Revel in Amsterdam’s culture and discover its history on your next trip
A trip to Amsterdam isn’t complete without exploring its heritage (and experiencing an elegant stay). Embark on a tour of this historic city by starting with a visit to its iconic museums. | By Elizabeth Wellington | August 6, 2021 (Updated March 13, 2023)
Walk or bike across one of Amsterdam’s quintessential bridges at sunset, and you’ll understand why this city is one of the most delightful in Europe. With tree-lined canals, charming houses and cozy cafes on every corner, the Venice of the North is easy to fall for — especially if you’re into history.
A vibrant UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Amsterdam is experiencing a renaissance for travelers looking to enjoy the Netherlands’ rich culture and history.
Here’s what you’ll find when visiting Amsterdam’s museums and beyond:
One-of-a-kind masterpieces: From Johannes Vermeer to Vincent van Gogh to Piet Mondrian, Amsterdam’s most beloved artists will inspire you.
Stories of resilience: Discover the history of Anne Frank’s diary with an unforgettable stop at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Living history: You don’t need to be in a museum to experience Amsterdam’s history. Every block of the city is lined with centuries-old architectural masterpieces, relics of an earlier age. The whole city is a living museum, and you’ll savor every moment outside.
Explore the Museum Quarter
The Museum Quarter is south of Amsterdam’s center, but it’s within an easy 10-minute walk of Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, which faces the lovely Herengracht Canal. The hotel itself is a notable landmark, spanning six 17th- and 18th-century palaces.
Light and airy
Inside the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, you’ll find spacious rooms decorated in creams and blues.
Once you’ve settled into your room, pass the shops and restaurants on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat on your way to the Museumplein. This breathtaking square is adjacent to the city’s iconic museums. The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam and Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art are considered the main attractions, but don’t miss the Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder.
While traversing the Museumplein, be sure to savor a cup of coffee and take in the sights. In the winter, the square’s fountain transforms into an elegant ice skating rink.
Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX)
At the Netherlands’ national museum, you walk through 800 years of Dutch history. Spend time in the Golden Age galleries looking at paintings by Rembrandt, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch, among others. You can tailor your visit to explore the Netherlands’ entire history or explore specific genres of art.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ)
An ode to the post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, this museum explores the life and work of the artist through the largest collection of his paintings in the world. At the Netherlands’ most visited museum, you can marvel at some of his most recognizable paintings, including “Sunflowers” and “The Potato Eaters.”
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art (Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ)
Referred to simply as “Stedelijk,” this expansive collection of modern and contemporary art benefited from a renovation in 2012 and an addition in 2017. Here, you’ll get to explore different aspects of Amsterdam’s more recent cultural legacy with rotating exhibitions. “From Thonet to Dutch Design” guides visitors through the evolution of Dutch design featuring over 300 objects that were landmarks in innovation and excellence. Don’t miss the complimentary audio tour.
Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38, 1012 GD)
When you’re visiting the area, pop into the lesser-known Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic). This 17th-century canal house was built during Amsterdam’s Golden Age and holds a secret in the top three floors. In response to the persecution of Catholics during that era, the owner built a hidden Catholic church decorated with bright, vibrant colors.
Visit the Anne Frank House
Beyond the Museum Quarter, there are other notable museums worth prioritizing on your trip. None is more important than the Anne Frank House, which stands on Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam’s four main canals. You’ll be able to identify the museum by its long line to get in — but it’s worth the wait.
Inside, you’ll learn about Anne Frank’s diary and her harrowing experience during the war. You’ll find moving and memorable exhibits, including the secret annex where she and her family hid during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. The museum also does a fantastic job connecting Anne’s experience with the atrocities of the Holocaust in the Netherlands and beyond.
When you’re done touring the house, which takes a little under an hour, spend some time in the newer portion of the museum next door. Visit rotating exhibits that focus on different aspects of the Jewish experience and watch educational films.
Explore the city on foot
Amsterdam’s architecture is world-renowned with a historical city center that includes no less than 8,500 monuments. There’s no better way to explore this living, breathing museum and its vibrant local culture than walking along the canals.
If you are looking for a sophisticated souvenir, stroll over to one of Hester van Eeghen’s iconic shops and bring home a designer purse that’s an ode to Dutch aesthetics.
Don’t miss X BANK, a hybrid art gallery and concept store that includes the work of more than 180 designers. Contemporary art fans should also consider a visit to GO Gallery. Here, you can connect the dots between Amsterdam’s past and its present with exhibitions of street and contemporary art.
When you’ve wrapped up your walk through Amsterdam, freshen up before a fantastic meal at one of the city’s most talked-about restaurants located on site at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.
If your feet need a break from walking, hop on a bike or take a canal cruise to see the sights. Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, and biking along the charming streets will let you experience the city as most locals do. Canal cruises are a relaxing way to learn more about the city's history and explore the iconic bridges from a different angle.
Amsterdam is brimming with rich culture and heritage. Given how much there is to explore, after visiting Amsterdam you may want to book your next flight back before you leave.
Through innovative interpretations of local ingredients — many of which were grown in the restaurant’s private garden — chef Sidney Schutte will delight and surprise you with a meal you won’t forget.
Elizabeth Wellington is a travel writer and brand copywriter whose work has appeared in Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure and BBC. When not writing in her Vermont farmhouse, she's usually en route to a new destination with a notebook in hand.