People visit Amsterdam for a variety of reasons ranging from a yearning to admire famed artistic masterpieces at the Rijksmuseum to a desire to participate in significantly less noble activities (though ones many of the artists would have undoubtedly endorsed).
Our motivation was simple: we found a cheap flight from Atlanta ($400 roundtrip, which is roughly equivalent to the change you’d find shoved between couch cushions compared to the $1,400+ fares we usually see).
So it happened that on a bland Monday morning in the office I spontaneously booked a flight to Amsterdam, a city best known for its unconventional policies on drugs and prostitution and its somewhat fanatical obsession with bicycles.
Though we planned to use Amsterdam as a jumping off place to visit friends (and their lovely free guest room) in Belgium, we decided to spend 24 hours exploring the city first. And we were glad we did, because Amsterdam has SO MUCH to offer.
Here is how to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam:
What to Do
Amsterdam has enough attraction to keep visitors busy for weeks, so 24 hours is really only enough time to scratch the surface.
Visit the Anne Frank House
I read The Diary of Anne Frank in high school, and it really impacted me. So as soon as we decided to visit Amsterdam, the number one thing I wanted to do was visit the Anne Frank House.
We spent about an hour and a half wandering through the museum, using the complimentary audio headsets as our guide. The highlight was visiting the attic where Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding during the war (and where Anne Frank wrote her diary).
Though visiting the museum is emotionally-jarring (just like visiting the holocaust museum in Washington, DC), we believe touring the Anne Frank House is a valuable experience everyone should have if given the chance.
Note: If you plan to visit the Anne Frank house you must buy timed-entry tickets in advance. Otherwise you will end up waiting in line for 3+ hours (if you’re lucky). Tickets go on sale two months in advance. You can buy them here.
Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
Explore the Jordaan Neighborhood
Despite it’s somewhat sketchy reputation, Amsterdam is an incredibly beautiful city. We spent a good portion of our time roaming the streets and admiring the canals (partially because they’re beautiful, and partially because Sam wrote down the wrong address for our Airbnb and we ended up on the wrong side of the city. Oops).
To see Amsterdam at its best, we recommend taking some time to explore the Jordaan neighborhood. (The Anne Frank House is in this area, so it is super convenient if you want to do both!)
Shop for Cheese
I admit I didn’t know the Netherlands is famous for cheese until we visited Amsterdam and saw cheese shops on nearly every street corner. So in the name of cultural education, Sam and I visited several and tasted half a dozen free samples at each one.
And though visiting Switzerland, France, and Italy has turned me into something of a cheese snob, I truly believe the Netherlands can hold it’s own. We bought home a log of smoked cheese and ate the whole thing in roughly 2 days.
You basically can’t turn around in Amsterdam without finding a cheese shop, so be sure to shop at a few of them (or at least browse long enough to justify nibbling on a few samples).
Take a Picture by the “I Amsterdam” Sign
Nothing in Amsterdam is as iconic as the “I Amsterdam” sign, which is located directly outside the Rijksmuseum. And though it is unashamedly touristy, skipping it would be like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Try to visit early in the morning to beat some of the crowds (we didn’t, and have about 500 photobombers in most of our pictures!).
The pretty little garden beside the sign also makes a nice rest stop after a long morning of sightseeing.
Hobbemastraat 19, 1071 XZ Amsterdam, Netherlands
Browse the Floating Flower Market
The Netherlands is famous for its tulips, and the floating flower market is the perfect place to shop for bulbs.
We tend to kill every houseplant we own within six months, so we weren’t looking to doom any more innocent plants. But we enjoyed browsing the large flower selection.
Singel, 1012 DH Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cozy up in the American Book Center
Many well-traveled bookworms consider the American Book Center in Amsterdam to be one of the best bookstores in the world. And I have to agree.
Don’t worry if you don’t read Dutch. The books are in English!
Spui 12, 1012 XA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Check out the Begijnhof Courtyard
Tucked away near the American Book Center is the tranquil Begijnhof courtyard. The courtyard is small, but its main draws are the 15th century English Reformed Church and the wooden house (one of only two remaining in Amsterdam). When we visited it was almost deserted.
Please keep in mind that most of the buildings are people’s homes, so be respectful of the residents’ privacy.
Gedempte Begijnensloot, 1012 RM Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Centrum)
What to Eat
Walking around and exploring is bound to make you hungry. Luckily, Amsterdam is full of delicious places to eat!
The Pancake Bakery
An institution in Amsterdam, the Pancake Bakery serves up a wide array of sweet and savory Dutch pancakes (which are actually more similar to French crêpes than “American” pancakes). We ordered a Nutella and banana pancake and a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pancake. Both of them were so delicious that my mouth is watering just writing about them.
The Pancake Bakery is hardly a secret, so be prepared to wait for a table.
Prinsengracht 191, 1015 DS Amsterdam, Netherlands
If we hadn’t been looking for the Foodhallen, I’m not sure we would have found it. The entrance to the complex is unassuming. But once we were inside we could tell it was a popular place! Located in a renovated tram station, the Foodhallen is a gourmet food court. Unlike the vaguely-Asian mystery meats and rubbery pizza served at most food courts, the offerings at the Foodhallen are fresh and delicious.
Amsterdam is a multi-cultural city, and the diverse food offerings at the Foodhallen represent that beautifully. We ate at a Mediterranean falafel stand and the platter we ordered was so big we couldn’t even finish it between the two of us.
Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nude Burger Club
We ended up at the Nude Burger Club after wandering aimlessly for 30 minutes looking for a place to eat before catching our train to Belgium. And while I admit I was apprehensive about entering given the restaurant’s name and Amsterdam’s reputation, the burgers we had here were enormous and delicious (and, thankfully, both the staff and the patrons were fully clothed!).
Kolksteeg 10D, 1012 PT Amsterdam, Netherlands
What are your favorite spots in Amsterdam?
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