If you don’t have long in this amazing city I hope this will give you some ideas of what to do and take in the old, new, touristy and not-so-touristy.
I’ll try and give rough timings so you can see that it is actually possible to do all this in one day.
If you’re travelling to the centre by tram then be sure, first of all, to go as far as the central railway station which is a spectacular piece of architecture and well worth a few photos in itself.
From there it is a short walk towards Dam Square along Damtrak, where you may want to take in a light breakfast. After breakfast, let’s say by now it’s about 10am, make your way back towards the station down to the waterfront and choose your barge for your first activity.
A TOUR OF THE CANALS
To be fair, no self-respecting tourist visiting Amsterdam for the first time would miss a chance to explore the miles of canals that this city is renowned for. The commentary on board will also give an idea of the history and point out some of the famous landmarks.
Your canal trip will normally take about 1 – 1 1/2 hours so you’ll be disembarking back at the waterfront by about 11.30. Then it’s a short walk down Damrak, again to Dam Square where you will see the imposing Koninklijk, the former residence of the Dutch royal family.
Take a short walk then to Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Not as seedy as it sounds, the Dutch are far more liberal in their outlook than many other European countries, the Red Light district is an attraction in itself as the scantily clad ladies pose in the windows at all times of day and night. This is a short walk and generally, you won’t want to be hanging around for too long so allow probably 15-30 minutes for this!
From here it is a short walk past the Old Church to a charming and really fascinating building that sheds light on Amsterdam’s religious history.
This amazingly preserved 17th-century merchant’s house overlooking the canal is an object lesson in how to ‘do’ a museum. The audio tour takes you through a brief history of why the church was built in the attic ( in the 17th Century when Holland gained independence from Catholic Spain and became largely Protestant, it was forbidden for Catholics to practice their religion. But in true tolerant Dutch style, the authorities overlooked Catholicism as long as the churches weren’t visible or clearly churches.Hence the need to build them in the attics of houses).
The audio tour takes you through the house of a 17th-century merchant into a spectacular attic church which spans the entire roof space. Allow about 1- 1/2 hours for this fascinating and good value ( 10 euros when I went) tour.
Walk back now towards Dam Square and after all that walking you may want to take in a pancake from one of the many pancake restaurants that are on offer. Try a sweet or savoury one, on our visit I opted for bacon, banana and chillies! Not as bad as it sounds and actually pretty tasty. Allow maybe 30 minutes for this.
After a quick pit stop to refuel make your way from there on to the charming houseboat museum on Prinsengracht only a short walk away. (https://www.houseboatmuseum.nl/
This enchanting visit will give you a marvellous insight into how people live on houseboats and what use is made of every available space. The visit will only take about 30 minutes ( houseboats aren’t that big) so you have plenty of time to make your way to your next stop.
Our visit to this most famous of sights in Amsterdam took place at about 4.30 pm because believe me YOU HAVE TO BOOK IN ADVANCE. Don’t turn up on the day expecting to walk in. You are allowed in on a strict appointment basis and with good reason. This museum is quite exceptional. Everyone will be aware of Anne Frank’s tragic story and the house where it all took place is so beautifully preserved, it is spellbinding.
It is certainly hard to comprehend that where you walk, the walls you touch and the windows you look through are the same ones that the Frank family saw for all those years as they hid from the Nazi invaders.
This tour is exceptionally well done and you should expect to take at least two hours as you walk around the whole house and stop to take in the exhibition at the end of the tour.
By now, probably feeling a little exhausted after racking up goodness knows how many steps you will be ready for a sit down and something to eat. Dam Square is an obvious choice being packed with decent restaurants and pavement cafes, but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and throngs of tourists then it may be worthwhile digging deep and taking one more walk to Rembrandtplein, maybe 10 minutes from the centre. This is an altogether different experience, not as crammed as the centre and with a more bohemian and authentic feel. Again there are many cafes and restaurants where you can sit and eat and watch the world go by. By that time, after a day packed with activity you will be ready to sit, put your feet up and enjoy a slap-up meal.
From there, hopefully full of food and great memories of your short time in Holland’s capital you can make your way back to your hotel, ready for your journey home.
If you’ve any suggestions for future visits then please feel free to leave a comment below.