48 Hours in Amsterdam: The Best Things to Do in Amsterdam on a Two-Day Layover
Changing flights at Schiphol Airport? Treat yourself to a two-day layover and use our list of things to do in Amsterdam as your guide to the best the Dutch capital has to offer.
The Best Place to Stay in Amsterdam
When you think of things to do in Amsterdam, your mind probably conjures up images of the city’s romantic canal district, and frankly, there’s no better place to establish your home base on a two-day layover.
Occupying prime real estate in the canal district, the luxurious Pulitzer Hotel is less than a 20-minute Uber ride from Schiphol Airport (note: Uber has a fixed pickup spot in front of the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel just across the street from arrivals). The hotel itself is an intricate maze of 25 historic canal houses dating back to the city’s “Golden Age,” linked by thoroughly modern glass atriums. Situated in the thick of living Amsterdam, the luxurious property is a popular hangout among locals, too. You’re likely to see Amsterdammers greet each other with three kisses—left, right, left (the Dutch custom)— as they sit down for a meal at the restaurant or order a picture-perfect craft cocktail in the swanky bar.
Amsterdam travel tip: Right around the corner from the hotel (we’re talking a four-minute walk), you’ll find the famous Anne Frank House and the 15th-century gothic church, Westerkerk—the chimes of which are mentioned several times in Anne’s haunting diary.
Cruise the Venice of the North
Amsterdam is laced with 100 kilometres of canals, which have played a vital role in trade, transportation and housing (the number of houseboats you’ll see is truly awe-inspiring!) for hundreds of years. The best way to truly appreciate the beauty and significance of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is—you guessed it—by boat. Tour company Stroma runs hour-long cruises every thirty minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Hop aboard a glass-topped boat near Central Station (the city’s major train station), and sail past no fewer than 100 different attractions, from alarmingly crooked historic townhouses to beautiful bridges, as you wind up and down the other-worldly waterways.
Amsterdam travel tip: A two-day layover can go by in a blink of an eye. Instead of wasting precious time waiting in line to buy tickets, consider taking advantage of Booking Attractions. Offering advance ticket sales for a curated list of popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam and around the world, this service from Booking.com can be accessed from the company’s website or its mobile travel app.
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Travel Through Time at the Rijksmuseum
When planning things to do in Amsterdam, a trip to the Rijksmuseum should be considered compulsory for both first-time and returning visitors. The largest art museum in the country first opened its doors in 1885, and is stacked to the rafters with priceless treasures that cover 800 years of Dutch history. If you’re looking to travel through all eight centuries (we’re talking 8,000 pieces across 80 rooms), you’ll need a full five hours. If you’re pressed for time, on the other hand, you can catch the edited highlights of the Dutch Golden Age (think masterworks from the 17th century) in a good two hours. You’ll need more time, of course, if you want to indulge in the Rijksmuseum’s own Michelin-starred restaurant, Rijks.
Amsterdam travel tip: The Rijksmuseum borders Amsterdam’s Museum Square (also known as Museumplein), which places it mere minutes away from the famous Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk. This “Museumkwartier” (Museum Quarter) is one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, boasting museums and galleries in abundance, high-end shopping, and Vondelpark, the biggest park in Amsterdam.
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Visit the New Kid on Museumplein’s Block
If modern and contemporary art are more your scene, then you’ll definitely want to saunter over to Moco, a museum sandwiched between the grand old Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum (a gallery dedicated entirely to the life and work of the world-famous painter). Moco is shaking things up in the Dutch art landscape with its avant-garde collection of artworks by international artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst. (Bansky fans, take note: The museum also has an impressive collection of the graffiti master’s street art on display.) Before leaving, be sure to take a stroll in the Moco Garden—the museum’s ever-changing outdoor exhibition space is well worth exploring.
Learn a Lesson From a Master Mixologist
If your eyes have feasted upon enough art for one day, take a break at the House of Bols. Established in 1575, the distilled spirits brand, which includes vodkas, gins, genevers and liqueur, claims to be the oldest of its kind in the world, not to mention one of the most historic Dutch companies still active today. Conveniently located across the street from Moco, this House of Bols museum experience is an adventure for the senses. Through a self-guided tour, you’re encouraged to experiment with smell, taste and colour as you explore the roles of different spices and aromas that go into making dozens of the brand’s liqueurs, including the traditional Dutch genever—the “OG” gin. Don’t miss the mesmerizing Mirror Bar at the end of the tour, where professional bartenders are on hand to demonstrate the art of mixology. They’re more than happy to whip up your own cocktail of choice, so get ready to cheers—or “proost” as the Dutch say!
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Grab a Pint of Amsterdam’s World-Famous Pilsner
Whether you’re a serious beer connoisseur or just an occasional sipper, a visit to the original Heineken brewery is worth adding to you list of things to do in Amsterdam. Founded in 1864, the brewery has since been converted into a beer-themed amusement park and branded the Heineken Experience. An interactive, self-guided tour (which lasts around 90 minutes) takes you through the company’s history and its traditional brewing process, complete with gigantic copper tanks. Try your hand at drafting your own beer while enjoying on a pint (or two) in the Heineken Museum bar.
Amsterdam travel tip: The Heineken Experience is located in the city’s De Pijp district, a hub for shopping, restaurants and nightlife. While you’re there, plan a stroll through the century-old Albert Cuyp street market, the largest open-air market in the Netherlands. Expect to find hundreds of stands selling everything from shoes to luggage to fresh-baked Dutch treats (hello, stroopwafels!).
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Savour Traditional Dutch Cheese
The Dutch adore their cheese (the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest exporters of the stuff), and a guided cheese tasting is an absolute must on any trip to Amsterdam. You’ll find one of the best at the Henri Willig cheese shop on the busy commercial strip of Reguliersbreestraat. During the 45-minute tasting experiences, you’ll sample five cheeses, severed with mustard, dips and your choice of either wine or specialty beer from a local brewery to wash it all down. The hosts are dressed in traditional garb, and share some fascinating insights into the time-honoured processes of Dutch cheese-making. After the tour, pop by the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s tulip bulb and Dutch souvenir-filled flower market, which is less than a five-minute walk away.
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Get Your Selfie On in Amsterdam-Noord
Love them or them it, public art installations geared specifically for picture-perfect Instagram “moments” are here to stay. Across the water from Amsterdam’s Central Station (there’s a free ferry that departs every few minutes), you’ll find Wondr Experience: a pop-up museum filled with 15 selfie-friendly vignettes. Designed in collaboration with local artists, the immersive photo opps include a swimming pool filled with marshmallows, an alien jungle and a glitter shower. Doing it for the ’gram has never been so delightful.
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Cruise Around the Capital Like a Local
Amsterdam has truly earned its reputation as the bicycle capital of the world. Between the city’s narrow streets and canal system, it isn’t very car-friendly, making two-wheeled transportation the most popular choice for Amsterdammers—regardless of the weather. If you decide to check off your list of “things to do in Amsterdam” by bike, make MacBike your first stop. Amsterdam’s largest bike rental chain has five locations around the city centre (including one at Central Station), and plenty of models to choose from, whether you’re on the market for city bikes, or parent-child tandems.
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