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.
After spending three days in Amsterdam and still not feeling like I even scratched the surface, I strongly believe you shouldn’t even bother coming here if you have less than a few days. Why? Because similar to other world class cities like New York, Paris and Rome, there are 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 this incredible place home someday.
From the best city tours to must-do sites, here’s a complete guide for what to do in Amsterdam in 3 days.
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What to do in Amsterdam: Canal Tours
A canal tour is the perfect way to start off a trip to Amsterdam no matter what kind of budget you’re working with, 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 that include extras like museum admission or dinner and drinks. Click to book
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!
Tour the Museum District
The famous I Amsterdam sign is what usually lures travellers to this area, but it’s well-worth sticking around to enjoy the gorgeous museums and laneways in the Museum 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!
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.
The plaza in front of it is simply vibrant, and a hotbed of activity. A great place to grab a drink or lunch, there’s also a pool of water, a playground and a pathway leading towards other attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum where a large collection of artwork from the famed artist is on display.
Globe Guide tip: Buy the I Amsterdam City Card if you plan on seeing at least a few Amsterdam attractions, which will save you a ton of money on admission fees and also includes a free canal cruise and public transportation.
Amsterdam guide for shoppers: The 9 Streets
Without question, the 9 Streets is where Amsterdam’s trendiest residents can be found. The 9 Streets refers to a hip shopping area in Amsterdam’s canal belt, which is overflowing with cute cafes, beautiful storefronts and incredible boutiques. But be warned: it’s not cheap!
Cheese, wine, flowers, vintage clothing…you’ll find it all in these picturesque shopping alleys, which make it a must-see spot for fashionistas enjoying weekend trips to Amsterdam. De 9 Straatjes is located just behind Dam Square (another great shopping area), and dates back more than 400 years.
Risqué Amsterdam attractions: The Red Light District
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you venture down this notorious area in search of, ahem, ‘adventures.’ However, it’s worth a quick walk through the Red Light District at some point during your 3 day trip to Amsterdam just to get an idea of what all the fuss is about.
Taking up only a few blocks near the Central Station, the Red Light District has plenty of the 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!
Fun things to do 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, and a trip to the brewery is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam even if you don’t consider yourself a beer lover. The Heineken Brewery tour costs €18 per person, or €13.50 with an I Amsterdam card and includes a free gift. Click to book
Top things to do in Amsterdam: Visit 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, and chronicled the entire ordeal in her now famous diary.
The site holds numerous exhibitions including information about those who tried to help the Frank family, and explanations about the persecution of Jewish people, and of course Anne’s famous hiding spot.
The Anne Frank House is extremely popular which can mean long lines, but it’s possible to buy tickets online ahead of time to bypass the line. It’s 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:
Walking tours of Amsterdam are also available, where expert guides detail Anne Frank’s life and the city’s World War II history while exploring areas like the Jewish Quarter. Click to book
More ways to spend 3 days in Amsterdam
There are plenty of areas worth exploring beyond the main sites, as well as some unusual attractions. With three days in Amsterdam you should have enough time to also see:
- 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.
- 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.
How to get around Amsterdam
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.
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). Trams are another option for getting around Amsterdam, and they’re frequent, fast and easy to navigate. One-way tickets or day passes can be purchased on board.
Amsterdam travel tips
Save on your trip to Amsterdam: Aside from buying an I Amsterdam Card to get discounts on transportation, attractions and 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’ll have the quiet streets all to yourself.
Currency: The euro.
Language: Dutch, but most people also speak English very well.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
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. Some top-ranked options include:
- Pillows Luxury Boutique Hotel Anna Van Den Vondel: Bright, airy rooms provide a welcoming reprieve from the bustling city, which makes this one of the best rated hotels in Amsterdam. The location beside Vondelpark means it’s in a quiet area yet still walking distance to the main attractions. Click to book
- Ambassade Hotel: The Library Bar is a standout spot in this hotel, which contains 5,000 books, including some signed by authors who have stayed here. Guests love the cozy rooms and canal views. Click to book
- Mauro Mansion: This quirky, boutique hotel in a 16th century canal house has only nine rooms, each uniquely designed. Its location near the central station is fantastic, and the rooms are well priced. Click to book
Best day trips from Amsterdam
If you don’t mind some long days, it’s possible to do almost everything mentioned here during three days in Amsterdam, and still have time for a fun excursion outside the city. The charming village Zaanse Schans is just one hour away, and has some of the best windmills near Amsterdam. Haarlem is just half an hour away, and you can even head over to Belgium to spend a day in Brussels or the fairytale-like city of Bruges.
Other fun Amsterdam day trips include:
This article was originally published in December 2014 and updated in May 2020
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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. 🙂
I was surprised too Cory! And on top of that, there are lots of neat little day trips you can easily do from Amsterdam–so much to choose from!
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!)
It would be interesting if you got the chance to go back and see if it was as you remembered, or if lots has changed in the years since 🙂
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.
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! 🙂
Haha thanks Anastasia, totally agree about never wanting to leave! It is such an incredible, fun, beautiful city and I can’t wait to go back!
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!
A good 101 intro for first time visitors. We look forward to your 201 article
Hahah perfect, can’t wait to go back!
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