed by a moveable bookcase, in which Frank spent her days and learn about the German occupation.

Sadly, Frank's is not a story with a happy ending. After two years in hiding, Frank and seven others were discovered, arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Frank was later transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where she died from Typhus shortly before the camp was liberated in 1945.

She maintained a meticulous diary of her time in hiding, which has been published in several languages and adapted into a play and a film.

where? Anne Frank House, Prinsengracht 267. Tel: +31 (0)20 - 5567100. Take trams 13 or 17 or buses 170, 171 or 172 from Amsterdam's central station. Alight at the 'Westermarkt' stop, and walk to your right onto the Prinsengracht.

when? Jan 1: 12 am to 7 pm; 2 Jan to 14 Mar: 9 am to 7 pm (late opening on Sats to 10 pm); 15 Mar to 30 Jun: 9 am to 9 pm (10 pm on Sats); Jul and Aug: 9 am to 10 pm; 1 to 14 Sept: 9 am to 9 pm; 15 Sept to 30 Dec: 9 am to 7 pm (but closes at 5 pm on 25 Dec).

£$€¥ Adults: €9; 10-17 year olds: €4.50; Free for under-10s (Feb 2017).

4. The Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum.  Click to enlarge.

Founded in 1800, the Rijksmuseum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history.

Housed in a grand Pierre Cuypers designed gothic and renaissance building on the Museumplein (pictured), it is best known for its paintings from the Dutch Golden Age (ie the period in the 17th century when Dutch commerce and art were the most acclaimed in the world).

Those works include a number of Rembrandt masterpieces, including The Night Watch (often described as the altarpiece of the museum), Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul, and Portrait of Titus in a Monk Habit.

Other Dutch masters represented in the museum include Vermeer, with his famous The Kitchen Maid on permanent display, Frans Hals (including the Wedding Portrait), Jan Steen (including Woman at her Toilet) and Lucas van Leyden (whose Triptych Adoration of the Golden Calf shows debauchery and partying in the foreground with a biblical scene behind).

The museum also holds substantial sculpture, costume and furniture collections, together with the stern of HMS Royal Charles (an English ship captured by the Dutch in the 1667 Raid on Medway).  Also take time to explore the striking Rijksmuseum library, now open to the public; this balconied four-floor space is navigated by steep spiral staircases!

The Museum was reopened by Queen Beatrix in April 2013 after a lengthy, and often controversial, refurbishment.  The results of the €375 million project have nevertheless been acclaimed, with elaborate frescoed walls and terrazzo floors painstakingly restored. 

The Rijksmuseum’s collection has also been re-organised into a single chronological sweep, with each collection representing a different century.

2017's exhibitions include South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600 (until late May), Ten Years of Photo Acquisitions (until late May), Music at Home (until June) and Lucas van Leyden Masterpieces (until August 2018).

where? Rijksmuseum, Jan Luijkenstraat 1, Amsterdam. Directions:- From Central Station: tram 2 or 5 (to Hobbemastraat); From Zuid/WTC Station: tram 5 (to Hobbemastraat); From Sloterdijk Station: tram 12 (to Concertgebouw); or From Amstel Station: Metro to Weesperplein, from there tram 6, 7 or 10 (to Spiegelgracht).

when? 7 days a week from 9 am to 6 pm (late opening on Fri until 8.30 pm). Closed on 1 Jan.

£$€¥ Adults €17.50, under-18s go free (Feb 2017).

5. Amsterdam Museum

One of the treasures of the Amsterdam Museum is Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson. Stork's Frigates of Peter and Paul, the Amsterdam Museum.

The Amsterdam Museum is housed in the converted Convent of St Lucien.

It charts the development of Amsterdam from a small fishing village at the mouth of the Amstel, to one of the world’s great trading cities during the Golden Age, to a modern 21st century metropolis. 

The collection is arranged into three main exhibitions. 

  • The Young City (1350-1550) describes Amsterdam’s rise to prominence, displaying items used in everyday life, religious paintings and weapons (such as a bronze dagger from c. 1500). 
  • The Mighty City (1550-1815) describes Amsterdam’s population explosion in the first half of the 16th century, the construction of Amsterdam’s canal network, and the rise of commerce and overseas trade (and the problems that came with it).  Don’t miss Rembrant’s The Anatomy Lesson of De Jan Deijman (1656, showing the dissection of an executed criminal), Berckheijde’s The Flower Market and the Town Hall and two silver keys presented to Napoleon on his invasion of Amsterdam in 1811. 
  • The Modern City (1815 onwards) addresses Amsterdam’s decline as a major trading city, the world wars and great depression, an the emergence of Amsterdam as a cultural, tourist and finance centre. 

where? The Amsterdam Museum, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 359, 1012 RM Amsterdam, Netherlands.  T. 020 523 1822.

when? 10am to 5pm, seven days a week.  Closed 1 Jan, 30 April, 25 Dec. 

£$€¥ Adults: €12.50; Children (5-18): €6.50 (Feb 2017). 

6. The Red Light District

The Red Light District.  Click to enlarge.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. In consequence, Amsterdam is home to a large red-light district called De Wallen (aka Walletjes or Rosse Buurt).

De Wallen is found in old Amsterdam, to the south of the Oude Kerk church. It is a network of streets, canals and alleys around which are located about 300 small cabins.

The cabins, which are typically illuminated by red lights, are rented by female and male prostitutes. Customers are attracted by the provocatively dressed prostitutes standing on full public view behind the glass frontage of their cabin.

There are women of many nationalities offering their services. But be warned: sex workers are not obliged to undergo regular health checks. The De Wallen area, which is busiest after dark, also offers a number of bars, Coffeeshops, sex theatres, peep shows and a sex museum.

In 2007, the Prostitution Information Center erected a bronze statue of a prostitute (at her door, waiting for a client) in the square in front of Oude Kerk.

where? The De Wallen district is found to the South of the Oude Kerk Church and about 10 minutes walk south of the Centraal Station.

7. The Stedelijk Museum

A Malkevich at the Stedeljik Museum.  Click to enlarge image. A Cezanne at the Stedeljik Museum.  Click to enlarge image. A van Doesburg at the Stedeljik Museum.  Click to enlarge image.

The Stedelijk Museum was built to house the collection left to the city by Sophia de Bruyn in 1890, becoming the country’s national museum of modern art in 1938. 

It boasts a permanent collection of 90,000 objects, including works by Cezanne, Chagall, Jasper Johns, Kirchner, Malevich, Matisse, Picasso, Saura, Van Velde, Visser, Tajiri and Zadkine, and the Dutch Stijl artists Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Van der Leck, van Gogh and Rietveld.

The collection is housed in a neo-renaissance building designed by AW Weissman (1858-1923), with a façade adorned with turrets, gables and niches sheltering statues of great Dutch artists.  Inside, the style is ultra-modern. 

The Stedelijk’s highlights include Marc Chagall’s Portrait of the Artist with Seven Fingers (1912), Ernst Kirchner’s sculpted Dancing Woman (1911), Karel Appel’s Man with Animals (1949), Kazimir Malevich’s Woodcutter (1912-13) and Pieter Mondriaan’s Composition in Red, Black, Blue, Yellow and Grey (1920). 

The Stedelijk underwent extensive renovation between 2003 and 2012, and reopened with a new Bentham Crouwel-designed wing on 23 September 2012. 

where? The Stedelijk Museum is on Museumplein,‪1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands. T. 020 573 2911.

when? 10am to 6pm, daily.  Late opening on Thursdays until 10pm. 

£$€¥ Adults: €15, Children/Concessions: €7.50; 0-12 year olds go free (Feb 2017).

8. The Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience.  Click to enlarge.

Heineken brewed beer in Amsterdam for over 100 years from 1863. The company has converted its former brewery into an interesting museum.

Visitors are able to walk through the original art-deco distillery, as well as learn about brewing (getting to taste the hops and barley), the bottling process, and the Heineken company's history. Along the way are a number of tasting stations where the company's product can be enjoyed. You can even Bottle Your Own Heineken, and take away a sample with a personalised label. A must for the beer afficionado.

where? Stadhouderstade 78, Postcode 1072 AE. Directions:- (By car) follow directions Ring Amsterdam A10 and leave the ring at exit S110. Follow directions to the city centre and finally to the Stadhouderskade. (By public transport) From Central Station, take trams 16, 24 or 25. Get off at Heinekenplein.

when? Seven days a week, 11 am to 7 pm. Last ticket sales at 5.30 pm. Closed Jan 1, Apr 30, Dec 25 and 36.

£$€¥ Tickets cost €16 (including two free drinks). Under 18s (€12.50) must be accompanied by an adult. Prices correct as at Feb 2017.

9. The Rembrandt House Museum

The Rembrandt House Museum An etching at the Rembrandt House Museum

The Rembrandt House Museum, in the Jodenbreestraat area of Amsterdam, is one of the city's most popular smaller attractions.

Built in 1606, the House was Rembrandt's home between 1639 and his bankruptcy in 1656 (when it and its contents were auctioned to pay the artist's creditors).

The inventories taken on Rembramdt's insolvency were critical in the careful restoration of the property which took place in the early 20th century. The ground floor of the Museum contains a reconstructed kitchen (complete with maid's quarters) and a printing press on which reproduction etchings are still produced.

The first floor contains Rembrandt's reconstructed studio, complete with easels, brushes and pigments. The Museum has acquired a large collection of Rembrandt works over the years.

260 of Rembrandt's 290 etchings are now represented, together with a smaller number of drawings (including the only full size life portrait) and a small collection of paintings by pre-Rembrandists (most significantly Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)).

2017's exhibitions include Glenn Brown: Rembrandt -- After Life (until mid-April, presenting works by this British artist that have been inspired by the Old Masters) and Rembrandt Lab (early June till late Sept, exploring Rembrandt's use of colour through modern technology).

where? Jodenbreestraat 4, 1011 Binnenstad. A 15 minute walk from the Central Station, or close to the Nieuwmarkt metro station.

when? 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan and 30 Apr.

£$€¥ Adults: €13; Students: €8; Children €4 (Feb 2017).

10. Vondelpark

Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

Created in 1805, the 120-acre Vondelpark is found a short stroll to the north-west of Amsterdam's Museumplein.

Named after 19th century author Joost van der Vondel, often called the Shakespeare of the Netherlands, the park attracts around 10 million each year.

Vodelpark was designed by father and son team Van David and Louis Paul Zocher in an English garden style. Many visitors are particularly impressed with the rose garden at the park's centre, displaying 70 different varieties of the plant, the park's beautiful statues (including Picasso's The Fish (1965)), or the park's beautiful lakes, streams or bandstand.

The park is also home to the movie theatre of the Netherlands Filmmuseum, housed in a 19th century pavilion, a number of sports fields and bike tracks.

Refreshment is available from a number of outlets, including the steel and glass Blauwe Theehuis (Blue Tearoom, the design of which resembles a spaceship). A great place to relax in summer.

where? Vondelpark, Stadhouderskade, Museum Quarter, Amsterdam (Stadsdeel Zuid).

when? All year round.

£$€¥ Free.

11. Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum

The Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam's museum of naval history. The Scheepvaartmuseum courtyard. The Amsterdam, moored outside the Scheepvaartmuseum.

Housed in the Dutch navy's former arsenal, a massive Daniel Stalpaert designed sandstone building (pictured), the Netherlands Scheepvaartmuseum charts half a millennium of Dutch maritime history.

The first floor is occupied by the Museum's 17th century collection, telling the story of shipping's Golden Age. This period saw the rise of the Dutch East India Company, as a result of which Amsterdam became known as the 'world's storehouse'.

The finest treasure from this period is The Orrery of Jan van den Dam (1750, a clock showing the position of the planets around a copper sun).

The Tale of the Whale exhibition is also found on the first floor: it charts 16th century research by Dutch sailor Willem Barentsz and the subsequent hunting and conservation of this species.

Exhibitions devoted to more modern times are found on the Museum's second floor. They include Port 24/7, an interactive gallery devoted to the city's port (Europe's fourth largest).

Outside is found The Amsterdam, an exact copy of the Dutch East India company's ship lost of her maiden voyage in 1749. It is crewed by actors, who explain living conditions on board. Don't miss the captains' luxurious quarters to the stern of the boat.

Other attractions include the Royal Barge, a 54 foot long gilded barge built in 1818 for King William I and last used for Queen Juliana's silver wedding anniversary in 1962, and the stunning glass roof recently constructed over the Museum's central courtyard.

where? Kattenburgerplein 1, a 15-minute walk from Amsterdam's Central Station. Buses: 22, 32.

when? 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week. Closed 1 Jan, 30 Apr, 25 Dec.

£$€¥ Adults: €15; Children/concessions: €7.50. (Feb 2017)

12. Oude Kerk

Oude Kerk, in the Oude Zijde area of Amsterdam Stained glass at Oude Kerk (© Heinz-Josef Lücking, CC-BY-ASA-3.0)

Oude Kerk is the oldest church in Amsterdam, dating back to the early 1400s.

The Gothic structure has developed over the centuries, with the initial single-aisled church being replaced by a three-aisled basilica. Many treasures remain, though paintings and statues were destroyed during the 16th century Alteration (the attempts by the Spanish, initially supported by the city of Amsterdam, to prevent Protestantism sweeping northern Europe).

Highlights which survived include the delicate 15th century gilded ceiling, depicting religious scenes and hidden under layers of blue paint between 1755 and 1955, and stained-glass windows (in particular the 1552 Death of the Virgin Mary by Dirk Crabeth).

More modern additions include the 1724 Great Organ (an eight-bellow, 4,000-pipe oak-encased instrument made by Christian Water) and the 47-bell carillon housed in the 67 metre spire (the spire was built by Joost Bilhamer in 1565, with Francois Hemony adding the bells almost a century later).

The Oude Kerk also houses the tombs of Admiral Abraham van der Hulst (1619-1666), Admiral Jacob van Heemskerk (1567-1607) and Rembrandt's wife (Saskia van Uylenburgh, 1612-42).

Keep your eye out for a red door leading to the former sacristy: the warning above it reads 'Marry in haste, repent at leisure'! Further proverbs, such as 'money doesn't grow on trees', are found on the misericords ("mercy seats", to assist choristers required to stand for long periods).

where? Oude Ker, Oudekerksplein, De Wallen, Amsterdam. Trams: 4, 9, 16, 24, 25.

when? 11 am to 5pm, Mon to Sat. 1pm to 5pm, Sun. Guided tours of the bell tower are available, but need to be arranged in advance, during the summer months.

£$€¥ Adults: €10. Concessions: €7.50. Children under 13 go free (Feb 2017)

13. The Coffeeshops

The sign above an Amsterdam Coffeeshop (© Massimo Catarinella, CC-BY-ASA-3.0).

In Holland, the sale of cannabis is illegal but not punished by law so long as no more than 5 grams is sold to those over 18 (be prepared to prove your age).

These rules have led, since the 1970s, to the proliferation of Coffeeshops in Amsterdam. You will often find a cannabis menu on the bar, with staff happy to help you make your selection (many visitors find cannabis sold in Amsterdam to be stronger than that which they have experienced before).

Owners encourage the use of cannabis on the premises (whether by smoking spliffs or using bongs). Even for those who do not wish to smoke cannabis, the experience of popping into a Coffeeshop is an interesting one.

Further information is available from the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum, the only one in Europe to chart the history of marijuana.  Its interesting displays provide information on the use of hemp in rope-making, the effects of the plant when smoked, and the methods used to smuggle the drug. 

where? Coffeeshops are found throughout the city

when? Many Coffeeshops are open from mid-morning until late at night.

 

14. Our Lord in the Attic (Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder)

Our Lord in the Attic, a typical Amsterdam house concealing a hidden church (©  Remi Mathis, CC-BY-ASA-3.0).

Ons Lieve Heer op Solder (translated as Our Lord in the Attic) appears from the outside to be a 17th century home built in traditional style. 

But it houses a church hidden in the attic, constructed during the Reformation (during which time Catholics were forbidden from worshipping in public).  Built by a wealthy merchant, Jan Hartman, in 1661, the Church was operational between 1663 and 1887 (when St Nicolaaskerk, at Prins Hendrikkade, was completed). 

The Church was converted into a museum in 1888, and holds impressive collections of religious artifacts, paintings and church silver.  Don’t miss The Baptism of Christ (1716), the Jacob de Wit alter painting, the tiny confessional box, the priest’s secret living quarters found to the rear of the building, and the classically decorated and furnished 17th century Parlour. 

where? Our Lord in the Attic (Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder), Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40, 1012 GE Amsterdam T +31(0)20 624 66 04.

when? Mon-Sat: 10am to 5pm; Sun: 1pm to 5pm. Closed 1 Jan and 30 Apr.

£$€¥ Adults: €10; Children: €5 (Feb 2017).