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Iconic canals, centuries-old townhomes, cobblestone lanes, and flower-adorned bridges. Amsterdam is as pretty as a postcard with charm in spades. It’s also one of the rare places that attracts history buffs, luxury-minded travelers, couples seeking romance, and backpackers alike.
Besides cultural attractions like the Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum, the Dutch capital has leafy parks, hip shops, and an enduring sense of the past that thankfully never fades. With world-class museums, bicycle tours, and a thriving arts scene, it’s really just a matter of culling it down to a select few activities. Since wandering around the city’s quaint streets and sitting outside at a sidewalk cafe is so appealing, you won’t want to cram too much into your daytime itinerary.
In fact, Tesa Totengco, a member of Travel + Leisure’s A-List Travel Advisor Board and the founder and CEO of Travels with Tesa, told T+L that what makes Amsterdam stand out from other European cities is “Their iconic canal network and how walkable the city is if you’re not biking.”
On the F&B front, this burgeoning culinary mecca boasts world-class restaurants that make every meal a gourmet adventure. When the sun goes down, there’s no shortage of things to do either (think: cozy speakeasies, bustling bars, and plenty of nightclubs). Lastly, you can’t talk about Amsterdam without mentioning “coffee shops” — and not the kind that strictly brews espresso.
Totengco says these “coffee shops and the city’s long-established attitudes towards tolerance and diversity,” make the city truly special. She notes that “Amsterdam is also one of the earliest places to adopt progressive policies regarding marijuana, sex work, and same-sex marriage.”
Simply put: whatever your idealized version of a European getaway entails, Amsterdam won’t disappoint.
Best Hotels and Resorts
Perched on the Prinsengracht canal, the Pulitzer Amsterdam proffers a picture-perfect location. The storybook charm continues inside. Guests are greeted by an eye-catching display of fresh-cut blooms in the entryway. Heritage-rich touches adorn the lobby, rooms, and suites. There’s also a delicious restaurant called Jansz and a lovely garden for enjoying tea or a glass of wine. The Pulitzer is so spectacular that it was voted one of the best resorts in Amsterdam by T+L readers.
This high-end option housed a former music conservatory that’s right by the Van Gogh Museum, Conservatorium Hotel comes up big in both the location and aesthetics department. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive architectural feat than the property’s jaw-dropping glass atrium. For a bit of R&R, book a treatment at Akasha Holistic Wellbeing. The Conservatorium Hotel was also voted one of the best resorts in Amsterdam by T+L readers.
A traveler favorite, the Ambassador Hotel wins rave reviews for its central location and prize-winning views. A mix of contemporary and traditional design, rooms feature modern artwork, antique furnishings, and striking chandeliers. Past guests also tout the friendly staff and reasonable rates.
The Hoxton, Amsterdam
More than just a respite to rest your weary head, The Hoxton, Amsterdam is a place to see and be seen. A lobby bar that encourages mingling, quirky rooms, and interesting pop-ups gives it a vibe that’s simultaneously uber-hip and approachable. The welcoming atmosphere makes travelers from all walks of life feel like they’re part of the “in crowd.”
For travelers who prefer a boutique stay with a sophisticated, modern ambiance and ample plush perks, The Dylan most certainly delivers. Rooms beckon well-heeled wanders with a variety of room sizes and layouts and a palette of muted hues and Aesop toiletries. The tranquil courtyard is an ideal spot to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Best Time to Visit
Late spring is arguably the best season to visit Amsterdam. The forecast of mild temperatures couldn’t be more perfect for biking around the city and exploring the surrounding countryside. Starting in early April, the legendary tulips begin to bloom, which lures travelers from around the world. The famous King’s Day carnival, held on April 27, is another major draw.
Totengco agrees that spring is the best time to visit Amsterdam. She recommends booking a trip “between April and May when the tulips are in full bloom and one can visit the Keukenhof gardens.”
Because the aptly nicknamed “Venice of the North” enjoys an oceanic climate, it never gets super hot. While the rest of Europe flocks to the beaches of Santorini and Saint-Tropez, we love the idea of a summer city break in Amsterdam. You might have to contend with a few more fellow travelers, but it’s certainly not going to be an impediment to a fantastic trip.
Early fall is marked by pleasant temperatures and plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors. Don’t write off wintertime. Sure, the days are short and there’s a frosty chill in the air, however, the sparkling frozen canals, holiday spirit, and lack of crowds make it a really special time.
Best Things to Do
Van Gogh Museum
The Netherlands has birthed many famous artists, with Vincent Van Gogh chief among them. Works by the tortured artist are on display at his namesake museum. If you hope to see “Sunflowers” on your trip to Amsterdam, be sure to buy tickets ahead of time.
Anne Frank House
Widely regarded as Amsterdam’s most significant attraction, the Anne Frank House invites visitors to learn about the life of the Jewish diarist who hid from the Nazis during WWII through a collection of her writing, photos, videos, and personal items. Keep in mind that tickets sell out months in advance.
Located in Amsterdam-Zuid, Vondelpark is a sprawling 47-hectare urban green space featuring an open-air theatre, playground, shaded areas, ponds, and cycling paths. When the sun comes out, it instantly becomes a hotspot for afternoon picnics and sunbathing.
By now you’ve likely gathered that Amsterdam abounds with incredible museums. But art and history enthusiasts should make a beeline to the Rijksmuseum, which chronicles 800 years of heritage through the works of masters like Rembrandt and period artifacts. In fact, Totengco said it is the “preeminent museum on Dutch art and the masters Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh.” Noting that “If you only had time for one museum, this should be it.”
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a canal cruise. It’s truly the best way to see “Venice of the North.” You can purchase a ticket with Flagship Amsterdam, operator of the highly regarded Amsterdam Open Boat Canal Cruise, or opt for something a bit more intimate and romantic like a private vessel operated by the Pulitzer Amsterdam.
A quirky shop that advertises its wares as “modern curiosities and vintage finds,” The Otherist has built a business on oddities. Peruse the shelves of framed butterflies, one-of-a-kind jewelry, and porcelain skulls. You’re bound to stumble upon something totally unique.
Vanilia is the place to pick up Dutch-designed, sustainable basics — sweaters, denim, skirts, and wrap dresses — that are destined to become wardrobe staples. Bonus: every time someone at home doles out a compliment, you can reply, “Oh, I bought this in Amsterdam.”
Collectors of bygone-era treasures (and just generally anyone with interest in the past) should check out Antiekcentrum Amsterdam, the largest antique market in the Netherlands. A huge range of jewelry, art, ceramics, and homewares are up for grabs.
Fans of aged Appenzeller, raw milk gouda, and chèvre rejoice! Whether you’re in the mood for Dutch or imported cheese, De Kaaskamer is sure to satisfy your cravings. This storied retailer also sells a selection of tasty meats, salads, tapenades, wine, and beer.
Housed in a bright and airy glass-domed space, De Kas wows with multi-course tasting menus. In fact, it was the top restaurant recommended by Totengco who called it a “chic greenhouse conservancy serving garden-to-table Mediterranean fare.” Much of the produce comes from the on-site greenhouse — which patrons can tour before or after eating. Pro tip: It’s easier to snag a reservation for lunch. Plus, the midday light is sublime for snapping food photos.
Dutch cuisine flies under the radar. Restaurant Floreyn gives travelers a taste of local flavors. We dare anyone not to fall in love with the rotating menu of seasonal house specialties. Oh, and in case you were still on the fence, the wine pairing is totally worth it.
De Laatste Kruimel
Bakeries are a dime a dozen in Amsterdam. But De Laatste Kruimel is something truly special. This neighborhood gem delights visitors and locals with its French toast and bread pudding. Don’t sleep on the more savory offerings like quiche either.
Vleminckx de Sausmeester
A delicious tradition dating back decades, Vleminckx de Sausmeester has perfected the art of fried potatoes. It’s worth waiting in line for the chance to dig into perfectly crispy spuds. Don’t forget the homemade sauces. Curry ketchup, anyone?
Dutch pancakes are a full-blown phenomenon. Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis serves sweet and savory varieties of this beloved dish in a quirky second-door space that’s brimming with charm. Can’t decide what to order? You can’t go wrong with the best-selling brie and honey pannenkoek.
How to Get There
Most visitors arrive in Amsterdam via plane. The Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), also known as Schiphol Airport, is the Netherlands’ main international airport. The airport is extremely close to the center of the city, with airport shuttles running between the airport and the city center every 15 minutes (bus 397). Once you’re in the city center (or Centrum) you can walk or bike almost everywhere.
Neighborhoods to Visit
Grachtengordel (Canal Belt)
Postcards of Amsterdam typically showcase Grachtengordel. Encircled by the city’s main canals — Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht — this winsome zone is known for its colorful townhomes, waterfront eateries, upmarket hotels, and attractions like the Anne Frank House.
Arguably the most in-demand neighborhood in Centrum — or, more accurately, all of Amsterdam — Jordaan is an irresistibly beautiful maze of narrow lanes, canals, high-end boutiques, and cozy cafes.
Museumkwartier has a wide range of museums (the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum, to name a few), as well as the Concertgebouw. It’s also home to many fine jewelry stores and designer outposts.
Just south of Amsterdam’s city center lies De Pijp. This former working-class neighborhood turned hipster haven has an urban industrial edge and bohemian flair. Go savor the flavors of Albert Cuyp Markt and stay for the cool brunch spots, retro pubs, and contemporary ateliers.
If walls, err cobblestones, could talk, De Wallen would have tales to tell. Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District entices travelers with the promise of peep shows, sex shops, cannabis cafes, and nightclubs.
How to Get Around
Forget about renting a car, Totengco says, “Walking is honestly the best way to get around the city.” If you prefer to do as the locals do, download the Donkey Republic app to rent a bike or pop into a local rental shop.
If you have mobility challenges or visited Amsterdam during a bout of poor weather, she said, “the tram system is also efficient and easy to navigate.” If you’re planning to take public transportation and want to see all the major sites (including a canal cruise), Totengco recommends buying the I Amsterdam City Card which includes unlimited use of the city’s public transport (GVB), bike rental, a canal cruise, and over 70 museums, including the Rijksmuseum.
Trams: Amsterdam’s iconic blue-and-white trams remain a reliable and economical way to get around the city center (3.40 Euros an hour or 9 Euros a day). Most lines convene at Amsterdam Central Station, the city’s main transportation hub.
Buses: The bus system is quite extensive and efficient with over 40 lines. Catching a flight? Hop aboard the airport shuttle, which runs between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the city center every 15 minutes. Planning an evening out on the town? Whereas the trams and metros operate between 6 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., night buses come in clutch for after-dark transport needs.
Metros: The metro system comprises five routes and serves 39 stations, making it best for accessing the outlying suburbs.
Ferries: Like trams, buses, and metros, Amsterdam’s ferries are also operated by GVB. Connections across the Noordzeekanaal (North Sea Canal) are under 2 Euros, while boats crossing the IJ River are free of charge for pedestrians, cyclists, and moped riders.
Rideshare: If you’re sticking to Amsterdam’s Centrum, driving isn’t really necessary. However, it’s easy to hail an Uber to take you to some of the outer boroughs.
Trains: The Netherlands has an impressive national railway network. For day trips to the countryside and neighboring cities, trains from Amsterdam Central Station are a convenient and easy-to-navigate option.