Three days in Amsterdam is the ideal amount of time to soak up the intriguing history and blockbuster dazzle of this compact European capital.
Port city, nightlife hub, and a burgeoning foodie destination—Amsterdam manages to pull off high-level plate spinning, being everything to all visitors (except boring). Its history from humble origins as a fishing village in the 13th century through its Golden Age zenith 400 years later has shaped the Netherlands’ capital into the modern international city you’ll find today.
Which isn’t to say that it’s lost any of its identity. Visual reminders of its past are commonplace—the puffed-up Royal Palace, the Oude Kerk, the wide windows of tall townhouses overlooking cobbled lanes and busy canals. Modern additions meanwhile, like the striking Stedelijk Museum, slot comfortably into the city’s classical jigsaw.
You can see it all on a well-organized three-day Amsterdam itinerary—just be sure to refuel at the right kind of coffee shops.
4 p.m.: Explore vibrant De Pijp
The sought-after neighborhood of De Pijp, known as the city’s Latin Quarter, is one of the best areas to hang out. Its streets—some named for famous painters—are a honeycomb of hip cafes, imaginative restaurants, and quirky shops. It’s a superb place to begin a three-day Amsterdam itinerary and get a shot of the real undiluted Amsterdam.
Just south of the medieval center, with the peaceful Sarphatipark at its heart, De Pijp’s history is a familiar tale. Once a working-class neighborhood, an influx of artists moved in, everyone else followed, and now house prices have skyrocketed. Despite its gentrification, De Pijp has retained a lively boho village feel.
Amid the streets of handsome coffee-colored townhouses, you’ll encounter browse-worthy Albert Cuyp Markt, the city’s largest street market. Accompanied by tinny music from the stalls, the clank of passing trams, and the occasional vocal hawker, you’ll find plenty to browse on this hundred-year-old commercial strip. Keep an eye out for the strident red of the stroopwafel vendor selling one of the country’s most delicious exports.
Once you’re done with Albert Cuyp, find your way to Gerard Doustraat for a concentration of indie gift shops perfect for picking up Amsterdam keepsakes for those back home. While it’s a little late for brunch—and you’re probably full on stroopwafels anyway—make plans for a second visit during your three days in Amsterdam to discover why De Pijp is viewed as the city’s best brunch destination. Bakers & Roasters’ banana nut bread French toast served with homemade banana marmalade will convince you (as if you needed to be convinced).
7:30 p.m.: Experience pioneering Dutch cuisine
Dutch cuisine hasn’t always enjoyed a stellar reputation. In recent years, however, it’s upped its game, and the Michelin stars are raining down, the capital’s culinary creativity propelled by its multicultural make-up.
Before the fine dining revolution, Amsterdam was already admired as a serious craft beer destination. Combining these two strengths is Bar Alt, located in the high-end neighborhood of Oud-Zuid.
This upscale restaurant—the brainchild of chefs-turned-craft brewers, Two Chefs Brewing—eschews the edgy punk stylings favored by brew bars for a bright and minimal backdrop for its tasting menus. Chef Thomas Kooijman (a Gault Millau Top 10 Most Promising Dutch Chefs) delivers dishes such as langoustine with beurre blanc paired with the coriander and lime leaf of a White Mamba wheat beer.
Another exemplar of Amsterdam’s high flying cuisine is Restaurant 212, located near the Waterlooplein metro stop. Run by the sublimely talented Richard Van Oostenbrugge and Thomas Groot, the city’s first “chef’s table” concept offers views of the kitchen team blowing dessert sugar domes, injecting egg yolks with bisque, and assembling playful dishes like potato ice cream with amaranth “caviar”. Make time for coffee and friandises crafted by a former pâtissier of three-Michelin-starred De Librije.
9 a.m.: Get coffee and walk the center
Get up and out early to enjoy the weekend hustle and bustle of this cosmopolitan city. Pick up a single origin flat white at Coffee & Cakes on Sing Luciënsteeg before ticking off some of the major historical sights. Don’t miss the Oude Kerk and the grandly austere Royal Palace on your perambulation before stopping into the Begijnhof Courtyard—a medieval walled garden—for a calming change of pace.
10 a.m.: Starry morning at the Van Gogh Museum
With only three days in Amsterdam and forty museums on offer, whittling down what to see will always be challenging. The Van Gogh Museum, however, is a non-negotiable, offering up the world’s most extensive collection of the leading post-impressionist’s paintings (including the magnificent Sunflowers). It’s the Dutch equivalent of the Louvre (along with the Rijksmuseum), so be sure to get there early.
Among the troubled genius’s expressive paintings and drawings, you’ll learn about Van Gogh’s personal, often difficult history. The exhibitions include around 700 of the artist’s letters, giving you a first-hand glimpse into his daily cares and state of mind.
11 a.m.: Floating Flower Market
Helping to contextualize the significance of the prim and pretty tulip to the Dutch is the Bloemenmarkt, a permanent mooring of barges selling flowers, bulbs, and seeds.
Originating from the out-of-town flower merchants who would navigate their bloom-laden barges into the city, this permanent institution has now been causing havoc to hayfever sufferers on the Singel canal since 1862. Wander its train of shops, admiring the narcissus, orchids, and dazzling tulips, perhaps picking up a packet of bulbs to take home.
If flowers aren’t really your thing, make a beeline for nearby Spui square, one of the city’s cultural hubs. Besides just being a nice place to soak up the city, it’s surrounded by bookstores, and every Sunday there’s an art market with an ethereal soundtrack supplied by a harp busker.
12 p.m.: Walk and gorge
While you stroll beneath the finely-wrought gables of the historic townhouses, the boldly colored canal boats puttering by, it might strike you that eating on the hoof seems the best way forward (literally).
Fortunately, a thriving Dutch street food scene is on hand to keep you happily ambulating. A local lunch favorite is a broodje haring—a raw herring sandwich stuffed with pickles and onions for a tart/sweet charge of flavor. If that sounds a little too bracing, stroll on until you find some kibbeling, which is essentially a Dutch take on British fish and chips but with added herbed mayo and pickled cucumber.
You’ll also find sweet carts camped out beneath the sidewalk plane trees. Crepe-like Dutch pancakes smothered in strawberries and Nutella are a no-brainer, as is the authentic Dutch apple pie (try Winkel 43 in Jordaan for the city’s best).
1:30 p.m.: Navigate the Canal Ring
The Amsterdam canals, a 17th-century engineering feat, has gone on to define the city, earning it the moniker, “Venice of the North.” With over 60 miles of waterways segmenting the city’s neighborhoods into urban archipelagos, enjoying an organized boat trip tour along the canals is a must during a three-day Amsterdam itinerary.
The original inner network of 17th-century canals is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. This central area, known as the Canal Ring, offers the greatest density of handsome waterside history for you to spot, while the cyclists flit past on the streets and bridges above.
The Singel canal is the city’s oldest. It used to act as a moat before Amsterdam outgrew its boundaries in the late 16th century. You’ll also cruise the Herengracht, enjoying the water-level mansion-spotting along the Golden Bend. Throughout the leisurely tour, your boat will pass by 400-year-old warehouses, weathered churches, and museums such as the Anne Frank House.
4 p.m.: Time travel at the Anne Frank House
If you’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank—and even if you haven’t—visiting this museum, set in its original canal house, is a must. Centrally located on the Prinsengracht canal, it’s easy to spot thanks to an almost permanent queue of people waiting to get inside. Booking online at least a month in advance will ensure you can fit in a visit to suit your timings while enjoying three days in Amsterdam.
Once inside, you’ll enter a small exhibition. If you’ve read the book, then this will be revision notes for the most part. Don’t rush by, however, as there’s such a wealth of information relating to the Franks that you’re sure to learn something new, such as the fact that the building was nearly demolished after the war.
After the museum, make your way up to the attic behind the bookcase. It’s this experience, treading the creaking staircase leading to this historic hiding place, that attracts visitors year after year. The reconstruction of the space where eight people hid from the Nazis for two-and-a-half years is painstaking and utterly convincing. Eventually, you’ll enter the poignant space of Anne’s room, decorated with cut out pictures of movie stars on the wall, where the young girl penned her immortal diary.
If you’re keen to learn more about this difficult period in the city’s history, check out the excellent Dutch Resistance Museum, located in a 19th-century Jewish social club. Consistently named “Best Historical Museum in the Netherlands”, this museum vividly retells the struggle of the Dutch against their German occupiers in World War II.
7 p.m.: Bar-hopping in Rembrandtplein
One of Amsterdam’s nightlife epicenters, Rembrandtplein is a handsome tree-lined square with colorful cafe and restaurant awnings inclined respectfully towards a proud central statue of Rembrandt. This former butter market now trades in lively evenings out, whether that takes the guise of dancing and bar-hopping or sitting down for an incredible meal and cocktail at an achingly cool venue.
Check out Reguliersdwarsstraat for Lion Noir, an elegant restaurant and drinking establishment that has landed design awards for its plush Casper Reinders’ interior. It’s one of Amsterdam’s buzziest spots with superb French cuisine and equally delicious cocktails.
If you’re just after liquid refreshment, find your way to the speakeasy-like Door 74. Within its immaculate walls, you’ll quickly discover why it’s been voted the best cocktail bar in the Netherlands.
Rembrantplein’s appeal is broad and all-embracing. Besides the slick modernity of the new, you’ll also find the simpler, cozier attractions of the less up-to-date. Check out Cafe Bolle Jan for the Dutch equivalent of a Nashville honky-tonk (except with Dutch folk music). A beacon of traditional Amsterdammer culture, the vibe in this crowded locals’ favorite is always boisterous and welcoming.
Another bastion of dated cool is Cafe Schiller, an exemplar of a brown cafe, or the Dutch equivalent of an English pub. Cozy, calm, with original 1913 Art Deco interiors and an artistic crowd, it’s a serene escape in often rambunctious Rembrandtplein.
9:30 a.m.: Head to the Keukenhof
If you’ve only three days in Amsterdam, consider maximizing your time in this flower-mad country by visiting in the spring. While blooms light up the city during this peak season, a visit to the Keukenhof is to experience the rainbow heart of the country’s flower-growing tradition.
A half-hour’s drive southwest of central Amsterdam, Keukenhof—which translates as “kitchen garden”—began life as an inconsequential salad garden in the 15th century. Since then, the Keukenhof has bloomed. Today, it’s an 80-acre park filled with eye-popping beds of tulips, lilies, roses, and more.
One of the largest flower gardens in existence, the Keukenhof’s almost unreal perfection can make you feel like you’ve strayed onto the technicolor set of The Wizard of Oz. Besides the tulip gardens, the Keukenhof also has examples of Japanese and English-style gardens, a windmill, canals, and a maze. It also smells as good as it looks.
1 p.m.: Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum, a stately Neo-Gothic building and beloved national heritage site, is the Netherlands’ leading art and history museum.
Fronted by elegant, manicured grounds, and located only a hurled sunflower’s distance from the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum contains around one million cultural treasures. While it might be tricky to appreciate the entire collection with only three days in Amsterdam, the kindly Dutch have created a concentrated Masterpieces Collection containing what is considered its top 400 paintings.
Within this trove, you’ll find Dutch Golden Age masterpieces such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch, Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, and Jan van Goyen’s Landscape with Two Oaks. While some suggest you can see the top billing artworks in around two hours, such is the excellence of this museum that, depending on your three-day Amsterdam itinerary, you should take your time to soak up this celebrated institution.
If you hadn’t already picked up food at the Keukenhof, then you could do worse than the RIJKS. The museum’s in-house Michelin-starred restaurant serves food nearly as artful as the masterworks in the galleries. Youthful up-and-comer Chef Joris Bijdendijk reworks local flavors into imaginative platefuls such as North Sea shrimp served with seaweed potato and harissa.
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