When my friend from university, Ashish, contacted me mid-December to see if we could meet up in January during his planned Euro trip, I knew it would be the perfect chance to travel to a new European destination. While we could have met in Germany, the lure of seeing a new city won out. Technically I had been to Amsterdam before as a kid during a family trip, but I didn’t recall much other than some delicious Gouda sampling, a tour of a diamond factory, and my sister’s wooden clog purchase. It was time to reacquaint myself with the Netherlands’ capital.
S and I made plans to meet Ashish for 2.5 days during the first week of January. During that time I wanted to fit in as much culture and sightseeing as possible. Though I wish we had a little more time to just stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere of the city rather than race from place to place, I now have a great excuse to return to Amsterdam another time to enjoy the city at a more relaxed pace now that I’ve seen the key sights.
I’ve put together a summary of the top sights we visited in the city that I can definitely recommend to you.
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam. Not only is it the largest museum in the country housing over 8,000 works of art but it is also the most visited museum in the Netherlands. See works by Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer in the Gallery of Honour on the top floor and marvel at the biggest and oldest historical art library in the Netherlands, the Cuypers Library.
Van Gogh Museum
The second most popular museum in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is also a must-see when visiting the city. We initially put the Van Gogh Museum on our ‘if we have time’ list, but I’m so glad we decided to visit in the end. The museum features over 200 works by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and many paintings by his contemporaries. See several of Van Gogh’s self-portraits, his early works like The Potato Eaters, his famous Sunflowers painting, and many more.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is a biographical museum and the former residence of young writer Anne Frank and her family. During World War II, Anne, her family members, and four other people hid from Nazi persecution in a Secret Annex at the rear of a 17th-century canal house. The museum details the life and times of Anne Frank and guides visitors through her family’s secret living space before they were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. See Anne Frank’s famous diaries, photos of the family before the war, and historical documents about the Franks. I found the entire museum experience to be incredibly moving; I absolutely recommended visiting this important sight during your time in Amsterdam.
Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt)
The Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) in Amsterdam is the world’s only floating flower market. Dating back to 1862, the 15 houseboat flower stalls call back to the days when the market was supplied with flowers every day by boat. Despite being the ‘Flower Market’, what you’ll mostly find here are flower bulbs (especially tulips) and other souvenirs as opposed to huge bouquets of fresh, fragrant flowers. Yes, the market is a little kitschy and crowded, but lovely to see all the same.
Albert Cuyp Market
Located along both sides of Albert Cuyp street in the neighbourhood of De Pijp, the Albert Cuyp Market is the largest and most popular market in the Netherlands. Here you can find all kinds of fresh produce, cheese, flowers, fish, spices, clothing, and much more. It’s a great place to sample some local Dutch specialties like freshly made stroopwafels and herring at stands sprinkled throughout the market.
Rembrandtplein, one of the busiest squares in Amsterdam, is named after the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn. In the middle of the square, you’ll find a statue of Rembrandt himself. In celebration of Rembrandt’s 400th birthday in 2006, bronze statues of the figures in his most famous painting, The Night Watch, were displayed below the statue of Rembrandt in the square. After a three-year world tour, the figures have returned to Rembrandtplein, much to the delight of visitors. Tip: Check out The Night Watch painting in person at the Rijksmuseum before heading to Rembrandtplein – see if you can recognize the figures!
Amsterdam Light Festival
To my delight, I discovered that the annual Amsterdam Light Festival was taking place during our visit to the city. The themed winter festival runs from early December to mid-January every year and features light installations created by artists all over the world. The light works light up the streets and waterways of the city and can be seen by boat or on foot depending on your desired route. We took an open-air boat trip with a lively skipper who gave background info about each piece. Huddled under fleece blankets with glasses of hot chocolate and mulled wine in our hands, our Water Colors boat trip on the canals of Amsterdam was the perfect way to start our trip.
As I mentioned above, our trip was fairly short so there’s much that we didn’t see. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Amsterdam Museum, the sweeping view from the Central Library, and the neighbourhood Jordaan which are all at the top of my list to explore during my next visit to Amsterdam.
I’ve included a map below of my recommended sights to help you plan your own sightseeing in Amsterdam.
What are your favourite sights in Amsterdam? Which top sights should I make sure to see during my next visit?