Amsterdam is one of the most popular cities in Europe to visit, with annual overnight stays of around 18 million. The capital of the Netherlands does have a party reputation, however, Amsterdam has a lot to offer other than the legalised taboos that gain so much international attention.
In response to over tourism and ‘nuisance tourists’ Amsterdam is implementing new measures in 2023 to deter “international visitors with plans to ‘go wild’ in Amsterdam.” The ‘feestbeest’ visitors (party animals in Dutch) are being put off with new laws coming into effect in May, and the number of Airbnb rentals, hotels and river cruises are being slashed.
Amsterdam is a diverse, innovative, and tolerant city that welcomes all - but mass tourism has its downsides for the locals. They want visitors to see the city as more than just a night out, to care for the city as much as they do, and to see its green practices rather than its red lights.
This three-day itinerary will help you to explore another side of Amsterdam where sustainability, community, and a huge sense of pride are right at its heart.
Amsterdam is often seen as a bit of an overnight destination, but it’s one of the most diverse cities in Europe.
You could easily spend three days in Amsterdam just trying to visit as many weird museums as possible. Some of the wackier contenders include a houseboat museum, KattenKabinet (a museum of cats), the Electric Ladyland Museum of Fluorescent Art, a tulip and a cheese museum, a hemp museum, and the Sexmuseum - well, it is Amsterdam, after all.
However, if you want to branch out a bit more, three days in Amsterdam, is enough to fit in a little culture, visit a museum or two, eat some belt-loosening meals, and spend some time in one of the beautiful parks.
It's easy to get around the city on foot or with trams and buses using a GVB public transport ticket or Iamsterdam City Card. And be aware of the two most important rules in Amsterdam, stay out of the bike lanes (they always have right of way), and never take pictures in the Red Light District - it’s not a zoo.
Most visitors will go straight to the gingerbread facades of Damrak, and on to Dam Square - home to the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), and the National Monument. But the old town is congested, and the busy shopping streets of Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk are filled with all the major chain stores you can find in any European city.
Instead, make your way to the NEMO Museum. Not only is the inside full of fun hands-on experiments and innovations, but the roof of the boat-like building has a magnificent view over the old town.
After you’ve gotten your bearings, get an insight into the European refugee crisis and support locals on a Rederij Lampedusa canal boat tour. Jump on a former refugee boat just north of NEMO in Dijksgracht, and get an insightful view of the city from a couple of its many refugee residents.
If that doesn’t float your boat (sorry), another way to do the ubiquitous Amsterdam canal tour in a more ethical way is by hopping on one of the Plastic Whale boats made from canal trash, or Those Dam Boat Guys offer zero-emission canal tours where every route is different (each guide has their own off-beat points of interest and tours are fluid, relaxed, and always interesting).
From here, head to the Gothic-Renaissance style Amsterdam Centraal to jump on a free ferry over the River IJ to Noord. The up-and-coming warehouse district has a swathe of cafes and eateries. Café Tolhuistuin, just a short walk from the ferry drop-off, offers plenty of seating, riverside views, and an international menu - don’t miss the bitterballen (juicy Dutch meatballs) and chicken satay.
Just a short walk from here is one of Noord’s best-known attractions - the A'DAM Lookout. The 20-storey building has a bar and restaurant at the top, but for uninterrupted views of the city's skyline, have a go on Europe’s highest swing - it’s best to pre-book tickets online.
Next door is the Eye Film Museum, a must for cinema fans with its vast collection of Dutch and foreign movies, and film posters.
The area is also home to upscale hostels, unusual hotels (including a converted church, a boat, and luxury rooms inside a crane), and Schoonschip - a sustainable resident-built floating neighbourhood in response to rising water levels.
In the evening, head to NDSM-Werf - the old shipyard area is crammed with street art, galleries and sensational food. For dinner, try Pllek, an all-day-dining waterfront bistro with live DJs in the summer evenings.
In the morning, head to Museumplein for Amsterdam's best art museums. Make sure to get skip the line tickets in advance, or you’ll spend the whole day here!
It’s a tough choice between the Van Gogh Museum (also with paintings by Monet, Manet, and Matisse), the Dutch Golden Age paintings of the Rijksmuseum, or, for something more contemporary, the Stedelijk Museum. If none of those takes your fancy, try the MOCO Modern Art Museum, featuring inventive works by Dalí & Banksy.
Carefully avoiding the bar-crawl district of Leidseplein, make your way through the city’s favourite green space, Vondelpark, and the leafy Amsterdam Oud-West on your way to Foodhallen.
This indoor food market celebrates the diversity of Dutch and international cuisine with a stall from just about every corner of the world. Snack on some Spanish tapas, try some vegan Indian dhal, grab a Mexican taco, and explore endless Thai and Chinese options.
Full of delicious finds, wobble your way over to the narrow canals of the Jordaan District and find out what life’s like for many of Amsterdam’s floating residents at the Houseboat Museum.
If you have booked tickets (many months/years in advance or through a guided tour), you could go to the Anne Frank House while you’re up this way, but for a less crowded overview of Amsterdam's wartime stories, visit the museums in Amsterdam Oost instead.
Spend the remainder of the day exploring “De Negen Straatjes”, or the Nine Streets, with its ecologically focused vintage and designer shops, trendy eateries, and classic Amsterdam views. For dinner, wander over to Restaurant Moeders, meaning “mum's restaurant” in Dutch.
Here you can try home-cooked meals from the Netherlands in a quirky setting covered in pictures of mums. When it first opened, visitors were asked to bring a plate, a glass and their own cutlery, many of which are still in use by the restaurant today - a great example of upcycling at its finest.
On your final day, hop over Skinny Bridge to explore Amsterdam Oost, exploring Amsterdam’s dark history in the Jewish Quarter, and its wild side in Plantage.
To learn the story of the city’s past, make a stop at the former orphanage that now houses the wonderful Amsterdam Museum. Or, for a more in-depth look into the WWII era, visit the Jewish Museum and the Verzetsmuseum of WWII Resistance.
The Jewish History Museum is particularly thought-provoking with a carefully put-together display of Anne Frank’s life as well as the horrific events of the Holocaust. It’s much less rushed and crowded than a visit to the Anne Frank House.
Next, make your way to the compact Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical gardens established in 1682. Though small, the three-climate greenhouse makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another world. Wander through the Palm House, watch the butterflies feed on fruit, and grab lunch at the peaceful Hortus café (The Orangery).
If your curiosity about the world has been ignited, visit Micropia, a science museum dedicated to the invisible world of microbes. Micropia shows us just how important they are, with uses ranging from improving gut health by studying microbiomes to creating environmentally friendly plastics and biofuels.
As the Netherlands is synonymous with windmills, head to the tallest wooden one in the country, De Gooyer Molen. Once used as a flour mill, it’s perhaps more well-known now for being the backdrop of Brouwerij 't IJ - an organic canal-side brewery serving up some of Amsterdam's best blonde and dark craft beers.
Even though you wouldn’t struggle to find a good meal in this area, I can’t resist a trip to the Sea Palace on a final night in Amsterdam. Close to Centraal Station, you can’t miss the floating pagoda-style restaurant that looks like it's been pulled straight out of Las Vegas.
But the Cantonese, Sichuan & Beijing dishes have more of a place in the capital of the Netherlands than you might initially think. The Dutch Colonial Empire, with its strong shipping industry, was a leader in maritime trade between Europe and the Orient.
This, coupled with the Dutch East Indies colony, means Asian cuisine is a big part of Amsterdam's food scene - that’s the only excuse I need to continue visiting Sea Palace anyway.
There’s so much more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. A great way to see a tiny part of the vast flat countryside is by heading north to the delightful village of Edam. The traditional Dutch houses, local bakeries and cheese shops, and the interweaving canals and dijks make it the perfect place to spend a day away from the city.
Visit Irene Hoeve on the way to see how various types of cheese and wooden shoes (clogs) are made by hand - make sure to say hi to the resident animals, as it’s a working farm too. In the evening, head to the nearby fishing town of Volendam. The harbour is lined with seafood restaurants, colourful wooden houses, and stands selling Poffertjes - traditional Dutch pancakes.
To the west of Amsterdam, the walled city of Harlem dates back to the Middle Ages, it has the same historic buildings and winding canals but fewer crowds than the capital.
A little further south Rotterdam is worth spending another few days in. The second-largest city in the Netherlands has the biggest port in Europe, as well as odd-looking cube houses, and more than 30 museums - just in case there weren’t enough for you to visit in Amsterdam.
Last Updated 4 August 2023