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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Amsterdam

City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Amsterdam

The Netherland’s charming capital, characterised by countless canals and even more bicycles.

Very few cities have such a strong, individual and identifiable character as Amsterdam. Regarded around the world for its tolerance, safety and friendliness; Amsterdam continues to attract visitors in their droves from every corner of the planet to the city’s cobbled streets.

Despite the 16 million day trippers who descend upon Amsterdam every year, the city manages to maintain a slightly quaint charm. The relatively small size and population of the city (barely scraping a population 1/10th that of London), as well as the strictly limited number of automobiles on the roads, ensures that Amsterdam seldom feels as rushed as the other major capitals of Europe.

Much more than a ‘must-visit-once’ destination; Amsterdam boasts headline-grabbing sites as well as genuinely well-hidden hidden gems. Even the most seasoned traveller will find something new, interesting and exciting every time they visit the Netherlands’ charming capital.

The vibrant, liberal atmosphere of Amsterdam is largely thanks to the city’s positioning as a global trade hub. Traders from all around the world would descend upon Amsterdam to share their wares from the north, south, east and west – creating an eclectic mix of nationalities stepping the city’s stones at any one time.

Although much younger than other Dutch cities such as Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Utrecht; Amsterdam quickly progressed and developed since flooding formed its foundations in the late 12th century. The city began to really flourish in the 14th century, thanks to the trade confederation of the Hanseatic League.

In the 17th century, Amsterdam became the wealthiest city in the world, during a period known as the city’s Golden Age. Further trade routes opened up across the Baltic Sea and over to North America, South America, Africa and Asia – swelling the coffers of Amsterdam’s movers and shakers. The city even housed the world’s first stock exchange, when the Amsterdam office of the Dutch East India Company began trading shares.   

This helped to create a unique culture within the city which is still celebrated to this day with millions of visitors pouring in to enjoy the beautiful canals, striking architecture and relaxed atmosphere.

Must-See Sights

Whether you’re visiting for a few hours or a few days, there are plenty of sights and experiences to enjoy. Here are a few of our Amsterdam favourites to help you enjoy your stay.


The Netherlands’ national museum; Rijksmuseum celebrates the history of one of the world’s most important and influential artistic nations. Amongst the 1 million plus artefacts and works present at the museum, the undoubted highlight of a visit to the Rijksmuseum is the chance to explore the works of the masters of the Dutch Golden Age.

With celebrated works from the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals amongst others; some of the world’s most influential pieces can be found in the heart of Amsterdam.

Royal Palace of Amsterdam

A candidate for the title of Eighth Wonder of the World, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam was first constructed almost 500 years ago as the Town Hall for Amsterdam. It has since become the royal palace of Dutch kings and subsequently the Dutch Royal House.

Inspired by the great administrative palaces of the Roman Empire, the Royal Palace features heavily-marbled interiors with stunning maps of the world strewn across the flooring.

Oude Kerk

The perfect place to investigate the history of Amsterdam; Oude Kerk is the city’s oldest building. The parish church was founded in the early stretches of the 13th century. The original church was a wooden structure but this was replaced by a stone church in 1306.

Demonstrating the changing culture of the city, Oude Kerk has subsequently been renovated and reimagined by 15 generations of Amsterdam locals.

Anne Frank House

Commemorate one of the saddest, darkest chapters in recent history by visiting the poignant house in which Anne Frank hid from surrounding Nazi forces with her family. Frank’s diary has become one of the defining texts of the 20th century, detailing World War II from the perspective of one of the millions who sadly lost their lives.

Anne Frank House has been turned into a living museum, providing a unique insight into the events of the last years and the fates suffered by the city’s Jewish communities.


Perhaps the most famous neighbourhood in Amsterdam, Jordaan is a historical part of the city which was originally created for the working classes. In the following 400 years, the neighbourhood became a hotbed for social reform, strong communities and squiffy sing-alongs – never a dull moment in Jordaan.

Although the neighbourhood has been significantly gentrified in recent years, it still retains plenty of that spirit which saw it attract young urban professionals and trendy bars aplenty.

Fast Facts

Unsurprisingly for such a unique city, Amsterdam is the proud owner of many titles and accomplishments.

  • The population of Amsterdam is 779,808 people (2011 Census)
  • Whilst there are 881,000 bicycles in the city – more than one per person
  • The city is home to 165 canals
  • There are over 1,500 bars and cafes in Amsterdam
  • And 1,281 bridges in the city
  • Many Amsterdam locals live aboard the 2,500 houseboats on the city’s canals
  • Amsterdam buildings have to be built on long poles, to stop them sinking into the city’s waters
  • And the majority of the city’s land area is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is the world’s most diverse city, with more nationalities calling Amsterdam home than any other city
  • Thanks to a tax which charged homeowners by the width of their property, most houses in Amsterdam are incredibly narrow, and tall

Image credits: Flickr

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