Upon arrival at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam, the energy of the city immediately engulfed me. I couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of Amsterdam’s famous canals, among other beautiful sights. A taxi ride brought us to our hotel, just a few streets down from Central Station.
Here are just a few of Amsterdam’s must-see attractions, both well-known and less advertised, all of which my family and I explored during our week-long stay!
You can’t travel to Amsterdam without taking a canal cruise, whether it is only for half an hour or for a nighttime dinner cruise. There are so many options to explore when choosing a canal cruise. We decided to spend the first few days sight-seeing and bought 72-hour tickets from the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Company; this included unlimited access to their buses and canals for the duration of 72 hours (Hop-On, Hop-Off buses are widely available in all of the world’s top tourist destinations). Later, toward the end of our stay in Amsterdam, we took a couple last cruises from Lovers Canal Cruises before bidding farewell to the stunning canals.
Canal cruises take you on specific routes throughout the city and stop at different points of interest. They often provide earbuds that you can plug into the sides of your seats to learn some Dutch history and city secrets! This way, we were able to see the majority of the city in a few hours via canal!
TIP: buy tickets online before arriving, including museum tickets; however, if you are uncertain about deciding too far in advance, canal cruise companies like Lovers often has great deals
Amsterdam’s most famous museum, the Rijks Museum, certainly lives up to its reputation. Halls and halls of art, artifacts, and history delighted my inner history geek. Its most famous possession is Dutch master Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch. You can spend hours there, and even rest to eat in the museum café (not to mention splurge in the gift shop!)
Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh’s most extensive collection is housed in the museum district of Amsterdam, very close to the Rijks Museum. From self-portraits to landscapes to still-life paintings, this museum displayed practically the entire collection of Van Gogh’s works (save for some of the most famous pieces such as Starry Night in New York). Equally as intriguing is the story of Van Gogh told on the walls of each room; it is heartbreaking to learn of all the miseries the brilliantly talented and beloved master endured during his lifetime.
Anne Frank House
Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, the brave, young Jewish girl who lived in hiding in Amsterdam with her family throughout most of World War II, until they were discovered and sent to concentration camps where all but father Otto Frank died. Today, the “annex” they lived in is a museum that provides deep insight into the lives of the Jewish family. The story of Anne Frank is told as visitors walk up and down stairs, through hallways and rooms; you get to see where everything in Anne Frank’s diary took place, a truly remarkable experience regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the true story (although much more meaningful if you are!).
De Bijenkorf department store & Magna Plaza
I can’t visit a huge city without visiting its greatest shopping centers, and in the case of Amsterdam, De Bijenkorf department store (founded 1870) was my favorite! It features almost ten floors of fashion labels ranging from Louis Vuitton and Gucci to the more affordable Topshop and sports brands like Nike and Adidas.
Magna Plaza is more of a mall, as in the beautiful building were both large stores like Mango and smaller, unique boutiques. Magna Plaza is also conveniently located beside De Bijenkorf.
Amsterdam’s central train station is not only a train station–it is also a hidden shopping center! Trains and buses arrive and depart constantly, so shops and cafés (even a Starbucks!) are plentiful. One notable store is Hema, like the American Target, which has a small store at Central Station and a larger one not far from it. Hema sells everything from snacks to everyday essentials to school supplies; you can even buy some food to go. It is important to know where Central Station is at all times, because all streets and canals lead to it; the train station can easily be used as a point of reference.