3 days in Amsterdam
Make the most of a short break in one of Europe's coolest capitals with our 3-day itinerary
Explore Amsterdam in just three days
Culturally rich and occasionally risqué, Europe’s most freewheeling city is famous for its art, canals and laidback culture. And of course its bicycles.
A weekend trip to Amsterdam couldn't be easier from London, with direct trains from St Pancras International whisking you to Amsterdam Centraal in under four hours.
And, with our 3-day Amsterdam itinerary, you’ll get to experience all the head-spinning variety this pocket-sized capital has to offer.
Amsterdam 3-day itinerary
How many days in Amsterdam make for the perfect trip? With our whistlestop itinerary, 3 days is just the ticket.
Amsterdam itinerary: Day 1
Fill up on pancakes, check out the art scene, hit the shops and settle in for the evening with a view or a viewing.
Ferdinand Bolstraat 11, 1072 LA
There’s no better way to start the day than a stack of fat, fluffy pancakes – and Moak delivers every time.
Quality ingredients come as standard (think organic buttermilk and flour), along with a hip-hop soundtrack and easy-going vibe.
Classic breakfast options come stuffed with blueberries or piled with banana, dates and honey, while the Mancake’s a hangover-banishing combo of bacon, onion, maple syrup and cheddar.
Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX
Next stop: some serious art immersion. Rembrandt’s Night Watch may be the big draw at the Rijksmuseum, but there’s much more to see at the Golden Age art trove.
You could easily spend a whole day here, but you may want to limit yourself to the well-known Dutch masters on the second floor.
Van Gogh Museum
Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ
If bearded men in breeches and still-life paintings of cheese don't float your boat, head to the Van Gogh Museum.
It offers an in-depth look at the life and art of the tormented painter, while the building itself is an architectural masterpiece. Tickets are only available online, so make sure you book in advance.
Hit the shops
Amsterdam has more than its share of cute boutiques, so leave enough time to do some shopping.
For a taste of the city’s postcard-perfect charms, explore the Nine Streets (De 9 Straatjes), a grid of picturesque streets on the west of the canal belt that has something for everyone.
Head to Reestraat for restaurants, Hartenstraat for Scandi-style fashions and Runstraat for cheese.
Catching the ferry to Amsterdam-Noord can feel like an adventure within an adventure.
In this relatively undiscovered part of the city you’ll find Madam, a 'skybar' offering unrivalled vistas and delectable signature cocktails.
Look out too for the Eye Film Museum, jutting out over the river like a giant robot shark. End the day with a screening or enjoy a meal with great views of the river.
Amsterdam itinerary: Day 2
See a new side to the famous red light district, explore the smaller canals, taste the city's freshest seafood and take a moment to reflect at the powerful Anne Frank House.
Red light district
While De Wallen, Amsterdam's infamous red light district, has cleaned up under a recent gentrification drive, you should still expect to see plenty of seediness.
But look beyond the tack and you’ll discover one of the prettiest parts of the city.
De Oude Kerk is the focal point of the area and is Amsterdam’s oldest standing building, now hosting a range of experimental art and music.
The area's artistic credentials continue at Zeedijk 60, a clothing store championing local labels and X Bank, a 700m2 space dedicated to Dutch design.
Next up, wind your way along the canals to Jordaan.
In this neighbourhood you’ll find traditional brown bars alongside trendy coffee roasters, as well as an organic market, tiny art galleries and well-fed house cats roaming the charming residential streets.
The smaller canals such as the Egelantiersgracht and Bloemgracht are arguably even more picturesque than their bigger, concentric cousins (Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht), so keep your camera handy.
Anne Frank House
Westermarkt 20, 1016 DK
One of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions, the Anne Frank House should be high on the list of any first-time visitor.
Besides the secret annexe where Anne and her family went into hiding during the Nazi occupation, there's an exhibition dedicated to the persecution of the Jews during the second world war.
Be sure to book tickets online, as you can no longer buy them at the door.
Van Baerlestraat 5, 1071 AL
Tables are in high demand at this airy, white-tiled seafood joint, whose sustainably sourced seafood is among the best in town.
Book ahead if you can or be prepared to wait. It’s less painful than it sounds, thanks to an online queuing system.
Kick off with half-a-dozen fine de claire oysters, then take your pick of the mains, which run from garlicky grilled prawns to piled-high seafood platters.
Amsterdam itinerary: Day 3
Get a modern art fix, stock up on cut-price souvenirs, hit quirky De Pijp and go for sky-high cocktails with Michelin-starred snacks.
Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ
On your last day in Amsterdam, revisit Museumplein for a final culture fix.
The Stedelijk Museum is one of Europe’s best modern art galleries, with an amazing permanent collection hidden in its bathtub-shaped extension.
Look out for pieces by Marlene Dumas, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, among other international artists. If you buy a ticket online you can skip the queue, and entry is free for under 18s.
Albert Cuyp market
Albert Cuypstraat, 1073 BD
With around 260 stalls, the bustling Albert Cuyp market is the city’s largest of its kind.
From Monday to Saturday, you can buy anything from clothes and electronic items to flowers, fish and fruit.
Expect plenty of shouting and patter from cheeky market vendors as you stock up on souvenirs like stroopwafels (caramel waffles) and cheese, at more sensible prices than tourist shops.
Peckish? Stick around in the bohemian De Pijp neighbourhood, where you’ll find lots of trendy eateries and cafés, within and around the market.
Try Little Collins for a laidback but beautifully presented brunch, or The Butcher if you fancy a hearty burger with an astonishing array of toppings.
Once you've refuelled, soak up some peace and quiet with a stroll through Sarphatipark. Named after public health hero Samuel Sarphati, it’s a perfectly formed green space and a soothing pocket of serenity.
Twenty Third Bar
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333, 1072 LH
In a city that’s low on skyscrapers, this sleek, high-rise hotel bar is an unexpected find.
Cocktails are boldly conceptual, but invariably taste delicious – like the playful Cloudy Sky, topped with a delicate puff of candy floss.
The restaurant here holds two Michelin stars, so the bar snacks are sublime. Think incredible oysters and delicately delicious open macaroons with goose liver and mango.
Best insider tips for Amsterdam
Save money with a city pass – If you're planning to use public transport or hit lots of attractions, look into a city pass. The Amsterdam GoCity Pass, the I Amsterdam City Card and the Museum Pass all offer different deals, so it pays to do your research.
Book ahead for popular sights – For many galleries and museums you have to book a time slot online, and many sell out weeks in advance, particularly in the school holidays. If there's somewhere you definitely want to go, book well ahead.
Keep an eye out for bikes and trams – Be very careful when crossing the road because cyclists don’t always look out for pedestrians and a quiet tram can catch you off-guard. And whatever you do, don’t walk in the cycle lanes: you'll only enrage the locals.
Expect four seasons in a day – The weather in Amsterdam is unpredictable, whatever the season, so bring an umbrella and suitable clothes. On a rainy day look out for locals wearing head-to-toe ‘rain suits’. Not the most flattering, perhaps, but one sure way to stay dry.
Frequently asked questions about short breaks in Amsterdam
Yes. The main sights in Amsterdam are all within walking distance of each other and almost everywhere you go, you'll be following or crossing one of the city's pretty canals.
Just be sure to watch out for cyclists and trams, and pack an umbrella and a waterproof, so you're ready for anything the weather can throw at you.
Amsterdam can be visited at any time of year – you'll always find something fun to do or interesting to see.
Of course a boat trip along the canal will always be better on a warm, sunny day, but there are lots of museums and galleries to dive into if you visit when it's wet or chilly. And cold weather's always a good excuse for a long, lingering lunch or cake stop.
School holidays – particularly in July and August – tend to be more expensive and everywhere is busier. The shoulder season of June or September is worth considering, if you're travelling without kids.
There are enough museums, shops, restaurants and bars to keep you amused for months, but with our 3-day itinerary, you can fit all of the must-sees into a long weekend.