2 Day Travel Itinerary: Amsterdam, Netherlands
This 2 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary outlines a plan for exploring Amsterdam. The city’s layout is compact. You can cover a lot of ground in a short span, but it is crowded. Many popular spots (small museums and historical houses) que-up early in the day. Plan carefully, reserve tickets ahead, and hit your must-see sites early in the outing.
Amsterdam is a little city with loads of personality. It has many elements of other European cities. There are cobblestones, cathedrals, and medieval architecture. You will only have to visit this vacation destination once, though, to realize it is unlike any place else.
A series of concentric, looping canals encircle the historic district. On these channels, motorboats putt past colorful houseboats. Lining the streets that run parallel to the waterways, quirky embellishments adorn canal-side homes. Built in a time when taxes were assessed on the size of a building’s frontage, the rows of tall, narrow houses are part of Amsterdam's charm.
Easily navigated by foot, bike and boat, Amsterdam as a vacation destination is intimate and accessible. Graceful bridges span canals that interconnect neighborhoods. Cyclists and pedestrians outnumber cars. The many historical sites are interspersed with markets and modern day shops that invite the traveler in.
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Transportation Tip: As mentioned above, walking, biking and boating are popular means of touring the city. This WJT trip planner includes a walking and canal boat tour on Day 1. Then, a walking and bike tour on Day 2. We recommend, however, that you keep the plan flexible. It rains a lot in Amsterdam. Check the forecast and adjust accordingly. Several hop-on hop-off canal boat companies offer 24 and 48-hour tickets. If you do not want to walk or bike in bad weather, utilize the canal boats. It is affordable and there are stops close to most major sites.
Day 1: Historical Houses and Red Light District
Begin your walking tour in Amsterdam's historic district at Dam Square. Amsterdam is the capitol of the Netherlands, and this major square is home to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam (Koninklijk Paleis). The king uses this building for official state business. If the doors are open, make a quick stop to view the palace’s Great Hall. Then, step outside and snap a few photos of Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th century church that now functions as an exhibition hall.
Exit Dam Square on the west side. Behind the Royal Palace, locate Leliegracht (Lily) Canal. Follow the canal over three intersecting channels until you reach Prinsengracht Canal. Walking south on the waterway. After a short distance, you will come to the Anne Frank House.
The Anne Frank House is actually two side-by-side houses. As you enter, you will tour the house where Anne and her housemates hid. The other house holds an exhibition dedicated to Anne's life. Touring this site is a powerful experience. It is a popular attraction, so it is best to go at the opening time. If you arrive later, expect to wait for entry even with advance tickets.
Next door to the Anne Frank House is the Westerkerk Church. If the church is open, go inside. It is said that Rembrandt is buried on these grounds in a pauper’s grave. In the summer months, it is possible to climb the tower where you will find great views of the city. Behind the Westerkerk Church, locate the Homomonument. This triangular monument, built to commemorate the persecution of gay men and women, is reported to be the world’s first gay monument.
Before you move on to the next site, take a few minutes to explore the neighborhood that sits across from the Anne Frank House. The Joordan residential area runs roughly between the Linjbaansgracht, Brouwersgracht, and Prinsengracht Canals. It is full of fanciful gates, striking gables, and unusual gardens. Sit at a canal-side table, and catch your breath before moving on.
From the Joordan neighborhood, walk east until you hit the Singel Canal. The canal originated as a moat in the middle ages encircling the city. Continue to move east until you come to the Bloemenmarkt. The shopping complex bills itself as the world's only floating flower market. The little mall is home to souvenir and gift shops, and stalls that sell bulbs and fresh flowers.
From the market, follow your map to the Rembrandt House Museum. Rembrandt lived and painted in this house from around 1639 to 1656. The museum is full of reproductions of the artist’s furnishings, tools, and paintings. If you love the painter, or just the period, this small museum is worth a stop.
Leaving Rembrandt behind, walk a few blocks south to the Joods Historisch Museum. The entrance ticket lets you into a complex dedicated to Jewish history, culture, and religion. We recommend checking out the Portuguese Synagogue. During the Dutch Golden Age, this synagogue was home to one of the largest Jewish communities, and it is still holds services today.
End the day with a canal boat tour. Pick the stop closest to you, and map out the longest route. The boats are clean and comfortable, with over-sized windows. The commentary is canned, but informative. While coasting down the canals you get a close view of the houseboats and the odd, beautiful, sometimes off-kilter architecture of the city.
After a few hours of rest at the hotel, head out for some evening exploration. We will begin in the Oude Zijde (Old Side) of the city. Make your way Oude Kerk, the oldest structure in Amsterdam. Inside the church, you will look up to see a wooden vaulted ceiling that dates back to medieval times. Underfoot, you will walk over a floor of gravestones. Rembrandt’s wife is buried here.
From Oude Kerk, it is a short walk to the Red Light District. The area consists of several cobblestone streets filled with sex shop, bars, and window girls sitting below their red lights. The zone has a raw feel to it. It is busy with tourists in the early evening. Stroll slowly, and observe life unfolding. Tip: Taking pictures is frowned upon.
Find the closest canal boat stop and cruise to Rembrandtplein for dinner and a bit of fun. The square and its surrounding area is dotted with clubs, bars, and restaurants. There is a lively mix of young and old people. In this locale, you will find a variety of food, music, and entertainment.
Day 2: Van Gogh Museum and Bike Tour of City
Begin the day with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum. The museum touts holding the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh drawings and paintings in the world. Alternatively, if you would like to view the works of other Dutch painters and artists, try the nearby Rijksmuseum.
When it is time to stretch, exit the museum and cross the street to the Vondelpark. There are several bike rentals companies within a short distance. Rent a bike and set out to explore the 120-acre park. You will discover statues, playgrounds, ponds, and loads of locals milling about.
Next, pedal east through the streets until you reach the Albert Cuyp Market. Closed to motor vehicles, this street market is open 6 days a week. Said to be the largest street market in Europe, there are tables full of produce, fish, meat, and many other products from a variety of countries. Try some stroopwaffle for lunch, wander the stalls, and search for souvenirs.
Back in the saddle, continue biking north toward the sea where the Bay of IJ meets the North Sea Canal. Find the ferry located behind the Central Station and take your bike to the NDSM Wharf. There, in an old shipyard, you will find an artist community. There are shipping containers turned into pubs, art studios and street performers. Have a drink at one of the restaurants that line the water.
Returning to the city, cycle through the northern canals to Haarlemmerstraat. This city avenue will wind around into Niuwendijk, a pedestrian shopping street filled with art and specialty shops. When you are finished wandering, loop back around to Vondelpark and drop off your bike.
Tot Ziens (good bye)! Laura and Randy
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