Amsterdam holidays and city breaks
There’s nowhere quite like Amsterdam, a city so full of character that turning a street corner can sometimes feel like walking into a Golden Age painting. There’s so much more to the Netherlands’ capital than its party-loving reputation would have you believe, though night owls of all stripes still happily flock here. The bijou size of the city makes it a breeze to explore: pack a weekend in Amsterdam with canalside lounging, vintage shopping and stellar dining. Amsterdam holidays are made for soaking up the sights: get lost down cobbled streets, stop by a ‘brown café’ for a craft beer on tap, flop on an urban beach, or take your time exploring the city’s remarkable museums. Here you'll find everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable Amsterdam break.
Things to do in Amsterdam
Some of the best things in life, they say, are free – and the same goes for the best things to do in Amsterdam. Discover the city on foot, or hop on a bike: with cycle-friendly traffic and a Unesco-listed canal ring to explore, it pays to get around like a local. Once you’ve got your bearings, get a culture fix at one of the city’s famed museums, showcasing everything from Renaissance art to multi-media installations. There’s plenty of things to do in Amsterdam with kids, too, thanks to a royal zoo, family-friendly street food stalls and some 40 parks they can run loose in. Travelling without? Don’t miss a taste of Amsterdam’s laid-back nightlife, from hip cocktail bars to raucous warehouse parties.
Things to see in Amsterdam
It’s no surprise the Grachtengordel – the ring of canals circling the city’s core – remains one of the first things to see in Amsterdam. With its tiny terraces, graceful bridges and narrow gabled houses, this Unesco-protected district is as charming as it was in the 17th-century – and is just one of many noteworthy Amsterdam attractions. You’ll find most Amsterdam landmarks within a 30-minute-walk radius from Centraal Station, meaning you could easily get through the best things to see in Amsterdam in one day. Spend the morning hitting the museums, get snap-happy around the picturesque Jordaan neighbourhood, or hop on a free ferry to Amsterdam Noord for cutting-edge architecture and cool waterside hangouts.
If it’s your first visit, Dam Square is a quick stroll from the station and the first Amsterdam landmark to tick off your list. Flanked by the Royal Palace, this handsome plaza hosts events year-round, including the National Tulip Day. Nearby, gothic Nieuwe Kerk still hosts coronations and royal weddings, but mostly functions as an exhibition space. Next, head to the Singel canal’s Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market, then on to Leidseplein, the beating heart of Amsterdam’s nightlife. Leafy Vondelpark is just across the water, a hop and a skip away from the city’s best museums.
So rich is Amsterdam’s cultural heritage that the city has a whole quarter dedicated to its best museums and galleries. The aptly named Museumplein is flanked by three of the city’s finest, most notably the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum’s treasure trove of Rembrandts, Vermeers and other Golden Age masters. The Stedelijk Museum, too, warrants more than a passing glance thanks to its arresting modern and contemporary art collection. Make time for a visit to the Anne Frank House; the young Jewish diarist’s last hiding place is a sobering reminder of the tragedy of war.
The clue’s in the name: tucked away behind the Royal Palace, this charming pocket of the Grachtengordel is made up of nine parallel little streets. Locals know it as ‘De Negen Straatjes’. It’s a popular destination for shoppers, thanks to its mixture of vintage and indie designer shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. Head to sleek concept store X Bank for your pick of the best of Dutch talent, or The Frozen Fountain for covetable home accessories. There’s no shortage of refuelling spots, either. Stop by Pluk for brunch, or try Screaming Beans for an achingly hip hit of caffeine.
With more time on your hands, make the most of a longer break in Amsterdam by planning a day trip. A 35-minute bus ride away, Keukenhof gardens open for eight weeks in the spring; a million visitors flock here every season to admire its one-of-a-kind tulip displays. When you’ve had your fill of urban thrills, head to the surprisingly unspoilt North Sea coast where popular resorts such as Zandvoort, Bloemendaal or Strandzuid offer watersports, rugged dunes and beach clubs. Or check out the Hague, a 45-minute train ride away, for palaces, art nouveau gems and Golden Age masterpieces.
There’s a slice of Amsterdam’s legendary nightlife for everyone, from quiet pint-sippers to unabashed party people. An evening in one of the city’s ‘brown cafés’ is practically mandatory: these neighbourhood institutions have bags of old-school charm. Much of the local nightlife centres around Leidseplein and the surrounding streets. Itching for a dance? Iconic venues Melkweg and Paradiso host club nights and gigs by international artists, as well as the occasional festival. For a classy night out, the Concertgebouw is sure to impress with its superior orchestral acoustics.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
When choosing where to stay in Amsterdam, plan ahead: with space at such a premium in the Centrum district, the most desirable stays tend to sell out quickly. There’s something for every budget, from quirky hostels to canal-facing boutique hotels and seriously indulgent stays. Though the city centre is arguably the best place to stay when visiting Amsterdam, don’t hesitate to look beyond the Grachtengordel. Consider Amsterdam West, with its family-friendly parks, cluster of museums and upscale boutiques. De Pijp’s café culture and buzzy eateries are a draw for foodies. For a bit of urban edge, you could do worse than Amsterdam Noord’s converted warehouses, rooftop bar and skate café.
The historic heart of the city, Centrum packs in much of Amsterdam’s soul. This close-knit network of canals and cobbled streets still feels authentic.
A former working-class neighbourhood, the Jordaan is now well and truly gentrified, its genteel streets packed with vintage shops, concept stores, galleries and enticing restaurants.
Occupying a picturesque area bordered by the stately Vondelpark to the south, the Oud-West is the result of rapid urban expansion in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Drawn in a loose circle from the river Amstel to the river Ij, Grachtengordel is Amsterdam's most photogenic district to explore on foot, with old drinking dens and hip newcomers.
It may be short on canals, but Amsterdam’s charmingly bohemian De Pijp district is home to the daily Albert Cuyp market, the Heineken Experience, the urban oasis of the Sarphatipark ... and loads of great restaurants.
Slightly off the beaten track, the sprawling district of Nieuw West has plenty to offer. At its heart is Sloterplas Lake, which – come the balmier days – transforms into an urban beach
Best places to eat in Amsterdam
Once home to a lacklustre dining scene, Amsterdam has fostered something of a culinary renaissance in recent years. Old tram sheds, churches and warehouses have been repurposed as too-cool-for-school eateries and food halls, with pop-ups and street food gaining in popularity. Globe-trotting chefs make the most of fabulous local produce and proximity to the North Sea, injecting the Dutch dining scene with a sense of playful experimentation. There’s something, in short, for everyone, whether you’re in the mood for a quick fix of bitterballen (meatballs) or Michelin-starred tasting menus. Here’s our pick of the best places to eat in Amsterdam.
Let’s start with the basics: if you’re itching to know where to eat Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam, you’ll be thrilled to hear the answer is “just about anywhere”. The Pancakes mini-chain does excellent variations on the theme; Dignita Hoftuin serves theirs on a garden-facing terrace. De Pijp always tops the lists of where to eat in Amsterdam. By the docks, Entrepot serves colourful fare in a pared-back setting. If you’re willing to schlep east, De Kas serves refined dishes rustled up from organic veg grown on site; for something more central, try Venus and Adonis in the Jordaan.
Amsterdam’s fine-dining scene is growing, and already packs a mighty culinary punch. Michelin-starred restaurants in Amsterdam are effortlessly stylish, a testament to the Dutch eye for design. At the Dylan Hotel, Vinkeles has turned an 18th-century bakery into an elegant space serving modern French fare. Brit chef Chris Naylor is at the helm at Vermeer, conjuring tasting menus full of big flavours – a robust counterpoint to his delicate plating. In Amsterdam Zuid, Bolenius puts Dutch lamb and sole on the menu, but vegetables – and sustainable cooking – are the stars of the show.
Best time to visit Amsterdam
There’s no wrong, or indeed best time to visit Amsterdam: the city never fails to put on a seasonal show for its visitors. The country’s floral displays are glorious, whether you’re in town for National Tulip Day in January or to catch spring’s short-lived opening of the Keukenhof Gardens. Summer promises waterside lounging, canal-boating and eclectic festivals; autumn casts a heavenly golden glow on Amsterdam’s architectural wonders. The North Sea may bring bitterly cold winds, but winter in Amsterdam isn’t without its delights. Tuck into warm oliebollen (sugar-dusted doughnuts), catch the Winter Light Festival, or – if you’re really lucky – take ice skates for a spin on the frozen canals.