So you’ve got one day in Amsterdam! Having only 24 hours in one of the coolest cities in the world can feel like a tease, but you’ve got to make the most of it. Visit world-class museums, see the famous canals, and enjoy some Dutch food.
Based on my experiences, this itinerary is what I’d recommend for folks who want to pack as much as possible into their limited amount of time in the Netherlands. I like to seek out not just iconic tourist attractions, but also quirky little museums and fun neighborhoods. Go ahead and adjust the itinerary to suit your own interests.
Here are my personal suggestions for what to do with one day in Amsterdam in terms of museums, food, culture, and sightseeing. See the end of the post for several other options for alternate activities in Amsterdam.
This guide assumes you’ll arrive the previous night and wake up with an entire day in the city. If you need a recommended place to stay, consider Sofitel Legend (upscale) or ClickNOORD (hostel). I’ve stayed at ClickNOORD and found it comfortable and conveniently located.
RECOMMENDED AMSTERDAM TOURS:
Quick Tips Before Starting
It’s useful to figure out your itinerary before visiting Amsterdam, because you may be able to save money with a package ticket. For instance, the iAmsterdam City Card costs roughly $70 USD, but it gets you free use of public transportation, a canal cruise, a bike rental, and admission to more than 60 museums and attractions.
Museums you can access with the City Card include the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, MOCO Museum, Rembrandt House, the A’dam Lookout, Heineken Experience, the Icebar Amsterdam, and many more.
As of this writing, the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, a canal cruise, and a public transit pass cost nearly $70 USD total if you buy them all separately. So you’re almost getting your money’s worth from the City Card just from those four items. Do the math to determine whether you’ll be able to see enough during your one day in Amsterdam to get sufficient value from the card. You can buy the City Card online.
If you choose not to buy the City Card, at least consider picking up a GVB Public Transit Card. That way you’ll have unlimited access to subways, buses, and streetcars for less than $9 USD.
Finally, this site lists several cell phone apps that may be useful for navigating the city, including airport and city map apps.
One Day in Amsterdam: Morning and Afternoon
7:30 am: Morning Walk to Explore Neighborhoods
I always suggest getting an early start when you’re on vacation. Sleep can wait until you get home! Take an hour or so to stroll around your neighborhood. This can be especially enlightening if you’re staying in a residential area such as Noord or Oud West that’s slightly removed from the central core.
A relaxing walk before all the tourists are out and about is a great way to get a feel for the city. Maybe stop into a coffee shop for a bite to eat since it’s going to be a busy day.
Note: The Netherlands is known for its windmills in the countryside. I haven’t included a windmill tour in this itinerary, but you can sneak one into your schedule if you plan ahead. Many of the guided tours leave in the morning. Here’s a Half-Day Windmill Tour that also visits a cheese farm and wooden shoe workshop. That’s so Dutch!
9 am: Visit a Few Museums
Amsterdam has a ton of cool museums. With limited time, you should pick and choose a few that you really want to see in Museum Quarter (Museumkwartier.) You can zip through them in a couple hours and be on your way.
Start with the famous Rijksmuseum. Arrive early to beat that rush! Rijksmuseum is a must-see in Amsterdam and arguably one of the top museums in Europe. It has a massive collection of art and history pieces from the years 1100 through 2000 – everything from ancient jewelry and pottery to Rembrandt paintings.
The Vincent Van Gogh Museum is actually the most-visited museum in the Netherlands. Browse its collection of more than 200 Van Gogh paintings and 400 drawings. The smaller but underrated MOCO Museum, meanwhile, houses very cool modern art from Dali, Warhol, and Banksy.
12 pm: Rent a Bike
Amsterdam is such an easy city to bike in. Bike rental shops are everywhere, and you can secure a ride for roughly $5-10 USD per hour. Assuming you have Google Maps on your phone, you’ll be able to easily navigate without a street map.
With a bike, you can see A LOT in just an hour or so. I suggest getting out of the city center to explore some neighborhoods that aren’t as touristy, such as Noord (you can take your bike there on the free ferry) or Westerpark.
You may also want to swing through the infamous Red Light District. Locals are not thrilled that this part of town is a tourist attraction. Passing through on a bike is a way to get a quick feel for the area without lingering inappropriately.
Then, bike down to Vondelpark and relax in the grass. The largest park in Amsterdam is a great place to do some people-watching in the sun. Biking is such a big part of Amsterdam life and it’s one of the quickest ways to get around!
I really enjoyed biking in a city that has such a strong bike culture. It’s not like the U.S., where you have to worry about oblivious drivers who aren’t used to seeing hicycles on the road. In Amsterdam, bikes are everywhere and car drivers are alert and aware.
If biking by yourself in a strange city is too intimidating, choose from one of the many guided bike tours, including this Backstreets and Hidden Gems Bike Tour. This tour takes you all over the city, but it does take 3 hours, so adjust your schedule accordingly.
1:30 pm: Grab Lunch and Explore Jordaan & Nine Streets
The best areas to explore on feet include Dam Square, as well as the Jordaan neighborhood and nearby Nine Streets part of town that features a lot of shops and eateries. Stop for lunch at any café or restaurant you see along the way that looks appealing.
3 pm: The Anne Frank House
Another must-see in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. This is the 17th-century house where Anne and her family hid during World War II. The tour guide shifts the movable bookcase to reveal the stairs leading to the secret annex, and visitors walk up those very stairs. Talk about a powerful experience.
It’s hard to put into the words the feeling of being in the exact spot where Anne secretly lived for more than two years. The Anne Frank House is truly one of the most moving and overwhelming places I have visited.
It’s especially impactful to see some of the family’s personal effects, the stove they used, the beds they slept in. You can even see the pencil marks on the wall where Anne’s parents marked her height each year. These intimate details really make a powerful impact.
Advance reservations are an absolute must, as tickets can sell out days or weeks ahead of time. As soon as you know which day you’ll be visiting Amsterdam, buy your ticket so that you don’t get shut out.
4:30 pm: Dutch Snacks, Offbeat Attractions, the iAmsterdam Sign
During this time slot, you have a few options. After the heaviness of the Anne Frank House, I was ready to move on to some fun and quirky places to visit in Amsterdam. Enter the Floating Flower Market and the Cheese Museum!
The Cheese Museum is actually more of a cheese store, with a museum room featuring a couple of basic displays about cheesemaking. Stop in for a few minutes to sample varieties of cheese that you never knew existed.
Other quirky and unusual museums you may want to consider: The Amsterdam Pipe Museum, the Houseboat Museum, the Biblical Museum, the Dutch Costume Museum, and the Diamond Museum.
The Tulip Museum has paintings and exhibits dedicated to that flower commonly associated with the Netherlands. Both the cheese and tulip museums are within close walking distance to the Anne Frank House.
Flower fanatics should also consider the Bloemenmarkt, or Floating Flower Market. It’s essentially a flower flea market in a structure on the water. Oh – and it’s been there since 1862!
This is a good time for an afternoon snack. Stop at Manneken Pis or Vleminckx de Sausmeester for a paper cone of fries, the surprisingly popular snack of Amsterdam. Choose from two dozen sauces, ranging from curry to bbq to truffle mayo.
You could also stop into a bakery or pastry shop for some treats. People may associate waffles more with Belgium than the Netherlands, but you’ll find plenty of fancy waffles here covered in various flavored chocolate glazes.
You may also want to take this time to find the “iAmsterdam” sign. For a long time, the famous iAmsterdam letters were in the popular tourist area Museum Square. But officials decided to move it, because the sign was attracting such large crowds that it was becoming a problem.
When I visited Amsterdam, the sign ended up in the Noord section of town, right across the water from the Amsterdam Centraal train station.
Where is the iAmsterdam sign now? As of this writing, there’s one sign at the airport, and another at Sloterplas Lake. Click here for the latest updates, because they often move the letters around the city.
What To Do in Amsterdam at Night
Your one day in Amsterdam is winding down, but there’s still plenty to do in the evening. Grab dinner at a restaurant with outdoor sidewalk seating to have a meal while watching the passersby.
I consider the boat tour through the canals another must while in Amsterdam. These canal cruises run all day long, but they can be especially fun at night. That’s especially the case if you’re not into bars and need something else to do in the evening. The typically cost less than $20 USD.
Lovers Canal Cruises offers daily cruises that start as late as 10 pm. This is a cool romantic activity if you’re traveling with a significant other. If you’re a solo traveler, book one of the other evening boat tours.
What else can you do in Amsterdam at night? While most museums in the city close by 5, there are exceptions. The Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums stay open until 9 pm on Fridays, so you can save them for the evening and squeeze in another morning activity.
The A’dam Tower is one of the best newer attractions in Amsterdam. The structure includes a hotel, revolving restaurant, and a lookout tower on the 20th floor. The A’dam Lookout remains open until 10 pm.
Concerts, movies, and shows are always an option. Visit renowned venue Concertgebuow (buy tix in advance) for an orchestral performance, or catch a rock band at Paradiso or Melkweg.
Many of the food stands stay open until very late, so you can get your fries or pastries into the wee hours of morning. One night I went bar-hopping with a friend and we stopped for chocolate waffles after midnight, just because.
If you’ve never been to an icebar, here’s your chance. Icebar Amsterdam serves up cocktails in a room kept at -10 C (14 F.) Don’t worry – they provide jackets if you don’t bring your own.
Finally, there’s the best nightlife: the bars and clubs! Amsterdam has bars to suit everyone’s taste, and you can stay out until the sun comes up if you want. Here’s a good guide to everything from dive bars to party clubs.
Alternative Options: Other Amsterdam Things To Do
Everyone has different interests, so of course my personal itinerary won’t work for everyone. If you only have one day in Amsterdam, consider mixing in some of these alternate activities into your schedule.
Other Places to Visit in Amsterdam:
Red Light District
As noted earlier, touring this area can feel a little exploitative. But many tourists do sign up for Red Light District tours. Here’s one such tour if you are curious. This part of town is very close to the city center, so it’s walkable.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus and Boat Tour
If you want to take the planning and logistics out of your one-day visit, you could buy a ticket for one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus and Boat Tours. Both options will take you to the most popular tourist destinations in town, and traveling like this is a good way to see the city.
As briefly mentioned earlier, you can take a tour of windmills, a wooden shoe workshop, and a cheese farm. Some windmill tours last all day. The Zaanse Schans Windmill Tour is quicker (3.5 hours) and cheaper (around $38 USD) than most of the others. This is a cool way to see the countryside away from the bustling center of Amsterdam!
I skipped Stedelijk in favor of the MOCO Museum, which has more hipster cred. But the Stedelijk Museum is also a very popular attraction and serves up modern and contemporary art from the past 100 years. It’s located in Museum Square near Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
The Heineken Experience
Heineken is the home of Amsterdam. At the Heineken Experience, you can learn about the process behind the beverage and visit the tasting room for a couple of free drinks included with the tour.
Now that pot is legal in a huge percentage of U.S. states, American tourists aren’t as fascinated by that part of Amsterdam culture as they once were. There are still plenty of “420 cafes” advertising their substance-infused baked goods if you care to partake in that aspect of the city.
Got any other recommendations for what to do in Amsterdam? How would you spend one day in Amsterdam?