Amsterdam lays claim to being one of the Northern Europe’s most intoxicating cities. The buzzing Dutch capital ticks all the right boxes, from a historic core filled with ‘Golden Age’ 17th century waterfront buildings, a legendary nightlife scene and world-class museums.
The city is arguably home to the most offbeat and coolest things to do in Europe, and getting around is a breeze, be it on foot, by bicycle, or cruising the canals. As well as the serene waterways, Amsterdam is made up of atmospheric narrow lanes and eclectic neighborhoods, such as Jordaan, a haven of artsy cafes, quirky boutiques, and stylish bars. If you’re unsure how to navigate the city, we’d recommend hiring one of our professional private guides to show you around.
Anne Frank House
Situated in a charming waterfront spot, this 17th century traditional Dutch house is the city's most evocative landmark. It houses the iconic Diary of Anne Frank, chronicling the life of the young Jewish author and her family as they hid from Nazi persecution for two years. Visitors can peruse a thought-provoking series of photographs and haunting film footage detailing everyday life under Nazi occupation. Most poignant of all are the few personal effects that survived the war, including a series of photographs of the family in happier times.
The secret annex is the main draw for people hoping to glimpse what life was like living in a cramped wartime hideaway. Anne Frank’s House features a rotating schedule of photo archives and live theatre adaptations, along with extensive educational resources for children to dive deeper into the Anne Frank story and its modern legacy.
The Rijksmuseum is one of Europe’s foremost art museums and the spiritual home of the Dutch Masters. The grand Gothic and Renaissance interiors house some 8,000 artworks including countless iconic masterpieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh.
The renowned old masters take pride of place on Floor 2, with the painting that defined the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt's The Night Watch serving as the star attraction. The museum spans over 800 years of Dutch art history covering virtually every strand of the arts. Other must-sees include the famous Delft blue-and-white ceramics, antique dollhouses, and Cuyper’s library – the oldest and biggest art history library in the country.
The Asian Pavilion serves as a rich treasure trove of art collected from the Dutch East Indies and across continental Asia, such as priceless sculptures, temple ornaments, and jewellery from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, and Thailand. End the visit with a stroll through the expansive ornamental gardens which feature imposing statues and modern art installations among the flower beds and serene ponds. Feeling hungry? The Rijksmuseum even boasts its very own in-house Michelin-starred restaurant.
Oude Kerk has all the hallmarks of a fascinating picture-perfect Gothic church. In fact, this early 14th century church is the oldest surviving building in Amsterdam. It is said that the Dutch Master Rembrandt was a regular member of the congregation and his first wife is buried here.
The church features impressive vaulted ceilings, old paintings, and a stunning patchwork of stained glass windows. Many of these still date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Guided tours take visitors up narrow spiral staircases to the viewing platform on the Oude Kerk tower. You’ll enjoy a panoramic view of the city rooftops and beyond.
Here you can also see (and hear) one of the finest baroque organs in Europe with some excellent acoustics. Oude Kerk is often the setting for high-profile choral and classical performances. As well as a functioning church, Oude Kerk is now an official museum space, showcasing exhibitions and events by contemporary artists. In typically quirky Amsterdam style, this most revered religious landmark is located right in the heart of Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District.
The Royal Palace
Originally serving as Amsterdam’s City Hall, this structure was transformed into a royal residence in the 19th century by Louis Napoleon, who was then briefly king of Holland. It was once dubbed the ”eighth wonder of the world”. It is a typically grandiose structure, fashioned in an ornate Romanesque style and dominated by a massive Central Hall. The Palace is almost entirely constructed of marble, with exquisitely painted murals and stone carvings throughout.
The Royal Palace is open for public visits most of the time, although it is still used for occasional state visits and official functions. As well as fine art and sculptures, interiors are filled with around 2,000 pieces of Napoleonic furnishings including lavish chandeliers and tapestries.
Must-see Royal Palace highlights include the opulent Citizens’ Hall and the many Romanesque sculptures and intricately carved stone reliefs depicting mythical scenes. The Royal Palace is situated overlooking the bustling Dam Square.
Cruising the canals
Synonymous with its maze of waterways, a leisurely canal cruise is the classic introduction to Amsterdam that no visitor should miss out on. In fact, there are 100 kilometres (62 miles) of canals in Amsterdam. Not only is a cruise the most relaxing way to tour the city, it gives visitors a whole new perspective on the ornate gabled houses of Amsterdam when viewed from the water.
The Gouden Curve section of the canal is a must to see the finest ‘Golden Age’ waterfront buildings and the iconic ‘Skinny Bridge.’ Most of the city’s top attractions are clustered around canal banks. For a good grounding in Amsterdam contemporary life, culture, and history, a one-hour boat tour with a knowledgeable guide is the best option, highlighting the city’s essential landmarks.
Other canal cruise options include freehand easy hop-on-hop-off services, romantic candle-lit dinner cruises, and pirate-themed canal tours for the kids. You can even go it alone and rent a pedal boat if you’re looking to get some exercise.
Amsterdam is a relatively compact capital city and very pedestrian-friendly thanks to its many waterfront walking paths. Still, it can feel somewhat overwhelming with so much to see and do. Take the guesswork out of planning your trip and make the most of your time in the city with GoWithGuide.
Check out the best Amsterdam tours to find inspiration and reach out to our knowledgeable local guides to help plan a bespoke city tour or experience tailored just for you.