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Feb 18

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How to See Amsterdam in One Day

How much of Amsterdam can you actually see in one day? Here’s a real-life itinerary, from museums to canals to restaurants.

Yes, we actually did this.

How much of Amsterdam can you actually see in one day? Here's a real-life itinerary, from museums to canals to restaurants. (Yes, we actually did this.)

They say every good thing has to end, and that included our fabulous Rhine River cruise. Many of our cruisemates headed straight to the airport but as a world-class city in its own right, we figured Amsterdam deserved at least a little attention before we headed to the City of Lights. Okay, it was only a single day but still, it was better than nothing, right?

Except … How can anyone actually appreciate a world-class city like Amsterdam in one day?

Amsterdam in a day?

I had seriously pondered this dilemma for months: How much of Amsterdam can a person see in only 24 hours? I would hate to leave a place and then discover that we had missed visiting a mega-famous site only after we had flown home, wouldn’t you?

Well, I finally figured out which of the city’s highlights to see, thanks in no small part to my Dutch friend Farieda’s thoughtful advice. Here’s what Dan and I saw in our one day visit to Amsterdam and how we managed to squeeze it all in.

Tip: Protect your feet; be sure to wear good shoes!

Amsterdam bicycles

Watch your step! Bicycles are everywhere, including on many bridges over the canals, and cyclists have the right-of-way.

Our day in Amsterdam begins

Our final morning on board started with the usual huge buffet spread that Viking had prepared. As usual, they gave a nod to the day’s port by adding local specialties, like delicious Dutch cheeses, traditional brown bread and ontbijtkoek (a cake made with rye flour and spices like cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg). As excited as we were to see Amsterdam, we were glad to have enough time to savor a few of these delicacies before our scheduled departure.

A taxi arrived promptly at 9:30 (how typically Dutch!) to take us to our hotel. We dropped off our bags at the front desk and got a tourist map and a one-day tram pass. We had considered renting bicycles to get around, but Farieda had advised against it because we didn’t know the city very well. It’s very unsafe to read a map while you’re cycling through city traffic.

Tip: Instead of renting a bicycle, purchase a 24-hour tram ticket to get around. You can purchase tickets both on the tram and at many hotels. Be sure to make a note of the tram numbers that stop closest to your hotel!

1. Rijksmuseum

I Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The first place we headed was to the Rijksmuseum, a world-class museum that has the largest collection of Dutch art in the world, painted by such famous artists as van Ruysdael, Hals, Vermeer, Steen and Rembrandt. (Not Van Gogh, though. Vincent has his own museum next door.) We budgeted two hours to see as much as we could and managed to hit the highlights without feeling too rushed.

As we left we stopped for a simple, lightweight souvenir: a photo with the IAmsterdam sculpture. It is always on display on Museumplein, the public square bordering Rijksmuseum.

Tip: To avoid avoid the long line at the Rijksmuseum ticket counter purchase your museum ticket online before you go. Arrive early to avoid the crowds; the museum gets busy after 11 am.

2. Walking along Amsterdam’s streets to Leidseplein

By now it was lunchtime so we headed to Leidseplein, a lively, open-air square full of cafés that is only a few blocks from the museums.

Tip: Amsterdam is chock full of bicyclists who expect pedestrians to yield, so beware. Cyclists have the right of way and bicycles hurt.

No sooner had we left the IAmsterdam sculpture than we were passing the House of Bols. You may have heard of Bols liqueurs: They are the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand, making liqueurs in Amsterdam since 1575! Had we not been museum fans this would have made a good option.

Bols offer a fascinating, interactive tourist attraction called the Cocktail and Jenever Experience. Foodies that we are, it was tempting to go in, especially because the tour ends at the Mirror Bar, where bartenders will mix any cocktail you create before your very eyes. You can also learn the art of flair bartending (think Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’) and shop in the Bols Shop.

Waving goodbye to the missed opportunity we continued walking. A few blocks further on we found an enchanting, willow-lined canal … and stood on the bridgefor a few moments to enjoy the ambiance. On the far side were both the Hard Rock Cafe and a square called Max Euweplein, full of cyclists, pedestrians and a couple of people playing a life-sized chess game. Souvenir time: Rather than add weight to our bags with dust-collecting mementos, we take photos of Hard Rock Cafes as we travel.

Tip: Next to the bridge is a stall where you can purchase tickets for a tour of Amsterdam via canal. Those tours are a top attraction in the city but you will need a reservation, so buy one before you eat for an after-lunch tour. We scheduled our tour for 2:00 pm.

Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam

Hard Rock Cafe at Max Euweplein 57

3. Dutch Food for Lunch

Once at Leidseplein we went in search of a a traditional Dutch brown café and found Reijnders. The café was founded in 1880 and it hasn’t changed much from what it was back then. Inside you will even find pictures of how it looked on the Leidseplein almost 100 years ago.

Reijnders is a traditional Dutch brown cafe on Leidseplein, in the center of Amsterdam.

The weather was too nice to eat inside so we found an empty table on the square. We both ordered a beer, chicken satay skewers and frietjes, a.k.a. “chips” or “French fries”. Both Belgians and Dutch eat frietjes with mayonnaise, so of course we had to try it. Verdict: it’s a keeper. We also noticed that the mayo tasted different than what we have in the U.S.

Amsterdam in One Day: Eat Indonesian Food Chicken Satay Dutch Style

Chicken satay served Dutch style with a piece of bread

Strictly speaking, chicken satay is Malaysian or Indonesian cuisine, but the Dutch don’t seem to care; it’s extremely popular in the Netherlands. There’s a good reason for this: Dutch East India Company once reigned supreme in much of Asia and the traders brought many of Asia’s delicious recipes back to their homeland.

Tip: Try your frietjes the way our friend Farieda likes them: smothered in peanutty satay sauce. (Omigosh … where has THAT been all my life?)

4. Canal Cruise

Canal Tour Amsterdam Hop On-Hop Off

With happy mouths we walked back to take our €13 canal tour and see Amsterdam from the water. (Click here for more on canal cruising in Amsterdam.) It’s a good way to see the city because canals are everywhere: Wealthy merchants dug a ton of them in the 17th century during Holland’s prosperous period (aka the Dutch Golden Age). Besides, the Amsterdam Canals are a UNESCO world heritage site.

Distinctive houseboats and narrow, side-by-side homes line the picturesque canals wherever you look. The stairs in these buildings are so narrow they need to use hooks on the gables to hoist goods from the waterways to upper floors.

Tip: There are two types of tours: Choose between a hop-on hop-off boat or a regular tour that brings you back to where you started. Check various tourist brochures for available discount coupons.

5. Jordaan Neighborhood

Jordaan neighborhood dutch architecture, Amsterdam

Classic 17th and 18th-century buildings of the Jordaan Neighborhood

Once back on land we walked to the upscale Jordaan neighborhood so we could photograph its classic 17th and 18th-century buildings and the 400-year-old Dutch Protestant Westerkerk church. Many Dutch painters are buried here, including Rembrandt. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter. We were there on a Saturday and the church is only open on weekdays between 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

6. Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank House ticket line

Avoid the line. Buy your tickets online beforehand at annefrankhouse.org. (This photo is from their website.)

Anne Frank House was on Dan’s must-see list, and for good reason. We booked online ahead of time and paid extra for an informative orientation. The speaker talked about the life and times of the Frank family and then entertained questions.

After the Q&A we were escorted next door into the building where the Frank family had hidden for two years during the war. Everyone was asked not to talk during the visit so as not to disturb other visitors.

  • On the lower floors are photos, exhibits and videos about Anne, her family, the war and the Holocaust. The curators have also mounted informational writings on the walls and videos play here and there along the way.
  • The top floors are the actual rooms where the family stayed, furnished with items similar to what they had.

Tip: To avoid long lines and the risk of not getting in, reserve online ahead of time. Pay a little extra for the 30-minute advance lecture portion; it’s worth it.

7. Rembrandtplein

By this time our feet were hurting from all the walking so we took a tram to Rembrandtplein.

A statue of Rembrandt overlooks Amsterdam's Rembrandtplein

Dear Farieda had recommended that we eat at a restaurant there called Café l’Opera. She even told us what we should order: Bittergarnituur, a plate of appetizers that included bitterballen and kroketten. So we did. A Dutch beer on tap washed it all down.

Cafe l'Opera, Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam

It was recommended by a local to try the Bitterballen and Kroketten and she was right! A must try.

Usually served with mustard, bitterballen are meatball-sized balls of potato and ground beef that are breaded and fried. Kroketten are similar but in an oblong/football shape. They were both delicious and the restaurant’s prices were fair.

Tip: Learn how to make bitterballen and kroketten and you’ll be able to use up leftovers as Dutch housewives traditionally do.

8. Dam Square

Dam Square, Amsterdam

The Royal palace in Dam Square, Amsterdam

Our tram pass took us to Dam Square, Amsterdam’s central square. It was too late to tour the Royal Palace but we could still photograph the National Monument and Nieuwe Kerk (New Church).

Tip: If you enjoy shopping and have the time and energy, stop in at De Bijenkorf (“The Beehive”), Amsterdam’s premiere department store.

9. Red Light District

Moulin Rouge and sidewalk in the Red Light District, Amsterdam

The infamous Red Light District is one of Amsterdam’s most renowned tourist attraction. It really comes alive after dark. This is window shopping on a completely different level, where scantily clad women (and some men!) display their attributes, standing in windows illuminated by the fluorescent red lights overhead. Whatever adult pleasure you might desire, it’s available here.

The area has more to offer than that however, so look above the windows as well. This is a beautiful area in its own right, where you can also see 300-year-old gabled buildings and other expensive, photo-worthy real estate.

Tip: Be careful with your camera as you walk because one of the girls might think you’re taking a photo of her. That’s a strict no-no.

For more inspiration

Save Amsterdam on Pinterest: Click the Pin It button in the upper left of our images to save this story for when you’re ready to plan your trip.

Further reading:

Where we stayed

We have stayed at both the Bilderberg Garden Hotel (in a residential area of Amsterdam) and at the more central Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (mere blocks from Centraal train station). We were pleased with both.

If you think one day in Amsterdam won’t be enough, you have a variety of lodging options, everything from hostels to hotels to staying in a local home (Airbnb and Homestay are two examples). You can even sleep in a houseboat on a canal if you want. How fun does THAT sound?!

Since tastes and budgets vary, this comprehensive search engine will help you compare lodging rates across the internet:

How much of Amsterdam can you actually see in one day? Here's a real-life itinerary, from museums to canals to restaurants. (Yes, we actually did this.)

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  1. Jennifer

    Good post! I’m headed to Amsterdam and will have just one day there as well. You and Dan really covered a lot in your short time there!
    Jennifer recently posted…Curling in ZermattMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Thanks so much. What do you plan to do during your one day there? If you want to see as much as we saw, we recommend very comfy shoes!

      1. Wanda

        Linda enjoyed your recap. We will only have one day from the Viking Cruise also in Sept. I gather the walking distances to and from the trams are long
        or difficult. We are seniors, not sure this will work for us- your opinion? We might just take a private city tour.Thanks

        1. Linda

          Hi Wanda, Amsterdam’s port is large so walking distances completely depend on where your ship gets docked, and they don’t have a regular dock. They say trams are a 10-minute walk but I guess a lot depends on what kind of shape you’re in (we know a sweet couple in their 80s who still ski!). We took a taxi from the ship to our hotel (to drop off our luggage) and it was expensive, so I don’t recommend that.

          The trams are easy to get on and off of and the central city itself is rather compact. If you pull out a map you’ll see that we covered a lot of Amsterdam’s area in one day.

          Besides the price difference, it all depends on which you prefer. I can see the value of taking a private city tour – you can get more details and ask more questions – but we’re basically do-it-yourselfers and are happy enough with just new scenery, languages and food. If you’re adventurous, you can enjoy Amsterdam on your own, especially because most people speak English. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of stamina or mobility issues, the private tour might be easier. Either way, just don’t miss the canal tour!

          I’d like to invite you to read my other posts about our Rhine cruise in case one might be helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope my answer was helpful. 🙂

  2. 2Digital Nomads

    grat post Linda, where was that few years ago when I had 11 hours layover in Amesterdam 🙂 summarized and to the point.

    1. Linda

      Thanks for the compliment. I love long layovers and the opportunity to see a new city for a few hours. Of course, stopovers are better…

  3. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs

    Great article Linda. Luckily when I was in Dam there was no queue to Anne Frank Museum 🙂
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted…Top Travel Destinations 2013My Profile

    1. Linda

      Thanks Marysia. Can you recommend any other places to visit?

  4. Aggy

    One of the reasons why I love the Netherlands is the food, it feels like home 🙂 Indonesian cuisine is very popular and it’s so easy to find them unlike in other parts of Europe 🙂 Great post! I have to revisit Amsterdam someday!
    Aggy recently posted…My Love-Hate Relationship with RomaniaMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Funny you mention that. Next week we have a long layover in Amsterdam. We plan to escape the airport and meet some friends for lunch at an Indonesian restaurant. Maybe I can practice my language skills: “tidak pedas, silahkan.” You Indonesians like it really spicy. Me, not a fan.

  5. Kae Lani | A Travel Broad

    Wow! You did a great job for only having one day in Amsterdam. I can’t wait to go myself! I’m a huge fan of Vincent Van Gogh, so I’d love to check out his home town!

  6. Kerwin

    You guys packed in quite a bit in a day; congraats!

    I tend to start at Centraal Station and work my way down through the city.
    You missed having fries at Mannequin Pis and the Heineken Beer Museum, but there is only so many hours in a day.

    Well done.
    Kerwin recently posted…Does Your Airport SUX?My Profile

    1. Linda

      Thanks, Kerwin, our feet were pretty tired by the end of it, but the day was worth it.

      Thanks too for the tip; I’d never heard of Manneken Pis restaurant until now, and will makea mental note to have their fries next time we’re in Amsterdam. AND the Heineken Beer Museum, along with the House of Bols, which I’m told is quite the experience.

  7. gjamh

    Hi Linda Great post!! So nice to see as a Dutchgirl how compleet you blogged this all, and liked it here! Still there is sò much more to see in The Netherlands beside Amsterdam. Really you should next times try also some diffrent areas too!! There are also more airports region ones,and as you problebly know for American understandings the distances are not so far anyway:)) Loved to read your blog! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Linda

      Dankuwel, I really appreciate all the nice things you said. We agree that there’s a lot more to see than just Amsterdam. That’s like saying you’ve seen America because you’ve been to New York City!

      We had the chance to visit Kinderdijk and see the windmills but I’ve not had the chance to write about it yet. We actually had planned to visit Rotterdam and drive to Maastricht in May. Unfortunately we had to cancel because of family issues, but we hope to have another chance to visit in, the future. We love the Netherlands.

  8. Julia

    Thanks so much for this! I will be in Amsterdam for 2 days and have been trying to find an awesome “one day tour” of the must see’s so that day two can be spent looking at arb places not on the big tourist sites. Can’t wait to go!

    1. Linda

      I hope you have a blast! Let us know about your trip, we’d love to know if this post was helpful.

  9. Ghazi

    Hi linda
    Good article ,i have 9 hrs in amsterdam reaching central station from paris ,how can we proceed ,ur advise.will be back to paris by train at 7pm
    Thank u

    1. Linda

      Spending one night in Amsterdam will give you a lot more time to sightsee, but if you intend to take the Paris-Amsterdam train in the morning and return at 7 pm, I would advise you to take the high speed Thalys train – which requires a prior reservation – and be prepared for a very long day.

      If you only have enough energy for a few things, then my top picks would be the Rijksmuseum (#1), eat some Dutch food (#3), take a Canal cruise (#4), visit Anne Frank House (#6), go to Dam Square (#8) and see the Red Light District (#9).

      I hope you enjoy your visit. Amsterdam is such a wonderful city.

  10. Musement

    A must for your next trip to Amsterdam: book cultural tours and art experiences with Musement! You’ll get interesting insider knowledge and skip the line for many museums and attractions, saving more time to explore the city http://www.musement.com/en/amsterdam

    1. Linda

      Thanks for the tip.

  11. Jay

    Hi, wish I had read your blog before I came to Amsterdam, I am in Amsterdam, arrived yesterday and leaving tomorrow night, it’s been so frustrating, as the queue in ann frank house is ridiculously long, have checked 4 times at different times, it’s the same, even 9 in the morning today, checked online for the tickets, all sold out, I guess will hv to stand in the queue for two hours to get in. 🙁
    Thanks for the tip about the museum, as we had planned to see Van Gogh and rembart, if we have time will go and see the one you have suggested, thanks

  12. Crystal Lim

    Hi ,linda any recommend bike tour to visit amsterdam in one day .please reply thanks

    1. Linda

      Hi Crystal, I really hate to disappoint you but we didn’t take a tour and don’t know anyone who has done one. If it helps, though, if you Google “Amsterdam bike tour” you’ll find quite a few one-day tours of Amsterdam and some of them are reviewed on TripAdvisor.

  13. Crystal Lim

    Linda thank for your reply. Ok I will try.

  14. Maaike - Travellous World

    Great post! I agree, you do need to wear good shoes if you want to do this 😉 But it’s worth it right? (I might be biased as a Dutchie 😉 ).

    1. Linda

      Goodness, yes, Amsterdam is VERY worth it! We just returned from another visit and spent a day with a Dutch friend. Might have to do a “One Day in Amsterdam – Part 2” post for those who have “been there, done that.” What a great city.

    1. Linda

      We agree, Suzan. It is awesome. What else did you like about it?

  15. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    Fantastic post! I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times and it is a wonderful city – I’ve always had a bit longer to explore, but I think you packed in a lot of the highlights. I definitely agree about the bikes too…. Thanks for joining up to #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…City Tripping #3My Profile

    1. Linda

      We’ve been back a few times since and STILL feel the same way about the bikes! Maybe next time we’ll venture out on two wheels, who knows?

  16. Wander Mum

    I am incredibly impressed with the planning that went into this trip to Amsterdam – you really made the most of your time in the city! Well done. I have been to Amsterdam a couple of times and don’t think I’ve ticked all of these things off the list. Thank you for linking to #citytripping x
    Wander Mum recently posted…Giveaway: Family Tickets For London Bus TourMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Thanks for the compliment – we weren’t sure we’d get a chance to return. We were really pleased with how well it turned out. 🙂

  17. Gav the Nomad

    I must confess that although I have vague memories, my time in Amsterdam is so far behind me now that it takes posts like this to bring it back.

    While beautiful, I’ll never forget a 7ft Russian man built like an outhouse door walking along the street and collapsing into some tables. I helped him up and he told me, I quote “Cookies! Too strong”.

    It was a great little city and I plan to go back when I head back to Europe this year. Thanks for reminding me!

    1. Linda

      You’re welcome, Gav. We enjoy re-reading our stories and spending a bit of time browsing our travel photo gallery. Like you said, they can refresh long-forgotten memories.

      Sure would like to know what was in those cookies. 😉

  18. Zena's Suitcase

    This is a great itinerary. Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities, and it’s so easy to get around once you have your bearings. I’m feeling the urge to go back, and I will be coming back to this list to make sure I cover everything
    Zena’s Suitcase recently posted…#Win! My First Baby Annabell Brother #GiveawayMy Profile

    1. Linda

      You’re right that Amsterdam is easy to get around. It’s also hard to leave, because the city is so enjoyable and the people are so friendly!

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