Golden Age canals lined by gabled houses, candlelit cafes, whirring bicycles, lush parks, monumental museums, colourful markets, diverse dining, quirky shopping and legendary nightlife make the free-spirited Dutch capital one of Europe’s great cities. With so much on offer it can be overwhelming knowing where to start, but you can start by going to Thingstodoinamsterdam.com where you will find the main things to do while visiting this wonderful place. Here are our top tips to help you find your bearings and get the most out of your first visit to Amsterdam (which inevitably won’t be your last).
Amsterdam has over 60 museums (the world’s highest concentration). Its big three fan out around the grassy expanse of Museumplein, in the Old South neighbourhood. A cache of Dutch masters cram the mighty Rijksmuseum, the country’s premier art repository. The Van Gogh Museum harbours the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s work, while the Stedelijk Museum showcases modern art (Monet, Matisse et al) through to edgy contemporary installations.
Stop in Nieuwmarkt at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis to admire the impressive collection of etchings by the master. From 1639 to 1658, Rembrandt lived and worked in the canal house that now contains the museum.
In the Western Canal Ring, poignant history comes to life at the Anne Frank Huis, where the Frank family hid from the Nazis in a secret annex for over two years, and Anne wrote her immortal diary (displayed here in a glass case). Other powerful museums covering WWII include Nieuwmarkt’s Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) and the Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum) in the Plantage neighbourhood.
The city’s seafaring heritage is celebrated at the Eastern Islands’ Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), just across from the green-copper, boat-shaped NEMO science centre, a kid favourite, with panoramic views from its deck-like roof. Learn about the Netherlands’ famous blooms at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum in the gentrified Jordaan neighbourhood.
Gawp at Amsterdam’s carnal side at the Medieval Centre’s light-hearted Sexmuseum Amsterdam or the Red Light District’s Erotic Museum.
For an aerial perspective, you can scale the heights of three of the city’s most beautiful churches: the Zuiderkerk (Southern Church); Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam’s oldest building (circa 1306); and Westerkerk (Western Church), with panoramic canal views.
Two churches hide within the storybook 14th-century Begijnhof courtyard of almshouses; the perfect place for respite from the city crowds.
Amsterdam’s best-loved escape is the 47-hectare Vondelpark – English-style gardens with ponds, footbridges, winding footpaths, and sculptures including Picasso’s The Fish.
Other urban idylls include De Pijp’s Sarphatipark, and, on the site of the city’s former western gasworks, Westerpark, adjoining the post-industrial Westergasfabriek cultural complex.