Anne Frank, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh lived here. It’s the only place in the world where you can window shop for sex, and the word coffeeshop has a double meaning. Drugs are not technically legal, but you won’t get arrested for using them. Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. It’s a a modern city with a rich cultural history, a free-spirited atmosphere, and has something for everyone
The history of Amsterdam is undoubtedly connected with its canals. Obviously, one of the best ways to get to know the city and enjoy the architecture is on an Amsterdam canal cruise. Even a city that you know well seems new and magical when gliding by on the water.
Amsterdam’s canals were developed in the 17th century (also known as Holland’s Golden Age), when it became the richest city in the world. The canals supported maritime trade and allowed Amsterdam to expand its boundaries outward to the North Sea. Today, the canals are the top tourist attraction in the city and provide an historic backdrop for festivals and celebrations. In 2010, the Grachtengordel (Canal Ring) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Amsterdam remains a cultural and financial center of Europe. There is more to see and do here than can be covered in one day, but if you have only one day, you can still have a great time. I’m a culture hound and I also love walking and being outside. Therefore, I’m going to make some suggestions that offer a bit of both. For more ideas on what to see and do, Amsterdam.info is a very comprehensive site. Afar.com also has some great recommendations.
Start your day with a canal cruise to orient yourself to the city. Note that there are four main canals that make up the Canal Ring: Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel canals.
After a canal cruise, you can walk or bike your way around town. If you only have one day, I recommend walking, as biking is the primary mode of transportation in Amsterdam and can be a bit hectic.
Before setting out for any serious sightseeing, I like to have breakfast. When in Amsterdam, one must eat pancakes! Vicky Hampton of Amsterdam Foodie recommends Pannenkoekenhous Upstairs. “Thick and filling, with savoury or sweet toppings, they make perfect hangover food and are reasonably priced. At the top, the restaurant has just four or five tables, nestled amid hundreds of eclectic teapots, dangling from the ceiling and on any inch of available space. The pancakes are not the cheapest, but they’re worth it for the location alone.”
Now that your belly is full head over to the Museum District.
The Museum Quarter is part of Amsterdam’s Oud Zuid (Old South) district. A unique way of getting to the Museum Quarter is by the Hop On Hop Off Bus, or by canal boat.
Here in the Museum District is where you will find Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and more, housed in some of the finest architecture in the city and surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens.
The Rijksmuseum is home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watchman, so you could go only for that, in my opinion. But there’s much more to see there than Dutch masters. The museum houses an excellent collection that retells 800 years of Dutch history. Of course, there are new and current installations.
The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, including the famous Sunflowers. They also host a free concert every Friday night, with musical styles ranging from jazz to classical.
As much as there is to see in Amsterdam’s world class museums, if the weather is nice, you’ll want to spend some time outside, too.
Within a short walk is Vondelpark, where you can do some first class people watching, listen to an outdoor concert, or just rest your feet. The largest and most popular park in Amsterdam, Vondelpark has been awarded National Heritage status.
You can also find great designer shopping in the museum district with famous global brands like Gucci, Versace, and Louis Vuitton, as well as local designers.
A wonderful outdoor market is the Bloemenmarkt. Merchants once docked here to sell their flowers along the Singelgracht canal. Today, the barges are more permanent, but still floating. Walk through the market. At the end, you will reach Muntplein and the Munt Tower, which were once part of the old city walls that surrounded the city.
One of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, made famous after the publication of her diary, which detailed life as a Jew in hiding during WWII. Book your tickets online to avoid waiting in long lines, especially if you’ve only got one day. Located on the Prisengracht canal, it is open daily. If you want to see the Anne Frank House you should probably make that the first thing on your list and plan to go early to avoid the crowds.
Continue walking along the Canal Ring to explore the architecture of the 16th and 17th centuries and Amsterdam’s Canal Houses.
During Amsterdam’s Golden Era, wealthy merchants built stunning homes along the canals; most of these are still standing today. The most lavish are along the Herengracht Canal between numbers 361 and 369, where you can see five different types of gables all in a row.
These ornamental roof sections are a staple of Dutch architecture.
Today this neighborhood is still a chic address.
To learn more about the construction of the canals and the maritime trade, visit the canal museum, Het Grachtenhuis, located inside an actual canal house.
There are many charming smaller canals that will provide more opportunities to discover quiet corners of Amsterdam. One of the more famous is Reguliersgracht canal, considered to be the most beautiful in Amsterdam. The famous seven bridges of Reguliersgracht are one of the most photographed sights in Amsterdam. At night these bridges are illuminated, which give the impression of a tunnel; hence it is often referred to as “The Tunnel of Love.”
For dinner options, Amsterdam is a great place to eat ethnic foods. Chinese, Indian, and Thai are common and there are plenty of options in China Town. If it’s Thai you crave, try Sawaddee Ka, located near the popular Leidseplein; it’s an ideal option for a post-shopping or pre-clubbing dinner. The menu is long and features the usual Thai suspects, including curries, noodles, fish cakes, and soups. Amsterdam Foodie the Neua Phad Namman Hoi: beef in oyster sauce with broccoli, mushrooms, and spring onion – the savoury, umami flavours of the oyster sauce and beef make a mean mouthful with the freshness of the broccoli and the tang from the spring onions.
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A day in Amsterdam would not be complete without a walk through the famous Red Light District (Wallen). The Red Light District is the oldest neighborhood in Amsterdam, built around some of the city’s most charming canals. With many narrow and interesting cobblestone streets lined with beautiful architecture to admire, don’t become mesmerized by the women in the windows, and miss the other wonders around you.
The Red Light district is undergoing a renovation and many chic new boutiques and restaurants are opening there. If you fancy a bit more atmosphere with your dinner, try Restaurant Lastage (Geldersekade 29, restaurantlastage.nl) Recommended by the New York Times.
Whether you explore Amsterdam on foot, by cycle, or from the deck of a boat, this vibrant city is sure to leave you wanting more.