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How to See the Best of Amsterdam in One Day

How much can you actually see with only one day in Amsterdam? Here's the itinerary we created and used, from museums to canals to restaurants.

How much of Amsterdam can you actually see in one day? Here's an easy itinerary, from museums to canals to restaurants. Click to get all the details, or go to .

They say every good thing has to end, and that included our fabulous Rhine River cruise. Many of our shipmates 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 a day?

I had seriously pondered this Amsterdam dilemma for months: How much 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 our Dutch friend Farieda's thoughtful advice. Here's what Dan and I saw in our single day visit and how we managed to squeeze it all in. But here's her #1 tip: Protect your back and feet; be sure to wear good shoes!

Tip: To help with your own planning, we've included links to tickets, tours, etc. for your convenience. If you find them useful, please book through our page. The price is the same, but some of the companies will pay us a small referral fee. Thanks for your kindness!

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!

You need more than a day to learn how to navigate Amsterdam by bicycle.
Amsterdam is chock full of bicyclists who expect pedestrians to yield, so beware. Cyclists have the right of way, and bicycles hurt.

1. 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.

By the way, even if you don’t care to visit the Rijksmuseum, it’s worthwhile to visit just to see the beautiful building.

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


Brick front of Rijksmuseum, top Amsterdam museum, as seen from the grass on Museumplein

2. Museumplein and the IAmsterdam sign

As we left the museum, we stopped for a simple, lightweight souvenir: a photo with the IAmsterdam sculpture. It's the newest city landmark, and an ideal obligatory photo stop for many visitors, though I can't figure out how you could take a selfie.

It is always on display on Museumplein, the public square bordering Rijksmuseum.

TIP: if you want to get a photo without the crowds, you should go there very early in the morning.

Posing at IAmsterdam sign on Museumplein

3. 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.

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 might have made a good alternative.

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 bridge for a few moments to enjoy the ambiance. Cruise boats puttered below us, showing their passengers the best of Amsterdam from water level.

On the far side: 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.

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

Souvenir time: Rather than add weight to our bags with dust-collecting mementos, we take photos of Hard Rock Cafes as we travel.

4. Lunch at a brown cafe – with Indonesian food!

At Leidseplein, we went in search of a traditional Dutch brown café. Bruine (brown) cafés are to Amsterdam what pubs are to London. The cafés are as much a part of the city's charm as its canals, architecture, and its other famous sights.

The weather was so pleasant that we asked to be seated at one of the tables 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. By the way, Dutch mayo tastes different than what we have in the U.S.

Although it hails from Malaysia and Indonesia, chicken satay is extremely popular in the Netherlands. There's a good reason for this: Dutch East India Company once reigned supreme in much of Southeast Asia and the traders brought many of Asia's delicious recipes back to their homeland.

We also tried our frietjes the way our friend Farieda likes them: smothered in savory, peanutty satay sauce. (Omigosh … where has THAT been all my life?)

Where we ate: Reynders 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.

5. Amsterdam canal cruise

With happy mouths, we walked back to take our canal tour and see Amsterdam from the water. (Read our story here.)

Amsterdam is full of canals, which is why a canal cruise is an ideal way to see the city: 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.

If we were to advise just one thing that you absolutely must do, it would be to take a canal cruise in Amsterdam! No matter how much exploring you do on foot, you'll get a completely different perspective of the city from a boat. Besides, this one-day itinerary requires a lot of walking, and this is a perfect way to save your feet.

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, or see a list of cruise options here..

Canal Tour Amsterdam Hop On-Hop Off

6. The Nine Streets

Once back on land, we headed to our next destination via The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes). These old cobbled streets run between HerengrachtPrinsengracht, and Keizersgracht, three canals which Farieda told us shouldn’t be missed.

Photographers like Dan will think they were in heaven. The canals are surrounded by some of the most beautiful traditional Dutch houses in Amsterdam.

7. Jordaan neighborhood

The Nine Streets border the enchanting Jordaan neighborhood, which was our next destination. If you want a sense of authentic residential Amsterdam. Jordaan is full of classic 17th and 18th-century buildings with cozy courtyard gardens, and narrow streets sprinkled with local shops, quaint bars and brown cafés.

The Jordaan is also home to two of Amsterdam's landmarks, both of which we wanted to see: Anne Frank House and the 400-year-old Dutch Protestant church, Westerkerk.

Many Dutch painters are buried in the church, 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. Rats.

8. Anne Frank House

Anne Frank's house was on Dan’s bucket list. During World War II, Anne Frank, her family and four other people hid from Nazi persecution in secret rooms at the rear of the 17th-century canal house. Their hiding place came to be known as the Secret Annex. Anne Frank did not survive the war but she became known in 1947, when her wartime diary was published.

We booked online ahead of time and paid extra for an informative orientation that covered the life and times of the Frank family. The questions folks asked afterward were most enlightenting.

Next, 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.

  • The lower floors display 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.

9. The floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt

By this time our feet were hurting from all the walking, so we took a tram to our next destination. On the way, we passed the only floating flower market in the world, Bloemenmarkt. This unique market, with flower stalls on houseboats, has been here since 1862.

You can buy flower bulbs, all kinds of souvenirs, or just walk around and take colorful pictures. We saved this for our next trip, but if you have want to stretch your one day in Amsterdam into two, this is a must-see.

10. Rembrandtplein – and traditional Dutch snacks

We alit the tram at Rembrandtplein, where Farieda had recommended that we eat at 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.

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.

These appetizers were so filling that we never bothered with an official “dinner.” Fine with us….

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

11. Dam Square and the Royal Palace

Our next destination (via tram) was Dam Square, Amsterdam’s central square, where the Royal Palace is located. This is one of the most well-known locations in Amsterdam.

It was too late to tour the Royal Palace but we could still photograph the National Monument and Nieuwe Kerk (New Church).

Tip: Shoppers should make it a point to visit De Bijenkorf (“The Beehive”), Amsterdam's premiere department store.

12. Amsterdam's Red Light District

With its in-your-face prostitution and coffeeshops, Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District is one of the world's most renowned tourist attractions. 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.

You can easily visit during the day, but if you want to see the true side of the Red Light District, you’ll need to visit after dark, when it really comes alive. Amsterdam is generally safe, but iif you don’t feel comfortable walking around at night on your own, you can always join a guided tour like this one.

The Red Light District has more to offer than that however, so make sure to 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.

Moulin Rouge and sidewalk in the Red Light District, Amsterdam

13. Amsterdam canals at night

Amsterdam’s nighttime splendor isn’t limited to the neon lights in the Red Light District. Its houses and bridges are beautifully lit after dark. Had we thought of it, we would have ended our day in Amsterdam with an evening canal cruise.

Big regret that we didn’t. Maybe next time….


Related story: Amsterdam Canal Cruise Tour: See It from the Water

Save this story for later:

  • Flip our story to Flipboard
  • Save this story on Pinterest, for when you're ready to plan your trip. (We have a hidden pin, too!)

Further reading on Amazon:

Where to stay:

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?!

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

If you have more than a day in Amsterdam, these may interest you:

To see the highlights of Amsterdam in one day, from museums to canals to restaurants, here's a real-life itinerary. Includes bonus tips you don't want to miss.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries She has an insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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42 thoughts on “How to See the Best of Amsterdam in One Day

      1. 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. 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. 🙂

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

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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. 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.

  7. 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

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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. 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. 😉

  11. 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

  12. Hi, Linda! “We had considered renting bicycles to get around, but Farieda had advised against it because we didn’t know the city very well”. I unconditionally agree with you. On a bicycle you have to watch a road, not stunning buildings and the loveliest details of the city. But if you stay in Amsterdam more than a couple of day it’s great to rent a bicycle. That’s what make you feel like a real citizen and let you explore a bit more than a city center. I can share a nice website about bicycle rental in Amsterdam, hope your readers will find it usefull – I rented a bicycle there because I could compare prices of all local rental companies and choose the concrete model of a bicycle. P.S. Chicken satay is awesome! Cheers

  13. Wow! Really loved reading this post all the way down! Indeed a great post seeing Amsterdam in one day! Amsterdam is such a beautiful place, so much thing to do and to enjoy here. I love all of your photos, captured places in Amsterdam beautifully Thanks again for sharing this outstanding post!

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