Travel Tips Trip Ideas tree outdoor water Canal River landform geographical feature waterway body of water Town bridge cityscape
Travel Tips

How to Spend a 12-Hour Layover in Amsterdam

When traveling for business, a long layover in a far-flung place might seem like the last thing you want — if you’re stuck at the airport. Luckily, for those passing through Amsterdam, the city center is just 15 minutes by train from Schiphol International Airport, making it one of the easiest European cities to explore during a layover (or in your spare time between meetings). Amsterdam is a picturesque place famous for its canals, 1,280 bridges, art museums and welcoming atmosphere. But if it’s your first time visiting, navigating a day trip can be confusing and time consuming. To maximize your stay, follow this guide to see the city’s highlights in 12 hours or less.

Stash Your Bags and Catch the Train

Once your flight lands and you’ve entered the airport terminal, follow signs to the train, which runs direct to the city center. On the way, you’ll see a sign pointing toward a bank of baggage lockers. Store your carry-on (since any checked bags are presumably checked through to your final destination) and then head for the train. Purchase your ticket in cash to speed up the process and ride about 15 minutes to Centraal Station.

Travel Tips train track outdoor high speed rail transport metropolitan area station rail transport platform mode of transport train station urban area rolling stock public transport railroad car tgv locomotive metropolis rapid transit maglev vehicle passenger car pulling subway

Refuel with Coffee or Breakfast at Centraal Station

Some 250,000 people travel each day through Amsterdam’s busy Centraal Station via trains, buses, ferries and trams. A hub in the heart of the city, the station is a great shopping and dining destination in its own right. Once you’ve hopped off the airport train, start your morning with a handcrafted cocoa or coffee at chocolate-lovers’ paradise, Chocolate Company, in the station’s center. Craving something healthier? Directly across from Chocolate Company, you’ll find one of Amsterdam’s best breakfast spots, Yoghurt Barn. Fill up with a parfait that layers house-made yogurt with fresh fruit and sweet accompaniments like chocolate and coconut. You’ll find the main tourism office and the starting point of the famous canal tours just outside the station doors.

Travel Tips outdoor landmark Town town square people City plaza tourist attraction palace urban area sky château building group metropolis facade seat of local government medieval architecture Downtown tree tourism street parliament listed building square crowd

Take a Canal Cruise

Depart Centraal Station on a narrated cruise through Amsterdam’s famous canal ring, and float past the city’s renowned row homes and streets teeming with cyclists. Composted of 165 canals, the ring was originally created for trade and transport, and the sheer number of canals means that every tour showcases something different. If short on time, just take the canal cruise before returning to the airport.

Travel Tips tree outdoor water Canal waterway reflection Boat body of water plant River Town City evening channel street bank night autumn watercourse lined several surrounded

Rent a Bike and Ride along the Canals

When traveling for work, it’s tough to fit in time for fitness. Change that while exploring Amsterdam’s cycling culture for yourself. Rent a bike and sightsee as the locals do—on two wheels. Ride from Centraal Station along the venerated canals, crossing beautiful bridges and passing opulent historic homes to reach Heineken’s waterfront brewery and tour.

Lakes + Rivers Landmarks Travel Tips outdoor sky bicycle building waterway land vehicle body of water Town Canal lane City road bicycle urban area water cycling tree street parked metropolitan area Downtown recreation vehicle plant River town square road channel tours

Do the Heineken Experience

A veritable beer-musement park for adults, the lines at the popular Heineken Experience can be brutal. Purchase tickets in advance to skip the queue and get right to the tour. Your entry fee includes historical exhibits, the “Brew U” beer bottle simulation ride, guided tastings and fresh draft brews atop the brewery roof with incredible views of Amsterdam. Even if you don’t normally drink Heineken, experiencing the freshness and flavor here is unforgettable.

Travel Tips sky outdoor metropolitan area transport landmark street urban area Downtown City building Architecture neighbourhood metropolis vehicle public transport track road lane railroad car way tram rolling stock tree advertising railroad engine highway
Travel Tips table food Drink cup indoor alcoholic beverage liqueur distilled beverage beer alcohol glass pint us cocktail beverage bottle meal

Visit the Nemo Science Museum

This striking, copper-green, ship-shaped building certainly stands out, rising above Amsterdam along the River IG. Just a 15-minute walk from Centraal Station, the Nemo Science Museum is packed with four floors of hands-on science exhibits designed for kids but loved by adults, too. The unique roof terrace, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is considered the Netherland’s highest city square and is free to visit. Explore the community space’s open-air sculpture garden, dine at the restaurant, lounge in the sun or take in harbor and city views.

Travel Tips sky water outdoor waterway water transportation Boat bridge fixed link green reflection River tourism day
Travel Tips sky outdoor body of water water Sea urban area Beach City vehicle Coast boardwalk recreation shore tourism people walkway sand Harbor Downtown port coastal and oceanic landforms Ocean tree town square vacation several day

Visit the Anne Frank House

If you still have time, see the original diary of Anne Frank, one of the most recognized Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and the small space she and seven other people hid in — concealed in her father’s business office behind a bookcase. The Anne Frank House is a 20-minute walk from Centraal Station, and it’s best to book tickets in advance to prevent a long wait to enter. Visitors without pre-booked time slots are welcome after 3:30 p.m. each day.

Travel Tips building sky outdoor road street people neighbourhood City Town mixed use urban area group Downtown house pedestrian way facade recreation sidewalk line several
Travel Tips window building door house facade

Grab a Drink at the Runway Café

Before heading to your gate, enjoy a cold Netherlands brew and signature burger at the Runway Café at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center, a 2-minute walk from the airport’s arrivals and departures hall through a covered walkway. This cozy sports bar is a great place to unwind with a friend or coworker without worries about missing your flight. Since your luggage is checked to your destination, grab your carry-on from its locker before walking to your gate via security. Now that you’ve had a taste of this Dutch capital, you’ll be eager to return to see other wonders like the Van Gogh Museum and the famous tulips in spring. See, traveling for work isn’t so bad, after all.

Travel Tips indoor table floor chair ceiling room restaurant interior design Dining café Bar coffeehouse cafeteria area furniture dining table dining room

More from Marriott Traveler:

Read the original story: The Layover: How to See Amsterdam in 12 Hours by Jenny Willden, who is a regular contributor to Marriott Traveler