Scenic canals, picturesque Renaissance-style buildings and the infamous Red Light District... For anyone who's never been to Amsterdam, the city's reputation precedes it. But while what you've heard is mostly true (including those coffeeshops), there's a whole lot more to the Dutch capital than meets the eye. Whether you're planning an Amsterdam city break or a road trip around Holland and Belgium, it's definitely worth including 'The Venice of the North' on your itinerary.
What to see and do
- Admire the architecture: Amsterdam is home to some of Europe's finest architecture. The best place from which to observe it is Museumplein square, where you'll also find most of the city's well-known museums - including a large collection of Van Gogh's art, the house where Rembrandt used to live, and the world-famous Anne Frank museum, dedicated to the plight of the Jews during the Second World War.
- Go cycling: One of the most popular and fun ways to explore this compact city is by doing it the way the locals do - by bike. Fun fact: There are more than 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam (that's more than the number of people!) Cycling is truly an integral (and safe) part of the lifestyle here, and Amsterdam constantly tops lists of the world's most bike-friendly cities.
- Catch a canal cruise: The canal belt in Amsterdam is UNESCO-protected, which gives you an idea of how important it is to the cultural heritage. Get a glimpse of the city from a different perspective by hopping on one of the canal boat tours that operate around town. There are plenty of options, from hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours to romantic candlelit dinner boats.
- Wake up and smell the tulips: If you happen to be visiting the Netherlands in the springtime, a trip to the nearby tulip fields (Bollenstreek) is practically obligatory. You'll be blown away by the colourful stripes of flowers stretching out for miles.
Day trips from Amsterdam
If you're in Amsterdam for more than just a fleeting visit, consider discovering some of the historic towns and attractions outside the city. Just a few miles away you'll find postcard-perfect countryside, sandy beaches and those iconic windmills. The university city Leiden, which is just under an hour away by car, is home to a couple of awesome museums including the Naturalis Museum. Head to Zaanse Shans to get up close and personal with the aforementioned windmills!
Every year on the 27th of April, the locals of Amsterdam take a day off work to celebrate the King's birthday. King's Day is actually the busiest day of the year for Amsterdam, so if you're visiting then, be prepared for lots of crowds and a lively, buzzing atmosphere. Best of all, everyone dresses up in orange (the official Dutch colour) clothes and accessories, turning the whole city into a sea of colour.