Remember those canals and the bridges in Venice; there are about 500 bridges there. Amsterdam boasts a mighty 1200 bridges over its looping canal system. Let’s do another fun fact – how many bicycles are there in Amsterdam? Including owned and rental ones, there are close to 0.9 million bicycles for a resident base of 800,000. Have appetite for another one – how many houseboats are there in Amsterdam? 3,500!
Our intent was not to bore you with trivia, rather wanted to underline what a fun city Amsterdam is. From the blissful walks alongside the canals to sinful visits to the coffeeshops and the red-light district, a few days in Amsterdam and the world’s your oyster. It is worth mentioning here, that with its fortification around the city and the canals originally meant as a defense mechanism from floods and invasion, is now a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site. Find out more on our rendezvous with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites here.
Let’s look at what can we do in a 3-4 day itinerary. Will revisit the fun facts at the bottom of this page.
Canals and Bridges
On your way to the city center from the Schipol airport, you will cross several canals. These canals (we heard that there were 150+ canals) are both heart and armor of the city, serving as one of the best ways to navigate as well as a system to defend against impending flooding. Towards the coast, you will get to see and walk on the famous dykes, but the canals system along with the picturesque bridges around town are a treat to the eyes. Some bridges operate as lock gates that lift up for passing ships. Taking a canal tour with hop on hop off facility is the best way to explore the canals, bridges and exquisite architecture around them. Featured in numerous movies and sets of famous paintings by Monet, the views from the canal cruises will tire your fingers from clicking pictures. Be sure to keep an eye on the tilted houses (aka dancing houses) and the houseboats around the cruise trip.
Amsterdam was home to a number of famous contemporary artists (e.g. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh) as well as historic landmarks. It is no surprise that it boasts quite a few museums varying in their sizes and importance. Listed below are a few (ordered in decreasing priority in our opinion) that you can and should accommodate in your 3-4 day itinerary –
- Anne Frank House: If you have read the book Anne Frank’s Diary, this museum is going to bring the melancholy memoirs of the little girl during the holocaust. I feel it is a must for every responsible citizen of the world to learn and empathize with the victims of the period of insanity during WWII, and the museum does a good job of taking the visitor through the intricacies of the life of an average Jew through the eyes of Anne Frank.
- Note that there is often a long wait to get in; so buy the tickets online for a scheduled time. Check hours and buy tickets here.
- Tickets: Adults €10 | Hours: 9AM – 7PM or 9AM – 10PM (winters) | Suggested Time Spent: 2 Hours
- Rijksmuseum: Probably the most popular museum in the city, the Dutch national museum, located in the museum quarter (museumplein), hosts art and history from the middle ages to modern times. It features legendary artwork by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Hals and Jan Steen, along with depiction of art history from around the world. Beyond appreciating the master pieces, we found the depiction of colonial times in Asia and Latin America were provocative and powerful.
- Note that there is always a long line (wait times can be up to 4 hours) to get in, because of capacity constraints and popularity. So definitely buy the tickets online to save some time here.
- Tickets: Adults €17.50 | Hours: 9AM – 7PM | Suggested Time Spent: 2 – 3 Hours
- Van Gogh Museum: Located in the museumplein, this hosts the world’s largest collection of paintings by the prominent painter from the impressionism era. The museum does a great job of following the life story of the short lived icon, from his early life in the Netherlands, Paris till the end in southern France. It houses paintings and letters from some of his contemporaries too, making it a holistic experience for an art lover.
- This is also an extremely crowded museum, so do yourself a favor by buying the tickets in advance here.
- Tickets: Adults €18 | Hours: 9AM – 5PM | Suggested Time Spent: 2 Hours
- Moco Museum: Last but not the least, located in the same plaza in a 19th century townhouse, this is the museum of modern art. We are not big fans of modern art, but still the collection blew our minds. Our favorite was the Banksy collection of street art.
- Tickets: Adults €13.50 | Hours: 9AM – 5PM | Suggested Time Spent: 1 Hour
- There are a couple of other museums that we would have loved to sneak in, Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandthuis, and Foam, but need to postpone till the next visit.
As you may have heard, Amsterdam has a fairly open culture with it being neutral to prostitution and drugs. While some of it is hyped up, there are some controlled elements of both in play here. The relatively small district is made up of a bunch of alleys and a section along the canal, where sex shops, live sex theaters and neon lit aisles with scantily clad women market their ‘product’ or ‘service’!
Best time to visit (sorry for being Ms. Obvious), is around 10 p.m. when the area springs back to life. Our top picks in the area (not for the fainthearted, we warn you) –
- Hit a coffeeshop (Bulldog the First is our pick) for a reefer or a joint (remember to research the difference beforehand lest you are hit with a surprise),
- Appreciate the windows with red curtains (!) along the alleys in De Wallen, and what’s inside. Don’t ask for pricing details; not our thing. But look out for the blue neon lights that stands out from the ubiquitous red neons. Find out for yourself what that means (this is the surprise element, no judgments)
- For the more curious, hop into one of the live sex theaters or peep shows. Typically they show all kinds of sex encounters (straight, gay, S&M, bondage, etc.), and note that these are performances only.
Note – Although it is highly controlled, so a fairly safe place to roam around after dark, be cautious for pickpockets. Also, cannot emphasize enough, do not take pictures of the prostitutes on the windows or in the theaters.
In a 3-4 day trip going from one site to other within the city, you will be able to experience the city neighborhoods and appreciate their individual charm. While on foot, do hop into the random coffeeshops (for coffee, not canabis all the time) and small restaurants for some local fare. While in museumplein, don’t forget a picture with the I Amsterdam sign (although is full of tourists 24 hours a day!). There are several farmers markets, and festivals during the holidays where you can taste artisan cheese and craft beer to your hearts content. For a beer aficionado, a quick trip to the Heineken museum may be worth it – we are not big fans of big box lager beer, plus is not a working brewery, so skipped it. Instead, go to Albert Cuyp Market during the day and fill up your appetite and thirst alike. You won’t regret it, believe us. For people watching and relaxing, our favorite has been the Rembrandt Square.
Slightly underrated is the history of diamond in the city. The quest for diamond in Congo by King Leopold of Belgium is well known, but back in the days, the Dutch excelled in mining and marketing diamond jewelry too. A quick visit to the Gassan Diamond Tour may be worthwhile, but can seem monotonous and a sales trick to some. We wouldn’t advise buying from their shop inside due to lack of assurance of quality, even though it may appear cheaper.
Tips and Tricks to Navigate the City
- Hopefully you plan to visit the famous museums in the city; if that is so, buy the Amsterdam city pass. It will save you some money but more importantly, TIME.
- Try to avoid uber/taxis whenever possible as the routes may seem short but will take a long time due to traffic and narrow roadways. Try walking or renting a bike whenever possible. Taking the canal taxis can also be helpful depending on weather.
- We are foodie travelers, but apart from craft beer, cheese and canabis, there is not much to blow your mind. But while you are here, definitely try a loaded Stroopwafel and a Dutch favorite Rookworst.
- By the North Sea, the summers can be chilly sometimes, so pack a light jacket. It also apparently rains intermittently all year. May be buy an umbrella with the XXX sign 🙂