The Dutch capital Amsterdam is rightfully high on many people's European bucket lists. In an ideal world we'd recommend a long weekend of three or four days, but if you're short on time, don't panic, visiting Amsterdam for a day is well worth doing! Maybe you're popping in as part of an interrailing trip, maybe it's a stop on a road trip heading through to Germany or Denmark, maybe you fancy a day trip from Rotterdam, or maybe you've found bargain basement flights and decided to do a mad one! Whatever the reason, if you only have one day to spend in Amsterdam, here's the itinerary we'd recommend:
Start early at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam's glorious museum/art gallery stuffed with works from the Golden Age of Dutch art by Vermeer, Van Dyck and Jan Steen (you'll need to pre-book tickets online - try to arrive at 9am when the museum opens so you can enjoy the big hitters before the crowds arrive).
Back outside the museum, head to Stromma's ticket office for an audio guided boat cruise around the UNESCO listed historic canal ring. This lovely hour's cruise includes an audio guide and takes you past beautiful historic canal houses and bridges and out onto the wide river IJ past Amsterdam Centraal station and the trendy Noord district.
For lunch, you're only a short walk away from the Albert Cuypmarkt, a famous street market in trendy De Pijp where you'll find all kinds of Dutch goodies to eat, from savoury bitterballen (addictive deep fried breaded balls of beef stew) to gooey stroopwafel to cones of chips with mayo and sugar dusted poffertjes.
Bitterballen and Patat met mayonaise at Albert Cuypmarkt
Take a scenic stroll through the stunning canal ring to the Jordaan district and visit an iconic memorial to one of the darkest periods of the Netherlands' history, the Anne Frank House Museum. Here in a secret annexe, Anne hid with her family from the Nazis for more than two years. The rooms and accompanying exhibition are a sobering reminder of Jewish persecution during WWII. This is one of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam and often sells out, so be sure to book tickets in advance.
For dinner, walk down the Prinsengracht to the Pantry, a cosy restaurant serving authentic homecooked Dutch recipes like pea soup and hachee (beef and onion stew). It's popular for good reason, so be sure to book your table in advance!
Finish your day in De Wallen, Amsterdam's world famous Red Light District, but on the way, pass through Dam Square where you'll see the 15th century Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the Netherlands' coronation church and venue for several Royal weddings and Koninklijk Paleis, Amsterdam's Royal Palace. Built as a town hall in the 17th century, it was remodelled into a stylish home by King Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother) in 1808 and today hosts grand state visits for foreign leaders.
Before you tackle the Red Light District, get some Dutch courage with a local tipple in De Drie Fleschjes, the oldest tasting room in Amsterdam. Tucked behind the New Church, this cosy little bar dates from 1650 and is the perfect place to sample a glass of jenever, a grain based spirit often distilled with botanicals and juniper. Despite sometimes being known as 'Dutch Gin', jenever predates gin by some 200 years - gin as we know it emerged in the UK in the 17th century and became particularly popular during the reign of William III and Mary Stuart. Unsurprising considering William was a Dutch stadtholder and Sovereign Prince from the House of Orange!
The owner of De Drie Fleschjes, Johannes, will show you how to drink jenever like a local, dipping your head to the bar and slurping the first mouthful of jenever without picking up the glass - the measure is poured right to the top, so this helps you avoid spilling any! It's also customary to buy a small pilsner beer to sip alongside your jenever - this combination is colloquially known as a headbutt! Anthony Bourdain fans might recognise this bar from his 2012 Amsterdam episode for The Layover.
De Wallen is located deep in the medieval Old Town, where scantily clad sex workers stand in red lit windows surrounded by adult shops, erotic museums, marijuana paraphernalia and live sex shows. It's a bewildering place of contradictions, both liberating and seedy, where seemingly anything goes - prostitution has been legal here since the 19th century and the ban on brothels was lifted in 2000. In the heart of the Red Light District is Amsterdam's Oude Kerk (Old Church). Surrounded by window brothels (there is also a small bronze statue, Belle, dedicated to sex workers behind the church) the Oude Kerk is set within a beautiful cobblestone square surrounded by narrow old houses. As well as being notorious for adult activities, medieval De Wallen is also where you'll find some of Amsterdam's most attractive historic buildings and many people live here who are not at all connected to the sex industry.
The neon lights of the Red Light District, and window brothels viewed from the Oude Kerk.
The Red Light district is the perfect place to finish your day in Amsterdam as, conveniently, it's right by Central Station. You can walk from the Oude Kerk to Amsterdam Centraal in about 6 minutes!
So there you have it! Hopefully this has shown you how to make the most out of a day trip to Amsterdam, and while there are many other brilliant things to do in this city, this one day plan covers a lot of the main Amsterdam highlights.
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