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Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam: A Culture Lover’s Guide

My adventure in Amsterdam continues! Hopefully, you've read my tips on preparing to visit Amsterdam and where to stay & eat in Amsterdam. This post is all about fun things to do in Amsterdam. You'll notice that most of these Amsterdam activities are indoors. The truth is that we spent much of our 5-day stay in Amsterdam dodging rainfall. We snuggled in booths, explored museums, and strolled canals under umbrellas. Hopefully, you'll have better weather when you visit Amsterdam. Either way, you should definitely consider adding these fun things to do in Amsterdam when planning your Amsterdam adventure.

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Does Amsterdam Have Any Culture?

Now, I don't know about you, but I can still remember hearing friends in college boast about their trips to Amsterdam. Many came home with tales of debauchery, but few spoke of actual substance (other than the mind-altering sort). Their stories of what to do in Amsterdam left me wondering if going Amsterdam was just one big party?

Prostitution, legal drugs, and all-night dance parties don't sound all that appealing to me. When planning our trip to Amsterdam, I came across several Amsterdam travel guides by fellow travel blogger's Amsterdam and was left wondering: does Amsterdam have anything else to offer visitors?

So, I went to Amsterdam on a mission. I wanted to prove that going to Amsterdam isn't just for 18 to 21 year-olds. And what I found was a laundry list of fun things to do in Amsterdam for culture lovers. This post is designed to help you decide what to do in Amsterdam. Use these suggestions to start planning your Amsterdam adventure.

Amsterdam's Famous Canals

Overall, I have to say that the most enjoyable thing to do in Amsterdam was walking the beautiful streets along the famous canals. We spent hours wandering through the cobblestone streets, up and down the canals, and through the various districts.

The canals were built as part of residential developments in the 17th Century, the Golden Age of Amsterdam. Urban planning made it possible to grow while also maintaining the city's water needs and defense.

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Designed in concentric circles, the famous canals of Amsterdam are connected by a series of bridges which now make it possible for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to move about in this city of islands. The canals also make for excellent photography subjects.

Amsterdam's Many Museums

Amsterdam has long been one of the major art capitals of the world. And with the terrible weather we had during our visit to Amsterdam, it didn't take much convincing for us to venture indoors to enjoy the world-class museums.

Anyone visiting Amsterdam should definitely consider purchasing the Iamsterdam City Card. The savings pass offers free admission to several popular museums, a canal cruise, and free public transportation! We used our savings pass to explore the following museums.

The Rijks Museum

The Rijksmuseum is considered by most as THE museum to visit in Amsterdam. It’s located next to I Amsterdam, a famous piece of public art that's perfect for selfies. The museum and the iconic art piece attracts nearly 1 million tourists per year. So, be prepared to line up, even during the off-season.

The Rijksmuseum is HUGE and filled to the brim with important works. Although I’m not a huge fan of early Dutch painting, I can see the value it brings to later styles of painting. I am, however, a fan of Rembrandt, and seeing his works up close was incredible. His lively brush strokes almost leap from the canvas. And his use of light and contrast captures my attention every time.

But by far my favorite thing in the Rijksmuseum was the 17th Century dollhouses. Once owned by affluent Dutch families, the dollhouses on display in the Rijksmuseum give you an idea of what true wealth could provide in the height of Amsterdam's Golden Age. The attention to detail and craftsmanship was amazing. Imagine playing with those things!

The Van Gogh Museum

Across the square from the Rijksmuseum sits the Van Gogh Museum. This modern museum offers a nice juxtaposition to the Rijksmuseum, with airy spaces and brightly-lit corridors. But the paintings were, of course, the star of the show. Well-organized and thought-provoking, the museum tour begins with Van Gogh's earliest works and moves forward in time through an extensive collection of his paintings.

The curation gives you a greater appreciation for Van Gogh’s style as you watch it develop over the years. I really enjoyed the immersive aspect of the museum's curatorial style, but I’m also a huge fan of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Getting to see the originals of many of my favorite works was a true highlight of our Amsterdam adventure.

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The Hermitage Museum

Another great Amsterdam museum was the Hermitage Museum. Located on the banks of the Amstel River, the Hermitage is a sister institution of the larger Russian museum in Saint Petersburg. Artistically displayed and carefully curated, the collection of Russian art on display at the Hermitage is simply beautiful. Seeing these works helped me realize exactly why I don’t care for in early Dutch painting: the lack of color.

The dreamy pastel blues, pinks and greens found in most of the Russian masterpieces is exactly what I hope to see when I think of European painting. Soft-lines, beautifully dressed figures, and dancing lights make these paintings worth your time and money. Once again, the museum's decor and design added to the experience. The classic Dutch building that houses the Hermitage museum lends grandeur and style to the historic artifacts inside.

The Anne Frank Museum

Far and away the most incredible part of my entire visit to Amsterdam was the Anne Frank Museum. The experience is transformative and should not be missed. Transfixed by the story of young Anne Frank and her family, you wander through the home looking for signs of life. Being in the empty corridors and rooms once occupied by Ms. Frank is haunting.

You could almost feel the fear and hatred these walls contained so many years ago. The stark, unfurnished spaces put your imagination in charge. Silence fills the space where furniture once stood. In addition to the home, the museum downstairs is well designed and thoughtful. It truly adds value to the experience, something that can't always be said.

Pro Tip: Tickets sell out in the busy season, so be sure get your tickets in advance!

Shopping in Amsterdam

Some readers may already know that I love shopping for vintage and artisan goods while traveling. But, I’ll admit, I didn’t do much shopping in Amsterdam.

It's not for lack of planning either. I spent hours building a Google map of vintage shops I wanted to visit while researching our trip (see below). Unfortunately, there just wasn’t time for me to do the kind of shopping I normally do.

For those that don't know me well, you could say I'm a treasure hunter. When I travel, I'm always on the lookout for something special, and usually, this means unique accessories. I enjoy finding my treasures while traveling. It's a rule now: I go somewhere, I get something special. My go-to treasure is typically vintage jewelry, but that wasn't the case in Amsterdam. As I said, I didn't have the time to much vintage shopping.

Our last morning in the city I decided to go shopping. I made the short trek from our apartment into the city, turned the corner and BAM! Staring right at me through a shop window was exactly what I was looking for: a fantastic leather shop full of bright, colorful bags, purses and wallets. Sticks and Stones is my kind of store, that's for sure. The one-of-a-kind leather bag and wallet I purchased have gotten compliments since. Best of all, they're still going strong two years later after MUCH use.

Romance In Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a reputation for being the kind of city you either love or hate. While many visitors go looking for parties and fun, some go looking to find romance. We sought the latter. And take it from me, walking hand-in-hand along the canals was definitely charming. And our elegant meals were also romantic, as many were in cozy, candle-lit cafes and restaurants. The most romantic part of our trip had to be our dinner at De Gouden Reael.

Because of the weather, we spent long, cold days looking for warmth. Not wanting to venture too far from our amazing apartment, we generally spent time in the most accessible areas of the city. When out and about, we took shelter from the rain in cozy pubs with delicious snacks and beers.

Amsterdam is full of romance if you know where to look for it. Activities like canal cruises, guided bike tours, and private history tours will give you and your honey plenty of opportunities to get cozy.

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  • Reply
    April 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    So funny that I am reading this post about Amsterdam and I spent the day with my good fried Dalia who lived a good portion of her life in Amsterdam. She visits frequently. She has been trying to get me to go for years. I am partial to Italy and can’t get enough of that country. But probably should visit lovely Amsterdam. Your post is very well written. I can’t believe the red light district actually exist.

    • Reply
      April 22, 2016 at 6:09 am

      It’s hard to believe, Maria, that a place where women are treated like that still exists in this day and age. I was shocked, too. Italy is great, too, but Amsterdam is worth checking out if you enjoy European travel. The city has a ton of rich history and terrific museums.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Very well written. It is interesting to see other people’s opinion on this city, as I have visitedit very often and kind of fell in love with it.

    • Reply
      April 28, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      I’ve heard from others that they’ve fallen hard for Amsterdam, too. I feel that way about Haarlem, which I hope to post about soon.

  • Reply
    Lara Dunning
    April 25, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Love the travel tips for the savings pass cards. Amsterdam is on my list and I love visiting museums.

    • Reply
      April 28, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      The savings passes are a MUST! We saved soooo much using ours. If you love museums like we do, then it’s definitely worth it!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Love this! Great notes on amsterdam that I will have to remember next time i visit 🙂

    • Reply
      April 28, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, Kimmie!

  • Reply
    Sumti Bhadani
    April 26, 2016 at 9:30 am

    I have been to Amsterdam last year and it is really a beautiful place. It was fun reading about those place

    • Reply
      April 28, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      It definitely is beautiful, Sumti! What was your favorite thing to see/do?

  • Reply
    April 27, 2016 at 3:40 am

    Very nice post with lots of details. I haven’t been to Amsterdam yet but I now have a better idea. And I totally think that weather plays a role with jetlag. When I flew from the Hong Kong summer to New Zealand’s winter, I had to stay in bed for 2 days. It wasn’t that cold but it must have been the combination with the jetlag.

    • Reply
      April 28, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      We probably should have done that, Annemarie. We kept trying to fight it, but lost miserably!

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