A complete guide to exploring Amsterdam with the I amsterdam city card
Last week we teamed up with I amsterdam to show how many amazing things you can fit into an Amsterdam city break using the 72 hour I amsterdam city card. This fab pass to many of Amsterdam's top attractions also includes 72 hours of public transport, which covers the tram, bus and metro system - invaluable as single journeys in Amsterdam are about £3 per time unless you buy a separate day pass for about £8! The I amsterdam pass also includes bicycle rental which means you can make like a local and pedal your way around the city.
The I amsterdam card includes free entry to virtually all of Amsterdam's most popular things to do, plus some handy discounts in other museums, restaurants and bars. The most notable things that aren't covered are the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, but with so many other amazing freebies (and unlimited public transport!) you won't mind picking up a couple of entry fees.
As well as the famous attractions in the city centre like the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, the city pass enables you to pop into loads of lesser known small museums and explore the other beautiful regions of Amsterdam. If you have a few days in the area, you can even use your pass for some attractions outside the Amsterdam city limits, like the Zaanse Schans windmills, Fort Pampus, Castle Muiderslot and Haarlem's Teylers Museum!
Top tip: download the I amsterdam city card app
The I amsterdam app is free to download and really useful - it has a map showing where all the included attractions are, plus really useful categories lists to peruse. You can also save your favourites into a handy separate list to find later.
Some of the attractions included require you to book a time slot in advance, others you just turn up and scan the pass when you arrive - this is all made clear on the I amsterdam app in the description for each attraction and also in its thumbnail photo in the results list.
You can also add your city card to the app which is really convenient for quick access.
Where to buy the I amsterdam city pass
The easiest way to buy an I amsterdam card is by ordering it online. I amsterdam offers a range of city cards lasting from 24 hours through to 120 hours, costing from €60 to €115. We were gifted the 72 hour card, which costs €100 - you can find out how much money we saved on our trip at the end of this blog (spoiler alert, it's loads).
You have the option of either receiving a digital card on your phone or collecting a physical card at the I amsterdam shop in Amsterdam Centraal station. You can also buy a card in person there.
The I amsterdam card is activated the first time you use it and is then valid for the length of time you chose. Crucially this measured in hours, not days. As our pass was valid for 72 hours rather than 3 days, we were able to sneak in an extra free bus ride back to Centraal station on what was actually our 4th day by boarding before 8:30am, the time we first activated our card on day 1.
Here's what we got up to using the I amsterdam city pass over our 3 days in Amsterdam!
1. The Rijksmuseum
Start your Amsterdam city break at the city's premier art gallery and museum, the Rijksmuseum. Famous for being home to Rembrant's the Night Watch, as well as works by other Dutch Masters like Vermeer and Van Gogh, the Rijksmuseum covers 800 years of Dutch history! At present you need to reserve a time slot online - select the "I already have a ticket" option while booking and they will scan your I amsterdam city card when you arrive.
To enjoy The Night Watch before the tour groups arrive, we'd recommend booking the 9am slot and going to the Rijksmuseum as soon as it opens. Head straight up to the Gallery of Honour on the top floor and you'll have highlights like Vermeer's The Milkmaid and The Merry Family by Jan Steen all to yourself! At the end of the long gallery is Rembrant's enormous The Night Watch.
The Rijksmuseum also has a free app which enables you to search for particular artists or artworks and plan a route to them! You can also enter a painting's number to read more about its history. It also has a number of suggested highlights and self guided tours to follow. We allowed 3 hours in the Rijksmuseum - you'll never see everything even if you stay all day! The app allows you to be targeted and see the paintings and collections you're particularly interested in. For example, we really enjoyed the collection of model ships but skipped the Medieval religious art.
2. Diamonds museum
Just behind the Rijksmuseum, you can learn about all things sparkly at the Diamond Museum. No timed slot necessary here, just show up and have your I amsterdam city pass scanned. Amsterdam has been a top destination for polishing and cutting diamonds for over 400 years, and it was Dutch diamond merchant Mozes Coster whose business was entrusted by the UK's Prince Albert to polish and re-cut the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond for Queen Victoria. Today you can see the Koh-I-Noor in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels.
At the Diamond museum you'll learn all about how diamonds are formed naturally, the different cuts you can buy and see replicas of famous crowns and diamonds from around the world. Interesting highlights include a challenge room criss-crossed with red lasers where you can try to steal a diamond in an imaginary heist, the Royal Coster Diamonds' cast of a gorilla skull set with over 17.000 diamonds (inspired by an artwork by Damien Hirst) and the outrageously extra Golden Racquet, a tennis racquet made of gold and studded with diamonds, awarded to any tennis player who won the European Community Championship three times in five years. So far only Amélie Mauresmo has managed! There is also a sparkly version of Van Gogh's Starry Night set with 500 twinkling diamonds.
Keep your ticket and pop next door to Royal Coster Diamonds. Founded in Amsterdam 180 years ago, this is the oldest still operating diamond polishing factory in the world! Here you can watch an expert clean and polish diamonds and admire a drool-worthy collection of jewellery.
3. Boat canal cruise
Did you know that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice? Over 100 kilometers worth and more than 1500 bridges! The Amsterdam canal ring is UNESCO listed, and the best way to see the city is from the water. The I amsterdam city pass includes a number of cruise company to choose from for a free ride. Bear in mind that you can only choose one - we went with Stromma as they depart every 40 - 50 minutes from right outside the Rijksmuseum.
To book your 75 minute canal cruise, head to the Stromma ticket office just out front of the Rijksmuseum and have your pass scanned. Depending on availability you'll be able to choose which cruise time you want - it might be worth nipping there after visiting the Rijksmuseum, and if the times line up you could do the cruise before visiting the diamond museum.
The cruise itself is beautiful. You'll pass elegant canal houses, churches, boat houses and even head out onto the wide river IJ past Amsterdam Centraal station, the A'dam Lookout tower and the futuristic Muziekgebouw concert hall. You'll also have an audio guide that tells you lots of stories and facts.
4. Heineken Experience
Proost! That's "cheers" in Dutch. 500m along the canal from Stromma's jetty is the old Heineken brewery, founded in Amsterdam and opened in 1867, and now home to a museum celebrating all things Heineken, one of the Netherlands' most famous exports. While not a total freebie, the I amsterdam card gives you 25% discounted entry. Follow this link to enter your city card number and reserve a time slot.
NB Under 18s are not able to visit the Heineken Experience, so if you are travelling with children, skip this step.
The exhibition guides you through beautiful older parts of the brewery and into an impressive immersive section where you are brewed, bottled and shipped out with 1000s of Heineken bottles. After trying a mini sample of the golden lager, you'll learn about the prestigious sporting events that Heineken has sponsored, like the Rugby World Cup, Formula 1 Grand Prix and the UEFA Champions League.
At the end of the visit you emerge into a basement bar, where the wrist band you were given at the beginning entitles you to 2 free beers.
For more info, we have a full write up about our visit to the Heineken Experience here!
4b. Hortus Botanicus
For those travelling with kids, or if you're not a beer fan, head north to the leafy green oasis of Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam's botanical gardens. No advance booking needed, just show your I amsterdam card at the entrance for free entry.
Our favourite part of the Hortus is the greenhouses. You can explore the big Three Climate Greenhouse, which takes you around the world from tropical rainforest to the African Cape and the desert through winding paths and overhead walkways. The Palm Greenhouse dates from 1911 and is a protected monument. It's home to a 350 year old giant cycad, a species that dates back to the days of the dinosaurs!
Hortus also has a year round butterfly house. Beautiful free flying tropical butterflies flit around the ceiling and rest on the lush green plants in the greenhouse. Be sure to check out the special pupae box where if you're lucky, you'll see butterflies hatch!
Other arty options on the I amsterdam city pass in the Rijksmuseum area:
Moco Museum - the Modern Contemporary museum is on Museumplein behind the Rijksmuseum and is famous for its substantial Banksy collection. No time slot required, free entry with the pass.
Stedelijk Museum - a fantastic collection of modern art and contemporary art design, also on Museumplein. From Bauhaus to Pop Art, Van Gogh to Malevich, there is something for everyone's tastes here. No time slot required, free entry with the pass.
1. Pancake Bakery
Start your day at 9am with breakfast at the Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht, close to the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk.
NB: The Anne Frank House is not included in the I amsterdam pass but well worth visiting. If you want to go and have time on your itinerary, you'd need to book 9am tickets for that morning (well in advance as the Anne Frank House typically sells out), and then head to the Pancake Bakery afterwards for brunch.
Set within a 17th century warehouse that once belonged to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), the Pancake Bakery has a huge range of delicious options, from traditional Dutch pancakes with powdered sugar to huge extravagant creations like the Canadian: bacon, onion, mushrooms, ham, cheese and BBQ sauce. The I amsterdam pass entitles you to £4.50 off the premium 'International' menu (which includes the Canadian), bringing them down to the same price as the regular more plain options. Make sure you let your waiter know that you have the pass when ordering and show it again when you ask for the bill so you can receive your discount.
2. Tulip Museum
Is there a more iconic symbol of the Netherlands than the tulip? On the other side of the canal to the Pancake Bakery is the tiny Amsterdam Tulip Museum. As well as a beautiful gift shop where you can buy bulbs to grow a wide range of gorgeous Tulip varieties (which you can take home to the UK and USA - we bought some for our mums!), the small but informative exhibition takes you through the the history of the Tulip industry, from the high mountains of Central Asia where Tulips were first discovered to the enormous colourful fields grown in the Netherlands today.
You'll learn about the Ottoman Empire's great love for the flowers (did you know the word Tulip comes from the Turkish for turban?), and how the merchants of the Dutch East India Company brought tulips to Europe in the 1600s, where there was an astonishing boom and bust as bulbs rocketed in price until they cost more than a house, before a devastating collapse. Fortunes were lost overnight.
Free entry with the I amsterdam card, no advance booking needed,
3. Houseboat museum
Another fab little museum included on the I amsterdam city pass is the Houseboat Museum, a pretty 10 minute walk away along the Prinsengracht canal. Free entry with the I amsterdam card, no advance booking needed,
Step on board the Hendrika Maria, a former cargo ship built in 1914. You can still see what the stern looked like 100 years ago when the skipper and his family lived onboard, with cosy little bunks and a dinky cooker and sink, but the really impressive part is what's been done with the hold since the freighter was converted into a Houseboat...
As you may or may not know, we converted a van into a camper during lockdown 2020, so we love seeing what other people have done with alternative living spaces. The inside of the Hendrika Maria is 80m², the size of an apartment, and the owners have made a lovely cosy home inside using all available space. The ticket office is locate in the kitchen, with full facilities, the living room area is comfy and homey, and there's even a shower room!
4. The Nieuwe Kerk
Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk is like London's Westminster Abbey, the church used for Coronations and Royal Weddings. Despite its name, the New Church is only about 100 years younger than Amsterdam's Old Church and was consecrated in 1408. You'll find the Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square, next to the Royal Palace, and while it no longer holds church services, it's found a new purpose as an exhibition space.
The exhibition running at the moment until April 10th 2023 celebrates the life and reign of Queen Juliana, the current King's Grandmother. Quirky, feminist and a fan of some seriously trendy cat eye glasses, Juliana was close to the UK's Queen Elizabeth II and we enjoyed learning about their state visits visiting each other.
Visiting the Nieuwe Kerk is free with the I amsterdam card (saving you a whopping €19,50!), but you need to prebook a time slot online - scroll down the various discounts and concessions and you'll find an option for I amsterdam card.
NB the Nieuwe Kerk is closed on Mondays!
5. Free jenever at de Drie Fleschjes
Who doesn't love a cheeky freebie! Just behind De Nieuwe Kerk is De Drie Fleschjes, the oldest tasting room in Amsterdam. Serving delicious jenever (also known as 'Dutch Gin') since 1650, bag a spot at the tiny bar and have a chat with Johannes Bulthouse who will guide you through his range of jenever on offer and how to drink it correctly.
You get a free glass of jenever with your I amsterdam card, but to drink it like a local, buy a small pilsner beer to sip alongside it - this combination is called a headbutt! It is also customary to dip your head to the bar and sip the first slurp of jenever without picking up the glass - the measure is poured right to the top, so this helps you avoid spilling any! Anthony Bourdain visited this bar in 2012, filming an Amsterdam episode for The Layover.
6. Red Light Secrets
If you're not travelling with kids, finish your day in De Wallen, Amsterdam's world famous Red Light District. Deep in the Medieval old town, sex workers stand in red lit windows surrounded by adult shops and live sex shows. It's a bewildering, liberating place where seemingly anything goes - prostitution has been legal here since the 19th century and the ban on brothels was lifted in 2000. The women who work in the district are self employed, renting their windows and paying taxes on their earnings. They even have a union, and police are quick to help if the women activated an emergency light outside their window. We found the area both empowering and sad - while many women are here through choice and have far better working conditions than many sex workers around the world, there are still reports of trafficking and of girls being coerced by pimps.
To learn more about who works in the Red Light District and why, and to hear their stories first hand, the I amsterdam card will get you 25% off entry to Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution. Housed within a former brothel, the museum's audio tour is narrated by Inga who has been a sex worker in Amsterdam for 15 years. You can't book online using the I amsterdam city card, you need to buy tickets on the door and show the pass to get your discount.
1. A'dam Lookout
This morning, head north with your I amsterdam pass to explore Amsterdam Noord, the hip district on the far side of the IJ River. A free ferry whisks you across the water in a couple of minutes - it leaves from behind Centraal station and you can take bikes on board as well.
Opposite the train station on the north bank is the square topped A'dam Tower - now at first glance, compared to Chicago's Willis Tower or London's Shard, the 22 storey A'dam Tower looks positively stubby, but bear in mind that the Netherlands is incredibly flat and Amsterdam city centre doesn't have any sky scrapers, so you don't need to climb 100 floors to get a great view!
You don't need to pre book a slot, just scan your I amsterdam city card in exchange for a free ticket and head to the lift, which whizzes you up to the A'dam Lookout while playing a funky accompanying light show. Up until 2016, this tower was Royal Dutch Shell Oil's offices, and today the building incorporates a hotel, a nightclub, offices and a revolving restaurant.
Head outside onto the observation deck and enjoy 360 degree views of Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside- if you want you can pay £6 down at the ticket desk to ride Over the Edge, Europe's highest swing, which launches you out over the edge of the building, 100m above the ground!
2. This is Holland Flight
Directly next door to the A'dam Tower is the drum shaped This is Holland building, where you can take a 5D immersive simulator flight over gorgeous Dutch landscapes while learning about the country's history and innovative flood defenses. We've been on a similar ride in Tokyo's DisneySea (check out our visitor's guide to Disneysea) and loved it, and this was equally spectacular. Suspended in mid air in comfy seats with harnesses, you soar over famous Dutch landscapes like the Keukenhof tulip fields, Rotterdam's busy port and Apeldoorn Palace, complete with immersive special effects like the spray of the sea and the smell of the tulips.
You do need to reserve a time slot for This is Holland, select the "pre-book ticket" option on the This is Holland website and make sure to bring your confirmation email/e ticket along with your I amsterdam card to show the cashier.
3. STRAAT street art museum
Nip back across to Centraal station on the ferry to pick up a different boat to NDSM. Formerly home to Amsterdam's shipbuilding industry, today the warehouses of this district have been turned into amazing art galleries and flats. The I amsterdam card will get you 25% off entry into STRAAT Museum for Street Art and Graffiti where you can explore 8000 square metres of amazing creations, some as big as the warehouse walls, including a huge mural of Anne Frank. To book discounted tickets use this link here and have your I amsterdam card ready to show when you arrive.
For more cool street art, pop next door to the open yard where a market is held at weekends, then take a wander through NDSM Loods, an enormous repurposed ship building warehouse full of artists' workshops and interesting art installations.
4. Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic)
Finish the day by mopping up a couple more things in Amsterdam's Medieval Old Town. First stop, Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder. Tucked away in the attic of a 17th century Merchant's house is an exquisite tiny Catholic church. When Amsterdam became Protestant in 1578, Catholics and other denominations were forbidden from attending public services. However, the Dutch Republic's ideals of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience meant that unlike the religious persecutions in other European countries at this time, people were free to keep their own beliefs in their homes. This led to the creation of hidden house churches where worshippers could practice their faith discreetly. In 1888 after the Catholic Church of St Nicholas was opened nearby, the clandestine "church in the attic" was no longer needed and the house became a museum.
Your ticket includes an enjoyable audio guide that leads you through the merchant's living rooms, still furnished as they would have been in the 1660s, and up into the beautiful tiny church which has been left as it would have looked in the 19th century when the church was last used for religious ceremonies.
Entry is free with the I amsterdam pass, you just need to book a time slot in advance. Select the "Reservation for free ticket" option on the museum's website and show your city pass when you arrive.
5. Oude Kerk
Amsterdam's Old Church is right in the heart of the Red Light District, with sex workers operating in windows lining the surrounding square. Out front of the church, a bronze statue of a woman, Belle, bears a plaque reading "Respect sex workers all over the world."
Another Medieval architectural treasure (De Wallen has some of the finest historic buildings in Amsterdam), the Old Church was consecrated in 1306, and was a Catholic church until the Reformation in 1578. Most of the religious art and icons was destroyed by Protestants, apart from the beautiful wooden ceiling which still has its Medieval paintings. Its the largest wooden vaulted ceiling in Europe and creates amazing acoustics; check the Church's music programme for upcoming events - the Oude Kerk often hosts performances like organ recitals and choir concerts.
The floor is made up of 2500 numbered stone tombstones - see if you can find Saskia van Uylenburgh, Rembrandt's wife, who is buried under number 29.
Is the I amsterdam city pass worth it?
How much money can you save with an I amsterdam card?
You will save so much money by using an I amsterdam card! It covers most of the top attractions in Amsterdam, so you'll easily be able to tick off everything you were planning on visiting (and paying full price for).
For example, here is how much we each saved on our Amsterdam entry fees :
Rijksmuseum - € 20.00
Diamonds Museum - € 11.00
Stromma canal cruise - €18.50
Heineken Experience - € 5.25 saving (25% discount)
Hortus Botanicus - € 12.00
Pancake Bakery - € 4.50 saving
Tulip Museum - € 5.00
Houseboat Museum - € 4.50
Nieuwe Kerk - € 19.50
Red Light Secrets Museum - € 3.60 saving (25% discount)
A'dam Lookout - € 16.50
This is Holland 5D Flight - € 25.00
STRAAT - € 4.38 saving (25% discount)
Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder - €15.50
Oude Kerk - € 12.00
Total savings: € 177.23 each plus a free glass of jenever!
When you also factor in 3 days of public transport (another €25.50), this brings the savings up to € 202.73! Subtract the cost of a 72 hour card and that's a saving of over €100 per person. Brilliant!