I asked myself that question long before I arrived there. I had a plan for a month-long spring trip to Europe and decided to make Holland my first stop. After an extensive research, I devoted two days to the city and another two for day trips in the area. I approached the task with one thought, no running around to see everything! I carefully selected top attractions interesting to me but had a flexible approach even to that. After all, traveling is not about checking things off the list, it is about immersing yourself in new experiences.
Where is Amsterdam, Netherlands?
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, located in northwest Europe. Belgium is to the south and Germany to the east, with the North Sea bordering this country in the north and west.
Geographically, Holland is a very low country. About 26% of its area is located below sea level and only about 50% is exceeding three feet above it. For centuries, Dutch have been building canals for travel, irrigation, and water removal. Eventually, the canal system in Amsterdam became one of the country’s most quintessential features.
Plan your Amsterdam Itinerary.
Choose a good time to visit Holland, and start with a list of top Amsterdam attractions. Pick four that are most important to you, and split them between two days. Find and circle them on the map. Mark other attractions on your route with a question mark. You can add them as you go if time allows.
How to Visit Amsterdam – Day One – Canal tour
When you visit Amsterdam in two days or any other length of time, a boat tour of the city’s waterways should be the top thing to do. The Canal Ring is located right in the center of Amsterdam. Touring options include hop-on, hop-off boat tours and themed canal cruises that serve food and wine.
With 65 miles of ancient canals, Amsterdam’s Canal District forms the vibrant heart of the city with its shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and theaters. The area’s 400 old history and unique architecture have placed it on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Why See Amsterdam from the Water?
Cruising city’s canals is the best way to get a feel for Amsterdam’s quaint 17th-century buildings and picturesque curved bridges. It is an excellent introduction to the UNESCO-listed canals.
The hop on, hop off canal bus is the easiest way to take in Amsterdam’s biggest attractions. And you can do it at your own pace. Step aboard boats that operate along Amsterdam’s canals and track the tour routes of the Green Line and Orange Line. Choose between a 24- or 48-hour pass, and get on and off at 7 to 9 stops as often as you like.
This cruise takes you through all the famous canals and past all the famous museums of Amsterdam, like the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House. It also makes stops at Rembrandt Square and the bustling Albert Cuyp Market.
Canals are not just a unique attraction, they are a way of life in Amsterdam where water covers more than a quarter of its surface. A large part of the city’s population lives in houseboats right in the canals.
Traditionally, people of Holland do not use any blinds on their window. That applies to houseboats too. You will get up close and personal with the way that the locals live.
How to Visit Amsterdam – Day Two – Your Own Walking Tour of Amsterdam
Yes, Amsterdam may feel like a water city, but you will still find a lot of ground to cover on foot. You can pack many attractions into your walk or follow my footsteps to enjoy the city at the slower pace.
Why See Amsterdam on Foot?
It is free! And because it is your personal tour. You are fully in charge of your itinerary and can adjust it whenever you feel like. Only while walking, you can stumble upon things that trigger your curiosity. You are exposed to details that would not be visible to you otherwise.
Despite rather complicated plan of the city, navigating in Amsterdam is not very difficult. At all major intersections, you will find posts showing directions to most popular attractions.
But let’s not be too optimistic, you will get lost! This is your chance to meet the locals…. ask for directions. English is widely spoken. Also, when walking you have an excuse to stop for a bite to eat or a drink. Food is nothing to brag about but Dutch beer is excellent!
Know before your walk!
When visiting Amsterdam, you will quickly notice that virtually every street has a cycling lane. Pay attention to them or you will be run over! Everyone who has been to Amsterdam knows how the Dutch bike: fast, without slowing down while ringing their bike bell. You really need to be aware of your surroundings to safely navigate the city.
What to See in Amsterdam on Your Walking Tour
For the walking tour, I decided to concentrate on Amsterdam’s famous painters and see whatever else comes my way.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
Van Gogh is my favorite painter. I devoted the most part of my day to explore his art and his life. The museum maintains the world’s largest collection of his paintings, drawings, and letters, complete with the art of his contemporaries.
It holds the largest Van Gogh collection in the world: 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters organized chronologically into five periods: The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers-sur-Oise.
Van Gogh was a unique artist. When you think about genius, you often imagine someone who knew his calling since childhood, not someone who in search of his identity just made a decision to become a painter at 27, and eventually made it happen.
In just over a decade, Van Gogh created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. His paintings grew brighter in color as he developed a style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles, France. His work is characterized by bold colors and dramatic brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art.
It was also interesting to learn about the painter’s younger brother, Theo. They were extremely close, exchanging countless letters over the years. Theo helped financially support Vincent, so he could dedicate his life to creating art. Despite his brother’s mental and financial assistance, Vincent committed suicide at 37 after years of mental illness and poverty.
Rembrandt House Museum
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history.
For twenty years, the artist lived and worked in the heart of Amsterdam. With a seventeenth-century inventory as a guide, his house has been refurbished with furniture, art, and objects from that time. The museum has an almost complete collection of Rembrandt’s etchings and stages inspiring exhibitions.
It seems that an entire section of Amsterdam close to the house is devoted to the artist. Near Rembrandt Square, one of the busiest squares in the city, you will find his impressive statue and many other reminders of his work.
The square is surrounded by a variety of shops and restaurants as well as a number of bars and nightclubs. It is a very popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
Streets, Markets, Cafes, and People Watching
That is my favorite part of traveling, just walking around with no destination in mind. Getting a feel what the place is about in real life, not spoiled by a status of an official attraction. After a long day of educational experiences, what can beat sipping a Heineken and watching people of Amsterdam walking by or zooming through on their bikes?
Did you know that the Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of beer? It is known for its pale lagers, especially Heineken and Grolsch, which are well-known brands that are exported around the world. In Amsterdam, you can add Heineken Experience to your itinerary for your drinking pleasure.
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Are you traveling with kids? Check out 7 Fun Things to do in the Netherlands with Kids.
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