Is it possible to explore Amsterdam in 5 days? Yes!
Five days is actually the ideal amount of time to really discover the city, from one end to the other. Amsterdam may have the exuberance and attitude of a big city, but it has the manageability of a small town, and whether you’re a city person or not, it pretty much offers the best of both worlds.
I think most people don’t expect to find that many cool things to do in Amsterdam, making it all about sex-museums and coffee shops. Short story: it’s not. Amsterdam is sensational and there’s a lot more to the city. But you’ll see what I’m talking about!
Let’s get on to the itinerary, shall we?
DAY 1 – INTRODUCING AMSTERDAM
Goedemorgen my friend! Welcome to Amsterdam, hope you had a smooth flight. Have you already exited customs and received your baggage? Great, you now have two options. The first one is to look for the cab service: this is the expensive option, as cab fare from the airport runs approximately €40 each way. A lot of money that can instead be spent on, I don’t know, food! Another option would be taking the train from the airport to Central Station. You don’t have to look hard, it is easy to see, and you can easily purchase tickets at a vending machine for around €4.50.
Once you’ve checked in at your hotel and dropped your bags, it’s time to start exploring.
A good way to orient yourself to the city is with a canal tour, but make sure to choose a small boat, as you’ll be able to travel through many small canals that the larger canal tour boats can’t access. You’ll learn some history and be able to see how the city is structured. Plus, the view from the water is really stunning. You can check out the specific tour I went on here and the price range, but you’ll find several operators just outside the Central Station, and they all have tours in English.
Just a short walk from the Central Station is Dam Square, built nearly 750 years ago. This is where the Amstel dam was located, which gave Amsterdam its name. The square is used for official events, festivals, concerts, and an occasional market and it’s a good place to hang out for a bit and watch the city go by. There’s much to explore in this area and the many streets leading away from the square can take you to every part of city. Pick one of them and go for it!
When you’re satisfied, walk down Warmoesstraat, one of Amsterdam’s oldest streets. After a couple of minutes you’ll reach the beautiful Oude Kerk, a gothic church founded in the year 1213 that also has the distinction of being the oldest parish church and the oldest building in the city. This church is somehow symbolic of Amsterdam and is situated right in the middle of Amsterdam’s red light district.
That’s right. A church. In the Red Light District.
I suppose this is the right time to explore the district and see what the fuss is all about, right?
In the daytime, the red light district (“De Wallen”) looks like any other part of Amsterdam, with nice buildings and a lovely canals. At night is when the red lights turn on and all the activity happens. It’s kind of touristy and filled with gawking male teenagers and frat boys, but it certainly makes for a fun and interesting walk. I guess you need to see it with your own eyes — if anything, you will at least get a good laugh out of it!
It’s also a good place to start if you’re looking for coffee shops. Whether or not it’s your scene, it’s still cool!
DAY 2 – BIKING TOUR
Get your stretch on and hop on a bike! By now you would have probably noticed that Amsterdam is a scary city to be a pedestrian. The hierarchy is like: local bikes, cars, tourist bikers, then local pedestrians, then tourists pedestrians. I suggest you rent a bike for 24 hours, tops, as there’s a good chance that tomorrow your bum is going to be like “Nope, I’m not getting on a freaking bike again”. I rented mine from Black Bikes but there are tons of stores through the city. Oh, and here’s a Survival Guide to biking in Amsterdam in case you’re interested.
Now bike your way to the lovely Jordaan District. If I lived in Amsterdam, this is where I would want to live. This residential area is probably the most missed attraction in Amsterdam and hardly any tourists enter this maze of restaurants, cafes, and stores. It’s very nice, so make sure you bike around.
In the Jordaan district you’ll find a famous little house, filled with a tragic past and stories from only a few decades ago – the Anne Frank House. This is arguably Amsterdam’s most important and visited landmark. Lines are hours long, so I can’t stress enough to buy tickets online before your trip.
I know some people didn’t like the place, maybe because of the lack of furniture in it. But I’m telling you, it is amazing just to be there and acknowledge the power that this one girl’s story has over so many people that visit her house every year. It was an highly emotional and enlightening experience, at least to me. Again, you may “like” the experience or not, it is something you have to try for yourself. I just hope that rather than leaving the house only devastated, you’ll leave with a feeling of hope.
For a great local experience in A’dam, head to De 9 Straatjes (“the nine little streets”). Here three major canals (Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht) divide the canal district into nine small but picturesque streets that are big on personality. The Nine Streets are a vintage lover’s paradise and are full with designer boutiques, art galleries, jewellery shops, speciality stores and cosy cafés.
Keep biking along the Singel until you find yourself between Koningsplein and Muntplein.
See those boats floating? That is the famous flower market! Here you will find various types of flowers and gardening equipment. The locals come here in the spring for tulips, in summer for roses and in December for Christmas trees. You can easily spend hours walking along the various stalls!
Midway through the market, you may came upon the ‘De Kaaskelder’ (The Cheese Cellar) offering cheese tasting. If you are visiting Amsterdam, this is one of the best places to do some cheese tasting before buying. Oh boy, you’re in for SUCH a treat.
A good way to end the day is to hit one of the many nightclubs in the Rembrandtplein area. The scene changes almost every night, so the best thing is just to walk around, listen to the music coming out of each place, and then decide. If it’s a Friday/Sunday night and you feel like dancing, you might want to know that the smaller clubs tend to have the greatest DJs.
DAY 3 – ART OVERLOAD
Rise and shine early, you have another big day ahead! Get yourself to Museumsplein (trams 2 and 5 and 20 from Central Station), where the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum will keep you occupied for hours. The order in which you visit them is up to you, but make sure to buy your entrance tickets for the Van Gogh museum before your trip, unless you don’t mind waiting in line for more than 3 hours. I mean it. Buy the tickets. Here’s link.
Let’s start with Rijkmuseum, all right?
The Rijkmuseum collection spans a broad range of styles and periods with a focus on the glorious days of the Dutch Republic and displays masterpieces by the likes of Vermeer, Rembrandt and Mondrian. In a sequence of 80 superb galleries this museum can tell you the story of 800 years of Dutch art, including the one of the famous Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch. The exterior is also impressively photogenic and is often mentioned abroad as one of the iconic buildings of Amsterdam.
Now, let’s hit up the Gogh! Perhaps the most obvious can’t miss spot.
This museum is entirely dedicated to Vincent van Gogh and carries many of his most famous paintings, like The Sun Flowers, The Self Portrait and many many more. The museum has some works from other impressionists & post impressionists and also let visitors appreciate some of Van Gogh’s personal letters.
When you’re all museumed out, walk to Vondelpark, the “green lung” of Amsterdam. This place is loved both by locals as well as by tourists enjoying a sunny day, dog-walking, jogging, people-watching, or just lazing about in grass. Just relax and soak up the sun.
These casual moments are sometime the nicest.
DAY 4 – A STEP BACK IN TIME
A visit to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without visiting some windmills. Start your day with a journey through the famous Zaanse Schans and get the chance to almost step back in time to a place that is full of history and culture unlike any other. Head to the Central Station, take the train to Uitgeest (€6) and get off at the fourth stop Koog-Zaandijk. You will arrive in about 15 minutes. You can also take the bus 391 and in 40 minutes you will arrive at your destination.
For a further description of this place, check out this article.
After lunch — does cheese & chocolate count as lunch? — make our way back to the city.
Just a short walk from Amsterdam’s Central Station (or a couple of stops with lines 9 or 14) is the picturesque Rembrandthuis. This museum lets you peek inside the life of the famous painter and art dealer. As was common at the time, Rembrandt used his home as his office, and buyers met in his living room to purchase paintings that are now priceless treasures displayed all around the world.
Continue walking south along the canal’s west side and you’ll soon reach a fascinating bridge between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, the Magere Brug. This is one of Amsterdam’s most famous bridges, and one of the most lovely I might add .
Did you know this wooden bridge before 1871 was once so narrow that it was hard for two pedestrians to pass each other?
Toast an exciting and busy day of intensive sightseeing and art-watching with a drink at a cocktail bar or a refreshing Dutch beer. When your stomach starts talking, just take a walk and you’ll find more than enough restaurants to choose from.
DAY 5 – DOEI-DOEI AMSTERDAM!
There’s no better way to spend your last morning in Amsterdam than taking in the canal lifestyle and pull up a chair at a cute café.
…it’s now time to say goodbye to this wonderful slice of the world! I hope you enjoyed your time Amsterdam – although I know that you did. I fell head-over-heels in love with this city. The people are welcoming, the atmosphere is buzzing with life, and there’s beauty in every corner. Definitely a must on everybody’s travel bucket lists.
One last picture, just in case you had any doubts.
What would you add to your 5 day Amsterdam itinerary?