Things to Do in Amsterdam
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” – John Green
Between the open-minded locals, urban beaches and dope wooden clogs, Amsterdam is without a doubt the cool Capital of Europe. Whether you’re on spring break or studying abroad, there are things to do in Amsterdam 365 days of the year. That being said, you should keep certain dates on your radar: The King’s Birthday in late April, the International Documentary Film Festival in mid-November and both Grachtenfestival and Gay Pride in the Summer. If you visit Amsterdam during those times, be prepared for large crowds and endless excitement. If you get overwhelmed, take a quick trip out to the Dutch countryside or charming coastal towns like Katwijk aan Zee.
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Things to Do in Amsterdam
Cruise the Canals
Over 60 miles of waterways break the city up into rings, with the oldest neighborhoods packed into the center, and the more modern parts toward the edge. This is why Amsterdam is sometimes called the “Venice of the North.” Rent your own two-seater boat, take a guided tour, or join a romantic, moonlit cruise. From the canals, you’ll be able to visit the floating flower markets and really appreciate the historic Dutch architecture.
There’s no wrong way to traverse the canals, but at some point during your ride, you’ve got to make a stop at REM Eiland, an illegal broadcast station turned water tower restaurant that serves great food (and even better views). It’s one of the most unique places to visit in Amsterdam.
Bike around and blend in
Get a bit sea sick? No worries, you can tour Amsterdam like the locals do — by bicycle! Rent a bike for roughly 10 euros and ride that speed demon all around town! StudentUniverse Tip: Cough up a little extra $$ for bike insurance, which, like any travel insurance, will help your trip to Amsterdam run as smoothly as possible.
Once you pick your ride, pack your bag with picnic essentials and a good book for an easy afternoon at the Vondelpark. With it’s extensive bike paths, sculptures and an open-air theater, this public park is over 100 years old, and attracts 10 million visitors every year.
While many people visit Amsterdam for it’s *ahem* seedier attractions (and we’ll get to that in a minute) there are major artistic and historic sites that you absolutely cannot miss! Start at the Museumplein, where you’ll find 3 of the city’s most popular museums: the national Rijksmuseum, which has a massive collection including Rembrandts and Vermeers, The Stedelijk Museum, which feature more modern works from Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol, and one museum devoted to the legendary Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. Fun fact: these museums are also walking distance from the aforementioned Vondelpark!
And when you’re talking about Amsterdam attractions, you can’t avoid the Anne Frank house, where the famous diarist hid from Nazis. Sign up with a tour group, or arrive before the ticket office opens to avoid a 2-3 hour line.
Check out the Red Light District
Ah, the Red Light District. It’s not the only RLD in Europe, but it’s definitely the most famous. Sex work is legalized throughout the Netherlands, but this district in particular gets a lot of traffic. Take a stroll through the neighborhood at night and you’ll find the winding, cobblestone roads doused in a red haze, with women dancing in brothel windows and groups of tourists giggling their way into sex shops and museums. While you’re here, you might want to sample different strains of marijuana sold at Amsterdam’s many “coffee shops.” Honestly, this city is lit.
The main thing you have to remember is that while sex work and soft drugs are tolerated in Amsterdam, they’re also seriously regulated. Do not buy sex or drugs from someone on the corner — it’s not only dangerous, but illegal. Find reputable establishments and stay safe.
Have the “Heineken Experience”
Embrace the Heineken hype by paying a visit to the internationally popular brand’s very first brewery! Much like the Guinness factory in Dublin, the historic building has been transformed into an fully interactive experience with a 4D film and live horses! Let the friendly staff walk you through Heineken family history, from Gerard Adriaan Heineken convincing his mother to purchase the brewery in 1864 to the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. They’ll also teach you how to properly pour a pint, and at the end of the experience, you’ll enjoy a couple complimentary beers (and some outstanding views) on the rooftop bar.
Visit the Zoo
After nearly 200 years of operation, Artis Royal Zoo is the oldest zoo in mainland Europe. “Artis” stands for Natura Artis Magistra,” or "Nature is the teacher of art and science" in Latin. The zoo doesn’t just feature 750 animal species— it also holds Holland’s biggest planetarium, an aquarium, an arboretum and a large collection of art. The museum also contains 27 historic buildings, including a former inn that now serves as the wolf house.
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