Amsterdam City Guide

From the red lights to the Rijksmuseum, explore the waterways of the Dutch capital, Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam: famous for its quiet canals, neat gabled buildings and dreamy bridges. As the capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has been one of Europe’s most significant metropolises for half a millennium; despite the fact that it’s compact enough to walk or, of course, cycle around. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in dramatic architectural beauty, and is regularly shortlisted among the most stunning cities on the continent.

With few of the drawbacks of a big city, Amsterdam is a dream for the discerning globetrotter. In the space of a day it’s possible to traverse the length and breadth of this canal-strewn city; its village-like charm lending itself perfectly to those looking to stroll its narrow streets or while away an hour or so in a waterside bistro.

That’s not to say the city is lacking in fascinating visitor attractions, however. From Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, to Hermitage Amsterdam and the Portuguese Synagogue, this culturally rich city has no shortage of things to keep the mind occupied — however long you plan to stay in town

Must-See Sights

Located not ten yards from the banks of the Amstel, Hermitage Amsterdam is a significant branch of the Hermitage Museum, whose headquarters lie in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The centre contains a fine collection of artistic works, and regularly hosts celebrated exhibitions, including Spanish Masters from the Hermitage and the Portrait of the Golden Age. The Hermitage also features an exquisite restaurant and dining area, where it’s possible to enjoy an excellent meal amid some of the finest works to grace the gallery’s walls.

Hermitage Amsterdam

Amsterdam Hermitage
Located not ten yards from the banks of the Amstel, Hermitage Amsterdam is a significant branch of the Hermitage Museum, whose headquarters lie in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The centre contains a fine collection of artistic works, and regularly hosts celebrated exhibitions, including Spanish Masters from the Hermitage and the Portrait of the Golden Age. The Hermitage also features an exquisite restaurant and dining area, where it’s possible to enjoy an excellent meal amid some of the finest works to grace the gallery’s walls.

Portuguese Synagogue

Hermitage Amsterdam
While the majority of tourists flock to Anne Frank House to uncover Amsterdam’s rich Jewish heritage, the city’s Portuguese Synagogue is arguably the more informative attraction of the two — albeit, not the most moving. And yet, within the synagogue itself, visitors will find one of the most sumptuous interiors of any historic landmark in the city — a cavernous, candlelit space whose construction was completed in the 17th century. For those interested in unearthing the history of Jewish culture in the Netherlands, this relic of the Dutch Golden Age is the perfect place to visit.

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam’s esteemed Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by the heralded Dutch Master, as well as drawings and letters which go some way towards revealing the intimate details of the artist’s personal and private life. Over 200 hundred Van Gogh paintings are currently on display in the museum, including famous works like Self-portrait and The Yellow House, alongside unsold pieces never before seen. Complementing the Van Gogh showcase is a carefully curated collection of works by many of his contemporaries, including Auguste Rodin, John Russell and Jules Dalou.

Dam Square

Dam Square
Amsterdam’s esteemed Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by the heralded Dutch Master, as well as drawings and letters which go some way towards revealing the intimate details of the artist’s personal and private life. Over 200 hundred Van Gogh paintings are currently on display in the museum, including famous works like Self-portrait and The Yellow House, alongside unsold pieces never before seen. Complementing the Van Gogh showcase is a carefully curated collection of works by many of his contemporaries, including Auguste Rodin, John Russell and Jules Dalou.

Cultural Features

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum
Arguably one of the most-essential arts and history venues in Europe, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum houses an astonishing array of Rembrandts, including The Night Watch and The Jewish Bride. Works from other Old Masters accompany the Rembrandt collection, including Frans Hals’ Portrait of a Young Couple, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Jacob van Ruisdael’s Landscape with Waterfall. Beyond the gallery space, the Rijksmuseum also houses an eclectic cornucopia of rare treasures from across the globe, including an exquisite 12th-century Buddha housed in the Asian Pavilion.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

Few visitor centres in the world capture the poignant history of WWII quite like Anne Frank House. Home to the eponymous teenage diarist for two years before her and her family’s arrest by the Gestapo in 1944, Anne Frank House today serves as an evocative memorial for the persecution faced by Europe’s Jews throughout the Holocaust. Established by Anne’s father, Otto, in 1957, the writer’s house has been painstakingly preserved to capture the final years of the young diarist, and is today considered a landmark cultural institution of the Netherlands.

Amsterdam’s Architecture

Tulips in Amsterdam

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic heart of Amsterdam offers a fascinating glimpse into the preferred architectural styles of the Dutch Golden Age. Much of Amsterdam’s current town plan has remained unchanged since the 17th century, when a collective of Dutch architects came together to design rows of buildings which could withstand the city’s lack of firm, un-waterlogged land. They built their buildings narrow with deep foundations to create strong rows of houses, topping each off with gables and hooks which are today synonymous with the Dutch capital.

Food and Drink

Stroopwafel

waffles

Where to find them

From street vendors to bakeries, you’ll find stroopwafels throughout Amsterdam, and they’re all about as delicious as each other. For the very best, however, we’d recommend the historic Lanskroon tea room in the heart of the city.

Lanskroon


Stroopwafels are synonymous with the Netherlands, and some of the best are found on the streets of Amsterdam. Comprising two thin waffles stuck together with syrup; they’re a humble local treat that make the perfect accompaniment to a morning coffee. Enjoy warm and straight from the bag for the true local experience.

Patat

Where to find it

As with stroopwafels, you’ll find traditional patat Dutch fries across Amsterdam, but try Grizzl Gelderlandplein for a rustic, authentic and hearty take on the classic.

Grizzl Gelderlandplein


Fries may not be the most elegant meal to enjoy on your visit to Amsterdam, but they sure are a tasty street eat. Cut thick, slathered in sauce and served in an impressive paper cone, these delicious chips are an Amsterdam institution, and you’ll see everyone from locals to visitors queuing up for a taste at lunchtime.

Raw Herring

Woman holding raw herring in Amsterdam

Where to find it

The most famous place to enjoy raw herring is Stubbe’s Haring, a historic fishmonger beside Central Station. The Stubbe family have been serving herring for over a century, so you can trust that their fish is the freshest in town.

Stubbe's Haring


As you’ve probably guessed by now, Amsterdam is a haven for street food, and the local delicacy of raw herring is no exception. Served from traditional haringhandels (herring carts) dotted across the city, this raw fish dish is a local favourite, and delicious served a la ‘broodje haring’ – or in a sandwich with pickles and onions. Trust us on this one.

Cheese

Cheese in Amsterdam

Where to find it

Head to the beautiful Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) quarter to taste the produce at De Kaaskamer, arguably one of Amsterdam’s finest cheesemongers.

De Kaaskamer


Whether you enjoy it there or buy some to bring home – be sure to sample as much cheese as you can during your tenure in Amsterdam. The Dutch take their cheese seriously, and you’ll find many cheesemongers and even a cheese museum in Amsterdam. Varieties to tick off your cheese list include Gouda, Edam, Limburger, Maasdam and Mimolette.

Fun Facts

  • Amsterdam is home to 165 canals, the length of which totals around 60 miles of waterways. Many of these are within the 17th-century Singelgracht ring area, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
  • It’s estimated that there are over 11,000,000 wooden poles supporting Amsterdam’s buildings. These are driven into the ground at a depth of around 11 metres, to give them the strength to withstand the waterlogged ground.
  • Some 25,000 bicycles are reportedly lost in the canals of Amsterdam each year, with around 8,000 recovered annually by the city council.
  • Central Amsterdam is home to over 1,500 bars and pubs, the majority of which serve up the city’s trademark lager – Heineken.
  • In 1850, at the height of the Dutch recession, it’s thought that around 30% of Amsterdam’s population survived only through begging on the city’s streets.
  • Though it’s called the Royal Palace, Amsterdam’s Koninklijk was never actually built to house a royal family. It has always been the city’s town hall, but was renamed by Louis Bonparte (brother of Napoleon) when he proclaimed himself King of Holland in the early 19th-century.
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