Hop on your rental bicycle to explore the Old Masters, cutting-edge cafés, and picture-perfect canals of Amsterdam.
Founded in 1638, originally as a medicinal herb garden, Hortus Botanicus is one of the world’s oldest botanic gardens. This green oasis in the city has 4,000 plant species, such as wild orchids and huge palms, and one of the greenhouses is home to hundreds of tropical butterflies. The Orangery café is a charming place for a fixed-price three-course lunch.
Visit a goat farm, munch on Dutch pancakes, enjoy an aromatherapy massage, go bird-watching, or attend an open-air pop concert. No need to choose—you can do all of these things, and more, at Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest). The man-made forest was created between 1934 and 1964 and measures three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.
The expansive dune landscape at Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, located between Haarlem and the North Sea, is home to fallow deer, roe deer, squirrels, hedgehogs, rabbits, foxes, Scottish Highland cows, European bison, and a hundred species of birds. The park is 30 minutes away from Amsterdam by train or bus.
Sarcophagi and hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt, bronze and marble sculptures from Greece, and intricate mosaics from the Roman Empire are just some of the highlights from the collection at Allard Pierson Museum, which comprises 17,500 objects. The University of Amsterdam’s archeology museum is aptly housed in a former bank building.
World Heritage Site
Amsterdam is not nicknamed the Venice of the North for nothing, with 165 canals running a total length of 47 miles. They can be explored via a sightseeing cruise, canal bike, or rental boat. To learn more about the history and purpose of the grachtengordel (Canal District), visit the Museum of the Canals.
Famed for its acoustics and resident orchestra, the Koninklijk Concertgebouw (Royal Concert Hall) was opened in 1888 and stages 800 concerts annually. Every Wednesday (except July/August), a free lunchtime concert in either the Recital Hall or Main Hall is followed by a guided tour in English (€10), which takes you behind the scenes.
Best Day Trip
Popular day trips include Monnickendam, Marken, and Volendam. Lesser known but equally enticing is Waterland, or “rural Amsterdam,” with its typical Dutch landscape of meadows and dikes, hamlets with wooden houses and medieval churches, and sweeping views across the former Zuyderzee. Cycling from Durgerdam to Broek in Waterland will teleport you a few centuries back in time.
Off the Beaten Path
The canal houses from the Golden Age take all the attention, but Amsterdam also has its own distinctive style of modernist architecture: the Amsterdamse School with its wildly imaginative sandcastle-like structures sculpted in red, brown, and yellow bricks. You will find them scattered across town, but the perfect place to start is Museum Het Schip.
Most Iconic Attraction
Suitably named Museumplein (Museum Square) offers three world-class museums. Gaze at Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” at the Rijksmuseum, admire “Sunflowers” and “The Potato Eaters” at the Van Gogh Museum, or head to the Stedelijk for Picassos and Pollocks. The newcomer is the private Moco Museum, featuring Warhol and Banksy. Get your tickets online and arrive early to avoid queues and crowds.
The wartime story of a Jewish girl hiding behind a bookcase for more than two years is well known around the world. Although the rooms in the Secret Annex are diminutive, the Anne Frank House attracts 1.2 million visitors a year, making it Amsterdam’s most visited historic site. The queue can be literally a mile long; purchase your tickets online before you travel.