Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and known for many things. Some of the words that might pop into your head when you think of Amsterdam are “biking”, “canals”, “tulips”, “Anne Frank” and “red light district” because there is so much to explore and learn in this city. The population of Amsterdam is about 870,000 people in the city proper, which makes it the most populous city in the Netherlands, and about the size of San Francisco. Amsterdam is considered the “Venice of the North” due to the large number of canals, which lends it’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Amsterdam is a great city and can easily be explored in 2- or 3-days but to truly explore everything there is to offer or travel outside the city you’ll want to visit for longer. There are over 50 museums in Amsterdam, the largest of which can easily take hours to walk through. Give yourself an extra day if you plan to visit during tulip season: the tulip fields are about 30-45 minutes outside of Amsterdam and you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to explore and take pictures. Read on for your suggested 3-day/Amsterdam weekend guide itinerary!
Where to Stay in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam-Centrum is the best area to stay in Amsterdam. There are a few neighbourhoods within Centrum that are great to stay at including: Oud Zuid (South) (best location for the budget traveller); Westerpark (great for a first time visitor because of it’s convenient location without being in the middle of nightlife); De Pijp (best for nightlife); and Jordaan (village-like vibes and great for couples).
Is Amsterdam Safe?
Yes. It’s been rated the fourth safest city in the world and is very safe for solo female travellers as well. As always, keep your wits about you and try not to walk through parks at night alone, and be mindful of your surroundings.
Is Amsterdam Expensive?
Yes. Although Amsterdam is one of the 10 most expensive places to live in Europe, you can travel there on a budget by booking cheap accommodations (like hostels) or book an Airbnb (especially for groups), and enjoying the free or cheap activities Amsterdam has to offer. Save costs on food and drinks by purchasing items at the local grocery stores. Each out for lunch, rather than dinner (lunch is typically cheaper). If you’re interested in visiting a lot of the major attractions, check out the I Amsterdam City Card to save (if you already plan on spending!). There is no shortage of fine dining and museums to visit here if you’re looking to splurge! Save on public transportation by renting a bike (the second cheapest option, after walking) and biking along the roads and canals. Save some cash on museums by participating in free walking tours (by donation) to learn a lot of the history without breaking the bank!
Summer temperatures are warm but not hot; however, rainy days make it muggy (warmer and sticky) and wind makes it cooler so be prepared for both hot and cool summer days and nights. Definitely bring a waterproof jacket for rainy days and lots of layers for enjoying the city life. Winter temperatures are fairly mild but you’ll want a warm coat and shoes: there’s definitely the chance for snow and cold nights.
When is the Best Time to Visit Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is beautiful year round but the best time to visit Amsterdam is between April and May OR September and November (also known as shoulder season). You’ll get to enjoy warmer weather but miss the tourist crowds in the summer months.
April is the best time to visit the Netherlands for the Tulip Festival: the tulip fields with millions of flowers are about 30 minutes outside Amsterdam and you’ll also want to visit Keukenhof Tulip Garden near Amsterdam.
3-day Amsterdam Itinerary
The absolute MUST do’s in the city, for any length of time in Amsterdam, are the Anne Frank House, Red Light District, Bike Tour, and museums. Even if the bar scene/party life is not your favourite activity, the Red Light District is a great place to explore and see another side of life. If you visit in April, you have to check out the fields of tulips and the Keukenhof Tulip Garden. Chances are, you’ll arrive by train at the Amsterdam Centraal Station or by plane at the Schipol Airport (where the iAmsterdam sign is now located).
Day one: Anne Frank House, Homomonument/Canals/Dam Square, Oersoep, Heineken Brewery, Museumplein, Theater Tuschinski or Red Light District/Erotic Museum
Day two: Museum of Prostitution, Souvenir Shopping, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Flemish Fries, Henri Willig and Cheese Museum, Red Light District
Day three: Day excursion
Day One: Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Tulip Museum, Homomonument/Canals/Dam Square, Oersoep, Heineken Brewery, Museumplein, Theater Tuschinski Show
Anne Frank House: is absolutely worth the price/line. I do suggest booking your tickets in advance online. Tickets are released online 2 months in advance for just the museum entrance fee, or 2 weeks in advance for the 30 minute introductory lesson + museum entrance fee (including audio guide) for the same price. Tickets sell fast and chances of being able to book a ticket at the museum day of are pretty slim. I definitely recommend the 30 minute introductory lesson + museum entrance fee if you can get those tickets.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum: Almost next door to the Anne Frank House is the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, open year round. You can purchase bulbs in the gift shop, spend up to an hour in the museum exhibits, and watch short films on tulip history. The gift shop can be entered without purchasing a museum admission ticket.
Wander the streets and canals/Dam Square: Spend some time after the Anne Frank House museum wandering the streets and canals. If you’re looking for specific suggestions, check out the Homomonument, Dam Square (find the phallic National Memorial statue and visit the Royal Palace), wander along the Amsterdam Canals (you can’t miss them), and the iAmsterdam sign (UPDATE now moved to the Schipol Airport because it was too big a draw to the Museumplein).
Oersoep: With 450 m2 of glass mosaic, this covered walkway is absolutely stunning and part of a redevelopment project in Amsterdam. Every part of the walkway has a story to tell: archaeological excavations are resembled by the Italian Terrazzo floor; handmade tiles with 27 symbols line the walls; mirrors to display the tale of water, life and death; seven beautiful chandeliers made from recycled bicycle parts in three different styles; stained glass lamps, representative of those still visible at the Amsterdam canal house entrances; and a bronze fish fountain. Definitely worth a stop by!
Heineken Brewery: Heineken is a pale lager beer and the brewery was established in Amsterdam in 1864. Book a Heineken Experience Tour, which includes two tokens for beer at the end of the tour.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: Probably one of the most recognizable buildings and square in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. You’ll find the museum in Museum Square (Museumplein), close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. The Rijksmuseum is a fantastic museum to spend a few hours at, especially on a rainy or cold day. Unfortunately the Iamsterdam sign has been moved but below is a shot of the museum and skating rink in the winter.
Theater Tuschinski (officially Pathé Tuschinsk): Amsterdam’s theatre that was founded in the roaring twenties. Head to the theatre for the evening to watch a movie, or book a ticket for a special event (like the opera or a ballet). Alternatively, if you’re more interested in heading out for a drink/party, head to the Red Light District.
Day Two: Museum of Prostitution, Souvenir Shopping, Het Stenen Hoofd (Beach), Amsterdam Museum, Canal Cruise, Red Light District
Museum of Prostitution: Located in the Red Light District, this is a museum I recommend visiting during the day. It is highly informative of the history of prostitution, stories of past prostitutes and the abuse they received, the legalized of prostitution in Holland and more. The ticket admission price includes an audio guide to listen to on your way through the museum. At the end, you’ll get a chance to stand in a red light window and look at passersby, and read other peoples confessions at the end. It is way worth the €9!
Souvenir Shopping: Wander some of the best shopping streets in the country along the Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk, or along the bustling Beethovenstraat. Visit the Cheese Museum and purchase some delicious cheese from Henri Willig to take home (I brought the smoked cheese and truffle Gouda home for a Christmas charcuterie board and they were a huge hit!)
Depending on the weather and time of year, relax at Het Stenen Hoofd on a warm summers day, an urban beach near a former harbour pier from the early 1900s, or visit the Amsterdam Museum on a cold or rainy day to take refuge from poor weather.
Year round, visit the Twenty-Third Bar for a rooftop view of the city or grab a drink at In’t Aejep (one of the oldest bars in Amsterdam). It gets very busy so I suggest heading there earlier in the afternoon to grab a seat.
Canal Cruise: One of the best ways to explore the city is to book a canal cruise, click here. Prices start at about $20 per person and if you purchase your tickets online in advance, you can skip the line in person.
Spend the evening in the Red Light District. The Erotic Museum is hilariously disturbing, NSFW and comparable to the Sexmuseum (which is cheaper and has better reviews). It is definitely an experience. The Red Light District will be packed year round! Amsterdam legalized prostitution (not on the streets) which is where the Red Light District gets it’s name: prostitutes stand in one of the 300+ windows with a neon red light if they are available. Stop in at a bar for a drink (Excalibur or Bulldog Hotel), go to a strip club, enjoy a typical Dutch brown café (edible cookies) and have fun!
Day Three: Day Excursion
If you’re travelling to Amsterdam in the spring, you absolutely have to head to Keukenhof: the world famous bulb flower park in Lisse, about 35 to 40 minutes by bus from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol or 1 hour from Amsterdam centre. Keukenhof Garden has rows upon rows of tulips with windmills in the background for beautiful photos.
If you’re visiting outside tulip season, head to the town of Zaanse Schans: it is quintessentially Dutch full of traditional Dutch crafts and architecture, with six windmills, a cheese farm, a wooden shoe workshop, museums, and more. You can take a boat tour, rent bikes or walk around to discover this dutch town. Zaanse Schans is also the birth place of the Delft Blue porcelain.
Where and What to Eat and Drink in Amsterdam
Traditional Dutch food is comforting and delicious and you can’t go wrong with trying any of it. Some dishes you need to seek out when travelling to the Netherlands are: bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs), stroopwafel (two thin waffles stuck together with a layer of sweet syrup, often served on top of a hot drink), Flemish Fries (ask for ‘patatje oorlog’ for peanut satay sauce, mayo and onions, or a ‘patat speciaal’ for curry ketchup, mayonnaise and onions), Dutch pancakes (thinner, crepe-like consistency with delicious toppings), and cheese (Henri Willig Cheese or visit the Reypenaer Tasting Room).
I like to discover restaurants when I’m out and about, but some great restaurants in Amsterdam include: Il Panorama (breakfast), De Spiegel (breakfast/lunch), Happy Pig (pancakes), and Vlaamse Fries (for flemish fries).
For drinks, stop at In’t Aejep (one of the oldest bars in Amsterdam), Twenty-third Bar (rooftop bar), or somewhere in the Red Light District.