Welcome to our comprehensive travel guide for visiting Amsterdam when you’re pressed for time. If you find yourself in this vibrant city with just one day to spare, fear not because we’ve crafted the perfect one-day itinerary for you.
Amsterdam, a city of endless charm and cultural richness, offers a plethora of experiences, even if you only have 24 hours! Join us as we squeeze in as many must-see attractions, hidden gems, and local delights as we can for an unforgettable adventure.
Whether you’re a first-time traveler or returning to this captivating destination, our guide to what to do in Amsterdam for a day has you covered. Learn how to make the most of your precious time in the enchanting Dutch capital with our pro tips. We’ll also give out recommendations for where to stay during your visit.
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Table of Contents
One-day Amsterdam itinerary
Dutch pancakes for breakfast
To kickstart your unforgettable one day in Amsterdam, there’s no better way than indulging in Dutch pancakes for breakfast. Starting your day with a plate of pancakes both satisfies your taste buds and ensures you’re fully energized for all the adventures that lie ahead!
Before you order, remember that pancakes in the Netherlands come in two delightful forms: pannenkoeken and poffertjes. While pannenkoeken are generously sized and cover your entire plate, poffertjes, by comparison, are the smaller, bite-sized variety. Pannenkoeken can be adorned with a wide range of toppings, ranging from fruit to cheese and bacon.
However, keep in mind that the texture of a Dutch pancake is kind of like an American pancake mixed with a French crepe. Meanwhile, poffertjes tend to be on the sweet side–adorned with butter and powdered sugar. And the best part? Dutch pancakes aren’t exclusive to breakfast; you can savor them any time of the day.
As for where to enjoy these delightful pancakes, you’ll find pancake restaurants scattered throughout the city. Some noteworthy options include Pancakehouse Upstairs, The Happy Pig Pancake Shop, and Moak Pancakes. We highly suggest dining at Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs–just make sure to call ahead for a reservation and bring cash!
Walk along the Damrak
As you make your way over to Dam Square via the picturesque Damrak, you’ll be treated to an array of captivating sights. The Damrak Waterfront, in particular, is a real gem that’s perfect for snapping photos. The old 17th-century houses lining the canal are often called the “Dancing Residences of the Damrak” due to their gradual sinking.
The Damrak itself serves as a bustling avenue, connecting the Amsterdam Centraal train station to the grandeur of Dam Square. This avenue is a main thoroughfare and a significant entrance point for visitors arriving at the central station, ensuring you’ll find yourself right in the heart of the city’s action.
While strolling along the Damrak, you’ll find an array of chain stores, souvenir shops, and restaurants catering to tourists. As you reach Dam Square, the Royal Palace stands as a majestic focal point. Although you won’t enter the palace, we think it’s an important site to see.
The vibrant Dam Square is an absolute must-visit when in Amsterdam for the day. This iconic square served as a bustling market square and even earlier as the site of a dam constructed in 1270. Today, Dam Square stands as the epicenter of Amsterdam’s cultural and historic heart–it’s also where most walking tours of the city start.
Explore the Amsterdam canals by boat
No visit to the Dutch capital is genuinely complete without embarking on one of its iconic canal cruises. After all, Amsterdam’s canal system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the lifeblood of this picturesque city. So, there’s no better way to appreciate its ingenuity than by drifting along its tranquil waters!
Most cruises begin from central locations like Amsterdam Central Railway Station, the Anne Frank House, or the Rijksmuseum. During your experience, you’ll view some of the city’s most famous historical landmarks from the water’s vantage point. Especially if it’s your first time, we highly recommend a cruise to familiarize yourself with the city!
Moreover, these tours tend to have limited capacities, often capped at 30 people. Therefore, they can be an excellent way to escape the bustling crowds during the high season. Just make sure you book in advance! Another advantage to a canal cruise is that you can cover ground while giving your feet some rest.
Keep in mind that not all canal cruises are the same. So, make sure to read reviews and check the tour description to double-check what it includes. Some cruises even feature wine and cheese! If you don’t have time for this experience in the morning, consider an evening canal cruise–especially during the warmer months.
See the floating flower market
When you have just one day to experience Amsterdam, visiting the renowned floating flower market is an absolute must. Also known as the Bloemenmarkt, this market is located conveniently in the city center along the picturesque Singel Canal. It’s been selling vibrant flowers since 1862, making it the oldest floating flower market in the world!
Although Bloemenmarkt is filled with more tourists than locals, we still think it’s worth a quick stop. If you happen to be in the city during the summer months, you’re in for a treat. This is the prime time to witness the market in all its floral glory!
In the summer, you’ll encounter fresh flowers from the tulip fields near Amsterdam, each more beautiful than the last. However, even in the other months, you can find flower bulbs and seed packets to take home with you.
Additionally, the market offers a wide selection of traditional Dutch souvenirs, including wooden tulips and clogs. Plus, if you happen to visit in December, you’ll find Christmas trees for sale here.
Visit one of the famous Amsterdam museums
With only one day in Amsterdam, you’ll have to make a difficult decision between the city’s top three museums. After all, with 24 hours, you only have time for one! If you’re researching tickets far in advance, you have your fair pick between the three.
However, if you’re planning to travel to Amsterdam in the next few weeks, you may not realistically be able to get tickets to the Anne Frank House. These tickets sell out, sometimes even six weeks in advance. If you’re not sure what to do, the Rijksmuseum is the easiest of the three to secure tickets for.
Van Gogh Museum
As the most-visited museum in the Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum offers a remarkable opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of Vincent van Gogh, one of the art world’s most iconic figures. It boasts an extensive collection of over 200 Van Gogh paintings and 400 drawings, providing a thorough glimpse into his artistic evolution.
Since you’re relatively short on time, you’ll be glad to know that your visit doesn’t take long! In fact, we think you can explore the highlights of the permanent collection in about an hour.
For example, you’ll encounter beloved masterpieces such as “Sunflowers,” “The Yellow House,” “Almond Blossoms,” and “Bedroom in Arles.” In fact, the Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of Van Gogh’s art, making it an unparalleled destination for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
To make the most of your one day in Amsterdam and ensure you don’t miss out on this enriching experience, it’s wise to secure your Van Gogh Museum ticket in advance. The ticket demand tends to surge during the peak season, with reservations often filling up about two weeks before the desired visit date.
Anne Frank House
Tucked away in an unassuming 17th-century building along a canal, this museum holds an incredibly poignant and historically significant story. It’s the very house where Anne Frank and seven others concealed themselves from the Nazis for over two harrowing years during World War II.
Stepping into the Anne Frank House is an emotionally stirring experience. You’ll walk through the secret bookcase that hid the Annex where Anne and her family lived from 1942 to 1944. Additionally, you’ll see Anne Frank’s room, her original diary, and even pencil marks on the wall, documenting her height over the years.
The Anne Frank House can be particularly challenging to secure tickets for. So, booking as soon as possible is advisable–ideally, six weeks before your intended visit. Remember that online reservations are currently the only means of entry.
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without immersing yourself in the artistic and historical treasures of the Rijksmuseum, a quintessential addition to your one-day Amsterdam itinerary. Located in the Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum houses an unparalleled collection of Dutch artwork.
Dutch Golden Age painters are certainly the main draw to this museum, including pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Steen. Most notably, you’ll find Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” in an exclusive room at the end of the Hall of Fame. However, art enthusiasts will also enjoy seeing certain Van Gogh pieces, including one of his most celebrated self-portraits.
To enhance your visit and make the most of your time, you can download the museum’s app, offering free audio tours that guide you through the museum’s highlights. “The best of the Rijkmuseum” tour, for instance, leads you to 21 stops throughout the museum. It takes approximately 1-1.5 hours to finish the experience.
Discover Nine Streets and the Jordaan neighborhood
When considering what to see in Amsterdam in one day, don’t miss the Nine Streets and the Jordaan neighborhood. The Nine Streets (De 9 Straatjes), named after nine charming shopping streets in the area, form one of the most idyllic parts of Amsterdam.
This district is a treasure trove of boutiques, cafés, and vintage clothing stores, making it one of the city’s best places to go shopping. If the lines aren’t too long, we highly recommend stopping by either Fabel Friet (well-known for its fried potatoes) or Chun Café (its sandwiches recently went viral on TikTok).
Or, if the queues look too long, grab a coffee at Screaming Beans and then head to Bij Ons Vintage, Zipper, or Concrete Matter for some retail therapy. Afterward, check out some of the most famous Amsterdam canals: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht.
Adjacent to the Nine Streets lies the serene Jordaan neighborhood, one of the most famous areas within the city. Here, you can relish the beauty of Amsterdam’s canals while strolling past beautiful historic homes, art galleries, and quaint shops.
Don’t miss the chance to try the famous apple pie at Winkel 43 while you’re in the area. In this neighborhood, you’ll also find specialty museums, such as the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and the Amsterdam Cheese Museum.
Try authentic Dutch food
Depending on your culinary inclination, you can choose to dedicate more or less time sampling traditional Dutch cuisine. If you’re a devoted foodie, consider prioritizing a food tour, especially in the charming Jordaan neighborhood.
Here, expert guides introduce you to the city’s rich history and lead you to various local shops where you can sample iconic Dutch fare. These dishes include raw herring, poffertjes, artisanal gourmet cheeses, and the ever-popular bitterballen.
For those with limited time, don’t fret; you can still experience Dutch classics while exploring the Jordaan on foot! Swing by Fabel Friet for a taste of crispy fried potatoes, a beloved street food. Then, step into any cozy pub and order a plate of bitterballen accompanied by a local beer.
Experience the Red Light District
It’s 100% up to you to decide whether or not to include a visit to the Red Light District in your Amsterdam one-day itinerary. Known as “De Wallen” to the Dutch, this area offers a unique glimpse into the city’s past and present. Here, you’ll encounter coffee shops and individuals providing services that would be considered illegal anywhere else.
If you’re curious about this infamous neighborhood, the best time to explore is after dark when it truly comes to life. However, it’s crucial to remember that the Red Light District has its own rules and etiquette.
For example, under no circumstances should you photograph the women visible in the red-lit windows; it’s a matter of respect and privacy. Moreover, especially if you’re traveling with children, note that this is not a family-friendly zone after dark.
Sip cocktails at a speakeasy
Indulging in cocktails at a speakeasy in Amsterdam is an exquisite way to spend your evening in this vibrant city. These hidden gems take the concept of a “hidden bar” to a whole new level, and the intrigue begins before you even step inside.
Finding the entrance at places like Door 74 feels like uncovering a well-guarded secret. You’ll need to make a reservation in advance via their website to enter! Between the limited capacity and expertly crafted cocktails, it’s easily our favorite speakeasy in the city.
Other popular options for hidden bars include Bar Oldenhof and Hiding in Plain Sight (HPS). Bar Oldenhof doesn’t take reservations, so you’ll have to ring the bell and see if they have a table! Meanwhile, HPS is an awesome 1920s-themed bar without all the commotion of needing to ring a doorbell or know a password.
See a movie at Pathé Tuschinski
If you’ve visited Amsterdam before and are seeking an evening experience outside the realm of typical tourist attractions, catching a movie at Pathé Tuschinski is a delightful choice. This iconic cinema near Rembrandtplein dates back to 1921 and is well-known for its Art Deco architecture.
Films here are screened in English with Dutch subtitles, making it an enjoyable experience for foreign visitors. However, the true enchantment of Tuschinski lies in its sheer grandeur. Opt for a showtime in the Grote Zaal, also known as Zaal 1, for the ultimate cinematic indulgence.
The first balcony seats offer the most spectacular vantage points of the theater’s breathtaking auditorium. Although they come at a slightly higher price, this premium experience includes an added bonus: a complimentary drink and snack to savor during the screening. Pathé Tuschinski elevates the simple act of watching a movie into a lavish and unforgettable evening!
Can you fully experience Amsterdam in one day?
Visiting Amsterdam for one day is a challenging endeavor, and given your limited timeframe, you’ll need to plan your itinerary carefully. Moreover, it’s essential to recognize that you won’t be able to cover everything the city and its surroundings have to offer.
For example, you’ll notice that in our itinerary, we could only include time to visit one of the city’s three leading museums. However, they’re all really worth a visit! With just 24 hours, you also won’t have time to experience any of the popular day trips in Amsterdam.
In our opinion, the sweet spot for how many days to spend in Amsterdam is three. This way, if you have to wait in lines for anything you want to do, you won’t be stressed about time getting away from you. You’ll also be able to experience more of the city’s food scene and explore more neighborhoods than just the city center.
Nonetheless, Amsterdam is still worth a visit for a day. Think of this trip as a quick introduction as you check off some of the main attractions, like a canal cruise and the Van Gogh Museum. Then, plan to come back another time for a more in-depth exploration of the “Venice of the North.”
Tips for one day in Amsterdam
Book tickets in advance
Securing tickets in advance can be a game-changer, especially during the high season (June-August). By doing so, you skip the arduous task of waiting in line and ensure your visit is seamless and well-planned.
The Anne Frank House, in particular, is the most challenging museum to secure tickets for. We highly recommend booking tickets as soon as they become available–six weeks before your intended visit. During the high season, this becomes crucial, as reserving a ticket online is currently the only way to obtain entry.
The Van Gogh Museum, housing an exceptional collection of the famed artist’s pieces, also sees high demand during Amsterdam’s peak season. Tickets for this museum tend to sell out approximately two weeks in advance, making advanced reservations a smart choice to secure your spot.
Wear comfortable shoes
If you’re looking to experience most of Amsterdam in a day, one thing you’ll quickly discover is the city’s penchant for cobblestone streets and endless canalside pathways. That’s why donning comfortable shoes is absolutely essential!
From wandering along the historic canals to exploring the charming neighborhoods like the Jordaan or De Pijp, you’ll find yourself covering quite a bit of ground. So, leave the uncomfortable heels or stiff dress shoes behind and opt for something that will let you explore this enchanting city comfortably and to the fullest. Your feet will thank you for it.
Don’t walk in the bike lane
Exploring Amsterdam by foot is a wonderful way to soak in the city’s unique charm. Nonetheless, there’s one golden rule to remember: never walk in the bike lane. In Amsterdam, cyclists are a force to be reckoned with, and they take their lanes seriously.
To distinguish the bike lane from the sidewalk, look for a bike icon, often accompanied by a red color. The bike lane will typically have cyclists riding on it, while the sidewalk is usually adjacent and marked in white.
While cyclists are expected to stop for pedestrians in designated crossing areas, it’s a good practice to be cautious and not assume that they will always do so. Be prepared for the possibility of bicycle bells ringing as a polite warning when you inadvertently step into the bike path.
Book a hotel in the city center
Selecting the right location for your stay in Amsterdam is a pivotal decision when you have just one day to experience this captivating city. Booking a hotel in the city center area can significantly enhance your 24-hour adventure.
This central district is often hailed as one of the best places to stay in Amsterdam for first-time visitors. The benefits are twofold: you’ll find yourself within a short walk of the city’s main attractions, and you’ll be in close proximity to the heart of its bustling shopping and vibrant nightlife scenes.
Carry your credit card and some cash
Amsterdam is a modern and well-connected city where card payments are widely accepted. However, some businesses, especially smaller local establishments like cafes, markets, and canal-side vendors, may prefer cash transactions.
To make the most of your day and ensure you can fully immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant culture, it’s prudent to carry a mix of payment options. This way, you won’t find yourself in a situation where you miss out on delectable street food, charming souvenirs, or a cozy café experience simply because you’re limited to card payments.