The Top Five Things to Do in Amsterdam in 24 Hours

The Top Five Things to Do in Amsterdam in 24 Hours

I have to admit, before my visit in November, my impression of Amsterdam was that it was a party town, a place to score mary jane and watch lots of live porn. Mind you, this was coming from a very uninformed point of view. The Amsterdam that I actually witnessed is the polar opposite. In fact, it struck me as being very family friendly, cultural, progressive, stylish and a historical bulwark of days gone by.

We’d decided that we wanted to take a day-trip while we were in Paris. My motto is if I am going to cross an ocean, I’m going to make it worth my while. So, what better way to maximize our experience than to visit a city that I had long wondered about after seeing so many beautiful pictures posted on various social media by my travel blogger friends. Maybe I should give the city a try despite the questionable reputation that preceded it?

The problem was that we would only have one day to experience the true ambiance of a city that held so much promise as I began to do my research. So, I decided to set a challenge for the two of us (my daughter, Carisa and me); we would attempt to use that limited time to discover the top 5 things to do if you only had a day in Amsterdam.




The best resource in helping us to meet that challenge was to contact the city’s Tourism Office. The number one thing to do is to purchase their 24-hour I amsterdam city card for 40 euros. It truly is the most cost effective and less taxing way to see as many of the famous, local museums, gardens and the local zoo.  Other activities can be experienced at 25% off the entrance fee.  The card is actually a mini-guidebook with tips from locals on must-sees, maps, a list of literally everything there is to do in the city when it comes to shops, restaurants, gardens, comedy clubs, night clubs, etc.

When you open the book, you will see a museum pass and a travel pass affixed to the inside cover. Carefully remove these two cards because the museum pass will allow you unlimited entry into all museums within the time specified. Similarly, the travel pass will allow you unlimited passage on all of the local transportation systems like the Tram or the Metro Buses for the same 24 hours; the clock starts ticking as soon as you scan it.



Be sure to wave your travel pass across this scanner when boarding AND exiting a bus or tram.

If you happen to have more time on your hands than we did, you can also purchase a 48-hour card for 50 euros or a 72-hour card for 60 euros. You can purchase your card from any of the six tourist offices, but I got mine from their VVV Service Center which is located right across from the Amsterdam Central Train station in the city center and the # 26 tram line that brought me to the city center from the bus depot where Megabus dropped us off.

Amsterdam Tourism Office
VVV Service Center
Noord-Zuid Hollands Koffiehuis, Stationsplain, 10
Phone +31 (0) 20 201 8800
Open: Monday – Saturday 9 am – 6 pm; Sunday 9 am – 5 pm


A Foggy, early morning view of the Amsterdam Central Train Station; the trams were located right in front and were easily accessible.


Here is my personal pick of the top five things that you should make sure that you do when you visit this very popular European city.

1. Visit the Hermitage Museum to view the visiting Van Gogh Collection

The Van Gogh Museum is currently undergoing renovations (will reopen May 1, 2013) so the bulk of their exhibition is being hosted at the Hermitage which can be reached from Central Station via Tram line 9 or 14 to Waterlooplein metro station and is located at 51, Amstel Street. There is a 2.50 euro surcharge to see the “Vincent” exhibition, so be prepared for that. You will have the option to check out a self-directed audio tour. The audio tour is available in Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian and English and costs € 5.   No photography is allowed which wasn’t a big surprise given how tourists with their flash cams have wreaked havoc for the rest of us. They will also expect you to check any bags before viewing the exhibition. For the past six months, The Hermitage has been hosting a retrospective on Impressionist Art and not only did we enjoy the painting and sketches of Van Gogh, but the masterpieces of Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Cezanne, Renoir, and Pissarro were a beautiful bonus. That exhibition ends on January 13, 2013.


At first glance, you would mistake the Museum for a College campus. It has a stately countenance and is rather sizable.


2. Take a Canal Cruise with the Blue Boat Tour Company

This is really a no-brainer because you will get to see the city from a divine perspective that can be missed when taking a leisurely street stroll. The city will soon celebrate the 400th anniversary of the canal’s construction so I am sure there will be many festivities to honor one of the things that make this city so uniquely special. Take the Tram 1, 2 or 5 to Leidseplein (I was hoping this was how the Metal band Led Zeppelin got its name….apparently that is not the case) Metro Station. You will board at Stadhouderskade 3o, right across from The Hard Rock Cafe. The City card offered our cruise for free.


The clearance was pretty low, but we made it through.


3. Visit the Anne Frank House

Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention in class because I didn’t remember that Amsterdam is where the Frank family hid from the Nazis during WWII.  They spent two years hiding in fear of being discovered by the SS forces which were occupying much of Europe during that time.  Decades later, now dubbed The Anne Frank House,  it is situated in the center of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267. It takes around 20 minutes to walk from the Central Station to the museum. Trams 13, 14 and 17 and buses 170, 172 and 174 stop nearby, at the ‘Westermarkt’ stop.  The lines are extremely long, but you can save time and avoid having to queue by buying tickets online for a reserved time for  € 9.50 per adult.  Note: They do not accept the I Amsterdam card.

Copyright Anne Frank House. Photographer Juul Hondius.

4. Get a birds’ eye view of the city by riding a bike!

It is estimated that there are more than 881,000 bicycles in the city of Amsterdam and about 780,000 residents.  Over half of the population chooses this mode of daily transportation over cars and public transportation.  Near the Amsterdam Central Station alone, there are over 7800 bike parking spaces.

My personal observation is that it is so easy to see why this is the case.  The city is one of the most bike-friendly locations that I’ve ever seen.  There is an extensive bike path network which makes it a safe mode of travel.  I saw many mothers biking with their wee ones in tow.  I think there are so many things that Urban America could learn from studying this system.  There are plenty of cars milling about, yet they seem to co-exist with bicycles and most certainly contributes to a more pollution free environment.

There are roughly 900 people injured in traffic accidents in Amsterdam every year and the vast majority are cyclists.  One could argue it’s because helmets aren’t required, but I will let you be the judge of that.  All in all, it is a great way to traverse the city and sightsee at your own pace.  Several bike rental shops offer 25% off with the I Amsterdam card.


As soon as this one sped by, there was another right behind. Of course, that’s not surprising when there are more bikes than people.


5. Visit the FOAM Museum

It is located at Keizersgracht 690 and can be reached by taking Trams 4, 16, 24 or 25.  This museum is dedicated to the art of Photography. One Photographer of note is exhibited for a period of several months. We had the pleasure of viewing the works of the late Diane Arbus. This black and white collection was Ms. Arbus’ celebration and in fact, a challenge to that which most people would view as ugly, undesirable, and living outside the boundaries of good taste and propriety.

I saw her photographs as shocking and antithetical to what was usually put on display in museums. I thought that her subjects were brave to agree to be photographed in such a candid, raw manner but they not only agreed to it, their faces belie the fact that they enjoyed their new-found role in being the center of attention.

The Foam Museum curates a treasure trove of photographic works.


One of Diane Arbus’ flawless works.

“Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that’s what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.” – Diane Arbus




Renee King
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  • Tracy Antonioli
    Posted at 16:27h, 20 December Reply

    I love that you looked at your limited time as a challenge (and as something to write about) rather than a negative. I do that ALL the time! Particularly the ‘well, I can write about this’ part!

    I visited Amsterdam for a little more than 36 hours; I took the first train from Paris in the morning, stayed one night, and took a late train back the next day. I wished I’d had more time! It’s a gorgeous city!

  • Sarah Park
    Posted at 22:25h, 20 December Reply

    Amsterdam is also the place I have longed to visit. I wish I could visit the place by next year and do the things you did there.

    • Renee King
      Posted at 11:14h, 21 December Reply

      You should, Sarah! It’s too beautiful to put off or worse….miss!

  • Peter Lee
    Posted at 09:09h, 22 December Reply

    Amsterdam is not a very big city, but one must visit the Royal Palace, the Rijkmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, go on canal boat rides, rent a bike & go ride around. This is the best and quickest way to make most of your journey.

  • Leon
    Posted at 15:24h, 30 December Reply

    My Mom went to Amsterdamn earlier on the year and she went to a few of the places that you named. I just showed her this blog and she pointed them out. Good read!

    • Renee King
      Posted at 08:18h, 02 January Reply

      That’s my one regret….not visiting earlier in the year…guess that means I have to go back, huh? I must see the tulips in bloom at Keukenhof next time! Thanks for stopping by, Leon!

  • Jenna
    Posted at 11:08h, 01 January Reply

    Wow! that’s so awesome, loving it. I wonder what would you doing in the next few hours! this is just another lovely post of yours, we all really look forward to more. Keep enjoying !

  • ANGLO/Dale
    Posted at 22:55h, 03 January Reply

    Apart from my own personal distaste on how the Van Gogh museum is organised, seeing the collection it self is a must & getting the iAmsterdam card or annual musuem card is extremely worth it.

    In fact, you can also see the Anne Frank House & FOAM Collection using the annual musuem card, which we chose. I think it was €50. But of course, you don’t get the transport 🙁 Good job we both like walking so much.

    Did you consider the Eye Film Museum which just recently opened?

  • candice michelle
    Posted at 00:01h, 10 January Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

  • TheTuscan
    Posted at 08:52h, 13 January Reply

    We reached Amsterdam by car. I don’t remember the exact price, but there was a special offer for 24h parking + train which was around 6 euro. It was 2010.
    Thank you for the list of to-dos when in Amsterdam. When we were there we just walked around enjoying what we encountered, but there was indeed one place we had in mind before leaving already: Anne Frank’s hiding place. Not a happy place, but it was worth it.

  • Agness
    Posted at 07:33h, 14 January Reply

    Great guide! I was in Amsterdam last month and saw the same things but it took me two days 🙂

  • Althea Young
    Posted at 23:57h, 14 January Reply

    Thanks for touring us in Amsterdam, I really appreciate the place and it is truly beautiful. By the way thanks a lot for sharing this to us.

  • Scott
    Posted at 10:19h, 28 February Reply

    Hope to go there soon.

  • Jessica
    Posted at 21:58h, 09 April Reply

    I’m going to be in/near A’dam in a couple weeks and join the Flower Parade. Was told it is a very awesome event!

    • Renee King
      Posted at 10:20h, 11 April Reply

      I hate that I’m going to miss it. That’s right up my alley! Enjoy!

  • Danny
    Posted at 20:35h, 26 June Reply

    I agree about most places, except Anne Frank House. Sure the story is interesting, but if it is a busy day you kind of want to get out of there as soon as possible 🙂

  • Paul Walker
    Posted at 04:10h, 19 October Reply

    I love posts like these, It gives us a goal to complete when visiting new places. Nice write Renee! 🙂

  • Escapist
    Posted at 04:21h, 11 January Reply

    Beautiful expensive city that’s more boring than they say. It’s pretty much the same everywhere, although very beautiful architecture surrounds you and it’s clean. The unique attractions are scarce.
    One could say the entire city is unique…

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  • BackpackingAcademic
    Posted at 09:50h, 28 November Reply

    Ah also don’t forget the beautiful Vondel Park! I could spend hours there only sitting by a tree near a stream and reading! 🙂

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