15 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam on Your First Visit

15 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam on Your First Visit

Step into the most beautiful sights in and near the Dutch capital!

Amsterdam is a popular European travel destination, whether you’re a first-time traveller or you’ve been there many times. Each year, the Netherlands attracts numerous visitors for its attractions of historical and artistic significance, perfect for history buffs and art lovers alike. Yet, the capital city itself is like a work of art, with its 17th-century Dutch architecture, gorgeous winding canals and sprawling tulip fields!  With so many things to do in Amsterdam, it can be difficult to plan your trip. 

Well, this article is here to make that a whole lot easier. Here’s a list of 15 things to do in Amsterdam — covering sightseeing, activities, shopping, and food!

Also read:  10 Stunning Airbnbs in Amsterdam That Deserve Your Attention 

Top things to do in Amsterdam for first-timers

1. Sail through the city on a canal cruise

Canal cruise in Amsterdam, things to do Amsterdam

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Taking a canal cruise is synonymous with Amsterdam, the City of Canals. This is the perfect way to explore the city, given the whooping 165 canals in Amsterdam. Enjoy the scenery as you tour down the canals and visit famous landmarks like the Golden Bend and the Skinny Bridge, amongst many more.

Given the popularity of this activity, there are numerous different types of canal tours offered by different vendors: from the original group cruise, to romantic candlelight dinner cruise, and even your own private cruise. You can even use the canal as your mode of transportation as there are hop-on-hop-off boat tours that stop at nearly all the major Amsterdam attractions. All in all, taking a canal cruise is certainly one of the best things to do in Amsterdam!

2. See the Royal Palace of Amsterdam

Royal Palace Amsterdam, places to see Amsterdam

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The Royal Palace (Koninklijik Paleis)  is another must-visit among the many Amsterdam attractions. It is also one of the largest historical monuments in the Netherlands. The building still retains its fine architecture, from the arching doorways to the marbled ceilings. Iconic paintings such as Moses and the Seventy Elders by Jacob de Wit and Moses and the Ten Commandments by Ferdinand Bol are found all over the palace, which has been kept impressively despite being built in the 17th century.

The Palace is open to the public generally all year round, with the exception of official affairs like royal weddings and state visits by the royal Dutch family. Before you go, walk out to Dam Square; if you’re lucky, there might be a fun fair going on when you visit!

3. Immerse yourself in Dutch history at the Museumplein

Museumplein square

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The Museumplein is a bustling area full of Amsterdam attractions — namely, the museums. They are conveniently located at this huge central square with a lovely open park to rest in between museum visits. Are you into European history? The national museum, the Rijksmuseum, covers Dutch art and history. It houses plenty of Dutch Golden Age painters’ works, such as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s The Night Watch and The Sampling Officials. More into artworks created in later centuries? Head over to the Stedelijk Museum and Moco Museum, which feature modern and contemporary works, respectively. 

Van Gogh museum, must do Amsterdam

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Even if you’re not that into art, you should still check out the Van Gogh Museum, which showcases the life of one of the most famous painters in history. It also houses the largest collection of van Gogh paintings in the world. The museum features some of his original paintings, like The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, Almond Blossoms, and The Bedroom. It also has some of his personal handwritten letters, which can give visitors a glimpse into the mind of the artist who continues to inspire generations of painters.  

The range of exhibitions available in the Museumplein is impressive, so museum hopping is definitely one of the best things to do in Amsterdam. You might want to dedicate a full day or two just for that!

4. Have a relaxing afternoon in the Vondelpark

Vondelpark activities

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Enjoy the cool breeze in Amsterdam’s largest city park, Vondelpark. Blend in with the locals and engage in some people-watching as they cycle, skate, or walk their dogs. You can even set up your own picnic here! The park is always bustling with activity, especially near the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, which features live music, dance performances, and stand-up comedy shows all throughout summer. If you’re interested in watching a performance, remember to make a reservation and book your spot on their website before heading down to the park.

5. Hop on a bike and explore the city

Cycling Amsterdam, things to do Amsterdam

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Colloquially known as the Cycling Capital of the World, Amsterdam is a highly bike-friendly city. With a well-developed bicycle lane system and generally flat grounds, many locals bike around as their preferred mode of transport. If you are a cycling enthusiast, you need to put this on your list of things to do in Amsterdam. 

It is extremely easy to rent a bicycle from anywhere in the city and roam around freely! If you’re not sure where to go, join one of the many biking tours available. A local guide will bring you around the famous spots in the city, like Museumplein and Vondelpark.

Also read: 15 Most Walkable Cities in the World to Visit or Live In

6. Visit the iconic Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House was once the actual home of the German-born Jewish girl who wrote The Diary of a Young Girl. Her family home has now been converted into a museum, where you will get to see her autobiographical recount come to life. The conditions of the house — even the concealed doorway to the annex — have been kept in their original condition, retaining the harrowing atmosphere of the Holocaust. 

Those who read the book or are simply interested in understanding that period in time should definitely visit this important piece of history. As this is a must-do in Amsterdam for many, tickets are often sold out months ahead. So, do book this early on when planning for your trip!

7. Try some Dutch herring from a fishmonger stall

Dutch Herring

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When you think of local street food from the Netherlands, an image of Dutch herring probably comes to mind. This is a highly popular dish amongst locals and more adventurous travellers alike, spawning plenty of haringhandels (fishmonger carts) in the city. This traditional Dutch delicacy is frozen raw, likened to sashimi, and often served with pickles and raw onions. You can request for it to be served on a white bun as well. Eating herring is a huge part of the Amsterdam experience, so if you can, do give it a try!

If you’re strolling around the Jordaan neighbourhood, you might want to fall in line at Vishandel Centrum, which has been selling herring for over half a century. You can also chat up the friendly owners at Haringhandel Frens along the Singel canal while tasting their cuts of the herring. 

8. Learn about how beer is made at the Heineken Experience

Ever wonder how one of the world’s most famous alcohol brands makes beer? Now you can with this top Amsterdam attraction, the Heineken Experience. You will learn about the history of Heineken while you tour the brewery and learn about the beer-making process. This is definitely a must-do for fans of the brand, or if you just want to learn more about how the beer is brewed.

Before you end your visit, sip on some complimentary beer at its freshest while seated at the Best ‘Dam Bar: the brewery’s rooftop bar, which has a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the city. 

9. Explore the churches of Amsterdam

Westerkerk, Oude Kerk, churches

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Many church buildings which were built centuries ago still remain standing today, making these some of the oldest buildings in Europe. Westerkerk, the largest church in Amsterdam, stands at 86 metres and is the final resting place of many famous Dutch people, including Rembrandt van Rijn. Oude Kerk is the oldest building of all, built in 1306 and carries a great weight of the history of religious strife in the Reformation years. 

Despite being well maintained to withstand today’s weather elements, the churches’ unique structures like the bell towers still are intact; making these both distinctive and important pieces in Dutch architectural history. If you appreciate architecture, visiting the churches will likely be one of the best things to do in Amsterdam. 

10. Shop and dine in the stylish area of De 9 Straatjes (Nine Streets)

Nine Streets Amsterdam, things to do Amsterdam

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Thinking of doing a bit of retail therapy while in Amsterdam? De 9 Straatjes (Nine Streets) is the place to be. As its name suggests, this popular shopping district features exactly nine streets of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Wander down the streets and alleys full of local boutiques, vintage shops, and speciality stores. Check out Smaak for handmade leather handbags, Laura Dols for excellent vintage wear, and Shoediction for a wide variety of shoes! 

When you need a break from walking and shopping, head over to one of the many cafes and restaurants littered across the streets! You can visit Screaming Beans in Runstraat 6 for the best coffee in De 9 Straatjes for your caffeine fix.  Looking for something more substantial? Have a scrumptious meal from Toos & Roos on Berenstraat 36, where they are serving a wide range of breakfast and lunch dishes, and even light snacks!  

11. Thrift for hidden gems at Ij-Hallen

Amsterdam is also home to Europe’s biggest flea market, Ij-Hallen. This place sells a wide variety of pre-loved treasures. From clothing to antiques and vinyl, you could possibly find anything at this flea market. People who love to thrift will find that this is one of the best Amsterdam attractions. 

It’s an outdoor event that happens on one weekend each month. So, plan your calendar to make sure you’re in Amsterdam that weekend. There is a small entrance fee to enter the market, but you will definitely gain more than you’ve spent with all the cheap finds! 

More fun things to do near Amsterdam

12. Walk through the gorgeous tulip fields of Keukenhof

Keukenhof flower park, things to do near Amsterdam

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Visiting Amsterdam in spring? Then, Bollenstreek should definitely be on your day trip plans. It is located right outside of Amsterdam and is home to the world-famous Keukenhof. This flower park is only open for eight weeks each year, when the tulips are in full bloom, and welcomes over one million visitors within that short time frame. 

Keukenhof flower field two

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The garden contains over 800 species of flowers in various shapes and colours (the majority of them being tulips), making it the perfect backdrop for your next Instagram post. Feel free to explore this 15-kilometre-long park via the numerous cycling or walking routes available!

Also read: 12 Spring Destinations to Spot Lovely Flowers in Bloom

13. Tour the countryside of Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans countryside, places to see Amsterdam

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Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city? Head over to Zaanse Schans: an idyllic countryside town less than a 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam. The views of the windmills and wooden facade houses sitting on the sprawling green grass are sure to take your breath away! Remember to take pictures of this cottagecore-reminiscent scene. 

Clog making Amsterdam, things to do near Amsterdam

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There are also plenty of unique activities available here that you can’t find anywhere else. You can make your own chocolate milk at Blik op de Zaan, watch how large sails for boats and windmills are made at The Weaver’s House, or learn how clogs are made at a clog workshop! Spending a day in this relaxing village is one of the best things to do near Amsterdam!

14. Shop till you drop in the nearby city of Haarlem

Haarlem shopping

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The Streets of Gold (or de Gouden Straatjes) in the nearby city of Haarlem is located 15 minutes away from Amsterdam by train. This wildly popular shopping destination has a wide variety of offerings, from big brands, to local boutiques and speciality shops. This is definitely a shopper’s paradise!

Haarlem centre, things to do near Amsterdam

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After shopping, you can fuel up at the lively Grote Markt: a huge market in the centre of the city,  brimming with cafes, bars, and restaurants.  If you happen to be there on a weekend, you can head over to the centre of the square and browse around the open market, where locals are buying and selling fresh produce and textiles.

Saint Bavo church, Harleem, places to see Amsterdam

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Before you go, do visit the Saint Bavo Church, found near the Grote Markt centre.  It holds a significant place in Haarlem’s history, making it a national heritage site of the Netherlands. Make sure to snap a photo of the impressive tower that looms over the entrance of the church. 

15. Soak up some sun in Zandvoort aan Zee

Sunset on Zandvoort Beach

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Looking for a change in scenery? We’ve got you! Head over to the seaside town of Zandvoort aan Zee, which is only 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. Watch the sunset as the sky above turns into a symphony of orange and pink over the clear North Sea while strolling along Zandvoort Beach, which has become a popular beach resort amongst locals. 

In recent years, beach clubs have made their presence in the area. You’ll find a variety of beach clubs catering to different desires: Fosfor for families; Mango’s Beach Bar for partiers; Nius Beach House for couples; and Ubuntu Beach Club for those on a budget, but still want to have some fun!

Also read: 12 Best Destinations for Solo Female Travellers

This list of things to do in Amsterdam, Netherlands might seem long, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The city appeals to such a wide range of interests — art, history, architecture, nature, and even shopping! Basically, there’s something for everyone when you come to the Venice of the North. Come and visit Amsterdam, where you might discover new interests within yourself!

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About Author

Beautrice Oh
Beautrice Oh

Beautrice enjoys exploring new places and jumps at any chance to try something new. She loves learning about different cultures through their food, landmarks, and hidden local spots (if she can find them)! Always enthusiastic for an adventure, she plans itineraries that fully immerse herself in the destination’s culture, and will never forget to bring along her camera to capture the memories.