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Let’s go Dutch: The Best Things To Do In Amsterdam

Take your time as you soak up the arts and atmosphere along the canals and streets of Amsterdam | By Paul Oswell | May 5, 2022

Amsterdam is compact and easy to explore, with renowned art, busy canals and lively cafes providing the backdrop to this Dutch capital. Picture sun glinting off the canals, locals whizzing past on their bicycles and colorful street art everywhere. The somewhat bohemian attitude is infectious. The city will reward you with unforgettable experiences, whether that’s a busy night of bar hopping or a tranquil afternoon on an island.

Feel like a Dutch Master with these tips for experiencing a memorable vacation:

  • Don’t miss the world-famous museums: Be awestruck by the enduring talent of the city’s great painters, with museums dedicated to Van Gogh and Rembrandt, among others

  • Head to the water: Relax on a boat tour of the city’s canals, or hop on a ferry for a day trip to one of the surrounding islands

  • Broaden your palate: Drink the way that the locals drink at a centuries-old genever bar

Amsterdam's canals and parks

If you’re a cyclist, then Amsterdam will seem like your spiritual home. Rental shops are everywhere, and there’s nothing like renting a bike and boarding the ferry to visit the villages just outside Noord, such as Nieuwendam and Ransdorp. You’ll love the scenery, not to mention the beautifully flat terrain.

If you’re visiting Amsterdam in the warmer months, you can catch free concerts and theater performances in Vondelpark. This massive park spans 116 acres. The smaller and much quieter Begijnhof offers a slice of serenity in the city center. In the summer, urban beaches spring up in the outer suburbs, with Pllek being one of the most popular.

The best way to get your bearings when you arrive in Amsterdam is to get out onto the water right away. You can hop on one of the glass-topped tour boats outside Amsterdam Centraal Station and sit back while the commentary outlines the city’s geography, history and architecture. A good place to disembark is Leidseplein, where there’s a lively town square with art deco cafes and street performers.

You should buy a boat tour that offers a combination ticket that also covers the entrance fee to the city’s museums.

Museums and memorials

See famous works by the Dutch Masters at the sprawling Rijksmuseum, with its world-class collections. It contains 1 million objects, with more than 2,000 paintings by the greats, including Vermeer and Rembrandt. For a deeper dive on Rembrandt, check out the excellent Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House Museum) in the Jodenbreestraat, where he lived and worked.

If you’re more of a fan of Vincent Van Gogh, then the nearby Van Gogh Museum is completely dedicated to the works and life of this renowned artist. The museum has more than 200 of his paintings, including must-see works such as “Sunflowers” and “Self Portrait.”

You can find the future of art here, too. Contemporary stars shine at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and at the stunning Royal Concertgebouw, which is also a venue for classical music, ballet and opera. As you snap photos around town, you’ll quickly find that street art is celebrated here, so much so that it has a dedicated area called NDSM. This vibrant area is also home to festivals, concerts, bars and a large flea market.

Amsterdam has many solemn historical reminders of events that shaped history here. Dutch victims of World War II are honored at the National Monument, for instance, and the Jewish Historical Museum (Joods Historisch Museum), housed within four synagogues in the Jewish Cultural Quarter, is a great place to learn more about past and present experiences of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. You shouldn’t miss the Anne Frank House, a moving tribute dedicated to the life of the young wartime diarist.

Shopping in Amsterdam

For flea market finds like vintage clothing, jewelry and antiques, check out the Waterlooplein Market. It dates back to 1882 and it’s a bustling collection of stalls that you can really lose yourself in. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you have a yearning for upmarket stores and designer labels, the Museum Quarter is the place to be, with most department stores around Dam Square. The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) house dozens of cute boutiques and independent artists, while Spiegelkwartier is the place for antiquing and eclectic finds.

What to eat

Being a port means that Amsterdam has long been a truly international city, which is great news for your stomach. You can start with some down-to-earth Dutch favorites, such as herring, meatballs or their famed pancakes, before exploring other global flavors.

In Chinatown (along Zeedijk), you’ll find Thai and Indonesian fare, as well as Chinese. You can also find everything from high-end Israeli cuisine to casual Scandinavian food in the Jordaan neighborhood, and delicious Mediterranean food in Plantage and Czaar Peterbuurt neighborhoods.

Browsers should head to the Albert Cuyp Market in the Pijp district. This established market has been an area staple since 1905 and your head will spin at the choices of fresh produce and Dutch delicacies, and you can often try samples before you buy.

For a truly local experience, we recommend ducking into a genever bar. A form of gin, this spirit has been distilled here for centuries. Bars like Wynand Focknink have been here for much of that time; the barroom here dates back to 1679. Bols is an internationally recognized genever brand, and they have a fun museum and tasting room.

The city is famously welcoming to LGBTQ visitors, and many popular clubs and bars can be found in the Reguliersdwarsstraat.

Make your Amsterdam memory

Bring your most inquisitive nature to Amsterdam, and the friendly locals will point you in the direction of a memorable adventure. If you need a minute to recalibrate, there’s plenty of parks, paintings and cafes for a moment of quiet reflection.

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Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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