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Growing up, all I ever knew of Amsterdam was the Red-Light district.  It just seemed incredible to a kid from a rural coal-mining area that there could be such a place.  Luckily I grew up and learned and eventually explored all the other incredible things to do in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is known for much more than its mythical Red-Light District, such as its romantic canals, intense nightlife, gabled houses and artistic heritage, the “Dutch Venice” is absolutely worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.

Between world-class art and history museums, its famous coffee shops, its mills and its historical monuments, there is plenty to do in Amsterdam. Moreover, it is not a capital like the others: Being on a human scale, you can easily visit Amsterdam on foot or by bike, like the locals!

Are you planning to go to this magical and crazy capital on your next vacation? Find out what are the best things to do and see when you come to visit Amsterdam!

1. Take a Canal Cruise in Amsterdam

It is pretty cliché, but you really have to take a canal trip, if you come to visit Amsterdam. The cruise is smooth and relaxed, passing picturesque buildings and under old stone bridges. During the cruise, a local guide will tell you many stories, legends and historical facts about Amsterdam.

Several types of cruises in Amsterdam exist:

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  • A 1.5-hour evening canal cruise which includes a local guide (recommended).
  • A 1-hour daytime cruise with an audio guide.
  • A canal cruise + entry to the Heineken Experience
  • A canal cruise + Van Gogh museum

If you enjoyed browsing these channels, you could continue your journey by visiting the canal museum, which retraces the history of Amsterdam and explains to you the usefulness and construction of the canals.

2. Explore Coffee Shops

This experience is not essential, but at least a quarter of travellers enter a coffee shop at least once during their trip. It is legal in Amsterdam to smoke cannabis, and the coffee shops allow you to do so.

These establishments have not transformed the city into a haunt of the depraved, far from it: for cannabis smokers, coffee shops are simply alternative cafes where you can relax to smoke, yes, but also to take a cup of coffee and sometimes even eat. Alcohol is not sold in these very special cafes.

3. Take a Nap in the Vondelpark

What to do in Amsterdam when you want some greenery? Located in the heart of Amsterdam, the Vondelpark offers a green space away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here you will see people of all ages tanning in the sun on sunny days, playing sports or simply relaxing. A stroll allows you to simply cross the park.

The park takes its name from Amsterdam’s most famous poet: Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679). There are sculptures, a theatre and the EYE Film Institute, a film museum, very nice to do if you come to visit Amsterdam.

4. Rent a Bike

Almost everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam, and it is not just for fun. Half of Amsterdammers use their bikes regularly, and during busy hours the bike paths are full of cyclists in suits and ties, students going to lessons and parents with their little ones sitting on the child seat. Join the locals and tour Amsterdam on their favourite form of transport.

5. Enter the Begijnhof Convent

It is also called the Beguinage, a 14th-century convent that once housed the religious and liberated brotherhood of beguines. In the centre of the courtyard is the Engelse Kerk, the main place of worship for the local English-speaking community.

Hidden behind a heavy wooden door on the Spui square, you will find the Begijnhof courtyard. You can feel the history and culture here, but do not speak there louder than a whisper.

6. Climb to the Top of A’DAM Lookout

How to enjoy a beautiful view when you come to visit Amsterdam? The A’DAM Lookout is an observation platform that will give you an incomparable panoramic view of Amsterdam. From up there, you can see the historic centre of the city, its canals and its port.

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You will also have access to an interactive exhibition tracing the history and culture of Amsterdam!

7. Walk the Aisles of the Albert Cuypmarkt

Want to visit Amsterdam like a local? How about going to the market? Browse some 250 stalls at the Albert Cuypmarkt, which is none other than the largest and widely popular market in Amsterdam! You will find everything you want: cheeses, clothes, local food, and shoes.

8. The Royal Palace of Amsterdam (Paleis op de Dam)

Built between 1648 and 1665 by the architect Jacob van Campen, this palace is also called Paleis op de Dam. It was originally built to become a town hall and remained so until 1808. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who became King of Holland, then decided to transform it into a palace. Today it is only used for official events and receptions and can be visited!

You can admire the marble floors, the magnificent furniture, the paintings, the imposing chandeliers and sculptures, such as that of the Atlas, which is located in the main room of the palace.

9. Explore Keukenhof Spring Park

Tulips are one of the cultural symbols of Holland, along with windmills. If you go to Amsterdam between mid-March and mid-May, you absolutely must plan to see the millions of tulips in Keukenhof park. It is the best place in the Netherlands to explore a tulip garden. During this relatively restricted time of the year, millions of visitors visit the park, so it is essential to book your entrance tickets. There are everyday trips.

If you do not have time to visit Keukenhof, head to Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market on the Singel canal. You will find all types of bulb flowers there. To go further, you can visit the Botanical Garden of Amsterdam ( Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam ) or the Tulip Museum.

The 10 Must-Do Things to Do in Amsterdam

With its authentic wooden houses and superb windmills, Zaanse Schans looks like an open-air museum.

10. See the Windmills of Zaanse Schans

With its authentic wooden houses and superb windmills, Zaanse Schans looks like an open-air museum. And yet people live there, and craftsmen are at work every day in the mills and the various workshops. Museums are to be visited, in particular the Museum of Zaans. 

Several excursions organized from Amsterdam include visiting Zaanse Schans with a cruise, as well as the villages of Waterland (Volendam and Marken).

 

Our Final Word

Amsterdam is a wonderful place to explore whether on foot, by car or by bike.  It perfectly blends old and new to come out with something totally unique.  Amsterdam is a city Kati and I will be visiting again and again.

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