What to see and do in Amsterdam in one day

How To See The Best of Amsterdam in One Day

In Netherlands, Trip itineraries by Jurga26 CommentsTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

Last weekend we took advantage of the unusually beautiful weather and decided to make a day trip to Amsterdam. We knew that we wanted to explore the canals – that’s a must in Amsterdam, so we booked our canal cruise in advance. But the rest of our day itinerary was completely blank. Since we hadn’t been to Amsterdam in years, I did some research on what we could do in Amsterdam in one day, and found some great advice. However, I had to read a paper travel guide and seven different websites before I came up with a somewhat feasible itinerary with the best things to do in Amsterdam if you only have one day.

Yes, there are many amazing and also quirky museums in Amsterdam, beautiful parks to visit, and lots of great bars and cafes where you can have the best meal in town… But unless you have more than one day, you will probably not want to waste your time shopping at the huge warehouse Bijenkorf or walking to the other side of town in search for that one restaurant that someone recommended…

So this is my no-nonsense guide to the best things to see and do in Amsterdam in one day. At the bottom of the post you can find some suggestions on what to see and do in and near Amsterdam if you have more time.

Amsterdam in one day - itinerary, map, and tips to get the most of your short visit

 

What to do in Amsterdam in one day

Amsterdam city centre is not very big, so you can see and do quite a lot in one day. Find out the best things to see and do that you shouldn’t miss, even if you only have one day in Amsterdam. I created this map to give you a better idea of where all these places are and help you better plan your day in Amsterdam.

1. Explore Amsterdam canals on foot

There are many canals in Amsterdam, but if you only have one day, there are three main canals that shouldn’t be missed: Herengracht, PrinsengrachtKeizersgracht. All dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age and surrounded by some of the most beautiful traditional Dutch houses that Amsterdam is famous for. Singel is another canal that is definitely worth strolling along, as is the Brouwersgracht.

Actually, you can skip the Herengracht canal when exploring Amsterdam canals on foot, because it’s one of the main canals, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you will probably pass here by boat. Which brings me to the second thing you must do in Amsterdam…

Brouwersgracht canal in Amsterdam

Brouwersgracht canal is less visited by tourists, yet very picturesque as well

 

2. Take a canal cruise

If I were to choose just one thing that you absolutely must do in Amsterdam, it would be a canal cruise. Whether you are visiting Amsterdam for one day or a week, don’t miss this! No matter how much exploring you do on foot, seeing the city from a boat gives a completely different perspective. It’s also a perfect way to see a lot without having to walk even more.

When it comes to Amsterdam canal cruises, there are countless options. Some excellent, some good, and some… not so good. But how do you know it when you are in town and are overwhelmed by all the boats you see there? We thought that the best way to avoid disappointment and long queues would be to research and book the canal cruise in advance. And indeed, it saved us lots of time and we got exactly what we expected.

GetYourGuide sponsored Amsterdam canal cruise for our family so that we could share our first hand experience with searching and booking tours through their website. GetYourGuide offers more than 30,000 activities worldwide, and to give you an idea – over 100 canal cruise options in Amsterdam.

After some research we quickly found a semi-open boat tour that looked perfect for the beautiful sunny day we knew we would have. Customer reviews were good too, so the choice was quickly made. The booking process was extremely easy and a few minutes later we received a confirmation email with the vouchers. The only thing we misunderstood (= didn’t read properly) is that we had to exchange the vouchers for the actual tickets at the nearby office before heading to the boat. But we made it to our boat on time. And because we had an advance booking, we could pass the long line of people who were waiting for a boat without a reservation. This was mid October!

TIP: If you are traveling to the Netherlands in high season, I strongly suggest to book your canal cruise in advance. This is especially the case if you are short on time and only have one day to see the best of Amsterdam.

What to do in Amsterdam in one day. Take a canal cruise - it's not to be missed

Canal cruise is not to be missed!

 

3. See Damrak, Dam Square and the Royal Palace

Don’t miss Damrak – the big avenue running in the direction of the Central Station (Amsterdam Centraal) that is home to the former stock exchange building, the monumental Beurs van Berlage, and some other historic buildings that you often see on the postcards from Amsterdam.

Damrak boats and historic buildings in Amsterdam

Damrak

 

Dam Square with the Royal Palace is one of the most well-known locations in Amsterdam. Many events take place here, and it’s always very lively. You don’t need much time to visit (unless you go inside the Palace), but it would be unthinkable not to pass here when visiting Amsterdam.

Dam Square kermis in Amsterdam

Dam Square on the day when we visited

4. Visit Amsterdam Begijnhof

If you are looking for a more authentic experience in Amsterdam, the Begijnhof is a true hidden gem right off the hectic city center. This small area houses a church, historic houses and one of the two original wooden houses in Amsterdam. However, don’t expect to be alone – it’s just as popular with tourists as the rest of Amsterdam.

Begijnhof is open daily from 9AM to 5PM and is free of charge. There are two entrances: at the Northern side of the Spui and at the Gedempte Begijnensloot (at the end of the Schuttersgallery).

Amsterdam Begijnhof

Begijnhof – ©Klapfilm.nl via I Amsterdam Mediabank

 

5. Stroll through the floating flower market

Even if you are not planning to buy any flowers, the floating flower market is a must in Amsterdam. You can buy flower bulbs, all kinds of souvenirs, or just walk around. You don’t need much time there, but it’s a fun place to visit and make some colourful pictures.

Floating flower market in Amsterdam

Floating flower market

 

6. Visit one museum: Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, or Anne Frank House

Amsterdam is famous for its museums, but honestly it’s difficult to visit any of them if you only have one day in the city. If you are keen to visit one of the most famous museums like Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, or Anne Frank House, pick one that interests you the most and make sure to book your tickets in advance (Anne Frank House tickets can only be purchased directly). Otherwise, just forget it. It’s not worth it to spend two hours of your time queuing at the Anne Frank house if you only have one day in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank house in Amsterdam

The long queue at Anne Frank house

 

7. Museumplein and I Amsterdam sign

Even if you don’t have the time to visit the Rijksmuseum, it’s worthwhile to walk there just to see the beautiful building. And of course don’t miss the I Amsterdam sign, located on the Museumplein at the back of the museum. Installed in 2005, it quickly became a new landmark in the city, and an obligatory photo stop for many visitors to Amsterdam.

TIP: if you want to get a picture without the crowds like the one below, your best bet is to go there very early in the morning.

I Amsterdam Sign

I Amsterdam Sign © Koen Smilde Photography via I Amsterdam Mediabank

I Amsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum can only be photographed without the crowds at dawn

And this is how it looks like during the day…

 

8. Explore the Jordaan neighbourhood

If you want to get a feel of an authentic residential Amsterdam far from the crowds and tourist attractions, don’t miss the charming Jordaan neighbourhood. There is no specific place you should go to, and no time limit that you should spend here. I suggest to put away the map and explore the labyrinth of narrow streets dotted with local shops, quaint bars and cafes, and residential houses with cozy courtyard gardens… You can skip Jordaan if you are really short on time, alternatively you can go there for lunch.

Jordaan neighbourhood in Amsterdam

Jordaan neighbourhood

 

9. Stroll the Nine Streets

The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) are the old cobbled streets that connect the main canals between Leidsegracht and Raadhuisstraat. You can easily explore these little streets together with the canals. This area is famous for independent boutiques, specially stores, and vintage shopping. It’s a very different shopping experience than the main shopping street Kalverstraat with big chain-stores.

Dutch cheese shop on one of the Nine Streets in Amsterdam

Dutch cheese shop on one of the Nine Streets

 

10. Visit the Red Light District

This is not my most favourite area of Amsterdam, but the Red Light District with the coffeeshops and window prostitution is a unique place in the world, and therefore worth a short visit. It can easily be visited during the day, also with kids (just try to distract their attention from the ladies in the windows). However, if you want to see the true side of the Red Light District, it’s probably best to visit in the evening. Just try to be very open-minded! If you don’t feel comfortable walking around at night on your own, you can always join a guided tour.

First coffee shop in Amsterdam - Red Light District

The oldest coffee shop of Amsterdam

11. Explore Amsterdam canals at night

If your legs are still not sore, head back to the canals in the evening. The houses and the bridges are so nicely lit. If you want to get the best of both worlds (i.e. see the canals in the evening and save your legs), why not take an evening canal cruise instead!

Amsterdam canals at night

Amsterdam canals at night © Koen Smilde Photography via I Amsterdam Mediabank

 

So this is the best of Amsterdam in a nutshell – things you can see and do in Amsterdam in one day. If you have more time, you may want to visit some of the world class museums, rent a bike or take a stroll in one of the many parks, or take a day trip from Amsterdam and see more of the Netherlands.

Practical tips for visiting Amsterdam

  • Pack comfortable walking shoes – you will be walking a lot.
  • If you are not keen on walking, use public transport. Renting a bike might be a nice way to explore the parks. But the city streets are so busy with people and bikes that even experienced local bikers have difficulties navigating.
  • Stay as close to the city centre as possible. You can book Amsterdam accommodation here. Alternatively, use Hotels Combined search engine that compares all the major hotel websites and helps you find the best prices on the market. Once in a while it might be a bit cheaper than the first option.
  • If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t come to Amsterdam by car. We came from Belgium and visited Amsterdam for just one day and the car park cost us 50 EUR.
  • And once again, Amsterdam is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Europe. So if you are planning any day trips or excursions, best book them in advance – it will save you lots of time and frustrations.

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How to spend 1 day in Amsterdam in the Netherlands - itinerary, map, and practical tips

Best of Amsterdam - what to see and do in one day #Amsterdam #Netherlands

What to see in Amsterdam in one day - no-nonsense practical guide to the best places of #Amsterdam, including the map. #Netherlands #Amsterdamcity
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Comments

  1. We are planning to visit Amsterdam for a day with our 7year daughter in about a week from now, is this place family friendly or just for adults only?

    1. Author

      Amsterdam is a city, and like any other city it has a lot to offer to anyone, adults and kids. You’ll find parks and playgrounds, museums like Madame Tussauds, also canal cruise is always nice to do with kids. Our kids enjoyed visiting Amsterdam very much.

  2. I am planning to go travelling around Europe next summer and I have a rather small budget, this itinerary is excellent and definitely something I will follow when the time comes!

  3. Hi! We’re visiting Amsterdam for a day at the end of the month. After a lot of research this seems like the perfect itinerary for us.
    Is the order you have written it in the quickest way to do it in terms of the areas being next to each other. I don’t want to be zig zagging the city ?
    Thanks!
    Louise

    1. Author

      Hi Louise, it’s really difficult to not zig-zag in the city, especially in Amsterdam – make sure to zig-zag the canals – it’s the best part. 😉 On the other hand there are so many places in Amsterdam, you never have to come back to the same street twice if you don’t want to.
      I think it’s best that you take a look (and save on your phone/or print) at the map that I provided in this post to get a better idea where to start and in which order to do your city tour of Amsterdam. A lot depends on where you start and end, if you take a canal cruise (and at what time), etc. We started our day by the Central Station (North side), explored the canals on foot, then by boat, then walked all the way down towards the Rijksmuseum visiting the places on the way, and ended our day with a stroll along the other canals and a visit to Jordaan neighbourhood, and then back in the direction of the Central Station where our car was parked.

  4. Hi Jurga

    This was extremely helpful indeed.. I will be visiting Amsterdam around mid May 2018 with the family for two days only. I find your suggestions very interesting..short and clear. My daughter is keen to see the tulips. I hope this will be possible. Thanks again for the valuable information. Keep it up and best regards.

    Jacques

    1. Author

      Hi Jacques. Thanks a lot for your kind words and glad you found this information useful. As for the tulips, mid May will probably be too late for the tulip fields – most bulb fields are cut off in the first week of May. Keukenhof Gardens are open till May 13 this year, so depending on when exactly you come, you may be just in time for that. Enjoy your trip nevertheless!

  5. Thank you so much for a very well descriptive itinerary, we would be visiting Amsterdam in next couple of weeks and I am sure all the above recommendations will definitely help us have a pleasant vacation. thanks again for the post!

    1. Author

      Good to hear that, Alan. Thanks for taking the time to leave the feedback and enjoy your trip to Amsterdam!

    2. Hi Jurga

      Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately we will be in Amsterdam on 18 May and so will miss the beautuful flowers. Another time may be.
      Have a nice day. Ciao.

      Jacques

  6. Amsterdam has always intrigued me and looks like such a fabulous place. This is a great guide for visitors on what to see and do!

  7. We visited Amsterdam for a week a few years ago and also stopped at Brussels for a day. Visiting Van Gogh museum and the canals were my favorite. This is an awesome post, you covered a lot in a day. Saving it and need to take the kids there someday soon.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Priya. I am sure that your kids would love Amsterdam as well. We are definitely going back to visit the Van Gogh museum – hear nothing but good things about it.

  8. Great post, I loved my trip to Amsterdam, such a beautiful city! If your there for more than one day I definitely recommend checking out Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, highlight of my trip!

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing this, Danielle. I just googled the place and it looks like a really nice coastal area. Will keep it in mind next time we head in that direction.

  9. I only had a layover in Amsterdam of a few hours, Didn’t get to explore the city.. just a quick walk. Good tips to share and ideal for a week-end. One day would be a little to rushed for me.

    1. Author

      Yes, for sure – you could easily fill the weekend in Amsterdam and not get bored. There’s so much to see and do!

    1. Author

      Haha, because I only wrote it a few days ago 🙂 Did you miss any highlights? I guess there is always a good reason to go back to Amsterdam, right?

  10. I’d say my favourite bits of Amsterdam where the 9 streets, the Jordaan district and the Van Gogh museum so you’ve certainly come up with the perfect 1 day itinerary in my books! And to book your canal tour in advance is sound advice. Excellent article!

    1. Author

      I wish we had the time to visit the Van Gogh museum! Maybe next time. Glad I didn’t miss any of your favourite places, Alex – I know you’ve been to Amsterdam recently and had taken more time to explore in depth, so it’s reassuring that I have the best places covered for my readers. 🙂

  11. I have been to Amsterdam many times and have never done a canal cruise! I will definitely have to do one next time Jurga! I really enjoy Amsterdam and sitting in a cafe people watching (I think the Dutch have a word for this). I also love the food particularly the Indonesian restaurants. Travelling by train from the UK via the tunnel is quick and easy too with a quick change in Brussels. You are making me miss Europe! (I do anyway but more reading this post!)

    1. Author

      From what I understood based on the comments I got on Instagram, you’re in the majority, Tracy. Most people who have been to Amsterdam didn’t take the time to do a canal cruise. But the ones who have, all agreed that it’s a must. So here is something to look forward to when you get tired of all that Australian sunshine and decide to move back to Europe :).

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