10 things you must do on your first trip to Amsterdam – and what to avoid

If you’re reading this blog post about where to visit in Amsterdam, congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon one of my favourite cities.

With so much to see and do in the Dutch capital, it’s hard to narrow it down to the essentials.

Whether you are planning to stay for a day or a week, this Amsterdam bucket list contains 10 of the must-sees and must-dos.

1. Anne Frank House

This 17th-century canal house is where Anne Frank lived in secret during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

You can take a tour around her ‘secret annexe’ and learn about her life in a biographical museum dedicated to the diarist.

The building is located on a canal called the Prinsengracht.

PRO TIP – To fully immerse yourself and understand Anne’s position, you must read her diary before you visit.

2. Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam is a hub for museums, but if you only have time for one, make sure it’s the Rijksmuseum.

Dedicated to Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to the present day, the Rijksmuseum includes the works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.

The museum is located at the Museum Square, close to the Van Gogh Museum.

PRO TIP – A visit to the Rijksmuseum is not complete without a tour of their Asian art collection.

3. Dam Square

If you come out of Centraal Station and follow a line of tourists, you’re bound to end up at Dam Square – the heart of Amsterdam.

The town square offers something for everyone :

From historical sites such as the Royal Palace to watching buskers perform, the square epitomises how lively Amsterdam is.

For those who can’t resist a spot of shopping, the de Bijenkorf Amsterdam department store, located in the square, will suit everyone’s needs.

It’s also a great place to get that classic Instagram shot!

4. Sandemans walking tour

Only have a short time in Amsterdam? No problem take this walking tour which comprises the main sites of the city in three hours.

Tour highlights:

See the Anne Frank House, where one of the world’s most famous diaries was written.

Take pictures of the quintessentially Amsterdam canals, bridges and houses

Discover the Jewish Quarter

Find the hidden churches

Marvel at Multatuli’s giant head

Learn about the Dutch bike culture

You also learn some really interesting facts about the Red Light District.

PRO TIP – Do the walking tour on your first day to get your bearings of the city.

5. Vondelpark

The largest city park in Amsterdam is well worth a stroll around.

You’ll find both locals and tourists using this park – many of the natives will be jogging, whilst visitors may opt for a bike ride.

There is also a selection of cafes, perfect if you want to take a bit of time out of the hectic city.

6. Red Light District

Considered a taboo area of the city, it is well worth taking a tour of the Red Light District.

I would recommend going with a guide, not only will you avoid the ‘seedy’ areas, but you can also learn some really interesting facts.

PRO TIP – Visit the Red Light District in the daytime and night – it’s quite stark the difference in atmopshere.

7. Bloemenmarkt

Didn’t make it to Amsterdam in time for the tulips? Don’t worry the Bloemenmarkt is a great alternative.

A colourful attraction, Bloemenmarkt was the world’s original floating flower market.

It is sited on Singel between Muntplein and Koningsplein in the city’s southern canal belt.
You can marvel at the fresh flowers or pick up souvenirs.

8. The canals

Amsterdam is most famous for its canals and there’s a good reason for it.

A symbol of culture, the three main canals to visit are the Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht.

Would I recommend a canal boat tour? It depends.

If you have time and money to spare, then yes. However, if you’re only in Amsterdam for a quick break then you’re best exploring on foot.

9. I Amsterdam sign

The iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ letters were removed from the front of the Rijksmuseum in the Dutch capital in December 2018.

But you can still take that recognizable Instagram photo with the letters at Schiphol airport and Sloterplas Lake in Amsterdam West.

10. Take a train to Leeuwarden

Two hours away from Amsterdam is the beautiful but small city of Leeuwarden.

For history buffs, Leeuwarden is the best place to learn about the history of the Netherlands and Friesland.

And I would argue Leeuwarden is prettier than Amsterdam (don’t tell anyone else I said that though!)

What to avoid –

Sex museum

Ice Bar

Cannabis museums

Commercial cheese shops

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