With 80 galleries and 8000 artefacts, the Rijksmuseum is easily Amsterdam’s top attraction. Located on Museumplein, the museum ranks third among 18 of the world’s top cultural institutions put together by researchers at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
Cyclists form such an intrinsic part of the social fabric in Amsterdam that the Rijksmuseum allows them to speed through it. A passage splits the atrium into two halves, and you can often find street musicians taking advantage of the natural acoustics here.
Some of the artistic highlights of the Rijksmuseum include:
- ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt (1642)
- ‘The Milkmaid’ by Johannes Vermeer (1654–58)
- ‘The Threatened Swan’ by Jan Asselijn (c. 1650)
- Cuypers Library is the oldest collection of art history texts
I Am Amsterdam Sign
Nothing screams “Amsterdam!” more than this iconic sign outside Rijksmuseum. Always a favorite with novice shutterbugs, the slogan measures 23.5 meters wide and stands two meters tall.
There are two other sets of letters in Amsterdam. One is located at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, while the second set changes its location around the city. A smaller version of the letters can also be found at Amsterdam Museum.
Royal Palace of Amsterdam
One of the Netherlands’ most famous historical buildings, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam is located in Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam. It is the only palace in the country that is both in active use and available for the public to visit.
At the time of its construction in the 17th century, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam was the largest secular building in Europe. Today it is used for hosting royal events such as welcoming foreign heads of state, the King’s New Year reception, as well as presenting official accolades.
Anne Frank House
The house is a living memory and biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank. Anne hid here in Amsterdam with her parents, sisters and three others, with the help of brave individuals from the Dutch Resistance Movement.
While I didn’t visit the museum inside, I highly recommend it if you are staying in Amsterdam longer:
- Admission is difficult as lines run long and it is best to book your tickets in advance.
- The demand for online tickets is high. Hence, tickets will be released in phases, from two months in advance until the day itself.
- Tickets cannot be exchanged or refunded.
- For more information on opening hours and ticket prices, visit www.annefrank.org/en/
Amsterdam Central Station
The largest railway station in the city, the Amsterdam Central Station is the most famous national heritage site of the Netherlands. So much so, that its architect Petrus J. H. Cuypers was awarded the Golden Medal by the Queen in 1897.
The Amsterdam Central Station was built between 1881 and 1889 using 8067 wooden piles. These wooden piles formed three artificial islands known today as Stationseiland.
Built from 1619 to 1631, the Westerkerk is the biggest church in Amsterdam and is considered a prominent symbol of the city. Its bell tower, the Westerkerk Tower, bears Amsterdam’s Coat of Arms.
Several Dutch artists are buried at Westerkerk. They include:
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Nicolaes Berchem
- Gillis d’Hondecoeter
- Melchior d’Hondecoeter
- Govert Flinck
The Basilica of St. Nicholas or Sint Nikolaaskerk is the most famous among Amsterdam’s ‘new’ churches. It was designed by architect A. C. Blejis between 1842 and 1912, and prominently features Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles. Originally called Saint Nicholas Church, the church was designated a basilica by the Vatican in 2012.
The Choral Evensong is performed every Saturday at 5pm, between the months of September and June. Entrance is free. While inside, have a look at the church organ. It is the only major work of the German organ builder Wilhelm Sauer.
The Amsterdam Nieuwe Kerk was built in circa 1400 owing to the paucity of churches in the area. Modeled after the Gothic churches of France, the church escaped the two great fires of Amsterdam, only to be burnt to ashes accidentally centuries later.
Today, the Nieuwe Kerk has been successfully restored, and is the most important church in the Netherlands. It serves as the burial site for Dutch naval heroes like Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, as well as the poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel.
But the Amsterdam Nieuwe Kerk is more famous for its intimate relationship with the Dutch royalty. It has been the venue of the coronations of Dutch monarchs since 1814. In fact, the reigning King Willem-Alexander was inaugurated here.
The largest red light district, Amsterdam’s De Wallen is famous for its “kamers”. This involves prostitutes offering their services from behind a window or glass door, usually illuminated with red lights. Photography and filming is prohibited.
De Wallen is also home to the Oude Kerk. Founded in 1213, the Oude Kerk is the oldest building as well as the oldest parish church in Amsterdam. Originally a wooden chapel, the Oude Kerk had a stone facade constructed in the early 14th century.
As the Oude Kerk continued to incorporate more modifications and architectural elements, it suffered a series of lootings and vandalism during the 16th century. But the church survived due to the generosity of famous patrons such as the Dutch artist Rembrandt. Of all the buildings in Amsterdam, Oude Kerk remains in the same state as it did back when Rembrandt attended its services.
The Begijnhof is one of the best known hofjes or almshouses in Amsterdam. This tranquil oasis in the heart of bustling Amsterdam was home to the Beguines.
The Beguines were a group of unmarried religious women who lived together as a community (under vows of chastity) between the 13th and 16th centuries. This makes this secluded medieval courtyard of wooden houses one of the oldest in Amsterdam.
The last Beguine passed away in 1971. Another sister is said to have been buried in a “grave in the gutter”. You can still find it decorated with flowers.
The Canal Ring
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal Ring of Amsterdam has 165 canals that cover a distance of over 100 kilometers (60 miles). Since the 17th century, the intersecting waterways have inspired beautiful sensory experiences, and have been the delight of many a photographer.
The canals of Amsterdam also continue to serve as a venue for many cultural and sporting events, such as:
- King’s Day (end of April)
- Annual Gay Pride Canal Parade (August)
- Grachtenfestival or Canal Festival (August)
There are many ways to explore the Canal Ring. You can book a romantic candlelight dinner cruise, take a stroll along the water banks, or hop on to a bicycle like many Amsterdam locals. The most popular segment of the Canal Ring is the concentric loop consisting of Keizersgracht, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Singel canals. One attraction is the cantilever lifting bridge at Amstel Canal.
The Bloemenmarkt of Amsterdam is the world’s only floating flower market. Here you will find tulips of every color in small shops on a row of floating barges. Not only that, there are also plenty of house plants, seeds, bulbs and gardening essentials.
The Bloemenmarkt is located in the Singel canal of Amsterdam’s Canal Ring. International tourists can take advantage of specially-packed tulips and bulbs that can be carried back safely to their countries.
Tip: Research your country’s border customs before making a purchase. In the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for example, there are are strict conditions for bringing any agricultural produce including flowers. Pre-approved flowers are admitted if they fulfill the following conditions:
- They must have a sticker stating, “To the Plant Protection Service of the United States and Canada.”
- The botanical name of the flower must be clearly stated.
- The date of issuance must be clearly stated.
Shopping Districts of Amsterdam
The main shopping streets of Amsterdam are often crowded, packed with locals and tourists alike, settling into the many restaurants, cafes, boutiques and museums.
Here you will find your typical shopping chains such as Foot Locker, H&M, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, Mexx and Esprit.
If you have more exclusive tastes, than this street is lined with shops like Karen Millen, Shoebaloo, Aspact, Rituals, Pia and Adidas.
• De Negen Straatjes
Located in Amsterdam’s famous Canal Ring, De Negen Straatjes or The Nine Streets is a great place for vintage lovers, artists, and those looking for a good bite to eat.
One thing that many visitors to Amsterdam miss out on is the Gassan Diamond Tour. This is a valuable gem in the city’s vibrant landscape, but is often overlooked when compared to mainstream attractions. In fact, few people know that Amsterdam has been known as ‘The City of Diamonds’ for more than 425 years.
There are four types of tour packages offered to visitors:
- Diamond Experience Tour
- Diamonds & Champagne Tour
- Gassan VIP Tour
- Wedding Tour
I went for the Diamonds Experience Tour which is 40 minutes long. Tours run from 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week. Not only is it completely free, you also get complimentary tea and coffee at the end! Note: Photography is prohibited.
Some of the highlights of the Diamonds Experience Tour include:
- You can get a private tour guide. In my case, it was just my husband and I.
- Learn about the history of diamonds in Amsterdam.
- Learn about the process of transforming a rough diamond into its dazzling brilliant form.
- Observe technicians at work with diamonds as well as study the instruments used.
- Learn about the 4 C’s of diamond grinding: ‘carat’, ‘cut’, ‘clarity’ and ‘color’. The tour guide demonstrates this by showing you the difference between different diamonds.
- Introduced to the factory’s signature diamond cut, the Gassan 121.
- Up and close with exquisite watches and jewelry from the top luxury brands of the world.
If you are interested in booking a tour at Gassan Diamonds, go on to their website www.gassan.com
Popular Day Trips from Amsterdam
• Zaanse Schans, Netherlands
• Kinderdijk Windmills, Netherlands
• Emmeloord, Netherlands