Top 5 things to do when visiting Amsterdam (part 2)

Sunny Amsterdam Canal

When planning your trip to Amsterdam, the options can feel overwhelming! With so much history, culture, things to do and see, the possibilities are endless. This guide should be your first stop when planning your trip. Depending on what you’re trying to get out of your trip, these lists will give you the top items that you should pencil in first! We’ll cover the best things to do in Amsterdam for couples, foodies, history buffs, families, and when exploring the city during the winter. This is the second article in our series on Amsterdam, check out part 1 for the must see attractions on a weekend trip, best free attractions, and the top things to do for young adults and night owls. Take a look at all the sections to make sure you don’t miss anything!

Top 5 things to do in Amsterdam for couples

Amsterdam is a city of romance. Fall in love all over again as you explore the local culture and art and take in the picturesque scenes throughout the city.

1. Find the perfect hotel for a romantic getaway

Amsterdam is full of places that cater to lovebirds. There are a number of 5 star hotels around the city, and if you and your boo are in the mood to splurge, you can’t go wrong with old standbys like the InterContinental Amstel Hotel or Grand Hotel Amrâth. These spots are iconic for their amazing service, though couples on a more modest budget can find a number of great places to stay as well. Volkshotel, Hotel Not Hotel, and Max Brown Canal District offer incredibly romantic settings at a more reasonable price point. Adventurous couples may want to try the Crane Hotel Faralda (built in a crane). Here you can relax in luxurious digs after bungee jumping off the top! For a stay in modern luxury, cross the river IJ to Sir Adam, a boutique hotel in the A’DAM tower with stunning views overlooking the city.

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2. Tour Gassan Diamonds

Gassan Diamond tour
The Gassan Diamond tour. Bagdasaryan roza CC BY-SA 4.0 

Amsterdam is a historical diamond capital of the world. Before World War II, the predominantly Jewish diamond industry thrived in the city. Cutters, polishers, and traders drove the city to international prominence. Today few of those diamond dynasties remain, though visitors can step back in time with a visit to Gassan Diamonds. Guided tours are given daily and include visits to the cutting and polishing areas. Of course many couples may find perusing the extensive showroom to be the most romantic part of the visit.

3. See the horses at Hollandsche Manege (Riding School)

Hollandsche Manege
See the horses and the history at Hollandsche Manege. Ernest McGray, Jr. CC BY-SA 2.0 

For a unique date idea that’s sure to be enjoyed by horse enthusiasts as well as their less experienced other-halves, visit the Hollandsche Manege (Riding School). This is the oldest riding school in the Netherlands, founded in 1744, with the current building dating to 1882. This “living horse museum” features a number of exhibitions. Enjoy the stunning architecture while you learn about historical riding styles and clothing during one of the “carousel exhibitions” or relax with high tea in the foyer. Make sure to book your visit in advance!

4. Catch a movie at Pathé Tuschinski or the EYE Film Institute

Eye Film Institute
Not your average theater at the EYE Film Institute. Jvhertum CC BY-SA 3.0 

What could be a more classic date night than dinner and a movie? Of course when you are on a romantic getaway in a foreign city, just any old cinema won’t do. Luckily, Amsterdam features two iconic theaters to enjoy a night out with your bae in a breathtaking setting. Pathé Tuschinski is widely considered to be among the world’s most beautiful theaters. Commissioned in 1921, the architecture and interior design will transport you back in time. For a more modern, though no less impressive setting, try the EYE Film Institute, whose stunning architecture houses both a theater and a film museum.
Go for a moonlit walk around Amsterdam at night

5. Go for a moonlit walk around Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam Canal at Night
The canals lit up at night. Massimo Catarinella CC BY-SA 3.0 

One can’t help but to fall deeper in love when walking hand in hand down the cobblestoned streets of Amsterdam at night. The beautiful canal belt area takes on a special kind of magic as the lights lining the canal bridges create a shimmering wonderland to explore with your love. Break up your walk with a stop at one of the many romantic cafes lining the streets or take an evening canal cruise to experience the sights from the water.

Top 5 things to do in Amsterdam for foodies

Like many major cities, Amsterdam has a thriving food culture. From local eats to world cuisine, hole in the wall cafes to the most elegant dining experiences, there is something for everyone and for every budget in the city.

1. Try a bit of everything at Food Hallen

Variety is the word of the day at Foodhallen. Franklin Heijnen CC BY-SA 2.0 

Start your tour of Amsterdam’s culinary culture at Foodhallen. This hall features stalls of some of the best street food you can find anywhere mixed in with great cocktail and wine bars. With something to please any palate, this is a great place for groups with differing tastes. Pick your favorite or try a bit of everything, with too many choices to try them all, you may find that you need to stop by Foodhallen more than once!

2. Pair your food with great wine and brews

beer and wine
Quinn Dombrowski CC BY-SA 2.0 

What is great food without something to pair it with. Amsterdam is seeing a growing number of craft breweries and wineries that are a great visit for the culinary minded. For the beer connoisseur, there are a number of breweries that are worth your time. For the sommelier in training, Amsterdam now has a winery in city limits. Visit Chateau Amsterdam for a taste of the young local wine scene. Of course you don’t have to go to the source to enjoy great beer and wine, make sure to pair your meal with a dram of local drinks wherever you end up.

3. Get a taste of the high life at one of Amsterdam’s Michelin starred restaurants

&Moshik Restaurant
A table at &Moshik is well worth the effort to get one. Zanaq CC BY-SA 3.0 

Amsterdam has 3 restaurants which register 2 Michelin stars. As any foodie knows, these restaurants represent the best in the world, not to mention in the city. You won’t have an easy time finding a reservation at Spectrum, Ciel Bleu, or &Moshik, but you can guarantee that you will have an unforgettable experience. Each is unique, and none of these will disappoint.

4. Send your taste buds on a trip around the world at Amsterdam’s international restaurants

Amsterdam is a cultural melting pot. People and cultures from around the world have united to create the unique fabric of life in the city. With this in mind, it is little surprise that many global cuisines are featured across the city’s restaurants. Like in many cities, Ramen shops have popped up on many corners and great Thai food is available in almost any neighborhood. There are also some national fares represented that are more rare in other cities. Indonesian food is incredibly popular in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands. The city’s large Surinamese population has made the food of Suriname incredibly popular as well. Hawaiian food has also made a big splash recently with restaurants featuring poké bowls showing up around the city. For a trip around the food world, all in one place, look no further than Amsterdam!

5. Enjoy tradition with a modern twist at one of Amsterdam’s Dutch restaurants.

A basket of bitterballen

While true Dutch restaurants are not super common throughout the city, there are a few, and as they say, when in Rome, don’t miss the Dutch food. Savory dishes include krokets, battered and fried rolls containing various meats or rookworst, a smoked Dutch sausage often served with stamppot, a dish made with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and sauerkraut. Seafood lovers will enjoy “Lekkerbekje” and “Kibbeling”, fried whitefish similar in preparation to English fish and chips. For a truly traditional experience, the adventurous foodie may want to try “Hollandse Nieuwe” or Dutch new herring, a raw herring served with chopped onions and pickles. Even if you don’t get to a Dutch restaurant, you can find bitterballen, small fried balls of meat, patat, the Dutch version of french fries, and of course dutch cheese just about anywhere. The Dutch also know how to do sweets! Don’t miss caramel filled stroopwaffles or drop, the Dutch word for liquorice.

Bonus: Don’t forget the pancakes!

Dutch Pancake
You won’t regret adding bacon into your pancakes. Takeaway CC BY-SA 4.0

You have to love any country whose culinary culture prominently features pancakes! You’ll find these delicacies served in both traditional and inventive ways all around the city. One of the most comprehensive menu of pancake dishes can be found at PANCAKES Amsterdam. Here you’ll find a great selection of both traditional Dutch and American style flapjacks.

Another memorable way to enjoy this Amsterdam tradition is with the Pancake cruise. Enjoy a buffet of pancakes and other delicacies as you float along the IJ river, marveling at both historic and modern buildings lining the river banks.

Top 5 things to do in Amsterdam for history buffs

Rembrandt statues

Amsterdam was granted “city rights” in either 1300 or 1306, officially incorporating it as a true city. Since then it has seen stints as an important place of religious pilgrimage, the center of the European free press during Dutch conflict with Spain, the most wealthy city in the Western world during the Dutch Golden age, and a modern international trading power. All of this history is remembered today in the city’s numerous historical sites. Anyone interested in Dutch history or European history in general will find endless opportunities to immerse themselves in the past in Amsterdam.

1. See the old and new churches

Oude Kerk
The beautiful facade of Oude Kerk. David Holt CC BY-SA 2.0 

Consecrated in 1306, Oude Kerk, or “Old Church”, is the oldest building still in use in the city. The church, originally founded by the Calvinists, features beautiful stained glass windows and a large wooden roof. Catch an organ concert to hear the amazing acoustics.
While Oude Kerk is the oldest active building in the city, Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, isn’t nearly as modern as its name may imply. This church, located near the royal palace, dates back to the early fifteenth century and was historically the site of coronations of Dutch royalty. Today you can catch an organ recital, view one of the art exhibitions that the church hosts, or just admire the beautiful architecture.

2. Take a stroll through Amsterdam’s most historic neighborhoods

Begijnhof Wooden House
The wooden house in Begijnhoff. Michiel1972 CC BY-SA 3.0 

There are many historic areas throughout the city, but for true history buffs, the neighborhoods of Begijnhof and Jordaan are not to be missed. Beginhoff was founded in the fourteenth century by the Beguines, a Catholic sisterhood similar to nuns, but with the ability to return to secular life if desired. Today, a walk through Begijnhof will bring you by the old Begijnensloot gate, dating back to 1574, and an old wooden house, dating to 1528, among other historical sites.
Jordaan was originally a neighborhood for blue collar workers, though today it has been transformed into an upscale area of the city, with great restaurants and bars. Hidden courtyards line a maze of historic streets. Many of these courtyards were restored in the 1970’s, though they date back long before that, when they were created by rich patrons as gardens for the benefit of the city’s elderly women. Keep an eye out for stone tablets on the facades of many houses in this area which depict the profession of the original owner of the house. Many of these go back to the 16th century.

3. Learn the tragic history of the Anne Frank House

Anne Frank
Anne Frank in happier times

The Anne Frank House is the preserved house in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during the holocaust in the Netherlands. Today the attic in which Anne and her family lived for over two years is preserved to look much like it did during that time. The house also contains a museum chronicling Anne Frank and her family, the holocaust, and persecuted peoples everywhere. Visiting the Anne Frank house is both chilling and important, and is an absolute must during any visit to Amsterdam. Don’t miss our guide to planning your visit here. Skip the line when you buy your ticket in advance online here.

4. Witness history as it is being made at the Royal Palace Amsterdam

Royal Palace Amsterdam
The beautiful Royal Palace Amsterdam. Diego Delso CC BY-SA 4.0 

Dating back to the 17th century, the Royal Palace was originally Amsterdam’s City hall, before being converted into a residence for Louis Napoleon, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Following the fall of the French Empire, the palace was preserved and today serves as residence for the Dutch Monarch. The active palace plays an important role in state visits and other formal ceremonies, though it is also open to the public as often as possible. Visitors to this living historic site can marvel at the beautiful architecture while they learn about the deep history of city in the many exhibitions around the palace. The Royal Palace Amsterdam is located on Dam Square, close to many of the city’s other historical sites, making this an easy addition to any history focused visit.

Skip the line by purchasing your ticket to tour the Royal Palace here!

5. Dive into the archives at the Stadsarchief

De Bazel
De Bazel, home of the Stadsarchief. Fred Romero CC BY 2.0 

This one is for the true history buff. The Stadsarchief is Amsterdam’s City Archives. This working government department is dedicated to preserving (and more recently digitizing) the city’s important and historical documents. A trip to the archives is worth it just to check out the architecture of the containing building, De Bazel, though the archives also regularly host temporary exhibitions where visitors can view some of the most important and interesting documents of the city.

Top 5 things to do in Amsterdam for families

Amsterdam can be a great place to visit with kids! With so much history and culture, this is a great place to bring the family to have fun while learning. Whether you are seeking a chance to spend time together and relax as a family or to broaden your children’s horizons, you’ll find it all here.

1. Get a feel for Amsterdam’s deep and varied culture at Albert Cuyp Market

Albert Cuyp Market
Grab a souvenir or just window shop at the bustling The Albert Cuyp Market

The Albert Cuyp Market claims to be the most popular market in the Netherlands, and after a visit here, it will be easy to see why. Located in the Latin Quarter, this bustling open air market features vendors hawking everything from souvenirs to clothes to Amsterdam’s famous flowers. You can pick up a few trinkets to remember the trip, or just window shop and take in the market’s many sights. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the local and international food. Snack on a stroopwafel, try some international cuisine at one of the local Indian or Surinamese restaurants, or for the daring, try some true Dutch fare with a raw herring sandwich. When you’re ready to take a break, head over to the peaceful Sarphatipark, located right behind the market, to unwind.

2. Stick your toes in the sand at Blijburg Beach

Blijburg Beach
The Blijburg beach is an oasis in the city. Franklin Heijnen CC BY-SA 2.0 

Looking at Amsterdam on a map, the last thing you may expect to find there is a beach. At Blijburg, however, that is exactly the case. This artificial beach is located on the man-made island of IJburg in the eastern part of the city. Here you’ll find people of all ages engaging in your standard beach activities like swimming, sunbathing, and playing in the sand.

3. See the wildlife at Artis Zoo

Lion at Artis

There’s few family outings as classic as a trip to the zoo. Zebras, elephants, giraffes, and chimpanzees are just a few of the Artis Royal Zoo’s 700 species. When you’re done seeing the animals, check out the aquarium and planetarium at Artis as well. Also don’t miss Micropia, claiming to be the world’s first museum of microbes. If you’re going to be visiting a few covered attractions, make sure to save on your trip to the zoo with the I Amsterdam pass. If you’d prefer not to buy your ticket at the gate, book in advance and skip the line when booking through our friends at GetYourGuide!

4. Indulge your sweet tooth with a chocolate tasting

chocolate truffles
Chocolate lovers rejoice. David Leggett CC BY 2.0 

While Belgium may steal some of the international limelight for chocolate, Dutch chocolatiers are not to be outshined by their neighbors to the south. Some favorites are Vanroselen and Puccini Bomboni. You may also find Tony’s Chocolonely’s flagship store to cater more to the younger crowd with an unpretentious line of chocolate bars. Best yet, Tony’s Chocolonely has created an international business built around “slave-free” chocolate production, so you will be supporting fair labor practices. While you’re there, check out the other creative businesses and cultural events taking up residence in Westergasfabriek, a once-polluted factory site that has been cleaned up and redeveloped into a park, event space, and shopping area.

Can’t decide? Try one of these awesome chocolate tours that visit a few gourmet chocolatiers.

5. Eat your fill on the Canal Pizza Cruise

It’s no secret that the beautiful canal system is one of Amsterdam’s greatest treasures and a cruise is one of the best ways to see it, but did you know that there is a pizza cruise through the canals? You’ll love the sights and history covered on this 90 minute tour, and the kids will love the pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!

Bonus: Have a blast and learn at Nemo, Amsterdam’s Science Museum

Nemo Museum
Don’t miss the views from the roof at Nemo. WikimediaC CC BY-SA 4.0 

From awesome exhibitions to hands on science experiments, the fun doesn’t stop at Nemo Science Museum. Once you finish with all the indoor activities, head up to the giant sloping roof of the museum for some of the best views of the city. In the summertime the roof is covered in sand and turned into a beach.

Bonus: Get your shop on at the Scheldestraat

The Miffy Store
Miffy’s very own store!

If you’re looking to some family focused shopping, you’ll love the Scheldestraat. This street just outside of the canal area has a few great kids shops and reasonably priced restaurants. The popular Dutch children’s book character Miffy even has her own shop here!

Top 5 things to do in Amsterdam in winter

Amsterdam Canal in Winter

More people visit Amsterdam during the mild and warm summer months, though those who brave the sometimes damp wintertime will find a less crowded and no less magical city. Avoid the cold at the big museums or a cozy brown bar, where you’ll find shorter queues and some special experiences only available in the wintertime.

1. Light up the night at the Amsterdam Light Festival

Amsterdam Light Festival
Instalations like this one take over the night sky during the Amsterdam Light Festival. UrbanUrban_ru CC BY-SA 2.0

The Amsterdam Light Festival stretches for a few weeks through December and into the New Year. The festival is centered around a number of light art installations around the city. Artists outdo themselves each year with continuously more innovative projects. In addition, there are a number of performances, exhibitions, and storytellings presented on various evenings throughout the event. One of the best ways to see the lights is from the water, cuddled up with a warm drink on a canal cruise.

2. Celebrate the winter holidays in Amsterdam

Sinterklaas makes his annual arrival in Amsterdam from his home in Spain. Sander van der Wel CC BY-SA 2.0 

Throughout the Christmas season you will see wonderful decorations everywhere you look in the city. Explore the Christmas markets, where you’ll find vendors selling beautiful handmade trinkets and delicious food and drink. There’s nothing like strolling through the markets with a hot chocolate or gluhwein (mulled wine) to get you into the spirit of the season.
If you’re in town around mid November, look out for the Sinterklaas parade celebrating Sinterklaas, the Dutch Christmas character who is similar to, but just a bit different than Santa Claus. This parade marks the traditional arrival of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands from his home in Spain as well as the start of the shopping season for the Netherlands’ main gift giving day, the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, on Dec. 5th.

We already talked about all great things for couples to do year round in Amsterdam, but there’s no better time to enjoy these activities than Valentine’s day. Take a getaway with your sweetie to enjoy the romance of Amsterdam on the most romantic day of the year.

3. Channel your inner figure skater while ice skating on the canal

Skating on Canal
When the canals become one giant ice rink. Jannes Glas. CC BY 2.0 

The temperature during Amsterdam’s winters doesn’t dip below freezing for multiple days too often, but if you are lucky enough to hit one of those times, you may catch the canals in a deep freeze. When this occurs, the canals are blocked and you can get out there to skate. If it doesn’t get cold enough for the canals to freeze during your stay, no worries, an outdoor rink is set up in the iconic Museumplein, where you can take take to the ice against a backdrop of the beautiful Rijksmuseum, an experience that is truly unforgettable and truly Amsterdam.

4. Tuck into one of Amsterdam’s cozy “brown bars”

a cozy brown bar
Nothing better than a hot mulled cider in a cozy brown bar to shake off the cold. JCWilmore CC BY 3.0 

A classic Amsterdam pub experience can be had at one of the city’s many brown bars. These cozy taverns are decorated in dark wood and are often candlelit, creating a beautiful and inviting atmosphere. Especially in the less crowded winter months, this is the perfect place to get to know the locals as you immerse yourself in the friendly Amsterdam culture. Come in from the cold to warm up with a mulled wine and friendly conversation.

5. Fill up with some hearty Dutch cuisine

Oliebollen Vendor
FaceMePLS CC BY 2.0 

Some would say that Dutch cuisine was made to be eaten on a cold winter’s day or night. Enjoy the hearty and traditional stamppot, a Dutch mash potato dish, or Snert, a type of split pea and ham soup to shake off the chill of a day exploring outdoors. Don’t miss the Oliebollen either. These treats are almost a cross between donut holes and funnel cakes, served steaming and dusted in sugar by street vendors. Oliebollen are traditionally eaten on New Years Eve, and you likely will find them popping up right around that time of year… as if you needed one more reason to visit during the Winter.

What do you think? Have you visited any of these spots? Did we miss any? Let us know below!
Looking for more inspiration for your trip? Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, with a focus on free things to do in Amsterdam, top things to do if you only have a few days in the city, and the best sights and activities for young adults and night owls.

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