Amsterdam Holiday Planning Guide
Known as one of the greatest small cities in the world, Amsterdam charms visitors with its cool and cozy atmosphere. The city is made up of a network of picturesque canals with small streets lining each side. The little squares, many bridges, and tall, thin houses lend a special intimacy to the place, earning Amsterdam the nickname "Venice of the North." Although the city is quite touristy, it is also the most populous city in the Netherlands, which allows you to blend in with the locals for an authentic experience. The 17th-century architecture combined with booming industries make it a popular destination for travellers with a variety of interests. Whether you are interested in the history and culture contained in the many museums, want to stroll down the quaint streets of an old European city, or just looking for a good party, Amsterdam has much to offer.
Best Neighborhoods to Visit in AmsterdamRed Light District
: One of Europe's raciest attractions, Amsterdam's Red Light District allows visitors a chance to explore a darker side of the city. This old neighborhood of "De Wallen" also stands as the city's medieval core and plays home to several gorgeous historic buildings.The Jordaan
: Long a working-class area, since the 17th century this neighborhood has also been one of the city's most pleasant neighborhoods, bursting with historic homes, peaceful canals, and quiet lanes just perfect for a relaxing stroll.De Negen Straatjes ('9 Little Streets')
: Brimming with small, highly-specialized shops and storefronts, De Negen Straatjes--"The Nine Streets" in Dutch--spans nine blocks and features an eclectic blend of gifts, food, and artwork.Rembrandtplein
: Formerly a local buttermarket, Rembrandtplein stands as one of the most popular places to visit in Amsterdam. At the heart of the city's nightlife and cafe scene, the square also features a bronze statue of Rembrandt, who lived in the area in the 17th century.Nieuwmarkt
: The site of a bustling flea market, a towering former gatehouse, and the city's old Jewish quarter, centrally located Nieuwmarkt also contains the heart of Amsterdam's Chinatown.Brouwersgracht
: One of the most attractive canals in a city full of them, Brouwersgracht once served as the center of the brewing industry and makes an ideal spot for coffee, beer, or lunch break during your tour of Amsterdam.
Museum Quarter: Awash in ornate architecture and home to pleasant, grassy expanses, Museum Quarter is a stately slice of central Amsterdam providing access to important national institutions and upscale shopping streets.Eastern Docklands
: For decades Eastern Docklands played the role of Amsterdam's primary port. Today, this rejuvenated area serves as one of the city's hippest residential districts.
Things to Do in Amsterdam
Popular Amsterdam Tourist AttractionsAnne Frank House
: One of the most visited attractions in Amsterdam, Anne Frank House bore witness to one of humanity's darkest periods, serving as the home and hideout for the young Anne Frank and her family before their discovery and capture by the Nazis.Van Gogh Museum
: Dedicated to the Netherlands' most beloved native artist, Van Gogh Museum features a dizzying collection of more than 800 items, including the famous "Sunflowers" painting and many self-portraits.Rijksmuseum
: Paying a visit to Rijksmuseum gives you a fascinating glimpse into nearly a millennium of Dutch history and culture through thousands of items--and the building itself is grand example of ornate architecture.Vondelpark
: A pleasant natural escape from the bustle of the city, the green expanses of Vondelpark and accompanying networks of walking and biking trails make it a solid place to relax or take a peaceful stroll.Heineken Experience
: Heineken Experience gets you an up-close look at the history and creation of Holland's most famous beer, and tours of this beloved brewery stand as some of the most iconic things to do in Amsterdam.Rembrandt House Museum
: Preserved with tons of period furniture, personal effects, and lavish decorations, Rembrandt House Museum offers guided tours of the residence where the famous painter worked from 1639 to 1658. Natura Artis Magistra
: Nearly 1,000 animal species flourish in a range of habitats at Artis Zoo, which features an aquarium, planetarium, and arboretum in addition to ornate 19th-century architecture.De Duif
: Amsterdam's longest canal, Prinsengracht offers access to a multitude of side streets, attractive churches, charming Golden Age-homes, and other popular sites.Albert Cuyp Markt
: With hundreds of stalls stretching down the road, Albert Cuyp Market serves as a fantastic place to grab some delicious ethnic food or homemade Dutch specialties. While there, you can also pick up a bunch of brightly-colored tulips, or simply enjoy the energy of a working street market.Dam Square
: Smack dab in the middle of the city's historic center, Dam Square is an energetic tourist and local hub, packed with street performers, food stands, and grand 17th-century buildings.
Planning an Amsterdam Vacation with Kids
Things to do in Amsterdam with Kids
While many known it for its risque Red Lights District, Amsterdam features tons of family-oriented attractions. Madame Tussauds
remains a favorite and very kid-friendly attraction in Amsterdam, allowing visitors to snap photos with life-size wax models of famous figures and celebrities. The Dutch metropolis also plays home to a number of world-class museums, including NEMO Science Museum
, an institution dedicated to displaying science and technology through a variety of entertaining, interactive, and hands-on exhibits. If you're at a loss for something to do, simply set off along the canals and let the little ones marvel at quaint architecture, cute homes, and hidden courtyards.
Amsterdam doesn't in green spaces with lots of run-around space. Amstelpark
is a good option with plenty of trees and winding trails where the kids can stretch their legs. The forested expanses of Amsterdamse Bos
also boast solid trails for pedestrians and bikers--along with a goat farm, petting zoo, and pancake cafe.
In the winter, visit Parkeergarage Museum Quarter
to ice skate or hop aboard a canal boat tour. Numerous tour companies offer entertaining rides along Amsterdam's famous and history-soaked waterways.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Amsterdam
Despite Amsterdam's tourist-friendly atmosphere, keep in mind that there are several areas you may want to avoid if traveling with young children. While the Red Light District and surrounding streets are harmless enough, you may want to steer clear to avoid the the adult subject matter visible just about everywhere you look. Drug- and sex-themed paraphernalia is ubiquitous in many gift shops in Amsterdam, so don't be surprised if you see a few shocking souvenirs throughout town. Thanks to the Netherlands' developed cycling infrastructure, you'll also need to pay close attention when walking around Amsterdam, particularly with very young children in tow. Be mindful of bike lanes at all times and keep the kids close at hand in crowded areas--locals bike quickly and without a great deal of regard for tourists, so paying attention is key to ensuring you don't have any mishaps on your Amsterdam vacation.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Amsterdam
Cuisine of Amsterdam
Amsterdam boasts plenty of dining options, ranging from tiny snack stands to upscale, high-priced restaurants featuring world-famous chefs and cuisine from across the globe. Restaurants are scattered across the city, so you'll have no problem finding somewhere to grab a bite regardless of where you stay. When it comes to Dutch specialties, consider trying some herring during your stay. Areas like Dam Square
feature plenty of stands serving fresh fish in crusty rolls topped with pickles and onions. Also omnipresent throughout Amsterdam are the so-called "snack bars," essential hole-in-the-wall places serving up a variety of fried Dutch treats like kaassouffles (fried cheese pockets), kroketten (croquettes filled with meat and mashed potato), kipcorn (chicken nuggets in stick form), and more. French fries ("frites" in Dutch) are also a national favorite, and finishing your Amsterdam trip without chowing down on some tasty fries with mayo is a big no-no. Alternatively, you can also explore the many stands selling Turkish doner kebabs, falafel, or the interesting Dutch classic kapsalon--a basket of fries layered with mayo, kebab meat, and salad.
Amsterdam is a city of diverse cultures and nationalities, so ethnic food is available just about everywhere. From run-of-the-mill Italian fare and Argentinian steakhouses, to Indonesian and Surinamese cafes, Amsterdam has it all. Be sure you visit the area near Nieuwmarkt
, where you'll find tons of Chinese restaurants and eateries offering a fusion of culinary traditions.
Shopping in Amsterdam
As a big European capital, Amsterdam is bursting with big-name brands and upscale shops. To find larger chains, head for the areas around Kalverstraat
. Alternatively, add de Bijenkorf
to your Amsterdam itinerary if you wish to shop for clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares under one roof.
For something a little more old-fashioned, pay a visit to Spiegelkwartier
, home of Amsterdam's bustling market featuring everything from secondhand shops to boutiques and art galleries. For your tacky souvenir needs, look no farther than the city's tourist core, where nearly every shop brims with somewhat-racy memorabilia. Keep in mind that many shops across the Netherlands, even in heavily-touristed areas, are closed on Mondays.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Amsterdam
History of Amsterdam
Established as a small settlement along the Amstel River during the 12th century, Amsterdam slowly grew into an important trading port. The "dam on the River Amstel" (hence the name, "Amstel-damme") saw increasing growth in the following two centuries as fishermen, merchants, and farmers flooded into the area. By the late 14th century, medieval Amsterdam was quickly blossoming into a capital of continental culture, boasting a city charter, an ever-growing system of transport canals, and several grand religious buildings. Add Oude Kerk
, the oldest building in the city, to your Amsterdam itinerary to get a glimpse of a grand piece of its medieval past.
During the early 17th century, Amsterdam rose to world prominence as a wealthy and powerful city. This era, known as the Dutch Golden Age, placed Amsterdam at the heart of the Dutch colonial empire. While sightseeing in Amsterdam, stop by Oost-Indisch Huis
, the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, one of the first multinational corporations in the world.
Amsterdam's Golden Age authorities encouraged entrepreneurs from around the world to bring their assets and skills to the Dutch capital. As a result, French Catholics, German Protestants, and Sephardic Jews helped to formulate the city's open-minded attitude. The mid-18th century saw the development of the country's rail and industrial infrastructure, which catapulted Amsterdam to prominence as a European rail hub. You can see a legacy of this time at Centraal Station
, the start of many tours of Amsterdam.
Though the Netherlands remained neutral during World War II, hard times fell upon Amsterdam in the first half of the 20th century. As the war erupted, the Netherlands fell to Nazi Germany. While Amsterdam was spared the obliteration that wiped out Rotterdam, the German occupation was not kind to the city. As a center of Jewish culture in Europe and the refuge of many Jews fleeing German conquests and Germany itself, Amsterdam was a huge target for Hitler's genocide. More than 100,000 Jews were shipped off to concentration camps, most of whom never returned. Among these was Anne Frank, whose famous and tragic diary documented the ultimately unsuccessful attempt by her family to evade capture. Anne Frank House
stands as a moving reminder of this brutal time and remains one of the most visited attractions in Amsterdam. You can also visit Verzetsmuseum
to learn more about internal efforts to fight the German occupation.
Post-war Amsterdam became a hotspot for counterculture and the hippie movement in Europe, earning renown for its liberal atmosphere. Today, Amsterdam remains one of the most popular tourist destinations both in Europe and the world, drawing millions of visitors from across the globe each year.
Holidays & Festivals in Amsterdam
Amsterdam witnesses plenty of fanfare for major holidays throughout the year, particularly when it comes to celebrating the New Year. December is also the time of Sinterklaas, an event held in honor of Saint Nicholas. Santa, as most people know the saint, generally arrives on a canal-based steamboat, accompanied by his costumed helpers.
If your Amsterdam vacation falls in April, you'll get the full impact of the King's Day--or Queen's Day, depending on the current monarch. This wild open-air festival, which takes place all around the city, features hordes of festive Amsterdammers decked out in bright orange, the national color. The holiday draws visitors live music performances, street parties, outdoor markets, canal-boat dance sessions, and free-flowing beer.
On May 4, a day known as Dodenherdenking, ceremonies take place across the country in memory of those who died during World War II. National Monument
serves as the site of Amsterdam's biggest remembrance ceremony. The following day--Liberation Day--commemorates the end of Nazi occupation and features performances and public festivals around the city.
Amsterdam Travel Tips
Climate of Amsterdam
Thanks to its proximity to the North Sea, Amsterdam and the surrounding region feature a marine climate with relatively mild winters and warm summers. If your trip to Amsterdam falls between October and March, you can expect cloudy and misty days accompanied by light rainfall. Winter temperatures generally remain above freezing, and rarely fall below -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). May through August are the warmest months of the year, with average highs hovering right around 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). Amsterdam also acts as a "heat island," featuring warmer temperatures than the surrounding landscape--the result of paved areas, buildings, and big-city infrastructure.
Transportation in Amsterdam
Bikes rule in Amsterdam, and you'll find hordes of locals and tourists making use of the city's excellent cycling infrastructure. Cycling allows you to travel quickly between attractions and avoid traffic jams and the stress of looking for parking. If you don't wish to bike, use the convenient tram system. Trains runs from Centraal and other stations in Amsterdam to nearby neighborhoods and other Dutch destinations. Buses, more limited, cover the areas in between. Keep in mind that many trains and trams in Amsterdam do not have conductors, so it's up to you to "tap in" on the appropriate yellow and pink terminals as you enter and leave the platform or station. Should you get caught without a validated ticket while on board, you'll likely receive a fine on the spot. If you expect to use public transportation frequently during your Amsterdam vacation, consider grabbing an OV-chipkaart, a refillable transport card that can drastically cut down your costs.