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Amsterdam was a city that had always intrigued me. For a long time, I didn’t know much about it, other than people were constantly telling me I had to visit. I’ll admit, I wasn’t hard to convince. Tell me a city is a biking city and I’ll come running.

If Amsterdam is also on your bucket list, I have created the perfect 3 Days in Amsterdam itinerary, organized by location, so you can see the best of the city. At the end, there is a section of free-time suggestions.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is a city defined by picturesque canals, iconic Dutch architecture, and a thriving bike culture. Known for its cyclist-friendly streets and progressive values, Amsterdam embraces diversity and innovation, evident in its vibrant art scene and forward-thinking initiatives.

For me, Amsterdam was like that boy who used to flirt with me forever and who I constantly rejected…only to fall in love with him at the end of the story. Curious about this newfound romance? Keep reading…

Amsterdam: The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
Table of Contents

My Overall Impression of Amsterdam
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Day 1: Bike the City, Dam Square, Red Light District
Day 2: Anne Frank House, Jordaan, De 9 Straatjes
Day 3: Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Brewery Tour, Canal Cruise

Amsterdam Free Time Suggestions
Navigating Amsterdam

One of the canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

My Overall Impression of Amsterdam

Before going to Amsterdam, I had quite a few people tell me that it was their favorite city in Europe. While I wouldn’t say it is my favorite (that title belongs to Barcelona!), I definitely became smitten by its unique charm.

Let’s start with the architecture. I loved the architecture here because of how unique it was. A lot of the buildings are also slanted!

Amsterdam architecture is very distinct. A lot of the homes and buildings I saw were side by side and had their own unique character. Most of them had the same flat facade, but the distinct design on the roofs gave each of them their own sense of “personality.” Many times, houses seemed like they were sitting right on top of the water!

Amsterdam, Netherlands
The houses “floating” on water in Amsterdam

I felt like Amsterdam was giving me major Brooklyn vibes. It wasn’t overly flashy, and dare I say – a tad grungy(?) in some areas – but it had its own unique beauty that I came to love by my third day there.

I’m going to be completely honest with you – until my third day, I didn’t know that Amsterdam was a city I would need to go back to. I loved my time there and was SO glad I went, but I didn’t have that “3 drinks in and I’m moving here” feeling that certain other cities have given me.

But my last day, I became smitten. I met some amazing locals, I biked to new places I hadn’t been, and the way I saw the city lit up was just…different. That night, Amsterdam gave me a wry smile and said, “you know you love me,” and I grinned right back and said, “you’re right.” What a love story!

So…yes, I would absolutely go back. I would wander the cobblestone streets, drink beer with the locals, and ride my bike through previously uncharted territory. Oh…and stroopwafels. I would definitely eat more stroopwafels.

Where to Stay in Amsterdam

When I went to Amsterdam, I stayed at THIS HO(S)TEL, which is a perfect place for solo travelers.

Unlike your typical hostel where you share a room, THIS HO(S)TEL had cube rooms so you had a room to yourself! The only downside to this is you have to share a bathroom with everyone on your floor (girls and guys included).

For the full recap of my experience, read my review of THIS HO(S)TEL here!

Amsterdam: The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary

My first day in Amsterdam, I arrived at the Centraal Station by train from the airport. The Centraal Station is the main train station in the city and is conveniently located very…well…centrally. One of my favorite things about Amsterdam was that I was able to walk to my hostel after I arrived at the Centraal Station!

Amsterdam Centraal Station

When you exit one side of the Centraal Station, you will see the IJ River and Noord across the water. To get to the main part of the city, make sure that you exit through the opposite direction. To exit this way, you will walk through an area in the station where you bypass a lot of shops and restaurants. When possible, I tried to orient myself to the Centraal Station since it was a very large, recognizable landmark.

After getting to my hostel, appropriately named THIS HO(S)TEL, I ate dinner at Fiona, the on-site Mexican restaurant.

Inside Fiona, a Mexican restaurant inside THIS HO(S)TEL

I am a sucker for Mexican food and actually ate here multiple times. It was equal parts the food, the service, the convenience, and the ambiance.

Day 1: Bike the City, Dam Square, Red Light District

I LOVE taking my time and exploring a new city upon arriving there. In Amsterdam, my favorite way to do this was riding my bike!

Rent a Bike and Ride Through the City

Riding my bike through the city was my absolute favorite thing I did in Amsterdam. There were a few reasons why I loved doing this:

First, everyone bikes here, so you feel like a local.
Second, riding a bike through the narrow cobblestone streets with canal views is so much fun.
Third, it’s the quickest, cheapest way to get around!

I rented my bike through Black Bikes, and would absolutely recommend them. They have locations everywhere in the city, and you are able to drop your bike off at a different location than you picked it up at if you need to.

They also do a great job at explaining bike etiquette and giving you helpful tips, such as where to park your bike. Their bikes come with bike straps and locks, and they walk you through how to use them before you leave.

Loving the bike culture

Biking Though Amsterdam Tips

Now that I’ve convinced you to rent a bike, I’ll walk you through the good, the bad, and the (sometimes scary!) of biking through Amsterdam.

The Good:

It is the most fun you will have your entire trip…unless you pay for a prostitute. (j/k!)

But for real. I’m not lying when I said this was my favorite part of Amsterdam. I somehow felt like a carefree kid and a grown-up European city girl, all at the same time. Plus, I got to see so many more things in the city because I was able to get around so much quicker!

The Bad:

Renting a bike means knowing and following Amsterdam bike etiquette. The main two rules that I learned were:

  1. To ride on the right side of the street that you were on, and
  2. Always lock your bike when you park it

The bike shop informed me that I was only allowed to park my bike in the metal bike racks, but I’ll admit that after watching the locals tie their bikes up anywhere, I followed suit and was fine. (Disclaimer: I am NOT responsible if you do this and your bike gets stolen! Maybe I just got lucky…)

The bikes come with locks, so you are able to tie your bike up to a metal rack, lamppost, tree, etc. The man who rented my bike to me made sure I knew to ALWAYS lock the back wheel of the bike AND use the locking strap!

The (Sometimes) Scary:

You know how people who live in cities drive? I don’t mean just anybody – I’m talking about the locals. The people that have lived there their entire lives. The ones who whip around corners and in and out of lanes and DO. NOT. GIVE. A. F@#% that you’re not from there…

Well, that’s how Amsterdam bikers ride their bikes. It’s impressive and intimidating, all at the same time.

This was the biggest downside for me, because if I needed to get somewhere on my bike, I was constantly relying on Google maps to get me there. One hand on the handle bar, one hand on my iPhone’s pop socket, and we were off. Holy shit.

I have to admit that I didn’t do too bad, aka I didn’t wreck, but damn. What I wouldn’t give to have been a local a few times.

It gets especially intimidating in areas like Dam Square and near Central Station where there are a lot of people. You constantly have bikers and cars whizzing past you and pedestrians walking in front of you. Overall though, it’s worth it and so much fun!

Explore Dam Square

I stumbled upon Dam Square by accident as I was biking through the city. Dam Square is the most popular square in Amsterdam, and is home to a lot of famous buildings and popular events.

The most famous buildings include the Royal Palace, the National Monument, De Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), and De Bijenkorf, a shopping center. You’ll also find the Ripley Museum and Madame Tussauds here too!

De Nieuwe Kerk in Dam Square; Amsterdam, Netherlands
De Nieuwe Kerk in Dam Square

There were so many people hanging out in Dam Square when I went that I got off my bike and wandered around on foot for a bit. I thought it was really neat how large and open the plaza was. When I thought about seeing the Dutch architecture in the houses along the canals, it almost felt like I was in a different city here!

While Dam Square is cool to see, know that it’s a very busy area and very touristy. I would definitely recommend checking it out, but I didn’t stay here too long. I preferred wandering around De 9 Straatjes instead!

Walk Through The Red Light District

The Red Light District is wild. It’s located in the “de Wallen” neighborhood close to the Centraal Station.

You can walk through it at any time of the day, but IMO, you need to walk through it at night to explore it at its peak level. If your first thought was “that sounds sketchy,” I initially thought the same thing…but there are people everywhere and I didn’t feel frightened at all.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Red Light District

If you don’t know much about the Red Light District, I’ll paint you a picture. The RLD is situated in Amsterdam Central and is comprised of two streets separated by a canal in the middle. There are buildings lit up with red lights where sex workers stand in windows and subtly beckon in their clients.

There are also bars, sex shops, and, errr…live performance venues. 👀

While you may be wanting to take many photos of this area to document your experience, know that it is strictly forbidden to photograph the sex workers.

Even if you don’t want to partake in RLD festivities, you have to admit that you’re intrigued. Growing up in America, it’s hard to imagine that people actually do this for a living.

The RLD figured this out, which is why there are also a couple museums, such as the Museum of Prostitution, on this street! You can go in and learn about the history of this type of work, listen to stories, see staged rooms, and more.

  • Fun Fact: Have you ever wondered where the “red light” concept came into play? Red light makes skin look more smooth, and therefore more attractive. In the past, it was also used to obscure signs of STDs.

Day 2: Anne Frank House, Jordaan, De 9 Straatjes

Tour the Anne Frank House

Visiting the Anne Frank House is an absolute must-do whenever you go to Amsterdam. Walking through the annex where Anne and her family spent the last years of their lives is one of the most emotional, humbling experiences you will ever have.

If you read Diary of a Young Girl, you know that the entrance to the secret annex was hidden behind a bookcase. The original bookcase is still in the house, along with various other items that the Frank family had used. At the end, you get to see Anne’s actual diary along with some of her other writing preserved under glass.

Which House is the Anne Frank House?

When you arrive at the Anne Frank House, also referred to as the Anne Frank Museum, the entrance is located on the right side of the building across from a pancake shop. The entrance to the museum is clearly not the same entrance that the warehouse workers used when the Frank family was in hiding, so you may be wondering which house it is exactly?

The Anne Frank house is the one with the arrow below. When you’re standing across the water, it’s unfortunately hidden by a tree. However, if you walk up to the buildings, there will be a white sign reading “Anne Frank Huis” beside the door.

Tips for Getting Tickets to the Anne Frank House

Tickets to the Anne Frank House can ONLY be purchased through the official Anne Frank House website.

You will find tours on Get Your Guide and Viator that mention Anne Frank, but know that this is a historical tour, NOT the tour of her family’s annex. 

The Anne Frank House is a small museum and sells a limited number of tickets for each day. Tickets go on sale every Tuesday at 10:00am for a visit 6 weeks out. 

If you are planning a trip to Amsterdam, I strongly advise purchasing your Anne Frank tickets as soon as they become available. If not, you risk them being sold out (and trust me, they sell out fast). There are 2 different types of tickets you can purchase: a basic ticket, and then a ticket with a 30 minute add-on.

What To Do If The Anne Frank House is Sold Out

Many people don’t realize that purchasing Anne Frank tickets is essentially an extreme sport.

If you waited too late to purchase tickets, all hope is not lost! In addition to releasing tickets for 6 weeks out every Tuesday at 10am, the Anne Frank museum will also release a small number of tickets for the following week for anyone looking to go at the last minute.

Keep in mind, 10am in Amsterdam is 4am on the East Coast, and even earlier if you live on the West Coast. Set your alarm honey – it’s worth it. 

Jordaan – For Vintage Shops, Authentic Pubs, and Noordermarkt

The Anne Frank House is located in the Jordaan neighborhood, so it only makes sense to explore this area afterwards. Jordaan has a lot of vintage and antique shops. cafes and pubs, and beautiful canal views.

If flea markets are your vibe, be sure to check out Noordermarkt, open Mondays and Saturdays. You will find tents full of buyers and sellers, and there’s everything from jewelry and clothes to art.

I thought wandering around Jordaan was fun, but like I mentioned earlier, De 9 Straatjes was my jam. Definitely spend some time wandering through here though – I’ll admit, I probably didn’t see all there was to see of Jordaan.

De 9 Straatjes – For Boutiques, Cute Cafes, & Restaurants

De 9 Straatjes – literally translating to “the 9 streets” – is one of the best shopping sections in Amsterdam and my personal favorite neighborhood to explore. Surrounded by cute alleys, picturesque canals, and trendy cafes, this neighborhood is fun to walk through even if you aren’t a shopper.

How to Get to De 9 Straatjes

My advice for exploring De 9 Straatjes would be to first stop in to Landskroon and get a stroopwafel, a famous Dutch dessert made up of two extra-thin waffles with a caramel filling. Landskroon is not only known for their stroopwafels, but it is situated at the start of De 9 Straatjes.

The stroopwafel at Landskroon; Amsterdam, Netherlands
The stroopwafel at Landskroon

When you leave Landskroon, walk over the canal bridge towards Singel and Wijde Heisteeg, and you will start seeing shops. Or, you can also type in “Republique Store Amsterdam” which is one of the shops in De 9 Straatjes, and head in that direction. This should be a ~2 minute walk.

You can also type in Tapas Bar Catalá, which is an amazing restaurant with Catalan/Spanish influences. This will take you to another section of De 9 Straatjes with more restaurants than shops.

Although I did my fair share of shopping here, I also loved simply walking and biking around! This area is incredibly picturesque and has a great energy.

Stopping for a photo in De 9 Straatjes

Day 3: Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Brewery Tour, Canal Cruise

Before touring the Van Gogh museum, I stopped at PANCAKES Amsterdam Centraal for breakfast (FYI – they also have a location in De 9 Straatjes). I still daydream about my pancake from here.

Amsterdam pancakes are thinner than traditional American pancakes; in fact, they’re almost crepe-like. I tried their homemade apple crumble pancake and nowww I want to book a flight just to get another one. **cries**

My apple pancake at PANCAKES Amsterdam Centraal
My apple pancake at PANCAKES Amsterdam Centraal

Tour the Van Gogh Museum

If you read my Paris blog post, you know I am not typically a museum girl. But…it’s Van Gogh. How can you NOT?!

The Van Gogh museum is located in a neighborhood known as Museumplein. This area is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Amsterdam and houses the city’s biggest park, Vondelpark. This is a great area to take a break and people watch!

I was surprised by how much I loved walking through this museum. It told the story of Van Gogh’s early life, how he didn’t even start to become a painter until age 27, and his tragic battle with mental illness which ultimately led to his death. In addition to his work, you are also able to see paintings from people who inspired him and that he worked with.

As a creator, if I could sum up my visit in one word, I would definitely say inspired. It was fascinating to learn how Van Gogh saw things differently than others of his time, how he trusted his instinct, how he immersed himself in different cities and cultures and techniques to learn to become better at what he did.

Ultimately, the fact that he did not even start until he was 27 and became one of the greatest of all time proves that it’s never too late to do anything! You can use this link to book your Van Gogh museum tour!

FYI: The One Downside to the Van Gogh Museum

Starry Night – arguably Van Gogh’s most famous work – is actually NOT located in this museum! It is located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Heineken Brewery Tour

Just down the street from the Van Gogh museum, you will find the Heineken Brewery museum!

When you come to Amsterdam, you have to pay homage to the beer that was started here and made famous all over the world. That means going to the bar and ordering a Heineken, but if you want to take it a step further, you can tour the Heineken Brewery Museum. I recommend doing this tour from Get Your Guide because it combines a brewery tour and a canal cruise, which I talk about in the next section!

During the brewery tour, you are able to go through different rooms and read the story about how Heineken began, see the different ingredients come to life in the brewing process, and view some of the brew kettles.

Inside the Heineken Brewery; Amsterdam, Netherlands
Inside the Heineken Brewery

The tour ends with a toast, and you all get to yell “Prost!” while raising your glass. At the beginning of the tour, they give you a bracelet with two tokens for a free beer on them, which you can redeem at the very end in one of the coolest bars I have ever been to.

Seriously – it’s SO worth going on this tour. The Heineken Bar is illuminated with green lights and is such a fun vibe. I also got to talk to some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. I could have hung out here forever!

  • Bonus: You are even able to engrave your own Heineken bottle (for a fee!) and take home with you as a souvenir!
  • Pro Tip: For the Get Your Guide tour, the start time is for the brewery. You don’t have a start time for canal tour, you just show up! But be mindful if its later in the day because the tours could be over!
    • I actually had to come back another day for my canal cruise because I spent too much time in the Heineken bar. Oops…

Take a Canal Cruise

Amsterdam is famous for its canals, and therefore, a canal cruise is a must. If you do the combo tour/cruise from Get Your Guide mentioned above, there are 2 different entrances to the canal cruise that you can choose from.

  • The first entrance is right across from the Heineken Brewery museum
  • The second entrance is further up the street next to the Hard Rock Cafe.
  • The canal cruise lasts 75 minutes.
Views from the canal cruise

As mentioned above, if you choose this tour/cruise from Get Your Guide, the start time listed is for the brewery. I would recommend doing the canal cruise before you do the brewery, because if you wait until later, it’s possible they could be done with cruises for the day.

Regardless, doing a canal cruise is a must. It’s so relaxing and beautiful to see the city from a boat, and it’s something that is so quintessentially Amsterdam.

  • Fun Fact: When you go to Amsterdam, you will notice the unique architecture of the houses and how many of them have skinnier facades and then are longer in the back. I learned on my canal cruise that back in the day, residents would get taxed on how wide their house was, so they shortened the width in the front!

Amsterdam Free Time Suggestions

I structured this guide around the must-do things

1. Tour Some Other Museums

Aside from Van Gogh, two of Amsterdam’s other popular museums include Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk museum.

Both of these museums are located in Museumplein (same area as the Van Gogh museum). Museumplein is the largest square of Amsterdam and is really cute to explore and bike through. If you wanted to tour one or both of these museums, you could plan to do it the same day as you tour Van Gogh.

Rijksmuseum is home to an extensive collection of Dutch Golden Age masterpieces. Inside, you’ll find works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. There is also a large park near here that you can hang out and people watch.

Stedelijk is known more for its modern and contemporary art collection, featuring works by influential artists such as Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, and Andy Warhol.

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

2. Check Out the Anne Frank Mural

If you feel like hopping on a ferry, you can explore the area behind Centraal Station and across the IJ river known as Noord. One of the best things to do is check out the Anne Frank mural.

The Anne Frank mural in Noord; Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Anne Frank mural in Noord

The Anne Frank mural is a large painting on a building located in NDSM-Plein, on the corner of NDSMstraat and Ms. van Riemsdijkweg. The words “let me be myself,” are written at the top.

If you read Diary of a Young Girl, you know that Anne was largely misunderstood by her family and the others in the house. This mural is a metaphor for so many things, but most of all, for a girl whose life was cut way too short.

Even if you don’t want to see the mural, riding the ferry across the IJ River is a fun (and free!) experience. I took the photo below while riding the ferry on my way back to Amsterdam central.

View of the IJ River from the Ferry in Amsterdam

3. Get Some Dutch Apple Pie

Apple pie (or appeltaart) is arguably the most popular Dutch dessert. It differs from the American version in that it is baked in a deeper pan, so it has a much larger volume of filling. Winkel 43 is reported to have the best apple pie in the city!

4. Buy Some Cheese From a Local Cheese Shop

The Dutch LOVE their cheese…no wonder I like it here!

All of the shops I went in were selling different flavored gouda cheeses, which happens to be my favorite. The hardest part about picking out cheese is not leaving with one of each kind…and believe me, you’ll want to.

If you can’t decide, most places will let you try samples.

  • Pro Tip: “Edam” cheese is the other kind of cheese thats popular in the Netherlands besides gouda!
A cheese shop in Amsterdam, Netherlands
A cheese shop in Amsterdam

5. See The Bridges Lit Up At Night

The bridges on the canals are beautiful during the daytime, but at night they offer a peaceful glow with warm lights that reflect and dance on the water. One of my favorite things in Amsterdam ended up being walking around after dark to see the lights on the bridges. Two of the more well-known, picturesque bridges are Torensluis Brug (Tower Bridge) and Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge).

Torensluis Brug is closer to the city center than Magere Brug is, but IMO, Magere is more picturesque. Nevertheless, there are a lot of bridges close to Torensluis Brug that you can walk around and see. I personally liked the bridge in the bottom photo more than Torensluis Brug because it had more lights, but I unfortunately do not know the name of it.

6. Stop in Arendsnest Proeflokaal

Known as a “Dutch beer heaven,” this is a local bar that only serves Dutch beer. If you want the most authentic beer experience possible (besides Heineken, of course), be sure to check them out!

One thing I did want to point out was that I felt like Amsterdam was extremely hard to navigate. Becoming good with directions is something I have had to learn to do as a solo traveler. It’s something I was never inherently good at, but I will admit I’ve gotten much better after going on trips alone.

But holy shit. I thought Amsterdam was hard. I don’t know if it was because all the buildings and architecture look so different that it’s hard to commit any one of them to memory to use as a landmark? Maybe because there’s no metro stops to reference? No street signs that really stood out?

I don’t think I would have had as much anxiety about this if I didn’t have to remember where I parked my bike. The LAST thing I wanted to do was lose my rental bike! I tried to reference little shops and restaurants on side streets near where I parked, but so many of the side streets looked similar that it became difficult. (Had I been thinking, I would have used an AirTag!)

The Best Way to Get Around Amsterdam

Like I previously mentioned, if you’re brave enough to bike the city, that is the route I would go. I LOVED biking here.

If not, my recommendation would be to either walk, Uber, or take a bus. Amsterdam has a metro system, but it’s not extensively built-up. When I was there, I didn’t take the metro at all.

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