Are you planning a trip to Amsterdam? The capital of The Netherlands is even more famous than the country itself. But what is Amsterdam best known for?
Amsterdam is known as a liberal and bohemian city in The Netherlands. Famous for its canal belt, flower market, canal houses, coffee shops, Red Light District, LGBTI scene, and party scene. And world-famous museums like Anne Frank House, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. People live in houseboats and use bicycles as their primary form of transportation.
We are from The Netherlands. Although we live in another city, Amsterdam is one of our favorite cities to visit when we’re in the country. So let us tell you everything that Amsterdam’s known for, great things to do, the best time to visit, and how to get around.
Famous Highlights of Amsterdam
The vibrant city of Amsterdam has a lot of famous highlights that are all great for a visit. In the next part, we’ll tell you more about these highlights. We divided the highlights into different chapters, so it’s easier to get to know the details of the city.
In chapter City Highlights, we tell you more about the characteristic buildings and neighborhoods of the city. Amsterdam Famous Museums is a complete museum guide of the museums in Amsterdam. In the part of Amsterdam’s Famous Party Scene, we tell you more about the unique and liberal party scene that Amsterdam is famous for, with festivals like Amsterdam Dance Event and the world-famous Canal Pride. We’re ending this article with more information about the best time visit and the easiest way to get around Amsterdam.
City Highlights of Amsterdam
The city of Amsterdam developed into a metropolis since the 17th century. When the Dutch were a major country in maritime trade, and many working immigrants came to Amsterdam to find jobs, housing, and a better future.
Amsterdam has always been a liberal city, accepting people from different cultural backgrounds. The historical center still shows perfectly how they built and expend the city in just a few hundred years.
The heart of the city center consists of many canals. Keizersgracht, Prinsegracht, Herengracht are the main canals of the canal belt. The smaller canals are all connected with at least one of these three main canals. Since 2010 the Amsterdam Canal Belt is officially listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Amsterdam dug out the canal belt during the 17th-century. The main reason was to make sure the city could keep growing and developing. To provide fast transportation for working-class people to the harbors, and transport for different import and export products.
Also, the canal belt provides in a water-defense system, to protect the city of rising waters from the sea and rivers. Amsterdam is, just like a big part of The Netherlands, a few meters under sea-level. The city is around 2 meters below sea level (Other parts in The Netherlands are 7 meters below sea level!). So it was important to keep the city safe for the constant threat of changing water levels.
Because of the extensive canal belt, a lot of people refer the Amsterdam as Venice of the North. It is unique to go around with a boat on a guided tour and explore the city from the water!
Canal Houses & House Boats
Alongside the canals, you’ll find over 1500 monumental buildings. A lot of these buildings are unique canal houses. These 17th-century buildings were built to house the working-class people. At the main canals, you’ll also find many old warehouses.
The smaller canals have a lot of buildings with smaller houses. These buildings were housing for the working-class people in the 17th-century. When you look at the buildings at the main canals, you’ll notice that these are much larger, with luxury facades and more windows. The owners of the companies and more wealthy families lived in these houses.
Today, the canal houses are trendy and expensive. A canal house (Grachtenpand in Dutch) can easily cost around 1 million Euros or more. Depending on the current state of the house.
Walking along the canals, you’ll notice a lot of old cargo ships that look like a house. These are the famous houseboats. You’ll find over 2500 houseboats in the canals of Amsterdam.
In almost every large Dutch city, you’ll find houseboats in the canals. These boats became popular after the second world war. When the war had ended, there was a shortage of safe housing. Many buildings were still damaged and not safe to live. A solution to this problem was to built houses on old cargo ships. These ships have a flat bottom where you could quickly build something on top.
Today the houseboats are very popular. The city stopped with new permits for the boats because there’s a lack of space. Many people rent out their boats via Airbnb so tourists can experience how it is like living on a boat.
A great way to stay in Amsterdam! Use our link when it is your first time using Airbnb to get a discount at your first booking.
Red Light District
Everyone who has heard of Amsterdam has at least once heard about the Red Light District. A part of the city where prostitution is legal. Not on the streets though, but in brothels. The liberal city of Amsterdam has several Red Light District areas. The most famous area is in the heart of the historical center. Also known as De Wallen.
The area thanks its name to the red lights that light up the windows where prostitutes doing their work. It is one of the safest areas in the city to walk around because of the constant video and police surveillance, and private bodyguards working at different brothels.
Changing the Red Light District
Since a few years, Amsterdam tries to change the identity of the Red Light District. A lot of brothels are closed or didn’t get a renewal of their permits. To prevent vacancy in the area, they allow pop-up stores and artists to showcase their work.
So walking around the Red Light District today is a unique mix of prostitutes, brothels, and modern art. Kind of the bohemian vibe Amsterdam is known for! 😉
The Netherlands is known for its liberal way of dealing with cannabis. Some countries are even more progressive and legalized the use of marijuana in certain conditions. However, the Dutch are still known for their unique way of dealing with this industry.
The Dutch government has a toleration policy regarding the use and selling of marijuana. For shop owners, it is legal to sell, but it’s not legal to buy their stock. It is a grey area that stimulates illegal trade. Still, it is a million-dollar industry in The Netherlands.
Customers can legally buy and smoke the products in the shops. So you’ll find many shops in the city where you can enjoy this. These shops are known as Coffeeshops. You can buy coffee, though, but that’s just a side product of the business. The term coffeeshop is more a friendly name for the shops, so the shopowners meet the terms of the Dutch toleration policy.
Don’t let it fool you when you’re only looking for a fresh cappuccino. You might end up somewhere else while walking into a Dutch Coffeeshop! 😉
Traditional neighborhood: Jordaan
Some of the most traditional neighborhoods in the historical center of Amsterdam are Jordaan and De Pijp. In these neighborhoods, you’ll find the authentic Amsterdam culture.
Jordaan area is the neighborhood that the city first built when Amsterdam was growing rapidly in the 17th-century. There was a housing problem because of the immigrants and working-class people trying to find a job in Amsterdam.
The city quickly built canal houses along the side canals of the main canal belt. Making sure that the working class could easily reach the docks where they needed to work. Over time, the Jordaan area, developed in a true folk-neighborhood. Because the houses were relatively small, people often came outside and together in small bars and cafes. Talking and singing about their everyday lives.
Today Jordaan is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Housing prices are one of the highest in the country. You’ll still find many traditional cafes where you can enjoy the unique folk music and authentic Amsterdam culture.
A great thing to do in Amsterdam is visiting Jordaan with a guided tour and learn more about the history of the popular neighborhood in Amsterdam.
Traditional Neighborhood: De Pijp
De Pijp area, close to Jordaan, is also known as a popular and authentic neighborhood in Amsterdam. However, the district is much younger and rapidly built-in the 19th century, also to cope with the fast-growing city. De Pijp is also an authentic folk neighborhood where Amsterdam accommodated the working class in the 19th century. Similar to Jordaan, De Pijp became very popular in the last decades. It is almost impossible to find cheap and affordable housing today.
Walking around De Pijp, you’ll get to know the authentic Amsterdam. The most famous Dutch folksinger, Andre Hazes, lived in De Pijp. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. But his songs are still played in the Dutch cafe.s. His son, with the same name, walks his footsteps nowadays and became one of the most popular folksingers of this time.
A unique thing to do while visiting De Pijp is to bring a visit to the Albert Cuyp Market, an open-air market where you can buy all sorts of products. In the middle of the market, you’ll find a statue of old André Hazes.
The first brewery of Heineken, which is now a museum, The Heineken Experience, is also part of De Pijp neighborhood. A must visit when you like beer and want to learn more about one of the largest export products in The Netherlands.
When you talk to sport-minded people about Amsterdam, they probably will say that you’ll need to visit a game of Ajax Amsterdam. The most successful football team in The Netherlands, both on a national and international level.
In recent years the football club has new international success and even won from massive teams like Juventus, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munchen.
One of the best football players the world has ever known, Johan Cruyff, who was a Dutchman, played the most significant part of his career for Ajax Amsterdam. Today his still renowned for its football skills and vision about the game. After he passed away in 2016, the club renamed its stadium into the Johan Cruyff Arena.
The national flower of The Netherlands is the tulip. A flower that came to The Netherlands during the 17th-century and was popular from the start. Tulips and other flowers grow perfectly because of the Dutch climate. So Dutch entrepreneurs started with growing and trading flowers. Building an international business was quite straightforward during the 17th century, because of the large global trade network of the Dutch Eastern Company.
The Dutch flower also became very popular in The Netherlands itself. Since 1862 the flower market at Singel in Amsterdam grew rapidly. You can still visit the traditional flower market today, which is a great thing to do!
The famous Tulips and flower trading were so popular at one moment they created even the first economic bubble in the world, known as Tulipmania.
We wrote several articles about the flowers and tulips which might interest you.
When you want to know more about Tulipmania and the history of the flower industry, read our article Why is The Netherlands Famous For Tulips?
Flower Fields near Amsterdam
Close to Amsterdam. Between Amsterdam and The Hague, you’ll find the Bulb Region (Bollenstreek in Dutch). This region has many flower farmers, and between April and May, you can visit the beautiful flower fields. During this period, the bulbs are flourishing. Walking around these flower fields is like walking around a sea of flowers with amazing bright colors and lovely perfumes.
In this region, you also find the world’s biggest flower garden: Keukenhof. A unique garden with over 7 million bulbs planted each year. Keukenhof is the best showcase of the Dutch flower industry, and a must-visit when in Amsterdam.
Both Keukenhof and Flower Fields are best to visit between April and May when the flowers are blossoming. Keukenhof only opens every year between this period.
Are you interested in visiting Keukenhof and the Flower Fields? Read our article What is Keukenhof Famous For? Where we explain the best way to experience this unique flower garden
Amsterdam Famous Museums
The city of Amsterdam is famous for having some of the best museums you’ll find in the world. There’s something to find for every art and history lover. In the next part, we tell you all about the different museums that are worth a visit while in Amsterdam.
Anne Frank’s House
Probably the world’s most famous museum that’s remembering the second world war. Anne Frank, famous for the diary she wrote at the age of 15 when she was hiding for Germans during the war.
The house where she hides for several years is now a museum; Anne Franks’s House, which Located in the heart of Amsterdam in the Jordaan Area. Visiting this museum, you can experience the way she lived and how life was for the Dutch during the war.
Visiting the museum is very popular. It is recommended to buy your tickets in advance, to make sure you can enter the museum when you want. More information is to find on the museum’s website.
The most famous museum in The Netherlands is Rijksmuseum, also known as the National Art Museum. The museum offers some of the best works of the renowned Dutch artists from the 17th century, like Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Rembrandt’s famous painting Night Watch is the most famous painting that is on display in the Rijksmuseum.
Rijksmuseum is also a top-rated and busy museum to visit. It is recommended to buy your tickets in advance while visiting the museum. You can find the latest information on the museum’s website.
van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, the world-famous Dutch painter. He’s known as one of the most influential painters of the 19th century. He painted over 2000 different paintings in his unique style. Van Gogh died at the young age of 37 from suicide after he suffered years of depression and mental illness.
The van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has the world’s largest van Gogh collection on display. A unique visit to learn more about the works and life of this unique artist.
Find the latest information about opening hours, current exhibitions on the museum’s website:
When you are interested in learning more about the history of Amsterdam, and get to know the plans of the city, make sure to visit the Amsterdam Museum.
The museum offers a unique timeline for the development of Amsterdam. Starting in the late middle ages and ending with the new future plans.
Amsterdam Museum is the first museum in The Netherlands that stopped using the term Golden Age to describe the 17th century when the Dutch Eastern Company was one of the most influential maritime trade companies in the world. The museum says that the term Golden Age does not honestly describe this period because it was also a period of slavery, war, and human trade. It is essential to not only highlight the good things the Dutch did during this period.
Find the latest information about current exhibitions on the website of the Amsterdam Museum:
Visiting the house where the famous Rembrandt used to live? The Rembrandt House Museum is the place where you want to go. They offer an extensive collection of his works, and you can learn how he lived and work back in the day.
A unique historical art experience! Make sure to check the latest information about the exhibition and opening hours on their website before visiting the museum.
NEMO Science Museum
Are you traveling with kids to Amsterdam? The Nemo Science Museum is one of the best museums you can go to. Offering a unique exhibition where you and the kids can learn more about science. Not only how science changed the world since the industrial revolution, but also the new developments that are changing the world today!
It’s an excellent experience for young and old!
Find the latest information about their new exhibitions on their website;
National Maritime Museum Amsterdam
Interested in Dutch maritime history? The National Maritime Museum is one of the most notable maritime history museums in the world, according to its official website.
It is a unique museum with a massive exhibition where you can learn more about maritime life during the golden age period. Old ships, navigation instruments, and some of the oldest maps in the world are on display in the museum.
It is a great museum to visit, also when you’re traveling with kids. I remember visiting the museum when I was a kid, and we had a great time! There are a lot of interactive things to do in the museum.
Sometimes opening hours and exhibitions change over time, so make sure to check the latest information on their website;
Tropical Museum Amsterdam
One of the oldest museums in Amsterdam, located in one of the unique buildings of the city. The Tropical Museum is all about connecting the cultures in the world. Learn about the differences and also similarities of people worldwide. Fascinating museum to visit.
Their exhibitions are constantly changing, so make sure to check their website to see what is on display while you’re in Amsterdam.
We highlighted the most famous museums in the city. These are just a few museums that are interesting to visit in Amsterdam. Earlier, we already told you about Heineken Experience, which is also fantastic for a visit!
The list of museums in Amsterdam is almost endless!
Some other musea that you should consider visiting while in Amsterdam:
- Madame Tussauds Amsterdam Wax Statue Museum of Famous People
- Body Worlds Amsterdam Insight Look into the Human Body
- Resistance Museum Amsterdam About the Dutch resistance during the Second World War
- Museum of Bags and Purses All about the history of fashion bags and purses
- Foam Photography Museum Unique Photography museum about the history of photography.
- Eye Film Museum Museum dedicated to the Dutch Film Industry
- Moco Museum of Contemporary Art
Amsterdam Famous Party Scene
The liberal city of Amsterdam is worldwide known for its party scene. When you think of the party scene in Amsterdam, you think of house music, trance, techno, and all the other electronic dance music niches. Amsterdam was one of the first cities in the world where Electronic Dance Music (EDM) became popular. The Dutch DJs belong to the best DJs in the world.
It is not only EDM that Amsterdam is famous for. The city also has several renowned concert halls, like Melkweg and Paradiso. Places where world-famous artists performed.
Amsterdam is also famous for its liberal LGBTI scene, which started decades ago. Even during the 17th century, the city was as a progressive city. During the 90’s decade, Amsterdam was home to one of the most progressive dance clubs in the world IT. Not only because of the new and unique music that DJs performed in the club, but also because it didn’t matter what your sexual preferences were: Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Hetero, or something else. Everyone could be human and have a great time. Like it should be.
Best Festivals and Events in Amsterdam
The thriving party scene of Amsterdam is best measured by looking at the festivals and events organized in the city every year. Annually there are over 300 different events taking place in Amsterdam. Many of them are related to Electronic Dance Music. When you take a look at the national festival calendar, you’ll notice that there are even more festivals organized. The amount probably triples when you look at the whole country.
The list of all the events and festivals taking place in Amsterdam every year is too long, so we highlighted some of the major festivals which we think are great to visit while in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE)
This festival is taking place in October. For a period of one week, there are different Electronic Dance Music events throughout the city. Amsterdam Dance Event is one of the most important showcase events regarding EDM in the world.
Not only different parties with the world’s best DJs are taking place during this week, but also different conferences for concert promoters and workshops for starting DJs and many other activities. A great event to attend when you want to visit a unique club night or dance event, but also when you work in the EDM scene and want to use this event for new contacts.
Amsterdam Pride Festival
In many cities of the world, Pride Festivals taking place to celebrate the LGBTI scene. Amsterdam is one of the most famous editions in the world for this festival. Amsterdam Pride Festival is a week of celebrations with different events. The event has also conferences where they want to create awareness about the violence some people still have to deal with because of their sexual orientation.
The highlight of the Amsterdam Pride Festival is the Canal Pride. A festival with a procession of many boats in the Amsterdam canal belt, people all celebrating the LGBTI scene. This unique festival is hard to describe with words, better watch this video:
On the 27th of April, The Netherlands celebrates the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. This day is a public holiday, and almost the whole country dresses up in orange to celebrate this day.
Kingsday is a unique experience, and a must-visit when you are in The Netherlands during this day. Many people are visiting Amsterdam to celebrate Kingsday in the city, which transforms the city into one big festival, where you can find parties everywhere.
The most important thing to remember: dress up in orange and have some fun!
Are you planning to celebrate Kingsday? We wrote an article about Kingsday in The Netherlands, where we tell you all about the best way to experience this unique Dutch day; What is Kingsday in The Netherlands?
These are just a few annual festivals of Amsterdam. In our article Best Time to Visit The Netherlands, we also highlight some other festivals in the city and country which you might find interesting.
Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
Amsterdam is year-round, a perfect destination to visit. However, between October and March, the Netherlands gets a lot of rainfall on average. And also temperatures are getting quite colder. December until February are the coldest months with an average temperature of 41 Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).
Visiting Amsterdam in the period between April and September is the best time to visit the city. During these months you’ll have a good chance of comfortable weather. During the summer months, it can be tropical hot! And the best cultural festivals like Kingsday, Liberation Day, and Pride Amsterdam are taking place in this period.
During this period, it is also more convenient to combine your visit to Amsterdam with other cities in The Netherlands, like The Hague, Utrecht, or Rotterdam.
Are you looking for more information on how to plan your Dutch Itinerary? We wrote the article How Many Days do You Need in The Netherlands? which is a four-day itinerary for The Netherlands. You’ll find some helpful tips in the article!
Another article you might find interesting is The Best Time to Visit The Netherlands. Where we explain more about the best period to visit The Netherlands and different cultural events.
How to Get Around Amsterdam
Getting around Amsterdam is straightforward. It is excellent to walk around the historical city center, with its narrow streets and unique canal belt.
When you’re staying in the center of Amsterdam, it is not recommended to rent a car. The city is busy, and parking is difficult and very expensive. Instead, we recommend using public transport or renting a bicycle to get around the city.
Public Transport Amsterdam
The public transport network in Amsterdam is excellent. There’s a metro line, several trams, buses, and ferry’s that are connecting every part of the city. Also, you’ll find several train stations around the city. Taking a train in The Netherlands is convenient when you want to hop from one city to another.
To find the latest information about public transport in Amsterdam we recommend that you use the website of the Amsterdam Public Transport Company (Gemeentelijk Vervoersbedrijf – GVB in Dutch):
When you’re traveling outside the city, for example, to visit a different city like The Hague, to go to the beach or if you want to visit the flower fields, we recommend using a different platform.
9292ov.nl is the Dutch public transport platform with the latest information on all public transport in the country. We always use it when traveling with public transport in The Netherlands. It is the best online travel planner you can use.
Public Transport Card
When traveling with public transport in The Netherlands, you are obligated to use a public transport card. In most cities, it is only possible to use public transport using the OV-Chipcard.
Sometimes it is also possible to buy 1-day tickets, but these are more expensive most of the time. The downside of these single-use tickets is that you can only use them at individual companies. So a day ticket bought in Amsterdam is only valid at public transport in Amsterdam. You can’t use it while traveling to another city or using the train.
The OV-Chipcard is valid at every public transport company in The Netherlands. Make sure that there’s enough money on the card to travel around.
Best Places to Stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam offers many different accommodations. When you look at Booking.com, you’ll notice that over 1900 listings are available for Amsterdam.
These listings are constantly changing, so it is hard to recommend the best places to stay. Which is also depending on your preferences. How long you are traveling and if your traveling with a group or other travel buddies.
Booking.com is our go-to search engine for hotel and apartment bookings. We love the fact that you can see the latest customer reviews on different accommodations. We recommend you to use Booking.com as well. Make sure to look for accommodation that gets a recent customer review of 9.0 or higher. It is also important to look at how many reviews an accommodation gets, so you know if the score is consistent.
You can use the below the search field, which redirects you to Booking.com or take a look at our recommendations page where we explain more on how to book the best hotels, rental cars, and travel insurance.