One of the classic tourist destinations in Europe is the vibrant and entertaining city of Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands appeals to visitors no matter their interests, which is why people keep flocking there in record numbers. It’s an interesting place where you can find cannabis-selling coffee shops and the Red Light District as well as pretty canal scenery and waffles.
For a first visit, 3 days in Amsterdam is a great starting point as it allows enough time for you to experience the basics of the city. But to ensure you don’t overlook any of the best places to visit in Amsterdam, here is our detailed Amsterdam itinerary to show you around.
Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
With Amsterdam such a popular tourist destination in Europe, it’s not just weather you need to worry about when working out when to visit, but also overtourism.
Amsterdam is now one of the many European cities struggling with overtourism, which is at its height during the high season from June to August. Visiting in high season means large crowds of tourists in the city, which results in long lines for attractions, higher rates on accommodation, and less availability for tours and places to stay.
Instead, the best time to visit Amsterdam is in the months of April, May, September, and October. These months fall into what’s known as shoulder season, which is late spring and early autumn. At these times of year the weather is still quite nice and the level of tourists is much more manageable.
And while tourist numbers are at their lowest during the winter months of December through March, the high likelihood of cold, wet, and windy weather makes sightseeing pretty unappealing.
How to Get Around Amsterdam
When visiting Amsterdam you’re going to be moving all around the city as you sightsee. This means that it’s in your best interest to know your options for getting around. While there will be times when walking is perfectly fine, your feet are going to get pretty tired if you just try to walk everywhere.
Amsterdam, though, is a city famous for being bicycle friendly, so why not do as the locals do and get yourself some wheels? There are bike rental and bike tour companies all over the city, with rental periods ranging from just a couple of hours to 24 hours or longer.
Alternatively, you can rely on Amsterdam’s public transport network, made up of the metro, trams, and buses. The same ticketing system applies across the network and the cheapest ticket is the GVB 1 hour ticket which costs €3.20. Travel on trains and regional buses is only included in certain types of tickets, so be sure to check the fare conditions.
Recommendation: If you plan on using public transportation a few times a day and want to save some money (who doesn’t?), make sure to buy a day or a multi-day ticket which allows you unlimited travel on all GVB trams, buses, metros and ferries in Amsterdam. You can buy your ticket in advance here.
To get to the city center from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport you can take the train or bus. Frequent trains run from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station, with the journey costing €5.50 and taking just 15 minutes. Going by bus there are regular departures on the Amsterdam Airport Express, with the bus stopping at various places around the city center. The trip takes around 30 minutes and tickets cost €6.50.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Visiting any new city means working out the city layout and determining the best place to stay for your trip. Not only do you want to find a hotel or hostel that feels right for you, but you also want it to be in a good location. Staying somewhere close to attractions and restaurants, or at least somewhere with good public transport connections, can have a real impact on your visit.
So it’s worth understanding where the best places to stay in Amsterdam are before booking accommodation. Staying somewhere in the city’s Old Centre may seem obvious, but it’s close to much of the city’s nightlife and the Red Light District, which can put people off. In that case, areas like the Museum Quarter and Grachtengordel-Zuid are good picks as they’re close to attractions and a bit more relaxed. Another district to consider when looking at where to stay in Amsterdam is Jordaan, especially if you want more of a fun local feel to your visit.
For a really memorable stay in Amsterdam, go with the comfort and luxury of art’otel amsterdam. This exclusive 5-star hotel across from the main train station offers guests elegantly styled rooms and access to an all-day/late-night kitchen, bar, lounge, and library.
To strike a balance between comfort and affordability, consider staying at the Quentin Zoo Hotel. This 4-star hotel in the Plantage area features stylishly furnished rooms with useful amenities like a kettle and refrigerator.
If you just want somewhere simple and affordable, then ClinkNOORD is ideal. Located in the Overhoeks district near Amsterdam Centraal Station, has everything a backpacker could need, including a kitchen, library, and café. For other hostel recommendations in Amsterdam, see our dedicated Amsterdam hostel guide.
For more accommodation options in Amsterdam check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Amsterdam Itinerary
In Amsterdam you won’t have any trouble filling a few days with sightseeing. What’s difficult is working out how to experience the best of Amsterdam in just a few days. Unfortunately, the best things to do in Amsterdam are not all conveniently squashed into one part of the city. To really get the most from your visit you’ll want to travel right across Amsterdam, from the city center to neighborhoods like Jordaan, the Museum Quarter, and the Red Light District.
However, before we get to our Amsterdam itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $40 a month, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick quote below:
Moving on from that, let’s get to this Amsterdam travel itinerary. With it as your guide, you’ll understand exactly what to do in Amsterdam in 3 days to make the most of your trip.
Recommendation: Save time and money with the I Amsterdam City Card. With this card you not only get to visit Amsterdam’s world-class museums and attractions for free, but you also get to enjoy unlimited access to Amsterdam’s public transport, as well as a free canal cruise. Unlike many other city cards, the I Amsterdam City Card is an amazing value and we highly recommend buying it for your trip to Amsterdam.
Day 1 in Amsterdam
On your first day here it’s best to start with the city’s best-known attractions in and around the city center, before venturing over to the Jordaan neighborhood.
Begin your visit to Amsterdam by walking down Damrak Avenue, which runs through the center of the city. Walking from Centraal Station, you’ll soon reach the Damrak Waterfront, home to a row of gorgeous houses that almost look like gingerbread houses. This is just a taste of the wonderful scenery you’ll find all over the city, but it’s sure to get you in the mood for sightseeing. While the rest of the street is mostly restaurants and international chains, make sure not to miss the pretty little arcade passage off to the side called the Beurspassage.
Follow the Damrak for a while and you’ll soon reach the wide-open Dam Square. Essentially the city’s main square, Dam Square features several notable landmarks and it frequently plays host to events. The most notable landmark is the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, a massive residence of the Dutch Royal Family. You can learn more about the history of Amsterdam in the Dutch “Golden Age, and follow in the footsteps of kings and queens, on a tour of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam with an informative audio guide.
Facing the palace from across the square is the National Monument which commemorates those who died during World War II. Then there’s the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th century Gothic church that sits across a small side street from the palace.
Having seen the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church, it’s time to find its counterpart, the Oude Kerk or Old Church. Found in the city’s Red Light District, this church is actually the oldest building in Amsterdam and dates back to the 13th century. Although it’s undergone renovations over the years, it still has loads of character, including a completely wooden ceiling which makes it stand out. You can also climb up the church tower for some great views of the city, which can help you get your bearings early on when sightseeing.
Red Light District
Perhaps the most famous place in Amsterdam is the Red Light District, also known as De Wallen. Here you’ll come across sex shops, brothels, peep shows, and similarly focused museums. While it may not be for everyone, it’s worth taking a look to at least see what all the fuss is about. If you visit early in the day it’s likely not too busy. Have a walk around, and if you want to see it in full action, come back around nightfall. You can also book a guided walking tour of the Red Light District, if you are at all interested in the history of the sinful streets of the Red Light Quarter.
At this point you’ll probably have noticed that Amstedam has more than a few canals. It’s now time to go explore them and find yourself some typical Amsterdam scenery. It’s not just about the canals themselves though, it’s also the little bridges that cross them, and the iconic architecture of the buildings along the canals, that make Amsterdam such a delight to explore.
You also have options for how you want to see the canals of Amsterdam. The most special has to be seeing the city while you’re actually on the canals, whether you’re on a boat cruise or darting around in a pedal boat. Another option is to rent a bicycle so that you can stop off at pretty spots as you like. Or there’s the good ole fashioned approach of walking, which is sure to help you get your steps in for the day.
Anne Frank House
Switching gears a bit, it’s time to head for The Anne Frank House, a museum dedicated to Frank’s short life, her writing, and the families who hid in the annex during the Second World War. Put together by her father, Otto, the only member of the families who left Auschwitz alive, the museum is a moving and intense tribute to lives lost.
Please note that The Anne Frank House can only be visited with a ticket bought online for a specific time slot.
Recommendation: Take a walk through Amsterdam with a professional guide who will tell you about the city during WWII, through the eyes of Anne Frank, and share with you the complete story of those dark days. You can book this Anne Frank walking tour here.
From the Anne Frank House, you can hop across the canal and find yourself in the trendy neighborhood of Jordaan. This suburb has gone through gentrification in recent years and is now quite upscale and inviting. After a bit of a wander through its streets, you can settle in at one of the many cafes or bars for a bit before continuing on to any one of the equally diverse selection of restaurants. Really a great place to finish your day no matter what you’re in the mood for.
Day 2 in Amsterdam
Today, briefly return to the Old Centre of Amsterdam, before heading south to the neighborhoods of Grachtengordel-Zuid, De Pijp, and the Museumkwartier.
One spot in the city center you might have missed on your first day is the Begijnhof. Centered around a secluded courtyard, the Begijnhof is home to historic buildings and feels like a secret garden. In the past this was a housing complex for devoutly religious women, often unmarried or widowed, who wanted a communitys. As such, there are two churches immediately bordering the Begijnhof. While visiting, remain quiet to show respect for those who live in this complex of now private homes.
Heading south, your next stop is the delightful Bloemenmarkt. Holland is known for its flowers and canals, and this floating flower market combines the two. The market is found down on the Singel canal where florists have traded on barges since 1862. Although the barges are now permanent, seeing the vibrant displays of flowers within their mini greenhouses is still quite a vivid sight.
As a major European capital, you’d rightly expect Amsterdam to have its fair share of museums. One of the city’s most distinguished institutions is the Rijksmuseum, a national museum focused on arts and history. Housed inside a grand building from the 19th century, the Rijksmuseum boasts 80 galleries full of art and artifacts that tell the history of the Netherlands.
Often best known for its art collection from the Dutch Golden Age and pieces like Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s Night Watch, Rijksmuseum is definitely a museum you can lose several hours exploring.
Recommendation: Being Amsterdam’s most popular museum means that lines can get very long, so it really pays to buy your skip-the-line entrance tickets online in advance.
Van Gogh Museum
Among the city’s many museums, the other major one is the Van Gogh Museum which is dedicated to the famous Dutch painter. Inside this art museum you’re able to see works by Vincent van Gogh, as well as his contemporaries from the city. Unsurprisingly, it has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world, with over 200 paintings and over 500 drawings.
A short walk through Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter brings you to the massive Vondelpark. After some time indoors at the museums, walking through this beautiful park is a nice change of pace. Throughout the park are fountains, statues, and plenty of locals exercising and getting together.
Albert Cuyp Market
Markets always offer a nice insight into the local communities that make up a city and that’s exactly why you should visit the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp area. This lively street market has a strong multicultural feel to it, with all manner of things being sold. Within its 260 stalls you’ll also come across plenty of food for sale, including delicious, freshly made stroopwaffles.
To finish off your day, why not enjoy some “legal” weed at one of Amsterdam’s infamous coffeeshops. Not just an ordinary cafe, coffeeshops are stores where you can buy marijuana, joints, and edibles. If all you’re after is coffee, then it’s best to look for a koffiehuis, or cafe, instead. For recommendations on which coffeeshops to visit in the city, check out our backpacking guide to Amsterdam.
Recommendation: If you want to take an in-depth look into the world of cannabis in Amsterdam and learn about its legalization and history, consider booking this Cultural Ganja Walking Tour. On this tour you’ll discover the coffee shops that sell the highest quality, cheapest ganja, with cultural and historical discoveries. You can book this Cultural Ganja Walking Tour here.
Day 3 in Amsterdam
Although you could spend the rest of your 72 hours in Amsterdam continuing to explore the city, making a day trip may be a nice change of scenery. There are so many day trips from Amsterdam that are possible, but below are some of the most common ones.
While you may think the canals of Amsterdam are unbelievably pretty, wait until you see the village of Giethoorn. One of the classic day trips from Amsterdam, Giethoorn is often referred to as the “Venice of the Netherlands” thanks to its fairytale canals. You won’t really find roads in Giethoorn, with its canals connecting up the many cute cottages in this green village.
Of course, this all means that taking a boat ride is the best way to see Giethoorn. While you relax on the boat, you’ll be able to admire all the beautiful old cottages with their traditional thatched roofs.
But getting about by boat isn’t your only option, there are also footpaths and bicycle trails that will let you appreciate Giethoorn at your own pace. You can also take the time to learn about Giethoorn’s history by paying a visit to the Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus, a farm museum just outside the village.
Reaching other cities in the Netherlands from Amsterdam is pretty easy, with one of the closest cities being Utrecht. But being close by isn’t Utrecht’s only selling point, it’s also a university city with a rich history.
Start your day trip in the Domplein central square, home to Utrecht’s Cathedral and Dom Tower. After seeing the gardens of the Pandhof Domkerk, venture up the Dom Tower for its unparalleled views of the city and its melodic carillon. Back in the square you can also take a tour into the DOM Under, an underground display of Roman ruins. Next, it’s time to experience Utrecht’s own fantastic canals, beginning with a cruise along the Oudegracht.
If you’re looking for some culture, it’s best to head to the eclectic Centraal Museum, while the Miffy Museum about the picture book character is also pretty popular. Finally, as a university city, there’s no shortage of bars and cafes in Utrecht to help finish your visit, with plenty of options both along the canals and over in the University Quarter.
3. Zaanse Schans
One of the other most popular short day trips from Amsterdam is the village of Zaanse Schans. Not far from Amsterdam in the town of Zaandam, Zaanse Schans is a picture-perfect stereotypical Dutch village brought to life. If you were picturing windmills and clogs while planning your trip to the Netherlands, this village is for you.
Zaanse Schans was created when a collection of houses and windmills were moved there in the 60s and 70s. It now acts as an open-air museum of sorts, showing visitors what life was like in the Netherlands back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it’s not just about admiring this lovely historic scenery, as the past is brought to life there with traditional bakeries, cheese shops, and workshops.
You’ll also find more typical museums around Zaanse Schans detailing the history of the Zaans region and other parts of traditional Dutch culture. The main one is the Zaans Museum which is quite general, while more specific ones include the Zaandam Time Museum and the Bakery Museum.
You should now understand how much there is to explore and see of Amsterdam in 3 days. Spending any less time there is sure to mean you’ll miss out on something great. And you don’t want to miss out on seeing why Amsterdam is one of Europe’s best destinations.