Amsterdam Holidays & City Breaks

Jam-packed with history, culture and those iconic urban backdrops, it’s no surprise Amsterdam city breaks are so popular. Of course, it helps that the capital of the Netherlands is just a short hop across the North Sea from the UK!

But don’t be fooled into thinking this famously chilled-out destination is only for short breaks and weekends away. There’s more than enough to do in and around Amsterdam for a longer getaway, from exploring sun-dappled canals and losing yourself in world-famous art to indulging in the lively night scene and mouthwateringly eclectic eats.

6 reasons to visit Amsterdam

The warm welcome: From its cosy pubs (aka ‘brown cafes’), welcoming gay bars and buzzing clubs, to the family vibes of Amsterdam’s super-friendly Noord district, this laid-back city has its arms open to everyone.
Museums of every stripe: Art, history and more are all in the mix – see Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, discover the sobering secrets of Anne Frank House, or immerse yourself in the living history of Zaanse Schans village.
Eye-candy cityscapes: Think picturesque canals lined with quaint old houses, gorgeous green parks in every neighbourhood, colourful flower gardens (visit Keukenhof in spring!) and grand Dam Square with its jaw-dropping Royal Palace.
Moreish street food: Snack your way around Amsterdam with a delectable supply of patat (Dutch fries) smothered in mayonnaise (ask for patatje met), cheesy kaassouffle pastries, beefy kroketten and deep-fried cod (kibbeling). Don’t forget the caramel-filled stroopwafels!
Independent shopping: From the intriguing little shops that line De Negen Straatjes in Jordaan to the famous floating flower market on the Singel canal, Amsterdam’s a fantastic place for a browse.
Romantic moments: Amsterdam’s such a beautiful city, it can certainly give Paris a run for its money. Top tips for couples include the spectacular views from the A’DAM LOOKOUT, candlelit dinner cruises on the canals, and leisurely bike rides in Flevopark.

Things to do

With much more to offer than just Dam Square, old paintings and pretty canals, Amsterdam holidays are a treasure trove of places to explore and things to do. Make like a local and sip coffee in a cosy cafe. Grab a tray of haring (raw herring with pickles) from a street stall for an on-the-go lunch. Head out of the centre to districts such as De Pijp, Amsterdam Oost and Zuidoost, where you can catch Ajax FC at home at Johan Cruyff ArenA. Or hop on a train to nearby Rotterdam, Utrecht or Haarlem.

Go sightseeing

Top of the must-visit list for a spot of culture is Museumplein, where you’ll find the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum (fine art), Stedelijk Museum (modern art) and the Royal Concertgebouw concert hall. Or if it’s alfresco attractions you’re after, check out the panorama from A’DAM LOOKOUT (will you dare try Europe’s highest swing?) and the tree-framed lakes and lawns of beautiful Vondelpark.

You should also lose yourself in the quaint alleyways of the Jordaan district, dip into Amsterdam’s history at spots like the Joods Historisch Museum and Anne Frank House, and stroll the cobbles of De Wallen, the oldest part of the city. But be warned, De Wallen is not a place to take the kids, as it’s also Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District.

And of course, for the quintessential Amsterdam sightseeing experience, you have to book a canal tour.

Get a taste of city life

Foodies, music lovers, shoppers and beer drinkers alike are in for a real treat on Amsterdam city breaks. The Dam’s social scene is an eclectic mix of live music venues, buzzing restaurants and inviting pubs, bars and cafes, while shopping ranges from fascinating flea markets to the luxury retailers in Oud Zuid.

Try homely dishes like suddervlees (beef stew) from a traditional Dutch eatery, such as Moeders in the city centre. Go beer tasting at a craft brewery or immerse yourself in the Heineken Experience. Pick a cocktail joint to suit your style, from the chilled vibes of Bar Mokum to the super swish Twenty Third. Throw yourself into the famous nightlife of Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein and the LGBTQ+ focused Reguliersdwarsstraat. Or check what’s on at one of the city’s hugely popular gig spots, led by the famous Paradiso and Melkweg – which is basically three live music venues in one!

As for shopping, classic Amsterdam souvenirs include wooden clogs, tasty local cheeses (there are tons of specialist shops, or you could visit a cheese farm!), and pretty Delftware porcelain. You can also pick up vintage bargains at the Waterlooplein market, hop between record stores and designer boutiques in De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) and buy flower bulbs from the barges of the floating Bloemenmarkt.

Explore outside Amsterdam Centrum

If you’ve got more than a couple of days for your Amsterdam city break, or if you’ve been before, make sure you head out to some of the neighbourhoods outside the city centre. De Pijp’s perfect for free spirits, Amsterdam’s answer to Paris’ bohemian Latin Quarter. It’s home to the huge Albert Cuyp street market and all sorts of lively bars and cafes. Over to the east, explore the refined boulevards of De Plantage, tuck into melt-in-the-mouth Turkish pastries in Amsterdam Oost, and soak up the classy vibes of the city’s newest neighbourhood, IJburg.

Zuidoost is the place to go for big-name entertainment, from football to arena shows in venues like AFAS Live and Ziggo Dome, and sailing on tranquil Gaasperplas lake. And then there’s Amsterdam Noord, with its combo of cutting-edge architecture, waterfront terraces, flea markets and the NDSM Wharf culture hotspot. 

Plus Amsterdam holidays are perfect for bike rides to rural villages, such as Ransdorp, a day trip to the idyllic Zaanse Schans living museum (windmills, clog makers, and more), and train rides to Rotterdam, Utrecht and Haarlem. Planning Amsterdam holidays for the summer? Pack your beach gear for a day in clubbers’ favourite Bloemedaal aan Zee or chilled-out Zandvoort, an old fishing village (you can get to both by train). And don’t miss your chance to visit the incredible Muiderslot castle!
 

More city breaks
Got the travel bug? Check out our guides to an array of other exciting cities in Europe and beyond, including: Barcelona | Copenhagen | London | New York | Paris | Rome | Singapore | Venice

Map of Amsterdam

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Amsterdam enjoys a stable climate with four distinct seasons.

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1.5 hours

Schiphol Airport (AMS), around 25km southwest of central Amsterdam. 
 

Alternative transport: You can also travel by Eurostar to Brussels with onward tickets to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, via Rotterdam.

Fast facts for Amsterdam

Language: While the local language in Amsterdam is Dutch, English is spoken everywhere, and usually very fluently too.
Currency: The currency used in Amsterdam is the Euro (€).
Local time: Amsterdam is one hour ahead of GMT/UK time.
Fly to: Schiphol Airport (AMS). It’s around 25km southwest of central Amsterdam with excellent transport links.
Flight time from the UK: Around 1.5 hours (for example, it’s approx. 1 hour 15 minutes from London and 1 hour 40 from Belfast).
Transfers: Book airport transfers before you go or use Amsterdam’s cheap and efficient network of train, bus and metro services.
Eurostar: You can also take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Amsterdam Centraal Station, either direct or via Brussels, connecting with the Thalys service. The direct route takes around 4 hours.
Tourist information: You’ll find all sorts of useful tips on the city’s official I Amsterdam tourist info website.

Getting around Amsterdam

By bike: Amsterdam is very cycle-friendly. There are plenty of bike rental shops as well as a great network of cycle paths. You can even join a two-wheeled sightseeing tour to help you get your bearings.

By boat or barge: Taking a trip on the Amstel River and the canals is an iconic way to see the central sights, especially on the hop-on/hop-off Canal Bus tour.

By ferry: Heading to Amsterdam Noord? Make use of the free ferries across the IJ River for attractions such as the Eye Filmmuseum, A’DAM tower and NDSM Wharf. You can even take your rental bike!

By metro: Amsterdam’s five metro lines make it super easy to explore the whole city and beyond. Hop on a Noord Zuid (North South) train, for instance, and you’ll soon be in chilled-out De Pijp, home of the famous Albert Cuypmarkt street market.

By tram: The tram system is ideal for travelling around the centre. You can buy tickets on board, though you’ll probably find an OV-chipkaart or an I Amsterdam City Card more convenient if you’re using a lot of public transport.

Events in Amsterdam

High fashion: Young and upcoming designers showcase their work every January at Amsterdam International Fashion Week. You can expect fashion-themed museum exhibits, art exhibitions and lots of parties. 

Live gigs: From indie bands to DJs, Amsterdam’s brimming with fantastic music all year. Check out iconic venues like Melkweg and Paradiso or plan your trip around the big-name concerts at AFAS Live and the Ziggodome arena.

High fashion: Young and upcoming designers showcase their work each January at Amsterdam International Fashion Week. You can expect fashion-themed museum displays, art exhibitions and, of course, lots of parties.

A right royal celebration: The Netherlands gets into party mode on Koningsdag (King’s Day), on the 27th April every year. Pack something orange to wear and throw yourself into this citywide shindig marking King Willem Alexander’s birthday, with everything from pre and after parties to flea markets.

Pride: From the canal boat parade to exuberant parties, Amsterdam Pride is an unmissable part of the LGBTQ+ calendar. Usually held in late July or early August.

Festival time: August’s esteemed Grachtenfestival features 10 days of jazz, blues, classical and world music. Enjoy a grand performance at a concert hall, or cosy up at a blues jam in an Amsterdam resident’s garden.

Amsterdam safety and security

Do I need a passport?
Yes, you’ll need a valid passport for Amsterdam. And as the city’s in the Netherlands, which is part of the EU, you’ll want to check the entry requirements even if you’ve been before – they may have changed since your last visit.

Plus, if you’re travelling by Eurostar you’ll be going through France and Belgium, so make sure you meet all requirements for transiting those countries too.

Do I need a visa?
Visas aren’t usually needed for holidays to Amsterdam, but it depends on how much travelling you’ve been doing (both for fun and for work). You can find current details on the UK government travel advice website.

Do I need travel insurance?
It’s not compulsory for Amsterdam holidays but it’s always a good idea to take out travel insurance, wherever you’re headed. Make sure it protects you for all the activities you’re planning, and includes Covid-19 cover.

Remember to get a free UK Global Health Insurance Card as well, or take your EHIC if you still have a valid one. Just be aware that these don’t replace comprehensive insurance cover, but are to prove you’re entitled to healthcare if you need it while you’re away, such as emergency treatment.

Check out the FCDO travel health advice for the most up-to-date information.

Amsterdam weather

Temperature: Average highs range from 5°C in January to 22°C in August.

Best time to visit: Spring, summer and early autumn are best for warm sunshine and lighter layers.

With mild weather in Amsterdam for a lot of the year, it’s a fantastic city to explore - so long as you’re prepared for the chance of rain whenever you go.

Temperatures hover in the mid-teens (°C) between March and May making spring a great time to walk around, stopping off in cosy cafés and pubs. And of course, summer’s always a popular time to visit, thanks to warm highs of 22°C, and up to 11 hours of sunshine a day.

Things start to cool down in autumn but you can still look forward to average highs of 18 - 19°C in September and 15°C in October. November’s when the chill really starts to hit – you’ll want your big coat from then until February / March.

Best hotels in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam FAQs
Amsterdam FAQs
How do you get from Amsterdam airport to the city centre?

Trains and buses are the best options – it’s easy to plan your route and Amsterdam’s public transport is excellent!

By train:

• Schiphol Airport has its own railway station, and journeys to Amsterdam Central Station (Centraal) take less than 20 minutes. Then you can either walk to your hotel or switch to the metro, bus or tram.

• From Centraal it’s only 10-15 minutes to Zaandam, a popular spot for stays outside the centre.

• Make sure you check the location of your digs before you plan your journey, as it might be better to head to Amsterdam Zuid station and hop on the Noord Zuid metro line.

By bus:

• You can catch the Amsterdam Airport Express right outside Schiphol Plaza. Look for stop B17.

• Daytime services on the 397 bus are scheduled every seven and a half minutes, so you won’t have long to wait.

• At night, you’ll want the N97, which runs every half an hour.

• Both routes have a number of convenient stops around the city centre, making it easy to get to your hotel or to connect with other public transport for outlying neighbourhoods.

Where is the best place to stay in Amsterdam?

Not sure which fabulous hotel to choose? Let’s help you narrow it down with our guide to where to stay in Amsterdam:

Centrum: The centre (including Jordaan and Nieuwmarkt) is perfect for canalside walks, nights out on Rembrandtplein, and hitting the Museum Quarter or the Royal Mile.

Noord: A charming area with a quieter, more residential feel than the old centre, handy for NDSM Wharf, fantastic dining, top gig venues, and rural bike rides.

Oost: Think street markets, lush parks and craft breweries. Amsterdam’s East district is the definition of vibrant!

Zuidoost: More into modern style and big-name events? Zuidoost (South East) Amsterdam could be your perfect match.

Zuid: Home to the hippyish De Pijp district and attractions like Vondelpark, Albert Cuypmarkt and the Heineken Experience.

Zaandam: Packed with history (like Zaanse Schans living museum, windmills and the fascinating Czaar Peter House), this cultural city’s about 15 minutes from central Amsterdam by train.

Found your dream Amsterdam hotel but it’s not in your fave location? Don’t worry, wherever you stay you’ll still be in easy reach of everything this characterful city has to offer, so go ahead and book it anyway!

Do you tip in Amsterdam restaurants?

Yes, but only if you want to, much like in the UK! Standard tips are around 10%. It’s also common to tip 5 - 10% in Amsterdam’s bars and for taxis.

What are the best Amsterdam hidden gems?

If you’ve already done the big-name museums, cruised the canals and ordered bitterballen with your beer in a cosy brown cafe, you’re going to want to check out some of Amsterdam’s more secret spots.

Our top 4 hidden gems in Amsterdam:

  1. STRAAT Museum: A total must-see among the exciting cultural hubbub of arty NDSM Wharf, this huge gallery is dedicated to street art in all its gutsy glory. To get there, just hop across the River IJ on the free ferry from Centraal Station.
  2. De Vergulden Eenhoorn (The Gilded Unicorn): Expect quaint 18th-century charms, a mouthwateringly eclectic menu, and leisurely games of boules at this gorgeous old pub. It's the epitome of everything there is to love about the chilled-out Amsterdam Oost district, where traditional meets modern in the most delightful way.
  3. Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuwe Diep: Love gin? Get yourself over to ‘t Nieuwe Diep, a cute little waterside jenever distillery tucked away in lush Flevopark (you can get there by tram). FYI, the park’s also home to an outdoor summer swimming pool if you fancy a dip before you head to the bar.
  4. Zuidoost: If you’re into vibrant up-and-coming areas, plan some time in Amsterdam’s Zuidoost district. It’s a total contrast to the city centre! Highlights include big sports and music venues like the Johan Cruyff ArenA and Ziggodome, the taste bud-tickling cooking stations of the World of Food, and the lively Heesterveld Creative Community with its colourful buildings.
What are the main dos and don’ts in Amsterdam?

Don’t worry, Amsterdam’s a really exciting and easygoing place to visit! But to get you off to the best start, here are our local expert’s top tips to help you make the most of your trip.

DO… get an OV-chipcard (chipkaart) and top it up regularly. Available from stations and in newsagents, these handy travel cards make it extra easy to get around Amsterdam and beyond via train, bus, metro and tram.
DON’T… walk on a cycle path. Just don’t! (And if you’re cycling around this famously bike-friendly city, do stay in your lane.)
DO… go to other areas outside the city centre. Districts like buzzing Zuidoost, village-like Noord and hip Oost are well worth exploring. Each has its own distinctive charms, from fantastic nightlife to laid-back parks.
DON’T… think Amsterdam represents the rest of the country. Just like London is only one piece of the UK jigsaw, there’s so much more to discover in Holland and the Netherlands than Amsterdam alone! This friendly country’s a pleasure to explore so book a longer stay and make the most of the fantastic rail links.
DO… stroll amongst the slick modern architecture of Rotterdam, explore the beautiful Peace Palace in The Hague, or check out the views from Utrecht’s Dom Tower. They’re each only around 30 to 40 minutes away by train!
DON’T… think King’s Day is on the 30th April. That’s the old date for Queen’s Day. If you’re keen to experience the city’s exuberant, orange-coloured celebrations, you’ll need to be in Amsterdam on the 27th April instead.
DO… get back to nature at the Amsterdamse Bos. The city’s park’s are lovely but this huge green area is something else entirely! With everything from woodland to waterways, salamanders to kingfishers, and boat races to al fresco theatre, it’s just the ticket for fresh air and big skies.
DON’T… expect a late-night dinner. Amsterdam’s restaurants aren’t geared up for midnight feasts, with last orders usually taken at around 9-9.30pm. But you can stretch your meal out like the locals do, with dessert and a drink.
DO… try Surinamese or Indonesian food. From the South American taste sensation that is Surinamese cooking (a multicultural explosion of flavours with European and Asian influences) to the more familiar gado gado and nasi goreng of Indonesian menus, there are plenty of mouthwatering eateries to suit all budgets in Amsterdam.
DON’T… expect to get just coffee at a coffee shop. You’ve probably heard about the liberal laws around smoking weed in the Netherlands – well, coffee shops are where it’s legal. But it’s for adults aged 18-plus only and there are other restrictions too, so make sure you check up on what to expect if you’re planning to visit these sociable hangouts. And if you’re simply after coffee and cake, you might want to find a cafe instead.