The Netherlands was a highlight on my trip to Europe last year and somewhere I’m keen to go back to in spring for the tulips! You could easily spend a week in the Netherlands but since there’s so much to see in Europe I condensed my time there into 5 days (3 days in Amsterdam and 2 days outside of the city). It was the perfect amount of time to see the highlights but not feel like I’d done everything and not want to go back in the future.
Recommended time to visit:
- April / May (Spring – for the Tulips)
- September / October (Autumn – for the leaves changing colors)
- Currency: Euro
- Location: Central Europe
- Cost to Visit: Expensive
- Try and do the day trips on weekdays, not weekends. If doing day trips outside of Amsterdam e.g. Zaanse Schans, arrive at attractions before or around 8am for photos before the tour buses arrive (most arrive at 10am)
- Main airport: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS). There are frequent trains, it takes only 20 minutes via train to the city centre (5.50 euro)
- Arriving / Departing: Amsterdam airport is a major hub into Europe, you can get a flight from major cities around the world. Amsterdam is also well connected to neighbouring countries via train
- Languages spoken: Dutch. If you only speak English (like I do), you don’t need to stress, everyone spoke and understood English
- Main attractions: Canal tour, museums, shopping, Anne Frank Museum, day trip to the tulips, architecture
- Local foods: Poffertjes (they’re like mini pancakes), MELK milk chocolate and Tony’s Chocolate (both are really yummy!), Herring, Manneken Pis fries, meatballs
- Supermarkets: Albert Heijn (You’ll need to go a bit beyond the main tourist area to find decent supermarkets, most are just convenience stores).The best one I found (for range of chocolates and snacks) was at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 226, 1012 RR and Prins Hendrikkade 20, 1012 TL if you are near the main train station
- Safety: Be wary at night, avoid narrow alleyways and I’d avoid going into the red light district alone at night
- Temperature: Cold! This website has a great summary of typical weather by month
- People: Watch out for people riding bikes and remember they have the right of way! Otherwise most people were friendly
- Visa: part of the Schengen
5 Day Itinerary
This itinerary assumes you either land the night before or in the morning. My flight from Vilnius landed at 9:30am. After a 5.50 euro train tip to Amsterdam Central Station and dropping the bags off at the hotel, it was around 11am.
I visited Amsterdam in the first week of October 2019. This post was written and published in May 2020. My itinerary is very contingent on the weather, I ended up changing a few things around due to rain so please use this itinerary as a guide of what you can expect to fit in each day. You may need to swap around what days you do each attraction once you’re actually in Amsterdam.
So much to see and everything is very spread out (if you want to plot your own itinerary using Google My Maps, see this post for a tutorial).
If you want to copy and paste this into your travel planning spreadsheets or however you’re planning your itinerary, here’s a summarised version. I include much more detail later in this post.
- AM – Arrive in Amsterdam & have lunch
- PM – Canal boat tour, Albert Cuyp Market, Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark and wander around the canals heading back towards the final stop of Dam Square
- Day trip to Marken, Volendam and Edam
- AM – Anne Frank Museum, wander around the canals and shopping
- PM – Red Light District and wander around the CBD area to see the canals & buildings lit up at night
- Day trip to Zaanse Schans & The Hague
- Spend the day in Amsterdam
- OR Another day trip of your choice (suggestions at the end of this post)
Arrive in Amsterdam and get something to eat. If you’re staying in Central Amsterdam I struggled to find decent food places. I love a good crepe but most of the places were sweet stuff for late night drunk pick me ups if you know what I mean.. We had lunch at a small Italian place in one of the alleyways (if you asked me to find it again i probably wouldn’t be able to, Amsterdam is very confusing to navigate). I wouldn’t recommend it anyway, they served lasagne with bread?!
Boat tour of the canals departing from Loetje Centraal. Instead of a hop on hop off bus tour, do the canal tour – it’s a great way to orient yourself in the city. You have 2 options for the canal cruise. You can either do a hop on hop off tour or a 1 hour boat tour.
I did the hop on hop off canal tour and don’t recommend it. It’s more expensive as you have the convenience of stopping and being able to get off at various locations, but the boats weren’t very frequent so if you missed it, it was a long wait or you start walking to the next pickup location and you may as well have just walked the whole way. The boats stop for 5 – 10 minutes at each location so it takes a long time to do the full circuit.
Tip: I stayed at the Hotel ibis Amsterdam Centre – they gave a few euro discount off the hop on hop off canal tickets if you purchased through them. Unless you visit during peak season I wouldn’t bother pre-buying your canal ticket before you get there. You can’t predict the weather and if it’s raining you won’t be able to sit outside at the back of the boat for photos. Make sure you research which tour company you want to use as some of them have enclosed boats only so it’ll be more difficult to see and get good photos, especially if the boat is packed with people.
If you take the hop on hop off, get off at one of the stops near the Rijksmuseum, or take a tram, then head to Albert Cuyp Market. This ended up being more of a locals market with food you buy and then cook at home, not pre-made food you buy and eat there. I did find a yummy gelato shop though IJscuypje.
Yes I am that person that takes a photo of their gelato before I eat it!
Not far from the Market is the Rijksmuseum which used to have the I am Amsterdam sign but sadly it was removed prior to my visit in 2019. They have an A’dam sign at the top of the A’DAM lookout if you really want your photo with one of those signs.
I don’t like museums so skipped this and instead spent the afternoon wandering the neighbourhoods bordering the outer canals. My favorite part of Amsterdam was just wandering around looking at all the unique lopsided buildings and seeing what was different every time you cross another canal.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, you could wander around Vondelpark. It was pissing down rain when I went so I skipped the park.
When you’re finished in this area of Amsterdam either hop back on the canal boat, take a tram or walk back to the central area via Zevenlandenhuizen (nice houses), Leidseplein (make sure you allow time to stop and take photos as you cross plenty of canals) then up Rokin street until you reach Dam Square.
Take the bus from Amsterdam Central Station to Marken and spend the morning there, before hopping on a ferry to Volendam in the afternoon.
You’ll need to change buses to get to Marken (I’ll include the details in another post) and it will take you right out to the island. You can take a leisurely stroll to the lighthouse where’ll you’ll see plenty of quaint dutch houses and cows. You’ll also see planes flying over every minute through the clouds heading to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
Next, head into the little village filled with even cuter dutch houses like this:
There are some shops along the harbour which you can peruse before getting the ferry to Volendam. You’ll need to buy a ticket before boarding the boat.
Marken harbour – looked like a scene from a jigsaw puzzle!
Volendam has plenty of food places and tourist shops. Make sure you try a stroopwafel and poffertjes, and take a walk along the waterfront, then head to Edam and wander around there for an hour or two, before getting the bus back to Amsterdam (I’ll be doing a more detailed post on this day trip soon).
First up, visit the Anne Frank House in the Jordaan Neighbourhood. You’ll need to pre-buy your tickets well in advance online (I purchased mine the day they opened 3 months before the day of my visit and many of the timeslots where already taken). It’s extremely popular – don’t count on just rocking up there on the day and walking in.
Afterwards, go to the top of the Westerkerk Church Tower for a good view (note: the tower is only open April to October). Check the opening times on their website before visiting.
Spend the rest of the morning wandering around the Jordaan neighbourhood (including The 9 Streets) – there are tons of canals to take photographs of!
Anne Franks House / Museum is on the left (just before the Westerkerk church tower)
Shopping! Amsterdam had great shopping along Kalverstraat and the adjoining streets. Some stores I recommend:
- De Bijenkorf
- Hudson’s Bay
- If you like patchwork quilting, my Mum liked the Birdblocks quilt shop
If you like stationery, see this post for my favorite stationery shops in Amsterdam (I was impressed by how many there were!)
Make sure you visit Henri Willig Cheese.
If you don’t want to shop, visit a museum, The Oude Kerk (Old Church), Madame Tussards Wax Museum or the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.
As my Mum said on the last day of the trip… ‘we can’t visit Amsterdam and not take a peek at the Red Light District!’ So if you’re curious, take a quick walk through (during daylight!)
In the afternoon walk along Damrack to the free ferry near Amsterdam’s central train station (walk through the underpass to the massive bike storage area and you’ll see tons of people getting on and off the ferry). Hop on that (it literally takes like 2 minutes to get across), then walk over to the A’Dam lookout. Try and get there in late afternoon (before sunset).
You don’t need to pre-buy a ticket. At the top is a great view over Amsterdam, the canals, all of the bikes getting on and off the ferry you just went on, some of the newer suburban areas, the river cruise boats parked in the harbour. Lots of stuff to look at!
You can also watch the crazy people on the swing at the top that dangles them off the side of the building. I will never forget the horrified look on my Mum’s face when the young guy at the ticket counter asked if she’d like to upgrade her ticket to include the swing.
Since they’ve taken away the I am Amsterdam sign, the next best this is the A’DAM sign at the top of this lookout
This is the view from one of the sides at the top!
Today, spend the morning at Zaanse Schans before heading to The Hague in the afternoon. To get to both of these places you’ll need to buy a train ticket. I found the ticket machines at Amsterdam Central Station to be quite confusing regarding whether I should get a day ticket or if it was better value to get 2 separate tickets. After enquiring at the staff desk, it ended up being that 2 separate tickets was the cheaper option. Make sure you don’t lose the paper tickets in case someone checks on the train.
I’ll be doing a whole separate post on this day trip but will mention the highlights here.
A leisurely stroll from the train station past the cocoa factory (wish I could bottle that yummy smell!) and you’ll arrive at Zaanse Schans.
Make sure you get there early (before 10am) as this is when the tour buses arrive. Take some photos of the windmills along the waterfront and choose which windmill you want to visit. There’s also a chocolate shop, cheese factory, clog workshop and a few other shops to visit.
There isn’t really anywhere to sit down and eat at Zaanse Schans however you’ll probably spend most of the morning snacking on the hot chocolate, brownies, cheese, chocolate and all the other stuff at the little shops in the area that you will want a late lunch anyway.
In the afternoon, take the train to The Hague. Have some lunch, shop and wander around the CBD area. If you haven’t tried poffertjes yet there are a few places in The Hague if you want an afternoon snack. I went to Will’s Pancake House (slow service but were very yum!)
Make sure you walk around the The Houses of Parliament, before getting the train back to Amsterdam. Out the train window I could see huge fields of flowers (not sure what they were but they weren’t tulips) and that was impressive enough. I’m super keen to go back during spring!
Depending on the time of year you visit, take a day trip to to Keukenhof for the tulips or another one of the day trip options in this post (refer below). I did a day trip to Giethoorn and the enclosing dike although I don’t recommend (there’ll be a post about it soon).
If you like to travel at a leisurely pace you might still have a few things to do from the earlier days on this itinerary, or you could visit a museum. I don’t drink alcohol and have zero interest in it, but if you do, the Heinekin Experience is quite popular. Ditch the husband there while you go shopping!
Day trip Options
- Marken, Volendam and Edam
- Zaanse Schans & The Hague
- Giethoorn and the enclosing dike (I did this and don’t recommend, there’ll be a post soon)
- War memorials & battle grounds (my Dad did a private tour with a driver to the Overloon war museum near the border of Germany, I can’t remember the details of where else they went as it didn’t appeal to me but my Dad really enjoyed it)
- Tulip fields in Spring (Keukenhof or Zaanse Schans)
There are plenty of organized bus tours in Viator and sightseeing websites but I don’t recommend doing them. Many are a complete rip off versus just buying a train ticket and going yourself. Plus then you can choose how long to spend at places, rather than just seeing the highlights before being herded back onto the bus and rushed to the next place, and forced to eat meals at whatever over-priced restaurant they recommend / try and force you to eat at.
How long do you need in Amsterdam?
I think 5 days is a good amount of time to see the main things without getting bored (I don’t like to spend more than about 5 days in one city at a time). You’ll have enough time for a few days in Amsterdam itself, as well as some day trips outside of the city. If you like to visit museums or travel at a slow pace, I would add another day or 2 (Royal Palace, Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage, Amsterdam History Museum etc.), plus extra days if you want to do more day trips.
I do intend to go back in the spring for the tulips (and hopefully less rain!). It will probably be a 3 – 4 day visit (1 day in Amsterdam centre, 1 day for the tulips and another day or two for Utrecht or another outlying city).
Getting around Amsterdam
I find the best way to explore a city is on foot so often do around 30,000 steps a day while travelling. Amsterdam has so many canals and unique buildings that you don’t even realise you’ve walked that much. However if you do want to take public transport (trams, buses), you can buy a GVB pass to get around.
Where to eat
There are many places to eat but if you’re staying in the touristy area of central Amsterdam, I found most of them to be late night drunk style food, burgers or lots of Italian restaurants. I like Italian so this didn’t bother me! Went to Ava Cyril Italian restaurant 3 nights in a row (interestingly, the walls are covered in coasters people from all over the world have signed). The lasagne was a bit liquidy (too much cream) but the pizzas were good.
I tried Wyers restaurant. The menu was very limited, everyone else in my family I was travelling with liked the food but my meatballs where undercooked (they were too big – each one was the size of 2 golfballs). When I politely asked them to please cook them for another 5 or so minutes, so they were brown on the inside, the chef in the open kitchen gave me filthy looks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spat in people’s foods if he was hidden from view in a back of house kitchen. They were still raw on the inside the second time around so I didn’t eat them. They waived the cost of my meal but because of that chef, I won’t go back there.
There was another place (I can’t find it on Google Maps sorry!). It was among a cluster of restaurants along Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal street (near the Birdblocks patchwork quilting shop). It was very expensive anyway for a tiny serving of chicken and mashed potato. It tasted great but it was a lunch size meal, not dinner (and cost about 30 euro).
Don’t forget to add a few euro for water when budgeting the cost of food.
Some other foods places that were on my list but I didn’t get to:
- Mister Meatball
- Piadina Bar (Italian flatbread sandwiches)
- Jacketz (jacket potatoes with toppings)
- Prins Heerlijk (dutch pancakes)
- Original Stroopwafels
- Stef’s Bakery
- Melly’s Cookie Bar
- de laatste kruimel
- tomaz (dutch food)
- Kaptein Zeppos (savoury crepes)
You can find Stroopwafel’s in the supermarket (Albert Heijn) but they tasted better fresh from a shop in Volendam. Maybe the supermarket ones would be better after a quick zap in a microwave. Next time I’m going to bring a packet home and eat them with nutella 🙂
For poffertjes, I recommend De Vier Pilaren near the river (also near the canal boat route).
There are plenty of these sweet shops selling the same over the top desserts. I finally caved at one and tried a nutella brownie… and was really disappointed. It tasted stale. After walking past the same shops a few days into my time in Amsterdam I’m convinced the food sits out for days and is not freshly baked daily.
Where to stay
I stayed near Amsterdam Central Station which was a convenient location for a first time visit and if you want to do day trips close to Amsterdam. I stayed at the Hotel ibis Amsterdam Centre. I’ve stayed at ibis hotels all over Australia, used them in America and in other European countries. It’s one of my favorite hotel chains… except for this one in Amsterdam. Great location but extremely pokey hotel room, a bathroom that was the size of a closet with a coffin shower I could barely fit in (I’m not fat!), uncomfortable beds, windows that are difficult to close (which housekeeping kept opening but didn’t close when they left the room), lots of outside noise. I wouldn’t stay there again.
When I go back to the Netherlands I’ll probably land in Amsterdam and get the train to stay at one of the other cities like Rotterdam.
Planning your next trip? Download my travel planning spreadsheets!
Found this post helpful? Pin it!