Over the course of over ten years together, we’ve lived in six cities spanning three continents. While Melbourne, Australia ranks as the “most livable” of the bunch, none have been more beautiful than Amsterdam, where we spent 3 and 1/2 years and often reminisce about quaint picnics on picturesque canals. Schipol Airport is the 3rd largest airport in Europe and since many visitors find themselves with just a short time in Amsterdam, we decided to condense 3 and 1/2 years into one day of highlights. So here’s what to do with one day in Amsterdam, an unforgettable city with something for everyone.
1) Stroll the Canals
Amsterdam is the “Venice of Northern Europe” and the man made canals built centuries ago for funcionality now also serve a purpose for fun and relaxation. On warm sunny days the canals are dotted with boats large and small, as locals soak up the ambiance with beer, wine and ‘haptjes’ (small nibbles that usually constitute young and aged cheeses, cold cuts and sausages).
Almost all of Amsterdam’s city center canals are interesting but our favorite spots are the western canal belt, particularly around the Brouwersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsegracht. If you’re in the mood to try Dutch craft beer there’s no better pub than Arendsnest, which serves over 40 varieties of Dutch brews and is located on the Herengracht.
Another fantastic spot is the area of the 7 bridges right behind Rembrantplein, the only place in Amsterdam to view 7 small bridges at the same time. Picnics on the canals were one of our favorite pass times and our favorite spot is the dock in front of the Hermitage Museum, on the Amstel River. This is a spacious spot offering a vast panoramic view across the Amstel.
2) Hop on a Boat
There’s many large tour boats conveniently located near Amsterdam Centraal train station. The tours usually last one hour and if you only have one day in Amsterdam, this is a handy way to see a lot of the city.
Alternatively, you can also rent a paddle boat or even a small boat all to yourself. There’s also some small boat tour operators that can offer a more intimate experience over being on a large boat with 50 people, which makes short commentary in four languages.
3) Visit the Re-modeled Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam’s two most famous museums are the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch modern art museum. Another one of the most popular attractions is the Anne Frank House. We’ve visited all three and unless you have a strong preference towards one, we”d recommend the Rijksmuseum if you have just 1 day.
You’ll be blown away by the sheer size and drama of Rembrant’s ‘The Night Watch,’ which is a painting you can truly spend ten minutes in front of to try and process all the detail and conceptualize the meaning of the painting. We were also surprised at some of the humour behind many of the Dutch paintings.
4) Wander the Red Light District
While watching prostitutes in windows naturally isn’t everyones cup of tea, it’s certainly one of the biggest spectacles of a visit to Amsterdam. You’ll see people young and old, and many couples walking around, as most aren’t looking to buy, just watch.
If you want to catch the action while sitting for a drink, the Black Tiger Bar offers a great view. It was a favorite place of ours to take visitors from out of town who were interested in checking out the Red Light District.
5) Food and Drink Recommendations
Jenever is Dutch gin, filled to the brim of a shot glass. You’ll need to drink the first sip without lifting the glass or you’ll spill some. A hidden gem for enjoying jenever is one of the tiniest pubs you’ll come across, Cafe de Dokter, which coincidentally is on the city center alley we lived on for 3 years.
If you eat one meal out in a Dutch restaurant (et’ cafe) it should be ‘kip sate,’ which is chicken cooked in a very mild spicy Indonesian influenced peanut sauce, typically served with Vlaamse Frites (Flemish fries). Our favorite restaurant for kip sate is De Haven van Texel both because the food is good and also because it has fantasic outdoor seating on the canal that is wonderful when weather permits. In winter, the inside dining area is “gezellig,” which is Dutch for a cosy and comfortable place that friends and loved ones can enjoy together.
If you want to try great local beer there are two active breweries in Amsterdam, Brouwerij de Prael in the Red Light District, and Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which is housed in an old Dutch windmill just outside the city center. You can take tours of the IJ brewery or just swing by for one of their beers, the Columbus being a favorite of ours. But if you only have a day you can find some of IJ’s beers in some of Amsterdam’s best city center pubs like Arendsnest, mentioned earlier, In de Wildeman and Cafe Gollem.
Another favorite gezellig restaurant in Amsterdam is De Struisvogel, which translates into “the Ostrich.” This is a fantastic little restaurant, and if you visit here, try the ostrich steak as it’s delicious, though not typically Dutch. For an upscale dinner where you can sit in a room next to authentic Rembrandt etchings, D’ Vijff Vlieghen has good food in an unforgettable dining area.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam?
You’ll generally find the best hotel prices on booking.com (whose offices are based in Amsterdam). You can also find awesome value on apartments with consistently good reviews on Airbnb. If you’ve never used the service, sign up here for a $40 credit off your first stay!