24 Hours in Amsterdam: The Top Things to See and Do
Updated: Dec 12, 2018
If someone would have asked me five years ago if the Netherlands was high up on my travel bucket list, I probably would have replied with a “no” without hesitation. But when you’re traveling through Europe for 3 weeks, why not make a quick stop in the capital of Holland to see what it has to offer? And let me tell you - it did not disappoint me or make me regret stopping. And I’m pretty sure the wide open cheese shops with free samples, and the cats that store owners let hang around helped win my love for the city. AmsterDAM, you look good ;)
If you read my earlier post about my Epic Euro Adventure, then you already knew that Amsterdam was one of the many cities I stayed in during my trip. Due to our flight complications leaving London (read more about that here), my travel partner and I only had about 30 hours to explore all of Amsterdam, but I’d argue that we did a pretty good job of doing that - even when we were being down-poured on. I put together a list of everything we were able to do during our short stay, and a list of things I’d like to do if I ever go back. ↓
Where We Stayed:
As soon as we landed, we caught an Uber and checked into our hotel right away. We stayed at the Mercure Hotel Amserdam City. Despite our delayed flight situation/late arrival, the hotel and staff were super accommodating and helped us get a grasp as to where we were location-wise in relation to all of the touristy action and things we had on our must-do list in the city. While the hotel wasn't right in the middle of all of the action, it was right next to a train stop, which got you down to the city-center within minutes after hopping aboard. The hotel was beautiful and the rooms were spotless! They even have a food shop inside if you're looking for some Holland snacks! Even though we were only at the hotel for one night, it was probably one of my favorites I stayed in throughout my three week adventure. If you're looking for a place to stay while visiting Amsterdam, don't overlook the 4-star Mercure!
What to see and do:
Canal Cruise: Our original canal tour we had booked through Viator.com included lunch with wine, the canal cruise itself, and admissions into the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Diamond Museum. Unfortunately we missed that one because of our delayed arrival into Amsterdam, but our travel agent luckily was able to book us a different canal cruise - it just didn’t include all the extra goodies :/ But we did learn a lot about the history of Amsterdam and the story behind much of the architecture of its buildings on the cruise we did go on.
Rijksmuseum: Like many of the historical cities in Europe, Amsterdam has multiple museums (we wanted to go to an art museum), but since our time there was so short, we had to make a tough decision between going to the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum. After doing some research about each museum’s collections, we chose the Rijksmuseum because it actually included a few original Van Gogh pieces. (We figured we were also getting a taste of the Van Gogh Museum this way.) The Rijksmuseum is huge and so worth going to if you’re in Amsterdam and “give an amsterDAM” about art (See what I did there? Hehe). We saw original pieces by Rembrandt (what the museum advertises the most about), Johannes Vermeer, and - as I already mentioned - Van Gogh.
Walk through the Red Light District: Who knew that the smell of marijuana, body-painted street performers, and images of penises everywhere you look could make a city feel as charming as the Red Light District of Amsterdam does? Most of the touristy action in the city takes place in this district, so it’s kind of hard to avoid walking through it. There are so many shops and restaurants (stop into a cheese store and try some samples!) to pop into while exploring. I think it truly adds to Amsterdam’s culture, and it definitely added to my experience there!
(Happiness is a Wisconsin girl in a cheese store!)
Eat the Famous Holland Fries: While there are tons of food options during your stroll around Amsterdam’s Red Light District, I highly suggest getting some of Holland’s best rated fries at Manneken Pis. They come in a giant parchment paper cone, and they have so many different sauces to choose from! We tried the garlic sauce and the pesto mayo, and they were both delicious! A fork is almost necessary to eat them though, and there were plenty in one cone to be shared between two people!
Anne Frank’s House: Arguably one of the most historically well-known places in Amsterdam is the house where Anne Frank lived and hid from the Nazis during the Holocaust. I would have loved to walk through the house to see where she wrote her diary entries in silence, but there were no skip-the-line tickets available when we looked online, so we would have had to wait in line for 3+ hours for a chance to get in. And when you only have a limited amount of time in a city, you can’t exactly afford the time to do that.
Iamsterdam sign: Whether or not you actually want to visit any museums while in Amsterdam, you should definitely make your way to its Museum District. It’s where the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums are, but it’s also where the famous “Iamsterdam” sculpture is. It’s always crazy busy and packed with tourists, so don’t plan on getting that perfect Instagram selfie without anyone photo-bombing your picture, but it’s pretty cool to see in person.
Tulip shop (or field if you go in the spring!): One thing I didn’t know about Holland until after we booked our short stay there was that they are known for their tulip fields. You will see freshly-cut tulips and bulbs for planting all over the city. I regret not buying some to bring home with me (I wasn’t sure how airport security/tsa would feel about me bringing bulbs with me from country to country), but they’re a pretty sight to see! On our stroll after viewing the Iamsterdam sign, we stopped by one of the bigger flower/tulip shops. If I ever plan a trip back to the Netherlands, I’d definitely try to go during the springtime though so I could visit one of their famous colorful tulip fields while in bloom!
Get some stroopwafels: While walking around Amsterdam, you will see waffles galore! I definitely tried a chocolate-dipped waffle, but one goal I had going into Amsterdam was to try the Netherlands’s National Cookie: the Stroopwafel. Stroopwafels are two baked wafers sandwiched together and filled with caramel sauce. They were a pretty delicious treat! I ended up buying a tin of them to bring home to share with family and friends. Doesn't sound like your kind of thing? Just get a regular waffle then - just don't forget the Nutella!
If I was to go back:
Tour the inside of Anne Frank’s house: If you’re planning on doing this, book waaaaayyy ahead! Since our trip was planned last minute, there weren’t any skip-the-line tickets available. And if you can’t get ahold of any tickets but you still want to go, just be prepared to wait in line for a very long time.
Xtracold Icebar: This stop was originally on our itinerary, but it started downpouring rain and we couldn’t easily get there without getting soaked. We figured that icebars are popping up all over the place, but if I ever went back to Amsterdam, and I had the time for it, I’d definitely check this one out!
Tulip Fields in Springtime: I mentioned this already, but I would totally recommend visiting the Netherlands during the springtime to see their colorful tulip fields in full bloom!
Heineken Experience Brewery: This was originally on my “must-do” list before I researched more about things to do in Amsterdam. Again - this would have been ideal to do if we had more time in the Netherlands, but we figured we could do without another brewery tour on our European Adventure. But I’d still include this on my “must-do” list if I ever went back.
Van Gogh Museum: See above for why we didn’t get to go to the Van Gogh Museum. I’m pleased that I still got to see some of his famous original pieces of work at the Rijksmuseum, but I’d definitely consider myself a fan of his, so I’d like to see more!
Another canal cruise: I was genuinely disappointed when our flight out of London got messed up and we couldn’t make it to our initially scheduled Amsterdam Canal Cruise. I would have loved to go on a canal cruise that included food and drinks (like the one we originally had booked). Our tour we did go on was definitely interesting and informative, but I’d like to enjoy more of the canals of Amsterdam with a glass of wine in my hand!
Rent a bike to get around the city: Amsterdam is such a "bike-able" city! Biking would have definitely saved my feet from how much walking we did in the 24 hours we were there, and maybe it would have helped us fit in better with the locals, too!
Try more foods! Don’t get me wrong - the fries, cheese, waffles, and Nutella were all amazing, but I know that I definitely did not experience all the wonderful authentic food Holland has to offer!
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Have you been to Amsterdam? Let me know in the comments! And as always, thanks for reading!