Much more than the party capital it’s become known as, Amsterdam is an enchanting city where anything feels possible. Extravagant narrow houses line the sparkling canals while locals sell rainbow tulips from small wooden carts. You can hop between world-famous art galleries, falling in love with new artists, before picking up a one-of-a-kind trinket made by a master craftsperson.
There are so many things to do in Amsterdam you’ll never have enough time – no matter how long your visit is! If your dream vacation involves stepping back in time and walking along 17th-century cobblestone streets, losing yourself in captivating museums, and spending lazy afternoons sailing along a canal, Amsterdam is the place for you!
As well as its remarkable art scene, Amsterdam has plenty more to offer. There are craft breweries and tempting food halls for foodies, blissful parks and cycling for outdoor lovers, and countless markets and boutiques if you’re in the mood to shop ‘til you drop.
With so many incredible things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve created a list of the absolute best things to do in Amsterdam. Add these activities to your Amsterdam bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time exploring this iconic canal city.
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15 cool and unique things to do in Amsterdam
1. Broaden Your Horizons at Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam is full of amazing museums and art galleries, but Rijksmuseum is the biggest and most impressive of them all. Hidden away inside a Gothic and Renaissance building, the museum houses some of the most magnificent Dutch pieces from the Golden Age.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Dutch Golden Age, you’ll likely recognize The Milkmaid by Vermeer and The Night Watch by Rembrandt, both of which can be found here. The remarkable permanent collection boasts more than 8,000 pieces divided across 80 galleries, stretching from the Middle Ages up to the Mondrian.
If you regularly visit art galleries, you’ll have a great time wandering around Rijksmuseum on your own. But if you’d like a guide, you can use the museum’s app to take advantage of a free guided tour.
There’s an amazing Michelin-starred restaurant on-site if you get hungry, too. Here you can dig into everything from dry-aged Simmentaler rib eye to red beetroot mille-feuille, all of which are executed as masterfully as any of the museum’s paintings!
2. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with a Stroopwafel (or Three!)
One of the must-do things in Amsterdam is to treat yourself to a stroopwafel. You’ve probably had one of these sweet snacks before. But trying one in the place they were first created is so much better than ordering one from a chain coffee shop!
A stroopwafel is made up of two thin, round waffles sandwiched together with a layer of sticky sweet syrup. They’re incredibly addictive and are best enjoyed when they’re gooey and hot – fresh from a street vendor or bakery.
Lanskroon is one of the best places in the city to try a stroopwafel. The long-time bakery serves huge portions of this baked good that are so large you can barely hold them in one hand. They’re also available in two versions: sandwiched together with honey or coffee caramel. They’re good for up to five days, so you can even take one home as a special gift for a friend with a sweet tooth!
3. ‘Kidult’ to the Max at TonTon Club
When the serious Amsterdam sightseeing gets to be too much for you, let your hair down at TonTon Club. The ultimate playground for adults, De Ton Ton Club lets you step back in time and “kidult” – just like you did when you were younger!
The best part of the arcade hall is the giant ball pit, which you can roll around in for hours and easily lose track of time. But that’s not all you’ll find there. A retro arcade filled with pinball machines, foosball, racing games, pool tables, arcade games, and Dance Dance Revolution will take you back to your childhood.
To help you re-energize after hours of gaming, playing, and dancing, there’s a fantastic selection of food and drinks on offer. A mix of American diner and classic Japanese offerings are available – from boozed-up multi-colored American milkshakes and oversized burgers with every topping imaginable to smooth Japanese whiskies and elegant finger foods, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another era and country.
4. Lose Yourself in De Negen Straatjes
One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Amsterdam, De Negen Straatjes (which literally translates as Nine Little Streets) is a wonderful place to explore. Set in the middle of the canal belt in Jordaan, this area is full of intertwined streets with countless gems waiting to be discovered.
From independent boutique shops selling unique pieces and artisanal food stores bursting with local produce to funky cafes serving out-of-this-world plates and boasting stunning vistas you’ll want to remember forever, De Negen Straatjes is the perfect place to lose yourself in. Have your phone handy because there are so many amazing photo ops you’ll want to capture them all.
As well as being a great place to wander, De Negen Straatjes is also home to a handful of attractions. Stop to smell the roses at the Flower Market, check out the European Center for Art, Culture and Science in the Felix in de Steigers, where the greatest minds meet to debate, and learn how historical texts affect our current society at the Bible Museum.
5. Celebrate Like Royalty on King’s Day
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam in spring is to celebrate King’s Day. The biggest event of the year, King’s Day is held annually on April 27 and is held to commemorate the king’s birthday.
On this special day, around one million people head to the streets dressed in orange to celebrate. People even dress their dogs in cute orange outfits so they can join in, too! If you’re wondering, orange is the chosen color because it’s a show of pride for the Dutch royal family.
As well as tons of orange decorations, the streets are also filled with musical performances, food vendors, street sellers, and a giant party that spreads throughout the city.
King’s Day is currently celebrated on April 27 because that’s the birthday of the present king. The date changes each time the king changes. So double-check the date before you go, just to make sure you’re not celebrating alone!
6. Enjoy an Extended Happy Hour on a Craft Beer Tour
Amsterdam is famous around the world for its incredible beer, and there’s no better way to discover it than on a craft beer tour. Easily one of the coolest things to do in Amsterdam, this craft beer tour invites you to try award-winning local beers alongside addictive Dutch snacks in some of the city’s most highly acclaimed establishments.
The Original Brews & Tales Experience is a great place to start. On the tour, you’ll explore all kinds of places that serve craft beer: from ancient tasting houses and traditional brown cafes to modern microbreweries and trendy pubs.
There’s plenty of chatting during the tour. You’ll make new friends and learn more about Dutch culture at the same time!
For something extra special, the company will arrange a private tour for you. From booze cruises and brewery tours to beer and wine pairing workshops and beer tasting experiences, there’s absolutely tons to choose from.
7. Uncover History at the Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is one of the most important museums to visit during your stay in Amsterdam. Set inside a 17th-century canal house where Anne, her family, and four others hid from the Nazis for two years, this museum opens your eyes to what was really going on at that time in history and how people coped.
You can step through the doorway into the secret annex where Anne and the others lived. Although the annex and the other rooms in the house are empty today, they’re still filled with atmosphere. It’s not difficult to imagine what life was like for them, worried that their hiding place would be betrayed at any moment.
The permanent exhibition invites you to dive deeper into Anne’s life. There are diary quotes from several people, historical documents, movie stills, photos, and authentic objects owned by the people who hid in the house, helping you understand what it was like. You can also see Anne’s original diary and the other notebooks she kept at the time.
8. Check Out the Up-and-Coming Talent at OT301
Amsterdam has an amazing music scene, and there’s no better place to experience it than at OT301. A social center that was a legal squat up until 2006, when it was legally purchased, OT301 gives you the chance to see the latest emerging, underground, and leftfield artists.
Watching a gig here is one of the most unique things to do in Amsterdam. But that’s not all the club has to offer. OT301 is almost as lively during the day as it is at night, with art workshops, community classes, dance lessons, and more to join in on.
While you’re there, stop by De Peper. This incredible restaurant is staffed exclusively by volunteers and invites you to pay what you think is right for what you eat. All the food is organic, vegan, and tastes amazing.
Each meal is made up of a soup and an entrée. Exactly what is served depends on what is available that day, but it’s always healthy and nourishing. For a tiny bit extra, you can also enjoy a homemade dessert.
9. Test Your Taste Buds with Raw Herring
It’s not for everyone, but raw herring is something you should really try while in Amsterdam. You’ll find haringhandels (herring carts) dotted all over the city selling the classic Dutch specialty.
Raw herring is a small white fish that’s first frozen and then cured in salt for a few days. The curing process means that it’s not technically raw and it’s perfectly safe to eat. It has a delicate, soft texture with a fresh, salty taste.
If you’re really hungry, order a “broodje haring.” This way, you’ll get raw herring served in a small sandwich with pickles and onions. It’s a great hangover cure!
Vishandel MOP is one of the best places in the city to try it. The fish counter has more than 100 years of experience making raw herring, and it was the best we’ve ever tasted.
If you visit during May, June, or July, you’re really in for a treat. During these months, the herring is said to be at its absolute best, with a delicate sweet taste you won’t be able to get enough of.
10. Get Cultured at the Van Gogh Museum
One of the top things to do in Amsterdam is to spend a morning at the Van Gogh Museum. This fascinating art gallery is dedicated to the masterpieces of Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries. It’s set inside a Gerrit Rietveld-designed building and boasts the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world!
The permanent exhibit includes iconic pieces you’ll definitely know, including Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat. You also get the chance to explore a side of Van Gogh you’ve probably never seen through his letters and drawings. These reveal the ambitions and ideas behind his artwork.
There are intriguing questions next to some of the paintings that encourage you to really think about what the post-impressionist was trying to achieve. Even if you’ve never considered yourself to be an art buff, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum will encourage you to explore his work and maybe give you a new perspective on art.
11. Fill Up at the Foodhallen
When you’re feeling hungry, one of the best things to do in Amsterdam is to head for the Foodhallen. A giant food hall where you’ll find practically every gastronomic delight you can think of, the Foodhallen began as a tram depot but is now home to more than 25 tempting food stalls and bars.
An amazing place to take someone if they’re a fussy eater, you’ll find everything from spare ribs, charcuterie platters, curry, and sushi to craft beers, local gins, international wines, and creative cocktails. There’s something for everyone!
When the weather is nice, it’s wonderful to sit on one of the outside benches while you eat. If it’s too cold or damp, there are plenty of seating options inside. We loved the dining spot upstairs, where you can watch everything going on down below.
After you’ve had your fill of international eats, check out the unique boutique shops for a one-of-a-kind memento you won’t find anywhere else.
12. Be Amazed at the Amsterdam Light Festival
Visiting Amsterdam over Christmas? You’ve got to check out the Amsterdam Light Festival! Held each year over December and January, this magical festival sees the city lit up in all kinds of creative ways. From traditional Christmas lights to wondrous works of art, this event is so beautiful you’ll never want it to end.
The best light displays are usually reserved for the city’s canals. Artists from across Holland and beyond work hard to dream up impressive creations even better than the year before. There are almost 300 masterpieces used to light up the city each year, making the Amsterdam Light Festival one of the biggest in Europe.
You can walk the streets, admiring all the lights. But for an extra special experience, hop on a canal boat and gaze at the lights from the water. The dates change every year, but the festival usually begins at the start of December and carries on throughout mid-January. Check the website to confirm the dates before you go.
13. Get a New Perspective on a Canal Tour
For one of the best Amsterdam activities, sign up for a boat trip and relax as you float along the canal. The city is an amazing place to explore on foot. But when you can’t walk anymore, and you need a break, there’s nothing like a canal tour.
There are countless canal tours to choose from. Our favorite was the 100 Highlights Canal Cruise. On this one-hour boat trip, you’ll sail along several different canals, taking in some of the most beautiful parts of the city. Some of the many highlights include canal houses that date back to the Golden Age, the Anne Frank House, and the Westerkerk.
For something more intimate, consider a Romantic Night Canal Cruise. On this tour, you’ll sail along Amsterdam’s canals after dark, with gentle lights twinkling in the distance. As you cuddle up together, you can sip prosecco and reminisce about the best parts of your trip. This tour is private, so you don’t have to worry about any other travelers being onboard.
14. Do as Much or as Little as You Like at Vondelpark
When you’re not sure what to do in Amsterdam, the answer is always Vondelpark! Whether you want an energetic morning filled with activities or a laid-back afternoon spent relaxing, Amsterdam’s most popular park will deliver.
Here you’ll find a huge green space that’s perfect for running, cycling, and playing all kinds of sports. There are even dense wooded areas full of fascinating walking trails. If you’re in need of a break, Vondelpark is the ideal place to relax. Sip a coffee on one of the benches, take a gentle stroll between the gardens, or enjoy a picnic on the grass.
Kids will love the water playground in the summer. If it’s not open, there’s always the children’s kitchen where they can learn to cook while you take it easy.
If you visit during spring or summer, make sure you check out the rose garden. This gorgeous spot is filled with 63 hexagonal rose beds surrounded by low hedges. The warmer months are also ideal for catching a live performance at the park’s open-air theater.
15. Explore the Only Museum in the World Dedicated to Fluorescent Art
For an art museum with a difference, check out Electric Ladyland. One of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam, this museum is the only one in the world that contains a single room filled with fluorescent art.
Tucked away in the basement of a 1970s-style art gallery, you need to put on special slippers before you descend the staircase that leads to the museum. This small act alone is a big hint you’re about to experience something otherworldly!
Step inside the box-like room and the UV light will make you become part of the exhibit, too. This experience is known as “Participatory Art” and is much cooler than standard art museums – especially for kids. As you move around the room, different things will change color before your eyes, creating artwork out of nothing more than fluorescent light and mundane objects.
That’s not all the museum has to offer. There’s also a demonstration section where you first look at seemingly ordinary minerals under everyday light before watching them transform into magical creations under UV light. You can only visit Electric Ladyland with an appointment, so make sure you make a reservation on the website before you go.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Amsterdam. What’s your favorite thing to do in Amsterdam?
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