You have one day in Amsterdam and you don’t know where to start from. Which places should you visit during your day trip to Amsterdam? What are the highlights of Amsterdam that are must-see? Should you focus on the most famous attractions or go off-the-beaten path? If you are in Amsterdam only for a day and it’s your first time in the Dutch capital, I highly recommend that you still focus on the most popular tourist attractions. And I’m sure you’ll come back to Amsterdam for more.
Let’s make one thing clear from the very beginning – you can’t visit all attractions in one day, so you have to make some serious choices. The best part about Amsterdam – it’s walkable and you won’t need to worry about transportation. I’ll say it once again – you can’t visit everything in one day in Amsterdam. So, forget that thick travel book and all the places you have to tick off, and just enjoy the city! Don’t rush it, otherwise you will hate it.
Most itineraries that you’ll find online suggest doing too many things – a few museums, a boat tour, the Heineken experience, and so on. Yes! They all are great attractions, but not to be squeezed in one day. If you follow their advice, at the end of the day you’ll be dead tired, you won’t remember a thing and you’ll regret, you’ve visited 3 museums in one day, instead of enjoying your time in the sun with a glass of beer (or anything else) on Leidseplein.
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- 1 One day in Amsterdam – itinerary for the slow traveler
- 2 Walking routes and must-see attractions in Amsterdam
- 3 In the morning
- 4 At noon
- 5 In the afternoon
- 6 In the evening
- 7 What not to do/see in Amsterdam if visiting for a day?
One day in Amsterdam – itinerary for the slow traveler
Here’s my one-day itinerary for Amsterdam. This is basically what I did when I first visited the city. Since then, I’ve been multiple times to Amsterdam, including staying for longer periods, but will I change what I did on that day few years ago – no, I won’t. I am sure this itinerary will help you fall in love with the Dutch Capital. Each time I had family and friends visiting me, we would do those things, and we always had fun – at a slow pace, letting Amsterdam work its charms on us.
Walking routes and must-see attractions in Amsterdam
I have mapped 4 walking routes on the map below together with the attractions you’ll see on your way and spots to take amazing photos of Amsterdam. Depending on your starting and ending points (train station, hotel) you can walk either of these routes or even make a combination of them. To make things simple, the order of all 4 routes is from the Central Train Station to Rijksmuseum. I haven’t chosen for you which streets to take, as I believe that discovering a city by yourself is better than following a map strictly.
So, let’s go! Enjoy your perfect day in Amsterdam and remember Amsterdam is not a city for one day!
Route 1 (Purple route)
- Amsterdam Central Station – if you are arriving at Amsterdam Central Station, make sure you turn around and have a look at the building. In my opinion is one of the most beautiful buildings in Amsterdam! Designed by the famous Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, it opened in 1889. The last years it’s been continuously renovated and modernized, so the area in front might seem a bit uninviting.
- Church of Saint Nicholas (Basiliek van de Heilige Nicolaas) – this beautiful basilica church is quite often overlooked by tourists. It was built in Neo-baroque style at the end of the 19th century and features a dome with amazing stained glass.
- De Waag or the Weigh House is one of the iconic buildings in Amsterdam. It was built in 15th century and was part of the city walls serving as a gate. Until the 18th century it was weigh house and today there is a restaurant in the building.
- Zuiderkerk or the Southern Church was built at the beginning of the 17th century and served as a church until 1929. It was restored in the 1970s. Its beautiful church tower dominates the whole area, serving as one of the most photographed landmarks in Amsterdam. Today the former church is used as a venue.
- De Sluyswacht (the lock keeper’s house) is a super cute wooden house on St. Antoniesluis. It looks as if it’s gonna collapse any minute, so much tilted it is. But it still stands there since 1695 when it was built. Today there’s a cafe in there.
- Rembrandt House Museum – the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt (The Night Watch) has lived in this house between 1639 and 1656. Today it’s a museum which I highly recommend visiting if you stay longer in Amsterdam.
- Waterlooplein Market – 6 days a week there is held the oldest flea market in the Netherlands.
- Blauwbrug or Blue Bridge is one of the famous bridges in Amsterdam. It was built at the end of the 19th century and bears resemblance to the Alexander III Bridge in Paris, minus the grandeur.
- Magere brug or the Skinny Bridge is perhaps the most famous bridge in Amsterdam. The first drawbridge on this place was built in 1691 and the current version is from 1934.
Route 2 (Blue route)
- De Nieuwe Kerk or the New Church is located in the heart of Amsterdam – the Dam Square. Built in the beginning of the 15th century, today the Church serves as venue for exhibitions.
- The Royal Palace – this is the official residence of the Dutch King. It’s a beautiful building with imposing interior. The building also serves as an exhibition hall. So, if you are staying longer in Amsterdam, I would highly recommend visiting the Royal Palace.
- Dam Square – is the heart of Amsterdam and the most popular square in the city. Although it lacks a certain dose of elegance and is a bit grayish, it is still an important place.
- National Monument – it commemorates those who have fallen in World War II and any subsequent wars. Each year on 4 May (the Remembrance Day) the national ceremony is held at the monument on Dam Square. The monument was built in 1956.
Route 3 (Red route)
- Begijnhof is one of Amsterdam’s most famous landmarks – a small oasis of green in the busy city centre. It’s a lovely inner courtyard encircled by the houses of the Beguines – a sisterhood established in the Middle Ages for women who didn’t want to take vows but still wanted to live independently. When you visit the Begijnhof, please, keep silence and observe the rules. You can find them at the entry.
- De Krijtberg is an active Roman Catholic Church built at the end of the 19th century.
- Munttoren or the Mint Tower belonged once to the city’s defensive walls. In the 17th century it was used as a mint, hence the name. It has lovely carillon that plays each 15 minutes.
- Staalmeestersbrug is a draw bridge on Groenburgwal from which you will have a lovely view of the Church Tower of Zuiderkerk.
- Nightwatch 3D – this amazing sculpture representing the most famous painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt has traveled the world before returning to Rembrandt Square for the second time in 2012 and hopefully staying forever.
- Rembrandtplein or Rembrandt Square – mostly popular with the numerous clubs and restaurants and buzzing nightlife, Rembrandt Square is equally worth visiting during the day. I love having a drink there and watching the resourceful ways in which people are taking pictures with the sculptures from the Night Watch.
- 7 Bridges Area – this is the most idyllic and postcard-like area in Amsterdam. Along the Reguliersgracht there are 7 bridges, hence the name.
- 15 Bridges View Bridge (brug van 15 bruggen) – they call it like this, because you can actually see 15 bridges from this bridge, including the one you are standing on.
Route 4 (Dark red route)
- Jordaan Neighbourhood – is mostly famous for its restaurants, brown cafes and boutique shops, but what I mostly love about it are the hidden courtyards. There are 19 inner courtyards there. Can you find them all?
- Noorderkerk or the Northern Church (the Amsterdammers were pretty creative when naming their churches…) is one of the first churches built in Amsterdam after the Reformation. What’s so special about this church is that it was the first church that has a floor plan in the form of a cross.
- Anne Frank House – this is one of the most famous places in Amsterdam, but my personal opinion (and I am pretty aware that almost no one would agree with me) is that it is just a tourist trap. If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, just skip it. This is also why I haven’t included it into my itinerary. I may one day elaborate on why I think that Anne Frank House is not an appropriate sightseeing place, not in the form it functions today.
- Westerkerk or the Western Church has the highest church tower in Amsterdam (87 m/286 feet).
- Leidseplein is a busy square, but what I like about it are the numerous cafes and the beautiful building of the Stadsschouwburg (City Theatre). Leidseplein is also the place to be for night entertainment.
In the morning
Take a stroll along the canals
Whether you will arrive early in the morning by train, or will wake-up in a hotel already in Amsterdam, start the day early, walking around to get to know the city. The morning light will make the city look crisp. Most of the tourists would be still sleeping, so you will have the empty streets all for yourself. You can choose one of the above 4 routes or combine parts thereof depending on your starting and ending point.
Take a boat tour on the canals of Amsterdam
There’s one unmissable thing to do if you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time – take a boat tour. There isn’t a better way to see the city than from the water. Most of the boat tours come with (audio) guides, so you will learn a bit about the history of Amsterdam. I am not the type of a traveller that takes organized tours, but a boat tour in Amsterdam is just a must. Since I live in the Netherlands, all friends and family coming for the first time to Amsterdam, get a compulsory boat tour from me. You can imagine how many of these I’ve done so far. Did I stop enjoying them? No.
The canal ring of Amsterdam or the Grachtengordel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, you have to see this one from the water!
A boat tour takes about 1 – 1,5 hours and most canal cruising companies have multiple departing points. There are also hop-on hop-off options. My advice will be to book your ticket in advance.
Here are some of the best boat tours in Amsterdam. You can read the reviews on the website of GetYourGuide and choose the one that works the best for you. Through the year I have taken various companies and I must say that I don’t have a favorite one, as they were equally good. My advice – choose for an established company.
After seeing Amsterdam from the water, it’s time for a lunch or a snack. There are so many places to have a snack in Amsterdam. I am sure that there are billions of healthier choices, but if there’s one thing that you should try in the Netherlands, these are the deep-fried Dutch snacks. Don’t worry about the calories, you’ll walk them out. You can buy them at any snack bar – just look for the signs Friet or Friture, or Friettent…. The choice of snacks is overwhelming and obviously you can’t taste them all on your first trip to the Netherlands. So what to choose? For the ultimate Dutch experience I am recommending the Frikandellen Speciaal (deep-fried minced meat skinless sausage with chopped onions, mayonnaise and curry-ketchup) and French fries topped with saté sauce (Frietje Saté, pronounced [‘friet-tjuh sa-‘tee]).
In the afternoon
Visit one museum (only one!)
If you are spending only a day in Amsterdam you will have time only for one museum. It’s difficult to reconcile with this, but let’s be honest, you don’t want to spend your whole day inside and miss the actual beauty of the city. So which museum shall you visit if you are visiting Amsterdam only for a day? I would suggest the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is not a mere collection of Dutch and International art, it is something more. It will give you an insight of the Dutch Golden Age – a lesson in history through art and real masterpieces. You will be able to see the famous Night Watch of Rembrandt, The Milkmaid and Woman Reading a Letter of Vermeer, the winter scenes of Avercamp, just to name a few of the highlights of the Rijksmuseum collection.
Oh, and pay attention to the building – it’s another masterpiece of Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers. The museum opened in 1885 and was completely renovated in 2003-2013 bringing to it its original glory.
In the evening
Make sure you have a walk to enjoy the city with the lights on – it’s absolutely magical! Choose one of the 4 routes that I have suggested or make a combination out of them. The 7 Bridges Area is absolutely gorgeous at dusk!
Of course, you will need a dinner. No recommendations here – Amsterdam has so many amazing places for any type of budget, just pick one yourself and enjoy!
What not to do/see in Amsterdam if visiting for a day?
There are many tours offering combi deals for visiting Amsterdam together with Zaanse Schans or with Keukenhof – although they promise to be packed with traditional things to see, each of these attractions deserves at least a day on its own. My advice – slow down and don’t consume Amsterdam, rather enjoy it properly, even if it is for a short time.
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