The city of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is located in the north province of the country just inland of the North Sea. More than 800,000 people call Amsterdam home – a city steeped in historical heritage and new-age architecture.
The city is affectionately known as “the Venice of the North” – a name given because of its vast network of canals known as De Grachten. These canals are a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site and wind for more than 100 kilometers through the city.
Amsterdam has many historical attractions and museums that house extensive collections of artworks from all around the world. The colored houses with gabled facades that line the canals are also a significant piece of Dutch history and a top attraction for tourists visiting the capital city. The historical Dutch Baroque architecture is coupled with amazing modern architecture – a harmonious coming together of two polar-opposite styles.
Along with its network of museums, amazing nightlife, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, you cannot let pass a visit to this wonderful, vibrant city. I have compiled a jam-packed list of how to spend three days in Amsterdam as time is often not on our side these days.
You will have enough time to discover the sights without feeling like you rushed in and out without stopping to smell the tulips. Without further ado, get ready to dive into the three-day guide to Amsterdam. Your Dutch adventure awaits.
How Many Days to Spend in Amsterdam
In modern life, we are constantly rushing. Life is busy and travel is no different. With a limited amount of time, we often tend to miss out on things as we have to sacrifice one thing for another. I have compiled this guide with your best interests at heart.
You won’t have to ask yourself the tough question of how many days to spend in Amsterdam because I have the answer for you – three. Three action-packed days filled with sight-seeing, museum tours, boat trips on De Grachten, places to eat, and more.
Three days is the optimal amount of time to properly discover Amsterdam and get a feeling for this vibrant city. The city itself isn’t massive and you definitely won’t have any trouble seeing all the wonderful sights that Amsterdam has to offer.
So, without further ado, get ready to immerse yourself in the list of top tourist attractions in Amsterdam for an action-packed three days of exploring.
Day 1: A Day of Cultural Exploration
The greater Amsterdam area, made up of eight boroughs, fills an area of just over 219 square kilometers. This is a rather large area to cover and sounds rather overwhelming. However, the main tourist attractions are located in the Amsterdam Centrum borough which is a mere eight square kilometers.
Having said this, it is possible to cover many of the attractions in two days, with a third day reserved for a trip out of Amsterdam to explore one of the nearby cities. I will cover this in more detail a bit further one under day three – the third and last day in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a city that is rich in historic buildings and beautiful museums to go along with its vibrant ambiance. So, what better way to kick off day one with exploring some of the best museums in the city.
Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous artists to have ever lived. He is known throughout the world for his amazing paintings such as Sunflowers, The Starry Night, Bedroom in Arles, and the van Gogh self-portrait. It is possible to see some of his famous paintings as well as his life stories in the dedicated museum, located in Amsterdam South at the museum square. Tickets to the museum cost € 19 per person (€ 10 if you’re a student), available online only, while admission is free for those under the age of 18. Your ticket will allow you to see both the permanent exhibitions as well as the temporary exhibits that are on display at the time.
The Anne Frank House, located on the Prinsengracht canal, is a biographical museum dedicated to the Jewish wartime writer, Anne Frank. You will learn about the life of Anne Frank, her diary entries, and the secret annex that she would hide in. The museum is open daily, and tickets cost € 14 for adults, € 7 for children aged 10 – 17 years, and € 1 for children aged 0 – 9 years.
The last museum to round off the cultural side of day one is a trip to the Rijksmuseum, also located in Amsterdam South, close to the van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum is the national museum in the Netherlands that is dedicated to Dutch arts and history and is an absolute must in your Amsterdam itinerary.
Tickets are € 30 a pop for adults, while children under 18 are free. Here, you will learn about more than 800 years’ worth of history in the Netherlands, from the Middle Ages right up until present time. Famous paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer can be seen here including the likes of Night Watch and The Milkmaid as well as a further 8,000 object representing Dutch history. For your convenience, I’ve attached a link that will take you to the Get Your Guide website, where you can organize your tickets for the museum ahead of the time.
After a morning of cultural exploration, it’s a good idea to grab a drink and a bite to eat to keep the energy levels up for the rest of the day. Amsterdam has a great variety of Michelin star restaurants, bistros, and terraces to choose from, depending on your preference.
It’s always lovely sitting at one of the canal-side establishments as you watch the boats cruise past on De Grachten. The Pancake Boat is also a great option as it incorporates a tour of the canals with all-you-can-eat pancakes. It’s also highly recommended to grab a traditional Dutch frikandel from FEBO – the hole-in-the-wall vending machine concept.
After lunch, I recommend a visit to the Heineken experience located on the Stadhouderskade alongside the canal. The old Heineken brewery used to be housed in the building until the brand outgrew it and moved premises. It is here that you will learn about the history of this world-famous beer and everything that goes with it.
Not only will you learn about the heritage of the brand and the brewing process, but you will also get to enjoy some of the freshest beer as your ticket includes two pints. I’ve included another link from Get Your Guide that is a combination ticket that allows you to experience the Heineken story followed by a boat trip on the canals of Amsterdam.
Following your boat trip along the canals, for those willing and able, a trip to one of the famous Amsterdam coffee shops is a fun experience. Now these aren’t your normal coffee shops that serve the caffeinated beverage – you’re able to order coffee as well as a joint of weed or hashish to go along with it. This started back in the 1970s and is still permitted today. However, there are certain rules that apply so make sure you are fully aware of them before setting out to do so.
A trip to the A’DAM Lookout is a great way to end off the day of exploring and to watch the sunset. Located in Amsterdam Noord, the A’DAM Lookout is a 20-storey building that treats you to 360 degrees of the city. There is also a swing called Over the Edge that sits 100 meters off the ground and is not for the faint-hearted.
After a full day of sightseeing, you’ll be more than ready to retire to the comfort of your bed at the hotel. Be sure to take a walk past the Red Light District on the way home and take a look into the world of the ladies that work there. Always remember to be respectful and to not take photos – your phone might end up in the canal.
Day 2: Cycle the City like a Local
After a busy first day exploring the city, day two is a great time to take it a bit easier and get yourself a bicycle to do a bit more exploring and discovering. Cycling is a way of life for the Dutch people – there are more than 800, 000 bicycles in the city. That’s more bicycles than it is people. By getting yourself a bicycle to move around, you can cover more distance and find hidden gems located within the city. Amsterdam is also well-equipped for cycling with cycle lanes, cycle routes, and of course, its favorable flat landscape.
If you’re not comfortable with tackling the city on a bicycle on your own, there are different tours available that you can join and rather head out in a group with a guide. There are also options available for heading out of the city and discovering the countryside. You will cycle alongside cows, weaving through green pastures and historic farms, over bridges and will also get to experience windmills, clogs, and cheese along the way.
The first stop on your second day of discovering the city can be a trip to the Artis Zoo, located towards Amsterdam Oost (the east side of the city). The Artis Zoo is the oldest zoo in the country and the fifth largest zoo in the world, founded in 1838. Artis Zoo is open daily, and an admission ticket will cost you € 25 for an adult and € 21 for children ages 3 – 12, while children two and under are free. Aside from the zoo, there is an aquarium, a planetarium, an arboretum, Micropia, and the Grote Museum which makes the somewhat steep entry fee worth it.
The next fun thing to do in Amsterdam is to visit the Dungeon tour, a mere two-minute walk from the Begijnhof station. The Dungeon tour is an interactive way to discover the history of the city and sets out to give you a bit of a scare while doing so. There are various shows available to watch such as Torture Chamber, The Flying Dutchman, and Murder on the Zedijk, with tickets starting at € 22. After finishing the tour, be on the lookout for a traditional herring dish at one of the herring carts within the city. It will fill the void and get you ready for the rest of the day.
Amaze Amsterdam is a rather unique experience – it combines more than 30 years of show experience in the music and events industry. There are seven different rooms that contain different laser, sound, smoke, and other special effects that will blow your mind. A ticket will cost you € 26.95 for the full show which takes just over an hour, during which time you will be continually stimulated.
After having your senses stimulated and to end off the day, you can go cool off at the Ice Bar, located in the city center. The Ice Bar is entirely made from ice, from the tables to the glasses you drink from. You will be provided with warm jackets and winter wear and be able to stay in the coolest bar in the city for 20 minutes. Your ticket also includes a couple complimentary drinks and is the perfect pre-drink before heading out for dinner.
Day 3: A Train Trip Awaits
With only a couple of the recommended attractions left for the third and final day, a trip out of the city is recommended. The cities of Utrecht, The Hague, and Rotterdam are all less than an hour’s train ride away from Amsterdam and a great way to discover more about the Dutch culture.
Rotterdam and The Hague are coastal cities, with beaches and a real seaside feel to them. If the hustle and bustle of city life gets a bit much for you, why not escape to the seaside for a few hours to relax a bit. Utrecht, on the other hand, has been described as the little Amsterdam, also boasting a canal network within the city. The centuries-old university town is also steeped in history with many amazing monuments to see.
Upon returning to Amsterdam (sometime after lunch, I would suggest), the final two things to do in Amsterdam are a visit to both the House of Bols and This is Holland.
Located in the Museum Square, House of Bols is one of the more unique museums in Amsterdam, focusing on the history of liqueurs and spirits. During the 45-minute interactive cocktail and genever experience, you will learn about the 42 liqueurs that Bols produces as well as the unique Dutch genever.
Genever is a clear, botanical-driven spirit that can only be produced in Belgium or the Netherlands. After the tour is complete, you will be able to enjoy a unique cocktail, shaken up for you while you wait, using the liqueurs that you would’ve learnt about on the tour. The tour costs € 16 for the cocktail and genever experience, including your parting cocktail.
There are also several other courses available if you have an extra day or are lucky enough to revisit Amsterdam one day. There is a cocktail workshop that runs daily as well as a half day cocktail course that will teach you the necessary skills to mix up the perfect drinks for your friends, family, or significant other.
To end off the day, a visit to This is Holland is highly recommended. The one-hour flight experience will be one of the most incredible flights you’ve ever taken. The 5D experience will take you on an amazing flight, soaring above some of the must-see attractions that the country has to offer. You will be one of forty people strapped into a floating chair that is suspended in front of a giant domical screen.
The experience is complete with visuals, wind, mist, smells, and of course, sounds. As you fly through the Netherlands, the chair will tilt and move giving you the feeling of movement – you will even be put through a storm. There are four different shows available, including the nine-minute long 5D flight experience.
The full ticket price will cost you € 22 for a single adult, but I would recommend getting a combination ticket that allows you access to one of the other attractions. Much like the Heineken experience coupled with a canal tour, you can get a combination ticket for This is Holland along with access to the A’DAM Lookout, Madame Tussauds, The Dungeon, or even a romantic Lovers Canal Cruise.
That concludes my recommended action-packed three days in Amsterdam. I think that it’s a great mix of old and new. You will get to experience Dutch culture and the history of the city as well as learn about the lives of many famous Dutch people. On the other hand, you will also get to experience state-of-the-art activities such as This is Holland and Amaze Amsterdam. It really will be an amazing three-day adventure within the city as well as a small escape to either Utrecht, The Hague, or Rotterdam.
With the main Amsterdam itinerary complete, I’ll now cover a few other aspects of the trip such what to know before you travel to this wonderful city in order to maximize your experience and elevate it to the next level. I’ll end off with the best ways to get around the city, my personal recommendation of where to stay, and finally (and of utmost importance), some safety advice to follow.
What to Know Before You Go
Amsterdam is like any city you travel to – there are certain things to know before arriving that will make your stay that much better. You will save money and know where to go and where to avoid.
Fist of all, the is much more to this wonderful city than the party scene and the Red-Light District. The misconception is that Amsterdam is centered on the ladies of the night and all that goes with them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The city is steeped in history with many cultural sights to discover (as you have already learnt about) and the prostitutes and parties are only a small aspect of the city’s tourism. The top takeaway here is to not take photographs of the ladies in the windows – it is disrespectful, and you will get yourself into hot water.
Be careful around the canals – they are beautiful but can be dangerous. Many people fall into them and many a bicycle is lost every year. Don’t become another one of these statistics.
Don’t confuse the cafes and the coffee shops. Many have made this mistake thinking they’re in for a lovely cup of caffeinated goodness, but instead are greeted with multiple cannabis offerings.
Rent a bicycle and explore the city like a local but be conscious of others around you. This is the primary means of transport for the locals, and you should be respectful of their space. Also take care when crossing the roads and cycle lanes as accidents happen quickly and you don’t want to have a bicycle collide with you.
Lastly, get yourself an OV-ChipKaart. It allows you access to the trams, busses, and trains around the city and streamlines the process of catching public transport. They are readily available at the stops around the city and allow you to tap in and out of the chosen transport.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a vast variety of accommodation options available, from hostels, hotels, bed and breakfast, and Airbnbs. However, for this guide I will only recommend my favorite hotel option to you.
Hotels are a great option as everything is taken care of and you don’t need to worry about anything, it’s all taken care of for you. You can get back from a busy day of exploring, have a meal in the restaurant, and simply flop into bed without a care in the world. The only thing you need to think about is the wonderful day of exploring you would’ve had and what’s to come.
Without further ado, I give to you the Vondice Hotel. Where to begin. Firstly, the hotel is conveniently located in the city. A short walk to the closest tram stop gets you into the city center in minutes. If you’d fancy walking instead, it is also a short stroll away from central Amsterdam and many of the favorite sights. The Vondice Hotel is housed in an old building that has been carefully restored to maintain its old charm and the décor is both fitting and visually stunning.
That’s not all. There is also free parking if you’ve rented a car or come in from one of the neighboring countries, and there are bicycles to rent if you wish to explore like a local. The bathrooms are amazing, and the shower will have you in its rainy reigns.
The neighborhood is quiet and quaint which is perfect for when you come back and want to have a peaceful night’s sleep. This is also made possible thanks to the incredibly comfortable bed which will ensure you’re well-rested and ready for the next day or exploring. The final touch is the basket on complimentary goods that greet you upon arrival – a real great touch to welcome you to the establishment.
The Best Time of the Year to Visit Amsterdam
The best time to visit Amsterdam to ensure you have the most favorable weather is between June and August. Unfortunately, this coincides with it being the busiest time as it is crowded with tourists. Many people flock to the city to escape winter in the southern hemisphere and take advantage of the great weather in Europe.
Having said this, the months on either side of summer season are best. April and May and then again in September and October are by far the best times to visit Amsterdam. The weather is fair and there aren’t too many tourists which is ideal. You might get a bit of cloud cover and a spot of rain but for the most part, the weather should treat you well.
Winter, on the other hand, has the least number of tourists but the weather is generally unpleasant, to say the least. It’s wet, windy, and cold, and there can even be ice and snow. Try to avoid visiting the city in the winter as it really doesn’t do the city any justice.
How to Get Around Amsterdam
Amsterdam, like many of its European counterparts, has a great public transport network. The trams, busses, and trains all work amazingly well and are rarely late. They service the entire city as well as the neighboring cities so it’s a seamless trip to reach places like Utrecht and The Hague if you are interested in visiting another one of the Dutch cities. The Hague, for example, is a 30-minute train ride and has a wonderful coastline and beaches to explore.
My personal favorite way to get around and explore a new city is to walk. Amsterdam is no different. The city is pretty much completely flat, with no elevation so it’s easy to cover large distances in a day while discovering the various attractions.
The most authentic way to discover the city is to cycle. The Netherlands and bicycles are synonymous as almost everyone owns one and uses it to commute. It’s highly beneficial – it’s free, it keeps you fit, and it’s the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. As I mentioned previously, Vondice Hotel has bicycles available to use so you don’t need to venture too far to get your hands on one. A word of advice though – always lock up your bike. Bicycle theft is rife in Amsterdam, and they go missing all the time. Double lock it if you have the means, because the last thing you want is to have to pay for a new bicycle for the hotel.
Safety Advice When Travelling to Amsterdam
As with most European cities, pickpocketing and bag snatching are particularly common in Amsterdam. However, gangs of thieves operate on the trams and trains, especially the train from Schiphol airport into the city. One member of the gang will set out to distract you while another member will attempt to pickpocket you or snatch a bag. These gangs prefer to operate on these popular lines as they know tourists are on their way to or from the airport. You can often get caught off-guard after a long flight where you are a bit tired and aren’t particularly aware.
Another known scam in Amsterdam is thieves posing as police officers, complete with police attire which makes it difficult to know the difference. They will usually try and trick tourists by getting them to hand over cash or a credit card that they tell you might be involved in some form of credit card fraud. It is important to note that a legitimate police officer will never do such a thing and is the easiest way to tell if they are criminals.
It usually comes as a surprise to visiting tourists, but the canals can be incredibly dangerous in Amsterdam. It is easy to lose concentration for a split second and end up in the water. The problem arises as it is often very difficult to get out of the canals once you’re in them as there aren’t many steps and exits. This is particularly dangerous for weak swimmers as they are quite deep and depending on the month, can be quite cold. There are also many motorboats that utilize the canals as part of their tours making it dangerous to be in the water as there is a risk of being ridden over. An interesting statistic is that between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles are recovered from the canals every year. Although not necessarily from people falling in, it goes to show that they can be ruthless.