Amsterdam is one of my most favourite cities in the world. From the skinny houses and cute canals to the delicious baked goods, very tall people and crazy bike traffic, when you arrive in Amsterdam, you instantly know you’re somewhere special. And even if you only have one day in Amsterdam, you can still see and do a lot!
In 2014 I lived in Amsterdam for six months while studying abroad. It was the best place to go to school! I didn’t have a chance to visit again until last fall, when I travelled with my dad to Amsterdam and Paris for his first trip to Europe. After almost five years, I fell in love with Amsterdam all over again.
If you can, I would suggest spending a few days in this magical city. But if you only have one day in Amsterdam, here’s how you can make the most of it.
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How to get to Amsterdam
Luckily, Amsterdam is one of the most accessible cities in Europe. As it’s a large hub on the northwest corner, it’s one of the main airports served by North American airlines. It’s also an easy flight from many places around Europe, and even a popular stopover destination for Asian carriers or flights heading to Africa.
From Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, it’s a very easy 20 minute train ride into the city centre. Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station, is not only beautiful but perfectly positioned to get anywhere in the city. It’s also only a few hours from places like Belgium, Germany and France! So even if you’re in Paris, it’s easy to pop over and spend one day in Amsterdam.
Start your one day in Amsterdam with the breakfast of champions: Apple pie! Winkel 43 is a super cute cafe and bakery in Amsterdam that’s famous for its apple pie. It’s also conveniently located near the next stop on your itinerary. So enjoy a delicious slice of pie while you soak up the beauty of the Jordaan neighbourhood.
Or, check out my favourite bakery, De Bakkerswinkel. There are a few locations around Amsterdam and you absolutely have to get a fresh baked scone with clotted cream and jam!
The next stop is one of Amsterdam’s most popular: the Anne Frank House. I’ve been on the Anne Frank House tour four times and each time I find it impactful and moving. This is a must-do if you only have one day in Amsterdam. Even if you’ve read the diary (or if you’ve never read it!), it’s completely different to walk through the rooms where the Frank family hid and to learn their story.
Pro tip: Do not forget to book your tickets to the Anne Frank House ahead of time. Tickets are only available online, and they sell out quick in the summer, so don’t miss out! Tickets are inexpensive (just over 10 euro) and ticket sales open exactly two months in advance. Get your tickets!
From the Anne Frank House, you’ll head just next door to my favourite pancake bakery in Amsterdam, aptly named, The Pancake Bakery. I love this place because it’s super close to the Anne Frank house in the beautiful Jordaan neighbourhood, their menu is expansive with great sweet and savoury options, and everything is delicious! If you can, go here with a group so you can order a bunch of different pancakes. When I lived in Amsterdam, we used to go as a group and each order a different pancake, then pass them around the table so everyone could try all of them.
Drag your full bellies over to the canal (right outside the Pancake Bakery!) and take a boat ride along the Amsterdam canals! There are lots of options like open-boat cruises, and boats you can rent yourself, including pedal boats. The canals are the most iconic part of Amsterdam and the best way to see the city is on the canals. Sit back and enjoy seeing the city from the water!
After your boat ride, head to the Albert Cuyp market on the east side of the city. This is one of Amsterdam’s biggest street markets that sells everything from produce and flowers to souvenirs and street food. If you have space in your stomach, go for a fresh stroopwaffel! These sweet treats are best when you get one fresh and warm from a street vendor (seriously, way better than the grocery store version).
Walk through Albert Cuyp until you reach Museumplein where you’ll find, shockingly, Amsterdam’s top museums. Museumplein (in Museumkwartier) is home to the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and Moco Museum. Since you only have one day in Amsterdam, you’ll likely only have time to visit one of these museums. I haven’t been to Stedelijk, but I have been to the other three and enjoyed them all!
As these are Amsterdam’s most popular museums, I would suggest booking online ahead of time so you can skip the line and guarantee your entrance (links above to skip-the-line tickets).
Museums not your thing? You could choose to spend the afternoon in Vondel Park instead. This gorgeous park is just around the corner from Museumplein and a popular place among Amsterdammers on a nice summer day.
Sadly, your one day in Amsterdam is coming to an end. But we’ve still got time for a few more things! For dinner, enjoy rijsttafel, an Indonesian rice table which is like the Indonesian version of Spanish tapas. Amsterdam is actually very well known for Indonesian food and rijsttafel is the best way to try as much of this delicious cuisine as possible.
After dinner, head over to Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. Despite what you may think, this area is not seedy or scary. In fact, it’s one of the safest areas in the city as the security levels are quite high. Even if you’re not interested in any of the activities, it’s a very cool experience to walk through and see this part of the city. You can head out on a Red Light District tour if you’re wanting to learn more about the area.
And there you have it: Your perfect itinerary for just one day in Amsterdam!
Where to stay
Unfortunately, Amsterdam is not the cheapest place to stay. In fact, it’s pretty expensive, especially if you’re hoping to be in one of the adorable skinny houses overlooking the canals.
But there are a few options. Luckily, Amsterdam is very well-connected. So even if you’re not staying right along a canal in the heart of the city, it will be very easy to get there from wherever you are. You could even stay out by the airport, since it’s only a 20 minute train ride into the city.
A popular budget option for travellers is the Flying Pig Hostel. This hostel is very well-located and offers great value for its price. It’s a well-known hostel and has a good reputation for good reason.
I’m a big fan of the iBis hotel brand. This hotel chain is budget, but it’s always modern, clean and well-located. On my last trip to Amsterdam, I stayed at the iBis Amsterdam City West. I would definitely recommend this place if you’re on a budget but still want a clean and reliable place. It’s not in the city centre, but it is right on a bus line and there’s a train/metro just a 10 minute walk away. If you’re able to spend a bit more to be more central, you could also check out the iBis Amsterdam Centre.
More than one day in Amsterdam?
Have more than one day in Amsterdam? Yay! This city is great and there’s lots to see and do. Here are a few suggestions if you have more than one day in Amsterdam.
- My favourite area of Amsterdam is called the Nine Streets. It’s a very picturesque area with beautiful canals and lots of independent shops and cafes. I would highly suggest an afternoon spent here.
- Amsterdam is home to many museums. So with a few days in the city, you can visit more than one. Besides the museums at Museumplein there’s also the Rembrandt House and the Royal Palace, that are both worth visiting.
- Another big itinerary item for Amsterdam is the Heineken Experience. To be completely honest, I’ve never been to the Heineken Experience and I’ve never really felt the need to. But if you’re a big beer fan, this could definitely be a great activity!
- Another thing Amsterdam is famous for is its coffeeshops. Note, there is a big difference between coffeeshops and cafes. A cafe is where you go to get coffee, a coffeeshop is where you go to enjoy some weed, which is legal. Coffeeshops range from ridiculous overpriced ones catered to tourists and plastered with Bob Marley decor to really nice, cozy and upscale shops frequented by locals. Avoid any coffeeshop next to a main tourist sight and you should be okay.
- Besides the Albert Cuyp Market, Amsterdam is home to other markets that sell flowers, food and more. Check out what’s on while you’re in town.
- If you’re looking for a bit of nightlife, head out to Rembrandtplein. This cool square has a number of bars, pubs and clubs. I remember heading out to Rembrandtplein on one of my first nights as a study abroad student in Amsterdam. But instead of partying the night away, a friend and I holed up at the Haagen Daz store on the square instead. That should tell you a lot about my love for nightlife!
- If you’re visiting Amsterdam in the spring, you need to go to see the flowers at Keukenhof. Amsterdam is famous for its tulips and nowhere is better to see them in full bloom than at Keukenhof. There’s actually a shuttle that goes directly from the airport to the gardens. You can check out the manicured gardens as well as the fields in the area.
- And if you happen to be in Amsterdam on April 27, you’ll get to celebrate King’s Day (or Koningsdag). This holiday marks the birthday of the reigning monarch, King Willem-Alexander, and is celebrated by flooding the streets in orange. It’s wild to be a part of but definitely a do-not-miss event. Grab your orange shirt and go join the party!
- Amsterdam is also a great place to take a day trip from. If you’re looking for another cute Dutch city with canals, head to nearby Utrecht, which is only half an hour by train. Or if you want to see some of the famous Dutch windmills, take a day trip to Zaanse Schans.
- And if you have even more time, consider an overnight or multi-night trip from Amsterdam. Did you know you could reach Belgium in just over an hour by train? And you could be in Paris in three hours on the train? And London is just a 45 minute flight! All just an easy train or plane ride away!
Tips & tricks for one day in Amsterdam
- Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English. Seriously, everyone. Which is one of the reasons why I recommend Amsterdam as the perfect place for your first solo trip. There’s no language barrier to worry about. Though it is always nice to learn a word or two in Dutch.
- The public transit in Amsterdam is very good and it’s easy to get around on trams, buses and subways. But walking or biking the city is even better! Amsterdam is very walkable and you get to experience the real charm of the city while you’re walking through it.
- If you do plan to bike in Amsterdam, be aware of the intense bike culture in the city. In Amsterdam, there are more bikes than people and the people take their biking very seriously. I don’t mean that they wear lycra biking outfits. But biking is a daily activity for locals and they expect you to learn the rules of the road. It’s not uncommon for a tourist to get hit, not by a car, but by a bike! Bikes have the right of way and it’s important to be vigilant of the bikes on the road. If you want to join them, by renting a bike during your time in Amsterdam, you need to be a confident biker, or else stick to the side streets.
- Amsterdam is a very liberal city. They’re famously known for the decriminalization of soft drugs and sex work. So feel free to take part, but don’t be an idiot. Be respectful of the culture. Don’t act like some of the British bachelor parties that come parading through town.
- While it might seem like a city with legalized drugs would be scary, it’s actually the exact opposite. Amsterdam is a very safe city. Even walking through the Red Light District at night alone, I would be more worried about a drunken bachelor party attendee vomiting on me than anything else. According to a 2015 study, Amsterdam is the fifth safest city in the world.
- In December 2001, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands signed into law the first same-sex marriage bill in the world. So the Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage! Amsterdam is a very welcoming city and is extremely LGBTQ+ friendly. They also host one of the biggest annual pride parades in the world.
There you have it: Your perfect itinerary for one day in Amsterdam and everything you need to know. What are you most excited to do in Amsterdam?
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