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Visiting Amsterdam for the first time?

There are so many things to do in this large city that a few days’ stay is not enough. It will therefore be wise to focus on the center of this bustling tourist destination especially if you are just staying over there for the weekend break.

Loaded with picture-perfect neighborhoods and worthwhile activities even just around the central station, there is no need to feel as if you’re missing out on things. In this post, we shall give you a shortlist of best things to do in Amsterdam central in order to make your first time one for the books.

Best Attractions and Things to Do in Amsterdam for First-Time Visitor

Amsterdam is the commercial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. What started out as a fishing village is now a world-class city consequently regarded as one of the best locations to live and work. It is characterized by its numerous canals, historic establishments and bike-friendly roads.

View of 15 Bridges in Amsterdam

Its society is comprised of multicultural residents and frequent travelers, making the city a true melting pot of many influences from around the globe. One visit to this popular destination and you are sure to fall in love with the lifestyle and the freedom you can only get from the boundless beauty that is Amsterdam.

There are a couple of things you need to know before your trip to Amsterdam, and while we cannot possibly exhaust every single item you have to keep in mind, you must know that (1) the weather is almost unpredictable; (2) cyclists are everywhere; and (3) there’s a HUGE difference between a cafe and a coffeeshop.

Mistakes are inevitable, yes, especially when it’s your first. However, it doesn’t hurt to read well in advance to avoid being embarrassed or unprepared in public! Well – let’s save this for another post, shall we? Here’s a couple of things that every new visitor must do when exploring Amsterdam central.

1. Experience the canal cruise 

No visit to Amsterdam is complete without seeing the beauty of the city cruising around the Amsterdam canals. It is one of the most popular Amsterdam tourist attractions and I would highly suggest it to anyone who is the first time visiting the city. 

Amsterdam Central Station

You can typically catch the canal cruise at the docks right in front of the Amsterdam Centraal station. The cruise has an audio guide that prompts automatically in various points of interest and best places to see in Amsterdam along the canal routes.

The canal cruise will pass by the famous Bridges of 15 Bridges. This is the only spot in the city where you can see multiple bridges crossing the canals of Amsterdam. Definitely one of the Instagram worthy places in Amsterdam.

2. Visit various Dutch museums in Museumplein

Another best way to experience the beauty of Dutch culture is through their arts. A visit to the main hub of arts and culture in the city is the Rijksmuseum. You can find various Dutch artefacts and extraordinary art treasures from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and many more.

Museumplein in Amsterdam

Just across on the other side of the Museumplein is the famous Van Gogh Museum. It is the home of the majority of the paintings and other life memorabilia of the world-famous and talented painter Vincent Van Gogh. I highly suggest that to pre-booked your museum tickets in advance even if you are getting a tourist city card.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Photo: Jan Kees Steenman | Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Oh! A visit to the Anne Frank museum in also a must. See the life of a Jewish girl during the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam. 

3. Explore the Adult entertainment of the  Red Light district

Every time someone will mention Amsterdam, the Red Light District is probably one of the top 3 things that will come to mind, next to cheese, cannabis and canals. 

I must say that there are more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District, however it is a novelty Amsterdam attractions for adults. It is an interesting place to visit for a first-time visitor to the city. Amsterdam nightlife here is very busy! One of the most favourite destinations when it comes to Stag and Hen parties.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam

The history of the Red Light District began back in the 15th Century mainly for the sailors that normally docks at the busy maritime hub of the city. The district provides adult entertainment through various adult shows, museums ( the Prostitution Museum and the Sex Museum) and the services from the working girls of Amsterdam.  

You can see hundreds of door size glass windows as you walk along the streets of the district. As a Code of conduct in the Red Light, it is prohibited to take any photos of the working girls to avoid a hefty fine.

4. Have an adrenaline rush at the A’dam Lookout swing

Located at the back of Amsterdam Centraal Station is the Amsterdam tower where the highest swing in Europe is located.  

Amsterdam Noord

Swing away all your fears and enjoy the adrenaline rush! You can see the whole Amsterdam skyline from this vantage point. Oh boy! It’s breathtaking! If you have the IAmsterdam card, you can use it to visit the Adam tower.

5. Go on a Dutch food trip

Make your mouth water and try various gastronomical treats in Amsterdam. It is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam Cheese

Top of our list is the warm and freshly baked stroopwafel and Dutch pancake, a perfect match with your coffee.  Fries is a staple Dutch food! You can find all sorts of delicious potato-based snacks in any food shops dotted around Amsterdam Central.

6. Visit a coffee shop but not to drink coffee

Cafe and coffee shops are two different things in the Netherlands. Most especially in Amsterdam, where coffee shops extremely popular places to visit in Amsterdam.  

Bulldog Coffee shop in Amsterdam

A coffee shop is one of the popular Amsterdam attractions. However, people go here not mainly to have you typical coffee catch up but it is a known place where you can try anything cannabis.  As it is legal in the Netherlands to use cannabis. Use it in moderation and with caution as always, it is advisable not to do this on your own. You have been warned!

7. Snap the insta-worthy shot on a canal bridge and Amsterdam Centraal Station

We’re all for that best Amsterdam experience, activities and visit as much tourist attractions in the city. Take Instagram worthy photos around the city! Other than your typical slim and tall house by the canal here are some of my suggestions: 

While exploring the best places in Amsterdam, go ahead and snap a quintessentially Amsterdam photo on a canal bridge (any canal bridge!) or if you are up for a walk go visit the Skinny bridge! It is one of the oldest bridges of Amsterdam.

Skinny Bridge crossing river Amstel in Amsterdam

A picture outside the Amsterdam Centraal station is another top Amsterdam activities that I would recommend. This iconic building that will welcome you to the city has an intricate design and definitely a landmark of the city.

Amsterdam Centraal Station

8. Visit other awesome Amsterdam Neighbourhoods

After you’ve exhausted our list of things to do in the city, are you still wondering what to see and do in Amsterdam?

You can try to visit other great Amsterdam neighbourhoods. They are less busier than Amsterdam Centraal and you get to experience more of the authentic Dutch way of living.

Artis Zoo in Amsterdam

Try to visit Amsterdam Noord, NSDM, De Pijp and Le Plantage. You will absolutely love the vibes and there are plenty of activities for couples, friends and even the family-friendly ones! I wrote another blog post about various Amsterdam neighbourhoods.

More posts about Amsterdam Central

If you are looking for a Netherlands travel inspirations read more of these posts:
IAmsterdam Review: Is The City Tourist Card Worth It?
Best Things to do in the Hague (Den Haag), Netherlands
Best Attractions and Things to do in Maastricht, Netherlands

Read more inspirations about the Netherlands

Looking for more inspirations on other destinations, you can visit our WORLD DESTINATIONS page.

Amsterdam city vibes are truly filled with energy and fun!  Hence it is one of the most visited cities in Europe. No matter what season of the year it is, it is always the best time to visit Amsterdam! 

Have you been to Amsterdam?
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