Uncover the City of Canals: Essential Things to Do in Amsterdam

Scenic Amsterdam canal with vibrant city life, a top attraction for visitors.

Exploring the essential things to do in Amsterdam offers a delightful entry into the capital of the Netherlands, known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and picturesque canals.

For first-time travelers, Amsterdam unfurls as a tapestry of activities, from its historic museums and lush parks to the intricate web of canals that have earned it the title “City of Canals.”

The city’s extensive public transportation system, including trams, buses, and metros, alongside bike rental services, provides an eco-friendly and convenient way to navigate the Amsterdam attractions, making it an accessible adventure for everyone.

As we delve into the myriad things to see in Amsterdam, from strolling through the Jordaan District’s cobbled paths to relaxing boat rides on the iconic canals and exploring the vibrant streets of De Pijp, the article serves as a guide to the best things to do in Amsterdam.


This vibrant city is not just about the tourist spots but also encompasses unique experiences that define Amsterdam culture—a blend of historical relevance and modern vibrancy.

Whether you’re drawn to the tranquility of Vondelpark or the educational allure of Amsterdam’s museums, this exploration is tailored to ensure you uncover the essence of Amsterdam, crafted thoughtfully for those embarking on their first journey to this unforgettable city.

Discover Amsterdam’s Historic Museums

Entrance of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a must-visit for art enthusiasts exploring the city.
The iconic entrance to the Van Gogh Museum, a testament to Amsterdam’s rich artistic heritage, awaits visitors.

In exploring the essential things to do in Amsterdam, a visit to the city’s historic museums cannot be overlooked.

These institutions not only house some of the world’s most significant artworks and historical artifacts but also tell the vibrant story of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and beyond. Here’s a guide to some must-visit museums for first-time travelers:

  1. Rijksmuseum
    • Founded: 1800
    • Highlights: Over 8,000 artworks and historical objects, including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer.
    • Tip: Allocate at least half a day to fully appreciate the vast collection.
  2. Van Gogh Museum
    • Established: 1973
    • Specialty: The world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings, and letters.
    • Visitor’s Note: Early morning visits are recommended to avoid crowds.
  3. Anne Frank House
    • Purpose: A biographical museum dedicated to the Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank.
    • Experience: Preserves the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family during World War II.
    • Booking Advice: Tickets are often sold out weeks in advance; plan and book early.
  4. Stedelijk Museum
    • Opened: 1895
    • Focus: Modern art, contemporary art, and design.
    • Collection: Over 90,000 works of art including paintings, sculptures, and design objects.
  5. Hermitage Amsterdam
    • Founded: 2004
    • Connection: An official branch museum of the Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russia.
    • Exhibitions: Varies throughout the year with a focus on Dutch art and culture.
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For those interested in specific themes or niche interests, Amsterdam offers a variety of unique museums:

Each museum provides a distinct perspective on the rich tapestry of history, art, and culture that defines Amsterdam. Whether you’re an art aficionado, history buff, or simply curious, Amsterdam’s museums offer enlightening experiences that are both educational and enjoyable.

Remember, many popular museums like the Anne Frank House require advance booking, so it’s advisable to plan your visits ahead to ensure a smooth and enriching exploration of Amsterdam’s historic museums.

Stroll Through the Picturesque Jordaan District

Charming streets of the Jordaan district in the heart of Amsterdam, a top destination for first-time visitors.
Explore the captivating Jordaan district in Amsterdam, a treasure trove of culture and history, ideal for those experiencing the city for the first time.

In the heart of Amsterdam, the Jordaan district is recognized as a must-visit for anyone exploring the city for the first time.

Originally established for workers and immigrants in the 17th century, this neighborhood has transformed into a picturesque area filled with history, culture, and vibrant life. Here are some key highlights for first-time travelers:

  • Historical Landmarks:
    • Noorderkerk: This 17th-century Protestant church was a place of worship for the poor, contrasting with the middle and upper classes who attended Westerkerk.
    • Westerkerk: Known for its magnificent bell tower and carillon, which chimes round the clock, offering a melodious backdrop to your explorations.
  • Canal and Street Exploration:
    • The best way to experience the Jordaan is on foot. Wander along Brouwersgracht, Prinsengracht, Lijbaangracht, Egelantiersgracht, and Bloemgracht. These canals and streets are among Amsterdam’s most beautiful, adorned with charming bridges and traditional Dutch houses.
  • Markets, Cafes, and Restaurants:
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The Jordaan district exemplifies the peaceful Dutch way of life and stands as one of Amsterdam’s most desirable areas to live and visit.

With its narrow streets, flower-lined canals, quaint shops, and an array of dining options, it offers a glimpse into the city’s rich history while providing a vibrant, contemporary experience.

Whether you’re drawn to its historical significance or the lively market scenes, the Jordaan promises a memorable adventure for all who stroll its cobbled paths.

Take a Relaxing Boat Ride Along the Iconic Canals

Boat ride along the serene canals of Amsterdam, a must-do activity for visitors.
Experience the charm of Amsterdam on a relaxing boat ride through its iconic canals, a top activity for any visitor.

In exploring the essential things to do in Amsterdam, taking a relaxing boat ride along the iconic canals emerges as a highlight.

This experience offers a unique perspective of the city’s historic charm, allowing visitors to soak in the picturesque views of Amsterdam’s architecture and bustling life from the water. Here’s what first-time travelers need to know:

  • Boat Ride Options:
    • Self-Rented Boats and Pedalos: For those wanting a personal adventure, boats and pedalos can be rented for a leisurely ride. This option gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace.
    • Guided Canal Tours: Lasting approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, these tours cover major attractions like the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum. Prices are around €16 for adults and €8 for children. Tours depart every 15-20 minutes from various locations, making it convenient to hop on.
  • What to Expect:
    • Accessibility: The boat tours are wheelchair accessible, ensuring everyone can enjoy this experience. Ramps and designated seating areas are available onboard.
    • Amenities: Boats are equipped with an audio system for guided tours in multiple languages, including English, Dutch, and French. Complimentary Wi-Fi and restrooms enhance the comfort of your journey.
    • Safety and Comfort: Open-air and covered boats are available, catering to all weather conditions. The tours adhere to all safety regulations for a secure experience.
  • Tips for a Great Experience:
    • Booking: Especially during peak seasons, it’s wise to book your canal tour in advance to secure a spot.
    • Night Tours: For a different vibe, consider a night tour to see Amsterdam’s landmarks illuminated.
    • Group Discounts: Travelling with friends or family? Look out for group discounts for parties of 10 or more.

This canal boat ride is not just a tour; it’s an opportunity to witness the living history and vibrant culture of Amsterdam from its waters.

Whether you opt for a self-guided adventure with a rented boat or prefer the informative commentary of a guided tour, the canals of Amsterdam are waiting to enchant you with their timeless beauty.

Explore the Vibrant Streets of De Pijp

Bohemian vibe of De Pijp's vibrant streets, a highlight in Amsterdam's cultural experiences.
Experience the bohemian charm of De Pijp in Amsterdam, a perfect blend of culture, cuisine, and shopping.

In the vibrant streets of De Pijp, things to do in Amsterdam take on a bohemian flair, making it a must-visit for those seeking a blend of culture, cuisine, and shopping.

This neighborhood, nestled outside the canal rings, offers a unique charm with its green-lined streets and eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. Here’s what first-time travelers can look forward to:

  • Culinary Delights:
    • Indonesian Cuisine: Blauw Amsterdam stands out as a top choice for Indonesian meals, offering a taste of the rich flavors and spices from Indonesia.
    • Italian Treats: Pasta Tricolore is your go-to for an Italian espresso bar experience, serving up decadent sandwiches, antipasti, and entrées.
  • Market and Architecture:
    • Albert Cuyp Market: Known as the largest street market in Amsterdam, it’s the perfect spot to explore Dutch street food, fresh produce, and more, all at affordable prices.
    • Amsterdam School Architecture: The neighborhood’s buildings offer a glimpse into unique architectural styles, adding to the area’s visual appeal.
  • Parks and Entertainment:
    • Sarphatipark: A quaint park featuring English-style gardens, ideal for a leisurely stroll or a picnic on the grass.
    • Rialto Cinema: For movie enthusiasts, this cinema showcases independent films from around the globe, with English subtitles available on Mondays.

Powered by GetYourGuide‘s streets, such as Gerard Doustraat and Ceintuurbaan, are bustling with boutique shops and larger stores, catering to a variety of shopping preferences.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood’s history as a 19th-century working-class area adds depth to its modern-day multicultural vibe, visible in the diversity of its shops and eateries.

From the lively brunch scene at spots like CT Coconuts & Coffee and The Avocado Show to the specialty coffee at Scandinavian Embassy, there’s no shortage of places to relax and enjoy the local flavors.

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For those looking to unwind with a drink, De Pijp boasts an array of bars and cafes, including Brouwerij Troost and Café Gollem. The area also features unique boutiques like Anna + Ninna and Parque, perfect for finding one-of-a-kind items.

Whether you’re drawn to the culinary diversity, the shopping, or the laid-back parks and entertainment options, De Pijp offers a slice of Amsterdam that’s rich in culture and charm, making it a key destination on your Amsterdam itinerary.

Enjoy the Greenery of Vondelpark

Lush green scenery of Vondelpark, a popular spot in central Amsterdam.
Vondelpark, the green heart of Amsterdam, bustling with locals and tourists enjoying the natural tranquility.

In the heart of Amsterdam, Vondelpark serves as a lush oasis for both locals and tourists. Here are some of the top activities to indulge in:

  • Live Performances at Openluchttheater:
    • During summer evenings, the Open-Air Theatre (Openluchttheater) becomes a hub of cultural activity. Free performances ranging from live music to dance and cabaret shows light up the stage on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
  • Recreational Activities:
    • In-line Skating: Rent your gear at the Vondeltuin and glide through the park’s pathways. It’s a fun way to explore, and you can grab a casual meal at the rink afterward.
    • Bicycle Rentals: Near the main entrance, MacBike offers bicycles starting at €5 per hour. It’s a perfect way to navigate the 2-mile-long paved path ideal for jogging or a leisurely bike ride.
    • Playgrounds: With three playgrounds scattered around, children of all ages can find their little haven for fun.
  • Dining and Relaxation:
    • Blauwe Theehuis: Despite the potential for crowds and limited servers, this Vondelpark classic is a must-visit for a unique dining experience.
    • Hap-Hmm: Offers traditional Dutch cuisine at surprisingly low prices.
    • Kinderkookkafé: Allows children to hone their cooking skills in a fun environment, while parents can take a well-deserved break.
    • Groot Melkhuis: With a fantastic kids’ menu, this café is a great stop after exploring the Klein Melkhuis, a dedicated children’s park within Vondelpark.

Cultural enthusiasts should not miss the chance to visit Vondelpark3, a cultural center known for its art exhibitions, workshops, and performances.

Additionally, the park’s vibrant atmosphere is further amplified during the annual Kwakoe Summer Festival, a celebration that brings together people from all walks of life.

Whether you’re here to enjoy the tranquility of the Rosarium, with over 70 types of roses, or to immerse yourself in the diverse cultural offerings, Vondelpark ensures a memorable experience for every visitor.

Discover Amsterdam Today

Vibrant Amsterdam street capturing the essence of city life, perfect for first-time travelers exploring Amsterdam.
Experience the pulse of Amsterdam’s vibrant lifestyle, a must for every first-time visitor.

In discovering the essential things to do in Amsterdam, it’s important for first-time travelers to immerse themselves in the city’s vibrant lifestyle and current happenings. Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect:

  • Culinary Scene:
    • Amsterdam is renowned for its diverse culinary offerings, ranging from international cuisines to local Dutch specialties. First-time visitors should not miss trying stroopwafels, bitterballen, and herring from street vendors or local cafes.
    • For a unique dining experience, consider booking a table at one of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants or enjoy a meal at a cozy canal-side bistro.
  • Nightlife and Cultural Events:
    • The city’s nightlife is bustling with options for every taste. From jazz clubs and live music venues to vibrant nightclubs and traditional Dutch pubs, there’s something for everyone.
    • Keep an eye out for special events and festivals happening during your visit. The Amsterdam Light Festival and King’s Day are particularly noteworthy, offering unique experiences that showcase the city’s culture and creativity.
  • Must-Visit Free Attractions:
    • Artisplein: A serene spot next to the zoo entrance, perfect for a quiet moment amidst the city’s hustle. Here, pink flamingos and white spoonbills can be observed in their natural habitat.
    • Rijksmuseum Gardens: A breathtaking garden that’s freely accessible to the public, offering a peaceful escape with beautiful sculptures and seasonal blooms.
    • Civic Guards Gallery: Located in the heart of Amsterdam, this gallery displays enormous group portraits from the 17th century, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich historical tapestry.

For those looking to explore the city’s rich history and vibrant present, Amsterdam offers a plethora of options. From its world-famous museums and historical sites to its lively streets and tranquil parks, the city is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.

Remember, the key to a fulfilling visit is to explore both its iconic landmarks and hidden gems. Whether you’re wandering through the picturesque Jordaan district, taking in the artistic brilliance at a local gallery, or enjoying the tranquil beauty of Vondelpark, Amsterdam promises an unforgettable experience for all who visit.

Planning to Go to Amsterdam? Here are Some of Our Favorite Activities:

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