One of the classic tourist destinations in Europe is the vibrant and entertaining city of Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands appeals to visitors of all 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 world-class waffles.
For a first visit, 3 days in Amsterdam is a great starting point, allowing 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 being 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 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.
Winter isn’t ideal either. While tourist numbers are at their lowest during December through March, the high likelihood of cold, wet, and windy weather makes sightseeing pretty unappealing.
Instead, the best time to visit Amsterdam is in April, May, September, or 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.
How to Get Around Amsterdam
When visiting Amsterdam, you’ll be moving all around the city for sightseeing, so it’s in your best interest to know your options for getting around. While walking is perfectly fine at times, your feet will get pretty tired if you try to walk everywhere.
Amsterdam is a famously bicycle-friendly city, 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 a couple hours to a full day – sometimes even longer!
Alternatively, you can rely on Amsterdam’s public transport network, comprising the metro, trams, and buses. The same ticketing system applies across the network; the cheapest ticket is the GVB one-hour pass at €3.20. Only certain ticket types include travel on trains and regional buses, so check the fare conditions before buying.
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.
You can take the train or bus to the city center from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Frequent trains run from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station, with the journey costing €5.50 and taking just 15 minutes. The Amsterdam Airport Express bus also departs frequently, stopping at various places around the city center. The bus trip takes around 30 minutes and costs €6.50.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Visiting any new city means studying its layout and determining the best place to stay. You want to find a hotel or hostel that feels right for you and is in a good location. Staying somewhere close to attractions and restaurants – or at least somewhere with good public transport connections – can greatly improve your visit, so it’s worth figuring out the best places to stay in Amsterdam before booking accommodation.
Staying somewhere in the city’s Old Center may seem obvious, but it’s close to much of the city’s nightlife and the Red Light District, which puts some people off. If that’s your case, areas such as the Museum Quarter and Grachtengordel-Zuid are good picks, as they’re close to attractions but a bit more relaxed. Another district to consider when you’re looking at where to stay in Amsterdam is Jordaan, especially if you want more of a fun local feel to your visit.
For a truly memorable stay in Amsterdam, go with the comfort and luxury of Art’otel Amsterdam. This exclusive five-star hotel across from the main train station offers elegant rooms and access to an all-day and late-night kitchen, a bar, a lounge, and a library.
To strike a balance between comfort and affordability, consider staying at the Quentin Zoo Hotel. This four-star hotel in the Plantage area features stylish rooms with useful amenities, including a kettle and refrigerator.
There are also plenty of beautiful places to stay on Airbnb. For recommendations take a look at our list of the best Airbnbs in Amsterdam.
If you just want somewhere simple and affordable, ClinkNOORD is ideal. Located in the Overhoeks district near Amsterdam Centraal Station, this youth hostel has everything a backpacker could need, including a kitchen, library, and cafe. 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
You’ll have no trouble filling a few days with sightseeing in Amsterdam. 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 crammed into one part of the city. To 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.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
SafetyWing is, of course, not the only option available. Two other popular alternatives are World Nomads and Heymondo.
Moving on from that, let’s get to our 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 Go City Amsterdam Pass. With this card you not only get to visit Amsterdam’s world-class museums and attractions for free, but you also get to enjoy a free canal cruise. Unlike many other city cards, the Go City Amsterdam Pass is an amazing value and we highly recommend buying it for your trip to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 1
On your first day, start with the best-known attractions in and around the city center before venturing over to the Jordaan neighborhood.
Begin your Amsterdam visit 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 homes 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, don’t miss the Beurspassage, a pretty little arcade passageway off to the side.
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 frequently hosts large events. Its main landmark is the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, a massive residence of the Dutch royal family, which you can visit 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, or New Church, a 15th-century Gothic cathedral that sits across a small side street from the palace.
Now that you’ve seen the New Church, it’s time to find the Old Church, or Oude Kerk, in the Red Light District. This is actually the oldest building in Amsterdam, dating back to the 13th century. Although it’s undergone renovations over the years, it still has loads of characteristic features, including a completely wooden ceiling.
You can even climb up the church tower for some great views of the city, which can help you get your bearings early on for sightseeing.
Red Light District
Perhaps the most famous place in Amsterdam is the Red Light District, or De Wallen. Here you’ll come across sex shops, brothels, peep shows, and similarly focused museums. While it’s not for everyone, it’s at least worth a look to see what all the fuss is about. If you visit early in the day, it’s usually not too busy. Have a walk around, and if you want to see it in full action, come back around 10 p.m. 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.
Canals of Amsterdam
By this point, you’ll probably have noticed that Amsterdam has more than a few canals. It’s time to go explore them and find yourself some signature Amsterdam scenery. It’s not just about the canals themselves; it’s also the little bridges that cross them and the iconic architecture of the buildings along the water that make the area such a delight to explore.
You have several options for how to experience Amsterdam’s canals. The most special has to be seeing the city while you’re actually on the canals, whether you’re taking 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. Of course, there’s also the good old-fashioned approach of walking; with so much to see, you’re sure to get your steps for the day!
You can book a day time canal cruise here and a dinner canal cruise here. If you’ve purchased the Go City Amsterdam Pass the boat cruise is included for free.
Anne Frank House
Switching gears a bit, head for the The Anne Frank House, a museum dedicated to Anne’s short life, her writing, and the families who hid in the annex during WWII. Assembled 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 undergone some changes in recent years and is now quite upscale and inviting. After wandering its streets, you can grab a drink at one of the many cafes or bars, then find a dinner spot among the equally diverse restaurants. Whatever you’re in the mood for, Jordaan is a great place to finish your day.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 2
Today, briefly return to the Old Center of Amsterdam before heading south to the neighborhoods of Grachtengordel-Zuid, De Pijp, and the Museum Quarter.
One spot in the city center you might have missed on your first day is the Begijnhof. With a serene courtyard at its center, the Begijnhof is a complex of historic buildings that feels like a secret garden.
This was once a housing complex for devoutly religious women, often widowed or unmarried, who wanted a community. This is why you’ll see two churches bordering the Begijnhof. While visiting, remain quiet out of respect for those who live in the 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, the canal where florists have traded on barges since 1862. The barges are now permanent fixtures, with vibrant displays of flowers in their mini greenhouses.
As a major European capital, Amsterdam has its fair share of museums. One of the city’s most distinguished institutions is the Rijksmuseum, a national museum of arts and history. Housed inside a grand building from the 19th century, the Rijksmuseum boasts 80 galleries of art and artifacts that tell the history of the Netherlands.
Best known for its art collection from the Dutch Golden Age, including Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” Rijksmuseum is somewhere you can easily spend 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. If you intend on visiting other museums or paid attractions it might make sense to purchase the Go City Amsterdam Pass instead and save some money.
Van Gogh Museum
Among the city’s many museums, the other major one is the Van Gogh Museum, dedicated to the famous Dutch painter. In this art museum, you can see works by Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries from the city. Unsurprisingly, it has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world – over 200 paintings and over 500 drawings.
Related: How to Buy Tickets to the Van Gogh Museum
A short walk through the Museum Quarter brings you to the massive Vondelpark. After you’ve spent 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, which is exactly why you should visit the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp area. This lively street market has a strong multicultural feel and sells all manner of things. Within its 260 stalls, you’ll come across plenty of food for sale – including fresh stroopwafels, delicious waffle cookies filled with caramel.
To finish off your day, why not enjoy some legal weed at one of Amsterdam’s infamous “coffeeshops”? Not just ordinary cafes, Amsterdam coffeeshops are stores where you can buy marijuana, joints, and edibles. (If all you’re after is coffee, 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.
Amsterdam Itinerary: Day 3
Although you could spend the rest of your 72 hours in Amsterdam continuing to explore the city, a day trip could be a nice change of scenery. There are so many possible day trips from Amsterdam that are possible, but we’ve listed some of the most common ones below.
If you think Amsterdam’s canals are unbelievably pretty, wait until you see the village of Giethoorn. One of the classic day trips from Amsterdam, Giethoorn is often called “the Venice of the Netherlands” thanks to its fairy-tale canals.
You won’t really find roads in this green village, with its canals connecting the many cute cottages. Of course, this means a boat ride is the best way to see Giethoorn. While you relax on the boat, you can admire all the beautiful old cottages with their traditional thatched roofs.
But a boat isn’t your only option for getting around. The various footpaths and bicycle trails let you appreciate Giethoorn at your own pace. You can also learn about Giethoorn’s history at the Museum Giethoorn ’t Olde Maat Uus, a farm museum just outside the village.
You can book a guided day tour to Giethoorn here.
Reaching other cities in the Netherlands from Amsterdam is pretty easy, with one of the closest 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 at Domplein, the central square that houses St. Martin’s Cathedral and Dom Tower. After seeing the Pandhof Domkerk, or Dom Church Gardens, venture up the Dom Tower to experience its unparalleled views of the city and hear its melodic carillon.
Back in the square, you can take a tour of DOMunder, 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, head to the Centraal Museum to see its eclectic art collection. The Miffy Museum – about the picture-book character created by Dick Bruna – is also pretty popular, especially for families with young children.
Of course, as a university city, Utrecht has no shortage of bars and cafes where you can finish your visit, with plenty of options 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 the stereotypical Dutch village of a postcard brought to life. If you’re 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 to Zaandam in the ’60s and ’70s. It now acts as an open-air museum of sorts, showing 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: The past is brought to life with traditional bakeries, cheese shops, and workshops.
You’ll also find more typical museums around Zaanse Schans, detailing the history of the Zaan region and other parts of traditional Dutch culture. The main one is the Zaans Museum, which provides a general overview, while more specific ones include the Zaandam Time Museum and the Bakery Museum.
You can book a guided day tour to Zaanse Schans here.
There you have it – the perfect Amsterdam itinerary. You should now understand how much there is to explore and see of Amsterdam in 3 days. If you spend any less time there, you’re sure to miss out on something great. You don’t want to miss out on seeing why Amsterdam is one of Europe’s best destinations.
What about a day trip to Leiden from Amsterdam. Pilgrim things to see?
Kevin Aylward says
Day 3 is way! too ambitious. Giethoorn alone can take a day. Utrecht is a full day, for sure. Then you throw in Zaanse Schans for good measure! Wow…I’m tired just thinking about that day trip. But as an expat live here…Ik hou van Nederland!
Thanks for your comment Kevin. You are not supposed to do all three destinations on day three, just one. We only listed three so people can pick and choose the best option for them.