So you’ve booked a weekend in Amsterdam and if you’re anything like me on a first visit to a new city, you want to make sure you pack in the can’t-miss highlights. For first-timers, the list can be overwhelming, so here’s my guide to the 9 things everyone should see and do on their first trip to Amsterdam.
Take a canal boat ride
There’s no question, Amsterdam is best seen from the water so as well as wandering along the city’s dozens of canals any first time visitor should be sure to sail them too. Whilst all the tourist boats offer a decent experience, there is nothing more fabulous than a small shared or private cruise with Pure Boats. These guys are the best in the business and will guarantee you fall in love with the city as soon as you step on board.
Explore the Rijksmuseum
If you visit only one museum in Amsterdam, make it the Rijks. Some might suggest the Van Gogh Museum, but for me the Rijksmuseum – utterly magnificent and recently restored, is the best of the best. Download the app and check out Rembrandts and Vermeers or for an insider’s tip, make your way to the 19th century library and reading room which is an artwork in itself.
Visit the Anne Frank House
Amsterdam’s most popular attraction is the Anne Frank House. This important national monument really is a must-see but in order to do so be certain to book exactly two months in advance. Check out our post for everything you need to know.
Wander through the Jordaan (and enjoy the Noordermarkt)
If you’ve been dreaming of a city with gorgeous canals, precipitous canal houses, little cafe’s and terraces and an abundance of flowers then wander through the Jordaan to get your fix of the Amsterdam of your dreams. Every corner you turn will offer a magnificent view (and some tasty delights worth stopping for). Head to Saturday’s Noordermarkt for the city’s most wonderful food market. Here you will also find Winkel – home of the city’s very best and legendary apple pie, as well as traditional brown cafe’s such as Papeneiland. Trust us, it will charm your pants off and set you thinking about which narrowhouse you’d choose for your own.
Shop the 9 Little Streets
If you want to combine your canal views with shopping (and eating) then the 9 Little Streets or (Negen Straatjes) are the next must-do on your list. These little lanes criss cross the city’s lovliest canals and with boutiques rather than chain stores, be sure to allow enough time to browse their delights.
Cycle (through the Rijksmuseum)
Amsterdam is a city for cyclists, and though locals have a tendency to get frustrated by wobbly tourists, don’t let that stop you renting a bike and getting back in the saddle. If the cycle lanes feel a little intimidating start with a leisurely ride through the magnificent Vondelpark (with plenty of places to stop for a coffee). Once you leave the park at the Museum District end you’ll be in prime place for the ultimate cycling experience by pedalling right through the Rijksmuseum itself. A bucket list experience.
Visit a Golden Age Canal House
Amsterdam’s canal houses are incredible and if you want a sense of life in the 17th Century then you can’t do better than the magnificent Museum Ons’ Live Heer Op Solder or Our Lord in the Attic. Not only do you get a chance to experience what life was like in the city 400 years ago, but the top three floors house an extraordinary hidden Catholic Church.
Eat a herring
If you eat one thing in Amsterdam make sure its a herring. There is nothing more traditional than stopping off at a street stall (which by the way is the only place to buy one, restaurants don’t sell herring) and grabbing a ‘broodtje haaring’ or herring roll. Order it with pickles and onions for a true Amsterdam treat and you won’t be disappointed. If you like sushi, you’ll love this Amsterdam favourite.
Discover The Begijnhof
Hidden away in the very heart of the city is a ‘secret’ courtyard, home to a Catholic sisterhood with a gorgeous little square and chapel. These days the secret is most definitely out but there’s still something magical about creeping through the arcade tunnel and arriving in this little haven of peace and quiet
Get an iAmsterdam card and explore
The City of Amsterdam sells a brilliant card called the i amsterdam city card which gives you free entry to museums, unlimited use of trams and metros and a free canal cruise. For first timers it really is indispensable and saves a great deal of hassle. Things to note: a) it is NOT worth buying one for kids who go free into most museums b) it will not grant you entry to the Anne Frank House c) if you want to use it to visit the Van Gogh Museum you MUST book a time slot in advance.
That’s it, combine it with our list of favourite restaurant and cafe’s, our guide to the most Instagrammable hotspots, the Amsterdam hotspots and highlights list or our Amsterdam by Season list and you’ll have more than enough to fill a magical first time weekend in this wonderful city. Have an amazing time x