Amsterdam City Guide: What To See And Do In The City Of Canals

Author: Amelia Glean

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Make the most of your visit to Amsterdam with Amelia Glean’s top picks for a stop-off at one of Europe’s most eclectic cities


With handsome 16th and 17th century architecture, magical canals and captivating scenery, let alone luscious syrup wafers, it’s no wonder Amsterdam has long been a favourite city-break destination.

Its historic centre is laced with waterways and atmospheric lanes full of treats waiting to be discovered – a tiny hidden garden; a boutique selling witty, stylish homewares; a jewel-box-like jenever gin distillery; a post office-turned-shopping mall or an all-avocado restaurant.

The city’s notorious nightlife still draws stag and hen dos by the coachload, but away from the red light district there is plenty more to see and do. Delve into regal, fashionable Jordaan, shabby-chic De Pijp and up-and- coming Oost, where old-school Turkish greengrocers ply their trade next to stylish restaurants, classic ‘brown’ cafes, shops majoring in those stroopwafels and other pastries, and independent boutiques. Leave your ship as early in your port stay as you can to make the most of your time in this stunning city – you won’t be disappointed.

Best Amsterdam sights

Anne Frank Museum

You can’t go to Amsterdam without visiting this 17th-century canal house, where in the 1940s a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, hid from the Nazis for two years with her family and four others. It’s a chilling and sombre reminder of the Second World War, but also a moving testament to the spirit of humankind. This is one of the city’s most popular sites and you must book online – 80 per cent of tickets are sold in advance.

Anne Frank House: Amsterdam
A memorial to Anne Frank stands outside her house

Van Gogh Museum

Dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh, this museum houses the largest collection of his work. Marvel at the artist’s bold use of colour and broad, expressive technique. The museum is closeto the vast national gallery of the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum, and together with the Stedelijk Museum nearby forms Amsterdam’s holy trinity of culture.

Amsterdam city guie
Van Gogh’s sunflower painting is famous the world over – here you can see the real thing

The Royal Palace

The exterior of the Royal Palace is classical, while the interior is magnificently furnished, with a wealth of reliefs, marble sculptures, friezes and works by Rembrandt’s pupils Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck. One of the world’s finest furniture collections is housed in the City Treasurer’s room, alongside an astonishing marble fireplace and impressive ceiling paintings.

Best Amsterdam restaurants and bars


Ever been to a self-proclaimed ‘theatre of fish’? We’re guessing not. On arrival at Pesca, you’re offered champagne while you peruse the day’s catch – cod, mussels, octopus and more – all stylishly set out on ice. Once you’ve made your selection, drinks and sides are added, you grab a table and wait for your perfectly cooked dish. Its buzzy, fast-paced atmosphere makes this an ideal starting point for a night out.

Hiding in Plain Sight

This classy, speakeasy-style bar feels like a secret club. It’s close to the centre of the city, but tucked away enough to avoid crowds. Its features include inventive cocktails, knowledgeable bartenders and luxurious seating. Complimentary olives and mixed nuts are served while you wait for your cocktail. Don’t miss the house special – the famous ‘Walking Dead’: its cinnamon sprinkles crackle and sparkle as the drink is set on fire at your table. Booking recommended.

Amsterdam city guide: Hiding in plain sight
You’ll find great cocktails at Hiding in Plain Sight

Restaurant 1e Klas

Dating from 1881, with soaring art nouveau ceilings, this distinguished restaurant in Centraal Station was once the waiting room for first class passengers. It’s a wonderfully comfortable spot for travellers and locals alike, and a great place to eat some local fare. Try the bitterballen (meat-filled croquettes) and a hoppy beer for a light lunch, or for a more substantial dish, the tenderloin strips served in a rich and hearty stroganoff sauce.

Bar Oldenhof

Amsterdam is famous for its ‘brown’ cafes and this is a classic. To enter the bar, you ring an unmarked doorbell, then wait for a server to greet and seat you and your guests. Inside you’ll find a cosy wood-lined bar and soft velvet furnishings. The menu offers all manner of superb cocktails, plus a wide selection of spirits, including whiskies, jenevers and rums. Call ahead to reserve a spot adjacent to the bar for the real experience.

Amsterdam city guide
Get a flavour of the golden age of travel in Restaurant 1e Klas in Restaurant 1e Klas

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What to expect


The Netherlands offers a mild climate, similar to that of the United Kingdom. Summers are generally warm, though winters can be very cold, rainy and windy, with the occasional snowfall.


Hold a British passport valid for the duration of your visit? You won’t need a visa to enter Holland, at least until 31 December 2020. But make sure your passport is in good condition: some visitors to the Netherlands with damaged passports have been stopped.


The Netherlands uses the euro, which is easily obtained from ATMs (avoid conversion charges by picking a card that allows for free withdrawals). Visa and Mastercard are both widely accepted, though you may find it more convenient to use cash.

When to go

Amsterdam is a great spot to visit all year round, but travelling in April and May or September to November means you’ll avoid the worst of the tourist crowds.

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Best Amsterdam buys

Bols Jenever: Gin lovers rejoice! Jenever, often likened to the English spirit, is a Dutch favourite, with a mellower, more aromatic flavour. Locals traditionally drink it straight, or with a small blonde beer – a combo called a kopstoot. Fancy taking some home? Visit the nearby Bols distillery.

Mature Gouda: Cheese-loving travellers are spoilt for choice here, thanks to countless stores selling tasty Edams and boerenkaas. But if you’re on the hunt for exceptionally matured Gouda, head to the old part of the city, where locals shop.

Mature gouda is a Dutch speciality

Ajax shirt: As lovers of the beautiful game will know, Ajax in south Amsterdam is the biggest club in Dutch football. With thousands of supporters around the globe, club memorabilia makes a great souvenir for footie fans .

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Best local tips

‘If you love historic buildings I suggest a walk through Lastage and Nieuwmarkt to the Entrepotdok. Along the canal are amazing old warehouses everywhere you look.’ Martijn Jepkes, marketing manager

‘Don’t miss a visit to the ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ museum, which charts the history of Amsterdam, as well as showcasing period interiors of a 17th century canal-house.’ Karen Turner, student

‘Head to the top of Centraal Station where you’ll find the A’dam Lookout Tower, with unrivalled panoramic views of the city. It’s the perfect place for taking photos.’ Rocco Vermijs, tour guide

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Book an Amsterdam cruise

7-night ‘Rhine Getaway’ cruise aboard Viking Longship Eir, from Basel to Amsterdam via Breisach, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and Kinderdijk, departing 6 April 2021, from £1,745.

11-night Culture & Cuisine Voyage aboard Azamara Journey, from Amsterdam to Lisbon via Antwerp, Zebrugge and La Coruna, departing on 28 August 2021, from £2,378.