The Perfect Day in Amsterdam

A perfect day in Amsterdam might begin with breakfast at Papeneiland on Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, a brown café on Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht that’s been around since 1642, where former President Bill Clinton famously downed a hunk of apple pie. It might end in infamous De Wallen, the city’s lovely (and safe) Red Light District. In between, consider a walking tour or canal tour, a picnic at Vondelpark, and a visit to some of Amsterdam’s world-class museums.

1071 Amsterdam, Netherlands
Beloved by locals and popular with tourists, the Vondelpark is a 120-acre oasis of green in buzzing Amsterdam, southeast of the Leidseplein. Opened in 1865 as the Nieuwe Park, it was later renamed after 17th-century Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel. In the 1960s, Vondelpark was a magnet for peace-loving “flower children.” In the ensuing half-century, it has evolved into a symbol for a place where everything is possible and (almost) everything is allowed. The park hums with activity in summer, when residents converge to enjoy Amsterdam‘s rare sunshine. Bring cheese, bread, wine, friends, and a few musical instruments to chill on the grass. Vondelpark is home to a skate-rental shop, an open-air theater, a playground, a bandstand, and a rose garden.
Dam, 1012 JS Amsterdam, Netherlands
The central hub of downtown Amsterdam is Dam Square, and it’s been at the heart of the city’s history since the 13th century. Today, the open-air public space is ringed by shops and restaurants and packed with people, including street performers and tourists en route to nearby attractions like the Royal Palace, the National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), where you can catch a horse-drawn-carriage tour of the city.
Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Beyond tulips, windmills, and weed, Amsterdam’s global image is entwined with water. The Canal Ring (Grachtengordel) is made up of 165 fluid channels developed during the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age. In the ensuing years, the water network has supported maritime trade while evolving into a centerpiece of one of the world’s most recognizable urban landscapes. In 2013, on its 400th birthday, UNESCO added the Grachtengordel to its list of World Heritage sites. Today the Canal Ring is both a historic transportation system and a stunning backdrop for local festivals and celebrations. The canals, notably Prinsengracht, are packed with partygoers on annual festivals like King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day), in April, as well as Gay Pride and Grachtenfestival in August. Canal cruises offer an excellent introduction to city sights and are a great way to see Amsterdam.
Oudezijds Achterburgwal, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands
It’s one of Amsterdam’s prettiest districts, where swans glide on tree-shrouded canals and gabled mansions recall Holland’s Golden Age: de Wallen, better known as the Red Light District (RLD). Since 2000, prostitutes have plied their trade here as legal taxpayers, drawing tourists who come to buy, gawk, giggle, and window-shop, Amsterdam-style. While the number of windows has declined since 2008, when the city launched an initiative to replace 50% of them with chic boutiques over the next decade, the area still draws packs of mates on holiday, couples strolling arm-in-arm, giggling hen groups and busloads of camera-toting Japanese tourists. Whoa to the shutterbug who snaps a pic of one of the ladies; it’s strictly verboten and could cost the clueless photographer a camera. In addition to seductive girls flaunting their natural assets in eye-popping, barely-there outfits, the RLD’s cobbled streets are lined with peep shows, adult toy shops, and naughty cinemas. Watch live sex onstage at Casa Rosso or Moulin Rouge, or opt for a budget version in booths offering two minutes of live erotica for €2. Other popular hangouts include the Drunken Sailor and Banana Bar, where half-naked girls indulge in such tricks as writing postcards without using their hands. However you enjoy your time in the RLD, watch your belongings. While the area is heavily patrolled by police, bodyguards, and mounted video cameras, pickpockets and hard-up junkies abound, waiting to catch you unaware.
Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam’s State Museum reopened in 2013 after a decade of renovations, and it is oh so worth a visit! Weave your way through the museum’s vast assemblage of historic art (there are over 8,000 pieces!) to check out works from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Vermeer in person. The collection’s best-known and most prominently displayed piece is Rembrandt’s Night Watch, but visitors can find everything from sculptures to artifacts from both the Netherlands and Dutch-colonial territories around the world. Opt for the multimedia tour for a special surprise.
6 Concertgebouwplein, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
What’s not to like about Museumplein? In summer, it’s as chill as Vondelpark, with picnickers playing instruments and getting high on the lawn. Add more grass and the field becomes stoners’ heaven as well as a magnet for art aficionados. The latter come for Amsterdam’s trio of world-class museums, all re-opened in 2013 after lengthy renovations—the stately Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and the Van Gogh Museum. Tucked south of Leidseplein amidst upscale hotels and cafés, Museumplein is both a culture vulture’s paradise and an open space for those who want to escape the city buzz. In addition to repositories of priceless paintings, it’s home to the Concertgebouw at its southern end.
Gabriël Metsustraat 8, 1071 EA Amsterdam, Netherlands
It has been a decade since the major museums on the Museumplein—a grassy square connecting Amsterdam’s main art centers—have all been open at the same time. Here’s what to check out at the Van Gogh Museum. Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and The Potato Eaters are just a few of the masterpieces on display as part of the “Van Gogh at Work” exhibit.
33A Prins Hendrikkade
Canals are an integral part of the Dutch landscape so it’s only fitting you see them up close and personal, from a boat. Viewing Amsterdam by watercraft puts you level with Golden Age mansions, world-class monuments like the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk, and historic landmarks like the city’s narrowest house. Numerous companies offer canal tours of Amsterdam, including Holland International, which has day, evening and holiday cruises. Around the year, you can see the city in long vessels with enclosed cabins for protection against the unpredictable weather in the Netherlands. Choose from hour-long cruises covering city highlights or dinner, pizza and candlelight voyages. Audio guides are available in 19 languages (including Dutch), and there are toilets on board the boats. If you have more than a few hours to spend on the water, opt for a hop-on hop-off tour in a smaller, electric-powered 12- and 35-person boat. From March‒October, Holland International’s Canal Hopper floats through Amsterdam’s UNESCO-honored canal ring, stopping at 16 city landmarks including the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Rembrandt Square, the Albert Cuyp Market, and Nieuwmarkt, Amsterdam’s oldest neighborhood. There are departures from 11:00‒18:00, Friday‒Sunday from March‒October. In July, August and during holiday periods, the Hopper sails daily with fair weather.
Warmoesstraat, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ah, Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam‘s heart of darkness, the street that never sleeps. Well, maybe...between 5:00–8:00am, after the junkies leave and before tourists arrive. Set adjacent to de Wallen, the city’s most famous Red Light District, this lively straat is home to the gay leather/fetish scene at shops like Warehouse, The Eagle, Argos, Dirty Dicks, RoB and MrB. Have dinner at Getto, an informal bistro with a less in-your-face gay vibe than other establishments on the street, offering drag queen-inspired burgers and international specialties at reasonable prices. Other dining options include Meatballs, Paella, Wok to Wok, Burger Bar and numerous holes-in-the-wall for pizza, shoarma or frites. For a nightcap hit Stone’s, a dive bar with attitude where the time is always 9:25.
De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The red-light district in Amsterdam is a very busy place with an odd mix of life in one small neighborhood. In a peculiar way it’s very beautiful—there’s so much happening both visually and mentally it takes a bit to process it all as you wander through the rouge-colored alleys. It’s hard to look at the scene without thinking “What if…” And: “How do women end up here? Do they want to be here? In another life, could I be standing in their place?” There’s so much to think about while walking through this area. Even stranger perhaps is that this area is such a major tourist attraction. If you’re looking for seedy, scary alleys, you won’t find them here. But you will see tour groups, families, restaurants, and sex shops.
2II Prinsengracht
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stop in one of the bruine kroeg, or brown cafés. These are the Dutch equivalent of Irish pubs, cozy spaces where people gather to relax over beers and comfort food. And Café Papeneiland is a classic. Stop in for a sip of jenever and a slice of Dutch apple pie.
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