Amsterdam capital of transgression? Yes, but also the city of Van Gogh and Anne Frank, of design, of bicycles that run over more pedestrians than cars, of tulips, of large international companies and digital start-ups, of Heineken beer and bruin cafés.
It is a city where colourful flower markets provide a cheerful counterpoint to the austere historical buildings in the centre, sometimes a little gloomy and mysterious with their typical Northern European architecture, and the prestigious museums that attract hundreds of visitors from all over the world.
Don’t call it Venice of the North: apart from canals, a bustling harbour and always being among the 10 most visited cities in Europe, Amsterdam has nothing else in common with the former capital of the Serenissima. Amsterdam’s identity is unique and unmistakable, starting with its town planning: a radial centre, built around a highly efficient canal system.
During your holiday in Amsterdam, get involved in its special atmosphere: dynamic but never hectic, free and creative but also intimate and reassuring. Pop into designer shops, enjoy a beer in a bruin café (typical Dutch pub), indulge in a coffee shop experience, stroll at a leisurely pace along the historic canals.
The famous red-light district also holds many surprises, and we are not talking about sexual performances. Come and discover the uniqueness of this wonderful northern capital.
Amsterdam is located in the north-west of the Netherlands, in an indentation that was once a bay and is now Lake Ij. The city centre is bordered to the north by the river Amstel, from which the concentric circle system of canals starts. Discover all points of interest on the map of Amsterdam.
A special feature of Amsterdam is that it lies two metres below sea level.
Amsterdam’s climate is continental, mitigated by its proximity to the sea: winters are cold but not harsh and summers hot but not stifling. The weather is very variable, with the possibility of rain in every season, so it’s a good idea to dress in layers and bring a waterproof jacket and shoes even when the weather forecast says sunshine.
The hottest months are June, July and August, but these are also the months when the influx of tourists is greatest, resulting in higher flight and hotel prices.
The best time to go to Amsterdam is in late spring; autumn is also a good choice, but it may already start to get chilly.
Although visiting Amsterdam at any time of year is a must for any traveller, New Year’s Eve is an absolute must! Numerous events are organised in the city’s discos and clubs, and then watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve that light up the city is a magical spectacle!
We have compiled the must-see restaurants and clubs, events and traditions for you on our New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam page.
An entire district of Amsterdam is dedicated to museums: and with that you already have quite a lot to see! But the list of what to visit also includes wonderful outdoor attractions, such as markets, parks, historical quarters…
The number one thing to do in Amsterdam is a canal cruise. It can be romantic or fun, depending on the type of cruise you choose (day, evening, dinner, party boat, group, private… the possibilities are endless!), but it is still the most fascinating way to explore a capital whose history is closely linked to water.
There are more than 160 canals in Amsterdam, totalling more than 100 kilometres, and even today, despite the profound changes in the transport system and people’s lifestyles, they still define the landscape and identity of the Dutch capital.
Be prepared for a long queue to enter the Van Gogh Museum: dedicated to the brilliant Dutch painter who greatly influenced 20th century art, it is one of the most visited museums in the world.
Of the many museums dedicated to Van Gogh in the Netherlands and beyond, this is certainly the most comprehensive. The collection covers the artist’s life and the stages of his career with around 200 paintings, 550 drawings and watercolours and hundreds of letters written to his brother Theo and other artists of the time including his friend Paul Gauguin. You can also see Van Gogh’s personal items, such as brushes, tempera and desks.
Enter respectfully the shelter where the young Jewish girl Anne Frank lived for two years in hiding to escape the Nazis. Within these walls she wrote the famous diary in which she recounted her terrible experience during the years of World War II.
The atmosphere in the Anne Frank House has remained unchanged: despite the crowds of tourists, a painful and touching silence hangs over it. The rooms are almost empty, with few exhibits including historical documents, photographs, personal items and the handwritten copy of the diary.
If walls could talk! How much the buildings of Amsterdam’s red light district have to tell… centuries of transgressions, vices, spicy encounters, but also mixed feelings: loneliness, desire for redemption, carefreeness, pragmatism.
Amsterdam’s most famous and infamous district is not just a place of sin: it is an important piece of the city’s history where – like nowhere else – you can understand the true soul of this city.
If you want to experience its frenetic vitality to the fullest, visit it at night, but to appreciate it, it is better to come during the day. You can stroll more leisurely through its pretty medieval alleys, take a leisurely break in a traditional oud bruin (typical Dutch pubs) and admire the shop windows of the boutiques that are slowly taking over the spaces occupied by prostitutes.
Another must-see attraction in Amsterdam’s museum district is the Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of the Netherlands.
Housed in a monumental building reminiscent of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, it displays an exceptional collection of Flemish art with works by the likes of Rembrandt, Steen and Veermer… and of course Van Gogh, plus international artists such as Dürer, Michelangelo and Monet.
Getting to Amsterdam by plane is the quickest and cheapest option. Cheap flights to Amsterdam are plentiful, departing from many European cities, and by booking in advance you can find great deals.
Amsterdam has only one large airport (Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, from which flights to all over the world depart. It is located about 20 km from the city centre and is easily accessible by frequent trains and direct buses.
If the airport closest to you does not have flights to Amsterdam, consider the airports of Eindhoven and Rotterdam: the former is connected to the centre of Amsterdam by direct buses, while in the latter case you first have to reach the train station in the centre of Rotterdam and from there take a train to your final destination.
Amsterdam can also be reached by long-distance bus, but this is not recommended: unless you live close by, the journey is very long and often the price is higher than that of a plane. The same goes for the train.
Amsterdam is an expensive city as far as accommodation is concerned, but don’t worry: by searching carefully and perhaps a little in advance you can find quality hotels and holiday flats at a good price.
The main choice is: to sleep in the centre of Amsterdam or in other districts? If you choose a hotel in the centre, you will have the convenience of already being in the heart of the city and being able to move around on foot; in addition, you will have a large number of shops, bars, restaurants and clubs at your disposal. The disadvantage is that accommodation prices are very expensive.
Sleeping outside the centre of Amsterdam, for instance in Amsterdam Noord or in the Docklands, will not make you feel so far away: with the metro you can reach the centre quickly and without stress.
This is especially recommended for low-cost travellers and those who do not like hustle and bustle, but should also be considered by those who like to travel comfortably: all major international hotel chains have a hotel in the suburbs of Amsterdam. They are primarily designed for business travellers, but are also perfect for tourists who like comfort and modernity.
Characteristic neighbourhoods close to the centre, such as Jordaan and De Pijp, are a good compromise: closer and prettier than the suburbs but less chaotic and cheaper than the centre.
The centre of Amsterdam is compact and easy to get around on foot; if you want to feel like a local, rent a bike and try your hand at the adventure of riding along the city’s cycle paths.
To get from one part of the city to another, you can use buses (including night buses) and trams. The metro is mostly used to connect the centre of Amsterdam to outlying areas and you probably won’t use it unless your hotel is located outside the centre.
Public transport in Amsterdam is very efficient so you will not have any difficulty getting around. Beware of costs, however: single tickets are a bit expensive, better to choose a season ticket or a smart card. Which one to buy depends on the length of your holiday and the use you will make of public transport.
A more convenient alternative to public transport are the hop on hop off tourist buses. The advantage of these buses is that they eliminate the stress of figuring out how to get to places of interest because the stops are located at the main tourist attractions. With a single ticket, you can hop on and off all day (or several days depending on the length of the ticket), with no limits.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.