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How to spend 1 day in Amsterdam

June 07, 2022
11 min read
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On the long list of European airports that make it easy to land, get into the city quickly via cheap and efficient public transport and make the most of an extended layover, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) is near the top of the list.

It is also one of the world's busiest international airports since it's KLM's main hub. So if you’re heading to a European city anytime soon, there’s a good chance a Schiphol stopover might be somewhere on your itinerary.

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This summer, especially, as airlines continue to ramp up their flight schedules and route networks, some folks might find they have more time to spare during a layover than during previous trips.

For that reason, we’ve put together the best highlights for a 24-hour stay in the Dutch capital. Once you get through customs and grab your bag, book a 4.70 euro ($5) second-class train ticket online ahead of time (otherwise you might pay 5.70 euros, or over $6) from the train terminal right inside the airport to Amsterdam Centraal, the city's central station (the ride takes under 20 minutes), and get ready to make the most of a short but sweet stay in one of Europe’s most exciting cities.

Stay close to the train station

For a hotel with a real sense of place that’s just a five-minute stroll out the main door of the central train station, it’s hard to beat the 274-room Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam, which is full of art and cool communal spaces and offers free bikes and daily social hours in the lobby with complimentary wine for guests.

Even if your room isn’t ready when you arrive, head straight here to drop your bags and get ready for some sightseeing within easy walking (or biking) distance. Rates over the next few months start at around $270 or 51,000 IHG One Rewards points.

Grab a morning coffee at an Amsterdam cafe

Amsterdam is full of so-called coffee shops. But if it’s the actual caffeine variety you’re after, you’ll want to look for a cafe instead.

When the weather is sunny in the Netherlands (it doesn’t even have to be warm), people flock to outdoor terraces to get their Vitamin D fix while sipping something and watching the world go by.

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For a cozy bar in the Jordaan district near the Anne Frank House, Cafe ‘t Smalle has a scenic terrace overlooking the Egelantiersgracht (canal) and is a sweet spot to watch passing boats and cyclists. The kitchen does breakfast omelets, tostis (grilled sandwiches) and other snacks, too, if you’re hungry.

Brasserie Nel in Amstelveld park is another local favorite with a pretty terrace and petanque court.

Visit the Anne Frank House

You’ll need to plan ahead if you want to visit the Anne Frank House, as tickets can only be bought online and spots fill up fast. The reservations calendar resets on the first Tuesday of each month for dates during the month to follow, so book as far out as possible before your visit for the most availability.

Depending on how much time you have, there are two ticket types available, including one that just includes a visit to the house and museum (14 euros, or about $15 per adult). The other includes an interactive talk in English with one of the museum’s docents (21 euros or $22.50 per adult) about World War II history and the story of Anne Frank herself, whose book, "The Diary of Anne Frank," was published posthumously in 1947 and later translated into 70 languages.

Prepare for a sobering experience complete with photos and quotes by Anne Frank and the other people who lived in this house and were in hiding with her during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Cycle around the Jordaan

Amsterdam is full of scenic neighborhoods, but the Jordaan, just a few blocks southwest of the central train station, steals the show with its classic bruin cafes (atmospheric pubs, called brown cafes) and canal-lined streets where bicycles whiz past and party boats ply the waters when the weather even hints at a pleasant day.

To blend in with the locals, rent a classic and unassuming black Dutch bike in the Jordaan from Bike City and pedal into the two-wheeled flow to explore the boutique-filled streets along the Brouwersgracht, Prinsengracht, Lijnbaansgracht and Leidsegracht.

Stop along the Herengracht for that typical Dutch treat — patat met, or French fries with mayonnaise — at Heertje Friet, where the line often stretches out the door for a paper cone filled with fries and gourmet toppers like truffle mayo (trust us, you won’t regret it).

Have lunch at Foodhallen

It’ll take you less than 10 minutes by bike from the Jordaan (or roughly 25 pleasant minutes on foot) to reach Foodhallen for a convivial lunch with choices from a dizzying array of global options that include crab-filled bao buns and gourmet spins on the classic Dutch bar snack, bitterballen. There are cheese and charcuterie platters and Mediterranean mezze dishes, too.

There are 21 food stalls here in all, so it’s a good idea to take a lap around to browse all the options before committing.

Spend an afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum

Get lost for a spell in the colors, whorls, sadness and fantasy of one of the Netherlands' most famous artists, Vincent Van Gogh. This museum is home to the largest collection in the world of his works. Tickets (adults 18 and older can enter for 19 euros, or about $20.40) must be booked online and include admission to both the permanent collection and rotating exhibitions for no additional fee.

You can see most of the exhibits within an hour or two, but you might end up staying longer to read all of the accompanying literature about the artist’s tormented life.

Explore the Museum of the Canals

A museum dedicated to canals might not automatically capture your interest, but this one is an exception. Situated in a beautifully restored row house right along the Herengracht, one of the city’s loveliest canals (and one of a whopping 165 total in Amsterdam), the exhibits offer fascinating interactive looks at the history and formation of Amsterdam’s ring of canals, which were granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010.

Some 400 years of history come to life here, and give you a below-water look at how this unique city developed along with the roughly 60 miles of canals that give it its special ambiance.

Take a scenic canal cruise

There are more cruise hawkers beckoning you to climb aboard a vessel for a watery view of Amsterdam than you can wave a Dutch friet at. But when the weather is good, and particularly during the spring and summer months, when a party-on-the-water vibe prevails, book an hour-long tour that leaves from the Jordaan, right near the Anne Frank House, with Flagship aboard its fleet of all-electric canal boats.

As the boats glide quietly through the glassy canals, guides share interesting stories about the historical residents of spectacular row houses as you pass by and dish on Amsterdam’s laws regarding things that are illegal in most other countries during banter-style tours that are far from boring. There’s also a bar in the middle of the boat where a crew member mixes up mojitos and proffers cold beers as you cruise along. Other perks: blankets you can snuggle under if it’s chilly and umbrellas on standby for sudden bouts of that very Dutch rain.

Grab rooftop cocktails

The sun sets late during the summer months, but the golden glow sets in early and lingers long. So when it feels like it’s five o’clock somewhere (hello, jet lag), head to the sixth floor of the W hotel's Exchange building (in a former telephone company office) for rooftop cocktails with 360-degree city views at W Lounge.

One of the newest bars dedicated to the city's natural wine craze is La Dilettante, which opened in October 2021 in the bohemian De Pijp neighborhood and offers wines by the glass or bottle as well as cheese platters and other bar bites to accompany them.

Go Dutch for dinner

Amsterdam has every kind of cuisine you can imagine, from rijstafel (meaning "rice table") at Restaurant Blauw near the Vondelpark if you’re up for a huge spread of delicious Indonesian dishes, to the Flemish-inspired favorite, Rijsel, with affordable three-course prix-fixe menus of comfort food that’s classically prepared.

There’s even a more than 70-year-old candle-lit restaurant popular with locals that serves steaks and seafood dishes (as well as some traditional horse meat dishes), Piet de Leeuw, that’s peak Duch gezelligheid (coziness).

For something more upscale, restaurant Jansz in the Pulitzer Hotel is a favorite for modern Dutch cuisine and seasonal menus that might feature North Sea crab toast, steak frites and gourmet burgers.

When you’re ready to catch your flight the next day, it’s just a five-minute stroll from the Kimpton De Witt back to the train station and under 20 minutes onward to arrive at Schiphol.

How to spend a few hours at Schiphol Airport

If you don't have a full day in Amsterdam, but just a few hours to kill at Schiphol, you can still find plenty to do.

Start with some plane spotting in the fresh air by taking the footbridge from Departures Hall 1 to the Panorama Terrace, an open-air observation deck with close-up views of the tarmac.

Get your airport culture fix of Dutch masters just past passport control at an outpost of the Rijksmuseum called Rijksmuseum Schiphol, where changing exhibitions usually showcase eight to 10 paintings that would be at home in Amsterdam’s landmark museum. The exhibit is free and open 24 hours a day.

In Lounge 1 after security, Airport Park is an open-air green space with exercise bikes you can pedal, comfortable places to lounge and piped-in birdsong.

Boutique hotel citizenM is a seven-minute walk from the airport and a nice place to catch up on some work in chic surroundings without the din of airport boarding announcements.

And shop for supermarket souvenirs like Gouda cheese, sugary stroopwafels and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles the Dutch pour atop toast for breakfast) at Albert Heijn, a mini version of Holland’s largest supermarket chain where you can stock up just before going through security.

Even having done all that, you'll still wish you had even more time to explore Amsterdam.

Feature photo by Farouk Batiche/Getty Images.

Featured image by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees