Whether it’s a long layover or just a quick stop – Amsterdam can’t be missed when in Europe. Even if you only have one day in Amsterdam, here’s what you can’t miss about the city, how to get there, what to be sure to eat and where to stay if you are going to overnight. Everything mentioned can be done on your own, or if you prefer to book tickets in advance or book guides, there are links to do that too (for example, this tour will give you the best of Amsterdam on a 2-hour layover)!
And if you don’t want Amsterdam to be your only stop in the Netherlands, check out the one day in Rotterdam guide here.
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in the embedded Google Map below!
One day in Amsterdam – an overview of the city
Amsterdam is one of those cities that feels both sophisticated and free-spirited, all at the same time. The vintage charm and postcard-perfect look of its characteristic Dutch houses – many of which lean at improbable angles – and beautiful, snaking canals, are sure to charm any visitor. And the range of museums and cultural activities, not to mention Amsterdam’s hip neighborhoods, cute coffee shops, and local breweries, could keep you busy for far longer than just a day.
Amsterdam is like a poem for every sense; if you’re lucky enough to spend a day in this gorgeous city, here’s what we suggest you do.
Getting to Amsterdam
If you’re in Amsterdam for a layover or overnight, getting from Schiphol Airport is easy and quick. A direct railway line connects the airport with Amsterdam Central Station in about 20 minutes (€9.50 one-way; €14.50 return). Located in the city center, you can easily get anywhere in the city from Amsterdam Central using public transit or (if you’re brave) a bike.
What to do in Amsterdam in a day
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in this Google Map!
Besides its liberal attitude to sex and drugs, abundance of bicycles and winding canals, Amsterdam is probably best-known for being home to some of the world’s best museums. Museums not to miss include the Rijksmuseum (2 to 3 hours required), Van Gogh Museum (60 to 90 minutes) and Anne Frank House (about 1 hour).
Amsterdam’s museums are very popular and fill up past 11 am, so we recommend you book tickets in advance to skip-the-line. You could visit 2 of these museums in a morning, but 3 is stretching it if you just have one day. We suggest you start at Anne Frank House, and then visit either the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum.
If you’re really concerned about time, you can book skip the line tickets to try to make the most of your hours.
A trip to Amsterdam isn’t complete without a canal cruise, which lets you see Amsterdam from a unique perspective and learn about the culture and history of the city and its canal structure, a UNESCO Heritage site.
Brave the bike lanes
For a truly local experience, explore the city on two wheels. If cycling the main streets seems too intimidating, head to VondelPark for a more relaxed intro to this iconically Dutch way of getting around.
There are plenty of bike rentals on any busy street, or you can book one in advance if that’s more your style.
Grab a souvenir
Amsterdam’s city center is full of souvenir shops and makes for a great place to wander. For some a photo opp combined with souvenir shopping, head to the Amsterdam flower market (Singel 630 to 600). The flower market lines the canal, with regular souvenir shops on the street, adjacent.
If you prefer trendy boutiques, make time to stroll the ‘Nine Streets.’ You’ll find fashion, art, book, home, and vintage shops here, alongside nice restaurants and coffee bars.
Sunset at Amsterdam Lookout
In the evening, hop aboard the free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station and head across the water to Amsterdam Lookout, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. If you’re feeling brave, ride the rooftop swing, which sends you over the building’s edge for a view and experience you’re sure to remember!
You can book your ticket in advance here (there are also options that include drinks).
Red Light District
Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District is another must-visit. The streets in this area are lined with tiny shop windows displaying women in various stages of undress, all the better for showing-off their professional attributes and catching the attention of passersby looking for paid affection.
(!!!) Worth noting: taking pictures here is forbidden, and can result in a hefty fine.
If you’re not exhausted by this point, Amsterdam has plenty of nightlife to choose from.
Beer lovers should head to Proeflokaal Arendsnest (Herengracht 90) or Gollem Beer Café (multiple locations; Raamsteeg and Amstelstraat locations are quite central).
Proeflokaal is a cozy and traditional Dutch bar located on the famous Herengracht Canal. It serves 100 beers from Dutch breweries, making it a perfect option for local beer lovers. Alternatively, Gollem Beer Café is always warm and inviting, producing about 50 varieties of Dutch beer, with many of them on tap at any given time.
Foodhallen (Bellamyplein) is another fun option, offering a great vibe and live music. Once an old fire station, it’s now home to 20+ gourmet food options under one roof. Friday and Saturday nights are most popular.
If you prefer dancing, head to Remembrandtplein or Liedsplein, where many of the pubs change into dance clubs at night.
What to eat in Amsterdam in a day
There are a bunch of great options listed here (and pinned to the map). If you prefer to have a guide take you through the food options, you can book an Amsterdam walking food tour (Eating Europe tours are awesome, informative and delicious).
Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken)
Start your day at The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191), a four-minute walk from Anne Frank House and the perfect spot to load up on sweet or savory traditional Dutch Pancakes. There’s always a queue of people waiting to get in, so it’s best to get there early and with a healthy appetite.
All the avocado
A recent addition to the De Pijp area, The Avocado Show (Daniël Stalpertstraat 61) is an all-avocado restaurant. Food is fresh, light and nothing short of amazing. It’s often full, but they don’t take reservations, so just jump in line.
A 10-minute walk from the Rijksmuseum/Van Gogh Museum, this is a good place to fill-up after a museum blitz.
Finger food and market treats
Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp area is a must-visit, especially on Saturday (closed Sundays).
Here you’ll find Amsterdam’s best local produce, meat, and street treats on one long street. If you have room, be sure to try the pickled herring, poffertjes (tiny pancake bites), hot toasties, kibbeling (battered and fried cod or whiting), and stroopwafel (caramel waffle cookies).
In the same neighborhood, De Pijp’s lively café scene is a great spot to enjoy a beer and try some Dutch finger food. You can’t go wrong with kaastengels (cheese cookies) and bitterballen (breaded meat and cheese bites) alongside your beer.
Just off Kalverstraat (shopping street), you’ll find the best Dutch frites at Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx (Voetboogstraat 33), with every topping you can imagine. Don’t be disheartened by the queue; they’re worth waiting for!
Where to stay in Amsterdam
For late arrivals and early flights out of Schiphol, we love the citizenM hotel at the airport. Overall, the hotel has a modern, sleek, and hip vibe, bringing together minimalism and convenience in a way that still feels a bit luxurious. We loved the automated check-in (not having to speak with cheery staff after a long-haul is a huge plus in our books), the café-style lounge, and the in-room tech to control lighting, sound, and TV.
As much as we enjoyed our time at this hotel we have one main caveat about the citizenM Schiphol: neither the toilet nor the shower are well separated from the rest of the room, meaning privacy is near non-existent. As such, this hotel is good choice for those traveling solo, and for couples who are really comfortable with one another. It’s not a great option for friends who want to share a room, or couples who are still in that ‘getting to know you’ stage.
Even if you don’t have an early or late flight that necessitates staying at the airport, we’d suggest the citizenM if you only have one night in Amsterdam as it’s just so convenient. You can arrive, drop your bag, and start exploring the city without having to spend time navigating to a city center hotel.
Other options to stay in Amsterdam:
- Hostels: There are so many hostel options, from posh to party, check out this in-depth guide to hostels in Amsterdamto help you decide.
- AirBnb: Amsterdam has a ton of AirBnb options, from apartments to rooms on a boat! Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Booking: There are literally thousands of options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
Amsterdam day tours
If you prefer to do any of the above with guides, or book in advance, here are some great options.
- Viator offers Amsterdam tours starting at $4.44, and also have a range from short options, skip the line tickets to full day tours.
- GetYourGuide lets you book anything in Amsterdam from canal tours and skip the line tickets to full day guided tours.
- Eating Europe offers several options for food tours in Amsterdam.
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