Looking for a helpful Amsterdam travel guide to plan your trip to one of Europe’s most popular destinations?
There's a reason why so many people fall in love with Amsterdam after visiting. And no, it isn't because of the Red Light District!
Visitors fall in love with Amsterdam's charm, pace of life and livability. Personally, I haven't been to another place on earth that's easier and more convenient to get around.
Top that off with great restaurants, nightlife and some of the worlds best museums and you can see why this is one of Europe's largest tourism hubs.
The canals that serpentine throughout Amsterdam aren't just a beautiful backdrop for photographers, they also offer a unique and immersive way to explore the city's rich history.
After spending a week in Amsterdam I'm both eager to share my experience and looking forward to my next visit.
In this guide we'll cover a number of useful tips and activities you should know about before traveling to Amsterdam!
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
What is the best way to reach Amsterdam
The easiest way for travelers to reach Amsterdam is by flying into the Schiphol International Airport.
Schiphol is a major international airport and KLM hub with regular flights originating from all parts of the world.
The airport is conveniently located approximately 35 minutes by car or train from Amsterdam's city center.
Alternatively, if you're already on continental Europe consider taking a train or bus to Amsterdam.
If you weren't already aware, getting between cities in Europe is relatively cheap and easy (this applies to flights as well).
My preferred way to get around Europe is by train when cost and time make sense. Flying is a great option as well, especially for longer distances.
Traveling across the continent by bus or train means you'll get to see much more of Europe away from the more touristy city centers.
Getting around Amsterdam - Watch out for bikes and streetcars
Before we dig into fun things to do while visiting, there's a very important housekeeping item we need to cover first. If you only heed one bit of advice from this Amsterdam travel guide it should be this.
The streetcar and bicycle lanes are very well integrated throughout the city. This is great for getting around. However, if you aren't accustomed to exploring cities with these hazards you need to keep your head on a swivel.
Not only do you need to watch for cars when crossing intersections, but you need to be mindful of the cyclists and streetcars that sometimes have their own traffic patterns.
Amsterdam public transportation is easy to use
Amsterdam has the best public transportation of any city I've ever visited.
While you can still pay per individual ride, the most cost effective way to navigate Amsterdam is to buy a daily public transit pass.
The pass includes unlimited access to the subway, streetcars, buses and certain trains.
Be mindful that certain regional train routes are not included with this card and will require an additional ticket.
The public transportation in Amsterdam is also highly integrated with Google and Apple navigation apps.
This means that when you look up directions you'll usually see real time results that tell you how close the next subway or tram is. Easy!
Take a canal tour by boat
Hands down the best way to explore Amsterdam is by boat. A guided canal tour is a relaxing way to enjoy an afternoon while learning about the city's rich history.
Do your research and find a tour that suits your individual tastes. The tour we booked through GetYourGuide included beer, wine and cocktails. If the weather is nice I'd highly recommend the open air experience!
If you're concerned about excessive heat or cold there are a number of covered tour options to choose from.
I'd recommend booking your tour in advance just to be safe, but we didn't have any issues booking our guided canal tour one day in advance.
Another option here is to skip the guided tour and rent a boat yourself. There are a number of boat rental companies throughout Amsterdam. You won't need a boating license to rent a small boat here but me mindful that the canals can be quite busy.
Amsterdam is a very bike friendly city
Don't forget, rule number one when visiting Amsterdam is to always keep your head on a swivel.
Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world. This presents a fun way to navigate the city for visitors but it also means you're more likely to get steam rolled by a cyclist than an automobile.
When exploring Amsterdam by foot not only do you need to watch for cars, buses and trams but also bikes! Amsterdam has a vast network of bike lanes you'll have to work around in addition to the more traditional forms of transportation.
If you plan to rent a bike during your visit (you should) then be sure to check out Amsterdam's laws and safety guidelines for cyclists. This is a great resource for anyone visiting Amsterdam even if you only plan to explore on foot.
How expensive is Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe that you can visit.
In general, Holland has a very high cost of living. Amsterdam being a major metro area that is popular with tourists only exacerbates this issue.
That doesn't mean you should avoid Amsterdam as a traveler. But it means you'll need to be extra cognizant when budgeting for your trip.
Amsterdam is filled with museums, activities, coffee shops (perhaps not the kind you're accustomed to back home) and restaurants that need exploring.
Fortunately the robust public transportation and density of Amsterdam means you shouldn't need to rent a car or break the bank on Uber rides. You can purchase passes in town that provide unlimited public transportation access.
One more tip - generally the regional trains (if you're visiting areas like Rotterdam or Zaanse Schans) will require a different type of ticket than what the Amsterdam public transportation ticket includes.
If you're interested, here's a tool I found that can help you compare the cost of living across different cities.
Where should I stay when visiting Amsterdam
Many travelers will opt to stay in the Centrum area of Amsterdam which refers to the heart of downtown. This area is accessible by train from the airport.
The Centrum area of Amsterdam will offer quick access to many of the cultural sites, canals, museums and restaurant areas. This is also the most expensive part of Amsterdam to stay and space will be at a premium.
However don't forget that public transportation in Amsterdam is excellent. If you're on any type of budget I would recommend staying 10-15 minutes outside of the Centrum area and using a subway, bus or bike to get in and out of this area.
You'll be amazed at how much further your money will go by staying a few subway stops away from the city center. During my recent trip we stayed at Hotel Casa and really enjoyed our stay.
From there it was a 5 minute walk to the closest subway station and a 10 minute ride into town. Comparable lodging in the Centrum area would have easily cost double what we paid to stay at Hotel Casa.
How long should I spend in Amsterdam
The average traveler should look to spend at least three full days in Amsterdam. The activities highlighted in this guide should be sufficient for filling out a three to four day itinerary.
If you're really into museums or day tripping to nearby towns you could easily spend five or more days visiting Amsterdam without running out of new things to do!
Visit the Anne Frank House
Stepping back in time and exploring The Anne Franke House was the most memorable experience from my time in Amsterdam.
The experience is equal parts powerful and somber.
As you walk through the buildings narrow corridors you'll learn how the Frank family navigated daily life while hiding from their Nazi occupiers.
For the avoidance of doubt, photography is not allowed inside the house.
On your way out there's a souvenir shop where you can pick up a copy of Anne Frank's diary if you don't already own one. The proceeds from your visit go towards supporting the home as a museum and other charitable efforts.
Check out the Heineken Brewery Experience
The Heineken Brewery Experience is a hands on way to learn about the legendary history of Heineken and its ties to the city of Amsterdam.
Along the way you'll explore the facilities once used to brew enormous quantities of Heineken beer. The brewery is no longer actively brewing beer but instead has been transformed into a multi-story immersive museum!
There are interactive exhibits throughout the facility such as a 3D movie experience, games, photo booth, the ability to personalize your own bottle of Heineken and more!
At the end of the tour you'll be given the opportunity to enjoy a couple of cold Heinekens at their bar. Once you're finished here the bar will dump you off into a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs.
Visit a brewery beside a windmill at De Gooyer
Holland is synonymous with windmills, but you'll quickly realize that finding one within Amsterdam proper is easier said than done.
That's where Brouwerij 't IJ brewery comes into play.
Located adjacent to De Gooyer, the brewery offers tours of their brewing facilities, a large number of craft beers on tap and stunning views of De Gooyer from directly below.
Brouwerij 't IJ was one of my favorite stops throughout Amsterdam. Be sure to check out their website and plan your visit around one of their brewery tours to learn about their beer and the history of De Gooyer!
Visit the iconic Red Light district
Every trip to Amsterdam requires a stroll down the canals of the infamous Red Light District which is located directly southwest of Amsterdam Centraal.
The experience one can have along Amsterdam's seediest street will vary wildly for each traveler.
For starters, prostitution is legal here. And it's quite obvious.
As you wander the canals you'll encounter numerous professionals offering a glimpse of the services they offer through the windows of their sidewalk boutiques.
You'll have the opportunity to purchase drugs that are illicit in many countries or watch a live sex show in one of the many historic theaters if that tickles your fancy!
To be clear, you don't have to actually engage in any of these activities to have a great time in the Red Light district.
There are tons of traditional bars to enjoy and the people watching here is world class.
Get lost in the Rijksmuseum
If you're only going to visit one museum during your trip to Amsterdam, this should be it.
Not only is the Rijksmuseum the largest in Amsterdam, but it's generally revered as one of the top art museums in Europe, if not the world.
The average traveler should plan on spending between two and four hours visiting the museum. In reality, one could spend an entire day here if taking in fine art is a personal passion. This place is huge!
The Rijks is also a great place to eat as the museum is complete with a Michelin Star restaurant. If you're looking for something more casual, there's also a cafe which is a great spot to grab lunch, a pastry or coffee.
One more thing - be sure to book your tickets in advance to avoid lines and ensure your entrance into the museum!
Check out the world's largest collection of Van Gogh art
If you're a fan of the fine arts then be sure to check out the world's largest collection of Vincent van Gogh at the appropriately named Van Gogh Museum.
Visitors should expect to spend between 1 and 2 hours touring the museum. It's never a bad idea to book your tickets in advance which you can do here.
The Van Gogh Museum is located in the large green space just outside of the Rijksmuseum. If you're looking to be efficient and cut down on travel time between activities I'd recommend hitting these two museums back to back.
Stroopwafels are a cookie of Dutch descent
Stroopwafels are basically giant Dutch Oreos formed by combining two thin waffle cookies with a thin layer of caramel filling set between them.
No visit to Holland is complete without tasting their signature cookie, the stroopwafel!
Try it dipped in chocolate, paired with a hot coffee or on the side with ice cream.
Have a good time at an Amsterdam coffee shop
If you're just looking for cup of coffee, I'd recommend looking for cafes instead of something with coffee shop in the name.
The coffee shops you encounter in Amsterdam might sell coffee, but generally they specialize in cannabis and other psychedelic substances.
There are an endless number of coffee shops to choose from so I'd point you to this guide highlighting some of the best coffee shops in Amsterdam if that's your cup of tea.
While not exclusive to the Red Light District, you will find a large number of them sprinkled throughout that area.
Explore Centraal Station
Amsterdam's Centraal Station (spelled with two a's) is the towns central exchange for all things public transportation.
Centraal Station sits along the northern end of the Red Light district within the city's centrum. If you're traveling into Amsterdam by bus or train there's a good chance this will be your drop off point.
The building's exterior offers up impressive architecture while on the interior you'll find access to the local metro, buses, regional trains and the water ferry system.
Centraal Station offers high speed train connections to many other major European cities. For example, a traveler can reach Paris in just over three hours.
This is something to keep in mind if you're planning to venture on to other parts of the continent after Amsterdam!
Relax in one of Amsterdam's many parks
While the streets of centrum Amsterdam are jam packed with buildings, you might be surprised at how much great park space the city boasts.
Museumplein is the large green space and one of my favorites that neighbors the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. This is a great place to relax like a local and people watch after spending some time in either cultural site. While Vondelpark is Amsterdam's most popular and most visited park.
If you're looking for additional information on Amsterdam's best parks here's a link to a guide that can help educate you further on the subject.
Day trip to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans
A quick 30 minute train or car ride from Amsterdam Centraal will lead you north to one of the best windmill viewing areas in the Netherlands.
The area of Zaanse Schans teleports visitors to what life in the Dutch countryside was like in a simpler time.
Here you'll find several windmills, restaurants, traditional Dutch architecture and a number of family oriented activities.
The savvy traveler shouldn't have any issues reaching Zaans Schans by train. But be mindful that the nearest train station drop off will require 20 minutes or so of walking to reach the Zaanse Schans entrance.
If you're looking for a guided experience, tours frequent this area from Amsterdam and will take care of the logistics for you.
It's free to explore Zaans Schans once you arrive. But be sure to budget for a meal or souvenir shopping here at minimum.
This is a family oriented destination so expect crowds during weekend afternoons when the weather is nice!
Know when the tulips are in bloom before visiting
Tulip season runs from the end of March until the middle of May. If you visit Amsterdam outside of this window do not expect to experience the Keukenhof Tulip Fields.
To give yourself the best viewing opportunity try visiting during the middle of April.
Keukenhof is located about 40 kilometers to the southwest of Amsterdam in the direction of The Hauge and Rotterdam.
There isn't direct train access to Keukenhof and chances are if you're staying in Amsterdam you won't have your own car.
Day trips through a tour company are the easiest way to reach Keukenhof. Taxis are convenient but expensive. Here's a guide on other ways to reach Keukenhof if you're determined to get there without the help of a tour company.
Try a local street food - herring
A unique and popular street food found in Amsterdam is herring.
This traditional fish dish is usually little more than a portion of pickled herring with diced onions and pickles.
Simple, healthy and very traditional. But chances are this fishy snack won't appeal to everyone.
If you're interested in learning all about pickled herring you can do so here.
Take the ferry to NDSM
The free ferry that hauls travelers to NDSM is located directly behind Amsterdam's Central Station. Enjoy the ride out to this once abandoned shipping harbor which has seen a resurgence as a cultural and arts hub in recent years.
If you're into electronic music NDSM has a reputation for being one of Amsterdam's hottest spots to catch a concert. A simple Google search of "Amsterdam NDSM Concerts" is the best way to see what's going on in this area.
There are a number of restaurants, street art, art exhibits and even a hotel located within a giant crane that you can bungee jump off of!
You can check out a list of current happenings around NDSM at the iamsterdam.com website.
Waterlooplein - oldest flea market
The Waterlooplein Market is the oldest flea market operating in Amsterdam.
The market is located near the Rembrandt House Museum within Amsterdam's Centrum district (these activities pair well together, due to their proximity).
Operating six days a week from morning to early evening, this is a great place to browse vintage clothing and decor from The Netherlands.
Whether you're a thrifting enthusiast or just looking to kill some time this open air market is a great place to spend an afternoon. Be sure to check current operating hours at their website before visiting.
Bloemenmarkt - flower market
Holland has a long and storied history when it comes to tulip bulbs.
The infamous Tulipmania occurred in Holland during the early 1600s. It's known as one of the biggest market bubbles of all time. Fortunes were made and lost by individuals who speculated on the ever increasing price of tulips which were relatively new to the region.
Not surprisingly, the supply of tulip bulbs eventually caught up with the demand which sent prices crashing back to earth.
The best way to experience Holland's storied history with tulips within Amsterdam proper is to head over to the Bloemenmarkt flower market.
Here you'll find the street lined with vendors selling tulips, bulbs, seeds and other items that make for great souvenirs for anyone with a green thumb.
Photograph the Seven Bridges at Reguliersgracht
This is an area you're likely to pass on a canal tour through the city.
The Seven Bridges at Reguliersgracht is popular among photographers since there's an opportunity to stare through the arch of the nearest bridge while capturing six others in the shot.
I didn't go out of my way to get the perfect shot but if you look closely I was able to fit six different bridges into the shot I took from our canal tour.
Considering so much of Amsterdam's history and beauty centers around the canal system it's no wonder this shot is envied by photographers and casual visitors alike.
Can you capture all seven?
Visit a Rooftop Bar
Who doesn't love a good rooftop bar? This is a great way to soak up Amsterdam's relaxing vibes during their mild summers.
Fortunately for us, Hotel Casa where we stayed during our trip came complete with a rooftop bar.
But there are tons of other venues worth checking out across the city. If you're looking for some of the best rooftop destinations in Amsterdam be sure to check out this guide to rooftop bars in Amsterdam.
Public restrooms in Holland are pay to enter
Be mindful that public restrooms throughout Holland often require a small fee to use.
While this may seem baffling to Americans who have never left the states, there's a nice tradeoff to this.
Hollands restrooms are generally staffed which means they're among the cleanest public facilities you'll come across.
You get what you pay for!
English is widely spoken throughout Amsterdam
While Dutch is the official language of Holland, you'll find that English is widely spoken throughout the country, especially in Amsterdam.
Tourism in Europe is a big industry, and not just for Americans on holiday. English is the common denominator for travelers within the EU so you'll find it widely spoken most places you travel.
This makes getting around and ordering your meals a breeze!
Is Amsterdam safe
Amsterdam is a very safe city to visit. It's not only one of the safest major cities in Europe, but perhaps the world.
During our visit we never felt unsafe or had any unwelcome experiences.
Hopefully you found this Amsterdam travel guide helpful! Feel free to reach out on social media if you have any additional questions about planning your trip.