Gorgeous Amsterdam, with its 165 canals flanked by gabled houses that look like something out of a storybook, is a city small enough to take in on foot in a day, but rich enough in cultural attractions to make it easy to fill several.
Amsterdam in 1 Day: Best of Amsterdam
If you have limited time in Amsterdam, it’s still easy to get a taste of Amsterdam's quintessential highbrow and lowbrow attractions in the course of a day.
Arrive at the Anne Frank House for its 9 am opening. A tour should only take about an hour, but leave time for waiting in line (buy tickets online beforehand if you can).
Afterward, go to The Pancake Bakery for a sweet or savory version of the country’s national food. Stroll through the streets of the nearby Jordaan neighborhood, with its leafy canals and atmospheric alleys, then hop a canal cruise and get off by the Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandt’s famous The Night Watch. Spend a few hours perusing the Dutch Masters, then get some fresh air at the Vondelpark, one of the city’s largest green spaces.
In the early evening walk to the Red Light District to see prostitutes in red-lighted windows before the nighttime hordes descend on the area. For dinner, visit one of the city's many Indonesian restaurants for rijsttafel, or rice table.
Amsterdam in 5 Days
Five days is enough time to take in Amsterdam’s cultural highlights and appealing neighborhoods, and take a day trip by bike to the medieval town of Haarlem.
Day 1: Anne Frank House and Jordaan, with a Canal Cruise
Spend your first day around the atmospheric Jordaan neighborhood, starting early at the Anne Frank House. Stroll the quaint streets of this former working-class neighborhood, whose Nine Streets (9 Straatjes) area has lovely boutiques, art galleries, and cafés.
In the afternoon, take an hour-long canal cruise, then visit one of the city’s several Canal House museums, such as Museum Van Loon, to see how the Golden Age elite lived. You can stop in one of Amsterdam’s cannabis-selling coffeeshops, even if just to check out the mind-blowing menu.
Day 2: Museumplein, Vondelpark, and the Leidseplein
Start with a coffee in the glass-enclosed café of the Concertgebouw, home of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, then take in the green expanse of the Museumplein, or Museum Square, flanked by the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Pick one and spend a few hours. All have excellent cafés for lunch (particularly Rijks, at its namesake museum). Later, meander to the Vondelpark, stopping along the high-end P. C. Hooftstraat shopping corridor on the way. In the park, stop at a café for mint tea and Dutch apple pie. Exit at the park’s Leidseplein side and head to the Art Deco Hampshire Hotel—Amsterdam American, former haunt of famous Dutch writers, for a cocktail. Check out what's playing at the revamped Stadsschouwburg theater across the street. Window-shop down Leidsestraat to the 14th-century Begijnhof, which contains the city’s oldest house within its quiet courtyard. After dinner in the area, you can hear music at Paradiso, a hotspot since 1968.
Day 3: Plantage, Jewish Cultural Quarter, and the Nieuwmarkt
Head back to the Plantage (Plantation of Trees), a green oasis anchored by 19th-century Artis Zoo and Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens. Between those and Micropia, the interactive museum of microbes, there's plenty to see.
For an old-world feel have lunch at Café-Restaurant De Plantage, whose back terrace abuts Artisplein, a lovely public square. Then explore the Jewish Cultural Quarter, starting with a stop at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former Jewish theater that became the last stop for the city’s Jews before they were deported to death camps. You can also visit the still-functioning Portuguese Synagogue, one of the most impressive of Europe’s old synagogues to survive World War II.
Check out the bargains at the Waterlooplein market, then make your way down Jodenbreestraat, Jewish Broad Street, past the Rembrandthuis, where the painter lived in the 17th century and which today has an unparalleled collection of his etchings. Stop in at one of the cafés on the popular high street for a predinner drink. Head to the Nieuwmarkt, a former weighing station whose square has a daily market and ample dining options, including adjacent Chinatown. Now's the time to check out the Red Light District, preferably early in the evening before the nighttime hordes descend on the area.
Day 4: De Pijp, Heineken Experience, and Centrum
Start at the Royal Palace at Dam Square, whether you decide to view its interiors or just view it from outside. De Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, dates to the 15th century and is both burial place for Dutch naval heroes as well as royal wedding and investiture spot. Head toward the Muntplein, a former mint, and through the Flower Market, or Bloemenmarkt, where you can stock up on Dutch tchotchkes and tulip bulbs certified for U.S. travel. Continue toward the Rembrandtplein, where bronze reproductions of the Dutch Master’s Night Watch crew overlook the square.
Have lunch at a café on Utrechtsestraat, where you'll also find Dutch design and clothing stores. Take a left on Kerkstraat for a quick peek of the Amstel River, where you can view the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), the Koninklijk Carré theater, and the Hermitage Amsterdam museum. Stop for biertje (beer) and bitterballen (meatballs) at a brown café, but pace yourself: the Heineken Experience is up next, for a beer tour and sampling.
Stay in De Pijp, and browse your way through the Albert Cuypmarket and the neighborhood’s lively streets. Dinner choices range from budget patat (French fries) and Surinamese roti to upscale restaurants. Check out the bar scene here after dinner.
Day 5: Cycle to Haarlem
With Amsterdam’s Haarlemmerplein as your starting point, hop on the bike path and head west. The approximately 19-km (12-mile) ride to Haarlem is one Dutch sight after another: a medieval dike, a windmill, a steam-pumping-station-turned-museum, an old sugar mill, sand dunes, and little towns in between. Haarlem is renowned for its elegant square, church organs played by Haydn and Mozart, and the nation’s oldest museum. If zadelpijn (sore butt) has set in, you and your bike can take the train back to Amsterdam.
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