Amsterdam is a popular European travel destination and while many come to spend a few days or even a week, it’s also common for visitors to only have one day in Amsterdam. This may be due to a layover, a river cruise, or perhaps just a planned day trip from a nearby city. While I definitely recommend spending more than one day in Amsterdam if possible, you can still see and do a lot with a limited amount of time. So, if you are short on time in the Dutch capital, here’s how to make the most out of Amsterdam in 1 Day.
Itinerary for 1 Day in Amsterdam
Take a Canal Cruise
I love walking through cities, but every time I’m in Amsterdam I end up nearly being killed by a bike. The bike culture here is huge (and awesome) but coming from a city where you can’t bike for more than half of the year, I’m horrible for keeping my eye out for bike lanes and always manage to cause a problem. If anyone from Amsterdam happens to be reading this, I’m so sorry that I’m such a crap tourist in your city!
Thankfully, there is another incredibly scenic way to see the city: by water. Amsterdam has some great hop on hop off canal cruises that will take you to some of the more popular areas in the city, and provide some great views while doing so. Sure, it’s touristy but it’s also a beautiful way to see the city, especially when you only have one day in Amsterdam.
I suggest getting your ticket and starting your day off on one of the Amsterdam hop on hop off canal cruises to get around and sight-see for the day.
Visit one of Amsterdam’s Museums
Amsterdam has a seemingly endless number of really impressive museums, though with only one day in Amsterdam, you will only have time to pick one. I suggest choosing from Anne Frank House or the world-famous Rijksmuseum.
It’s best to decide ahead of time which one you would prefer because I absolutely recommend getting skip-the-line tickets in advance. These are two of Amsterdam’s top attractions and the lineups for both can be pretty ridiculous. Since the goal is to see as much as possible of Amsterdam in one day, you don’t want to be spending it standing in line.
I also suggest going to at least see the opposite of whatever you choose. The Anne Frank house is pretty important. I’ll admit I haven’t been inside yet (should have booked a ticket in advance) but I have gone to see it from the street. The Rijksmuseum, located on the Museumplein, is a gorgeous building that you definitely will want a photo of.
Grab Lunch in Jordaan
Jordaan is a local neighbourhood in Amsterdam and, I think, one of the coolest parts of the city (it’s also where the Anne Frank House is located). The streets are quite pretty to wander and there are plenty of shops and, more importantly at lunchtime, cafes and restaurants. Take a look at the menus as you walk by and see what sounds good then, if the weather is nice, grab a seat outside and watch the world go by as you enjoy your lunch.
Take a break from the crowds and the vehicles and head to Vondelpark to get a bit of peace and quiet in one of the best green spaces in Amsterdam. It’s a favourite among locals and tourists alike on a sunny day. You’ll see people reading, playing, or even napping on the grass or under the trees here. There’s also an open-air theatre which has free shows and concerts in the summer, so check ahead and see if there is anything on during your visit.
Visit The Flower Market
A flower marker might seem like a strange suggestion for a one day in Amsterdam itinerary, but it’s the only floating flower market in the world making it unique and, of course, beautiful thanks to all the flowers.
The Flower Market has been around since 1862 and is an important part of the city. You can find all kinds of flowers here as single flowers, bouquets, or even bulbs that you can take home as a souvenir. It’s a colourful place and great for photos.
Visit Dam Square
Dam Square is the heart of the city. This is where you will find all the kitschy tourist souvenir shops and higher priced cafes and restaurants, but it’s also home to important landmarks such as the Royal Palace, National Monument, and Nieuwe Kerk (the church). The architecture in the area is quite nice so be sure to wander around a bit.
Try a Rijsttafel for Dinner
When it comes to Dutch food, well, compared to other cuisines it’s nothing to get too excited about. They have great cheese and I love the caramel stroopwafels but other than that, I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed. That being said, one of the best dinners I’ve ever had was in Amsterdam and it was a Rijsttafel.
A Rijsttafel is actually an Indonesian meal, but for some reason, they are actually quite popular in Amsterdam. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that translates to ‘rice table’. The meal consists of a large number (as in 40) of small bite-size dishes accompanied by rice which is normally prepared in several ways. The dishes are a mix of everything; eggs, satay, chicken, fish, vegetables, and of course dessert dishes. It’s a really fun experience but give yourself some time because it is a long meal.
I should also mention that this is definitely a sharing meal, not something you want to tackle alone. I ended up finding two other girls at my hostel when I first visited in 2013 that were game to try and we still didn’t eat everything.
Some of the best spots to try a Rijsttafel in Amsterdam are Blauw (a bit off the tourist trail) and Sampurna (more central).
Take a Tour of the Red Light District
The red light district tends to be something that tourists either really want to see or have zero interest in. Personally, as an ex-victim worker with an interest in human trafficking, I find it fascinating. Nighttime is the best time to see it in ‘action’ but I suggest taking a tour rather than just walking around on your own. There is a lot of history in the area and a lot to learn about the working women (and men) that you see in the windows. Plus, the tours have some great stories and interesting opportunities. The one I took gave us the opportunity to check out a peep show which was…interesting. You can read about my peep show in Amsterdam experience here.
Please note that it is incredibly important NOT to take photos of any sex workers. Many of the workers are from different countries where prostitution is illegal. If they were found out, they could be arrested and jailed when they go back home. This warning is also for your own safety as things get really nasty if they catch you taking their photo. Consider yourself warned!
If you plan on partaking in Amsterdam’s cannabis culture, your guide can help direct you to some trustworthy and safe places. For those who have early morning departures- keep in mind that the edibles here tend to be a lot stronger than what most people are used to!
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
If you are planning on spending the night in Amsterdam, I suggest staying near the train station which is central. Or even by Dam Square area which is within walking distance from Amsterdam Centraal Station. This will make it easy for you to depart either by train or plane the next day.
For a hostel: The Flying Pig Downtown
For a mid-range hotel: Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam
For a luxury hotel: Art’otel Amsterdam
One day in Amsterdam may seem very short, but you can manage to see and do a lot in the city during your short time.
A Note on Travel Insurance in the Netherlands
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.
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