How to Spend One Day in Amsterdam

Schipol Airport is the third largest airport in Europe so many visitors find themselves transiting with a short stay. We spent 3 and 1/2 years living among Amsterdam’s beautiful 17th century buildings and canals and got to know the city well. Here’s some tips if you only have one day in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam Boat Tours

There are 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. For a more luxurious experience, you can take an Amsterdam evening canal cruise with 4 course dinner and drinks for $108.

one day in amsterdam

Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House

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 visiting the Rijksmuseum if you have just one day in Amsterdam. All three can be busy, but lines to visit the Anne Frank House can easily be over an hour to get inside.

Rembrant’s The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum is the size of an entire room and perhaps the most impressive piece of art in the city.  You can spend quite a while in front of The Night Watch, absorbing details large and small. We were also surprised at some of the humor in many of the Dutch paintings at the Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam’s Best Canal Spots

Amsterdam is often considered the “Venice of Northern Europe.”  Man-made canals built in the 17th century to facilitate trade double as a playground to relax today. On warm sunny days the canals are filled with boats, with locals soaking up the ambiance over beer, wine and ‘haptjes’ (small nibbles that usually involve young and aged cheeses, cold cuts and sausages).

one day in amsterdam

The most picturesque of Amsterdam’s canals are on the western canal belt, particularly around the Brouwersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsegracht. 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. Backpackers on a budget should definitely plan a nice picnic on the canals.

Hermitage museum dock in Amsterdam – picnic with old friends.

Tour the Red Light District: One Day in Amsterdam

one day in Amsterdam

While watching prostitutes in windows is not everyone’s 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. Consider this offbeat Amsterdam Red Light District tour with a local guide.

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.

Amsterdam, the Redlight District at night

Where to Eat in Amsterdam

If you eat one meal out in a Dutch restaurant (et’ cafe) it should be kip sate. Kip sate is chicken cooked in a mildly spicy Indonesian influenced peanut sauce, typically served with Vlaamse Frites (Flemish fries). Our favorite restaurant for kip sate is De Haven van Texel. The food is good and they have a fantastic canal side terrace that’s great for soaking up the local ambiance. 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.

Amsterdam Cafe at Night (De Haven Van Texel)
Wonderful outdoor seating at De Haven van Texel, a tranquil spot near the Red Light District.

Another favorite gezellig restaurant in Amsterdam is De Struisvogel, which translates into “the Ostrich.” This is a fantastic little restaurant, and if you go 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 Drink in Amsterdam

If you want to try Dutch craft beers and gins (jenevers) there’s no better pub than Arendsnest, which serves over 40 varieties of Dutch brews and is located on the Herengracht.

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 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.

Where to Stay in Amsterdam?

Hotel prices in Amsterdam vary depending on time of year and availability. Try and book something with free cancellation well in advance when you can, especially for summer and the holidays!

Luxury: 

It doesn’t get more luxurious than the 5 star Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. Set along the UNESCO World Heritage listed Herengracht canal, the hotel is made up of six monumental 17th century canal palaces. The 2-Michelin star restaurant Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam is great for an on site gastronomic experience.

Pulitzer Amsterdam is a great luxury choice located within 25 interlinked 17th and 18th century canal houses, between the famous Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals. Combining traditional and modern Dutch design, the hotel has 225 unique guest rooms and suites. It’s walking distance from major attractions, but on a quieter end of the picturesque western canal belt.

Radisson Blu is the one of the best value luxury stays in the center of Amsterdam. Spacious rooms are decorated according to colorful themes. Their on site restaurant serves international meals and an extensive breakfast buffet.

one day in Amsterdam

Mid Range:

Citizen M is a comfortable and ultra-modern hotel in Amsterdam. Every room at citizenM Amsterdam has wall to wall windows and large beds with luxurious linens. Guests can modify room color, temperature, control the smart TV and also adapt the blackout curtains all from an Ipad mini.

We also recommend Motel One Amsterdam and Motel One Waterlooplein as they’re good bang for buck modern hotels. All rooms have a private bathroom, air conditioning and flat screen TV. Their breakfast buffet feature delicious bakery quality breads, pastries and croissants for a reasonable surcharge around 10 euro.

Lloyd Hotel offers unique rooms in a transformed historic building. Within 10 minutes you can reach Amsterdam Central Station by tram.

Budget:

You’ll generally find the best value booking short stay apartments in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam’s historic center during summer and popular holidays like New Year’s and King’s Day. If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up here for free and receive $40 credit off your first stay!

Backpackers should consider fun options like the popular Flying Pig Downtown and Flying Pig Uptown.

 

Have questions on planning a trip to Amsterdam? Leave a comment below or email me at alex@wanderlustmarriage.com and I can assist you! 

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