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Exploring Amsterdam: My Top Three Attractions

exploring Amsterdam top three attractions sightseeing visit

As the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is famous for its amazing art and culture, its impressive network of canals, and (of course) its coffeeshops. I recently paid a visit to the city on a press trip and I had an absolutely fantastic time! Two full days were certainly not enough but I nevertheless managed to pack in quite an impressive programme of activities, which has enabled me to put together this "top three" guide to the must-see sights in Amsterdam. In this post, I'll be covering museums, canals, neighbourhoods, green spaces, and free attractions, guiding you through everything you need to know for a short break in the city! My sightseeing in Amsterdam was all facilitated by the amazing I amsterdam City Card. This handy smart card gives you access to public transport in the city as well as to an enormous selection of over 60 attractions - all for free! A swipe of the card will also get you discounted dining at a wide selection of restaurants, as well as free giveaways, and money off at even more attractions. Keep reading to see what I got up to!

Museums

1. Rijksmuseum

One of the major reasons that I was so excited to visit Amsterdam was the prospect of going to the Rijksmuseum. The museum holds collections by some of the world's most prominent painters, including Rembrandt and Vermeer. To be able to see them for myself was absolutely amazing and an experience that I'll never forget. Rembrandt's The Night Watch was obviously a highlight, but I also really enjoyed the collection of 15th century wooden sculptures such as those of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. They were incredibly well preserved and had such an aura about them. The museum was, as expected, extremely busy even on the Wednesday morning that we were there, so my advice would be to go close to opening time to beat the crowds. We arrived at around 10.45am and regretted not going earlier! Rooms with very famous pieces such as Rembrandt's were very crowded but it was possible to get to the front with a bit of a wait.

Entrance fee: €17.50
Entrance fee with iAmsterdam City Card: FREE

exploring amsterdam attractions sightseeing rijksmuseum Rembrandt night watch museum

2. Van Gogh Museum

Next up on the must-see list was the Van Gogh Museum. Again, this museum was also very busy with booking in advance absolutely essential. We signed up for an afternoon time slot and spent just over an hour in the museum. Spread over three floors, the collections comprise Van Gogh's self portraiture, works by other artists who inspired him, and famous pieces such as one of the sunflower paintings and the almond blossom. I discovered during my visit to the museum that Van Gogh only started painting at the age of 27 and that he died at just 37, so his artistic output in such a short time was just phenomenal! I also learned that he was very much influenced by Japanese art in his later years so seeing his work alongside some examples of that which inspired him was really interesting. Sadly the museum doesn't have the very famous The Starry Sky painting in their collections (I would have LOVED to have seen it!) but I enjoyed the museum nonetheless.

Entrance fee: €18.00
Entrance fee with I amsterdam City Card: FREE

3. NEMO Science Museum

We headed to NEMO at the end of a jam-packed day of activities, meaning that we only spent about 20 minutes in the museum before it closed, but we still managed a whistle-stop tour of some of the exhibits. Physics, chemistry, biology and more are covered on successive floors. There's even a laboratory where you can don a white coat and have a go at some experiments! I would definitely say that, in general, this museum is more geared towards children, with loads of interactive exhibits pitched at a child's level but it was still a great experience. My boyfriend and I had a real laugh in the "Teen Facts" zone - there was a stand all about French kissing where you could stick your arm through a slot and into a giant tongue! Someone else could stand on the other side, their hand also inside a tongue, and you could well.. you get the picture! There was also a display of mannequins in various sex positions, which made us titter!

Entrance fee: €16.00
Entrance fee with I amsterdam City Card: FREE

amsterdam visit tourist attraction sightseeing NEMO science museum


On the water

1. 100 Highlights Canal Cruise

Amsterdam isn't known as the Venice of the North for nothing! The city has 31 miles of canals, which makes exploring it on water an essential activity. As soon as we hopped off the coach in Amsterdam, my boyfriend and I went about finding a cruise and eventually settled on the 100 Highlights Cruise by a company named Stromma. There are loads of different canal cruises on offer in the city, all departing a short walk from Centraal Station, so you'll be spoiled for choice. On our cruise, we enjoyed an audio tour of Amsterdam's highlights, with plenty of photo opportunities. I especially loved sailing down the Herengracht Canal, with all of its opulent houses. These aren't residential properties any more as nobody can afford to live in them, instead they're used for business, but it was amazing to imagine what life would've been like behind those walls centuries ago.

Entrance fee: €15.00 - €18.00
Entrance fee with I amsterdam City Card: FREE

2. Canal Walking

Sailing isn't the only way to experience Amsterdam's canals. Taking a walk through the city will give you ample opportunities to check out the gorgeous bridges and gaze down into the waters. The Bridge of 15 Bridges is a popular spot for photos, as it provides one of Amsterdam's most iconic views. I probably don't need to explain why - the clue's in the name! From this one particular bridge on the Herengracht Canal, you can see all the way down to fifteen other bridges, which makes for a gorgeous view. So many of the other bridges in the city are beautiful too, with hanging baskets of flowers decorating lots of them. I even pulled my long-suffering boyfriend off a tram before we reached our destination to take a picture on a particularly lovely bridge. What can I say? It was worth it!

amsterdam visit sightseeing attractions top canals boat ferry tour

3. Ferries

There's far more to Amsterdam than the city centre. True, the centre is beautiful and home to many of the city's cultural highlights, but if you head outside of this, you'll find some fantastic hidden treasures. You needn't travel on foot, however, as Amsterdam has a ferry network based at the wharf behind the Centraal train station, which can get you across the IJ bay for free! You don't need a city card or anything else, just hop onboard one of the regular ferries to your destination. Buiksloterwegis a popular destination on the ferry, with the Tolhuistuin garden being a real draw for tourists.


Neighbourhoods

1. NDSM

Continuing along the same vein of attractions beyond the city centre, visiting one of Amsterdam's many neighbourhoods is an essential on any visit. One such neighbourhood that I particularly liked was NDSM, billed as an old shipyard turned creative haven. My boyfriend and I travelled by ferry from Centraal to NDSM to visit the IJkantine for lunch on our first day (more on that in a later blog post!) and had a quick wander along the beach / shipyard afterwards. The vibe here was very edgy and artsy, and it didn't surprise me to learn that many of Amsterdam's most popular festivals take place here. They also have a flea market and hotels built into an old ship and a crane (seriously!). I'd love to stay here on my next visit!

amsterdam sightseeing attractions ferry neighbourhood NDSM

2. Oud-Zuid

The journey from NDSM to Oud-Zuid will fast take you from quirky and artsy to chic and high-end. I visited this neighbourhood primarily because it was home to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum and I quickly fell in love with the gorgeous architecture. The Royal Concertgebouw building is absolutely beautiful when sighted across the green park from the Van Gogh Museum. Oud-Zuid also boasts many sophisticated bars and is well renowned for its shopping, particularly Petit Bateau with those amazing bright yellow raincoats displayed outside! (Yes, I really want one).

3. Oud-West

If NDSM is arty and Oud-Zuid is posh, Oud-West provides the best of both worlds. Near the large park, the streets are very elegant and fashionable but you can also turn down some of the smaller roads and get a feeling of "real" Amsterdam, with restaurants frequented by locals - families as well as students. Something that especially drew me here was the fact that the neighbourhood will have you spoiled for choice in terms of the amazing veggie and vegan friendly restaurants on offer - my mouth was watering just walking down the streets! But don't worry, I'm not keeping it secret - a full post on what I ate in Amsterdam is coming soon!

amsterdam exploring sightseeing attractions neighbourhood

Green Spaces

1. Hortus Botanicus

Amsterdam's botanic gardens have been one of the city's hotspots for over 400 years! With a rainforest area, beautiful greenhouses and even a butterfly house, there's plenty to keep you entertained. You can even combine your love of the historic with a flavour of the natural world as the botanic gardens has a totally unique 2000 year old agave cactus within their collections. The gardens have way more to offer than just an education in botany, however, with yoga and meditation classes happening on a weekly basis. There are also shops selling all kinds of gardening supplies and a cafe if you need to water yourself!

Entrance fee: €9.50
Entrance fee with I amsterdam City Card: FREE

2. Vondelpark

Located in the aforementioned neighbourhood of Oud-Zuid, Vondelpark is Amsterdam's most popular green space. As a country girl through and through, I really appreciate having green oases in the city to sit down and get away from the hustle and bustle for a while. That being said, Vondelpark attracts thousands of visitors every year but we still found a nice spot to take a break. We even witnessed a little heron fishing in one of the ponds! We watched him catch and swallow one fish but the presence of two groups peering at him must've given him stage fright and he didn't get any more. He did, however, come over to us and take a dump right in front of where we were sitting, so perhaps that was his way of telling us to buzz off! Pooping herons aside, the park has beautifully landscaped gardens and is a wonderful place to spend an hour or two.

amsterdam sightseeing visit top three Vondelpark

3. Oeverlanden Nieuwe Meer

This small lake was a completely chance find for us - we were walking back to our hotel from the bus stop and came across the sign for the lake so wandered closer. The lake is very tranquil and picturesque with anglers enjoying the peace and quiet. You can even swim there in the summer! It was a great place to take the weight off our feet at the end of a long day. Happily I didn't suffer at all when walking around the city solidly for two days, thanks to some fantastic Keen Walking Sandals gifted to me by Simply Hike. The sandals were incredibly supportive and durable with a very secure fit. Their lightweight and breathable material made them perfect for the warm weather in Amsterdam. I love the purple grape colour as well - these sandals have become an essential component of my summer wardrobe! Definitely check out the Simply Hike range if you're looking to invest in some walking boots of your own.

amsterdam sightseeing attractions oeverlanden meer

Free Attractions

1. SANDEMANs Walking Tour

If you want to stretch your legs and see the city a little bit better, SANDEMANs run free walking tours daily. I would definitely recommend booking these in advance, as I booked our tour about 3 weeks prior to our Amsterdam trip and there were only a few English speaking places remaining. The tour that we went on lasts around 2.5-3 hours, starting at the National Monument in Dam Square. The tour takes you as far back to the 1200s, exploring the buildings and canals that shaped the city's history. SANDEMANs offer various options for guiding you through Amsterdam including cycling tours if you're feeling especially energetic! Tours operate on a tip-only basis and you're asked to tip as much as you feel the tour is worth, inkeeping with your budget. Our tour group was rather large which was a bit of a shame as we sometimes struggled to hear the guide, so that's definitely something to bear in mind if you're booking at a popular time.

2. Red Light District

Amsterdam isn't only famous for its history and culture. On our first night in the city, we walked down to the Red Light District just to see it for ourselves. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam (the women even pay tax on what they make!), with the proviso that it cannot take place on the street itself. Instead, prostitutes stand in the windows of the shops, lit up by the red lights that give the area its name, to solicit passersby. We didn't stay in the Red Light District for very long, just enough time to realise that it is definitely more suited to stag nights than a couple on holiday together! The main worry for me was that the women working there were the victims of exploitation, but it was reassuring to learn that the area is one of the most heavily policed in the city and that most brothels had bodyguards to protect the girls working.

3. I amsterdam letters

Were you even in Amsterdam if you didn't get a photo with the giant letters? At the back of the Rijksmuseum you'll find the enormous I amsterdam sign as well as a huge crowd of people climbing to the top to get that perfect Instagram photo! There's another set of the giant letters at the airport to welcome tourists and a third group which periodically travel the city, so you never know when you'll come across them. The letters had a really lively atmosphere and they were well worth a visit for some snaps.

amsterdam iamsterdam letters rijksmuseum visit sightseeing


Have you ever visited Amsterdam? Which of these attractions appeals to you most? Leave a comment down below!

Until next time,

A x

*The I amsterdam City Cards and Simply Hike products were gifted to me in exchange for a feature on my blog