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All-time Top 10 Things to do in Amsterdam: a critical look

When in Amsterdam has realised that every website associated with Amsterdam travel has a top list of things to do in this city. Some websites only have Top 5 or 10 lists.

When in Amsterdam could provide our own list but honestly there is no Top 10 list. Waking up in Amsterdam the list changes day to day because of mood, weather and the place in question.

So we are going to give you the All-time Top 10 list of things to do in Amsterdam (updated 2014).

Our approach is simple: 

  • Collation
  • 100 web pages were analysed.
  • Search Terms were “top things to do in Amsterdam”, ‘top 10 things in Amsterdam’
  • To qualify the page needed to have in its title top things to do in Amsterdam. For Example: Top 5, Top 10, Top 20 things to do in Amsterdam.

We collated the results then ran a critical look at the list to provide you with an alternative.
Counting down from 10 to 1.


Amsterdam floating flower market
Timmer's Flowers and Plants: Amsterdam Floating Flower Martket
photo: Sonia Hermosin
10. Amsterdam’s Famous Floating Flower Market
The last market in Amsterdam still on the water. A wonderful place for colour and it is central. The Dutch are famous for cut flowers and bulbs. The 1637 stock market meltdown because of speculation on tulip bulbs made the Dutch synonymous with the Turkish flower.

Critical look:
  • The market has no educational aspect at all.
  • The market is not really floating.
  • A retail market servicing mostly tourists from Europe.
  •  Custom’s regulations restrict other visitors from taking back bulbs to their countries.
  • It is worth a look if in the area especially for the Timmer's family stall famous for their quality cut flowers and plants.

Alternative:
  •  Alsmeer Flower Market: An hour by bus outside Amsterdam it is the World’s largest flower market and the world’s 4th largest building. You can’t help but learn on the self-guided tour.
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Named after the famous 17 century poet and playwright Vondel it is Amsterdam’s central park. The park was created in 1864 after Victorian England made such gardens popular. It has a Picasso sculpture, wonderful bike paths, the film museum and a theater.
Vondel Park, Amsterdam

Critical look:

  • As is commonly reported Vondel Park receives 10 million visitors a year. 
  • On a sunny day finding a quiet spot in Vondel Park is not possible.
  • The smell in parts also demonstrates the lack of toilet facilities. This has been added to over the last few years.(thanks to comments section)
  • The high numbers of visitors and its central location, the park attracts people that want to be noticed. Unsocial behaviour and drunkenness does occur at the end of a hot day.
Alternative:
  • Westerpark is central and large like Vondel Park. The east-west layout results in more sunshine hours, if you are lucky to get a sunny day in Amsterdam. Large range of bars, eateries and toilets.


8. Visit the Albert Cuyp Market
With over 220 stalls and situated within the old Latin Quarter of Amsterdam, the Albert Cuyp market is the largest street market in the Netherlands and professes to be one of the largest daily markets in Europe. Named after the 17th century painter the market has operated since 1905.

Critical look:
  • It is not the most affordable of Amsterdam street markets.
  • Expensive nature means working class Amsterdammers go to other street markets.

Alternative:
  • Dappermart: cheaper, more rustic, fewer tourists, rated top 10 shopping streets in the world by National Geographic 2007.

7. Ride a bike
With an estimated 600 000 to 1 million bicycles circulating in Amsterdam, the city is one of the bike capitals of the world. The compact and flat nature of the city makes biking a fast and affordable travel option in Amsterdam.



sightseeing Amsterdam bike
Amsterdam bike
Critical look:
  • Most anger from locals towards visitors is about biking or walking in bike paths. 
  • Many Amsterdammers believe that visitors should take a test before being allowed to rent or ride a bike in Amsterdam.
  • Riding a bike in Amsterdam City Centre traffic is not for beginners.

Alternative:
  • Walk smaller areas and take Amsterdam trams in between – bike riders don’t mess with trams.
  • Take a guided walking tour of Amsterdam's Old City Centre  with a private, small or larger group tours. 
  • Take a countryside bike tour or a neighbourhood bike tour and enjoy Amsterdam with good bike paths. Dutch biking the way it is supposed to be, enjoyable.
The second or third largest beer maker in the world depending with whom you talk started in Amsterdam. The old brewery has a tour called the Heineken Experience.


heineken brewery
Heineken Experience, Amsterdam
Critical look:
  • They have not made beer in this brewery since the 1980s.
  • The tour concentrates on the advertising and marketing power of this international brand.
  • The tour only includes two half pints of Heineken. Trying to make friends with people who don't like beer on a brewery tour. Just to savour more of the product is a thirsty persons dilemma.
Alternative:
  • Spending the price of entrance to the Heineken Experience at one of Amsterdam’s active micro-breweries or quality beer bars will result in more beer. 
  • Amsterdam’s micro-brewery scene is building: Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Prael, De Bekeerde Zuster (the twisted sister) are well worth visit for beer lovers. Some Breweries conduct tours for groups and or individuals.
  • There are beer tours as well as pub and club crawls for the young.

5. Canal Tour
Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North. Even though the canals do not smell and the canals are not deep like Venice 20% of Amsterdam's surface is water. With over 100 kilometers of canals, around 90 islands and 1500 bridges traveling by water is a great way to see the city.

Critical look:
  • Few Amsterdammers use their canals.
  • There are three main canal tour companies in Amsterdam. They run tours that are similar with recorded messages, and their boats have no historic relevance to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam local boat tour
Local Boating Experience, Amsterdam


Alternative:
  • Find a local Amsterdammer with a boat. Finding a local boat cruise is easier to find when the weather is good. Inquire with other tour providers you may use. Amsterdammers' have a network of boat operators in the city. 
  • Visit Het Grachtenhuis (Canal House Museum) learn how Amsterdam's world heritage listed canals were created.
  • Rent your own boat and captain yourself. Sleopdelen, Boaty. Becareful, when the weather is good on a weekend, out come the party boats.


4. Red Light District
Situated in the oldest part of Amsterdam this area provides an eclectic mix of sex shops, brothels, coffeeshops, hotels, gay bars and around 300 red light windows. Since 2000 Amsterdam legalised sex workers. The Red Light District is the main centre of this industry in Amsterdam.

Critical look:
  • There is more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District. The area is often full of young men peering at the scantly clad women.
  • On weekends the neighbourhood can be over loaded with travelling parties of men and women. Exciting for early evening walk.
Alternative: 
  • Take a guided walking tour of the Red Light District. The area is the oldest in town and full of hidden secrets. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way compared to peering into the bewitching red lights.
  • Go during the day and see the shopping, art and history side of the area.


The greatest collection of Dutch art and history in the Netherlands. Normally ranked in the top 20 of museums in the world. The Rijksmuseum was under construction between 2003 and 2013. The masterpieces are layed out in a new style with focus still on the grand hallway of Masters. Classics by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer are well represented.  


rijksmuseum amsterdam sightseeing
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.



Alternative:
Rembrandt House: Comparable there are no crowds and you can see what sort of bed the old master Rembrandt slept in and toilet he used. Also the largest collection of Rembrandt etchings in the world

2. Van Gogh Museum
The expressionist painter was famed for his rough style, sharp colours and considered a trail blazer for modern art. This museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings under one roof and tells the story of the man from child hood to his end at 37 years old.


van gogh museum amsterdam sightseeing
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.




Critical look:
  • Van Gogh did not spend a lot of his life in the Netherlands.
  • His fame has only come about through Van Gogh's influence on 20th century art.
  • Expect large lines.
Alternative:
  • Pre-purchase your tickets at the tourist information centre at the front of Central Station. Go late to avoid the crowds. 
  • On Friday night the museum is open to 10pm with a relaxed and enjoyable environment.
  • Go on a day trip to Kroller Muller Museum to experience the largest private collection.


1. Anne Frank Museum
The location of the Jewish Frank family hiding place during WWII. Teenage Anne documented her experience from the annex of this Amsterdam house during Nazi occupation. The book has become one of the world's most widely read. This popularity accounts for approximately 1 million visitors a year to this museum.


anne frank house sightseeing
Anne Frank House Museum, Amsterdam.




Critical Look:
  • For a small museum there are a lot of people at certain times. 
  • The museum has a difficult job balancing the broader context of the period.
  • It is more of a pilgrimage than a museum.


Alternative:
  • Avoid the long lines and buy on lineGo late in the evening or arrive early before it opens and the school groups arrive. 
  • Resistance museum provides you with a greater snap shot of World War II in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Rated one of the best museums in the Netherlands don't expect long lines here maybe just a school group now and then.
  • The Jewish Historical Museum provides detail on the Jewish community's influence on Amsterdam through the centuries. Ticket to this museum includes entrance to the Portuguese Synagoge and nearby Deportation centre.  


Overview of Amsterdam's Top 10 Things to Do:
  • The 'Big 3' as the industry calls them, fill out the top three. 
  • Sex, alcohol and boats are four, five and six. 
  • Bikes, markets, parks and flowers round out the list. 
Quite a range for a small city of less than 1 million people. Have you got a suggestion? Let us know what you enjoyed in Amsterdam.

For more things to do check our list for Spring 2014.

When in Amsterdam.....enjoy!
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