Amsterdam: The Ultimate 3-Day Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

Iconic building besides a canal – Three days in Amsterdam The Netherlands

Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands, is one of Europe’s great cities. Famous for its many canals and even more abundant bicycles, Amsterdam is an unmissable stop on any European tour and makes for a fantastic weekend trip for any travelers who are already in Europe.

Full of beautiful architecture, picturesque cobblestone streets, incredible artwork, and full of history, Amsterdam has something for everyone. Whilst you may have heard of Amsterdam’s nightlife scene including its famous Red-Light District, the city is so much more than a place for group boozy holidays.

I recently spent 3 days in Amsterdam and was blown away by how stunningly beautiful the city is. Mixed with the interesting history and the friendly locals, I am already planning my next visit. I cannot wait to return. Keep reading for all my top tips for 3 days in the Dutch capital.

Is 3 Days Enough In Amsterdam?

You might be asking if 3 days in Amsterdam is enough. Absolutely it is! 3 to 4 days is usually a good amount of time to spend in any city on a first visit. It is the perfect amount of time to settle into the city’s vibe and not feel too rushed when exploring the city.

Amsterdam is a smaller capital city than London or Paris but bigger than cities like Barcelona and Milan, so it is a walkable city. That said, Amsterdam has a lot of attractions and things to do, and you would find it a rush to see everything in 3 days. I always prefer to take things at a more relaxed and flexible pace. By not packing an itinerary fully, it allows you to still have the time to explore the bits you like further.

3 days in Amsterdam will give you the perfect introduction and still leave you with some sights to see when you inevitably return!

Amsterdam: Day One

Explore the Jordaan neighborhood

Start your day by exploring the beautiful neighborhood of The Jordaan. This district was originally a working-class area but is now one of the trendiest in the city. It is known for its picturesque canals, quaint streets, and vibrant atmosphere.

The area is part of Amsterdam’s Canal Belt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the perfect place to start your exploration of the city. Head to the area early to find deserted streets, perfect for taking those iconic shots of the city.

Head to Moods Coffee Corner for breakfast. The café offers a good range of breakfast items with quick and friendly service. The food is delicious, and you can even sit outside on a sunny day, enjoying views of the canal.

The Jordaan is also known for its boutique shops, art galleries, and vintage stores, making it the perfect area to do some shopping. The Noordermarkt hosts a popular weekly market where you can find all manner of things. 

The best thing about the Jordaan neighborhood is the chance to explore Amsterdam without as many crowds, marveling at the beautiful homes and canals. Head to Het Brillenpaleis to see one of the prettiest buildings in the neighborhood. This eyewear shop is covered with ivy and in summer and fall comes alive with greenery, perfect for some stunning photos.

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

After exploring the Jordaan neighborhood, continue your day at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, located within the same area. You could not come to Amsterdam without learning about one of its most popular products.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is a small shop and museum dedicated to the tulip. Located on Prinsengracht across the canal from the Anne Frank House, this is a great spot for learning about the origins of the tulip, the different varieties, and how it came to be a major export of The Netherlands.

Entry to the museum costs €5 and you will only need half an hour to explore but it is a great experience for learning about the tulip. Inside the store, there are plenty of tulip-related souvenirs to purchase. Imagine decorative items, pens, tote bags, ornaments, and artwork. 

There are also tulip bulbs for sale but please check your country of origin’s restrictions on bringing in agricultural products. The museum shop sells bulbs that meet US and Canadian regulations but not UK regulations so check these carefully.

Anne Frank House

One of Amsterdam’s most famous and saddest tourist attractions is the Anne Frank House. This museum house is open to the public and is the site where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in a secret annex during World War II.

Anne Frank is best known for her diary, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl,’ which was written whilst she was in hiding. The diary details their daily life and her experiences, thoughts, and emotions during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. It is one of the most widely read books in the world.

The museum features a variety of exhibits detailing Anne’s life, the history of the Holocaust, and the impact of discrimination and persecution. Visitors can see the secret annex where Anne and her family lived alongside original artifacts and photographs, offering a poignant experience.

The museum is open from 9 AM to 10 PM every day. Tickets cost €16 for adults, €7 for 10-17-year-olds and €1 for children under 10.

Pro-Tip: As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, the Anne Frank House is extremely popular. Tickets are released every Tuesday at 10 AM CET for a visit six weeks later. You need to buy tickets in advance as these sell out quickly.

If you are planning a last-minute trip to Amsterdam and can’t get tickets, I highly recommend the Anne Frank Tour by Free Walking Tours Amsterdam. This two-hour tour gives you the history of Amsterdam under the Nazi occupation and explains the courageous acts of various people in many locations around the city, including the story of the Franks. 

Canal Boat Tour

Amsterdam is the city of canals and with so many in the city, the best way to explore it is by taking a canal boat tour. Offering a unique perspective, you will get to see the city from the water.

One of the most striking things about Amsterdam is the beauty of its canal houses and picturesque bridges. Most canal tours will couple these panoramic views with informative audio commentary, explaining the history, architecture, and culture of the city.

There are so many different options for a canal boat tour. Many offer hop-on-hop-off tours, giving you great flexibility as to where you board. There are also evening cruises and themed tours further giving a unique perspective. I even saw a bottomless brunch pink-themed boat cruise if that is your thing!

With something for every preference, a canal boat tour is the perfect relaxing experience on an afternoon in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam: Day Two

Westerkerk

One of Amsterdam’s imaginatively named churches, Westerkerk or Western Church in English is one of Amsterdam’s most famous landmarks. It was consecrated in 1631 and is intricately linked with the Dutch artist Rembrandt who is buried nearby.

The tower is the tallest church tower in Amsterdam, standing at 85 meters tall. The interior of the church has a spacious nave with elegant columns and large windows letting in lots of natural light.

Guided tours of the church are available, and visitors can climb the tower for panoramic views of the city. It is a great vantage point to look out over the city and start your second day.

Dam Square

Dam Square is the heart of Amsterdam. Located in the center of the city, the square is a natural meeting place for people and provides easy access to a range of sights.

Some of Amsterdam’s most important buildings are located in the square. In the center, you have the National Monument.

This white stone obelisk was erected in 1956 to commemorate the victims of World War II and is a focal point for national events as well as a meeting point for locals.

On the opposite side of the square, you will see the Royal Palace. This building dates to the 17th century and was originally a city hall before being redesigned as the Royal Palace. Today it is a ceremonial residence of the Dutch royal family and is open for guided tours.

Finally, there is the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church in English. This is a Gothic-style church dating back to the 15th century. It is no longer used as a church but hosts exhibitions, concerts, and cultural events throughout the year.

Walking Tour

One of my favorite things to do in any new city is to go on a walking tour. This way you learn about the history of the city and see the city through the eyes of a local. You often pick up some great recommendations and places to see that are off the beaten track. 

Most walking tours start at Dam Square. If you are on a last-minute trip to Amsterdam, chances are you might not have been lucky enough to get a ticket to the Anne Frank House. There are many walking tours that will explain the history of the city during World War II that are a good substitute. 

I went on three whilst I was in Amsterdam and thoroughly enjoyed each one. Whether you are interested in architecture, history or even food, there is a tour suited to your interests.

Van Gogh Museum

One of The Netherlands’ most famous painters, Van Gogh has a museum dedicated entirely to his works. Located in the Museumplein Park on the opposite side of the park to the Rijksmuseum, the museum is one of the most popular in the city.

The museum is home to the largest collection of art by Vincent Van Gogh in the world and houses hundreds of paintings, drawings, and letters. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous works are in the museum including the Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and many of his iconic self-portraits.

Similar to the Anne Frank House, this is an extremely popular museum, so it is important to book tickets in advance to not be disappointed. Tickets are €22 for adults and free for under 18s.

Red Light District

The Netherlands and Amsterdam are known for their liberal attitudes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s Red Light District. One of Amsterdam’s most famous and unique neighborhoods, it is known for its legalized prostitution and vibrant nightlife. Whilst you may now be in Amsterdam for the party, it is still a place to experience.

The Red Light District is famous for its narrow streets, canals, and iconic, red-lit windows. Prostitution is legal in The Netherlands and the area is heavily regulated by the government, ensuring the health and safety of the workers.

As well as exploring the streets of the district, there are numerous coffee shops and bars; it is one of the most popular nighttime spots in the city. There are also historical sites such as the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and the Amsterdam Museum so there is plenty to see in the area as well as its famous windows.

Amsterdam: Day Three

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is The Netherlands’ answer to Paris’s Louvre or Madrid’s Prado Museum, being a celebration of Dutch art. Located next to Museumplein Park, the area is a hub for some of the city’s best art museums (the Van Gogh Museum is located in the same area!) and a great place to start your third day.

The museum houses an extensive collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings including famous pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. There are also numerous historical artifacts, decorative arts, and a vast amount of Asian art. You would need an entire morning to see everything in the museum!

The most famous piece of artwork in the museum is The Night Watch by Rembrandt. This huge painting depicts a group of city guardsmen and is known for its use of light and dynamic composition. It sits on the 2nd floor of the museum and is a remarkable sight.

The building itself is also very impressive. There is a stunning library within the museum and a grand central hall. Upstairs there are impressive stained-glass windows in majestic halls adding to the grandeur of the place.

The museum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily and it is recommended that you book tickets in advance as it can fill up.

Nieuwmarkt

Nieuwmarkt translates as New Market in English and today is a bustling square with historic buildings, shops, and restaurants. It is a popular gathering point for locals and tourists.

The Nieuwmarkt was built in the 17th century and was originally a marketplace for goods. Nowadays it is a great spot to grab some lunch, people watch, and browse the market stalls that are in the square. Heading there on Saturday, you will be greeted by an organic food market and the chance to try lots of different products.

Nearby you also have Amsterdam’s Chinatown. Home to various restaurants and shops, if you are looking for Asian food for lunch, you will find exactly what you are looking for here.

Tony’s Chocolonely Super Store

A quick pitstop for the chocolate lovers! Tony’s Chocolonely is a Dutch chocolate brand known throughout the world for its ethical production and commitment to fair trade. Lucky for the chocolate lovers, they are based in Amsterdam and have a Willy Wonka-esque store.

Tony’s Chocolonely Super Store is free to enter (but you may need to queue!). Inside you will find information about the brand and its mission to create a slave-free chocolate industry. There is a huge wall of chocolate bars in all different varieties, and you can pull the lever to grab your own.

There is a multitude of different chocolate varieties, so you are guaranteed to find something you like. Also, there is lots of merchandise, including totes, mugs, and clothing.

You will only need 15 minutes to visit Tony’s, but it is a fun experience and a great excuse to buy some delicious ethical chocolate!

Centraal Station

Amsterdam Centraal, The Netherlands

After Tony’s, head north to the Centraal Station. Located on the banks of the River Ij, one of Amsterdam’s main rivers, this is the biggest railway station in Amsterdam. Chances are you will have arrived here on your initial journey into Amsterdam from the airport as it is a major transport hub.

The station itself is beautiful in a similar way to Valencia’s Estació del Nord and is worth a visit. It was opened in 1889 and has a blend of Gothic and Renaissance Revival styles. There is a grand façade, ornate decorations, and a distinctive clock tower.

Inside you will find spacious halls, intricate tile work, and beautiful stained glass windows. It is also the perfect departure point for the next stop on your list, regardless of what you choose!

Johan Cryuff Arena (Optional)

One for the football fans! If football is not your thing, you might want to stay in the city center and explore some more. You could even head to Amsterdam-Noord on the free ferry to explore the cute villages found across the River Ij. However, if you are into football head to the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Formerly known as the Amsterdam Arena, the stadium has since been renamed in honor of the Dutch legend, Johan Cryuff. The stadium is home to AFC Ajax, The Netherlands’ most successful club, the Dutch National Team, and is used for various music events. It is the largest stadium in The Netherlands.

The stadium can be easily accessed from Centraal Station via the Metro and offers visitors the chance to see all aspects of the stadium. You can either book a classic tour or a guided tour for more information. I did the guided tour, and it was excellent value for money.

The tour takes in both dressing rooms, the tunnel, the press room, the pitch, trophy room and you get the chance to sit in the manager’s chair as if you were the manager of Ajax yourself. There is also a team shop for all your souvenirs and a restaurant if you get hungry.

FAQs

How Many Days Is OK for Amsterdam?

3 to 4 days is the perfect amount of time for a trip to Amsterdam. The city has plenty of attractions to keep you busy and 3 to 4 days will be enough days to see the major sights and start to delve a little deeper into Amsterdam life.

Of course, if you are staying longer, you will be able to see more of Amsterdam away from the major tourist attractions. Many of the major sights are located south of the River Ij which is where a lot of tourists will spend their time. Venturing over the river to Amsterdam Noord, will take you off the beaten track and give you the chance to explore cute villages and green spaces, showing a different side of the city.

Likewise, by staying longer, you will have the chance to venture out of the city and see more of this incredible country.

Is Paris Better Than Amsterdam?

How do you begin to compare two of Europe’s most famous cities?! Both Paris and Amsterdam have so many things to see and do that the question of which is better is entirely down to personal preference.

Paris has a rich history, incredible museums such as the Louvre, and many iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Known for its romantic atmosphere, the city also boasts an incredible food scene, is home to some of the most famous fashion brands in the world, and has a vibrant cultural life.

Amsterdam has a more picturesque vibe due to its cobbled streets and winding canals that are prevalent across the city. It is more laid-back than Paris and boasts some unique, historic architecture in the form of its canal houses. It also has unique sights such as the Anne Frank House and world-class art museums such as the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.

Having visited both, Amsterdam suited my style more than Paris. Being interested in modern history, Amsterdam’s story fascinated me. Tulips are also my favorite flowers so going in April added an extra special memory for the trip.

Is Amsterdam The Most Beautiful City In Europe?

Deciding the most beautiful city in Europe is an impossible task! How do you decide which city is the most beautiful on a continent that has cities such as Paris, Rome, Vienna and so many more? By choosing one, I would risk the wrath of the residents of so many European cities who would rightfully claim that their city is the most beautiful.

What I can say is that Amsterdam is a stunning city. The canal houses and canals give Amsterdam a distinctive character. So intrinsically linked with the city in a similar way to Gaudí’s architectural association with Barcelona, Amsterdam has its own character and charm that make you want to explore every street and marvel at its beauty.

Having visited 15 of Europe’s capitals and many more of its cities, I can safely say that Amsterdam more than holds its own and has a good claim at being Europe’s most beautiful city.

What Is The Best Part Of Amsterdam To Stay In?

The best part of a city to stay in will always depend on the focus of your trip. Every traveler has their own preferences about where they want to stay. If you are heading to Amsterdam for its nightlife, you are inevitably going to want to be closer to the center and its Red-Light District, where a lot of the action happens.

However, my top recommendation is to stay in the Jordaan district of the city. I spent two of my three nights in a hotel here and it was stunning. The Jordaan is a historic neighborhood close to the city center. It was originally a working-class area but is now one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city.

The Jordaan is famous for its art heritage with Rembrandt once living in the area. The neighborhood was also home to Anne Frank and her house is located within the district, making it a wonderful place to stay. The area also hosts weekly markets such as Noordermarkt and the Lindengrachtmarkt, both of which are great to explore.

One of my favorite memories from the trip was getting up early and wandering the beautiful streets of the Jordaan, taking photos, and exploring the beautiful streets without aim. This makes it my top pick for the best place to stay in Amsterdam.

Final Thoughts

Amsterdam is hands-down one of Europe’s greatest cities. The iconic capital of The Netherlands is the perfect choice for a 3-day break and will surprise you every step of the way. Whilst known for its nightlife, it is a stunningly beautiful city with a plethora of activities.

Whether you are into art, nature, food, history, or partying, Amsterdam has something for everyone. 3 days in Amsterdam will give you a great overview of the city but leave with the thirst to come back for more to keep peeling back the layers of this incredible place. I highly recommend a stay in the city and hope this guide has helped convince you to book those flights to Amsterdam!

Liam Mulligan runs Travels Around Spain

Keep planning your visit with these 10 Amsterdam day trips: