If you’re thinking of visiting Amsterdam, then rest assured that the Dutch capital offers plenty of great perks that are sure to make your trip one to remember! From the most popular tourist attractions to the hidden gems you’ll find off the beaten path, I personally think a trip to Amsterdam is worthy of inclusion on anyone’s bucket list.
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging as to why. Join me for a trek through some of my favorite reasons to visit the city.
Part Amsterdam travel guide, part personal recommendations, I’ll fill you in on why Amsterdam is like no other city in the world. Along the way, I’ll point you in the direction of some of my favorite organized tours, popular attractions, and hidden gems.
My Favorite Reasons to Visit Amsterdam
1. Historic Architecture
Having grown up in the United States, I’ve always had a fascination with historic architecture. Sure, the U.S. is home to the occasional colonial building. But nothing in the States quite compares to the feeling of walking into a medieval building.
In Amsterdam, Oude Kerk traces its roots back to 1213. It’s worth checking out one of the many great historical walking tours you’ll find throughout the city. The tours help to get a real sense of the stories behind the most famous sites.
You’ll find plenty of incredible historic sites in Amsterdam, from the Royal Palace to neighborhoods like De Negen Straatjes. If there’s one site you don’t want to miss, it’s the Anne Frank House.
The famous site was where the brave young girl and her family hid from the Nazis. Just be aware that tickets are only available through the official website of the Anne Frank House and often sell out months in advance.
It’s also worth checking out powerful sites like the Dutch WWII Resistance Museum to learn more about Jewish history and culture in the city. Make sure you also visit the absolutely stunning Portuguese Synagogue, which was the largest synagogue in the world when it was first built in 1675.
And now for the question I know you’re dying to ask (because everyone does) – what about the less scrupulous parts of the city’s history? That’s right, I’m talking about Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
You’ll actually find plenty of perfectly legit tours that will walk you through the Red Light District and answer every question you’re afraid to ask along the way. While the district is pretty tame during the day, after nightfall it becomes exactly what you expect. I’d recommend venturing over as part of a guided group rather than alone.
See Related: Famous Buildings in Amsterdam to Visit
2. The Canals
If there’s one part of your trip to Amsterdam you’ll never forget, it’s strolling along the picturesque canals. Amsterdam’s canal ring is not only gorgeous but became a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right in 2011.
Make sure you set aside a few hours to head down to Amsterdam’s city center to take advantage of one of its many epic canal cruises. If you’re looking for a solid family-friendly canal cruise, then I’d recommend setting out with Captain Jack, who will keep you entertained with fun commentary on all the main sights you’ll see along the tour.
If you’re looking for more of a booze cruise, you’ll find plenty of other options like this private boat cruise with unlimited drinks. Or you could set out with your fellow travelers on this cruise which includes complimentary tickets to the Heineken Experience.
The great thing is that no matter what type of canal cruise you’re looking for, it almost definitely exists. There are cruises that come complete with everything from wine and cheese to onboard smoking lounges.
3. World-Class Museums
If you’re into museums, then Amsterdam is your new favorite city. The city is home to so many museums that your biggest issue will probably be trying to figure out which to hit up first.
One of the most famous is Rijksmuseum, where you’ll find the works of famous Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. You might even consider signing up for an exclusive guided tour or rounding out your day with a trip to the Rembrandt House Museum to check out where the famous artist once lived and worked.
Make sure you also check out the Van Gogh Museum, where you’ll find the largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world. If you’re as fascinated by the work of one of history’s most famous artists as I am, then a guided tour of the Van Gogh Museum is well worth the splurge.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the plethora of museums you’ll discover when visiting Amsterdam. If you want to explore the best museums in Amsterdam and save money while you do it, then check out the I Amsterdam City Card.
The I Amsterdam City Card scores you free entrance into over 70 top Amsterdam museums and other attractions like Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens. It also comes with free public transportation, free bike rentals, a free canal cruise, and discounts that can help you get the best deals on local food and drinks.
The only thing to be aware of is that it doesn’t include entrance to a few notable sites like the Nemo Science Museum, Anne Frank House, or Van Gogh Museum. But overall, it can be a great way to save money and help you explore the city if you choose the digital option which works with Google Maps.
See Related: Our House Amsterdam: The World’s First EDM Museum
4. The Food Diversity Is Off the Charts
Typical Dutch food isn’t always easy to pin down, which is why food tours can be a great way to explore the best places to eat in Amsterdam. One of my personal favorites was this food tour of Jordaan, a trendy neighborhood in central Amsterdam right beside the canal district.
As you explore eight top eateries, you’ll enjoy tasting Dutch delights like poffertjes (bite-sized pancakes eaten with butter and powdered sugar), bitterballen (Dutch meatballs), and more! Then, of course, there are the joys of Dutch cheese.
When it comes to cheese, the Dutch do not play. You’ll find entire cheese-tasting tours that will introduce you to hotspots like Kaaswinkel Henri Wellig, where you’ll find delectable free samples.
5. Celebrating Local Festivals
If you’re not sure when to visit Amsterdam, then you might try and time your trip around one of the many annual festivals the city is known for. The most popular by far is Koningsdag or “King’s Day,” a city-wide celebration held each year on the ruling monarch’s birthday.
While the date of the celebration changes each time the Dutch Royal family appoints a new monarch, it’s currently celebrated on April 27th, the birthdate of King Willem-Alexander. Up until he took the throne in 2013, it was known as Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) and celebrated Queen Beatrix’s birthday on April 30th.
During the festivals, the quaint streets erupt into one big party with plenty of live music, festivals, and dancing! If you’re into music, you might consider visiting Amsterdam during Grachtenfestival or the “Canal Festival,” when hundreds of musicians descend on the town to perform in historic venues, parks, and even in boats on the canals!
6. Epic City Energy
The Dutch capital has a certain energy that’s hard to explain but addictive nonetheless. From trendy coffee shops and cafes to bustling hotspots like Dam Square, Amsterdam is a great place for people-watching.
Make sure you check out Albert Cuyp Market, a massive public market where you’ll find everything from fresh produce to Dutch street food. Or head down to the Singel Canal where you’ll find Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market.
Whether you spend the day exploring the unique shops you’ll find in the city center or marveling at beautiful architecture, Amsterdam is one of those cities where you’ll never get bored. If you need a break from the city, you might even consider checking out Blijburg aan Zee, the city’s most popular urban beach.
See Related: Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Best Areas & Places
7. Day Trips from Amsterdam
The great thing about the Netherlands is that it’s not that big of a country. To put it into perspective, the entire country is somewhere between the sizes of the US states of Maryland and West Virginia.
Aside from being a beautiful city, Amsterdam is also a great gateway to plenty of surrounding day trip destinations. If you’re interested in setting out on your own, you can always rent a car (just make sure you invest in travel insurance first!) or catch a ride on a train from Amsterdam Central Station.
You can also find great deals on local tours that will take you on hassle-free day trips through the Dutch countryside. Tours like these will take you to cozy surrounding villages like Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam, and Marken where you’ll see plenty of windmills, fishing houses, and even cheese-making shops.
The Dutch countryside is also home to several unique historical sites like Castle Muiderslot, one of the Netherlands’ oldest and best-preserved castles! First constructed in 1285, the castle now serves as a museum that’s packed with 700 years worth of fascinating history.
8. Proximity to Other European Destinations
While you’ll find plenty of great cultural experiences in Amsterdam, if you’re feeling feisty, it’s also possible to branch out to other countries during your trip. Due to the city’s top-notch location, it’s possible to work in a day trip to destinations like Brussels, Belgium, or Cologne, Germany, each of which you can reach in under three hours by train.
If you’re planning a longer trip, you might even consider hopping a train to Paris for the weekend or taking a short flight or Eurostar trip to London. Signing up for cheap flight alerts from services like Going.com isn’t a bad idea either, just to see if anything pops up during the dates you plan to travel.
See Related: Best Cities in Europe to Visit
9. Cycling Culture
Personally, I’m a sucker for a great bike-friendly city and Amsterdam certainly fits the bill. Given how small many of the city streets are, tons of people regularly opt for the city’s many bike lanes instead.
You’ll have no problems finding a place to rent a “fiet” (bike) in the city, but just make sure that you actually use the bike lock that will almost definitely be included. Due to the fact that cycling is so popular in the city, bike theft is very common.
For the same reason, don’t be taken in if some dodgy-looking stranger offers you a great deal on a bike as you’re walking down the street! Another great option is to check out a guided bike tour like this one, which will introduce you to the top Amsterdam highlights.
There are also some cool electric bike tours available – though I’ve never actually taken one myself, it’s on my to-do list because they look super fun. Whether you choose to set out on your own or in a group, you’ll quickly discover why biking in Amsterdam is the way to go!
See Related: Tips for Riding a Bike in Amsterdam
10. Unbeatable Shopping Opportunities
Personally, I don’t consider it at all unreasonable to bring along an empty carry-on when visiting Amsterdam. You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to pack all the treasures you picked up in the many great shops you’ll discover throughout the city!
There are several distinct neighborhoods in Amsterdam, each of which has its own unique vibe – even when it comes to shopping. For instance, De Negen Straatjes is a historic canal-lined neighborhood that’s home to lots of hip boutiques and vintage shops.
If art and antique shops are your thing, look no further than Spiegelkwartier, where you’ll find over 80 of them! When it comes to luxury, you’ll find top designer brands from around the world on P.C. Hooftstraat, a street that’s sort of like the Amsterdam version of Rodeo Drive.
Amsterdam is full of great shopping venues, no matter what types of shops you’re interested in visiting! Even if you aren’t on the hunt for anything in particular, be prepared to be pulled into the many fascinating shops you’ll come across as you explore the city.
See Related: Best Markets in Amsterdam to Visit
11. The Amsterdam Nightlife Scene
While plenty of adventurous tourists do choose to explore Amsterdam’s notorious red light district at night, it’s actually not my recommendation if you want to really experience the best of Amsterdam’s killer nightlife. If you’re looking to escape the tourist crowds, head down to the Leidseplein area instead.
Right around Leidseplein Square, you’ll find plenty of great bars, clubs, and restaurants that welcome a nice blend of tourists and locals. Melweg and Paradiso are popular music ventures that are surrounded by traditional Brown Cafes which are basically local bars.
If you plan to head out on a nightly basis, it’s not a bad idea to book a local hotel like the Hard Rock Hotel Amsterdam American. Not only is it located right in the center of Leidseplein’s best clubs, but also near popular daytime attractions like the Heineken Experience, Rijksmuseum, and several other popular museums.
Rembrandtplein is also a popular nightlife destination and home to popular clubs like Escape and Club Rain. No matter where you end up, make sure you take the chance to try some authentic Dutch jenever, the predecessor of gin and unofficial booze of the Netherlands.
Looking for a place to stay in the area? Check out my personal favorite hotel in all of Amsterdam, a beautiful little boutique hotel called The Noblemen.
12. The Tulips
Last but certainly not least, there are the tulips of Keukenhof Gardens, perhaps one of the most famous attractions in all of the Netherlands. Even if you’ve never been to the Netherlands, you’ve likely seen photos of the famous tulip fields which are actually located in Lisse, about 40 km outside of Amsterdam.
Every spring from March to May, the Keukenhof Gardens come alive with 7 million flowers in a wide range of brilliant colors. The second you step onto the grounds, you’ll have a hard time arguing with Keukenhof’s claims of boasting “the most beautiful spring garden in the world.”
Even if you don’t choose to rent a car, you’ll have no problem finding a bus to transport you from the city and back. While the gardens are only open during the spring if you do find yourself in Amsterdam when they’re open, you definitely won’t regret planning a visit!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some unique experiences in Amsterdam?
Aside from the usual tourist spots in Amsterdam, you’ll find plenty of unique shops such as Chocolátl, a next-level chocolate shop, or The Otherist, a “cabinet of curiosities”. You might also consider booking a room at the Hilton Amsterdam, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous “Bed-In for Peace” in the 1960s!
What are popular tourist spots in Amsterdam?
Some of the most popular tourist spots in Amsterdam include the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Anne Frank House. Dam Square, is also home to plenty of great draws like the Royal Palace, Madame Tussauds, and plenty of local street markets.
What is the best time of year to visit Amsterdam?
If you want to see Amsterdam at its finest, then consider visiting in the springtime when the flowers are in full bloom. That said, the weather in the city stays beautiful all the way into early fall so the only real off-season tends to be between November and March.
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Kyle Kroeger is a seasoned traveler and globetrotter passionate about journeying and capturing moments. Yeah, he might be the guy with four cameras dangling off him while exploring. With his extensive travel experience and passion, he made a life-altering decision to not only do this full-time but also leave his hometown of Minneapolis and move to Amsterdam. Along with his family, Kyle now travels throughout Europe full-time, making every moment count while exploring the beauty and diversity this continent has to offer.
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