From the sinful to the sinfully good, discover the top things to do in Amsterdam

Flowers in front of canal, Amsterdam

You know how you have an image of a place in your mind before you go? And often when you get there, it’s not at all how you imagined? For me, Amsterdam was exactly what I had expected. Canals, stroopwafels, the smell of weed, and cyclists… Amsterdam really did live up to it’s stereotypes, but in the best of ways. 

2 days is enough time to explore the quirky capital, though you could easily stay longer. Buckle in for a chocka-block guide to all things Amsterdam. From the Van Goph Museum to the Red Light District, the best brunch spot to where to get your Dutch windmill fix, there’s a lot to get excited about. Read on for the top 10 cool things to do in Amsterdam. 


1. Visit the Bloemenmarkt

In the city of sin, let’s start with something a little more wholesome, shall we? 

For a unique experience in Amsterdam make sure to check out the floating flower markets. Known by locals as Bloemenmarkt, the flower markets were first established in 1862 when florists would sail barges into the city centre to sell their wares. 

Today the barges are fixed but the small market is no less impressive. Take your time wandering the stalls and admire the tulips on display – they come in literally every colour of the rainbow. Along with cheese, windmills and clogs, tulips are quintessentially Dutch, and they make for a great photo opportunity.

Red, purple and pink tulips Amsterdam

2. Try a Stroopwafel (or three)

Not gonna lie, the thing I was most excited for in Amsterdam wasn’t dodging cyclists or admiring the canals. Nope, the thing I most wanted to do was try a stroopwafel. (But to be fair, I do think trying stroopwafels should absolutely be on the list of top things to do in Amsterdam).

You may have seen drool-worthy videos of stroopwafels on your Facebook feed. You know, those gooey, caramel coated wafer cookies often coated with marshmallows, candy or chocolate? While the cookies are traditionally made without the toppings, they’re pretty damn delicious any way you have them.

For a more modern take on the stroopwafel and a choice of toppings ranging from nuts and salted caramel to M&Ms head to Van Wonderen Stroopwafels. Lanksroon offers a slightly more conventional stroopwafel. If you can, try and snag a table. The views from the tearoom across the Singel canal are lovely.

Row of stroopwafels with toppings, Amsterdam
Hand hold stroopwafel in front of canal, Amsterdam

3. Admire Van Gogh’s Masterpieces

Amsterdam is home to a host of impressive museums and art galleries. My favourite* (*the only one I went to) was the Van Gogh Museum. Seriously though, this art gallery is defs one of the coolest things to do in Amsterdam.

Home to the largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world, the Van Gogh Museum displays more than 200 paintings by the tortured artist. Not having known a lot about Van Gogh (besides the ear thing), I found it fascinating to observe the artists progress and how he developed his famous impressionist works. As well as paintings and drawings by Van Gogh the museum also houses works by other artists from the 19th century – artists who inspired him and those who drew inspiration from him. 

Tickets to the Van Gogh Museum are €19 and it pays to book your tickets in advance so you don’t miss out. 

4. Go back in time in Zaanse Schans

While I didn’t find Amsterdam as overwhelming as I thought I would (despite nearly being run over by cyclists everyday), it’s always nice to escape the city and explore a little further afield.

If you’re short on time in the Netherlands but keen to explore more than just Amsterdam, consider making a day trip out to Zaanse Schans. Zaanse Schans is a neighbourhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, located an easy 45-minute bus ride from Amsterdam. The town is famous for its well-preserved windmills and houses which were relocated to Zaanse Schans in the 60’s and 70’s.

As well as the windmills and cute houses, Zaanse Schans offers a range of cultural activities. From tasting cookies from a bakery where the servers are in 18th century dress, to exploring a factory where clogs are made, Zaanse Schans offers a peek into the Amsterdam 200 years ago. 

Ok sure, it’s a little schticky. The town is overrun with tourists, and it’s hard to get a great shot of the windmills. But if you can get into the spirit of it (and if you’re less adverse to crowds than me), then Zaanse Schans makes for a great day out. It’s a little more kid-friendly than some of Amsterdam’s attractions, at least.

Row of windmills across the water
Colourful wooden clogs, Amsterdam

5. Get a little spacey

Ok friend, I’m pretty straight laced. I’m not really a drug girl, but hey, when in Amsterdam, right?

Me being me, I did a lot of research into where to find the best space cakes in Amsterdam. I mean there’s over 250 licensed coffeeshops in Amsterdam, so there’s a lot of choice. But for real, I researched where to get high. 

Anyway, from experience I can recommend 420 Cafe. Located a short walk from the Red Light District, 420 Cafe offers a laid-back vibe and selection of edibles. Their chocolate cake was delish, though maybe a little stronger than you think at first…

6. Browse at Albert Cuyp Market

Another cool thing to do in Amsterdam is to visit the iconic Albert Cuyp Market.

Located in Amsterdam’s hip De Pijp neighbourhood, Albert Cuyp is a great place to spend a few hours browsing. The market sells pretty much anything you could think of, from shoes and luggage to fresh produce and fish. My favourite (of course) was the numerous street food stalls. If you’re feeling peckish it’s a great place to grab a fresh Vietnamese spring roll, or taste another stroopwafel at the Original Stroopwafels stand.

The market is open every week from Monday-Saturday.

Albert Cuyp Market with coloured flags, Amsterdam

7. Brunch at Betty Blue

Got the munchies? 

Coming from New Zealand (the home of brunch) I always end up a little disappointed trying brunch in other countries. I mean, how hard is it to make a good smoothie and corn fritters, ya know?

Still, the brunch scene in Amsterdam has exploded in recent years, and it’d be rude not to, right? Betty Blue was a pleasant surprise. Located a little outside the city centre, Betty Blue offers a mouthwateringly good menu (including a stack of 9 pancakes). The food was so good, in fact, that we ate there twice. Food has always been one of my favourite parts of travel, and brunch in Amsterdam is definitely something you shouldn’t miss. 

8. Get educated in the Red Light District

It’s famously touted as one of the top things to do in Amsterdam, but what’s the Red Light District actually like?

Honestly, it’s weird. De Wallen, one of the most famous red light districts in Amsterdam is lined with brothels, sex shows and rows of windows with prostitutes offering their services. And while it’s fascinating to see, and I admire the liberal Dutch attitude, it’s still an odd tourist attraction. At night the streets are thronging with people, and despite numerous signs, tourists still insist on sneakily taking photos of the ladies at work.

If you want to go (you should; it’s an interesting attraction), be respectful. The prostitutes are just trying to do their jobs, and you standing gawking at their window isn’t gonna help them land a customer. Despite what you may think, the Red Light District is perfectly safe, and is a bustling area of Amsterdam’s city centre.

9. Dig a little deeper at Red Light Secrets

Want to know a little more about the fascinating history of prostitution in Amsterdam? Why not check out the world’s first prostitution museum, Red Light Secrets?

Located in De Wallen inside a former brothel, the museum offers a look into a world rarely seen. Check out the rooms behind the windows, read personal stories from real prostitutes and discover the secrets of the oldest profession in the world. It’s a little more titillating than your average museum, that’s for sure. 

Tickets to Red Light Secrets start from €10. 

10. Wander Amsterdam’s Pretty Streets

Amsterdam really might be the prettiest capital in Europe. With it’s endlessly picturesque canals, flowers and grand old buildings, almost every street in Amsterdam provides an epic photo opportunity.

Make your way into the old part of town and check out the Oude Church, an ornate 13th century church, now a centre for contemporary art and heritage. Take your time discovering Amsterdam’s canals. For a great shot of the canals framed by buildings, bicycles and flowers Lekkeresluis bridge is a good bet. A short walk away Melkmeisjesbrug (AKA the Milk Maid’s Bridge) is another iconic photo spot. 

Flowers in front of old building, Amsterdam

Amsterdam is an endlessly cool city, and it knows it. There’s a huge list of things to do in Amsterdam, from the sinful to the sinfully good. While you’ll never see it all in one trip, this list is a pretty good place to start. Get exploring!

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10 Cool Things to do in Amsterdam
10 Cool Things to do in Amsterdam