I’ve now been to Amsterdam a fair few times, and it really is an amazing city for a European city break. All of my trips have been completely different, but a mixture of all three of them would give what I would consider to be a pretty amazing three day break. In any famous, popular city that is full of expectations, stereotypes and tourist attractions, there’s a definite need to get a balance between the typically tourist activities, and getting a more genuine feel for the place. This Amsterdam itinerary includes a mixture of both!
Travel to Amsterdam
However you’re getting there, whether it’s flying, by ferry, or by train I think it is ALWAYS worth planning to get there early on your first day. How else will you make the most of the full three days? The good thing is that however you get there, it’s less than an hour transfer into central Amsterdam from both airport and port. If you’re travelling in by train then better still as Amsterdam Centraal is exactly as the name suggests – right in the centre.
From what I’ve heard taxis can be around the 40 euro mark, while trains from the airport are cheaper at less than 10 euros. On all of my visits to Amsterdam, I’ve been dropped off at or arrived at the station, and for many this will be the first glimpse of the city. It’s a pretty impressive first glimpse too, with wide sweeping canals running past the ornate old station, trams are clanging their way past, and cyclists whizzing by.
Lots of canal tours start at this point as well, so while it may seem like you can take in almost everything Amsterdam has to offer in one sweeping glance, the reality for me is that this barely scratches the surface. Amsterdam’s real beauty lies a lot deeper in to the maze of canals, bridges and neighbourhoods.
Where to stay in Amsterdam?
I’ve stayed at a few locations, right by the station, in Nieuwmarkt, and in the Jordaan neighbourhood. By far my favourite is the Jordaan, right next to the Nine Streets and it was here that I stayed at the stunning Ambassade, in a real canal house. Staying next to the station was actually very useful for one of my trips when I was there for work, and needed to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.
If your stay is shorter than you’d like, and you don’t mind the hustle and bustle of this area then near the station is perfect for that. It’s also handy for transport and transfer links as you don’t have to navigate your luggage far (tried and tested dragging a case through some of the narrow streets and its a big fat fail), and if you want to target specifically tourist sights.
Niewmarkt was a bit more ‘sketchy’ I would say, with frequent wafts of weed floating out of certain establishments, but nevertheless an area full of history and very close to the Red Light District and farmers market. The Jordaan however is just pure Dutch beauty. Picturesque canals, lit up bridges, boutique shops and a lot fewer tourists it’s the winner for me anyday.
Amsterdam Itinerary – Day 1
If you’ve arrived first thing, checked into your hotel and left your luggage, the first thing I would suggest for anyone to do is go on a canal cruise. Very touristy, but actually a really great way to see the city and where things are. You will get an insight into the culture, spot things you want to go back to, and learn a lot from your guide.
It’s also a lot more relaxing than navigating the city and dodging the cyclists which can be a bit overwhelming. If it’s not your first time in Amsterdam then a canal cruise is a great refresher. I’ve done both a luxury canal cruise with Friendship, and a Lovers canal cruise too (this isn’t a romantic reference, it’s the name of the owner and they have loads of different canal cruises on offer).
Most canal cruises are an hour long, and you will be surprised how much you learn in that short space of time. Lovers boats can be picked up just outside the station, and you can also buy a one or two day city sightseeing pass too, which is a hop on hop off service throughout the city. I much prefer to walk, but like in most capital cities your feet will get tired and you might appreciate the break.
Dam Square and the Royal Palace
Canal cruises finish where they start, so from the station take a walk straight up Damrak. If you’re surrounded by tourist souvenir shops, McDonalds, BodyWorlds and masses of tourists you’re in the right place. It’s not my favourite part of the city, but it’s the central recognisable street and at the top you will find yourself in Dam Square.
The national monument stands proud in the centre, and like any city centre square there will be street sellers, entertainment, sometimes a big wheel and market stalls. Madame Tussauds is here, and so is the enormous department store de Bijenkorf.
Facing the centre of Dam Square is the beautiful Amsterdam Royal Palace, which is one of three royal palaces the King may use at any time. This one is usually used for occasions, but is open to the public most days. Take a guided tour around for 10 euros, kids go free. Built in the Golden Age of Amsterdam with the intention of being used as a city hall, the palace is a beautiful work of architecture.
By now you might be getting hungry, and battling the throngs of tourists in this area is definitely going to work up an appetite. A walk behind the palace, and up Paleistraat is going to take you into the Amsterdam that many seek on a visit to the Dutch capital. The manic crowds disappear and the canal network emerges, with cobbled streets taking you between each one, and arch bridges everywhere you look.
There are cafes and little restaurants everywhere, thankfully no McDonalds or KFC in sight, so choose one and enjoy your lunch while watching the world go by. I’ve ate at a few, and found that the ones on the corners with a perfect view of the canals and bridges are often the most popular, but Ree7 down one of the streets is my favourite.
Once you’re refuelled set off among the beautiful streets to find the Begijnhof. The walk will take you through some of the most scenic parts of the city, and you’re bound to spot a lot of very luxurious looking hotels you will want to stay at.
The Begijnhof is a hidden courtyard in Amsterdam, set off the streets and in a secluded area that dates back to the 14th century. It is signposted, and you may get lucky like we did and realise the crowd of people around a wooden door must be it, but if there aren’t any crowds you need to look for the door yourself.
Through the door and along the narrow corridor that gently slopes downwards, you emerge in a tranquil courtyard, with private housing, perfectly manicured gardens and two churches. The Begijnhof is sunk lower than the rest of the city, and you can barely hear the outside world from inside. It was built for a sisterhood of religious women, and is still lived in by single women today. Enjoy the peace, but be respectful.
A short walk from the Begijnhof is the Singel Canal, which in the past was actually a moat around the centre of the city and used as a defence. The city expanded beyond the Singel, but it is still home to the famous floating flower market, the Bloemenmarkt.
I have an entire post dedicated to the Bloementmarkt here, but to summarise down a stretch of the canal are a row of greenhouses, home to all sorts of plants, flowers and bulbs. Being a classic tourist spot there’s also lots of Dutch souvenirs, magnets, clogs, fake tulips etc, and a giant clog photo opportunity at the back of one of the green houses.
The buildings that face the flower market are also home to a lot of quirky shops you will want to explore. There’s the Christmas shop dedicated entirely to Christmas, and a number of Dutch cheese shops selling all sorts of incredible flavours. Henri Willig is my favourite, and well worth going in to sample some of the tasters. These shops are also great for picking up chocolates and Delftware. At the bottom of the Blocemenmarkt there is an entire shop dedicated to Delftware, the Royal Delft Experience.
You’re probably going to be pretty tired of all the walking on your first day, so head back to your hotel to give your feet a rest and freshen up for the evening.
Niewmarkt and the Red Light District
You can’t visit Amsterdam without taking in the sights of the Red Light District, and there’s probably no surprise that it comes to life at night. Despite being home to plenty of half naked women trying to entice men in from behind glass windows, it is a historical area of the city and some of the buildings and bars are some of the oldest in the city. Fast food thrives around here, but there are also plenty of independent little eateries.
A walk through the main streets of the red light district is pretty eye opening, and with so many people its known for pick pockets so be aware. You might be surprised that it isn’t actually just full of stag dos, although of course they definitely feature. Families, locals, and couples all enjoy the buzz of the area in an evening. Whatever you do, just don’t take photos of the girls. You will land yourself in a lot of trouble.
Just behind the Red Light District is Newmarket, where there are loads of restaurants and bars with outdoor terraces to enjoy. It’s not that expensive either, so you easily enjoy an evening of people watching with lots of food and drinks. In de Waag is in the centre of Newmarket, an old city gate that is now a restaurant with an outdoor terrace too. It’s a bit nicer than the others and worth booking, but the menu isn’t as big so worth checking you’ll like it before you go.
Amsterdam Itinerary – Day 2
Spend the morning at the Museum Quarter
After so much ground covered during your first day in Amsterdam, give your feet a break and take the hop on hop off city sightseeing boat to the first area to explore on day two, the Museum Quarter. The city sightseeing boat has three stops so get on at your nearest. These include Amsterdam Centraal, the Anne Frank Haus in the Jordaan and Rembrandtplein. There’s six in total but these are the most likely ones you would need.
As I discuss in a lot more detail in my Museum Quarter post, this area is my all time favourite in Amsterdam. It has both grand beautiful mansions, impressive museum architecture that you’re bound to recognise, and authentic city streets lined with quirky galleries and shops.
A cafe you might want to head to first to get some breakfast is called Stef’s, and is located on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. Enjoy a coffee and a Dutch pastry!
Museumplein itself is the area as the name suggests, where you will find all the famous museums – Van Gogh, Stedelijk, MOCO Museum, and of course the incredible Rijksmuseum. Depending on your cultural and artistic tastes, spend some time enjoying the museum exhibitions, or if not then they can still be enjoyed from the outside. The architecture of the Rijksmuseum is incredible, and the fountain outside is a great spot to sit and relax if the weather is good, as is the giant stretch of grassland between each museum.
I’ve only ever been inside the MOCO Museum, which was basically a converted mansion. I enjoyed the Banksy exhibition, which is there until the end of August.
You could choose to take the city sightseeing boat back into the centre of the city, or even go in search of Vondelpark which is nearby (in all my visits I’ve never yet made it there), but I prefer to walk back. As described above and in my Museum Quarter post the area is so beautiful and best experienced on foot.
Soak up the city in the afternoon
On this second day afternoon you could choose to do any of the other obvious tourist attractions. The Heineken museum isn’t far away from the museum quarter, and exploring the vintage shops and boutiques of the nine streets is always fun too. In keeping with the museum theme there are all sorts of unique museums in the centre too, like the Museum of Bags and Purses, the FOAM photography museum, or even the cat museum.
Personally, I just enjoy wandering the streets of the canal belts. Walking is pretty heavy going and your feet will hurt. You could head to a cafe called Toos & Roos for lunch, they do sandwiches, pastries and have a good selection of healthy options on the menu too, or have some delicious Dutch pancakes at the appropriately named ‘Pancakes!’.
You could always grab an ice cream afterwards from one of the many parlours dotted about and take the typical Insta-worthy photos too.
Right in the centre of Rembrandplein square is a giant statue of the man himself, Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter. A ten minute walk from the main square and you can also find the Rembrandt House Museum.
This house is where the painter lived and worked for over twenty years. The inside of the museum has been done out in the style of the era Rembrandt belonged, and is home to a huge collection of his work. Even if you don’t go inside it’s quite striking just to look at, with all its colourful shutters.
Directly opposite is the leaning canal loch house, that still works to clean the canals today. The building nowadays is also a bar, and leans further than the Tower of Pisa. Enjoy a drink outside overlooking the canals.
Rembrandtplein is a great area to head to in the evening if you’re after a busy area full of terraces, bars, restaurants and late clubs. The square itself is always buzzing with an atmosphere and there’s plenty of choice whatever you’re after as the evening turns to night.
An evening must – the lit up canals!
An alternative option if you prefer something more civilised, and also my preferred option, is a nice meal at one of the cities many brasseries. I’ve ate at Mezzo (Italians), Hoofdstad Brasserie (VERY posh, I felt like the Queen but beautiful location), and a sushi restaurant called Sumo Amsterdam 4. Follow up your meal with a wander among the lit up bridges which look incredible at night.
Amsterdam Itinerary – Day 3
Breakfast or Brunch
For breakfast and/or brunch I find it hard to look past Pluk Amsterdam. If you’re staying in the Joordan it’s within walking distance, and if not then you could get the city sightseeing boat and get off at the Anne Frank Haus. There are obviously tons of cafe choices but I really love Pluk for it’s little attic cafe and shop. It’s in the Nine Streets area, and hugely popular so a weekday is definitely the time to go. You might pick up a less touristy souvenir from the shop section too. You can read my full post on Pluk Amsterdam here.
Anne Frank Haus
You can’t visit Amsterdam without at least seeing the Anne Frank Haus and museum, located on the Prinsengracht canal. Tickets are sold out months in advance online, and the queue to go in on the day is often over two hours long. I’ve never been in myself because of this, but it’s worth going along to see it even if you aren’t prepared with tickets in advance to go inside.
The Prinsengracht is a beautiful canal, and one of three that were made as Amsterdam expanded from it’s medieval centre. The enormous Westerkerk church is also on the banks, and directly next to the Anne Frank Haus, with only a pancake house between them in the square.
Moving away from the tourist sights, the three canals that make up the canal belts (Prinsengracht, Kaizersgracht and Herengracht) have endless beautiful sights – the stone arch bridges for one, and a mix of some of the most traditional and grandest looking architecture in Amsterdam.
Revisit your favourite area
Your final afternoon in Amsterdam should be spent in your favourite area. Wandering around the streets throws up so many surprises, new views and unique looking cafes to dive into that there’s no way you will get bored.
Before you leave Amsterdam
In all my visits to Amsterdam I’ve never once been picked up in a taxi from my hotel. I’ve always head back to Centraal Station to be picked up or get public transport. Opposite the station you’ll find the oldest bar in Amsterdam, Cafe Karpershoek.
It’s worth spending your last hour in this fabulous city with a drink outside watching the world go by. It’s a far cry from the peaceful scenic parts of the city, and chances are you’ll have the pleasure of someone blowing smoke in your face, but the people watching is great and the bar has been standing since 1606, it deserves your custom even just for one while you plan your return!
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