Amsterdam in One Day – Best Things to See and Do

You have one day in Amsterdam and you don’t know where to start. Which places should you visit during your day trip to Amsterdam? What are the highlights of Amsterdam that are must-see? Should you focus on the most famous attractions or go off-the-beaten path? If you are in Amsterdam only for a day and it’s your first time in the Dutch capital, you should focus on the most popular tourist attractions.

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Is it possible to see Amsterdam in one day?

Let’s make one thing clear from the very beginning – you can’t visit all attractions in Amsterdam in one day, so you have to make some serious choices. The best part about Amsterdam – it’s walkable and you won’t need to worry about transportation.

Most itineraries that you’ll find online suggest doing too many things in Amsterdam – a few museums, a boat tour, the Heineken experience, and so on. Yes! They all are great attractions, but not to be squeezed in one day. If you follow their advice, at the end of the day you’ll be dead tired, you won’t remember a thing and you’ll regret, you’ve visited 3 museums in one day, instead of enjoying your time in the sun with a glass of beer (or anything else) on Rembrandtplein.

a street lamp on a bridge with bikes leaning towards the railing and canal houses, one of them with red wooden shutters

How to plan the perfect one day in Amsterdam?

If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, the best will be not to spend too much time in the museums. A greater part of the city you can discover on foot and a must do for every first-imer in Amsterdam will be a boat tour. Let’s say walking around and taking the boat tour would take about half a day. The other half a day you can spend in one of the many museums in Amsterdam, depending on your interests. Scroll down to find out which are the best museums to visit if you have only 1 day in Amsterdam. The most important thing is not to plan too much.

Read more: Best places to visit on a day trip from Amsterdam and how to get there

Discover Amsterdam on foot

The good news is that Amsterdam is a walkable city and you can see a great part of it in one day. Also on foot is the best way to explore the Dutch capital. Here are 4 walking routes that will take you along the best attractions of Amsterdam. For a complete overview of the 4 itineraries with short information about the famous landmarks in Amsterdam, check out the post about the best walking routes in Amsterdam, or click on the button under each route.

canal with rounded bridges and houses with bell gables - Amsterdam

Here are the highlights of each itinerary:

Amsterdam Walking Route 1:

  • Amsterdam Central Station
  • Church of Saint Nicholas
  • De Waag
  • Zuiderkerk
  • De Sluyswacht
  • Rembrandt House Museum
  • Waterlooplein Market
  • Blauwbrug
  • Hermitage Amsterdam
  • Magere brug

Amsterdam Walking Route 2:

  • De Koepelkerk
  • Beurs van Berlage
  • De Oude Kerk
  • De Bijenkorf
  • De Nieuwe Kerk
  • The Royal Palace
  • Dam Square
  • National Monument
  • 9 straatjes
a green boat and tall brown houses with white window frames and stepped gables

Amsterdam Walking Route 3:

  • Begijnhof 
  • De Krijtberg
  • Munttoren
  • Staalmeestersbrug
  • Rembrandtplein
  • Nightwatch 3D
  • 7 Bridges Area
  • 15 Bridges View Bridge

Amsterdam Walking Route 4:

  • Jordaan Neighbourhood
  • Noorderkerk
  • Anne Frank House
  • Westerkerk
  • Café Chris
  • Leidseplein
  • Stadsschouwburg
  • Rijksmuseum

Take a boat tour on the canals of Amsterdam

There’s one compulsory thing to do in Amsterdam, if you are visiting for the first time – take a boat tour. There isn’t a better way to see the city than from the water. Most of the boat tours come with (audio) guides, so you will learn a bit about the history of Amsterdam. The canal ring of Amsterdam or the Grachtengordel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, you have to see this one from the water!

gingerbread type of houses in Amsterdam on a canal with a boat in front of them

A boat tour takes about 1 – 1,5 hours and most canal cruising companies have multiple departure points. There are also hop-on hop-off options. The best will be if you book in advance, as then you will know your departure point and you will be able to plan the free time until the boat trip accordingly.

Here is a selection of the best boat trips in Amsterdam:

There are also boat trips where you can have a snack or get a drink, which is quite popular in Amsterdam, especially if you go there with a group of people.

Try typical Dutch snacks at lunch

After seeing Amsterdam from the water, it’s time for a lunch or a snack. There are so many places to have a snack in Amsterdam. For sure there are billions of healthier choices, but if there’s one thing that you should try in the Netherlands, these are the typical deep-fried Dutch snacks. Don’t worry about the calories, you’ll walk them out.

French fries with peanut sauce and chopped onions and mayonnaise in a plastic container, Dutch fast food

You can buy the snacks at any snack bar – just look for the signs Friet, Friture, or Friettent. The choice of snacks is overwhelming and obviously you can’t taste them all on your first trip to the Netherlands. So, what to choose? For the ultimate Dutch experience you should try the Frikandellen Speciaal (deep-fried minced meat skinless sausage with chopped onions, mayonnaise and curry-ketchup) with Frietje Saté (pronounced [‘friet-tjuh sa-‘tee] – French fries topped with peanut sauce).

Top museums to visit in Amsterdam

If you are spending only a day in Amsterdam you will have time only for one museum. It’s difficult to reconcile with this, but let’s be honest, you don’t want to spend your whole day inside and miss the actual beauty of the city.

a beautiful large building with two towers reflecting the sun and a bridge leading to it with flowers hanging on it, the building is casting reflection in the canal water

So which museum shall you visit if you are visiting Amsterdam only for a day? It all depends on your interests. However it’s a general consensus that the Rijksmuseum should be on the top of your Amsterdam bucketlist. The Rijksmuseum is not a mere collection of Dutch art, it is something more. It will give you an insight of the Dutch Golden Age – a lesson in history through art and real masterpieces. You will be able to see the famous Night Watch of RembrandtThe Milkmaid and Woman Reading a Letter of Vermeer, the winter scenes of Avercamp, just to name a few of the highlights of the Rijksmuseum collection.

Fun fact: The famous IAmsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum is gone. So, you can’t take anymore that emblematic photo like billions of tourists before you. This is actually one of the reasons they took it away in December 2018, as it was a symbol of mass tourism.

Other museums that you might consider visiting include:

  • Van Gogh Museum, which hosts the biggest collection of works of the Dutch impressionist
  • Stedelijk Museum (City Museum) – a museum for modern and contemporary art and design
  • MOCO Museum – a museum for modern and street art
  • Hermitage Amsterdam – a branch of the Hermitage museum in Saint-Petersburg
  • Anne Frank Museum – telling the compelling story of the Jewish girl Anne Frank and her world-famous diary written during WWII.

Read more: Check out this complete guide of the art museums in Amsterdam! It includes 27 art museum and exhibition places to choose from.

Have some fun in the evening

You can leave one part of the city for your evening walk, which is an absolute must, as the city with the lights on is simply magical! You can use one of these 4 walking routes in Amsterdam, in the evening.

Tip: The 7 Bridges Area is absolutely gorgeous at dusk!

a church tower at the background with a clock and a canal lined up with houses at dusk with lights on, Amsterdam at night

Another popular thing to do in the evening in Amsterdam is to walk around in the famous Red Light District. You can also do a pub crawl or an evening cruise on the canals of Amsterdam. Whatever you choose, be prepared for some great fun!

Final words

As you can see, you can still explore Amsterdam in one day visiting some of the most famous attractions. The best part about the Dutch capital is that it’s pretty walkable. If you combine a walking tour with a boat tour, you can cover a greater part of Amsterdam in 24 hours. However, you will quickly notice that if you want to actually visit the most famous attractions of Amsterdam, a day in Amsterdam won’t suffice.

Do you need some extra help to plan your trip to Amsterdam, join the dedicated Exploring the Netherlands Facebook Group, where you can get tips from other travellers and locals. Or perhaps you have questions or comments? Join the group and I’ll be happy to answer them.

About Daniela

Daniela has been living and travelling in the Netherlands since 2009. She has actually been to all the places she writes about. A linguist by education and a writer by profession, Daniela is on a mission to help you plan the perfect trip to her home country - the Netherlands.