Last Updated: October 27, 2021

What is Amsterdam Famous For?

Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, lies not far from the North Sea coastline that also spans the neighboring countries of Belgium and Germany. Although it originated as a humble fishing village back in the 12 century, it’s now the most populous Dutch capital in the Netherlands and attracts almost 20 million tourists a year – pretty impressive for a city of just 219.3 square km².

So, what is it about this city that attracts both locals and foreign visitors from across the globe? Amsterdam is perhaps best known internationally for its canals, culture, and of course, its coffee shops. But, as you are about to find out, it certainly doesn’t stop there. Below, we’ve highlighted some of Amsterdam’s top features so that you can make the most of your next visit – enjoy!

Canals

Amsterdam is famous for its iconic canals – it is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’, after all.

The Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht form the heart of Amsterdam’s canal network, which is more than 400 years old and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many ways to explore the canals, and you’ll undoubtedly end up admiring them en route to other destinations. However, if you want to fully appreciate their beauty, we recommend spending some time on the water itself.

There are tonnes of boat cruises available that often combine boat trips with other tourist activities or, for any of you sporty types, stand-up paddleboards are becoming increasingly popular as a tranquil way to explore the city.

Either way, this is one of the more fun things to do in Amsterdam and definitely worth planning for your trip!

What Is Amsterdam famous For?

Bicycles

The Netherlands is often referred to as the ‘Bicycle Capital of the World’ and, with more bicycles than residents (more than 20 million versus 17 million), we think it’s an appropriate title.

Nowhere in the Netherlands is the love of bicycles more evident than in Amsterdam. Although cycling may sound like a lovely way to explore the city, tourists beware – cycling in Amsterdam is not for the faint-hearted. For many locals, cycling is simply an emission-free way to get from A to B, and they won’t thank you for slowing them down on their way to work while you pause to admire the views.

Having said that, if you know the rules of the road and can maintain a steady pace, whizzing around Amsterdam via bicycle is one of the most efficient ways to take in city-wide sights and take full advantage of a weekend break.

There are plenty of places where you can hire a bike for around €7-10 per day but, if you’re lucky enough to be there on an extended trip, it might be more economical to invest in a second-hand bike (you can always sell it before you leave).

What Is Amsterdam Famous For?

Anne Frank House

We’re sure you’re all familiar with the tragic tale of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who tried to evade the Nazis during World War 2. As told through her diary, she and several family members and friends went into hiding and lived for 2 years in a secret annex in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, Anne did not survive the war but, thanks to her diary, the struggles of her and so many others received mass public attention.

Anne Frank House is her house turned museum tries to paint a picture of what life must have been like in hiding, so make sure you take your tissues with you, as it will likely be an emotional visit. Check out the website for the latest ticket prices and opening hours.

IJburg ‘Beach’

With all the hustle and bustle you’d expect of a major capital city, it’s not surprising that people living in Amsterdam need some sun, sand, and sea every now and then. And the Dutch aren’t the types to let something like a lack of natural beaches get in the way of their fix of vitamin sea… 

IJburg beach is perhaps Amsterdam’s best known artificial beach and is great for relaxing and having a picnic on the sand or, for the adventurous types, it’s a great spot for windsurfing. See here for information on how to reach the beach from across Amsterdam.

Coffee Shops and ‘Coffee’ Shops

While the Dutch do love their coffee, Amsterdam’s coffee shops have a reputation for their liberal policies on purchasing and smoking (and even eating) marijuana. Forbidden in most parts of Europe, these relaxed rules have long attracted people from all walks of life looking for a spot to sit and smoke without fear of ending up on the wrong side of the law.

Although it’s easy to get carried away with this new-found freedom, remember that the Dutch view smoking similarly to alcohol. If you do indulge yourself, stay respectful, particularly if it’s in the middle of the day.

With around 250 coffee shops to chose from, you’re bound to find one that suits your tastes but, if you want to save yourself some time, check out this guide to 15 of Amsterdam’s best coffee shops.

What Is Amsterdam Famous For?

NEMO Science Museum

The NEMO Science Museum is a multi-story science and technology center jam-packed with hands-on activities and featuring a selection of permanent educational exhibitions covering topics such as ‘Water Power’, the ‘World of Shapes’, ‘Life in the Universe’, and many more (see the website for the latest temporary exhibitions).

This museum is a great place to take the little ones, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse, and is free for children under 4. Although primarily aimed at children, you’ll be hard-pushed not to get drawn into the fun and we won’t be surprised if you don’t want to leave either.

Red Light District

It might not be top on your list of sight-seeing activities, but Amsterdam is home to perhaps the world’s most notorious red light district, De Wallen. Although prostitution remains generally frowned upon by the Dutch, prostitution, and brothels are legal across the Netherlands.

The area attracts thousands of so-called sex tourists a year who visit specifically for these purposes. Even if this isn’t your cup of tea, you may well find yourself wandering down these streets at night if you take a wrong turn on the way home, so brace yourself for bold sights presented to you from behind glass windows (we definitely recommend avoiding this area with young children).

Houseboats

With its vast array of canals and limited residential space, it’s not surprising that many locals have taken up permanent residency on Amsterdam’s waterways. Spending a night or two on a houseboat is unique way to experience Amsterdam and get a true sense of its roots as a fishing village.

There are houseboats available for rent not only in the canals but also along the river Amster and in docklands. There’s a range of houseboats out there, with some renting entire boats, others just a room, and many with optional bed and breakfast. They aren’t the cheapest option, but they’re certainly authentic and definitely worth it for a couple of nights.

Stroopwafels

Stroopwafels are a Dutch delicacy, and it’s easy to see why. These sugary treats are formed by combining two waffles and gluing them together with a super tasty syrup… sorry, we think we just drooled a bit.

You can find these delicious snacks on every street, which can be a little bit dangerous, especially if you’ve been hitting up the coffee shops…

They’re affordable and go great with a hot drink if you visit during the colder months, but be warned, you might get hooked.

Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest)

The Dutch sure are creative with their artificial nature spots… beaches, forests, why not?! Amsterdamse Bos translates directly as Amsterdam Forest, although Amsterdam Woodland would probably be more appropriate.

Although located mainly in Neighbouring Amstelveen, the park is owned by Amsterdam city and is easily reachable via tram.

There are tonnes of activities for all ages, including a goat farm, a fun forest (basically a series of rope lads and suspension bridges), plus a swimming pool.

It’s certainly worth the short trip to reach the forest, and make sure you pack a big bag because you’re going to be there all day!

Venustempel Sex Museum

It might not be up everyone’s street, but a trip to the world’s first and oldest sex museum is certainly worth a visit. The museum also goes by the name of the Temple of Venus and features various erotic paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts that explore how human sexuality has evolved over the ages. Situated in the heart of Amsterdam and costing just €9 a ticket, this is definitely worth adding to your to-do list.

Flowers

As you stroll through the streets of Amsterdam, you’ll be greeted by lavish bouquets at almost every turn. Tulips are the national flower and bloom at the end of the winter months – if you visit at the start of spring you’re in for a real treat.

The flower markets are a fantastic way to soak in the sights, and we recommend a trip to the Bloemenmarkt, located along the Singel canal and open every day except Sunday. This enormous floating market sells bulbs and flowers alike and is a great way to add some color to your garden back home.

What Is Amsterdam Famous For?

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the French painter Van Gogh, who rose to fame only after his death in 1890. The museum not only features some of his best paintings but also delves deeper into the man behind the paintings through a series of sketches, quotes, letters, and information about his life.

Also featuring paintings from other revered artists, this museum should be top of the list for any art fans out there exploring Amsterdam.

Royal Palace of Amsterdam

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam is only one of three such palaces in Holland. It is actually easy to access on the side of Dam Square. It sometimes has royals in attendance. And it was once in its early years actually the city hall of Amsterdam.

Oosterpark

Oosterpark could be described as the melting pot of Amsterdam. With an Indian district close at hand and a popular choice for now-residents from fields afar, such as Suriname, Turkey, Morocco, this park really showcases harmonious cultural blending. It’s a great spot if you want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city center, and you don’t have to spend a penny either. We recommend picking up some tasty Indian takeaway and kicking back, relaxing, and keeping your eye open for some of grey herons and parrots that are known to visit the area.

Rijksmuseum

Situated in Amsterdam South, not far from the Van Gogh museum, is yet another museum for art fanatics. The building itself is a work of art with a rich history (it’s been around for more than 200 years), so what better place to present a history Dutch art and culture.

The collection itself has moved home several times (it was originally situated in the Hague) and also contains world art. Private tours are a great way to make sure you make the most of a visit, and if you can find a group of interested people, you’ll cut the cost considerably. There’s also a free app you can use to explore the collection, so make sure you take your headphones with you!

Herring

Last but by no means least is herring. Yepp, you did hear us right this fishy snack is famous among the streets of Amsterdam and is surprisingly tasty. Served up fresh from carts built-for-purpose, this really is one authentic snack that takes you back to the fishing roots of Amsterdam.

If you’re unsure, why not try some in sandwich form with a few sides thrown in too? You can always go back for more once you’re hooked…

What Is Amsterdam Famous For?

Summing Up

There you have it, Amsterdam in a nutshell. As we’ve seen, there’s far more to it than just ‘coffee’ shops and sex tourism in the city center and beyond. This tiny metropolis offers an incredible amount of culture, with enough museums to keep you entertained for days. On top of that, the Dutch appreciate how good nature is for the soul. That’s why you’ll find a surprising amount of tranquil outdoor spots that will make you forget you’re in the capital of the Netherlands. Picturesque, liberal, and with tonnes to offer for sporty types, there really is something for everyone.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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