3 Days in Amsterdam: A Local Expert’s Guide 

3 days in Amsterdam might not seem like too much, with its medieval center, world-class museums, and glorious Golden Age canals. It’s no wonder that Amsterdam’s tourism figures continue to skyrocket.

While there are still those attracted by the city’s cliched reputation of sex and drugs, there’s actually so much more to see and do in the compact and ridiculously picturesque Dutch capital.

If three days is all you have, we have the perfect 3 days in Amsterdam itinerary for you.

The canals and the Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam
Did you know that Claude Monet painted these exact views? Photo credit: Max van den Oetelaar

Day 1: Marvel at the Museum District, Vondelpark & De Pijp

Have an artsy breakfast in Amsterdam

Kick off your 3 days in Amsterdam with freshly roasted specialty coffee, croissants, cardamom buns, and other breakfast goodies at Back to Black, a four-minute walk from the renowned Rijksmuseum.

Enjoy your breakfast while exploring the landscaped Rijksmuseum Gardens, where you can admire free outdoor exhibitions by world-famous artists from spring until autumn.

If the treasury of Dutch Masters at Amsterdam’s most famous art and history museum is not of interest, you could also opt for modern art at Moco Museum, or the famous Stedelijk Museum.

Continue with a culinary exploration of the Netherlands at next-door RIJKS®, a fine dining restaurant that marries homegrown ingredients with global influences, or feast on North Sea fish at nearby The Seafood Bar.

A group walking through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum was founded in 1800 and was originally located in The Hague before being moved to Amsterdam.

Enjoy an afternoon exploring…and admiring tulips in the park

Wander through this chic district of stately mansions and designer stores on streets like P.C. Hooftstraat, Van Baerlestraat, and Cornelis Schuytstraat. You can also visit Amsterdam’s “green lung,” the 19th-century Vondelpark. It was named after the most prominent Dutch poet and playwright of the 17th century.

It’s a great place to admire tulips in spring, sniff over 70 varieties of roses in summer, take in the turning leaves in fall, or go for a bracing winter walk admiring the park’s various artworks, which include Picasso’s The Fish (1965).

Afterwards, head to the home of everyone’s favorite earless genius for the Van Gogh Closing Time Museum Tour. Because the museum is not as packed as it is earlier during the day, this is the perfect time to get up close and personal with some sunflowers and potato eaters.

Van Gogh Museum
Don’t miss the opportunity to appreciate Van Gogh’s brush strokes in person. Photo credit: Ömer Gülen

Experience the De Pijp nightlife

Follow the Van Baerlestraat east to discover the deeply cherished Dutch tradition of the borrel (after-work drinks) at Café Wildschut, one of Amsterdam’s oldest grand cafés.

Known for its Amsterdam School architecture, this is a good place to ring in the evening over a beer, or something stronger. A side of bitterballen (crunchy, deep-fried mini croquettes with beef, shrimp, or cheese) is a must.

Continue along the Roelof Hartstraat towards the trendy De Pijp district, where you’ll find a multicultural melting pot of flavors. For a casual dinner that hits the spot, stop by the charming Amsterdam-style ceviche bar Sjefietshé, or at Kafe Kontrast, a Swedish-Indonesian fusion bistro.

If you’re up for a drink, Wijnbar Paulus is the perfect place for some wine sipping after all that culture.

Bitterballen, or Dutch meatballs
Bitterballen (bite-sized croquettes) are something you must try during your 3 days in Amsterdam. Photo credit: bionicgrrrl

Day 2: Gorge on Dutch treats & discover Centrum’s hidden treasures 

Take the Ultimate Amsterdam Food Tour

Start your second day by tasting a range of classic Dutch foods across three neighborhoods in Centrum, on the Ultimate Amsterdam Food & History Tour.

From stroopwafel cookies and apple pie to herring, kibbeling (battered and fried fish), and Dutch fries, you’ll get to taste them all on this 3.5-hour tour.

The Jordaan is the perfect place to enjoy a walk and stop at some design stores, trendy boutiques, or galleries. Do keep a lookout for hidden hofjes (charming little courtyards, many of which are open to the public) along the way.

3 days in Amsterdam exploring the city
Finding hidden hofjes is definitely part of discovering Amsterdam. Photo credit: Jim Forest

Visit famous Amsterdam landmarks

When you’re done meandering through the area’s higgledy-piggledy streets, head up to Prinsengracht, where you’ll encounter the Anne Frank House (do book a time slot ahead, if you want to visit) and an iconic church, famous for its tinkling carillon (and for being the final resting place of Rembrandt).

The Dutch-Renaissance style Westerkerk was the largest Protestant church in the world at the time of its completion in 1631. Its 282 ft steeple, topped by a bright blue crown, is still the tallest church tower in the city.

If you’re willing to climb some steep stairs, you’ll get wonderful vistas of the 17th-century canals. You’ll be able to see a lot of the places you’ve visited during your 3 days in Amsterdam.

Westerker in 3 days in Amsterdam
If you climb the Westerkerk tower, you’ll definitely have some of the best views of Amsterdam. Photo credit: Frans Ruiter

Have a beer or jenever in a Dutch brown café

Ready for an authentic Dutch brown café experience? A 2-minute walk down Keizersgracht will take you to Café Brandon (Keizersgracht 157), where you can mingle with Amsterdammers and enjoy a beer or Dutch jenever.

Alternatively, Proeflokaal Arendsnest, a 4-minute walk along Herengracht, is a great spot for a serious froth-blowing session.

With over 50 Dutch beers on tap and over 100 bottled beers from the Netherlands, there’s plenty to wet your whistle here.

Getting hungry?

  • Try rijsttafel (a tasting of various Indonesian specialties) around the corner at Max.
  • Head east along the Raadhuisstraat to Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, admiring the Royal Palace along the way. Down a winding medieval alley, you’ll find Kaagman & Kortekaas (reservations are a must). Chef Giel Kaagman’s local take on global gastro-bistro fare provides plenty of poultry, venison, and homemade charcuterie, always with an element of surprise.
  • For some of the city’s best after-dinner cocktails, nearby SuperLyan is a brilliant bet. 
rijsttafel in Amsterdam
A rijsttafel is something you must try, and a great way to end the day. Photo credit: Gourmandise

Day 3: Take a canal cruise & see the Red Light District, West & Noord

Have an early morning coffee and visit the oldest church

Get up early on your last day and head to the city’s oldest building, the 13th-century De Oude Kerk. Catch an art exhibition, stop off for a coffee at the charming De Koffieschenkerij, located in the former sacristy, and explore the medieval streets of De Wallen (otherwise known as the Red Light District).

An early morning visit means you’ll beat the crowds and see the old Amsterdam architecture behind all that neon glare. 

De Oude Kerk is the oldest building in Amsterdam
De Oude Kerk is the oldest building in Amsterdam, and definitely worth a visit. Photo credit: teachandlearn

Have brunch on a boat

A canal boat tour is a must when in Amsterdam. Why not combine that bucket list must with a boozy brunch? You can do just that on Miss G’s Brunch Boat, a restored 20th-century heated barge with a rain-proof retractable roof.

Choose from various styles of eggs benedict, waffles, or a bagel BLT, served with banana bread, fruit, decent Bloody Marys, mimosas, and coffee or tea.

Boat and brunch in Amsterdam
The canals are definitely one of Amsterdam’s main attractions, so make sure to enjoy a boat ride. Photo credit: Ethan Hu

Visit a cultural center in West 

Walk to the other side of the Westerkerk, hop on tram 17 (direction Osdorp), and ride 4 stops to the Bijlderdijkstraat, from where it’s a few minutes walk to De Hallen. This cultural center in a converted tram depot has been so successful that it’s redefined its neighborhood.

Here you can shop for hand-crafted souvenirs and local fashion, catch an afternoon indie film at Filmhallen, or stop for a snack in the complex’s food hall, where you can feast on Mumbai-style tikka masala wraps, sushi rolls, fresh oysters, gourmet burgers and dim sum, washed down with a local craft beer.

De Hallen in 3 days in Amsterdam
De Hallen used to be a tram depot and service department, now it redefined its neighborhood. Photo credit: harry_nl

Say goodbye to 3 days in Amsterdam

If there’s still time, catch a (free) musical performance at one of Amsterdam’s many jazz, classical music, or pop venues. Bimhuis, Concertgebouw, or Paradiso have great events.

Another option is to hop the free F4 ferry from Centraal Station to the NDSM wharf in Noord. There, you can explore the hip waterside hangouts, galleries, and street art scene of this vibrant former shipyard area.

And, if you loved the city, maybe start to plan your next visit to discover more of Amsterdam off the beaten path

NDSM wharf in Noord
In Noord’s NDSM wharf you’ll find a different and hip Amsterdam. Photo credit: Guilhem Vellut
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About the author

Originally from South Africa, Karin Engelbrecht has spent the last 28 years living in Amsterdam. With her extensive knowledge of the best local eateries, attractions and shopping destinations across the seven boroughs, Karin is the go-to gal for all things Mokum (an affectionate local nickname for the city). As a food and lifestyle writer, you’ll find her work in magazines, travel guide books and websites by publishers such as Time Out, I Amsterdam and Fodor’s Travel. Or follow her on Instagram and Facebook, where she regularly shares her latest discoveries as @mokumista.

More by Karin Engelbrecht

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