Amsterdam is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in Europe.
Known as the Venice of the North, thanks to its canals, the capital of the Netherlands offers many places of interest, especially the renowned museums, and unique European attractions such as the red light district and coffeeshops.
The centre of Amsterdam is absolutely fascinating, with its beautiful buildings of traditional Dutch architecture, picturesque canals and small hidden alleys where you can find trendy boutiques, outstanding museums and unmissable Bruin Cafés.
The heart of Amsterdam is the Medieval Centre, the city’s oldest and most touristic district , where you can still breathe in the atmosphere of the Golden Age.
Very nice and lively is the Nieuwmarkt, a district full of clubs where you can also find Rembrandt’s House Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue and the famous flea market of Waterlooplein.
One of the most beautiful areas of Amsterdam is the Great Canals Belt. In this romantic district, old houses and quaint little shops line the waterways. The Anne Frank Museum is also located here.
The bustling southern canal belt is also very charming, a must-see for nightlife lovers, those who want to visit the Flower Market and those who want to frequent excellent restaurants and trendy cafés.
The Jordaan, the former working class district, is a fashionable area criss-crossed by a maze of narrow streets where you can stroll and enjoy the typical Amsterdam atmosphere. The district is also ideal for relaxing in a pub and visiting an art gallery.
It is located in the north-west part of Museumplein, the square where some of the city’s main museums are located. The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s works and drawings and is one of the city’s most visited attractions.
There are no less than 200 paintings by the famous Post-Impressionist painter, and a visit to the museum is accompanied by a digitally-assisted exhibition tracing the artist’s life. In addition to Van Gogh’s works, the museum displays paintings by some of the master’s contemporaries, such as Millet, Gauguin and Daubigny.
Amsterdam’s red light district, whose official name is De Wallen, outlines an area where prostitution is legalised, stretching along a series of canals and streets south of Amsterdam Central Station, part of the oldest part of the city.
There are more than 100 rented studios, where the girls ply their trade, famous for their shop-window doors, illuminated by red lights, where the girls show off to attract clientele.
A strong police presence on the streets ensures public order and safety at all times. Remember that no photos are allowed! Within the red light district you will also find some of the oldest buildings in the city, such as Amsterdam’s oldest church, the Oude Kerk.
The most visited tourist attraction in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, a house-museum located along the Prinsengracht canal. It is the house where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II to escape the Nazis.
Since 1947, the Anne Frank House has been considered a Holocaust memorial, and the building was turned into a museum in 1960. Today, visitors can see the rooms where Anne lived, as well as retrace the steps of her short life thanks to the museum’s permanent exhibition.
The city’s famous canals, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date back to the 17th century. They were designed to contain the waters of the Amstel River and thus gain ground, given Amsterdam’s strong commercial expansion.
To explore Amsterdam’s network of canals to the fullest, a boat trip is a must. As you cruise through the canals, you will get a closer look at traditional Dutch architecture.
Crossed by more than a thousand bridges, the canals are home to some 2000 houseboats, including modern and original houseboat hotels.
There are several tourist agencies that organise various excursions: from the shortest ones lasting about an hour to night cruises and candlelight dinner cruises.Read more
In the north-east part of Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum is the most important collection on the history and arts of the Netherlands.
There are more than one million objects on display, dating from the 13th century onwards. For decades, the collection was housed in several museums all over the country, but in 1876 a competition was held to design a museum that could collect the entire national artistic treasure.
The competition was won by architect Pierre Cuypers, who designed the current Rijksmuseum. Among the exhibits are masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vemeer.
Dam Square is one of Amsterdam’s main squares. The southern part represents the original core of the city, i.e. where Amsterdam was founded in 1270, which then developed over the years. In the past, Dam Square was divided into two parts and occupied by different market stalls: on one side were the merchants selling fish and on the other side was the market for exotic fruit that arrived in the country by sea.
On the western side of Dam Square stands the Royal Palace, restored in 2009. Originally built to house the city’s town hall, the Royal Palace is characterised by its opulent architecture: the large citizens’ hall at the heart of the palace represents the world, with Amsterdam at its centre.
On the north side of Dam Square is the Nieuwe Kerk church, which dates back to the 15th century and was the traditional setting for the coronation ceremonies of Dutch monarchs. Today, the church, which is no longer used for religious services, hosts exhibitions and organ concerts.
One of the three royal palaces of the Netherlands, the Koninklijk Paleis is located on the west side of Dam Square in the centre of Amsterdam. The structure originally housed the city’s Town Hall, but was converted into a palace during the Napoleonic period.
The exterior was built by Jacob van Campen with the intention of imitating the public palaces of Rome, and the interior is a sublime example of the imperialist style of the early 19th century. The palace is still used today by the Dutch dynasty and is open to the public during the summer period.
Amsterdam’s naval history is encapsulated in the Scheepvaartmuseum . The museum is located in what used to be a former shipyard from the 1600s; today the exhibition area consists of no less than 18 rooms.
The museum has a wing where the naval and trade history of Amsterdam is traced, and another where the life of sailors, who for long periods were on the open seas, is illustrated.
Outside the museum, there is a replica of the Amsterdam, an 18th century ship used by the Dutch navy to sail to the East Indies.
Called Nieuwe Park when it was opened in 1865, the Vondelpark is located in the Oud-Zuid district to the west of the Museum area. Today’s name is due to a statue of Joost van de Vondel, who was placed in the park in 1867, a famous 17th century Dutch poet and writer.
The statue immediately became a symbol for the locals, so they began to call the park Vondelpark. The area is popular with Dutch people and tourists alike; it is a great place to relax, play sports, go cycling and have a picnic.
The multi-sensory experience at the Heineken Museum will give you a better insight into the world’s most famous Dutch brewery.
The former brewery building, founded in Amsterdam in 1864 and closed in 1988, is located in the De Pijp district and will allow you to learn about the history of Heineken beer, see the evolution of the company’s logo and advertising campaigns over the decades as well as follow the production of the beer all the way to bottling.
Among the most entertaining stages of the Heienken Experience is the Brew You, a four-dimensional exhibition that allows you to ‘become’ a beer.
The Bloemenmarkt has been held in the city since 1862 and is the city’s most famous flower market. In the old days, growers used to go up the river Amstel, moor their boats here and sell their produce. Today, the flower sellers, seven days a week, load onto their stands and floating barges every kind of flower and bulb for which Holland is world famous.
Bloemenmarkt is a picturesque place that attracts many tourists, drawn by curiosity to see the famous Dutch tulips and eager to buy some bulbs to grow at home. The bulbs, by the way, are packaged for export and brought home without any hassle. It must be remembered, however, that prices here are higher than average.
The Bloemenmarkt is located between Muntplein and Koningsplein and is the only floating market dedicated exclusively to flowers in the world. It is called ‘floating’ even though for a few years now it has been supported by poles driven into the waters of the Singel canal in the canal belt south of the city.
The Begijnhof, or Beghine Courtyard, is located in the middle of Amsterdam’s canal system. In the 14th century, the area was an enclosed courtyard that served as the residence of the sisters belonging to the order of the Catholic Beghine.
The Begijnhof was not a convent in the traditional sense, as women were free to leave the order should they decide to marry. When the chapel inside the Begijnhof was confiscated during the Reformation period, the congregation secretly continued to profess the faith inside the Begijnhof Kapel, a lovely marble structure with beautiful stained glass windows, which from the outside did not look like a church.
The Begijnhof also houses the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam, dating back to 1465.
The Museum of Science and Technology in Amsterdam, called NEMO, was designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano.
NEMO is a work of art in terms of its external, ship-like structure alone. The designed structure is particularly complex: as it is located right at the entrance to the Ij Tunnel , it has the shape of a wedge, the exact opposite of the shape of the tunnel. NEMO is the largest museum of its kind in the Netherlands and the structure can be particularly appreciated from the water on a boat trip.
Much appreciated by children, NEMO is also a discovery for adults among interactive installations and videos.
Before entering the museum, one notices a series of picturesque restored cargo ships, which contrast with the modernity of the building.
In summer, you can climb up to the stepped roof where there is a viewing terrace from which you can admire the entire city.
Although it does not host the typical tourist attractions, the Jordaan quarter is one of the most picturesque in the city and definitely worth a visit. The main activity here is strolling along the streets, most of which overlook some of the city’s most picturesque canals.
The streets of the Jordaan are lined with numerous bars, cafés and beer gardens, as well as antique and vintage shops, art galleries, bookshops with second-hand books and original clothing shops. Once a working-class district, today a residential area popular with young professionals, artists, students and yuppies.
Jordaan is pervaded by a languid and melancholic atmosphere and is therefore the ideal place for an unhurried walk without fear of getting lost in the alleys. This is the ideal place to fully enjoy what the Dutch call gezelling, or cosy.
Look for the Bloemgracht, one of the most beautiful canals in the district.
Oude Kerk is the oldest church in Amsterdam. Dating back to 1306, it has excellent acoustics and from the 70-metre bell tower you can enjoy a spectacular view over the city.
Since 1658, every 15 minutes, one of the finest carillons in the country, with its 47 bells, has been singing melodies.
Oude Kerk is known for its wooden ceiling decorated with biblical scenes, while the choir stalls feature 15th-century sculptures and medieval proverbs. The floor houses the remains of Dutch personalities from the past, while the stained glass windows of the Chapel of Our Lady are decorated with 16th-century stained glass windows.
The Nine Little Strets (De Negen Straatjes), located in the area of the Prisengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht canals, are the realm of independent shopping in Amsterdam. Here you will not find the big names, but small shops of young Dutch designers and alternative fashion, 1950s accessories, modern antiques and vintage design.
The Nine Little Streets are laid out like the grid of the game of tic-tac-toe and the most fashionable Dutch go back and forth along these streets in search of the right object to decorate their home or the trendiest outfit to wear to the next party.
Wolvenstraat is the heart of this original shopping area: from clothing to art to chocolate, everything eco-chic comes through here.
One of Amsterdam’s most famous squares, along with Dam Square, Rembrandtplein and Waterlooplein, Leidseplein is best known as a place of entertainment and the hub of the Dutch capital’s nightlife but is also a great starting point for sightseeing. Lively at night, Leidseplein is also a lively place during the day, often animated by numerous street performers such as musicians and jugglers.
The name of the square, located in the south-western part of the city centre, derives from Leidsepoort, the huge city gate, demolished in 1862, which stood along the road that connected the capital to Leiden.
Two very famous buildings overlook the square: the Stadsschouwburg and the American Hotel. The former is the city theatre, designed by Jan Springer in neo-Renaissance style. The hotel, built in 1902 but completely renovated in the early 1980s, houses the famous Café Américain, in art deco style and with period furnishings, which in the 1920s and 1930s was a meeting place for artists and intellectuals.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Amsterdam offers some free attractions and some of its beautiful hidden corners are free to visit.
To get a taste of the masterpieces of 17th-century art, the Dutch Golden Age, go for instance to the Amsterdam Museum where, in a corridor just past the arch, 15 canvases belonging to the Civic Guards Gallery, the Schuttersgalerij, are on display and can be visited free of charge during museum opening hours.
Inside the 17th-century Zuiderkerk church, you can discover Amsterdam’s development plans through the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.
At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, there is a branch of the Rijksmuseum with free admission.
Also with free admission is the aforementioned Begijnhof, the courtyard of the Beghine, a quiet neighbourhood built by lay nuns in the 14th century. The buildings are arranged around an inner courtyard with beautiful gardens, two churches and the oldest house in Amsterdam.
Finally, don’t miss the beautiful neighbourhood markets, where you can meet the locals and enjoy tasty Dutch cuisine, the free guided tours of Gassan Diamonds and Coster Diamonds, professional diamond cleaners, and the Hollandsche Manege near Vondelpark where you can admire the horses.