The Perfect Weekend in Amsterdam

If you only have three days in Amsterdam, a walking tour, boat tour, museum-crawl, and evening concert are just a few of your activity options. Over three days, you can also experience Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District, get lost in the canal ring, chill out in Vondelpark and take a ferry to Amsterdam-Noord. Plus: get out of town and see picture-postcard Holland a short cycle-ride away, but worlds apart from bustling Amsterdam.

30 Begijnhof
Escape the bustle of the city by ducking into the quiet courtyard garden of Begijnhof. Located just a few minutes on foot from the Koningsplein and the Singel canal, this tranquil oasis dates back at least as far as the 14th century. Look among the row houses around the perimeter to find the city’s oldest home, the Houten Huys, built in 1420. And within the courtyard is the Engelse Kerk, or English Church, first constructed in 1390 and refurbished after a fire 100 years later.
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.
Once a place where convicts were hung, then a working class district for shipyard laborers, Amsterdam-Noord has evolved into a multicultural community with a creative vibe and numerous restaurants, nightclubs and cultural attractions. Officially incorporated into Amsterdam in 1981, the bucolic district is one of the city’s largest, with 87.000+ inhabitants. Get there via the free ferry from NDSM Wharf, behind Central Station. Along with commuting Dutchies, you’ll chug from the station to the north bank of the Ij River on a 20-minute ride that provides a nice view of the Amsterdam skyline. With its futuristic design, the EYE Film Institute is an immediate eye-catcher—well worth a visit if you’re into international cinema. Watch a film in one of four cinemas, explore exhibits honoring cinematic masters and get interactive in the basement, where the digitized collection is housed. Pick up a film memorabilia souvenir in the museum shop and enjoy a stunning view of the waterfront at the eye-popping restaurant, offering Dutch classics like bitterballen, apple pie and Heineken beer. Other activity options in what has become a mecca for artists and creative types include Flea Market Ij-Hallen and artist studio tours. Old shipping containers have been transformed into trendy restaurants and nightclubs like Pllek, Noorderlicht and IJ-Kantine—all great for a waterfront drink, snack or meal in an historic setting that harks back to the days when the area was a busy port.
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.
3 Enge Kerksteeg
Ever wondered how it feels to sit behind one of those curtained windows in Amsterdam‘s Red Light District (RLD)? Find out from women who’ve been there at the Prostitute Information Center (PIC), near the statue of Belle on Oudekerksplein engraved with the words, “Respect sex workers all over the world.” Founded in 1994 by former prostitute Mariska Majoor, the PIC offers a glimpse into Amsterdam’s infamous sex trade while working to reduce prejudice and misunderstanding about window prostitution. In its furnished mock-brothel room, soak in the vibe of a place dedicated to satisfying prurient needs for a price. Learn about Amsterdam’s intriguing sex industry in the mini-museum and check out Jaap Majoor’s paintings of prostitutes and his haunting mural depicting the RLD. While Mariska’s father abhorred the idea of his teenage daughter working as a prostitute, painting enabled him to portray some of the beauty of sex-for-hire and to work out his feelings about Mariska’s chosen profession. The PIC offers walking tours of the RLD, as well as presentations about prostitution aimed at providing an accurate view of the world’s oldest profession―a practice that’s been legal throughout the Netherlands since 2000. Pick up a book about Amsterdam’s sex industry, a painting or other souvenir of your visit to the PIC in the Wallenwinkel, adjacent to the center. Purchases help the PIC survive, as it receives no governmental support.
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.
1 IJpromenade
Step inside the Eye Film Institute to discover an homage to international cinema replete with interactive displays and perched like an ivory spaceship ready for launch on the northern bank of the IJ River. The striking facility, accessible via a free ferry from the main train station, houses four movie-screening rooms, a museum shop, and an exhibit space showcasing the works of masters like Fellini and Kubrick. Topping the contemporary structure is the eye-popping Eye Bar-Restaurant, where you can wash down a plate of bitterballen with beer on tap while musing about cinematography. On sunny days, a spacious terrace beckons.
Hazenstraat, 1016 SR Amsterdam, Netherlands
It’s a single street after Amsterdam‘s Negen Straats (Nine Streets), but Hazenstraat, the Tiende Straatje (Tenth Street), rates a ten in serious shoppers’ books. Lined with boutiques, cafés and galleries, this cobbled strip in the Bohemian-chic Jordaan begins starts at Lauriergracht, where French urban artist Invader installed one of 26 mini-mosaics inspired by Space Invaders characters. Highlights include: The English Bookshop, as much a literary gathering spot as a place to buy books and DVDs made from them; Petsalon, a hat shop that’s been a Jordaan fixture for 25+ years; Brown Clothes, featuring Kings Road-inspired couture; Joep Buijs’ art studio, with paintings of colorful women, children and dogs; Olivaria, Holland’s oldest olive specialty shop; Coffeeshop Biba, a back-to-the-60s-style smoke shop that’s grown up with the flower children; Chocolátl, a chocoholic’s Nirvana; Cats ‘n Things, for all things feline; Saarein. a bar for all “queer minded people"; La Festa Pizzeria/Bed & Breakfast; ‘t Stuivertje, serving continental cuisine; and Flamework, Daniela Malaica’s glass jewelry shop proffering vibrant necklaces and other contemporary accessories inspired by her African-Italian roots.
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.
Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ 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 Stedelijk Museum. The modern art gallery’s controversial new wing (the exterior looks like a giant bathtub) houses a restaurant, a gift store, and expanded exhibition spaces.
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.
Zaanse Schans, 1509 Zaandam, Netherlands
On the banks of the river Zaan, time stopped three centuries ago at Zaanse Schans. In this recreation of a Dutch village in the 17th–18th centuries, stroll down streets lined with typical green wooden houses, manicured gardens and graceful bridges. Poke into tradesmen’s workshops, historic windmills and tiny boutiques. See how wooden clogs are made and watch pewter jewelry fashioned before your eyes. Discover how artisanal Dutch cheese is crafted and purchase a wheel of Gouda or Edam to take home. Refuel with coffee and apple pie in one of numerous restaurants within the village. Explore a few museums and round off your visit with a boat trip on the river. Although several museums at Zaanse Schans charge for admission, there’s no entry fee at the popular tourist attraction created by relocating houses, windmills, storehouses and barns to form a replica of a typical Zaanse village. Alongside clusters of windmills, characteristic wooden houses and unique shops, traditional Dutch crafts are showcased and the lifestyles of people who lived in Holland long before sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll entered the picture are revealed.
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.
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.
23 Polonceaukade
With its chill vibe, funky decor, warehouse-like interior and spacious terrace, Pacific Parc is a rock ‘n’ roll bistro with an edge. Situated in a former treatment plant at Westergasfabriek, the café-nightclub on Amsterdam‘s west side clearly represents its mantra, “Do not beg for the right to live, take it.” Life is good over international favorites like satay with coconut-peanut sauce, Indian lentil curry, Black Angus burgers and Dutch pannenkoeken, all priced under €20 on lunch and dinner menus. For kids, chicken drumsticks, chips, cucumber and ice cream are on a children’s menu for €8. While little ones romp on the spiral staircase, you can dine at the bar or at wooden tables in the open-zoned dining area, under a whimsical chandelier hanging from the sunroof. If you’re attending a Westergasfabriek event, Pacific Parc is a great place to meet up with friends. But there’s more to this place than relaxed ambiance, good drinks, reasonably priced fare and a menu based on seasonal ingredients. Thursday through Saturday, DJs mix hip-hop with disco and swing tunes. By 23:00, dinner seats are pushed aside and anyone who sticks around may be in for a wild night. A special “Dinner and a Movie” deal entitles you to a flick at Ketelhuis, Westergasfabriek’s cinema, plus a starter and main course (excluding drinks) at Pacific Parc for €25. While the restaurant may lack for romance, it’s a fine place to get your weekend date off to a savory start.
Singel, 1012 XG Amsterdam, Netherlands
Since 1862, fresh flowers and plants have arrived by barge from the Dutch countryside to Amsterdam. While this assemblage of flora still shows up daily, it comes by van, not boat, to the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. Here, you can browse 15 fragrant stalls on houseboats permanently moored on the Singel. Now the best-known flower market in Holland, this colorful attraction is packed with tourists on sunny weekends. Still, it’s a great place to pick up Dutch tulip bulbs in a plethora of shades and varieties, as well as many other types of bulbs, seeds, cut blooms, and houseplants. Ship a bag of bulbs home, or grab a souvenir at one of several shops hawking T-shirts, mugs, clogs, Dutch cheese, and other fun and inexpensive gifts.
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.
Westermarkt 20, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
One powerful and emotional experience in Amsterdam that shouldn’t be missed is a visit to the Anne Frank House. This home, where Anne Frank wrote in her diary while she, her family, and four others hid from the Nazis during World War II, has been preserved as a historic site. Today it also features a museum with artifacts and exhibits about her diary and what happened to her—she and her loved ones were ultimately betrayed and captured—as well as the larger worldwide context in which her brief life took place.
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