Amsterdam, Netherlands

This Amsterdam travel guide is a walking tour of the Venice of the North and the capital city of the Netherlands. See all of the highlights step-by-step.

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1 Invitation to Amsterdam, Netherlands

You are invited to explore the capital city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam has a population of 880,000 people and the same number of bicycles. Historic Centrum consists of almost 100 islets woven together by more canals and bridges than Venice. Sites on your walking tour include a palace, a medieval gate, the Anne Frank House, the Red Light District and two of the world’s finest art museums including Rijksmuseum shown here.

Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

2 Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you fly to Amsterdam, you will arrive at Schiphol. This is Europe’s third busiest airport with over 70 million passengers a year. Most quickly leave for other destinations. If that’s you, consider booking your flights to arrive early and leave late. Then you can explore Amsterdam for a few hours. The fastest, easiest and least expensive means is by train. They leave the airport every quarter hour during the day and whisk you to center city within 15 minutes.

Evert van de Beekstraat 202, 1118 CP Schiphol, Netherlands

3 Amsterdam Centraal Station in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam Centraal Station is well named. The train terminal is located on three artificial islands at the edge of Amsterdam-Centrum. The historic intercity is only five miles square. So, discovering the sites on foot is easy. This exquisite Neo-Renaissance building was created by Pierre Cuypers in 1889. He is the same architect responsible for Rijksmuseum. Cuypers had a unique talent for blending Flemish, Dutch, English and French architectural elements.

Stationsplein, 1012 AB Amsterdam, Netherlands

4 Historic Victoria Hotel in Amsterdam, Netherlands

As you exit Amsterdam Centraal Station, walk toward the Victoria Hotel. This National Heritage Site opened in 1890, qualifying as one of the Netherland’s oldest hotels. Proceed south on Damrak. This wide avenue leads directly to Dam, the famous square in the heart of the city.

Damrak 1, 1012 LG Amsterdam, Netherlands

5 Dancing Houses on Damrak Canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands

As you proceed along Damrak, look to your left. Back in the Middle Ages, this canal was the mouth of the Amstel river before emptying into a bay simply named IJ. Admire the row of tall, narrow gabled buildings. These handsome canal houses (grachtenpanden) from the 17th century are the Dancing Houses. They are part of the oldest section of the city. One nearby at Warmoesstraat 90 is dated at 1485. Next you will see Beurs van Berlage. This large brick building was the Amsterdam Stock Exchange from 1903 until 1998.

Damrak 28 A, 1012 LJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

6 Royal Palace at Dam Square in Amsterdam, Netherlands

You know when you reach the Dam. The square is huge measuring 650 by 350 feet. At one end is the National Monument. The 72 foot concrete pillar commemorates soldiers who died during WWII. At the other end is Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam. The Dutch Baroque building by architect Jacob van Campen opened in 1655 as the Amsterdam Town Hall. On top of the pediment filled with bas-reliefs is a 20 foot statue of Atlas carrying the world. After Louis Bonaparte (brother of Napoléon) became king of Holland in 1806, he converted this marvelous structure into his palace. The Royal Palace of Amsterdam is now used by the monarch for state functions and receptions. Guided tours are available.

Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam, Dam, 1001 AM Amsterdam, Netherlands

7 Madame Tussauds at Dam Square in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Flanking Dam Square on the south is the Peek & Cloppenburg clothing store. Sharing the rijksmonument (National Heritage Site) is Madame Tussauds. The museum is filled with lifesize and life-like wax statues of famous personalities including members of Dutch royalty. Many of the exhibits are interactive for great photo ops. This woman was being romanced by George Clooney while sipping champagne. If you want more of this type of attraction, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is around the corner.

Dam 20, 1012 NP Amsterdam, Netherlands

8 Nieuwe Kerk at Dam Square in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The final noteworthy landmark on Dam Square is Nieuwe Kerk. The name New Church is relative. It was meant to augment the nearby Old Church (Oude Kerk) when the parish grew too large. Original construction began in 1385 and was finished in 1408. After an extensive fire in the mid-17th century, this west façade was given a Gothic design. For two hundred years, Nieuwe Kerk has been the site of royal weddings, inaugurations and state ceremonies. The first was the investiture of Willem I, King of the Netherlands, in 1814.

Dam, 1012 NP Amsterdam, Netherlands

9 Nieuwe Kerk Original Entrance in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Make sure you walk around the corner to see the original entrance of Nieuwe Kerk. This façade and the one at Dam Square look completely different. Among the highlights inside are ten side chapels, stained-glass windows and the country’s largest pipe organ. New Church is no longer active for worship. Instead, the museum displays art and photography plus is a venue for cultural events. Join the 250,000 people who tour Nieuwe Kerk each year.

Dam, 1012 NP Amsterdam, Netherlands

10 Magna Plaza inside Old Post Office in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam’s former Main Post Office is stunning! The nearly block-long, Dutch Renaissance building behind Dam Square opened in 1899. In 1992, after an extensive renovation, the rijksmonument (National Heritage Site) was converted into Magna Plaza. The three-floor shopping mall is graced with endless columns and arches. Among the colonnades and below a domed glass ceiling are about 40 upscale retailers.

Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182I, 1012 SJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

11 Westerkerk in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Westerkerk has been a prominent landmark since 1631 and remains the Netherlands’ largest church. The Dutch Renaissance design was created by Hendrick de Keyser. At the top of the 286 foot Westertoren (Western Tower) is an orb representing the Imperial Crown of Australia. Below is a carillon containing 51 bells, some dating back to 1658. They ring out every quarter hour, 24 hours a day. Inside of Western Church is the unmarked grave of master Dutch painter Rembrandt. The bike is chained to a guard rail along Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal). The two-mile canal is the longest in the canal belt. The waterway was built in the mid-17th century and named to honor the Prince of Orange.

Prinsengracht 279, 1016 GW Amsterdam, Netherlands

12 Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anne Frank wrote The Diary of a Young Girl from 1942 to 1944 during the German occupation of the Netherlands. This chronicled when she and her family hid in concealed rooms behind this bookcase. Anne called it Achterhuis (Secret Annex). After the Gestapo discovered and arrested them, she and her sister died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early 1945. Anne was 15. The Anne Frank House is a museum. Among the exhibits are photos, family belongings and the original diary of Anne Frank.

Westermarkt 20, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands

13 Cannabis Coffeeshops in Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you walk into a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, do not expect to find a Dutch version of Starbucks. On the menu will be a wide selection of cannabis products. The first one opened in the early 1970s. Today, there are about 200 coffeeshops in Amsterdam. This does not mean selling marijuana for personal use (up to five grams) is legal, it is just not punishable. You can sample your purchase inside the store. Ironically, smoking tobacco is prohibited except in a designated room. If you’d like to learn more, visit the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum at the southern entrance to the Red Light District. If you just want a cup of coffee, find a coffeehouse.

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148, 1012 DV Amsterdam, Netherlands

14 Red Light District in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is famous for the infamous Red Light District. While walking along two canals plus side alleys, you will pass more than 350 windows in centuries-old buildings. Behind the glass are women of every size and nationality offering their services. Red windows indicate heterosexual. Blue windows signal transgender. Along the way you will encounter peep shows, live sex theaters, sex shops, sex-related museums and plenty of bars. The Red Light District is filled with curious tourists and patrolled by police and bouncers, so is generally safe even at night. You can also join a tour. Two key restrictions are no street drinking and no photos of the women. De Wallen began in the 16th century to serve sailors looking for short-term affection. For generations, prostitution was tolerated and not prosecuted. In 2000, non-street prostitution became legal and required sex workers to pay taxes.

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 61, 1012 DB Amsterdam, Netherlands

Decoding Words, Lions and Color Orange in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam stores are filled with orange souvenirs emblazoned with lions and the word Holland. These elements have historic backgrounds. The national color of orange stems back to when William became the Prince of Orange in 1544. William the Silent led the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs, is considered the Father of the Netherlands and established the House of Orange-Nassau. His lineage still determines the country’s monarch. The crowned Dutch lion holding a sword (usually with arrows in the left paw) is featured on the Royal Coat of Arms. So, are Holland and Netherlands synonymous? No. The Country of Holland existed from 1091 until 1795. Today, it is represented as two of the Netherlands’ 12 provinces: North Holland and South Holland (which includes Amsterdam). The government is discouraging using the names interchangeably. Finally, why are citizens and the language called Dutch? In the 13th century, the word (Old English for people or race) was applied to the Western Germanic language and later to the people (hence the name Deutschland for Germany). During the 17th century, the British called the Low Lands people and their customs Dutch as a pejorative label. The Dutch Republic was an independent nation state from 1581 until 1795. Subsequently, the country became the Batavian Republic (1795-1806), the Kingdom of Holland under Napoléon Bonaparte (1806-1810) and finally the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815.

15 Oude Kerk Bell Tower in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oude Kerk is aptly named. It is the oldest church in Amsterdam. The wooden church from 1213 was replaced by a stone structure in 1306. Modifications and extensions continued through 1460. The roof has the largest medieval vault in Europe. The floor is covered with gravestones. Beneath them are about 10,000 bodies. The footprint is a massive 36.000 square feet. The original denomination of Oude Kerk was Catholic. It was converted to the Dutch Reformed Church during the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th century. You can climb this clock tower during a guided tour. Music from the carillon is performed on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 4:00 pm. Ironically, Oude Kirk is located within the Red Light District.

Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam, Netherlands

16 The Waag in Amsterdam, Netherlands

A block east of the Red Light District is Nieuwmarkt. Dominating the square is the former Sint Antoniespoort. Saint Anthony’s Gate was part of the city walls built in the 15th century. Early in the 17th century, the defenses were torn down. In 1617-1618, New Market was created and the gate was transformed into a weigh house. The Waag served this function until 1819. For nearly two hundred years, Amsterdam’s oldest non-religious building had many unremarkable roles. After an extensive renovation in the 1990s, the lower level became a restaurant.

Nieuwmarkt 4, 1012 CR Amsterdam, Netherlands

17 Zuiderkerk Bell Tower in Amsterdam, Netherlands

A famed site in Amsterdam is Southern Church. In 1611, Zuiderkerk became the country’s first church built for Protestants (Dutch Reformed Church) after Catholicism was banned during the Protestant Reformation. The elegant, 230 foot bell tower was added three years later as suggested by the date above the four red clock faces. Both were designed by Hendrick de Keyser. The prolific and gifted architect created the Amsterdam Renaissance (Late Mannerism) style of architecture. He was buried here in 1621. Zuiderkerk ceased being a church in 1929. Since the purchase by the city in 1968, it has housed various government functions. The historic building is available for private functions.

Zuiderkerkhof 72, 1011 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands

18 Zuiderkerk from Groenburgwal Canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands

If this view of Zuiderkerk facing Groenburgwal Canal looks familiar, you are probably an art connoisseur. The scene inspired a painting by French impressionist Claude Monet in 1874. “The Zuiderkerk” now hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You will also be interested to learn that Zuiderkerk was the parish church of Rembrandt (1606 – 1669). He lived a few steps away from 1639 through 1656. His former residence is now the Rembrandt House Museum.

Staalmeestersbrug & Groenburgwal, 1011 HW Amsterdam, Netherlands

19 Amstel River in Amsterdam, Netherlands

In the early 12th century, a few fishermen settled along a river marshland they called Aeme-stelle meaning abundant water. Their fledgling community of Amstelredam grew into today’s Amsterdam. During the Middle Ages, the Amstel provided fresh water and a means of transportation. The river’s direction was significantly altered while building the canal system. The 19 mile flow of Amstel now ends here at the confluence of the Singel, Rokin and Kloveniersburgwal canals. And for fans of Dutch beer, yes, the Amstel Brewery was named after the river when founded in 1870.

Amstel 10, 1012 LA Amsterdam, Netherlands

20 Busy Muntplein Intersection in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Six streets crisscross at Muntplein, creating one of the busiest intersections in the Netherlands. The junction is supported by a wide bridge. Muntplein Bridge is designated as one in the city’s numbering system for 1,500 bridges. In the background is De L’Europe Amsterdam. The five-star accommodations began as Hotel de l’Europe in 1896 and operated under that name until a rebranding in 2011. Historically, the Rondeel Tower was built on this site as part of the city defensive walls in 1535.

Muntplein 2, 1011 EC Amsterdam, Netherlands

21 Munttoren in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The visual apex of Muntplein (Mint Square) is Munttoren. The original tower was built in 1487 as part of a city gate (Regulierspoort). After a fire in 1618, the tower was rebuilt. In 1672, during the French invasion known as Rampjaar (Disaster Year), coinage was temporarily minted in the adjacent guard house, hence the name Mint Tower. Above the four clocks is a carillon of 38 bells. 13 of them were cast in 1651 by master bellfounders Pieter and François Hemony. Munttoren has free concert of the bells on Saturdays at 2:00.

Muntplein 12/14, 1012 WR Amsterdam, Netherlands

22 Floating Flower Market in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Tulips were first imported from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. By 1637, the bulbs became so popular, expensive and speculative that they caused an economic collapse in Holland called Tulip Mania. Today, tourists flock to the country from mid-March through mid-May to behold fields blooming with the national flower. The next best thing is to visit the Amsterdam Floating Flower Market. Bloemenmarkt consists of barges tethered along the Singel canal. Since 1862, the vendors have sold a wide array of flowers, plants, bulbs and seeds plus souvenirs.

Singel 528, 1017 AZ Amsterdam, Netherlands

23 Leidseplein Entertainment District in Amsterdam, Netherlands

This bridge leads to Leidseplein, a square at the center of an entertainment district. In every direction are about 100 restaurants and cafes with a spectrum of menus and prices. The bars and clubs provide sidewalk and terrace sipping by day and rocking music at night. Shoppers have enough options to keep them busy. Holland Casino offers table games and slots to those over 18. And street performers work tirelessly for tourist tips. Not surprisingly, there are an array of accommodations nearby, from expensive chains to boutique hotels to hostels. In the winter, the square is flooded for ice skaters.

Max Euweplein 62, 1017 MB Amsterdam, Netherlands

24 Internationaal Theater Amsterdam in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Performing arts are also popular in the Leidseplein Entertainment District. Facing Leidseplein (square) since 1894 is the impressive Municipal Theatre. Once home to the National Ballet and Opera, Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg and Toneelgroep Amsterdam merged in 2018 to become the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam. The ensemble of ITA actors stage about 600 performances of dances and shows each year. Two nearby venues are Theater Bellevue (comedy, concerts and dance) and DeLaMar (musicals and plays).

Leidseplein 26, 1017 PT Amsterdam, Netherlands

25 Canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North because of the waterways dividing center city into 90 islands. There are about 1,500 bridges crossing the 160 canals. Collectively, the canals (grachten) stretch for 60 miles. They began as the Singel moat in 1480. Three concentric rings followed in the early 17th century. In 1660, Singelgracht (shown here) was added. The name means surround canal. This aptly describes the city’s original outer ring. The crescent-shaped Singelgracht was once lined with walls, ramparts, bastions and other defenses. Amsterdam’s canal network (Grachtengordel) was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Max Euweplein 62, 1017 MB Amsterdam, Netherlands

26 I amsterdam Sign in Amsterdam, Netherlands

In 2004, a capital red letter I and lowercase word am, together with the white letters sterdam were erected in Museum Square (Museumplein). The 550 pound, 6.5 foot tall sign began as a marketing campaign for the city. It soon reached iconic proportions. Every day, thousands of tourists climbed on top or posed alongside for a photographic memento of their trip. Frustrated by the lack of crowd control, the city council voted to remove the famous sign at the end of 2018. If you are disappointed, you can still find a facsimile of the sign at the Arrivals 1 door of Schiphol Airport and Sloterplas Lake in Amsterdam West.

Hobbemastraat 18, 1071 XZ Amsterdam, Netherlands

27 Rijksmuseum Art Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Rijksmuseum is the most famous art museum in the Netherlands and is ranked among the best in the world. The National Art Galley was established in The Hague in 1800. Eight years later, it was moved to Amsterdam on the orders of Louis Bonaparte (Napoléon’s younger brother) while he was the king of Holland. In 1885, the stunning design of architect Pierre Cuyper became home for Rijksmuseum. Since then, the National Museum’s collection has swelled to over one million pieces. The works range from the early 13th century through the 21st century. Although only a fraction is on display – about 8,000 items – it is impossible to fully appreciate all 80 galleries during a single delightful visit.

Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

28 Dutch Golden Age Paintings inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Thirty galleries inside of Rijksmuseum are devoted to the Dutch Golden Age. From the 1620s through 1672, about 100 master painters were active in the Netherlands. Most artists specialized in realistic portrayals of landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, still lifes, historical events and portraits. The prolific Rembrandt created works across these genres. At the other end of the spectrum was Johannes Vermeer. He painstaking created photorealistic paintings often of everyday indoor settings. Among the most famous of his surviving 34 works is The Milkmaid, painted in 1658.

Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

29 Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands

There are two other art museums encircling Museumplein (Museum Square). One celebrates the illustrious, prolific yet short career of Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). You will be impressed by the world’s largest collection of his flamboyant, colorful paintings and drawings. The nearly 1,000 pieces displayed in chronological order reflect his evolving mental issues until Van Gogh’s suicide at age 37. Finally, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is devoted to modern and contemporary art. The collection of 90,000 works is displayed in the legacy Weissman Building (1895) and the adjacent Benthem Crouwel Wing (2012), a bubble-like structure the locals call The Bathtub.

Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

30 Heineken Brewery Tour in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Beer lovers enjoy the Heineken Experience at the former brouwery built in 1867. While touring four floors, you will examine old equipment such as these copper brew kettles, be fascinated by the exhibits and finish in the tasting room. Along the way, you will learn the history of this famous Dutch pilsner. In 1585, Jan Thymansz established a malt house. It evolved into De Hooiberg brewery. In 1864, at the age of 22, Gerard Heineken bought the business with money borrowed from his mother. After perfecting a yeast in 1873, Gerard named the resulting beer after himself: Heineken. Today, the parent company – Heineken N.V. – is the world’s second largest brewery with over 170 brands of beer.

Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam, Netherlands