3 days in Amsterdam: a guide for first time visitors

Amsterdam is a top travel destination. It has something for everyone – rich history, world class museums, and romantic canals. You could spend a month in the city and not see it all. Choosing what you do with just 3 days in Amsterdam, a short visit, is difficult. Read through our suggestions to put together an itinerary that’ll be perfect for you!

Where to Stay       Getting Around     Books to Read Before You Go

What to Do in Amsterdam

1. Anne Frank House

Visiting the Anne Frank house and museum is a must-do for any visitor to Amsterdam

The Anne Frank house and museum is the definition of Must Do. There are few more moving experiences than visiting the Secret Annex where Anne and her family hid for two years during World War Two.

Anne Frank was 13 years old when her family was forced to go into hiding in the annex of her father’s office. Anne had been given a journal on her 13th birthday and kept it faithfully. They remained there for two years until they were captured and sent to concentration camps. Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother died in the camps. Her father returned to Amsterdam after the war, found Anne’s journals, and published them in 1947.

In 1957 a decision was made to preserve the house where the Frank family lived. The museum opened three years later and includes not only the annex, but an exhibition space highlighting persecution and discrimination that continues to this day.

Visiting the Anne Frank House and Museum

You enter the museum with a timed entry – ensuring that you will not be crowded as you take in the museum and the annex. The museum, built around the original building, is well-done with photos illustrating how the Nazi occupation impacted the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Audio-guides are included in your entry fee. The audio will go silent when you enter the actual annex. It is a profound experience to walk in silence through rooms still containing bits and pieces left behind as well as pencil markings on the walls showing Anne’s growth.

Tickets are only available online. Book well in advance. Website

If You Have Time Tour the hidden church of Our Lord in the Attic This beautifully appointed church was built in the 1660s in the top floors of a traditional canal house. After the Reformation, Catholics were forbidden from worshiping in public places, so wealthy Catholics, like the businessman Jan Hartman, built their own churches and welcomed others to join them at Mass. 

2. Rijksmuseum

The architecture of the Rijksmuseum is enough of a reason to visit this museum, but go inside to see some of the world’s finest works of art.

The building was designed by Pierre Cuypers combining Gothic and Renaissance styles and opened officially in 1885. During the German occupation of Amsterdam, most of the collection was hidden to protect it from being removed to Germany.

You enter the museum through an arched entry where cyclists whiz by and music plays. Enchanting.

The Rijksmuseum displays over 8000 pieces of art but is unique in that it houses its most well known pieces in one gallery – the Gallery of Honour. A visitor with limited time can see 100 masterpieces in one gallery, culminating in the Night Watch by Rembrandt.

Plan your visit so you can explore more of this incredible museum. Don’t miss the library and the collection of dollhouses.

If You Have Time Visit Rembrandt’s house museum 
Rembrandt lived in this home from 1639 and 1656. The museum contains a fascinating collection of his etchings and paintings.

3. Van Gogh Museum

In the same park as the Rijksmuseum is an outstanding museum dedicated to the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The collection is best seen with a guide, though the audio-guides are quite good.
(Highly recommend reading about Van Gogh before you travel to get an introduction to this complex man)

4. Canal Cruise

What to do in Amsterdam. A canal cruise is a must-do when in the city

The Amsterdam Canal ring is a UNESCO designated site and is best seen from the canals themselves. You will find opportunities to take a cruise all over the city. Do it! It’s fun, informative, and will give your legs a rest after a day of touring.

Woe took two canal cruises, one by day which was a good introduction to the city, and one in the evening just to enjoy the romance of the canals.

5. Walk from Centraal Station to Dam Square

The city center is a vibrant area, with lots of shopping, entertainment, and dining options. Begin your walk at Centraal Station, a striking architectural masterpiece by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers. Walk down Damrak Street to Dam Square. The Royal Palace is in Dam Square and is usually open to visitors for a small entrance fee.

You can combine this walk with a stroll through the Red Light District.

NOTE: as in other touristy areas, watch your belongings

If You Have Time Walk the Jordaan neighborhood. There’s a photo on every block in this artsy neighborhood. Stop at a canal side coffee shop or just stroll the streets. A lovely way to spend an afternoon.

6. Vondelpark

Vondelpark is the biggest green space in Amsterdam and is located right next to the Museumplein. It is a great spot to escape the crowds. Have tea at the Blue Tea House or just people watch. We combined this walk with…

7. Indonesian restaurants

Rijsttafel at Blauw

A legacy of the association of the Netherlands and Indonesia is the prevalence of excellent Indonesian food in the city.

We recommend Blauw which serves the traditional rijsttafel, a table-full of delicious food in small plates. Blauw offers rijsttafels of fish, meat, and vegetarian. There is an option for a special meal served with wine pairings.


If You Have Time For authentic Dutch food try Moeders. Food like your Mom would have made, if your Mom was a Dutch Mom. The walls of the restaurant are covered with pictures of Moms, and the serving plates are a mishmash of pieces from many locals’ kitchens. Fun!

8. Bike!

Amsterdam is full of bikes. So give in and take a ride! We recommend you rent a bike in an outer neighborhood and head out on the well-marked bike trails, rather than try to navigate the city. Or take a guided bike tour.

Where to Stay With Only 3 Days in Amsterdam

Many people choose to stay in the downtown district, within the canal ring. The train terminal, Centraal Station, is located here, so if you are arriving by train, you’ll likely want a hotel in this area. This location is great for access to most attractions and may be your best bet for a weekend visit to the city.

To experience more of the charm of Amsterdam, we suggest finding lodging in one of the neighborhoods outside of the city center. The Jordaan is located just west of the city center and is a delightful place to stay (or wander for an afternoon, if you stay elsewhere). This area would be a perfect spot to make as a home base for a week long visit.

As we were staying for 5 days we chose to stay in the museum quarter.  We wanted to be able to enjoy the Vondelpark and the museums at our leisure. Our hotel, the Marriott Amsterdam, was a five-minute walk to the museums, and just the street for a tram stop.

It’ll only take a few minutes for you to realize that the favorite method of transportation in Amsterdam is the bike. But for a tourist, we’d recommend you stick to biking outside of the city center.

Take the Tram

The tram is by far the easiest, and fastest, way to get around the city. For your 3 days in Amsterdam itinerary purchase a 36-hour tram ticket at a station. (Or, if you’re planning on a day or two of walking the city, purchase a 24 or 48-hour tram ticket aboard the tram.) Scan your card when you board the tram AND when you exit the tram. If you forget to scan to exit the pass might not work on your next ride.

Books to Read Before You Go

This city definitely inspires a reading list. You will understand the city and its sites if you know the history of the Nazi occupation, the biographies of its famous artists, and the culture of the Dutch people. We recommend some books that enhanced our trip on the Reading the World page.

Guidebook (Pocket-sized) –  DK Top 10 Amsterdam , suggestions for walking tours of the city.
Packing Light? – the book is available as a Kindle edition (but try a sample first. some of these books don’t transition well to Kindle)

MEMOIRThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
[The Diary of a Young Girl] is a record of a sensitive girl’s tragic experience during one of the worst periods in human history. This diary is so powerful that it leaves a deep impact on the mind of its readers.
Kindle copy available $0.99 !

We hope you have enjoyed reading our suggestions on what to do with 3 days in Amsterdam. Whether you’re there for a few days or a month, I’m sure you’ll find special places of your own. Share your Amsterdam Must Sees in the comments!

For more ideas to plan YOUR ideal trip read: How to Plan the Perfect European Vacation and Trips of a Lifetime: inspiration to booking your dream trip.

Ready to go? – Packing for a Bike Barge Trip

The Rijksmuseum, an Amsterdam must do spot!
What to do in Amsterdam. A must do activity is visiting the Anne Frank house and Museum

Must dos in Amsterdam, the library in the Rijksmuseum
The library in the Rijksmuseum, one of the Must dos in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. #librariesoftheworld #mustseeAmsterdam

8 thoughts on “3 days in Amsterdam: a guide for first time visitors

  1. We just booked a couple of days in Amsterdam last week so this is very helpful. Especially the scanning the tram card in exiting! I’ll come back to this as the trip draws nearer.

      1. We are on our way to a cycling trip in Jordan. Just breaking up the travel with a couple days in Amsterdam. We have never been so it seemed like a good opportunity.

  2. We had no idea about the Indonesian restaurants. Blauw will definitely be on the list of ‘must eats’. A good guide foor future reference. thanks.

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