Amsterdam Sightseeing Is Not That Difficult As You Think.
Amsterdam is an ideal city for sightseeing. It is compact, virtually all the attractions are in the city center and there’s excellent public transport, including the canal network. The canals also mean that traffic is relatively restricted and you can walk in peace to most attractions without the usual thunder of city traffic noise. It only takes about 30min or so to walk from one side of the old city to the other. Central Station and the main route, Damrak and its continuation to the south of Dam Square, Rokin, should help to keep your bearings.
The center divides down the middle into the old side and new side. Surrounding the old center are the three famous concentric canals called Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. It can help when walking to note they are in alphabetical order. The Herengracht is the grandest and the Prinsengracht the friendliest. Minor canals and city streets run across and through the rings like the spokes of bicycle wheels. Outside of the canal, rings lie the small, mainly residential neighborhoods such as Jordaan, the Pijp and the Museum Quarter, each with its own individual character and all very pleasant to stroll through.
We’ve picked out a range of top sites which should fill any short stay in the city. They not only include trips to the world famous museum but walks around some of the trendy shopping districts for which the city is noted. There are also a few offbeat tips for the more adventurous which include the notorious coffeehouses where soft drugs are sold and smoked openly.
If you have time to tear yourself away, we have a selection of other historic cities you can reach in under an hour from Centraal Station, including Delft, famous for its ceramics, and the university city of Leiden. Railway trains leave regularly for local attractions and services are punctual and inexpensive.
Amsterdam Sightseeing-Top Sights:
Go to Anne Frank’s House:
The Anne Frank House is a unique experience where visitors can imagine the suffering of a Jewish family in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, captured so vividly in Anne Frank’s own diary.
The rooms of the secret annex are still in their authentic state, empty because the furniture was removed after the family’s arrest. However, salvaged documents and objects belonging to the eight people in hiding are still on display.
The front canal-side of the house, which was Otto Frank’s former office, has also been restored and the story is told using quotes from Anne’s diary while original documents and photographs add to the personal account of this appalling period and of the deportations to the concentration camps. Three short films are also shown.
Next door, the old canal-side house at 265 Prinsengracht, has also been renovated. Today, it gives more details of the diary. Anne Frank’s original first diary is on permanent display. There are a bookstore and a café.
(Bloemenmarkt) Floating Flower Market:
This is said to be the only floating flower market in the world. Whatever the season it’s certainly one of the most fragrant places of interest in Amsterdam. The flower stalls stand on the houseboats. You will find there all sorts of tulips, narcissus, and other bulbs and flowers. The bulbs are ready for export, so you can enjoy them at home too. In December the market also sells green Christmas trees. It’s located on the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein.
Stroll the ‘Negan Straatjes’ For Quirky Shops:
This is perhaps Amsterdam’s most famous shopping area. It’s only a short stroll from Dam Square and is between Princess Gracht and the Singel. It’s packed full of designer boutiques, galleries, and fashion shops. There are quirky businesses concentrating on off-beat merchandise and the whole area is ideal for browsing as well as real shopping. There’s also a huge choice of characterful cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Explore the Jordaan District:
The Jordaan area of Amsterdam was built largely in the early 1600s, initially as a working-class district. It later attracted political refugees like the Protestant Flemish; Spanish and Portuguese Jews; and French Huguenots. A century ago it housed around 80,000 people but a quarter of that number live there now. Famous ex-residents include Rembrandt, attracted by the low rents. He lived on the Rozengracht and his studio was on the Bloemgracht. He was buried in a poor man’s grave in the Westerkerk.
Many houses are now highly desirable and expensive. Yet it is a peaceful Amsterdam oasis, with attractive narrow streets, small canals, courtyards, art studios and historical buildings with many traditional ‘brown’ pubs, boutiques and galleries.
On the Noordermarkt there is the fine Noorderkerk (North Church), designed by Hendrick de Keyser in the 17th century. The Westerkerk (West church), just outside the area on the Westermarkt, is also worth a visit with its beautiful west tower. You’ll find many stone tablets showing the professions or family signs. A butcher’s sign will show a pig; a tailor a pair of scissors.
A special route called ‘Jewels in the Jordaan’ takes you past attractive Amsterdam alleyways and picturesque canals and leads to gold and silversmiths. The Jordaan also has many hofjes, or inner courtyards, many with restored houses and peaceful gardens. There are some free concerts on Sundays in the summer called hofjesconcerts.
Relax in Vondelpark:
Vondelpark is the largest park in Amsterdam (45 hectares) and sees around 10 million visitors a year. Located south of Leidseplein it is not far from the Rijksmuseum. It dates back to 1864. It was designed as an English landscape.
Loved by Amsterdammers and tourists, it’s ideal on a sunny day with thousands of dog-walking, jogging, roller-skating or listening to music, the perfect spot for people watching. There are free concerts at the open-air theatre or, in summer, at the bandstand. Other attractions include the statue of the poet Vondel; the cast iron music dome; the Groot Melkhuis with a playground for children and the Film Museum.
The open-air theatre operates in June, July, and August, five days a week, near the entrance from Eeghenstraat. Entry is free. Vondelpark has six play areas and one large playground near Groot Melkhuis. It is also possible to rent skates at Snoephuisje (near Amstelveenseweg entrance). From 15 May to 15 September, the open-air theatre puts on free children’s shows on Wednesday afternoons. The Filmmuseum has shown for children on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.
Visit Dam Square:
A five minutes stroll from Centraal Station takes you to Dam Square, the very center of Amsterdam. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built around the river Amstel. Much later, the 1960s saw the square become renowned for its hippy culture, an atmosphere that continues to this day. It’s also a shopping area with many food stalls and restaurants. Stores include Bijenkorf, Magna Plaza, Bonneterie and the Amsterdam Diamond center. The summer months bring out many of Amsterdam’s street performers.
The highlight of Dam Square is the Royal Palace or Koninklijk Palace. While no longer home to the Dutch Royal family, the 17th-century palace is used for official receptions. The opposite is the Hotel Krasnapolsky, while on the south side stands the phallic National Memorial to those who died in World War Two.
Other sights in Amsterdam Dam Square are Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, the New Church or Nieuwe Kerk, which often houses art exhibitions and Beurs van Berlage, an old Stock Exchange building now used as a concert hall and an exhibition space.
Amsterdam Off-Beat Sights:
When you have done the big tourist sites there is nothing like getting off the beaten track. One of the great ways to see this beautiful city is simply to wander around. You are sure to find a hidden treasure that suits you.
Amsterdam On A Bike:
Bicycle rentals are available throughout the city with Central Station, Leidseplein and Dam Square all major rental hubs. Day rates average about €10 with some rates as low as € 4. Bikes are sturdy and locks are included. Equipment for children and other add-ons are also available. Most companies offer guided tours and recommended route maps.
You won’t be alone – nearly half of all city traffic consists of bikes. The Dutch are proud of their biking culture. Bike paths connect the entire country and cyclists are well respected on the city roads. Do watch out for tram tracks and walk your bike on crowded streets and in pedestrian zones. Do lock your bike to something solid.
Visit a ‘Coffee House’:
A coffee shop is a place where cannabis can be openly sold and smoked. While soft drugs have not been legalized, cannabis (but not hard drugs) can be used discretely. Legally, the coffeeshops can stock up to 500 g of marijuana. Adults over 18 are allowed to buy sell up to five grams.
There’s a wide variety of city coffee shops to choose from – some are laid back, some have psychedelic decor or you can combine a smoke with music. You won’t be popular if you simply hang around – buy a coffee, a soft drink or snack. Very few have an alcohol license. You can smoke your own cannabis but you must buy something.
There is normally a menu to choose from with prices according to the quality. Be careful as the local skunk is strong but the staff will normally advise the inexperienced. You can also ask for a pipe or rolling papers.
Have a Rijsttafel Indonesian Meal:
Rijsttafel is Dutch for “rice table” and it’s one of the great pleasures of a night out. It’s an elaborate meal of often more than 20 Indonesian dishes. Developed in the East Indies during the Dutch colonial era, it’s not, curiously, a meal that’s served often today in Indonesia because of memories of colonial days. It is, however, enormously popular in the Netherlands and at Indonesian restaurants abroad.
The rijsttafel consists of rice and a large array of small side dishes: curried meats, fish and seafood, peanut sauce (satay), coconut-flavored dishes, pickles and always, a small selection of, particularly fiery dishes. These will be flagged in the more kind-hearted establishments – rice is the way to beat the heat, but always make sure you have a beer to hand!
The Heineken Experience:
A city tour around a brewery may seem like a tourist rip off but many speak highly of the trip around the former Heineken brewery. Visitors learn all about brewing history, see Heineken commercials and even get a ride on a bottling belt. It’s all good fun and visitors get three free glasses of beer and a small memento of their trip at the end. The actual city brewery closed in 1988 and now it is only used for tours. Expect big crowds in the summer and allow more than 1hr to get around.
A Trip To The Zoo:
Artis Zoo in the Plantage District was founded in 1838, making it the oldest city zoo in Europe. The layout can feel cramped but the winding pathways through an expanse of greenery make it a very pleasant experience. There is the usual assortment of animals – apes, gazelles, elephants and so on – plus an insect house and a large aquarium. Although it covers a huge area there is strangely only one entrance at Plantage Kerklaan.
From the tragedy of the Jews under Nazi occupation to the latest in modern art, Amsterdam museums have something for just about everyone. The major museums are often besieged by crowds in the summer, with weekends much the busiest times. A handful of museums are free but most charge admission, though many have pleasant cafes and courtyards inside where you can relax after admiring the exhibits.
Most of the museum exhibits have display notes in English and in museums that don’t there is usually an English language brochure. You can get a Museum Card for free entry to more than 400 Museums in the Netherlands and about 30 museums in Amsterdam itself. It is valid one year and it costs €29.95 so well worth it if you are on the Amsterdam culture trail.
Van Gogh Museum:
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum has the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s paintings and holds exhibitions of 19th-century art. The permanent collection features the works of Vincent van Gogh and other artists.
Van Gogh’s work is organized into five periods – The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers-sur-Oise. One of the pleasures of a visit is listening in to the views of visitors – Van Gogh clearly attracts a diverse range of reactions. Many cannot see what all the fuss is about, others regard him as the greatest painter ever – despite him failing to sell a single painting in his lifetime. The Van Gogh Museum is in the Amsterdam Museum Quarter, between the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum.
NEMO Science Centre:
The four floors of the NEMO science center, shaped like a giant green ship, are especially attractive for children with many stimulating exhibits on science and nature. Grown-ups can have fun too with all sorts of hands-on gadgets and experiments. There are several cafes and on a sunny day, you can picnic on the large roof terrace which has great views over the city.
Rembrandt House Museum:
This is the house owned by Rembrandt who lived here between 1639 and 1660. A modern annex has a museum devoted to Rembrandt’s life and work. Rembrandt’s rooms and his workshop have been reconstructed and there are furniture and objects from the era. There is an impressive collection of Rembrandt prints, more than 250 of them.
This is the permanent home of the Netherland’s National Museum of Modern Art and one of the greatest collections in the world and due to reopen in August 2008 after extensive renovation. Along with all big names of modern painting movements as Impressionists, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism.
It also has an exceptional collection of works from the de Stijl art movement, a superb collection of Dutch photography and a very good collection of modern design and furniture. During renovation works are being exhibited on the Oosterdokskade next to Central Station.
Jewish Historical Museum:
This is the only museum in the Netherlands to focus on Jewish history, religion and culture. The museum is located in a group of four synagogues at the heart of the former Jewish quarter in the center of Amsterdam. The permanent exhibition features religion and tradition, the links with Israel, the persecution of Jews during the Second World War and personal life stories. Each Sunday there are film shows, lectures, and guided tours.
Just on the edge of the Red Light District, this museum is in a restored 17th-century canal house with collections of church silver, religious, and paintings. The attic conceals a secret Catholic church – Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Dear Lord in the Attic) built in 1663.
The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum is one of the great art galleries of the world and the largest museum in the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum is a familiar Amsterdam landmark and has a superb collection from early religious works to the masterpieces of the Golden Age. Over one million a year go to see the works of Rembrandt and the other great names of Dutch painting.
The Rijksmuseum is the centerpiece of the Museum quarter -Museumplein – home to the three major museums in Amsterdam – the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. If you enjoy art, you will be very happy in this recently renovated quarter of Amsterdam.