Amsterdam 101: A travel guide to the city of canals

This post may contain affiliate links, which Globe Guide receives compensation for with each click or purchase at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

amsterdam canal amsterdam travel guide

I used to think Amsterdam was one of those places you could zip through on a layover. You know, walk over some canals, swing by the Anne Frank House, brave a walk through the Red Light District and maybe even have enough time to grab a coffee before heading back to the airport. Boy was I wrong.

Central Station in Amsterdam.

Central Station in Amsterdam.

After spending days in the incredible city and still not feeling like I even scratched the surface, I strongly believe you shouldn’t even bother coming to Amsterdam if you have less than two days. Why? Because similar to other world class cities like New York, Paris and Rome, there is an endless amount of attractions to tour, houseboats to ogle over, quaint side streets to get lost on and local specialities to savour—all while plotting exactly what you’d have to do to be so lucky to call Amsterdam home someday.

amsterdam canal

While you could easily spend a week simply wandering around the picturesque city, here’s a travel guide to the main highlights you shouldn’t miss, regardless of how much time or money you have.

Canal Tours

A canal tour is the perfect way to start off a trip to Amsterdam, as it gives visitors a great overview of the city so they know which areas they’ll want to go back to later. There are dozens of tours throughout the day, which typically last one hour and include an audio guide for about €15 per person. There are also special packages available with extras like a dinner cruise.

amsterdam canal boat tour

Be sure to pay special attention when the boat passes through the Prince’s and Gentleman’s canals—the surrounding houses are nothing less than impressive!

amsterdam netherlands house

Museum District

The famous I Amsterdam sign lures travellers to this area, but it’s well-worth sticking around to enjoy the gorgeous museums and laneways in this district. Start by crossing the canal in front of the gargantuan Rijksmuseum, which houses exhibitions detailing Amsterdam’s long history, and stop to take photos from the beautiful bridge. Just be sure to watch out for the onslaught of cyclists, as it’s a popular crossing!

amsterdam, netherlands.

Passing straight through the museum, you’ll find yourself behind the larger-than-life I Amsterdam sign, which is literally crawling with tourists who hang off of it like monkeys trying to get a good photo.

amsterdam netherlands

The plaza in front of it is simply vibrant, and a hotbed of activity. A great place to grab a drink or lunch, there is also a pool of water, a playground and a pathway leading towards other attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum.

The 9 Streets

Without question, this is where Amsterdam’s trendiest residents can be found. The 9 Streets refers to a hip shopping area near Dam Square and Jordaan, which is overflowing with cute cafes, beautiful storefronts and incredible boutiques. But be warned: it’s not cheap!

Shopping along Amsterdam's 9 Streets. amsterdam travel guide

Shopping along Amsterdam’s 9 Streets.

Red Light District

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you venture down the famed area in search of, ahem, ‘adventures.’ However, it’s worth a quick walk through just to get an idea of what all the fuss is about.

Amsterdam's Red Light district. amsterdam travel guide

Amsterdam’s Red Light district.

Taking up only a few blocks near the Central Station, the Red Light District has numerous adult stores, ‘coffee shops’ and brothels that have made it notorious, yet they’re seamlessly mixed in with innocent things like donair stalls and souvenir shops. You can easily walk through the entire district in less than 10 minutes—but rest assured it will be an experience you’ll never forget!

amsterdam, netherlands. coffee shops

The famous coffee shops in Amsterdam.

Heineken Brewery Tour

For another adult experience that is decidedly less risque, head to the world famous Heineken brewery. This fantastic tour takes a couple of hours and includes details about the history of the beer empire, a VERY cool interactive video about the brewing/bottling process, the chance to make your own music video (hilarious) and of course—tasting! You can even make your own personalized Heineken beer bottle. The tour costs €18 per person, or €13.50 with an I Amsterdam card and includes a free gift.

netherlands amsterdam heinken brewery tour amsterdam travel guide

Anne Frank House

Arguably one of the best known landmarks in the entire city, Anne Frank House is where young Anne hid with her Jewish family for more than two years during World War II, as she chronicled the entire ordeal in her now famous diary.

The site is now home to numerous exhibitions, including information about those who tried to help the Frank family, Anne’s famous hiding spot and explaining the persecution of Jewish people.

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. amsterdam travel guide

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The Anne Frank House is extremely popular which can mean long lines, but it is possible to buy tickets online ahead of time to bypass the line. It is also open almost every single day of the year, but beware if you’re planning your visit around a Jewish holiday as you might be confronted with this sign:


Other ways to spend the day

Even if you hit the main sights, there will always be plenty of others worth exploring. Good picks include:

  • Oosterpark: The large park located in the east part of Amsterdam is the perfect place to go for a run, long walk or enjoy a picnic.
  • Van Gogh Museum: A large collection of artwork from the famed artist are on display.
  • Seven bridges: Found along the street Reguliersgracht, these seven brick bridges make for a pretty picture.
  • Magere Brug: The Skinny Bridge was originally so narrow that people could barely pass by each other. It has since been expanded, and is now a popular spot for couples during a romantic night out thanks to its illuminated frame.
  • De Pijp: For a fun night out, head to this district in south Amsterdam which is overrun with lively pubs and bars.
  • De Bijenkorf: This department store in Dam Square attracts fashionistas from near and far. Hosting luxury retailers such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton alongside more affordable options, De Bijenkorf is a must for those who appreciate the finer things in life.

De bienkorf department store netherlands amsterdam amsterdam travel guide


Getting around: It’s no secret that the Dutch love their bikes. In fact with nearly 900-thousand bikes in Amsterdam, it’s not cars, trams and buses you have to watch out for as a pedestrian—it’s the cyclists speeding by! With that in mind, it can be fun to rent a bike for the day and explore the city on two wheels. There are 513 kilometres of dedicated bike lanes throughout the city, and most importantly, no hills.

Cyclists in Amsterdam. amsterdam travel guide

Cyclists in Amsterdam.

If that seems like too much of an effort, Amsterdam is surprisingly walkable (though it can be tough to track down specific addresses as the city is not on a grid system). Alternatively, ride around on the trams which are frequent, fast and easy to navigate. One-way tickets or day passes can be purchased on board.

Secret savings: If you plan to visit many of Amsterdam’s attractions, use transit and do a canal tour, it may be worth buying an I Amsterdam City Card. Available at numerous locations around the city, the card can get you free museum entrances, a canal cruise, unlimited public transportation and discounts at restaurants.

Tourists can also enjoy tax free savings at many retailers when they spend minimum €50 at a single store. If you qualify, you can get cash back at Amsterdam’s airport by presenting your stamped shopping cheque.

Photography tip: Amsterdam is overrun with tourists, which means it can be tough to get a clear photo of major landmarks without dozens of people in the way. However, if you get out and about by around 8 a.m. you will have the quiet streets all to yourself.

Currency: The euro.

Language: Dutch, but most people also speak English very well.

Where to stay: The hub of activity is near Dam Square and the Central Station, and both areas offer good food, lodging and shopping options along with being on the major transit lines. However, hotels in Jordaan or near Oosterpark can give you a reprieve from the swell of tourists, and have a quieter, neighbourhood feel.


The Zaanse Schans windmills: A perfect day trip from Amsterdam

IN PHOTOS: The Netherlands

10 fun activities you have to try in Copenhagen, Denmark

Top 10 tips if you’re heading to Europe

Globe Guide travelled to Amsterdam in partnership with I Amsterdam and The Manor Hotel Amsterdam. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

amsterdam seven bridges amsterdam travel guide

Seven Bridges.

You may also like...

19 Responses

  1. Cory Lee says:

    Amsterdam looks amazing! I really didn’t know that there was so much to do in the city. I would particularly love to visit the Anne Frank house. 🙂

  2. Sarah Ebner says:

    The more I read about Amsterdam, the more I really want to visit and take the kids. I haven’t been for many, many years and it seems there is so much to see and do (as you have explained so well!)

  3. James Henry says:

    Referring to The Prince’s and the Gentleman’s Canals can be incredibly confusing (and a poor translation). When I arrived in Amsterdam (I was to stay there for almost forty years) it took me a long time before I realised that the ”Leiden Square” was simply the Leidseplein. Street names are surprisingly not signed in English.

  4. Nice article, really inspiring!
    The Red Light District is definitely an unforgettable experience! And though to many people it seems dangerous when they imagine how it looks like, it’s safe and even cosy 🙂
    A dangerous thing about Amsterdam is: you can fall in love with it and don’t want to go back! 🙂

  5. Irmina says:

    And it would be a pleasure to guide you through the city, the Rijksmuseum and van Goghmuseum, along the canals, try Amsterdam’s specialties in little ‘brown cafés’ etc etc. I am a born Amsterdammer and professional guide! Be welcome!

  6. A good 101 intro for first time visitors. We look forward to your 201 article

  1. March 24, 2015

    […] place where visitors can find all of them, and it just so happens to be less than an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, in the charming area of Zaanse […]

  2. March 24, 2015

    […] may be a tiny country, but the Netherlands has been put on the map thanks to the spectacular city of Amsterdam. The city’s famous canals, world-class museums and notorious Red Light District mean it can be […]

  3. July 4, 2015

    […] -Bike through the streets of Amsterdam COMPLETED! Amsterdam 101: A guide to the city of canals […]

  4. January 4, 2016

    […] way to explore the continent, affording the opportunity to see world class cities like Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest without worrying about any of the logistics. Viking River Cruises is consistently […]

  5. January 4, 2016

    […] way to explore the continent, affording the opportunity to see world class cities like Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest without worrying about any of the logistics. Viking River Cruises is consistently […]

  6. September 26, 2016

    […] Amsterdam and Venice are the king and queen when it comes to canals, Copenhagen surely deserves a spot among […]

  7. November 16, 2016

    […] stylish coat is a must, so I brought this camel-coloured one with wide lapels which I picked up in Amsterdam. However, I’d recommend buying one with a zipper or buttons instead, which ensures it will stay […]

  8. December 20, 2016

    […] MIGHT ALSO ENJOY: 5 things to know before visiting a European Christmas market Amsterdam 101: A travel guide to the city of canals When in Rome: How to make the most of your visit SHARE THE PINSPIRATION! CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO […]

  9. April 10, 2017

    […] up of 47 islands connected by winding canals and 500 bridges, the city is like a mix between Paris, Amsterdam and Venice—just as Peter the Great intended when he commissioned the best architects from around […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.