Amsterdam in a nutshell – 18 Experiences in 48 Hours

Amsterdam in 48 hours – A perfect European City break

This article on Amsterdam in a Nutshell – 18 Experiences in 48 Hours was last updated on September 24, 2022

Take a trip to Amsterdam and you will find that it is a city like none other! Amsterdam is a City that portrays the “anything goes” image – from prostitution that is tolerated openly and the use of cannabis in fashionable coffee shops. Amsterdam is also a seductive City, often referred to as the Venice of the North because of its canals and bridges.

The city is popular for its fairy-tale landscape which offers so much to see and experience from windmills, gingerbread houses and museums to marijuana, cheese and tulips. It makes a perfect destination for an amazing European City Break, and in this article, Amsterdam in a nutshell, brings together 18 experiences which can easily be had for a memorable 48 hours.

All about Amsterdam in 48 hours! show

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BEST TIPS: Book tours and tickets in advance: Best tours in Amsterdam. Select the I Amsterdam City Card for free entrance to 60 museums, one free canal cruise, discounts and unlimited use of Amsterdam’s public transport. Discover what’s more is included.

Above > Locations of key attractions in the city of Amsterdam for a weekend trip | Amsterdam in a Nutshell.

Best time to visit Amsterdam

Amsterdam makes a perfect destination at any time of the year. Visit during Spring and the city bursts with colours of the tulip season or experience the sparkles during the festive season. In Fall, the streets of Amsterdam portrays a charming atmosphere as the leaves in Vondelpark turn golden, while in Summer the whole city is alive with so many options for open-air drinking, dining and partying.

Amsterdam in a Nutshell

Let’s begin with a little background to Amsterdam.

1 | Amsterdam – Venice of the North

The endlessly fascinating city of Amsterdam is often referred to as “Venice of the North”. It originated from its growth as a city around a dam in the river Amstel. It is a progressive City which boasts an elaborate canal system that extends over 100 kilometres, 90 islands and has 1500 bridges. The are three main canals here. Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht forms a concentric belt around the city, known as the Amsterdam Canal Ring – for the locals, it is known as the grachtengordel. The Canal Ring is basically an intersection of waterways which were dug during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.

There are 1550 monumental buildings alongside the main canals.  The City is unique in that it offers a beautiful sight of gabled houses which line the streets on both sides of the canal and a unique experience (depends how you look at it) of witnessing little red neon lights, emanating from the infamous ‘Red Light District’ when the sun sets down.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

2 | Amsterdam – A City of Art, Bicycles and Beer

Rijkmuseum Amerdam in a nutshell |
Amsterdam in 48 hours

The City has a rich artistic history and is home to the Van Gogh Museum, works by Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum. The modern art is displayed at the Stedelijk.  Outside of these, there are museums about cats, collection of handbags and photography, as well as archaeology.

Amsterdam has dedicated cycle paths as cycling is key to the City’s character. We learnt that the number of bicycles in the City, of approximately one million outnumber the City’s approximately 750,000 residents, which seems incredible for a City that is quite small. Alongside all of these, the City’s long tradition of beer is being revolutionised by craft brewers, tulips flood the market streets and the Dutch cheese shops appear at every corner of the City.

3 | Amsterdam — Getting around the City

The City Centre itself is small and it is easy to walk to many of the attractions if you do not want to hop onto the trams or buses. I list two choices here for your perusal.

3.1 | I Amsterdam Card

It is worthwhile purchasing The I Amsterdam Card for the duration of your stay, for example for 24, 48 or 72 hours. The Card offers you unlimited rides on all public transport within the City and free entry to almost all the museums.

3.2 | Public Transport Pass

You can purchase a value for money public transport pass for the duration of your stay, anything from 1 to 7 days. This public transport pass affords you the space and time to explore Amsterdam at your leisure, at your own pace during your stay. The pass gives you unlimited rides on all trams, buses, ferries and the metro (day and night) for the number of days that best suit your schedule – allowing you to hop and off with ease.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

Amsterdam in 48 Hours — Exploring and Discovering 18 Experiences

We began exploring as soon as we arrived in Amsterdam, which was around midday. The Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam was the first place on our destination.

1 | Dam Square Amsterdam

The Dam Square is the heart of Amsterdam City and it should be everyone’s first stop because it is from here that you can get to many places around the City.

Dam Square is located at the original Amstel River Dam which was built in 1270. It connects the Kalverstraat and the Nieuwendijk, which is a pedestrian-only street. It is one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam and is the main shopping street of the City. There are shops lined on both sides with major labels and chain stores.  (Running parallel to Nieuwendijk is Damrak, which is the north-south route from the Dam Square to the Central Station).  

From this Square, you can access the Royal Palace which became the royal residence in 1808 but the building itself was built in 1655 as City Hall. You can also access the Nieuwe Kerk, (New Church) which was built in the 15th century. The National Monument was constructed in 1956 to honour the victims of WWII. You could access Madame Tussaud from here and for those of you who want a little luxury shopping, head over to De Bijenkorf which is opened till late.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

2 | The Oude Kerk Amsterdam

Amsterdam in a nutshell

This is the Old Church that was built around 1213 and it is the oldest building in Amsterdam. It is huge, magnificent and boasts a Gothic architecture which features characteristics of Catholic cathedrals. It is ironic that this spiritual building dominates the Red-Light District! We stood at the church’s main entry and in-front of it, across the canal, we could see windows with sex workers in it.

3 | The Red Light District

Personally, I did not know what to expect. I was a little apprehensive because Red Light areas are often associated with shady businesses like sex trafficking, drugs and gangs, where premises are often disguised as bars, massage parlours or clubs. So, yes, I was a little anxious.

3.1 | A place where transparency has no bounds

Well, on both sides of the canal, I saw that there were plenty of sex shops, with prostitutes sitting in glass cubicles, like shop windows, and these were lit with red neon lights. There were also plenty of peep shows, brothels, an elaborate condom shop, a sex museum and live sex shows. Nothing was hidden. Everything was transparent. Definitely a culture shock for me.

As evening fell, the crowds started to build-up and soon was bustling with visitors and tourists. There were families, couples, groups and some seedier characters too, so you need to be careful of pickpockets etc when you are visiting here. As darkness fell, the ‘shop windows’ were beginning to fill, the long queues for the live sex shows were getting longer and the streets were getting more “neon-red” as darkness fell.  So, too the increased scent of potent cannabis floating in the air.

3.2 | Safety and security

Although we did not witness any incidents and there was a heavy police presence with 24-hour video security surveillance, we would highly recommend travelling in pairs because of the sheer crowd that this area attracts. One thing to remember though, is that photographing the prostitutes are forbidden and this rule is strictly enforced.

The Red Light District is not for everyone, and this is one place I will not be re-visiting.

4 | The Rembrandt Square | Amsterdam in a Nutshell

Here, you will find the statues reflecting Rembrandt’s famous work, “The Night Watch” and it is well-worth a visit. The Square is also significant as it is the centre for some of Amsterdam’s best restaurants and the many ‘trendy’ coffee shops which you could visit.

5 | Amsterdam Coffee Shops

The “Coffee Shops” in Amsterdam offer a range of cannabis in small quantities to adults over the age of 18. It is perfectly legal for tourists to buy and enjoy weed, hash and marijuana in a safe environment. If you like the smell of weed, then you may think that the environment is pleasant, but I beg to differ, unfortunately.

6 | The Flower Market in Amsterdam

The Flower Market in Amsterdam is a unique market that has existed since 1862. It is the most colourful and most fragrant part of the City. There are all sorts of tulips in all sorts of colours, which comes prepacked, singular or in bouquets. You can get them in bulbs too. There are also narcissus, geraniums and many other types of flowers that adds to the vibrant colours of the tulips.

7 | Albert Cuypstraat Amsterdam

If you want to experience a little of the local lifestyle, then head over to the Albert Cuyp Market because this is where the locals go! This market has been trading since 1904 and over 300 stalls line both sides of the street. You can find basically anything and everything here, from fridge magnets, key chains, souvenir clogs to chocolates laced with cannabis, fruits, spices and cheeses.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

8 | Canal Boat Tours in Amsterdam

Can’t visit the city of canals and not cruise the canals! Therefore, when in Amsterdam, a canal boat tour is an absolute Must!

A canal boat tour offers visitors a unique window on the history of the City and the lifestyle of the people of Amsterdam. The canals are lined with pretty, gabled houses as well as 17th and 18th century mansions and many canal cafes. A canal cruise is an easy way to get acquainted with the City and learn its history. 

8.1 | Canal Cruises and Boat Tours

There are many canal cruise-stops along any of the canals. Regardless of the season, you can do either a 1.5 hours or 2 hours tour. There are boat tours throughout the day with large boats that has plenty of seating with covered tops and there are smaller boats that take fewer visitors but with open tops.

If you prefer, you may opt for an evening cruise at sunset or a nighttime cruise. The city is beautiful at dusk.

Timeless Travel Steps Best Tip:

The Canal bus is the hop-on, hop-off canal bus, which you may wish to consider as it stops at strategic places around the City Centre.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

9 | The Jordaan Neighbourhood Amsterdam

The Jordaan Neighbourhood is a popular part of Amsterdam. This neighbourhood had undergone a massive transformation in the 1970s. In the 17th century it was an area for the working class community but post 1970s, it has attracted the young professionals and the upper-middle class families. You will find trendy cafes, bars and galleries.

10 | The National Holocaust Memorial Amsterdam

The National Holocaust Memorial, The Plantage was a destination that I really wanted to visit.

The Holocaust Memorial was a sombre moment. It was heart-breaking to see the courtyard with messages attached to tulips placed on the wall. The courtyard was formerly, a luxurious theatre, in an affluent Jewish neighbourhood. Today it stands as a permanent reminder to the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII here. There is an exhibition on the first floor and an eternal-flame on the ground floor to honour the memories of those who had lost their lives.

Photography is allowed here but I did not take any, as a sign of respect in memoriam. Just as this is a personal choice, I respect those who chose to take photographs.

The Museum and the Memorial is supported through donations. If you are visiting Amsterdam and if you can, please visit this Holocaust memorial.

Amsterdam in a nutshell

11 | The Westerkerk Amsterdam

In the most western part of Central Amsterdam, next to the Jordaan and the Canal Belt, you will find Westerkerk – The Western Church. It was built between 1620 and 1631, in the Dutch Renaissance style, designed by Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621). The Westerkerk is the largest and the most important Protestant Church in Amsterdam.

The Western Church has a tower which was built in 1638, known as the Westerkerk Tower. It stands at 85 metres (275ft) high and dominates Amsterdam’s Old City. It is regarded as the City’s symbol and a pride of Amsterdam.

12 | The De Gooyer Windmill Amsterdam

The De Gooyer Windmill stands at 26.6 metres high and is the tallest windmill in Amsterdam. This large wooden, octagonal shaped windmill was originally built as a flour mill in 1725. The mill was moved to its current location at Funenkade in 1814, and it sits on a stone foundation which is part of a water mill that was destroyed in 1812. 

The De Gooyer no longer serves its original purpose, however, it remains a distinctive feature of Amsterdam and is listed as a National Monument. It is one of the last of the 26 corn mills remaining in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam in 48 hours

13 | Exclusive Heineken Experience

When in Amsterdam, having the locally brewed Heineken is an essential experience. Even though Heineken is available in 192 countries but experiencing it here, in Amsterdam, makes it a somewhat different experience.

Timeless Travel Steps Best Tip:

Join an Exclusive Heineken Experience — Learn all about the world famous beer, how the story began, get access to a hidden bar and taste 5 premium beers along with matching bites.

In addition to Heineken, you must also try the local craft beer by Brouwerij’t IJ

Amsterdam in a nutshell

14 | Craft Beer

The IJ Brewery is famous for its craft beer and is located next to the De Gooyer Windmill. The brewery opened in 1985, and presently offers a nice selection of beers, organic and dark. The brewery offers guided tours and tastings.

There is a large outdoor terrace, but as it is popular, finding a place all to yourself will be a problem. 

15 | Seafood and Cocktails

Amsterdam in a Nutshell - Oysters, beautifully presented, fresh from the seas
Fresh oysters beautifully presented
Cocktails to go with fresh oysters
Cocktails to go with fresh oysters

It is always interesting to try the different cuisines of the City you are visiting. In Amsterdam, what stood out for me were the oysters!   

16 | Stroopwaffle, Pancakes or both?

Quite simply, it had to be both! -:)

Pancakes, at the Old Dutch Pancake House were absolutely delicious — tastier, crispier and freshly made.

The original Stroopwafel from the man at the Cuyp is highly recommended.

Recommended read: Where to eat the best stroopwafel in Amsterdam

Amsterdam in 48 hours

17 | Dutch Cheese

Amsterdam is famous for its cheese! There was a cheese store on every street, every corner and within a few hundred feet of each other! My favourite was Henri Willig.

The Henri Willig offers an extensive range of their cheese products and dips. Their range of herb cheeses is rather unique and they had a new one with chillies, rather unusual. When you are here, Henri Willig is worth exploring.

Timeless Travel Steps Best Tip > Go on an adventure of cheese tasting, windmills and clogs!

Join a small group tour to Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam & Marken from Amsterdam City centre.

Amsterdam in 48 hours

18 | Just watch out…

Finally, just watch out for bikes! In a city where bicycles outnumber the local population, you may want to look both ways when crossing.

As an experience though, it is amazing to find how effortlessly people take on to riding their bicycles, with their shopping and bags, without a fuss or discomfort. With dedicated bicycle lanes, it is one of their primary mode of transport.

Practical Information for Amsterdam in 48 Hours

1 | Pre book your visit to Anne Frank’s House

If you are planning a visit to Anne Frank’s House when in Amsterdam then I would suggest that you pre book your visit as soon as possible. Tickets for a tour of Anne Frank’s House usually sells out months in advance. Although a handful of tickets are released each morning, there is always a long waiting list and the chances are slim to get one of these tickets. So, if you want it, pre-book it!

2. Where will you stay in Amsterdam?

When travelling, accommodation is key to a good vacation. I have often used booking and sometimes booked directly with hotels as well — depends what suits my needs.

Stay at Radisson Blu Amsterdam City Centre for a luxury 4-star stay within a stone’s throw of the Canal Belt and makes exploring the city convenient.

If you are looking for a simple stay, Park Inn by Radisson Amsterdam City West offer an ideal location and price.

Alternatively, if spacious and fully equipped suite is more of what you need, then stay in Radisson Hotel & Suites Amsterdam South and enjoy the best of nature and the city.

For elegance and luxury, embodying history and authentic Dutch style, Pulitzer Amsterdam is the place to be!

Navigate to Beautiful places to stay in Amsterdam for carefully selected accommodation for timeless vacation

3. What will you do in Amsterdam — Best Sights and Attractions

Amsterdam offers a multitude of things to do and a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. For a comprehensive guide on the best things to do in Amsterdam, take a look at the following articles:

1 | 28 Very Best Things to do in Amsterdam

2 | Canal Biking in Amsterdam;

3 | Amsterdam by Bike;

4 | 19 Cycling Tips — All the Do’s and Don’ts for you to familiarise with before renting your bike in Amsterdam;

finally …

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Amsterdam in a Nutshell — 18 Experiences in 48 Hours first published at | Updated: September 24, 2022

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By Georgina

Georgina is a travel writer and a content creator. An escapist, she seeks stories, off-beat things to do, and adores the beauty of culture while embracing comfort and slow travel as a responsible traveller in the off-season. Georgina has lived in 3 continents, visited 30+ countries and strives to share her travel steps, passion, and experienced tips to inspire her readers to explore for themselves. Georgina enjoys venturing solo, takes pleasure in listening to classical, country & jazz, and delights in spending joyous time with A & M, her two adult children.


  1. Thank you so much for the feedback. Appreciate it very much.

  2. The tulip season is one of the best times to visit Amsterdam for sure. Look forward to reading your experiences when you do.

  3. The Anne Frank was a disappointment but I am looking forward to returning as soon as I can after the lockdown. So glad you had the opportunity to experience it.

  4. I did spend a weekend in Amsterdam, but for work doing a phototour of a designers clothings, which was so much fun. But I did not get to see that much of the city, so I would love to go back, specially during tulip season 🙂

  5. Great post full of really useful information. Amsterdam is such an amazing city & reading this makes me want to visit again! It’s such a shame to hear that the Anne Frank Museum is so hard to get to see. It is well worth the effort for anyone who can get a ticket. One of the last times I was in the city I was on a working meeting with a great friend of mine. I remember finishing our days work & then literally running across the city to make it to the museum before it shut its doors. So pleased we did! After 2 full days of work, I still felt like I’d been on a couple of days holiday with my friend just because we made such good us of all our down time!

  6. I am happy to know that you found the post helpful for when you visit Amsterdam again. There is so much more to Amsterdam I did not see which beckons a return visit. Like you, I hope to do so next year when situation has settled down.

  7. Georgina, pretty much all I needed to know on one blog. Amsterdam is my number one city I want to visit having one ever been to work in the suburbs. We are really interested in exploring the winter Light Festival. I was not aware of its fame for cheese, another good reason to go. Thanks for this, one to save for next year when things are, we all hope better.

  8. The total bikes outnumber the Amsterdam resident! They have dedicated lanes and you need to be on guard, the bikes do just appear around corners 🙂 I am sure you will have a super awesome time in Amsterdam.

  9. I’m planning a visit to Amsterdam, so naturally, when I saw your post, I had to check it out. I definitely got some great ideas that I will add to my ‘to do list’. The flower market is something that I will definitely enjoy. To be honest, I was so surprised to see the number of bikes! That is so great!

  10. I know, right! I wondered the same! It’s a city where the cycles outnumber the population. Thank you so much for your lovely comments.

  11. It’s a wonderful city to walk around, and pretty compact.

    Those stacks and stacks of bikes made me smile – they defy gravity. How on earth do cyclists reclaim their bike back?

  12. It didn’t seem like we did because it was pretty relaxed but an awesome experience. Your idea of hiring a canal boat for a couple of months sounds fascinating and will be nice to experience life in a canal boat. I never thought of it that way although I have considered staying in one. I am glad you are inspired to visit Amsterdam. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

  13. Haha…the coffee shops – no surprise there at all 🙂 Many thanks for your lovely comments. Glad it brought back happy memories.

  14. Really good piece and it took me back to my two visits there. You got to do a lot more than I did though as one of my visits started in a coffee shop and things just went very slow from then on 🙂

  15. Gee you really saw a lot in such a short amount of time! Love that you were open enough to check out some of the “iconic” aspects of Amsterdam! Every time I see pics of Amsterdam I’m always enchanted by the canal boats – one day I will hire one for a couple of months and see how far I can travel on the water!

  16. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I am happy to know that you found this blog useful and that it will be handy for when you visit Amsterdam. Do come back and share your experiences with us.

  17. This is a really useful guide. I am yet to get out to Amsterdam so will most certainly come back to this when I plan it. 🙂

  18. Hi Elizabeth, thank you! I guess what made it easier and allowed us to do all these, yet with a relaxed feel is because Amsterdam is a small City and one could practically walk from one place to another. I missed going out of the City but that is for another time. Glad you enjoyed reading,

  19. You must have been very busy in your Amsterdam weekend to take in all of that! It took me a few days to visit most of the places you mentioned, plus some others out of the city. You’ve captured the feel of the city with your photos and descriptions.

  20. A weekend in Amsterdam was short and certainly a memorable one. There’s always more to explore and discover which can be done “next time”. I am glad you enjoyed your visit to Amsterdam and able to visit Anne Frank’s House – this is one place I will be visiting on my next trip to Amsterdam. Thank you so much for your lovely comments. Much appreciated.

  21. Wow Georgina you actually saw a lot on your “slow” short visit to Amsterdam. We also only had a few days, I think 3 or 4, when we visited. Amsterdam is certainly a city I could return to. We enjoyed some of your highlights, but I’d love to visit them all – not sure about the Holocaust Museum, but probably? We should never forget. We visited Anne Frank’s House. It was incredibly moving. And, we were very lucky. I booked our tickets online – before we left Australia, and I booked them on the wrong date. We arrived a day early. I got the dates mixed up with the time change. Luckily we were allowed in 👍😀

  22. Great post full of useful information and good tips! I’ve been to Amsterdam but have to go back to take in more – you sure packed in a huge amount!

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