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Visiting Amsterdam for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do


A cyclist in Amsterdam enjoys looking out at a canal.
Hi, I'm Jade!

Jade is a writer with a passion for travel, drag queens, and baked goods. Her happy place is South America, but when she's not exploring the world, she enjoys cooking and reading Gothic novels in her London flat.

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Hi, I'm Jade!

Jade is a writer with a passion for travel, drag queens, and baked goods. Her happy place is South America, but when she's not exploring the world, she enjoys cooking and reading Gothic novels in her London flat.

see more

Cute, compact, and bursting with charm, Amsterdam is the ultimate minibreak destination. Just a few days in the City of Canals gives you a solid overview of its progressive culture and picture-perfect architecture, most of which lines the banks of its quaint canals.

But don’t be fooled—though small, Amsterdam boasts a wealth of attractions that can make planning your first visit feel a little overwhelming. This first-timer’s guide helps you tick off the big-hitters while also getting off the beaten path. Enjoy!

Cruise the canal ring

Tulips by an Amsterdam canal in spring.
Take to the canals. | Photo Credit: Neirfy / Shutterstock

Soak up the city’s waterside wonders.

No visit to Holland’s capital would be complete without winding your way along the 17th-century Amsterdam Canal Ring (Grachtengordel), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruises typically float beneath some of the hundreds of bridges—the most famous of which is Skinny Bridge (Magere Brug)—that connect famous canalside sights such as Westerkerk and the pretty Jordaan neighborhood. Boat rides feature everything from unlimited drinks to all-you-can-eat pizza or cheese, so sightseeing isn’t the only thing you’ll enjoy.

Satisfy an appetite for fine art

The grand exterior of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum is a must-visit. | Photo Credit: 0711bilder / Shutterstock

See some of the world’s most famous paintings.

Born in the small town of Zundert, Vincent Van Gogh is one of Holland’s most famous exports. No other place pays homage to him better than the Van Gogh Museum, which is unsurprisingly home to the world’s largest collection of work by the legendary artist. Another world-class Amsterdam museum is the Rijksmuseum, the largest art museum in the Netherlands. If you find the thought of admiring more than 8,000 pieces of art alone a bit daunting, opt for an art history tour that hones in on pieces by European masters such as Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer.

Cycle around Europe’s bike capital

A cyclist heads down a cobbled street in Amsterdam.
The way to see Amsterdam is by bicycle. | Photo Credit: Maria Sbytova / Shutterstock

Take the scenic route around the city.

Few places in the world are more accommodating to bicycles than Amsterdam, where bike lanes are almost as abundant as canals. Blend in with the locals by hiring a bike and following the bicycle lanes around town. The best spots for leisurely biking are the 19th-century “green lung” of Vondelpark and [The Nine Streets](De Negen Straatjes)(https://www.viator.com/Amsterdam-attractions/De-Negen-Straatjes/overview/d525-a8142#overview), a collection of side streets featuring chic boutiques. Open up the city even further by joining a guided bike tour, which will allow you to see the city without the stress of having to navigate it.

Discover Dutch heritage

A traditional Dutch house by the water in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam's historic buildings are picture-perfect. | Photo Credit: Svitlana Belinska / Shutterstock

Visit the land of tulips, windmills, and clogs.

Nothing exemplifies Holland better than Zaanse Schans, an open-air museum in the fertile Dutch countryside outside of Amsterdam. Here, you can watch locals make traditional wooden clogs; see old-style windmills whirring in the fields; and, depending on the timing of your visit, admire brightly-colored tulips in bloom. Combine a visit to Zaanse Schans with a stop in Edam to sample freshly-made cheese. Or, join a tour of the charming fishing village of Volendam, which once inspired artists such as Renoir and Picasso.

Visit Amsterdam’s capital of cool

Amsterdam-Noord across the bright blue water.
Hip Amsterdam-Noord has been revitalized in recent years. | Photo Credit: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Let your creative juices flow in the north.

Amsterdam-Noord used to be an industrial wasteland, home only to factories and shipyards. Today, however, it's hailed as the capital’s hippest district. Start off in the trendy NDSM Wharf, home to a skatepark and several art galleries, before browsing Pekmarkt, where market stalls sell everything from organic food to vintage clothes, depending on the day. You can also catch a film at the EYE Film Institute (EYE Filmmuseum), a modernist landmark that is also home to a cinematography museum.

Wake up and smell the flowers

Photo Credit: MrDenPol / Shutterstock

Feast your senses on Amsterdam’s brightly-colored blooms.

If you’re a fan of flowers, you’ve come to the right place because Amsterdam has several attractions dedicated entirely to the precious plants. Don’t miss Bloemenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world, where local florists sell flowers from houseboats. You can also delve deeper into Holland’s flower obsession at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. If you’re visiting in the spring months, don’t miss Keukenhof Gardens, where 7 million flower bulbs bloom across 79 acres (32 hectares) of lush parkland.

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See all Amsterdam tours
1,268 tours & tickets
Things to do in Amsterdam
See all things to do in Amsterdam
Travelers explore Amsterdam by water
The 7 Best Places to Be Alone This Valentine’s Day