It’s easy to find lists of must do’s in Amsterdam, but all too often you’ll either be directed to the city’s lowlights or hemmed in with thousands of other tourists. If you've never been to the glorious Dutch capital, you will probably start by checking where to stay in Amsterdam. Then, you will want to explore the city's most interesting spots. So here is an insider’s guide the 10 best ways to experience the 10 highlights on a first timer’s trip to this incredible city.
Must do in Amsterdam for first time visitors - Contents
There are dozens of ways to see Amsterdam by water but rather than catch one of the many tourist boats, why not book yourself onto G’s Brunch Boat for the best Bloody Mary’s and brunch in town. Sit back and watch the city float by – this could prove to be the ultimate morning-after the night before. For more ways to enjoy Amsterdam from the water check out our Best Canal Boat Tours in Amsterdam.
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Ride a bike
Even if you haven’t been on a bike for years, now is the time to get back in the saddle. Amsterdam is a cyclist’s dream and with its extensive cycle lanes and pancake-flat terrain, you’ll feel like a local in no time. Dutch cyclists can be slightly intolerant of tourists though, so unless you’re feeling super-confident book yourself a 2 hour ‘Small City Bike Tour’ with Yellow Bikes who are based just a few minutes from Central Station. With a maximum of 12 cyclists in the group and packed with insider info you’ll see all the hotspots and highlights and will have earned a well-deserved Dutch treat at the end of it. Irrespective of the hostel in Amsterdam you pick, you can cycle straight to the city centre. Nice, easy and elegant.
Chips and Apple Pie
Talking of treats, Amsterdam’s foodie specialities include chips (known to locals as Flaamse - or Belgian - fries) and Dutch apple pie. There are no shortage of places offering up these delights but those in the know head to Vlemincx for their fries, a hole in the wall down a little alley called Voetboogstraat (be sure to ask for your cone of 'patat' to be served with either typical Dutch mayonnaise; 'fritesaus' or how about 'oorlog' which is saté sauce with onions!). For apple pie, locals make a beeline for Winkel 43 in the gorgeous Jordaan where they enjoy a seat on the terrace for a huge slice of 'appeltaart' with whipped cream. Find all our favourite places to eat in the city by checking out Our Favourite Amsterdam Restaurants and Café's.
Taking photos at the IAmsterdam sign in Museum Square is a tourist staple. If you get there first thing in the morning, it will be your best chance to avoid the crowds and get a picture of each letter ready to make your friends jealous with most Instagrammable montage around.
Once in Museum Square, a trip to Amsterdam just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of its world-class museums. Our favourite is the newly restored Rijksmuseum. Insiders download the museum app in advance rather than paying for an audio guide inside. Just tap the painting number into your phone and get audiovisual information about some of its extraordinary works. Read more about the top 50 things to do in Amsterdam.
Wander the canals
Amsterdam’s canals are picture perfect but here are our local tips for the two best shots to grab. First up wander along the gorgeous Keizersgracht to where it meets the Reguliersgracht. At this junction, you’ll get canal and bridge views in all directions and if you get the angle right you can capture 7 bridges in a row. After that, walk 5 minutes up the road to the Staalstraat and stand on the bridge where it meets Groenburgwal for the dream shot with canal houses on either side and a small church tower in the middle of your frame.
Amsterdam has 9 little streets that criss-cross three of its loveliest canals. This is a great place to shop in some of the city’s little independent stores but it’s also the perfect spot to grab lunch or a coffee. Our top tip is patisserie and chocolatier Pompadour for some of the best cakes in town.
Herring and stroopwafels
A visit to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without a taste of some of its standout street food specialities. For the very best herring and caramel waffles in town wander along the traditional Albert Cuyp market in the heart of The Pijp and sample the real deal from local vendors (and be sure to get yourself some mini pancakes or 'poffertjes' as well whilst you’re here).
A visit to Amsterdam really should include some time spent in the Anne Frank House. Due to its small size and enduring fascination, this is the country’s most visited attraction and it’s almost impossible to get tickets unless you’ve booked in advance. If you haven’t done so, or if you want to understand more about the context, head to Amsterdam’s Plantage area which was the heart of Jewish Amsterdam before the war and be sure to visit the magnificent Portuguese Synagogue; the fascinating Jewish Museum and the tragic Hollandse Schouwburg - formerly a theatre and now a monument where tens of thousands of Jews were rounded up and deported during the war.
Amsterdam centre can get seriously hectic but those looking for a little peace and quiet wander into the glorious Begijnhof – a medieval courtyard that once housed a Catholic sisterhood – which is hidden behind a door in the incredibly busy Spui. Despite its location in the heart of the city, the little square and chapel remain incredibly peaceful showing great respect for the women who still live here today.
So there you go. You now know all the local secrets about the 10 must do’s on the first trip to Amsterdam. Have an amazing trip!