Explore the best things to do in Amsterdam and get ready to fall in love with Europe’s most exciting city
Ah, Amsterdam. Our love affair with this city never ends, from its innovative food scene to its most well-known attractions. Perhaps most famous for its art galleries and museums, from the Van Gogh Museum to the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam stands proudly as one of the most culturally significant cities in Europe, but, of course, it’s got a poppin’ nightlife scene too.
In fact, the capital’s ‘fun’ side has historically lent itself to swathes of tourist stag dos, desperate to try out Amsterdam’s notorious coffee shops and canal cruises – something its government is trying to crack down on. But as it stands, there’s no escaping its reputation as a Seriously Fun Place To Be. Whatever you’re in Amsterdam for, there are some things you simply have to do, and we’ve rounded up 24 of them. Happy travels!
What to do in Amsterdam in 2023
Photograph: www.hollandfoto.net / Shutterstock.com
1. Van Gogh Museum
What is it? Dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries, this Gerrit Rietveld-designed building houses the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world. It’s just around the corner from the Rijksmuseum and forms part of Amsterdam’s Holy Trinity of culture alongside the Stedelijk Museum next door.
Why go? The post-impressionist painter is one of the most influential figures in the history of Western art, and his use of bold colours and broad, expressive brushstrokes remains as captivating today as it was in the 19th century. Browse his masterpieces side-by-side here.
What is it? Amsterdam’s greatest, grandest, and most classical museum, with a huge collection of Dutch art dating back to the Golden Age.
Why go? There’s over 8,000 bits of art and history on display, over 1 million objects, a small but mighty Asian collection, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a café on site. Plus the guided tours are ace. Need we say more?
Photograph: Robert Mullan / Shutterstock.com
3. Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder
What is it? The ‘Museum of Our Lord in the Attic’ was once Amsterdam’s best-kept secret. The reason? This former church, spread across the top three floors of a 17th-century canal house, was where Catholics would come to pray after public displays of worship were banned by the Alteration of 1578.
Why go? The church has been beautifully preserved and offers brilliant insight into 17th-century life and religious persecution through the ages. There are several outstanding artworks, and it’s still used for the occasional service (and even weddings).
Photograph: fokke baarssen / Shutterstock.com
4. De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets)
What is it? Smack bang in the middle of the canal belt in Jordaan, this micro-neighbourhood of quaint and quirky streets is big on personality and full of cosy cafés, independent boutiques, vintage stores and artisanal food shops.
Why go? Best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, there are plenty of Instagram-ready hangouts here – this is old Amsterdam at its best – plus some charming spots to sit and watch the world go by. Eat at Ree7, get a coffee at Screaming Beans, a snack from Het Koekemannetje, or shop at Episode.
Photograph: alessia_penny90 / Shutterstock.com
5. Anne Frank Museum
What is it? This 17th-Century canal house, where Anne Frank, her family and four others hid from the Nazis for two years, is now a museum and educational centre. There’s a permanent exhibition on the life and times of Anne, and you can visit the cramped ‘secret annexe’ they called home.
Why go? The museum is a fundamental part of 17th century history, and a chance to see Anne’s words come to life. The exhibition is open all year round and guests can visit the ‘secret annexe’ the family stayed in. The house is a chilling reminder of the Second World War, while also being a moving testament to the her bravery and optimism.
Photograph: vali.lung / Shutterstock.com
6. Albert Cuyp Markt
What is it? With a rich history as a trading nation, the Dutch appreciate bargaining and value for money. Albert Cuyp Markt, in the heart of De Pijp, is the place to go to observe locals at their bantering, bartering best.
Why go? The street-length market has an incredible range of food, clothes, knick-knacks and souvenirs. For fresh fish, chicken, meat and veg, it’s pretty hard to beat. It’s also a great place to meander, soak up the atmosphere and mingle with genuine Amsterdammers.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alcuin Lai
7. Canal Tour
What is it? One of Amsterdam’s must-do activities, though a cliché, is still the best way to explore the city. Sure, Amsterdam’s bikes are iconic, but a canal tour requires zero physical effort, so you can finally relax. There are many tour operators with boats, most of which depart from around Centraal.
Why go? There’s not much difference between most operators, but it’s worth going on a longer tour that also heads out onto the IJ (the best ones are around 75 minutes). If you want to take it up a notch, there are dinner and cocktail cruises in the evenings and even one with a live jazz band on board. Classy.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Yvonne K.
8. Brouwerij ’t IJ
What is it? Amsterdam’s original microbrewery, quaintly housed in a working windmill, is still among the city’s finest. They’ve been pulling superb blonde beers, pilsners and IPAs since 1985.
Why go? We hate to point out the obvious, but a trip here will lead you to beer heaven. The hoppy libations are served up in small glasses, so you should be able to taste a decent range without hitting the deck. However, be aware that some beers have an unusually high alcohol volume. If you’re visiting in warmer weather (when beer tastes best, in our opinion), grab a seat on the terrace and nibble on traditional Dutch bar snacks like boiled eggs and raw sausage.
What is it? The lungs of the city, Vondelpark was once the only public park in the world where one could legally barbecue, smoke joints, and have sex. The latter has since been outlawed (again), but there’s still a relaxed vibe to this green giant’s vast open spaces and wooded trails.
Why go? Locals come here to run, cycle, play sports or chill, and there are plenty of activities for those looking to make a day of it. Don’t miss the beautiful rose garden or the famous open-air theatre where, if you’re lucky, you might catch an impromptu show. On a sunny day, it feels like Vondelpark is the centre of Amsterdam.
What is it? This retro arcade is situated in a warehouse in Amsterdam Noord, which is easily accessible with a free ferry from behind Centraal Station. Blast Galaxy contains over 100 machines, ranging from old-school classics to new consoles, like the Nintendo Switch. In other words, it’s a gamer’s paradise.
Why go? Once you’ve paid your entry price, all the machines are free-to-play. With reasonably priced food and drink, you can either swing in here for a bit of daytime play, or spend your night lost in the digital magic of gaming. Whatever you decide, you’ll have a blast.
Photograph: fokke baarssen / Shutterstock.com
11. De Hallen
What is it? What began life as an old tram depot is now known as De Hallen, a cultural hub in the heart of the Oud-West. Home to a cinema, boutique shops, a hotel, and a food hall, it’s an ideal place to go for some top-quality entertainment.
Why go? Feeling peckish? Take your pick from delectable dim sum, delicious Dutch meatballs, stupendous sushi, kick-ass smoky barbecue and much more. If the sun’s out, park yourself on a bench outside. Is it a rainy afternoon? Then catch a movie! Check out the offbeat boutiques! You’ll find yourself full, satisfied, and ready to furnish your apartment with the aesthetic of an Amsterdam influencer.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Miss Ally A.
What is it? If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime dinner experience, nothing comes close to Vuurtoreneiland. A special boat takes you to this small, rugged island in the IJmeer with just a lighthouse, an old abandoned fort and a large greenhouse dining room.
Why go? The ethos here is ‘eating in and of nature’ – a five-course set menu of the freshest regional produce, lovingly prepared and cooked entirely on open flames. The food is incredible, as is the glorious setting – all fauna, stray animals and sweeping coastlines. But be warned: booking is essential.
What is it? Situated in an old canal house, the Foam Photography Museum consistently hosts some of Amsterdam’s best exhibitions – all of which will make you look at the world in a different way.
Why go? Whether it’s promoting new talent, running retrospectives on famed photographers, or creating themed exhibitions, FOAM is a place to experience art you’ve most likely never seen before. The museum is also both compact and in a central location, making it an ideal place for a quick jaunt during your day in Amsterdam.
Photograph: fokke baarssen / Shutterstock.com
14. NDSM Wharf
What is it? A former shipyard on the northern banks of the IJ, this area – reached by a free ferry from the back of Centraal – has blossomed into a cultural hotspot with a rich mix of arty events, bars and restaurants.
Why go? Enjoy beach-front food and drink at Pllek, Europe’s largest flea market (IJ-hallen, which takes place once a month, on weekends) and a packed programme of festivals, exhibitions and other goings-on. The city is in the process of building thousands of homes here, turning it into a ‘district for urban pioneers’, and that creative spirit makes for a refreshing escape from the more touristy areas.
What is it? One of Amsterdam’s weirdest museums, and a place you’ll never forget visiting. This spot is dedicated to art works of cats, whether that’s paintings, sculptures, or, well, really anything else you can think of.
Why go? Like cats? Then you’ll love this quirky shrine to our feline friends. If simply looking at representations of the popular pets isn’t enough, don’t worry, there are a number of cats strolling around the museum you can play with. On top of that, the KattenKabinet is situated in a house on one of Amsterdam’s most sought-after streets, making it a wonderful place to get an up-close glimpse of those famous Dutch buildings.
16. A’dam Toren
What is it? Refurbished as part of a drive to regenerate Noord, this 22-storey tower looms over the waterfront across the River IJ from Centraal. Formerly the HQ of Shell, it’s now home to an array of young music, advertising and events companies, plus a handful of bars and restaurants (and even a hotel).
Why go? Sip a signature cocktail in the Skybar, eat in one of the two gourmet restaurants on the top floors (one of which revolves), and if you’re really brave, head to the observation deck to Over The Edge, Europe’s highest swing, and enjoy the views as you rock back and forth, 100 metres up.
What is it? Just a few metres from the shopping madness of Kalverstraat, this secluded garden and courtyard is overlooked by a set of medieval houses built for the Beguines, a group of unmarried religious women who lived in a closed community under vows of chastity.
Why go? Come here for a surreal, restorative experience and a fascinating insight into a little-known aspect of Amsterdam’s religious heritage. You can also marvel at the city’s oldest wooden house, which has stood unchanged since 1425.
Photograph: Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock.com
18. EYE Film Institute
What is it? One of Amsterdam’s modern icons, this striking building next to the A’dam Toren (the impressive tower across the water from the central station) is much more than a cinema. It also houses a film museum, a brilliant restaurant and café, temporary exhibitions and various educational activities for kids.
Why go? Love film? You won’t want to miss this place. The shop offers an excellent range of quirky gifts and memorabilia for film buffs, and their programming is first-rate – expect cult classics, obscure documentaries and only the best new indie releases.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Billy D.
19. Electric Ladyland
What is it? This tiny little storefront in Jordaan bills itself as the first (and only) museum dedicated to fluorescent art in the world and is a scientific and educational shrine to minerals, stones and art that glows under ultraviolet light.
Why go? Way more fascinating than you’d think, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that never ceases to amaze first-time visitors. You can even try out some ‘participatory art’ that involves you becoming part of the piece – wacky but fun. Visits are by appointment only, so book ahead.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Tianyi L.
What is it? If you’re based in Oost, this giant park is the place to head for a relaxing walk, cycle or just some fresh air. There are huge grassy areas for lounging and several running trails for more energetic types.
Why go? Flevoparkbad, the city’s only outdoor swimming pool, is here, but you can also go wild swimming in the Nieuwe Diep. There’s also a tennis club, and when you’re done exercising, head to microbrewery Distillery ‘t Nieuwe Diep, bag a spot on the terrace and order a craft beer or ale. Otherwise, grab something to nibble on from Albert Heijn and lay down a blanket for the ultimate picnic.
Photograph: Pragya Arora / Shutterstock.com
What is it? Although somewhat overshadowed by Vondelpark, Westergasfabriek is a prime destination in its own right. Come here for a chilled-out break after a stroll through the city centre.
Why go? This complex of former industrial buildings on the edge of Westerpark, one of the city’s three main parks, has been turned into a cultural hub featuring an art-house cinema, coffee roastery, a microbrewery, exhibition spaces and an excellent gin and mussels joint. Plus, if you fancy some throwback fun, there’s the vibrant ‘Arcade Paradise’ where you play on an array of euphonious games machines.
Photograph: Melanie Lemahieu / Shutterstock
What is it? Amsterdam doesn’t suffer from a lack of music venues, but OT301, a legal squat, is the best place to catch underground, leftfield and up-and-coming talent. It’s also home to De Peper, a pay-what-you-can vegan restaurant staffed entirely by volunteers.
Why go? The nightly gigs are just one part of OT301’s charm. Daytime is taken up by community classes and art workshops, and there’s a table tennis bar in the backroom (plus a radio station in the basement).
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Oana M.
23. Blijburg aan Zee
What is it? Amsterdam lacks decent swimming options (there is only one open-air pool), but it does have an inner-city beach. Located on the artificial island of IJburg, Blijburg ann Zee is just a short tram ride and walk from the centre.
Why go? If the weather’s nice, there is no better spot for swimming and sunbathing. The water’s clean, and the atmosphere is fun and relaxing (and very family-friendly). A handful of decent restaurants and cafés make it easy to spend an entire day splashing around and working on your tan here.
- Things to do
What is it? Yes, this is ground zero for Amsterdam prostitution, where sex workers advertise themselves in the famous red-lit shop windows. It’s also party central for stag and hen-dos – things get rowdy and continue until the small hours.
Why go? Clearly, anyone of a hedonistic bent will fit right in here. But the Red Light District is also the city’s oldest neighbourhood and home to monuments, churches and quaint little squares that are well worth visiting. If that’s what you’re after, make sure to go along during the day.