Amsterdam is a charming city that’s unlike any other, yet at the same time a fascinating blend of Europe’s best. World-class museums and galleries, historical treasures and culture merge here in the north. Yet despite Amsterdam’s big-name status, as the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, family-friendly and fabulous for walking around. Canals wind and weave their way through the city’s charismatic heart and bike riders pedal past at every turn. A lively and modern city with a village feel, there are many reasons to explore Amsterdam on your next European holiday. Here’s our top five.
There’s no denying that floating cities are magical. Considered the ‘Venice of the North’, Amsterdam has over 100 canals trickling through its historic streets, lined by beautiful elm and lime trees and connected by over 1000 bridges. A gliding tour of the canals is an absolute must. Cruise along on a barge, powerboat or rowboat, take a romantic candlelight cruise or opt for the glass-topped canal boat for the most spectacular city views. A leisurely wander or bike ride along the narrow streets lining the waterways is also wonderful – a fabulous way to soak up the relaxed city atmosphere and discover a few hidden gems around the sprawling canal network.
A historic city with a progressive attitude, when it comes to art, Amsterdam continues to revere both the traditional and the modern. One of the city’s most famous art attractions is no doubt the Van Gogh Museum, touting the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh works and personal letters. Rembrandt also holds a strong association with the city, and you can visit his 17th-century house and studio at the Rembrandt House Museum. Famous art abounds in the Rijksmuseum and Hermitage Amsterdam, and for contemporary riches, head to the Stedelijk Museum. For a more intimate glimpse at the flourishing modern art scene, there’s an abundance of innovative art galleries just waiting to be discovered, and art and photography events play out across the city throughout the year.
Amsterdam has the largest historical inner city in all of Europe, so you can bet there’s plenty to admire. Nearly 7,000 houses and buildings are protected as monuments here, including many grand and elegant homes built by merchants during Holland’s Golden Age. The district of Begijnhof is the oldest inner court, perched at the very centre of the city’s circular canal system and dating back to the 14th century. Don’t miss the Gothic-style grandeur of Oude Kerk, the city’s oldest church, where you can scale the tower for a view out over the historic skyline. Once you’ve wandered past the architectural delights of eras past, amongst which you’ll discover Amsterdam’s famed red light district, take some time to explore the 17th-century Royal Palace of Amsterdam, an intriguing blend of styles and stories.
Whether you’re looking to simply browse for cultural insight or to buy some unique souvenirs, Amsterdam won’t leave you empty-handed. With a market culture dating back to the early 18th century, there’s always a lively market somewhere on the cobblestone streets. A unique must-do is a trip to the colourful and aromatic blooms of the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market, founded in 1862. The city’s largest market, Albert Cuypmarkt, offers a traditional and multicultural market scene brimming with clothes, delicious local snacks, and food ranging from cheeses to spices. For a more typical shopping scene, the city centre is full of outlets ranging from budget to luxury, including plenty of book and antique shops.
Amsterdam is no stranger to museums. It’s packed with unique and world-class museums that will move, teach and entertain you – and there’s a great range of family-friendly options too. The Rijksmuseum is brimming with treasures of national art and history, including Rembrandt’s masterpiece Night Watch, Scheepvaartmuseum provides a fascinating nautical narrative, and the famous story of Anne Frank is as poignant as ever at the real life Anne Frank House. For history that’s interesting and fun, the older kids will love the surprising and ghastly discoveries inside the Amsterdam Dungeon, where a full cast play convincing roles from cackling witches to devilish torturers. Younger children might prefer the light-hearted interactive exhibits at the NEMO Science Centre.