Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, gets its name from its origin as “Dam” of river “Amstel.
Initially called “Amstelredamme,” the name was later changed to Amsterdam. It is the Netherland’s largest and most populous city with 800 years of history behind it.
The city’s magnificent museums, striking architecture, ancient churches, old world cobbled streets, myriad of canals, waterways, and bridges and a vibrant nightlife make Amsterdam a tourist’s Mecca.
And a visit to this great European city, the Venice of the North, is never complete without a visit to the Amsterdam Cheese Museum and sampling the variety of cheese on offer – it is the ultimate experience for cheese aficionados – the cheese experience, if you will.
Another not-to-be-missed activity would be a visit to Netherland’s famous brewery, Heineken and the unique windmill brewery, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, producing organic blonde and dark beers and also running short tours.
Let’s take a look at all the “must do” activities and the “must visit and explore” sites and landmarks in the ‘Dam of river Amstel.’
The Port of Amsterdam (Haven van Amsterdam)
The Port of Amsterdam is the second largest port in the Netherlands after Rotterdam and the fourth busiest in Europe in terms of metric tons of cargo handled. Located on the bank of the IJ Bay and the North Sea Canal, the port is about 19 kilometers away from the open sea, impervious to tidal activity.
The North Sea Canal connects the port to the North Sea and the North Holland Canal is its link to Den Helder. It is connected to the Rhine through the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and to Markermeer via IJ and IJmeer.
A couple of hours spent on a cruise around the harbor is worth the time, particularly in the evening when the bridges and houses and landmarks are illuminated and a sight to behold.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to include a visit to the National Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) while you are at it. It is located in an out of commission naval storehouse on the Oosterdok housing an exhaustive collection of model ships, globes, navigation instruments, and paintings.
Another nearby attraction that can be included in the port trip is the Science Center Nemo, a top class science museum housed in a dramatic specimen of a building that juts over the port – the building was designed by Renzo Piano.
The Museum of the Tropics (The Tropenmuseum)
The Tropenmuseum, Dutch for the Museum of the Tropics, was founded in 1864 and is an ethnographic museum and a must-see for all those with an interest in the history of the Netherlands’ former colonies.
Take a guided tour (available in the English Language as well) of one of the largest and most prominent museums in the country, home to eight permanent exhibitions and a continuing display of temporary exhibitions, including contemporary and conventional visual arts and photographic works.
The museum is also a famous venue for cultural programs like Eastern and Asian music concerts highlighting the use of traditional instruments.
Address: Linnaeusstraat 2, 1092 CK Amsterdam
Official site: https://tropenmuseum.nl/en
The Old Church (Oude Kerk)
The 800-year-old Oude Kerk or the Old Church is located in De Wallen, Amsterdam’s primary and most famous red-light district, surrounded by the Oudekerksplein square.
By around 1213, a wooden chapel had been erected at the location of today’s Oude Kerk. Over time, this structure was replaced by a stone church that was consecrated in 1306. In 1578, when the Catholic city government was toppled and replaced by a Protestant administration, the Parish church became a Calvinist church and has been that ever since.
Address: Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam
Official site: www.oudekerk.nl/en/
The New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)
The Nieuwe Kerk, Dutch for New Church, is a 15th-century edifice located in the heart of Amsterdam in Dam Square, a shout away from the Royal Palace.
No longer in use for church services, Nieuwe Kerk mainly serves as a venue for exhibitions and organ recitals, and since 1814, it has been the official coronation church of Dutch monarchs.
The structure also houses a museum store inside the entrance selling gifts, books, and postcards exclusively related to the church and the exhibitions. There is also a café in one of the attached buildings that can be accessed from the church and vice versa during opening
Some of the main features of this historic church are:
- A glorious pulpit dating back to 1649 – a masterpiece of Baroque wood carving decorated with the four evangelists and figures symbolizing Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, and Prudence
- A grand choir screencast in bronze, and fine choir stalls
- The Baroque tomb of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter who died in 1679, including tombs of other famous Dutchmen like PC Hooft and Nicolaes Tulp
Beautiful stained glass windows, one of them from 1650 depicting the granting of the city’s coat of arms by William IV. Another window from 1898 commemorates the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina and is referred to as the Queen’s Window.
Kalverstraat (Amsterdam’s shopping district)
No vacation is complete without a little indulgence in shopping – “shopping therapy” as many would like to call it. The Venice of the North has much to offer when it comes to shopping for high-end luxury goods, local crafts, or souvenirs.
With its many stylish boutiques, stores, galleries, perfumeries, cafés, and restaurants, Kalverstraat is a very popular shopping district in Amsterdam making it the busiest as well. It’s an experience you will not forget in a hurry.
The biggest and one-of-its-kind flea market in Europe, the IJ-Hallen is located in the most densely populated area of Amsterdam. Compared to Kalverstraat, it offers a radically different shopping experience with an out-and-out assortment of new and used stuff ranging from food and clothes to antiques and artifacts. The IJ-Hallen is a dream come true for those who love flea markets and great bargains.
The Rijksmuseum (Dutch National Museum)
Founded in The Hague in 1800, the Rijksmuseum was shifted to Amsterdam in 1808. In its early days in Amsterdam, it occupied the Royal Palace but was later relocated to the Trippenhuis. The current building housing the museum was designed by Pierre Cuypers opened and became operational in 1885.
In need of a major overhaul, after more than a century of wear and tear, renovation work on the building started in 2004. A decade and 375 million Euros later its doors were once again opened to the public on April 13, 2013, by Queen Beatrix.
The Rijksmuseum boasts a huge collection of rare art and antiquities including masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer among many others.
Additionally, the museum is home to a well-stocked library housing more than 35,000 books and manuscripts and the museum’s collection of traditional handicrafts, medieval sculpture, and modern art styles deserve a special mention.
Address: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
Official site: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
The Anne Frank Museum
Located in central Amsterdam on the Prinsengracht canal near Westerkerk (The Western Church), the Anne Frank Museum honors the wartime diarist Anne Frank. A refugee from Frankfurt, Anne hid in the house along with her family for most of World War II. It was here that she penned her famous diary that went on to become an international bestseller after the war and her untimely death – she died at the age of 15 two months after the cessation of hostilities.
The place serves as a grim reminder of the family’s ordeal and the tragic period in Europe’s, and indeed the world’s history.
Address: Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam
Official site: www.annefrank.org/en/
The Van Gogh Museum
Dedicated to the 19th-century artist Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries, the Van Gogh Museum is located at the Museum Square close to the Stedelijk Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Concertgebouw.
Opened 1973, It is home to 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters by Vincent van Gogh in addition to works of art from other 19th century greats.
English language audio guides and phone apps are available.
Address: Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX Amsterdam
Official site: www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en
The West Church (Westerkerk)
The West Church, known as Westerkerk in the Dutch language, is a 17th century “Reformed” church within the Dutch Protestant church located near Amsterdam’s Jordaan district, on the bank of the Prinsengracht canal.
It is the venue of Queen Beatrix’s wedding in 1966 – a must-visit site for its numerous internal and external Gothic features.
Windmills in Amsterdam
Without a visit to the windmills, no trip to the city can be considered complete. With eight windmills in and around Amsterdam, windmill spotting is a great activity one can partake.
Districts in Amsterdam
Canal Ring dates back to the 17th century when it was developed to attract affluent homeowners. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is still an upmarket neighborhood with properties belonging to many Dutch celebrities. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are the city’s main nightlife spots.
Known for its canals, shopping, coffee shops, and traditional architecture, Old Center is the most visited area in Amsterdam.
Initially a working class area, Jordaan is now considered a posh neighborhood with plenty of classy boutiques, fine dining, and art galleries. The Haarlemmerbuurt and the Western Islands also fall under Jordaan district.
Plantage is an enjoyable 19th-century district in Amsterdam boasting several museums in and around the area.
The South district is popular for being an area where accommodation is considerably cheaper than the city center. Also, it is known as the Museum Quarter of Amsterdam. You can relax in the Vondelpark with a bottle of your favorite alcoholic beverage or shop at the Albert Cuyp Market till you drop.
It is a sprawling suburban district divided into two distinctive areas, The Old West – a charming 19th-century locality and the New West – a crime infested area often in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The East is a large residential area in Amsterdam known for its diversity. The Eastern Docklands and IJburg are affluent neighborhoods with modern architecture all around.
Bijlmer refers to the Southeast portion of the city, which houses almost 100,000 people of over 150 nationalities. The area is synonymous with crime and nefarious activities, not unlike the New West area.
Best time to visit
July and August – are considered the best time to visit the city because of the pleasant weather conditions. Tourist activity is at its highest these two months.
Mid-April to early May – If you want to see the tulip gardens in all its natural glory this is the best time of the year to visit this great city.
October to March – This is a relatively quiet period with better deals for shoppers. New Year’s Eve is an exception, though, with riotous celebrations and merry making all around.
Amsterdam boasts an efficient transport network with tram, metro, and bus services. Being a rather compact city walking and biking are also pleasant and convenient options – Amsterdam is known for its bike lanes.
August is the hottest month, with an average high of 63°F (17°C), and the coldest is January, with an average high of 37°F (17°C).
Good to know
Attractions like the Van Gogh and Anne Frank Museums can get very crowded during peak tourist season; so, booking in advance is the way to go.
While the city is generally safe, beware of pickpockets in crowded areas.
Language – Dutch
Currency – Euro (€)
Electric – Type C two-prong plug