Our stop in Amsterdam was part of a larger European experience. We had a few days only, and I wanted to make sure we hit some of the best cultural activities in Amsterdam. It was just my husband and I. As you’ll read, some of our trip was planned, and some of it happened spontaneously. I can highly recommend a trip to Amsterdam if you’ve ever considered it.
Day 1 (Monday)
Monday afternoon, we took the Thalys Speed Train from Garde de Nord, France to Amsterdam. That is a lovely train ride. We saw rural France and Belgium on the way and arrived in Amsterdam by dinnertime. By about 5.30 pm we checked into the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel which was our accommodation for the next three nights.
Canal Boat Tour
We bought tickets for a canal boat tour and just made it on the boat. The canals of Amsterdam are definitely worth doing if you’ve never been to Amsterdam before. You get a feel for how important the canals are historically and even today.
Canal tours are typically an hour long. Editors note: you can purchase a discount ticket for a canal tour from our affiliate partner here.
We sat next to a mother-daughter team who had just been to the Van Gogh Museum and mentioned we should get tickets for the following day. We took their advice and booked online to go first thing the next morning.
After the canal boat tour, we strolled through the city and made our way to Sam’s favorite pancake restaurant—The Pancake Eatery. After a savory pancake and a hot chocolate we walked back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Day 2 (Tuesday)
Van Gogh Museum
With a plan to start at the Van Gogh Museum, we ate breakfast near the museum at a cute little fru fru place (as Sam, my husband, calls it). I don’t remember the name, but there are lots of great places to eat near the museums. It had lots of healthy options—smoothies, vegan, eggs, muesli, all kinds of good stuff. We walked to the museum a little before 9 am and got right in.
Van Gogh, renowned for cutting off his own ear, is one of the Netherlands most celebrated artists. This museum opens from 9 am and is least busy from 9-11 am. Most people spend 1.5-2 hours here. You will need a ticket with a start time on it. You can order these online direct with Van Gogh Museum here.
We spent several hours there and picked up some cute souvenirs for the kids; the Starry Night socks in particular were a big hit!
We walked to a small little lunch café near the Rembrandt Museum and had wonderful salads and sandwiches. The food was really fresh and delicious. We purchased tickets for the museum ahead of time, for the 2 pm slot.
This gave us an hour to peruse Rembrandt’s home of many years. His studio is at the top of the house with beautiful natural light. He taught his students there as well. A few docents stayed to offer information and demonstrated mixing paint colors.
Anne Frank House
I had not been able to pre-purchase Anne Frank tickets (since it books out super far in advance) but they do sell a small number of tickets each day—but the queue is long—I was not hopeful ☹.
However, Sam decided to try again during lunch and was successful! We got tickets for the 5 pm time slot. Sam had already been another time, and he remembers all the stairs involved, so just got one ticket for me. Read about online ticket purchase for Anne Frank House here.
We grabbed a taxi and headed over to the Anne Frank House. I spent about 90 minutes there. The museum provides an incredible audio tour and it was very well done. It is the perfect amount of information and memorabilia and is a cultural highlight of Amsterdam.
This is a must if you’ve ever been moved by the story of Anne Frank, or her diary. The non-profit that runs the museum in the house where she hid is dedicated to awareness and research of antisemitism, racism and right-wing extremism in the Netherlands.
Sam waited for me in a nearby café with wifi.
We headed back to the hotel for a refresh and easy dinner. Tiredness had hit us, by now. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant; it was a bit on the expensive side, but was decent.
Day 3 (Wednesday)
For breakfast we chose another pancake house not too far from the hotel. Pancakes definitely count as a cultural activity while in Amsterdam. You’ll be amazed at the options on offer.
First up today was a trip to the Begijnhof. This is one of the oldest residences in the center of Amsterdam and was a cloister, or nunnery. We tried to get a taxi but needed to walk another block before we found one. I guess our hotel was on the edge of the Red Light District, they wouldn’t pick us up from the hotel. Begijnhof is a bit hard to find, but we spent about an hour here. It is a beautiful sanctuary—kind of closed off and in another world. The chapel has beautiful stained glass on show.
In the afternoon, we had tickets for the Rijksmuseum for 2:30 pm with special access for the Rembrandt Collection at 4:00 pm. This museum is only open until 5pm daily. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically their quietest days, and it is less busy after 3.30pm.
You can buy discounted tickets online, direct from the Rijksmuseum website.
The Rijksmuseum is in the heart of Amsterdam’s Museum Square and is home to the famous painting Night Watch. We stayed here till closing time and still didn’t see everything. The museum is massive and amazing. We raced through some parts when the museum staff noted it was 30 minutes until closing time.
Get Amongst the Amsterdammers
From there we walked the city, ate dinner and did some shopping. But if you want to travel the streets like a local, you might want to consider a Bike Tour. With bike paths everywhere, this is a cyclist paradise. In fact, as a pedestrian, be careful – you need to give way to bicycles and trams.
Sam picked up some Gouda cheese which brings back memories of when he lived in The Hague. I bought some Delft Christmas ornaments and small platters as gifts. There are tons of shops. The unexpected purchase came when I had to get a knitted hat and socks as well!
Day 4 (Thursday)
We caught an Uber out of the city to the most wonderful place on the planet – Zaanse Schans. This was my favorite place ever because as soon as you get out of the car, the air is filled with the smell of chocolate. Across the river is a Dutch cocoa processing plant. I didn’t want to leave.
It was a bit stormy, and we got rained on a bit but it was well worth the short 30 minute drive outside of the city. Along the beautiful river sits about 10 windmills, which offer a glimpse into what The Netherlands would have been like hundreds of years before.
Each windmill is themed according to a function: a saw mill, a chocolate/cocoa mill, farm animals, a spice mill, etc. Some are free and some charge a small fee to enter. We arrived early before many tour buses which I would highly recommend.
One of the windmills focuses on cheese and has a cute store in front with a plethora of take home options and products to choose from.
Cultural Activities in Amsterdam – check!
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the hotel to pack up and check out. Our flight left that afternoon. It was such a great trip packed full with cultural activities in Amsterdam!