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Things to Do in Amsterdam

The Netherlands brims with beauty and adventure, from its picturesque windmills and wondrous fields of tulips to its hip, art-centric capital city of Amsterdam. The most populated region of the Netherlands, historic Amsterdam is renowned for its quaint streets and scenic canals. Take in Amsterdam’s rich tradition of art by touring iconic museums such as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum; tours offer skip-the-line access to these popular sights. The Anne Frank House is another must-see, attracting visitors from around the globe. A walking tour—or if you want to be like the Dutch, a bike tour—is a great way to get into the culture. For a little romance, enjoy a candlelit cruise at night with Dutch wine and cheese, and watch the city sparkle. Make time to tour the happening Red Light District’s bars and coffeeshops, and sample bitterballen (fried meatballs) and classic pickled herring, along with some of the country’s famed beers. Take a day trip or two to the Dutch countryside to admire Zaanse Schans, with its iconic windmills and clogs; or traditional villages such as Volendam and Marken. Keukenhof Gardens offers the pièce de résistance: a burst of colors from its vast array of flowers and millions of tulips. All in all, Amsterdam’s uniqueness makes it an unparalleled destination in Europe.
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A’dam Lookout
19 Tours and Activities

Get a look at Amsterdam from a different vantage point at the A'DAM Tower's observation deck, known as the A’dam Lookout. Twenty-two floors up, visitors are treated to an unrivaled view of one of the world's most iconic cities, including its historic center, vibrant port and polder landscape, which was reclaimed from below-sea level by the rerouting of water through Amsterdam's famous canals.

A'DAM Tower boasts a 360-degree sky deck and an indoor panorama deck, allowing travelers to view the city from all angles no matter the weather conditions. Inside the tower is a selection of bars, restaurants and even a nightclub and a hotel, plus an interactive exhibition covering Amsterdam's history and culture. Although the tower may look new, it first opened in 1971 before undergoing a complete refurbishment in 2016, with the addition of a massive swing that sends thrill-seekers careening back and forth over the top edge (thankfully, in a full-body harness).

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Singel Canal
29 Tours and Activities

This slow, winding canal served as a moat around Amsterdam before the capital city expanded in 1585. Today, Singel has become a top attraction thanks to scenic passes and easy access to a number of Amsterdam’s most popular neighborhoods, including the infamous Red Light District.

Travelers looking to explore the Singel can peruse Bloemenmarkt—a well-known flower market that’s comprised of floral-filled boats floating between Koninsplein and Muntplein squares. And a trip along the canal will take travelers past architectural masterpieces from the Dutch Golden era, including iconic houses, the Munttoren tower and the library of the University of Amsterdam. A stroll along the Singel is the perfect way to enjoy an early spring day while taking in the sites, culture and history of one of the Netherlands most favorite cities.

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The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes)
24 Tours and Activities

Amsterdam’s De Negen Straatjes, or ‘Nine Little Streets’, are the nine shopping streets linking the main Prinsengracht and Singel canals. The pedestrian quarter not only makes the perfect destination for window-shopping, but draw your eye above the shop fronts and you’ll find plenty of impressive architecture to marvel over. Many of the buildings here date back to the 17th-century and the area has been the go-to shopping area for locals for almost 400 years.

Ardent shoppers will find plenty to get excited about, with the area’s shops as varied and vibrant as the city itself. The cobbled streets abound with homegrown designer boutiques, vintage clothing shops and independent art galleries, with shop windows showcasing creative displays of artisan furnishings, alternative clothing designs and handcrafted accessories. The unique, quirky and bizarre reign in the small themed shops, with plenty of unusual finds and distinctive keepsakes on offer.

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Herengracht
37 Tours and Activities

Recognized as one of the most exclusive addresses in the city, Herengracht has been home to Amsterdam elite since the early 17th century. And while this famous canal is still the ideal spot to brush elbows with the well-to-do, it’s also an incredible place to explore the history and culture of this famous city.

Travelers who venture to this charming neighborhood can check out the original home of the Dutch West India Company, located in Herenmarkt, a charming town square, or visit the well-known merchant’s house called Three Hills, which has been designated as a historical monument. Perhaps the most-famous merchant’s home, the Bartolotti House, is located along the right side of the canal and once served as a residence for one of the most successful silk merchants.

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Houseboat Museum (Woonboot Museum)
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In Amsterdam’s central district Jordaan, along the Prinsengracht canal, you’ll find this small, quirky museum floating right on the water. The Houseboat Museum (Woonboot Museum) is a traditionally furnished houseboat that really gives a feeling for what everyday life on the canals of Amsterdam was like before ‘modern’ times. The boat, a former freighter named the ‘Hendrika Maria,’ is completely furnished and has several different visuals and models to show how life on the canals has changed through the decades. Once on board, you can see how the authentic barge (built in 1914) was converted to a comfortable houseboat in the 1960s. The houseboat has proper skipper’s quarters with a sleeping bunk, a good-sized living room and kitchen, and a bathroom. (The houseboat is equal in size to the average Amsterdam apartment.) Nowadays, the Hendrika Maria welcomes visitors to its homey interior — it seems as though the owners have just popped out to do a bit of shopping!

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Red Light Secrets (Museum of Prostitution)
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Amsterdam is known for its wide streets, classic museums, and colorful canals. It is also known for its coffeehouse culture and open-minded approach to cannabis and prostitution. Visitors flock to see the city’s Red Light District, where prostitution is legal and very much out in the open. Red Light Secrets, located in the heart of the area, is the world’s only museum dedicated to prostitution — offering an eye-opening glimpse into the profession and its history in Amsterdam.

Housed in a traditional 17th-century canal house, the small museum aims to educate curious visitors without entering a brothel. Full scale replicas of luxury brothel suites, wardrobe displays, interviews with prostitutes about their daily lives, and even the chance to step into a florescent, red-lit window all seek to grant insight. The building itself was once home to an operating brothel, facilitating an authentic experience.

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Stedelijk Museum
19 Tours and Activities

Reopened at the end of 2012 after a major revamp, the Stedelijk Museum now boasts a new wing designed by architects Benthem Crouwel – a structure as bold and striking as the artworks it harbors. The modernist façade – a shimmering white design aptly nicknamed ‘the bath tub’ - serves as a provocative declaration of the museum’s artistic sensibilities – equally inspiring and polarizing.

Home to one of the Netherlands’ most celebrated collections of modern and contemporary art and design, walking the halls of the Stedelijk whisks you on a journey through the world’s most innovative art movements. Iconic Andy Warhol prints, memorable impressionist works by Matisse and Cezanne and extraordinary Rodin sculptures catch the eye, part of a vast and eclectic collection that includes pieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

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Old Church (Oude Kerk)
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The Oude Kerk (or Old Church) is the city's oldest surviving building, consecrated in 1306. Yet the location of this triple-nave, late-Gothic church embodies a huge moral contradiction: it's in full view of the Red Light District, with passers-by getting chatted up a stones throw from the church walls.

Still, this Gothic-style church rewards visitors with one of the finest carillons in the country, the city's oldest church bell (1450), and a stunning Christian Müller organ that’s still used for recitals. Check out the lively 15th century carvings on the choir stalls, some of which are downright rude.

The floor of the church consists entirely of gravestones, as the church itself was built on a cemetery. There are 2,500 graves in the Oude Kerk, under which are buried 10,000 Amsterdam citizens, including Rembrandt's first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh. Rembrandt himself visited the Oude Kerk often, and his children were all christened here.

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Emperor's Canal (Keizersgracht)
26 Tours and Activities

Recognized as the widest canal in the city, Keirzersgracht is part of a picturesque network of waterways that wind through Amsterdam city neighborhoods, lending a quiet charm to otherwise bustling streets.

Travelers looking for a taste of old world Amsterdam can experience the past with a little new world charm, too, while on a visit to Keirzersgracht. From the historic Greeland Warehouses—once used to store whale blubber, but now luxury apartments—to the Rode Hoed, which served as a secret Catholic church but is now home to a television recording studio—the canal is filled with character and history that is not to be missed.

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More Things to Do in Amsterdam

New Market Square (Nieuwmarkt)

New Market Square (Nieuwmarkt)

42 Tours and Activities

The old heart of Amsterdam runs from the throbbing Dam Square – home of the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) – south down to the great cobbled public square of Nieuwmarkt. Once bordering a canal that was filled in around 1601, Nieuwmarkt is today packed with bars and cafés and is the gateway to both Chinatown and the Red Light District, which lies a couple of streets west between the parallel canals of Oudezijds Voorburgwaal and Oudezijds Achterburgwaal. The central focus of Nieuwmarkt is the city’s last surviving fortified gate; constructed around 1425, the spiky-spired De Waag sits in the middle of the plaza and was originally one of three entrance gates into the city through the fortified walls.

Currently under renovation (penned to finish before summer 2015), the upper stories of De Waag are only occasionally open for special exhibitions but its lower floors are occupied by the Restaurant-Café in de Waag, which serves drink and food all day long

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Rembrandt House Museum (Museum Het Rembrandthuis)

Rembrandt House Museum (Museum Het Rembrandthuis)

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Situated in the former home of the renowned Dutch painter and etcher, Rembrandt Van Rijn, the Rembrandt House Museum, boasts an illustrious history with world famous paintings like the ‘Night Watch’ created between its walls.

The building in Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam, was purchased by the man himself back in 1639 and he lived there with his wife Saskia and son Titus for 20 years, before being declared bankrupt in 1656. Today, the rooms have been reconstructed to their original condition and form part of the museum.

A tour of the Rembrandt House showcases an almost complete collection of artworks (over 250 graphic prints), alongside exhibits on the life and times of the iconic artist and his renowned painting techniques. The printing studio, where a fully working traditional printing press demonstrates how Rembrandt made his famous etchings, is one of the most interesting rooms, but the kitchen, showrooms and bedrooms are all also open for exploration.

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New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)

New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)

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One of Amsterdam’s most striking churches, situated on the central Dam Square next door to the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, maintains its status as the Netherlands’ most prestigious church. Since 1814 the church has hosted the inauguration of Dutch monarchs including the reigning Queen Beatrix, who also chose the church for her heir’s 2002 marriage ceremony. The church also houses the Royal Crypt, and a burial site for Dutch naval heroes, including the famous Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter and Commodore Jan Van Galen.

First built at the turn of the 15th century, the original building was burnt to ashes in the 17th century before being faithfully reconstructed in its original early Renaissance and Gothic style, including its magnificent bell tower. Today, the church is one of the city’s most beloved monuments and, although no longer used for public services, is a popular exhibition space, hosting a number of temporary art and history events.

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Leiden Square (Leidseplein)

Leiden Square (Leidseplein)

29 Tours and Activities

One of Amsterdam’s most famous central squares, the busy Leidseplein, or Leiden Square, claims a prime location to the South of the city’s canal ring and opposite the popular Vondelpark.

Once serving as a 17th-century transport stand for horse-drawn carriages, the square remains a vibrant center point, alive with street entertainers and freestyle jazz performers. Here, costumed acrobats and break-dancers amuse punters at the square’s many cafés, shops and restaurants. As the sun sets, the city’s notorious brown cafés, Irish pubs and music venues fill up, and the square is at its liveliest, flickering with neon and echoing with music spilling from the clubs. Melkweg and Paradiso are two of the most famous music venues, with a number of acclaimed international artists performing alongside local acts. Whether the sun’s shining or the snow’s falling, Leidseplein remains at the heart of the city’s festivities.

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Museum Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder)

Museum Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder)

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Museum Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder) is one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam. The attic of this 17th century canal house conceals a secret church, where Catholics of the Dutch Reformed Church who were unable to worship in public held their services. A merchant purchased the building during this period, and he and his family lived on the ground floor. Catholic masses were officially forbidden from 1578 onwards, but the Protestant governors of Amsterdam generally turned a blind eye, as long as churches such as this one were unrecognisable from the outside.

The lower floors of the building became a museum in 1888 and today contain refurbished kitchens and other rooms housing a collection of church paintings, silver, and various religious artifacts. Visitors can explore the building’s narrow passageways and stairways while marveling at the ornate furniture and works of art.

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Micropia

Micropia

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Micropia is a unique museum in Amsterdam dedicated to microbes and microorganisms. These microscopic organisms make up two thirds of all living matter. As soon as you enter the museum, you'll start to learn about the invisible organisms living all around us. An animation in the first elevator tells you about the mites that live on your eyelashes and the bacteria and viruses that live on those mites. Other exhibits include a body scanner that tells you what type of microbes live on your body and a Kiss-o-meter that counts the number of microbes transferred during a kiss. There are Petri dishes with bacteria in them that show you what lives on everyday household objects.

Another exhibit shows a collection of animal feces and a preserved human digestive system. There are also films showing different animals decomposing. In a real-life working laboratory, visitors can view technicians preparing the exhibits through a window.

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Rembrandt Square (Rembrandtplein)

Rembrandt Square (Rembrandtplein)

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A far cry from its origins as a butter and dairy market, Rembrandtplein is now one of Amsterdam’s busiest and liveliest squares, sandwiched between the Mint Tower and the Amstel River. Named after the city’s most famous baroque painter and printmaker, Rembrandt van Rijn, a cast-iron statue of its namesake, sculpted by Royer, has stood proud in the heart of the square since 1876.

With both the plaza and its surrounding streets crammed with cafés, music clubs and bars, Rembrandtplein comes alive in the evening hours, as locals and tourists cram onto the rooftop terraces to admire the glittering skyline and party into the early hours. Club rain and Escape are two of the square’s most popular institutions, while De Duivel is the go-to venue for hip-hop and the nearby Reguliersdwarsstraat is the central hub of the city’s renowned gay scene. Dutch café culture is alive and well here too, with many opening their stages in the evening hours to local folk singers.

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Mint Tower (Munttoren)

Mint Tower (Munttoren)

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The Munttoren, which means “Mint” or “Coin” tower in Dutch, is located on busy Muntplein Square in Amsterdam, precisely where the Amstel River and the Singel Canal meet and formed Regulierspoort. Built in 1487 as part as one of the main gates in Amsterdam's medieval city wall, Munttoren was mainly used to mint coins until it burned down in 1618.

It was later on rebuilt in the Amsterdam Renaissance style, with an octagonal-shaped top half and an open spire designed by celebrated Dutch architect Hendrick de Keyser. But visitors looking for a tower fitting this description will be disappointed; indeed the original guardhouse, which had survived the fire, was entirely replaced with a new building in the late 19th century except for the original carillon. It was made in 1668 and consists of 38 bells that chime every 15 minutes, even to this day – a carillonneur employed by the city of Amsterdam gives a live concert every Saturday between 2 and 3 p.m.

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Begijnhof

Begijnhof

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On a visit to the Begijnhof, an enclosed former 14th-century convent, you’ll discover a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard.

Contained within the hof is the charming Begijnhofkapel, a "clandestine" chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dog-leg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and stained-glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.

The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees, and still serves as the city's Presbyterian church. Also note the house at No. 34; it dates from around 1425, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.

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Jewish Historical Museum (Joods Historisch Museum)

Jewish Historical Museum (Joods Historisch Museum)

15 Tours and Activities
Amsterdam is justly proud of its long-standing reputation for tolerance and with Ashkenazi Jews finding refuge in its borders throughout the 17th century, Jewish traditions have played an important part in the city’s heritage. To honor this, the award-winning Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) opened in the 1930s, and despite being shut down during the Nazi occupation of WWII, reopened in 1955. Its present location sprawls throughout the 17th-century buildings of 4 Ashkenazi synagogues on Jonas Daniël Meijerplein; as impressive outside as it is inside. Today, it remains the country’s only dedicated Jewish museum, exploring the history, culture and religion that have shaped so much of its population. A vast collection of artwork, short films and photography accompanies the three permanent exhibitions, which showcase over 11,000 objects and focus on ‘Jewish traditions and customs’, the ‘history of Jews in the Netherlands’ and the harrowing tales and written testimonies.
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Bloemenmarkt

Bloemenmarkt

46 Tours and Activities
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Diamond Museum Amsterdam

Diamond Museum Amsterdam

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Few people know that Amsterdam has played an important role as a diamond center for more than four centuries, mostly because of the Dutch colonization in South Africa back in the 1800s. Since 2007, the Diamond Museum Amsterdam has helped visitors understand how diamonds are formed from a geological standpoint, through a process taking billions of years and beginning 200 kilometers underneath the earth’s surface. The museum’s permanent collection includes several world-famous pieces, such as the Katana, the Rembrandt Diamond, and The Ape Skul. Visitors can also witness diamond cutters and goldsmiths at work, turning stones into valuable and beautiful pieces of jewelry. The beam behind the museum has worked on the restoration of some of the most precious jewels in the world, including the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and the Saxon dynasty's Dresden Green Diamond.

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