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Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is a gorgeous, fairytale-like city, often called the Venice of the North. Canals, tulips, wooden shoes, and windmills are all things that come to my mind when thinking about the Netherlands. While there are many things to put on your quick itinerary to this small but picturesque city, sometimes you only have a few hours to see the best of the best.
I’ve devised a list of activities, sights, and ‘must-dos’ for just 24 hours in Amsterdam. Many of these sights are in the city center and within walking distance of each other, so you don’t have to worry much about transportation. I’ve also included the average time spent in each location so you can choose the sites you want for your timeframe!
I encourage budgeting some time for simply strolling the Amsterdam canals and wandering in and out of shops. Check out a lively brewery or pub, the many cafes, legal Dutch ‘coffee shops’ (they don’t sell coffee here), get up close to a houseboat or two, and even go tulip spotting! Getting lost in this city is one of my favorite activities. So now, without further ado, here are the best things to do in Amsterdam.
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Time: 1.5 hours
No trip to Amsterdam can be complete without a canal tour, and it should be at the top of your list for your time in Amsterdam. There is no better way to see the city than to immerse yourself in the serene canals as you float down the Amstel River. Cruising down the river allows for great sightseeing. Check out the many houseboats floating along the river, admire the historic architecture, and enjoy the calm canal boat ride down the canals.
Make this one of the first stops on your day, as it lets you quickly get your bearings and see a large part of the city. You might also find a few hidden gems you’d like to visit after your canal cruise is over too!
Anne Frank House
Time: 1 hour
When visiting Amsterdam, there are tons of historical sites to see. This world-famous home is where Anne Frank and her family hid for over two years during World War II. The house has since been converted into a museum where visitors can learn more about the Holocaust and Anne’s journey.
You can purchase your tickets online, and I suggest planning this well ahead of your visit, as tickets sell out months in advance. There are two ticket types – a visit to the museum or a visit plus a 30-minute presentation sharing information about Anne Frank’s story and what you’re about to see and experience in the museum.
Royal Palace Amsterdam
Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Located in historic Dam Square, you must check out the Royal Palace of Amsterdam if you’re after royalty. This castle is a living palace, meaning that the royal family lives here, in addition to being able to tour the palace as non-royalty. This building was initially built starting in 1648 in the Dutch Golden Age as a Town Hall for Amsterdam. In 1808, King Louis Bonaparte transformed the building into a palace. You’ll find gorgeous architecture, sculptures created by famous artists, and world-class historical art inside the castle.
You can buy your tickets in advance or buy them at the palace. Check if the castle will be open before you go, as it’s closed on certain days for royal events.
Van Gogh Museum
If art and museums are your things, I highly recommend checking out the Van Gogh Museum. Many of the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh are featured here (although some of his most famous are in other museums throughout the world), as well as collections from artists close to Van Gogh and even collections of art that Van Gogh collected himself. In addition, you’ll see many of his self-portraits, landscapes, and flower paintings here, and you are guaranteed to find some pieces you recognize!
The museum has seasonal hours, so check the website to see if the museum is open. You can also pre-purchase your tickets to walk right in and enjoy the beautiful art without waiting in line.
Pancakes at PANCAKE
Time: 45 min
Dutch pancakes are some of the most delicious Dutch food in Amsterdam!! They are a mix between crepes and American-style pancakes. Thin, but still fluffy and oh so tasty! You can get sweet pancakes – think lemon and sugar, or apple crumble, vanilla ice cream and cinnamon, or savory toppings such as bacon and cheese, or apple and cheese (or my recommendation – one of each!). You can even go unique with a bacon, banana, and chili pepper pancake!
One of the best places to go for pancakes is simply called PANCAKE. They have many locations throughout Amsterdam, so a restaurant will be nearby wherever your plans for the day take you.
Floating Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt)
Time: 30 – 45 minutes
In the heart of Amsterdam, you’ll find Bloemenmarkt, the world-famous floating flower market. You’ll find dozens of shops selling fresh flowers, flower seeds, souvenirs, and gifts. It’s a can’t-miss if you are a flower lover. It is a feast for your nose (mmm, flowers) and a delight for your eyes. Vivid colors, beautiful blooms, and so much to look at create a perfect stop on your way through Amsterdam.
Red Light District
Time: Walking through, 15 minutes. Stopping inside shops and museums, 1 hour+
One district that comes to mind when thinking about Amsterdam is the Red Light District. While I’m not going into too much detail here, it’s an exciting addition to your trip. I took a stroll down the main street of the Red Light District on a Saturday around 11 am. I might have missed it if I hadn’t been explicitly looking for this area. I can’t share my thoughts about the Amsterdam Red Light District at night, but it seemed like another quaint, quiet street during the day. I even saw a couple walking with their toddler down the road as they would anywhere else!
There are fun shops, quirky museums, and windows where the workers stand when they’re ‘on duty.’ I felt completely safe, even as a solo female traveler, and I’m happy I went way outside my comfort zone to check it out. I recommend walking down the street, even if only briefly. It’s bound to be something you don’t experience in many other places!
Time: 10 minutes
The Dancing Ladies’ houses are an icon of Amsterdam. These gorgeous canal houses come to mind when thinking about the area’s architecture. While all of the row houses are charming in their own way, these houses are an Amsterdam institution and should be visited when touring the area.
These houses stem from the 17th century and are iconic due to the crooked nature of the homes. The homes get their ’tilt’ from being constructed on swampy soil and have since settled over the years. If looking at the houses from the outside isn’t enough, you can even stay inside a gorgeous canal house!
There are so many more things to do in Amsterdam; this is a good start for a first-timer with a short timeframe. If you find yourself with more time, I’d also recommend the Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, taking one of the many bike tours and checking out the Heineken Experience.
Finally, if you have multiple days, I suggest venturing further than Amsterdam to visit the Keukenhof Gardens (open seasonally), check out the medieval city of The Hague, immerse yourself in the Dutch countryside, and gaze at the modern Rotterdam architecture.
I have had the travel bug since I was young. Living in Colorado, and my parents being from New York, gave us lots of opportunities to go visit family back East. In my professional career as an event planner, I’ve had many experiences in other states, cities, and even other countries. I have been blessed with the ability to see so many different places, people, and cultures.