The Coolest Things to Do in Amsterdam Now
Amsterdam’s charm is undeniable. Spend a day exploring its historic waterways lined with gabled canal houses, hopping around its world-class museums, or simply sitting in a cafe sampling stroopwafel and you just might find yourself asking how to say “I’m moving here,” in Dutch. From classic sights to new places worth a stop, here are the coolest things to do in Amsterdam now.
Wake Up on the Water
Amsterdam’s waterways are home to some of the best hotels in town. Housed in a building that dates back to the 17th century, the boutique sleep The Dylan is set along the Keizersgracht, the widest canal in the inner city, in the heart of the charming 9 Streets area. Inside, there’s the Michelin-starred Restaurant Vinkeles as well as Bar Brasserie OCCO, which hosts a “high wine” in the late afternoon with four varietals paired with amuse-style nibbles. Nearby, the Pulitzer is spread out across 25 restored 17th and 18th century townhouses between the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht. Take in the water views aboard the hotel’s classic boat or from Pulitzer’s Bar, where guests unwind over classic cocktails. For an elegant, grand dame, check into the 150-year-old InterContinental Amsterdam, with vistas of the River Amstel from almost every hotel corner, including the indoor pool.
Museum Hop on Two Wheels
There are more than 800,000 bikes in Amsterdam and excellent bike routes that run throughout the city’s relatively flat landscape. MacBike has five rental offices including one on Vondelpark, the city’s 120-acre green space filled with lush gardens and fountains. From here, it’s easy to explore the Museum Quarter. (JS Tip: Buy tickets online to skip the queues.) Start at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, the largest Dutch museum dedicated to contemporary works where you can find pieces by Warhol, Koons, and de Kooning, as well as exhibits tracing the history of design and architecture movements like Bauhaus and the Amsterdam School. Opened in 2016, Moco Museum has also become a must for modern art lovers thanks to a world-first show on street artist Banksy. The Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of works by the artist—spring for a 50-minute private tour of collection highlights with a guide who’ll add extra insight into Van Gogh’s life and methods. You’ll also find the iconic Rijksmuseum here—its best known works are by Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer, but it’s worth exploring the museum’s Special Collections for a fascinating mix of precious gems, costumes, weaponry, and ship models.
TOUR TO BOOK: Have a local lead the way on this three-hour bicycle tour of Amsterdam, which passes landmarks like the de Gooyer windmill, the Rijksmuseum, and the Old Dutch East India Company before venturing off the tourist trail for lesser-known districts like bohemian Jordaan and the canal-lined Jewish Quarter, concluding with a ferry cruise to see the city’s northern dijks.
Hit a Haringhandel for Raw Herring
Raw herring is a staple of Amsterdam and something every visitor should try at least once. There are haringhandels (herring carts) all over the city, but some of the best can be found on the Singel canal at Stubbe’s Haring, a decades-old fish kiosk locals swear by. Order the “broodje haring” to get the fish served as a sandwich with pickles and onions. It’s particularly a must between May and July when the herring is said to be at its tastiest.
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Cross the River IJ
Most visitors miss a trip across the IJ, which is a shame since it’s where you’ll find the city’s emerging food and art scenes. Hop a free ferry from the back of Amsterdam Central Station for a visit to NDSM, a former shipyard where warehouses and shipping containers have been transformed into creative workshops, housing, bars, and restaurants. Start with coffee at IJ-kantine, a waterfront brasserie housed in what was once a cafeteria for the shipyard workers. Next, browse the seemingly endless stalls of clothing, antiques, and bric-a-brac at IJ-hallen, one of the largest flea markets in Europe, then hunt for mid-century treasures at vintage interiors shop Neef Louis. Refuel at Noorderlicht Café where organic, seasonal dishes are paired with well-mixed cocktails, music, and views of Amsterdam’s City Center across the river. From here, a 30-minute walk leads to Eye Filmmuseum. The impressive Delugan Meissl-designed building houses a permanent collection of film objects, equipment, and set photography, as well as screening rooms where a mix of modern and classic films are shown daily.
Navigate the Canals by Boat
One of the best ways to see Amsterdam is from its UNESCO-protected canal belt, and boat rental options abound. Sloepdelen has a fleet of electric, 12-seater boats you can take out on your own, no boating license required. Or for something a bit swankier, book a private, bespoke canal cruise for up to 12 people with Rederij de Jordaan—their historic boats are picture-perfect and, for an extra fee, they’ll also provide nibbles and champagne.
Find the Perfect Souvenir at de 9 Straatjes
As far as charming shopping destinations go, it doesn’t get much better than de 9 Straatjes (the Nine Streets), quaint lanes lined with well-curated boutiques, galleries, and cafés that straddle Amsterdam’s most photogenic canals. Start your day with breakfast at Pancakes where Dutch versions of the namesake dish are thin, crèpe-like, and topped with savory (ham and cheese) or sweet (lemon and sugar) combos. Pop into Mint Mini Mall for the latest and greatest in lifestyle items, browse trendy dresses, knitwear, and accessories at The Darling, and hit Concrete Matter to peruse their stock of stylish vintage pieces for men. For frameable finds, visit artist Eddy Varekamp’s gallery of handmade linocut and stencil prints. Or, if you like your souvenirs edible, head to De Kaaskamer, purveyors of fine Dutch cheese, who offer the option of shipping your gouda home.
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Meander Through the Markets
If you want to mingle with the locals, head to Amsterdam’s markets. Albert Cuyp Market has been operating since 1905, and from Monday to Saturday people still flock to De Pijp for the fresh produce, clothing, jewelry, street food, and knick knacks sold from its 260 stalls. On Mondays and Saturdays, Noordermarkt sets up on one of the city’s prettiest squares in Jordaan. Come hungry as there are lots of baked goods as well as textiles, books, and clothing. (For a unique souvenir, visit Mark van Oort’s stand where he sells antique Dutch tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries.) Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market that’s been operating since 1862, is also worth a visit. It can get busy with tourists, so flower fans do best to arrive right when it opens to ogle the bins filled with seed packets, bulbs, bouquets, and, of course, tulips.
TOUR TO BOOK: Get a real taste of Holland during a three-hour food tour with a local, which hits all the country’s major flavors. Sampling “vissie” at Albert Cuyp Market, biting into freshly baked stroopwafels, and stopping into a café for a special drink are all part of the itinerary, with a few surprises in between.
Tuck in at a Brown Café
Amsterdam’s historic watering holes are also called brown cafés due to their wooden interiors and walls stained brown from hundreds of years of nicotine. For the oldest in town, head to Café Karpershoek. Established in 1606, the Karpershoek began as a guest house for crew of the East India Company and the floors are still covered with a layer of sand (while it’s just a historic touch now, in ye olde times it had a practical use: making spitting tobacco easier to wipe off the floor). Opened as a liquor distillery around 1780, Café ‘t Smalle has a particularly pretty waterside terrace that’s packed when the weather is right, while Café de Wetering features a roaring fireplace to cozy up cold winter nights. Whichever you choose be sure to try jenever, Dutch gin traditionally served in tulip-shaped glass.
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