Besides its picturesque streets and vibrant arts scene, the Dutch capital is compact, walkable and has an excellent public transit system, making it a perfect place to conquer in your 8-10 hours in port. and most people speak English. The cruise terminal is 400 yards east of Centraal Station, the main train station, and the old city center is right in front of the station.
Here are 10 of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam.
Walk along some of the 165 historic canals in Amsterdam and you’ll soon learn why this is number one on our list of things to do. From the canals and stone bridges to the 17th- century mansions, this is such a quaint picturesque place of the city.
The Canal Ring, a famous 17th-century district composed of three major canals — the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal) and Herengracht (Gentleman’s Canal) — that radiate west and south of the city center (Centrum) in concentric circles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those three major canals divide the Central Canal district into nine little streets called The 9 Streets (De 9 Straatjes). This is the part of the canal district you don’t want to miss. Here you’ll find a charming neighborhood of narrow cobblestone lanes full of vintage and designer shops, eccentric galleries and great restaurants and cafes to drink and dine at. Don’t forget to bring your camera.
One of the world’s bike-friendliest cities, Amsterdam has more bikes (over 800,000) than people, tons of bike lanes and is flat for easy riding. Take a guided bike tour or rent a bike and take yourself on a self-guided exploration. The Yellow Bike chain has two locations in Centrum, a three-minute walk from Centraal Station. Even if you don’t have anywhere in particular to go, just hop on and ride along with the locals.
The country’s greatest museum and Amsterdam’s biggest, the Rijksmuseum is a treasure trove of Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, ranging from luminous portraits to landscapes to still lifes; its collection spans from the ninth to the 19th century. It’s in the clustered Museum District on Museumplein, south of the Canal Ring.
This museum, devoted to the tormented Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, displays 200 of his vivid, landscapes and still lifes of sunflowers and irises, 500 drawings and many letters from his time spent in the south of France at the Saint Paul Hospital and Monastery. Conveniently, the Van Gogh Museum is on Museumplein next to the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum, which mainly displays works of post-World War II artists like Warhol, Pollock, Johns and Richter, but also many by Picasso, Chagall and Cezanne.
Teenaged Anne Frank hid with her family and another family in an Amsterdam house’s secret attic from 1942 to 1944. A visit to the house is sobering. Her diary, published after her death by her father, the family’s only survivor, has sold over 30 million copies. The 1635 canal house on Prinsengracht is in the Western Canal Ring, right by the Jordaan neighborhood, often called Amsterdam’s most delightful neighborhood for its 17th-century canals, narrow streets, quirky shops and galleries (think brownstone Brooklyn). Insider Tip: Avoid the crowds (1.3 million visitors in 2015) and the long lines by buying a ticket online and visiting as soon as your ship gets to Amsterdam.
Kids in tow? Find NEMO, a hands-on science and technology museum for children that resembles a ship rising from the sea. It’s located in the Eastern Docklands, a 12-minute walk from the cruise terminal. Kids can don lab coats and conduct chemistry experiments with baking soda and vinegar, learn the physics behind rainbows and static electricity, understand how the brain works, learn how the body changes during puberty, and see why bridges and arches hold up. Expect exhibits on the technology behind electric cars and energy-saving light bulbs from the eco-conscious Dutch. A new exhibit on generating energy from the elements debuts on the roof terrace, in April 2016.
A beloved grassy park, Westerpark has countless things to do for the family. Choose to ride along the bike paths, visit a children’s “petting zoo” (everything from bunnies, small Shetland ponies and sheep to dwarf goats) or head to the playgrounds. Cool off at the outdoor swimming pool and shop for local art and clothes at the nearby shops and galleries. There are restaurants and cafes galore even a jazz club and arthouse movie theater tucked inside the restored brick buildings that once housed the Westerpark gas works..It’s north of the Jordaan neighborhood, west of Centraal Station.
This museum about life under German occupation during World War II uses video, sound and interactive exhibits to examine residents’ three choices to resist, collaborate or adapt. A children’s section tells the stories of four Dutch youngsters who lived in the Netherlands during the war and includes interviews with them as seniors. It’s across from the zoo in Plantage, a museum and nature district with many 19th-century buildings.
Tulips symbolize the Netherlands — though they were brought from Turkey in 1593. Admire more than 7 million tulips, hyacinths and daffodils from late March until mid-May at Keukenhof, the country’s biggest spring attraction. The riot of pink, purple, yellow, red and orange blooms in this 17-acre park in Lisse makes for a wonderful day trip from Amsterdam. Some ships offer port excursions. If yours doesn’t, buy a tour from the Dutch tourism office (look for the blue and white signs with VVV on them), or simply take a 15-minute train ride from Centraal Station to Schiphol Airport, then the Keukenhof Express bus, a 20- or 30-minute ride.
Stroll by the lake and streams, and visit the windmill to enjoy the view of tulip fields. For small children, there’s a playground, a petting zoo of lambs and baby goats, and a free treasure hunt to teach them about nature. A highlight in 2016: A mosaic garden composed of 100,000 flowers depicting Golden Age canal houses and ships, plus an exhibit on tulip history and “Tulip Mania” (the original stock market bubble, where people bid insane prices for bulbs in the 17th century).
A branch of The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Hermitage Amsterdam is known for blockbuster exhibits, often borrowed from the Russian museum. Spanish masters like El Greco and Goya will be exhibited until late-May 2016. It’s located in Plantage. An exhibit on Catherine the Great, the Czarina who founded the original Hermitage, separates fact from legend and displays her dresses, jewelry, personal art collection and correspondence with intellectuals like Voltaire.