Things to Do in Amsterdam
This slow, winding canal served as a moat around Amsterdam before the capital city expanded in 1585. Today, Singel has become a top attraction thanks to scenic passes and easy access to a number of Amsterdam’s most popular neighborhoods, including the infamous Red Light District.
Travelers looking to explore the Singel can peruse Bloemenmarkt—a well-known flower market that’s comprised of floral-filled boats floating between Koninsplein and Muntplein squares. And a trip along the canal will take travelers past architectural masterpieces from the Dutch Golden era, including iconic houses, the Munttoren tower and the library of the University of Amsterdam. A stroll along the Singel is the perfect way to enjoy an early spring day while taking in the sites, culture and history of one of the Netherlands most favorite cities.
Get a look at Amsterdam from a different vantage point at the A'DAM Tower's observation deck, known as the A’dam Lookout. Twenty-two floors up, visitors are treated to an unrivaled view of one of the world's most iconic cities, including its historic center, vibrant port and polder landscape, which was reclaimed from below-sea level by the rerouting of water through Amsterdam's famous canals.
A'DAM Tower boasts a 360-degree sky deck and an indoor panorama deck, allowing travelers to view the city from all angles no matter the weather conditions. Inside the tower is a selection of bars, restaurants and even a nightclub and a hotel, plus an interactive exhibition covering Amsterdam's history and culture. Although the tower may look new, it first opened in 1971 before undergoing a complete refurbishment in 2016, with the addition of a massive swing that sends thrill-seekers careening back and forth over the top edge (thankfully, in a full-body harness).
Museum Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder) is one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam. The attic of this 17th century canal house conceals a secret church, where Catholics of the Dutch Reformed Church who were unable to worship in public held their services. A merchant purchased the building during this period, and he and his family lived on the ground floor. Catholic masses were officially forbidden from 1578 onwards, but the Protestant governors of Amsterdam generally turned a blind eye, as long as churches such as this one were unrecognisable from the outside.
The lower floors of the building became a museum in 1888 and today contain refurbished kitchens and other rooms housing a collection of church paintings, silver, and various religious artifacts. Visitors can explore the building’s narrow passageways and stairways while marveling at the ornate furniture and works of art.
In Amsterdam’s central district Jordaan, along the Prinsengracht canal, you’ll find this small, quirky museum floating right on the water. The Houseboat Museum (Woonboot Museum) is a traditionally furnished houseboat that really gives a feeling for what everyday life on the canals of Amsterdam was like before ‘modern’ times. The boat, a former freighter named the ‘Hendrika Maria,’ is completely furnished and has several different visuals and models to show how life on the canals has changed through the decades. Once on board, you can see how the authentic barge (built in 1914) was converted to a comfortable houseboat in the 1960s. The houseboat has proper skipper’s quarters with a sleeping bunk, a good-sized living room and kitchen, and a bathroom. (The houseboat is equal in size to the average Amsterdam apartment.) Nowadays, the Hendrika Maria welcomes visitors to its homey interior — it seems as though the owners have just popped out to do a bit of shopping!
Dam Square is the main city square in Amsterdam and is one of the most well-known locations in all of the Netherlands. Located in the historical center of the city and just 750 meters south of Amsterdam Centraal Station, Dam Square is home to an array of notable buildings and frequently hosts events of national importance.
The square sits over the original location of the dam in the Amstel River and has been surrounded by land on all sides since the mouth of the river was filled in the 19th century. On the west end of the square you will see the Royal Palace, which was the city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808. Next to the palace are the Gothic Nieuwe Kirk (New Church) and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. On the east end of the square is the National Monument, a stone pillar erected in 1956 to memorialize the Dutch victims of World War II.
The Munttoren, which means “Mint” or “Coin” tower in Dutch, is located on busy Muntplein Square in Amsterdam, precisely where the Amstel River and the Singel Canal meet and formed Regulierspoort. Built in 1487 as part as one of the main gates in Amsterdam's medieval city wall, Munttoren was mainly used to mint coins until it burned down in 1618.
It was later on rebuilt in the Amsterdam Renaissance style, with an octagonal-shaped top half and an open spire designed by celebrated Dutch architect Hendrick de Keyser. But visitors looking for a tower fitting this description will be disappointed; indeed the original guardhouse, which had survived the fire, was entirely replaced with a new building in the late 19th century except for the original carillon. It was made in 1668 and consists of 38 bells that chime every 15 minutes, even to this day – a carillonneur employed by the city of Amsterdam gives a live concert every Saturday between 2 and 3 p.m.
Established in 1838, Amsterdam’s happily family-friendly zoo was the first to open in The Netherlands and covers more than 14 hectares (35 acres) of shady tree-lined pathways and landscaped botanical gardens in the Plantage. It combines 19th-century architecture amid hundreds of mature trees with a 21st-century approach to conservation, housing more than 900 species of animal, some in majestic 19th-century compounds. The most impressive of these is the Aquarium, which was built in 1882 and reveals a cross-section of the murky waters of the city’s canals as well as housing more than 300 species of shark, eel and shoals of tropical fish. While the Wolf House was formerly a 19th-century pub, the big cats, elephants, gorillas, zebras, meerkats, giraffes and antelopes range freely in spacious enclosures of modern design.
Recognized as the widest canal in the city, Keirzersgracht is part of a picturesque network of waterways that wind through Amsterdam city neighborhoods, lending a quiet charm to otherwise bustling streets.
Travelers looking for a taste of old world Amsterdam can experience the past with a little new world charm, too, while on a visit to Keirzersgracht. From the historic Greeland Warehouses—once used to store whale blubber, but now luxury apartments—to the Rode Hoed, which served as a secret Catholic church but is now home to a television recording studio—the canal is filled with character and history that is not to be missed.
On a visit to the Begijnhof, an enclosed former 14th-century convent, you’ll discover a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard.
Contained within the hof is the charming Begijnhofkapel, a "clandestine" chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dog-leg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and stained-glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.
The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees, and still serves as the city's Presbyterian church. Also note the house at No. 34; it dates from around 1425, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.
Amsterdam’s picturesque ring of canals is one of the city’s most iconic sights and after the famous waterways achieved UNESCO World Heritage status back in 2010, a new museum sprung up to celebrate their rich history.
The Het Grachtenhuis, or the Canal House, opened its doors in 2011 and features a series of exhibitions devoted to the history of Amsterdam’s 17th-century canals and the city development project behind them. The self-guided tours utilize audio guides and a series of interactive installations to provide a uniquely entertaining and engaging rundown of how the system was designed and built. 3D video projections, miniature city models, animations and galleries all help to bring the exhibition to life, making it a thoroughly modern museum experience.
The Canal House itself, perched on the banks of the Herengracht or ‘gentleman's canal’, is just as impressive outside as it is from the inside.
More Things to Do in Amsterdam
Running from Amsterdam Central railway station to Dam Square, The Damrak is often called the "Red Carpet" of Amsterdam. For it is the first site, in all its bustling glory, that visitors see when they exit the train.
The Damrak, as the center of the city, is a bustling thoroughfare, filled with souvenir shops, hotels, and restaurants. Two famous buildings also make their home here: the Beurs van Berlage (the former stock exchange) and the famous mall, the Bijenkorf. From the station, the street ends at Dam Square, site of events and demonstrations of all kinds.
The Damrak is the original mouth of the Amstel River - rak being a reach, or straight stretch of water. In the 19th century, the canal was filled in, except for the canal-boat docks on the east side. Before you reach the Stock Exchange you’ll see a body of water. This is all that remains of the erstwhile harbor. The gabled houses backing onto the water are among the town’s most picturesque.
Amsterdam’s De Negen Straatjes, or ‘Nine Little Streets’, are the nine shopping streets linking the main Prinsengracht and Singel canals. The pedestrian quarter not only makes the perfect destination for window-shopping, but draw your eye above the shop fronts and you’ll find plenty of impressive architecture to marvel over. Many of the buildings here date back to the 17th-century and the area has been the go-to shopping area for locals for almost 400 years.
Ardent shoppers will find plenty to get excited about, with the area’s shops as varied and vibrant as the city itself. The cobbled streets abound with homegrown designer boutiques, vintage clothing shops and independent art galleries, with shop windows showcasing creative displays of artisan furnishings, alternative clothing designs and handcrafted accessories. The unique, quirky and bizarre reign in the small themed shops, with plenty of unusual finds and distinctive keepsakes on offer.
One of Amsterdam’s most famous central squares, the busy Leidseplein, or Leiden Square, claims a prime location to the South of the city’s canal ring and opposite the popular Vondelpark.
Once serving as a 17th-century transport stand for horse-drawn carriages, the square remains a vibrant center point, alive with street entertainers and freestyle jazz performers. Here, costumed acrobats and break-dancers amuse punters at the square’s many cafés, shops and restaurants. As the sun sets, the city’s notorious brown cafés, Irish pubs and music venues fill up, and the square is at its liveliest, flickering with neon and echoing with music spilling from the clubs. Melkweg and Paradiso are two of the most famous music venues, with a number of acclaimed international artists performing alongside local acts. Whether the sun’s shining or the snow’s falling, Leidseplein remains at the heart of the city’s festivities.
As vital to Amsterdam as Rembrandt, canals, and coffee shops, on a sunny day there’s not place better than Vondelpark. As people from all walks of life descend on this sprawling English-style park - beautifully appointed with ponds, lawns, thickets, and winding footpaths - a party atmosphere ensues.
Some kick back by reading a book, others hook up with friends to cradle a beer at one of the cafes, while others trade songs on beat-up guitars. Still others jog, cruise on inline skates, ride bikes, and fly kites. Let us not forget families with prams, couples in love, teenagers playing soccer, and children chasing ducks - Vondelpark encourages visitors to enjoy and explore its bucolic surroundings. On a summer day, a great place to follow the action is the upper terrace of Café Vertigo. Also check out the open-air theater and the lovely ponds and rose gardens.
Designed by Jacob van Campen, the impressive Romanesque construction is fashioned around over 13,500 woolen piles sunk into the ground and is best known for its iconic rooftop statue of Greek titan Atlas, straining beneath the weight of the world on his back. First built as a city hall, the building was transformed into a Royal Palace back in 1808, under reign of Louis I, King of Holland and is still used frequently for state visits by today’s monarchs.
Famously described as ‘the eighth world wonder’ by local poet Contantijn Huygens, the Royal Palace does its best to live up to its opulent reputation with glistening marble floors, lavish décor and a slightly ostentatious theme of Amsterdam’s power and prestige. The grand interiors, open to the public, provide the principal attractions, furnished with a spectacular collection of antiques and decorated with ornate carvings and Rembrandt-inspired paintings.
Amsterdam’s largest and oldest daily flea market, Waterlooplein market has a vibrant history dating back to 1893 and remains one of the city’s liveliest markets, sprawled between the Leprozengracht and Houtgracht canals. Held from Monday to Saturday in the former Jewish quarter, the market has long been at the center of Amsterdam’s bohemian culture and remains one of the prime gathering spots for the city’s youth.
Browsing the stalls offers a snapshot of the city’s cosmopolitan culture with alternative and vintage clothing, music posters and memorabilia and DVDs all on sale, along with hair braiding artists and tattoo booths. Today, the market encompasses around 300 stalls, selling everything from quirky antiques and second hand goods to cheap and cheerful souvenirs and general bric-a-brac. Even if you’re not buying, shimmying your way through the crowds of locals and tourists provides the perfect opportunity to soak up Amsterdam’s eclectic vibe.
Reopened at the end of 2012 after a major revamp, the Stedelijk Museum now boasts a new wing designed by architects Benthem Crouwel – a structure as bold and striking as the artworks it harbors. The modernist façade – a shimmering white design aptly nicknamed ‘the bath tub’ - serves as a provocative declaration of the museum’s artistic sensibilities – equally inspiring and polarizing.
Home to one of the Netherlands’ most celebrated collections of modern and contemporary art and design, walking the halls of the Stedelijk whisks you on a journey through the world’s most innovative art movements. Iconic Andy Warhol prints, memorable impressionist works by Matisse and Cezanne and extraordinary Rodin sculptures catch the eye, part of a vast and eclectic collection that includes pieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Micropia is a unique museum in Amsterdam dedicated to microbes and microorganisms. These microscopic organisms make up two thirds of all living matter. As soon as you enter the museum, you'll start to learn about the invisible organisms living all around us. An animation in the first elevator tells you about the mites that live on your eyelashes and the bacteria and viruses that live on those mites. Other exhibits include a body scanner that tells you what type of microbes live on your body and a Kiss-o-meter that counts the number of microbes transferred during a kiss. There are Petri dishes with bacteria in them that show you what lives on everyday household objects.
Another exhibit shows a collection of animal feces and a preserved human digestive system. There are also films showing different animals decomposing. In a real-life working laboratory, visitors can view technicians preparing the exhibits through a window.
The Venustempel Sex Museum in Amsterdam is the world’s first sex museum. Housed in a 17-thcentury building in the very heart of the city, it features an extensive collection of erotic paintings, statues, recordings, photographs, and other items relating to sex and eroticism. All of the exhibits were personally curated by the owners and remain on permanent display. The main theme is the evolution of human sexuality throughout the ages.
Venustempel began in 1985 with just a small display of erotic artifacts from the 19th century. Due to its huge popularity with the general public, its collection was later expanded upon, and the museum now sees more than 500,000 visitors through its doors each and every year.
With its ring of canals extending over 62 miles (100 km) and featuring an incredible 1,500 bridges, it's no surprise that Amsterdam’s canal ring has earned itself the nickname ‘the Venice of the North’. The 17th-century canals, including the most famous waterways of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, achieved UNESCO World Heritage status back in 2010, and remain key landmarks for visiting tourists.
The Prisengracht, or Prince’s Canal, is the longest of Amsterdam’s four main canals, measuring around two miles, and one of the liveliest in the city. Here, colorful houseboats float by the riverbanks and the surrounding streets are crammed with cafés, shopping boutiques and landmark buildings.
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