Top Attractions in Amsterdam
Any visit to Amsterdam will surely include some famous and familiar sites—the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House among them. But the city has lots of surprises, too, beyond canal houses and cozy bars. Come explore for yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reguliersbreestraat 26-34, 1017 CN Amsterdam, Netherlands
With its flamboyant facade, art deco foyer, and main hall outfitted with love seats and private boxes, the Pathé Tuschinski Cinema makes going to the movies a romantic affair. Framed by ornate twin towers, the historic building between the Munttoren (mint tower) and Rembrandtplein was constructed by Polish immigrant Abraham Tuschinski, a Jewish tailor who capitalized on a new craze. The imposing 1,200-seat theater mixes art deco elements with Dutch Amsterdam School style, art nouveau, and Tuschinski’s own taste. Today, Hollywood blockbusters are screened in the theater, now operated by Pathé. In the main hall, snuggle up in love seats or order wine and a meal from a private box. On red-carpet-premiere nights, watch celebs arrive in stretch limos and preen for the paparazzi to the delight of local filmgoers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
516 SOU Singel
Are the Dutch so tall because they consume so much dairy? Hard to say, but the important thing is that delectable cheese made from the milk of cows and sheep grazing on lush pastures in Holland is sold throughout Amsterdam. Netherlanders have been making cheese since 400 C.E. and the product is as synonymous with Holland as tulips, clogs, and windmills. The country is the world’s largest cheese exporter, with a dairy industry that generates around €7 billion annually. There are touristy cheese markets in Alkmaar, Hoorn, and Edam where old weighhouses form the backdrop for the traditional cheese trade. For Amsterdam visitors, shops like Henri Willig Cheese & More proffer everything from mild Gouda and mellow Edam to Boerenkaas (literally, farmers’ cheese), an artisanal raw-milk product. The mini chain of cheese manufacturer Henri Willig was founded in 1974 and now has six shops in the center city and six others elsewhere in Holland. Over 1 million customers visit Henri Willig annually for organic, goat, and smoked cheese, as well as Dutch specialties like Frisian clove cheese (made with low-fat milk, cumin, and cloves) and Leidse kaas, the piquant, cumin-scented variety from Leiden. Henri Willig shops also sell cheese graters, slicers, fondue sets, and other accessories, as well as sweets like Dutch drop (licorice), chocolate, and stroopwafels. An export division ships products to 25 countries. Stop in for a snack, as samples are always set out for hungry customers.
Amsterdam is known for its denim—Scotch & Soda, G-Star, and Denham all started here—but the capital’s thriving fashion scene offers way more than just jeans. The Jordaan’s trendy Nine Streets area is packed with small local boutiques, like this airy, white-walled shop that stocks affordable pieces from up-and-coming Dutch designers and international brands, along with a selection of whimsical decor items and gifts. Look for colorful scarves from Les Copines and cool shades from Gobi—both made in Amsterdam. The store’s in-house label, Resident by Nuvo Niche, includes a line of Jordaan-branded sweatshirts and tees—cool souvenirs that you’d actually want to wear.
Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 7, 1015 RX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Not only is this petite Jordaan-area concept store exceptionally well curated, but everything sold here—from lighting to handbags to scarves—is made using fair-trade production practices. Artfully arranged atop vintage teak furniture and shelving is a chic mix of pottery, pillows, jewelry, candles, and accessories, and staff members will happily explain the provenance of every item. Many pieces are by local designers, including leather goods from Monsak, minimalist jewelry by Dutch Basics, Van Tjalle en Jasper wood lamps, and shawls by Pom Amsterdam. And it stocks the must-have souvenir from the city synonymous with cycling: a miniature laser-cut-wood bicycle.
Hartenstraat 37, 1016 CA Amsterdam, Netherlands
With their bold, unexpected color combinations and cool geometric shapes, Hester van Eeghen’s leather bags have gained a cultlike following in Amsterdam. Just about every Dutch fashionista owns one of these distinctive, über-functional purses—and likely a backpack and wallet too. Van Eeghen also brings her stylish design sensibility to briefcases, laptop holders, gloves, and shoes. All goods are conceived in Amsterdam and manufactured in Milan, which means excellent craftsmanship and the finest leather—with prices to match. Her flagship is on Hartenstraat in the chic Nine Streets area; there’s another location in the gallery district on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat.
Mr. Visserplein 3, 1011 RD Amsterdam, Netherlands
Built in 1675 by Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews who fled Roman Catholic persecution during the Inquisition, this is one of the oldest continuously operating synagogues in Europe. The massive square-shaped building still has no electricity—it relies on natural light filtering through tall windows, and during evening services, thousands of candles illuminate the vast interior. The wood floor is dusted with sand, a Dutch tradition aimed at absorbing dirt and helping to muffle sound; it’s one of a handful of synagogues in the world to do so. In the surrounding buildings are the mikvah, cantor’s office, a winter synagogue, and Ets Haim (Tree of Life), an ancient Jewish library. Every month the synagogue presents an evening of classical music as part of its candlelight concert series; check the website for the full schedule.
Herengracht 573, 1017 CD Amsterdam, Netherlands
This collection of 5,000-plus bags, purses, and accessories—the largest in the world—spans more than 500 years, from a practical 16th-century goatskin money pouch to a whimsical shoe-shaped purse by contemporary Dutch footwear designer Jan Jansen. Displayed beautifully throughout a grand 17th-century canal house and arranged by time period, the collection includes rare French silk bridal bags from the 1800s, delicate art deco beaded purses, chic 1970s Lucite clutches, and contemporary handbags by luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Gucci, and Prada. Items owned by the rich and famous are here as well: a Versace evening bag Madonna carried at the Evita premiere; the cat-shaped “Socks” clutch that Judith Leiber designed for Hillary Clinton; and Margaret Thatcher’s iconic gray Asprey handbag, which she referred to as her “weapon.” Don’t miss the café’s renowned afternoon tea, with sweet and savory bites served in the museum’s period rooms.
Plantage Kerklaan 38-40, 1018 CZ Amsterdam, Netherlands
Founded in 1838, Amsterdam’s zoo, just east of the Canal Ring, is one of the oldest in Europe, with a parklike setting that also houses an aquarium and planetarium (entrance to both is included in the price of admission). The grounds, while not large, are home to around 700 species, including giraffes, gorillas, penguins, pelicans, sloths, and reindeer. A highlight is Lemur Island, where the freely roaming long-tailed creatures scurry and hop all around you. The zoo also recently updated its Asian elephant and jaguar enclosures. The aquarium, which dates from 1882, was fully renovated in 1997 and counts tropical fish, sharks, and sea horses among its residents; it also boasts an underwater scene of a typical Amsterdam canal, complete with a sunken bicycle.
Overhoeksplein 5, 1031 KS Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of the hippest neighborhoods in the city is Amsterdam-Noord, situated directly across the IJ River from the main train station. Here, an iconic 1970s office high-rise has been recently revamped and rebranded as A’DAM, an acronym for Amsterdam Dance and Music. Along with music-themed businesses, restaurants, and an underground nightclub, the tower boasts the rooftop Lookout, an open-air observation deck 20 stories up that offers panoramic views of the historic city center, the bustling port to the west, and the Dutch landscape beyond. Daredevils line up for Over the Edge, a huge metal contraption that lets you literally swing out over the edge of the building. Entrance to the Lookout is €12.50 (about $15) and a ride on the swing is €5 (about $6).
Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD Amsterdam, Netherlands
From morning until late afternoon every day (except Sunday), this blocks-long outdoor street market in De Pijp district teems with locals and tourists shopping for everything from produce, fish, and spices to clothing, fabric, and household goods. Among the 300-odd stalls you’ll find a wealth of Dutch delicacies including its famed cheeses, freshly made stroopwafels (a crunchy caramel-filled treat), kibbeling (fried-fish bites), and, for the brave, raw herring. There are also plenty of souvenirs to be had (clog key chains, canal-house magnets, Amsterdam T-shirts), and it’s a great place to pick up for cheap anything you forgot to pack (chargers, adapters, and socks galore).
Jodenbreestraat 4, 1011 NK Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rembrandt purchased this sizable former merchant’s house in 1639, when he was at the peak of his fame as a portraitist of the city’s elite. He lived, painted, and taught in the multistory building for nearly 20 years, and on the topmost floor—the site of his studio and workshop—crafted what is considered his masterpiece, the Night Watch. The home’s interior is not original but rather a faithful re-creation, based upon a room-by-room inventory conducted after the artist declared bankruptcy in 1656 and was eventually forced to leave. Be sure to catch the free daily paint-preparation and etching demonstrations; the former is particularly interesting to understand how difficult—and expensive—it was to acquire and process paint in that era. Though there are no Rembrandt paintings at this museum, you will find a large number of his superb etchings on view in the ground-floor exhibition space.
At 600 years old, this is Amsterdam’s “new” church—the city’s Oude Kerk, or Old Church, dates back to the 1200s. Located next to the Royal Palace on Dam Square, this grand Gothic building is no longer a place of worship but a venue for temporary art, photography, history, and cultural exhibitions. It’s also the site for royal marriages and inaugurations. The richly decorated interior, fully restored after a devastating fire in 1645, features an ornate altar with a gleaming brass choir screen, stained-glass windows dating from the mid-17th century, and the largest pipe organ in the Netherlands.
Pazzanistraat 33, 1014 DB Amsterdam, Netherlands
This sprawling 19th-century former gasworks complex west of the Canal Ring was a polluted site for decades after its closing in the mid-1960s. It was cleaned up and reopened in 2003 as a park, and its architecturally significant red-brick buildings were turned into cultural venues, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and shops. The Gashouder, a massive circular structure measuring more than 27,000 square feet, hosts mainly techno parties, while the nearby North Sea Jazz Club is an intimate space for live jazz performances. You’ll also find TonTon Club, a restaurant and arcade with video games, air hockey, and table tennis; Pacific Parc, a café with live rock music and DJs; and a three-screen art-house cinema.
Ceintuurbaan 338, 1072 GN Amsterdam, Netherlands
Specializing in independent film, this historic 1920s art deco theater in De Pijp has three screens, showing movies in their original version with Dutch subtitles. But what if you’re hankering to see the latest French art-house flick and don’t read Dutch? On Expat Mondays, every non-English film is screened in its original version with English subtitles. Arrive early and grab a snack and a drink at the laid-back, ground-level café. Rialto also hosts a number of important film festivals throughout the year, including World Cinema Amsterdam, showcasing indie cinema from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.