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.
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