Top Things to Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam shouldn't really exist. The city was dragged out of marshy bogs, dried and carved into the place we know today. It was an unconventional start which seems to have set the tone for things to come.

Today, despite something of a conservative Dutch backlash, Amsterdam remains Europe's most nonconformist city. Locals shun the car and prefer bicycles. Prostitution is legal and public, and it's the only city in the world where you can smoke cannabis in a coffeeshop.The Netherlands was the first country to legalise gay marriage.

But it's also the city of some of Europe's greatest traditions, with the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum holding two of the world's finest art collections. You can see local history at the Joods Historisch Museum and Begijnhof. It's city best explored on foot (if not by bike), to explore The Canal Ring and discovering tucked away streets and canals.

It's a relatively compact city, but one packed with contradictions and compelling culture.

Hermitage Amsterdam

A European outpost of the famous St Petersburg Hermitage museum, this opened in 2009 in a former 19th-century almshouse for elderly women. With two large exhibition spaces, it hosts two major exhibitions a year of exhibits from the Russian state collection. Daily 10am-5pm.

Bloemenmarkt

Amsterdam’s floating flower market, the only one in the world, dates back to 1862. It is as beautiful and fragrant as ever, and spills out on to the quayside. Sadly these days the cut flowers and plants are all transported into town by lorry instead of the traditional boats wending their way through the 
canal system.

Westerkerk & Tower

The city’s biggest church is best known for its tower, seen as a symbol of Amsterdam. It’s a 186-step climb up Hendrick de Keyser’s magnificent 85m-high tower, but worth it for the fabulous views from the top.

Rijksmuseum

A neo-Gothic extravaganza designed in 1885 by Pierre Cuypers, Amsterdam’s towering cathedral of art is located in two covered inner courtyards with galleries reconceptualised, reopened in 2013 after a 10-year renovation.

The Canal Ring

You could spend all day exploring the tree-lined canals along Amsterdam’s dream-like Grachtengordel or ‘Canal Ring’. The beautiful, spindly 17th-century mansions on Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were built for wealthy merchants, bankers and politicians and taxed for width.

Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum)

Based in four 17th- and 18th-
century Ashkenazi synagogues, the Jewish Historical Museum throws light on every aspect of the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, from the first Sephardic Jews who arrived 
from Portugal and Spain in 1600 to powerful accounts of WWII, when 100,000 Amsterdammers died in concentration camps.

Rembrandthuis

Rembrandt’s home from 1639 to 1658, a flat-fronted townhouse, gives mesmerising glimpses into the genius’s life.

Nieuwe Kerk

Built in the late 14th century, this vast church was razed by fire and was stripped of its opulent decoration during the Calvinist and Catholic altercations
of the Alteration in 1578.

Van Gogh Museum

This houses one of the world’s most sensational art collections. 200 amazing paintings, 580 drawings and 850 letters penned by Vincent Van Gogh, are presented in a stunningly beautiful light-filled gallery space, designed by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld.

Begijnhof

Serene, secluded and pristine, the Begijnhof is a pocket of calm in the very heart of Amsterdam’s bustling city centre. The grass-filled courtyard surrounded by tall, gabled houses was founded in the 14th century as a haven for unmarried women who had chosen to live a semi-monastic life.