Discover Amsterdam on foot: my favorite places

The best way to discover Amsterdam is on foot!

The sights are close together, and you’ll see many exciting things along the way.

Bring comfortable shoes, an umbrella and sunglasses to be prepared for all weather conditions. Here we go!

Visit Amsterdam

I’ve written three articles to help you plan your trip:

In this article I’ll give you some pointers for your Amsterdam walking tour:

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

A word of warning

At first, I thought I’d write an article with a detailed day-by-day program. Then, I told myself it wasn’t the right approach.

For one thing, there are plenty of guidebooks that do it better than I do.

On the other hand, I wanted to maintain the spirit of this series of articles on Amsterdam, where I offer you a few tips or advice as I would with a friend who is planning to go there for the first time for a few days.

I’ve included a map to help you find your way around. Next, I’ll show you some points of interest by neighborhood. I have deliberately not created any turnkey walks. The choice is yours!

Feel the soul of the city

In my approach to travel, when I arrive in a city I first try to discover its soul. If you don’t have a lot of time, I think the best way is to wander around on foot.

In Amsterdam, a good starting point is Central Station. This magnificent 19th-century building was designed by the same architect as the Rijksmuseum. I invite you to visit the seafront and watch the incessant ballet of boats on the Ij. You’ll see why Amsterdam is such a trading city.

Take the opportunity to walk east from the station to the Maritime Museum, located on the site of Amsterdam’s old port.

Amsterdam Central Station
New Year's Eve in Amsterdam
Maritime Museum Amsterdam

Stroll and observe, just like that…

Then head for the canal belt and south. Stop reading your guidebooks and let yourself be inspired. Stroll and observe! Perhaps your footsteps will lead you to the Jordaan, the Vondelpark, or the Pijp district. No matter! In the days that follow, you’ll still have time to visit the specific places you’ve spotted while planning your trip.

Obssrve homes and life. Although Amsterdam is overrun by tourists (more than 20 million in 2019), it’s a city that the Dutch live in. There are plenty of stores of all kinds. The houses have no curtains. Amstellodammers love to have a drink on their doorstep. In short, it’ s very much alive.

Houses on the canals in Amsterdam
Houses on the canals in Amsterdam
Bookshop in old Amsterdam

A map of Amsterdam to help you find your way

I’ve prepared a schematic map with the main points I’m talking about in this article.

  • In white: Amsterdam’s main districts
  • In yellow: sub-neighborhoods
  • In green: main points of interest
  • In blue: my selection of museums

All hotels and the tourist office will provide you with a more detailed paper map to help you organize your outings.

Walking in the center of Amsterdam is easy. There are few cars. But be careful with bicycles. The locals move fast and will quickly call you to order!

Places of interest in Amsterdam

Tour of the historic center

In the “centrum” or historic center, you’ll see the emblematic canal belt with its superb mansions of wealthy merchants. They were created in the 17th century during the “Golden Age” of the country’s brilliant economic boom.

There are four successive channels, each with its own personality:

  • Singel. which means “circumference”, is the oldest. It was the moat of the medieval town before becoming a residential canal.
  • Herengracht or gentlemen’s canal. The houses are bigger and more luxurious. The majestic, sometimes severe facades conceal opulent interiors and magnificent private gardens.
  • Keizersgracht or Emperors’ Canal. It’s very similar to the previous one.
  • Prinsengracht or Princes’ Canal is a little more bohemian. The houses are simpler. You’ll notice many floating houses.

Take a look at this video from the city of Amsterdam, which explains how the canals were created according to a well-thought-out urban plan.

The canals! We never tire of them

Stroll along the canals and try to observe the differences in style and richness of the buildings. There’s no precise order to your walk. Let yourself be inspired.

Don’t forget that the canal belt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretches from the Amstel to the Plantage.

Map of UNESCO-listed canals

Friendly tip: return to the canal district at night. The atmosphere is magical.

Amsterdam clock tower
Houses in Amsterdam
Amsterdam by night
Bridge at Amsterdam East
Full moon over Amsterdam
View of a canal at night in Amsterdam

Negen Straatjes for shopping

My apartment was located on Singel in the “Negen Straatjes” or “9 Streets” district. There are lots of little boutiques selling fashion, decoration, and art. It was always a pleasure to go window shopping. You’re bound to come across it.

To avoid: the famous flower market

Right next to the “Negen Straatjes” you can avoid the flower market, which is well known in the guidebooks. All you’ll find are tulip bulbs, which are easy to transport in your carry-on bag, and almost no flowers!

A little jewel: the beguinage

Instead, visit the Amsterdam Beguinage (Begijnhof). A pretty garden surrounded by 15th-century houses. It’s one of my favorite places in the center. There’s a small church. If you’re interested, a mass is said in French every Sunday.

The "Negen Straatjes" district
Flower market
The Amsterdam Beguinage

Jordaan: the bohemian chic district and its market at Noordermarkt

I also recommend a visit to the Jordaan. It’s a former working-class district that’s become very “bohemian bourgeois” and a center of nightlife with numerous cafés and restaurants. Sometimes you feel like you’re in a casbah, with its narrow streets and doll’s houses. When I was looking for an apartment to live in, I remember visiting a vertical house on 5 floors, each with its own little room!

In the Jordaan, every Saturday morning we went to the market at Noordermarkt. It was a fun time, with high-quality vegetables and seafood on offer, and a cheerful crowd. There are several pleasant cafés around.

Early produce stall at Noordermarkt
Cheese stall at Noordermarkt

Towards Place Rembrandt

Further south is Place Rembrandt, surrounded by numerous cafés. During major soccer events, it’s a great place for fans to watch the games. The rest of the time you can enjoy a beer.

At its center are statues of the “Night Watch”.

Nearby, take the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat with its antique shops. A street with some really interesting stores. We loved to stroll there.

Night watch at Rembrandtplein
Window display in the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat

Amsterdam underground: the other side of the city

Finally, on the way back to the station, you’ll pass through the famous “Red Light District” with its prostitutes in the windows, spotted by their red lights. It’s the most touristic area, and the city of Amsterdam has a very ambiguous attitude, not knowing whether to promote or discourage it. The atmosphere is rather good-natured, but overrun by thrill-seeking tourists.

Of course, you’ll see coffee shops. Many visitors, especially young ones, come just for that. The city of Amsterdam regularly raises the question of regulating tourist access to cannabis. Drugs are also very present in nightclubs.

My opinion of guided canal cruises

To visit the canals, you can take a canal boat cruise with a soundtrack in 5 pre-recorded languages. Personally, I’ve never been keen on it and I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends. You can’t see any more than you can on foot, and there are too many tourists. Yet you’ll read all over the Internet that it’s recommended. It’s up to you to make up your own mind.

I recommend a much nicer alternative: cruise with your own boat! I’ll tell you more here.

Showcase in the Red Light District
Cruise ships in Amsterdam

“Westelijke eilanden”: a little-known district

Finally, if you have a little more time, head north of the canal belt. After passing under the railway tracks, you’ll discover a popular district unknown to tourists: “Westelijke eilanden”.

It may be less spectacular, but it retains a real authenticity. On summer days you’ll even see kids having fun diving into the canals!

Westelijke eilanden

Museums to understand the city through its history

Amsterdam has a rich history, and there are several museums to help you understand it. They are all located in the historic center and will fit in easily with your walks.

The Amsterdam Museum

The best place to start is Amsterdam Museum which will explain the history of the city. How the city has been built around a series of urban plans that have tamed nature and accommodated the city’s rapid growth. You’ll gain a better understanding of the Dutch merchant mentality, which is characterized by moral rigor, business acumen, and tolerance.

Rembrandt’s house

Rembrandt’s house is a fascinating place to visit, as it gives a good insight into the painter’s daily life and his era: the 17th century.

the home of Abraham Willet and Louisa Holthuysen

Next, I recommend a visit to the house of Abraham Willet and Louisa Holthuysen, at Herengracht 605. This rich bourgeois residence was built in 1687. You’ll see the last of the late 19th-century refurbishments and gain a better understanding of the opulence of Amsterdam’s merchants at the time.

The house with the hidden church

Take a look at the house “Amstelkring“. It’s a rich mansion that houses a clandestine Catholic church built in the attic! A typical feature of the Protestant city, which was tolerant of other faiths only if they were kept out of sight.

Anne Frank Museum

Finally, the Anne Frank Museum is an important and painful part of the city’s history. 75% of the Dutch Jewish community died in concentration camps. Visits can only be booked online. This is a very good decision because the queues used to be huge.


The hidden Amstelkring church
Holthuysen House
Frank family memorial plaque
Rembrandt House

What to visit in the area “Zuid” ?

“Zuid” is well worth a visit. If only to visit the museums set around a huge green esplanade.

The Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is a must-see. It can now be visited by reservation. This is very good news, as in recent years it had fallen victim to overcrowding (2.1 million visitors in 2019), which made for an unpleasant experience.

Just after the first wave of Covid, we were lucky enough to visit it almost single-handedly. A great privilege!

Van Gogh museum
Van Gogh museum during Covid

The Rijksmuseum institution

The Rijksmuseum is one of the richest museums in the world. You’ll see Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”. Since the Covid crisis, visits are by reservation only.

Rijks Museum

Vondelpark: the green lung of the city center

For a breath of fresh air, nothing beats a visit to Vondelpark , a popular city park. On summer evenings, the lawns are invaded by young Amstellodammers coming to meet up with friends. Superb, imposing heritage homes have been built on the south façade. A little further on, all the luxury brands are displayed on the opulent Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat.

Sunny afternoon at Vondelpark
Rijks Museum

De Pijp and its market

Even if you don’t live here, it’s worth coming to discover the de Pijp district. The Albert Cuypmarkt is a renowned daily market. All around, you’ll find numerous cafés and restaurants with a young, relaxed atmosphere.

At the market, take the opportunity to taste “maatje “. These are small raw herrings eaten in buns with chopped onions. Surprising! Amstellodammers love it!

Albert Cuypmarkt market

Don’t forget the “Noord” district!

The “Noord” district is for urban explorers. You’ll see a jumble of industrial wastelands, port areas, garden cities, artists’ squats, and futuristic architecture. Personally, I love it!

The neighborhood is accessible by free ferries that cross the Ij. If you’re just visiting the Eye, going on foot is fine.

Otherwise, a bicycle is preferable, as distances can quickly become considerable. By the way, I’ve concocted a great discovery of the neighborhood that you’ll find in the article “bike rides around Amsterdam”.

The bold Eye

The Eye is the film institute that can be spotted from afar with its ultramodern architecture.

It’sone of my favorite places to have a drink. If the weather is fine, the terrace overlooking the Ij is very pleasant. Otherwise, the café inside has a spectacular setting. The institute also has cinemas with an interesting program, sometimes featuring French films.

Right next door is the A’dam Tower. Its revolving restaurant is well worth a visit. If not, I think the climb is a bit expensive for the view over Amsterdam.

View of the Eye and the A'dam tower

Amsterdam wants to give the city back to its inhabitants

In recent years, the city has realized that tourism needs to be channeled. New rules have been introduced, such as restrictions on seasonal rentals and the creation of tourist boutiques. The aim is to give Amsterdam back to its inhabitants. After 5 years in Amsterdam, I can confirm that the city still has its soul. His strong personality enabled him to protect himself.

I hope this article has inspired you to visit Amsterdam. At least that was my ambition.

If, on your return, you have any finds you’d like to share, please do so in the comments! I’d love to hear your impressions of this magnificent city!



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