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Top 5 Things to Do in Amsterdam

Historic canals, world-class art collections, and surprisingly delicious food make the most populous city in The Netherlands a great stop during your next European vacation. Check out the top 5 things we enjoyed most during our last visit to Amsterdam.

1. Boaty Canal Boat Rentals

Boaty Boat Rentals located in southern Amsterdam is a great deal and provides everything you need for an afternoon of cruising the canals on your own. We rented a boat for 3 hours and were able to enjoy the Amstel River and numerous canals in the northern part of the city. Boaty staff provide a brief overview of how to manage the boat, a waterproof map detailing which canals to avoid, and other tips and tricks. Be sure to avoid the bridges marked as too low on the map, especially if you're in a partially covered boat with solar panels on top...the boat really doesn't fit under those ones, no matter how high they look (possibly said from experience).

Don't forget snacks! We stopped at the Avondwinkel de Schelde convenience store down the street from Boaty on Scheldestraat to stock up on bread, cheese, snacks, and beverages. Also, bring a light jacket if you're boating in the fall (we visited in mid-October). Manning a canal boat on our own remains one of our favorite memories and a fantastic way to experience Amsterdam.

2. Rijksmuseum

If you're a fan of art museums, then the Rijksmusuem is a must-see. Dutch Golden Age painting is one of our favorite styles for its realistic and detailed images. Classics abound from Rembrandt'sThe Night Watch to Vermeer's The Milkmaid. The Rijks is the country's largest and most visited art museum and the place to go if you're interested in Dutch history, too. The museum features a few Van Gogh's, too, but if he's more your style, then you'll want to try the Van Gogh Museum, only a 5 minute walk away.

We visited the Rijks on our first day in Amsterdam in an attempt to stave off jet lag. We were semi successful, but the coffees slammed before walking in helped.

3. Indonesian Restaurants

While the British owe their exceptional curry to years spent colonizing India, the Dutch have cornered the European market on Indonesian food for the same reason. The spice and earthiness are unbeatable and you can't visit Amsterdam, at least we can't, without enjoying a rijsttafel meal. These smorgasbords feature small plates of rice, vegetables, meats, and zesty sauces. The daging rendang is one of our favorite dishes - spicy beef slow-cooked in a rich blend of traditional Indonesian herbs and spices.

Unfortunately, our tried and true spot, Puri Mas Indonesian Restaurant, is now closed, but you can't go wrong with Kantjil & De Tijger or Sampurna.

4. Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam - OBA)

The Amsterdam Public Library, typically referred to as OBA for Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, is located on the Oosterdoseiland, or Eastern Dock Island, a 5-10 minute walk from Centraal Station. This beautiful, modern library features an excellent children's area, which this children's librarian couldn't resist, stunning views, and a cafe on the top floor. It's worth a visit simply for the architecture, but you'll want to stick around to enjoy the ambiance only a library can provide. It's the perfect place to spend an unscheduled hour.

5. Breakfast at Restaurant-Café In De Waag

Nothing sets the tone for a hearty breakfast like eating in a medieval gate house. The Restaurant-Café In de Waag originally served as a gate in the city's medieval wall and is the oldest non-religious building in Amsterdam. De Waag is rich in history, having served as a weigh house, fire hall, and anatomical theatre over the years, and was even featured in Rembrandt's 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. We only experienced breakfast at de Waag, but their lunch and dinner menus look delightful, too. I recommend the Eggs Benedict Chef's Special.

More To See & Experience

  • Banks Mansion - This boutique hotel is our favorite place to stay in Amsterdam. The staff are friendly, it's conveniently located in the heart of Amsterdam, and the rates include breakfast with a chef that will make you pancakes, omelets, and more, plus an open bar in the cozy lobby and a cheese trolley. It doesn't get better than inclusive cheese, in our humble opinion.

  • Anne Frank House - A visit to the Anne Frank House is a must to experience World War II history up close and see where the young diarist hid with her family for over two years. Tickets must be purchased online ahead of time, but still expect to wait in line to enter and while walking through the museum.

  • The Heineken Experience - Sadly, we're Michigan IPA elitists (love you Bells Two-Hearted), so a Pilsener capital, such as Amsterdam, holds little appeal for us on the beer front. However, as Heineken is one of the top 10 best selling beers in the world, chances are you may be delighted by a visit and tour of the brand's oldest brewery.

  • At some point, while bar hopping, you'll notice a large number of young British fellas enjoying countless pints. That's because Amsterdam is essentially the Las Vegas of Europe, and stag parties (aka bachelor parties) abound. The red light district and lax drug laws have long made it a haven for partying. The local government is taking steps to mitigate the partiers for the sake of the residents, so bar hours may be more limited soon.

What are your favorite things to see & do in Amsterdam?

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