Amsterdam is the most free-spirited, FUN, artsy, and liberal city I’ve been to. The canals give it a small-town feel, and there’s lots of bikes, flowers, and history at every turn. It’s hard not to fall in love with the charming houses and photogenic streets. After spending 5 days in the city, I’ve put together a curated list of 13 things you can’t miss in Amsterdam.
Many of these things were recommended to me by locals, some I stumbled upon by walking around, and others I planned months in advance. I did more than just these 13 things, but these are my favorites.
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” -John Green
1. Visit the Anne Frank House
It’s not possible to get same-day (or even same week) tickets to the Anne Frank House. You have to reserve your e-tickets in advance online, and they sell out quickly. I reserved my ticket a month and a half before my trip, through the official website. And trust me, I saw many people without tickets, who were disappointed to learn that the museum was sold out for the next several weeks.
This experience was a once in a lifetime thing for me, and it’s my top recommendation for Amsterdam. This is the one thing in Amsterdam that you definitely have to reserve in advance, but it’s for good reason. As of 2022, the tickets are €14.00.
There’s something indescribably chilling about standing in the annex where Anne Frank hid with 8 other people for 2 years. It’s crazy to see how free the city feels now, but not long ago it was the deadliest place for Jewish people in Western Europe. In the Netherlands, three quarters of the Jewish population (or 102,000 people) were transported and murdered in concentration camps. Anne Frank was German, but she immigrated to the Netherlands with her family when she was four and a half. Her father, Otto Frank, moved the family to Amsterdam to escape Nazi Germany. Anne Frank did not identify with her German heritage, and she wrote her journal in Dutch. Her dream was to have a career as a Dutch writer, which she mentions in her journals.
This is the bookshelf that led to the secret annex, where Anne Frank went into hiding with 8 other people. It was built in 1942 by Johan Voskuijl.
2. Visit the Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is my favorite museum in Amsterdam, and it should definitely be on your list!
Van Gogh painted most of his art in France, but he was born and raised in the southern Netherlands. He grew up in the countryside, and started off painting peasants and working class people. The museum displays his peasant paintings, and then shows the journey of Van Gogh moving to France and painting there. I traveled to France before stopping in Amsterdam, so it was amazing to see Van Gogh’s paintings from Paris, where I had walked the streets just weeks before.
The museum displays gorgeous paintings, with everything from Van Gogh’s self portraits, to landscapes and still life pieces. Van Gogh’s Sunflower painting is one of the most famous, and he painted it with only 3 shades of yellow. I spent over 2 hours roaming around the museum and enjoying the paintings. I love Impressionist art, so visiting this museum was a dream come true.
Montmartre: Behind the Moulin de la Galette, Paris, July 1887
Tips for visiting the Van Gogh Museum:
- Reserve your ticket online in advance. While it’s not necessary to reserve a ticket months in advance, they will sell out daily during peak season. I reserved my ticket about a week in advance, and they were sold out the day of my visit. They are usually sold out 2-3 days out. It’s best to reserve ahead of time, to avoid the stress of potentially missing out of the museum. As of 2022, the tickets are € 19 per person, and you can reserve them here.
- As long as your ticket is valid for the day of your visit, it’s fine if you’re an hour or two late. I booked my ticket for noon, but didn’t end up arriving until 1pm. Obviously it’s good to be on time, but as long as your ticket is for that day, you don’t need to stress about being there at the exact reserved time. This is something I learned after visiting lots of museums throughout Europe. They allot a certain number of visitors for the day, and they’re not concerned with the exact time of arrival.
- Purses and bags are not permitted in the museum, so you’ll have to put your belongings in a locker. However, the locker is free, and it was kind of nice not having to carry my backpack with me in the museum.
- There are other temporary art exhibitions in the Van Gogh Museum, and they are free and included with your entrance ticket. You do not need a separate ticket for these exhibitions.
- The Van Gogh website has a “Frequently Asked Questions” page, which I recommend checking out if you have other questions.
Irises, painted by Van Gogh in a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy, 1889
Self-Portrait, painted in 1887 (drag right to see more)
Sunflowers, painted by Van Gogh in Arles, France with only 3 shades of yellow, 1888
View of a Butcher’s Shop, Van Gogh’s first painting in Arles, France
3. Eat Apple Pie at Cafe Winkel 43
When you think of Amsterdam, you probably think of stroopwafels… but what about apple pie? Several locals recommended that I try Dutch apple pie, and I’m so glad I did! Dutch apple pie is different from American apple pie, due to its delicious streusel topping, instead of pastry topping.
Winkel 43 serves thick, sweet, and yummy apple pie slices with whipped cream on top. The line is long, but it moves quickly and is well worth the wait. It’s also located next to the most adorable flea market!
4. Spend Saturday Morning at Noordermarkt
Noordermarkt is a trendy yet traditional outdoor market, selling everything from fresh produce and cheeses, to antiques, jewelry, vintage clothing, artwork, and books. I recommend visiting on a Saturday, since there are three markets in one!
There’s the farmers market, the antique market, and the Lindengracht food market. This market was truly one of my favorite things in Amsterdam, and it gave me a look into how the locals spend a Saturday morning or afternoon. I bought several beautiful items, including a print from a local artist and a hand painted dutch tile.
Noordermarkt is the perfect way to experience the local and authentic vibe of Amsterdam!
5. Book a Canal Ride
Canal rides might be touristy, but I still recommend booking one for your first trip to Amsterdam! They’re a great way to meet new people and to learn fun facts about the city. You’ll get a unique view of the city, while experiencing what it’s like to be on the water.
I booked a canal ride through Airbnb, and the captain provided complimentary wine, cheese, crackers, and candy. The ride lasted over an hour and, as of 2022, costs $35. I chose a sunset tour, and I recommend booking a morning or evening tour.
6. Visit the Prostitution Museum
A prostitution museum might seem controversial, but… that’s Amsterdam! Prostitution was legalized in Amsterdam in 2000, as an attempt to give prostitutes more safety and autonomy over the profession. The museum gives you an inside look into the life of a typical sex worker in the Red Light Distrcit and explains the violence that still occurs against sex workers. Sex trafficking and violence against sex workers are still problems, and I like that this museum brings awareness to the issues, while sharing stories of real people.
The Prostitution Museum is located in a former brothel house in the Red Light District. Tickets cost €14.50 online, but there’s no need to reserve a ticket ahead of time. The museum is open 11:00am – 10:00pm Sunday through Thursday and 11:00am – 11:00pm Fridays and Saturdays. The ticket includes an audio guide as you walk through the house.
7. Eat a Stroopwafle
Stroopwafels are the famous (and sweet) Dutch cookies that look like flat waffles. They’re filled with a buttery caramel syrup called, “stroop.” They originated in a small Dutch town called Gouda, and bakers invented them in the late 18th century, as a way to use up leftover breadcrumbs.
There’s a lot of debate about who has the “best” stroopwafel in Amsterdam, so I suggest that you try several. My three favorite Stroopwafel places are Croissanterie Egstorf, Rudi’s Original Stroopwafels, and Melly’s Stroopwafels. I prefer the plain stroopwafels, but they also have some dipped in chocolate or with different toppings.
Croissanterie Egstorf has amazing stroopwafels, but the day I went was surprisingly the last day of them being open. The owner decided to retire after over 30 years of running the bakery. They sold the building, so I’m not sure if it’s still a bakery or not.
8. Book a Photoshoot
This will always be a recommendation on my list. Amsterdam is a photographer’s dream and the perfect place to have a photoshoot. It’s such a magical location for photos, and booking a professional photographer guarantees amazing photo souvenirs. I was traveling solo, so it was like not having to figure out how to get some nice photos.
The best way to book a photoshoot is through Airbnb experiences, since the currency is converted for you. However, if you don’t see any photographers with your preferred style on Airbnb, I recommend looking on Instagram. But you’ll have to use MoneyGram, or some other resource to wire money for payment. I used a mix of photographers from Instagram and Airbnb during my month in Europe.
9. Buy Authentic Souvenirs at Kramer Kunst & Antiek
Amsterdam is full of cheesy souvenir shops, but I prefer to buy timeless and classic souvenirs. I absolutely love Dutch ceramics, with the blue and white color scheme. This style of Dutch ceramic is called Delftware, Delft pottery, or Delft Blue.
Kramer Kunst & Antiek is the perfect place to buy high quality and hand painted souvenirs, and it’s been a local business since it opened over 60 years ago. They sell tiles, jewelry, antiques, and hand painted Delft pottery. I bought an adorable Delft pottery house, that you can place a candle inside.
Honestly, just skip the cheap souvenir stores, and go to Kramer Kunst & Antiek for some beautiful pieces to take home. They’ll even ship purchases internationally!
10. Buy Flowers at Stins Flowermarket
Flowers are a true symbol of Amsterdam. There’s flower boxes hanging on every canal bridge, people walking down the streets with fresh bouquets, lots of flower shops, and even bikes decorated with flowers.
Stins Flowermarket is an adorable floral shop, where I bought some beautiful sunflowers as a thank you gift for my Airbnb host. If you’re looking for a fun souvenir, you can bring back tulip bulbs. Tulips are probably the most iconic flower in the Netherlands, making them a great gift. The tulip bags at Stins Flowermarket are pre-approved for international travel, so you won’t have any issues at customs.
11. Go Thrift Shopping
Thrifting is the best way to get a feel for local fashion, and I was obsessed with the thrift shops in Amsterdam. You can buy fast fashion anywhere, but you can’t find vintage Amsterdam clothes just anywhere. This is also a reminder to pack light, so you have room for some amazing second and clothing finds. I found the perfect gray corduroy jacket, and I’m excited to wear it this fall. There are tons of thrift shops, but my favorite was Rumors Vintage & Design.
Don’t forget your reusable bag!
12. Rent a Bike
Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been named the most bike-friendly cities in the world. In fact, it’s the only city on my trip that I didn’t use the metro in, since it’s so walkable and bikeable.
There are several places where you can rent bikes, and they average about €10 a day. There are lots of rental companies to choose from, so I recommend using Google Maps to find the closest one to your accommodation.
13. Enjoy the View at Blue Amsterdam
Blue Amsterdam is a restaurant and café with panoramic views of the city from a 30mm-high class tower. They serve breakfast all day, sandwiches, soups, salads, sweets, and there’s even vegan options! It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee and see an amazing view of the city.
Don’t waste your money on A’DAM Lookout and head here instead! Amsterdam doesn’t have skyscrapers or super tall buildings, so although A’DAM is popular… It was definitely a disappointment and way too touristy. Meanwhile, Blue Amsterdam doesn’t have an entrance fee, and it’s where the locals go!