Whether you’re just breezing through Amsterdam on a layover or trying to experience as much of the Netherlands as possible during a short stay, there are plenty of excellent ways to explore the city in a day. And while some travellers think first of visiting Amsterdam’s cannabis coffeeshops and infamous Red Light District, there’s so much more worth exploring in the Dutch capital, including incredible museums, delicious food, and entertainment.
To make the most of the day, you’ll probably want to grab a 24-hour City Card, which offers free admission to most museums, public transit, discounts on food, and more. You can order one online or buy one at the airport or at Amsterdam Centraal Station when you arrive. We also recommend renting a bicycle for at least part of the day to help you easily navigate around the canals and bridges of the city and get the full Amsterdam experience.
Before setting out to explore the city, you’ll want to fuel up at one of Amsterdam’s many great cafés and bakeries. If you’re arriving by train to Centraal Station, we suggest heading over to The Pancake Bakery. This cozy Amsterdam institution, located in a 17th-century building once used by the Dutch East India Company, is beloved by locals and visitors, and serves massive sweet and savory pancakes (aka pannekoeken). Or you could visit Oude Kerk (“Old Church”), the oldest building in Amsterdam located in the middle of the Red Light District, where you can enjoy coffee and pastries from De Koffieschenkerij in the beautiful garden and explore the latest art exhibit.
After breakfast, you’ll probably want to head to Westerkerk, the towering Renaissance-era Protestant church that offers stunning views of the surrounding city. Nearby, you’ll find The Anne Frank House, an essential stop on your tour through Amsterdam, though we recommend booking tickets ahead of time online to avoid long lines. And if you’re looking to brighten up the morning, head over to Electric Ladyland, the world’s first museum of fluorescent art. Another great way to get an overview of the city is by hopping on one of the many canal tours. There’s even a canal tour that includes a visit to the Heineken Experience, the famous former brewery where you can sample the wares.
By now you’re probably getting hungry again, and what better way to pack in lots of Amsterdam’s culinary highlights than with a food tour. Eating Amsterdam tours give you a chance to explore the historic and maze-like Jordaan neighborhood while feasting on iconic Dutch eats like Gouda, herring, apple pie, as well as local beers. Or you can navigate your own tour of Jordaan, once a working class neighborhood now packed with hip restaurants, bars and galleries.
Amsterdam is home to tons of vibrant market places, which offer a great way to eat and shop your way through the afternoon, while getting a feel for daily life in the city. The Albert Cuyp street market is the city’s largest and most popular options where you can find locally-made artisanal goods, clothing, and great street food, including freshly-made stroopwafels, the famous waffles sandwiched around a caramel-like syrup. Or if flowers are more your thing, you can visit the world’s only floating flower market to peruse the famous tulips of the Netherlands and other plant life.
For some afternoon culture, you’ll want to make your way to the Museum Quarter, where you’ll find three of the city’s major collections: Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum; the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art; and the Van Gogh Museum. The Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s beautiful concert hall, is also worth a visit and you can catch free concerts there on Wednesdays at lunchtime. You could also just unwind in Amsterdam’s most famous park, Vondelpark, where you can cruise on your bike, relax on the grass, visit one of the many cafés and restaurants, or catch some live music at an open-air theater during the summer months. Some other great afternoon options include the Dutch Resistance Museum, the massive boat-like Nemo Science Museum, and Artis, the Amsterdam Royal Zoo.
As the day turns into night, you may want to head east to Amsterdam Roest, converted industrial buildings that now feature a bar, an artisanal marketplace, and an urban beach where you can sit outside, eat and enjoy live music. You could also join the locals for an early evening drink at one of the many stylish design bars around town, including Lion Noir, Bar Botanique, or Bar Basquiat. Or you may prefer grabbing a beer at one of Amsterdam’s signature brown bars, often characterized by their 16th-century inspired wooden interiors and laid-back charm, including Café Hoppe or Café De Spuyt. And if you do want to visit one of those famous coffeeshops, you are in Amsterdam after all, we’d suggest spots like Dampkring Coffeeshop, with a beautiful interior and helpful staff, or Gray Area, a long-standing celeb favorite.
Amsterdam is packed with excellent dining options in a range of prices and styles, so you won’t go too wrong whichever direction you head. If you’re looking for traditional Dutch eats in a lavish setting, check out d’Vijff Vlieghen, for modern spins on local seafood there’s John Dory Vistronomie, for vegetarians there’s Meatless District, or you might want to explore the internationally diverse options in the vibrant De Pijp neighborhood. And if you can’t make up your mind, you could alway hit up one of the city’s bustling indoor food halls like Foodhallen, where you can sample a variety of options.
Later in the evening, you may want to explore Amsterdam’s thriving live music scene at spots like Paradiso or Bitterzoet, or check out the DJs at nightclubs like Escape or Studio 80. Also worth exploring is Amsterdam North, the artsy neighborhood just a short ferry ride across the water from Amsterdam Central Station, which is often host to festivals and other fun nightlife events. There you can also visit EYE film museum, which stays open late and often has screenings at night. And chances are you may find yourself wandering through the Red Light District (aka De Wallen) — again, you are in Amsterdam — which in addition to the more adult venues, is also home to beautiful architecture, great restaurants and is actually an un-seedy part of town.
For more information about Amsterdam, please visit Travelzoo.com.