Do you only have one day to spend in Amsterdam (or just a few hours)?
You’re in the right place. I’m a private tour guide and a Dutch native. I love showing people around and ensuring they have a wonderful experience.
I have created four suggested itineraries for day trips in Amsterdam to get you started planning a day trip to Amsterdam for a fantastic day out.
When you’re short on time, the art is to go against your primary instinct, which most likely tells you to do as much as possible. Instead, you’ll have a much richer experience if you choose mindfully. Just a few things that you really care about and do them well.
There’s so much to see and discover in Amsterdam’s city center and beyond; this article aims to make choosing easier for you and remove the overwhelm.
I created four example itineraries specifically tailored to one day in Amsterdam. Each of these can be completed in 4-6 hours. Allowing you plenty of time for your journey into Amsterdam and back home.
You can add an activity or explore more food options if you have more time. When you have less time, take an activity off.
These are my four suggestions:
- Top attractions if you don’t like a museum
- Museum Highlights (great for first-time visitors)
- Amsterdam Canal Museums (great for repeat visitors)
- Excursions outside of the city (Zaanse Schans or Volendam)
So please join me and explore these options together:
Table of Contents Suggested Day Trips In Amsterdam
1. Top attractions if you don’t like a museum
Do you want to experience Amsterdam today without setting foot in a museum? Then I think I have a perfect itinerary for you. Great for first-time visitors (or repeat visitors). You’ll have a wonderful day exploring Amsterdam with this list of not to miss things to do in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Cruise on an Open boat with a bar via Flagship
An absolute classic is a cruise on the iconic Amsterdam canals. I prefer a smaller / open boat over a big boat. And a great option is Flagship, one of their departure points is right opposite Central Station making it super easy when you come into the city.
You’ll have great views, and there is a bar available. But do know they depart rain or shine.
If you don’t want to risk sitting under an umbrella, I will go on an Amsterdam canal cruise from Lovers instead. They’re slightly better than the other big boat operators around Central Station.
But please do have the right expectations. It’s mass tourism here.
That doesn’t make the canals any less beautiful. A boat cruise is an excellent introduction to what makes the city unique: its canals. And it offers an opportunity for some great Amsterdam photos to take home.
This is Holland, a 5D Flight Experience
Right across the central station (on the North side), you’ll find “This is Holland.” A 5D flight experience. When you know Soarin’ from Epcot at Disney World, you know what to expect.
I love this ride. This is where I take my friends because it’s a great introduction to the Netherlands and seeing its iconic landmarks virtually.
Your visit starts with a fun introduction to the history of the Netherlands and its fight against the water. After that, you’ll board your virtual flight over the Dutch landscape, feeling the wind, smelling the fields, and watching the country’s highlights in a unique 5D setting.
TIP: If you’re sensitive to motion, you might want to sit closer to the center for a less intense experience. Make sure to tell a member of staff. But honestly, it’s not that scary.
PS: Since it’s in Amsterdam North, you’ll need to cross the water, and you can do that easily with a free ferry leaving from the North exit from the central station. It just takes a few minutes. It’s a fun little bonus.
Amsterdam Lookout Tower
Right next to This is Holland is the Amsterdam Lookout Tower, a former corporate headquarter, but now a trendy hotel (Sir Adam) and viewing platform.
Elevate your Amsterdam experience, quite literally, with a visit here. The Lookout Tower provides a panoramic view of the city’s sprawl.
And don’t worry about the climb. Lightning-fast elevators will whisk you to the topfloors of the tower.
Once up there, you can get tickets for just a few euros at the bar for the oversized swings, which balance you right on the edge of the building. Do you dare?
How long will this itinerary take?
These three attractions make for an enjoyable afternoon in Amsterdam. If you do the activities leisurely, expect to spend 4-5 hours.
Leaving you plenty of time for a break and to get something to eat if you arrive in the city by the end of the morning and go back home in the early evening.
This central Amsterdam itinerary is super doable and comfortable, even if you only have a few hours in the city. All attractions are located around Central Station. Very convenient.
My suggestion for a break is the “1st class restaurant” on platform one at the station. It’s a former waiting room turned restaurant. You can pop in for some coffee or a meal. The room looks more like the insides of a castle than a train station. It’s pretty cool, and PS: they have a real parrot at the counter. Make sure to say hi!
2. Museum Highlights (great for first-time visitors)
Amsterdam is famous for many things, and world-famous museums are certainly one of them. I created two suggested itineraries for you below. Whether you want to see one of the main world-renowned museums or you’d like to explore some smaller Amsterdam museums that are well worth your time. I got you covered either way.
Pick one of the two most famous museums in Amsterdam
The two most famous museums in Amsterdam are the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
Pick one museum if you only have a few hours in the city. But which one?
The Rijksmuseum offers a broad spectrum of Dutch history with famous paintings from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and many other Dutch masters. This is where you see masterpieces like the “Milk Maid by Vermeer” and the “Nightwatch by Rembrandt.”
In contrast, the Van Gogh Museum is a deep dive into the life and works of the celebrated artist. It has the most extensive collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world. If you’re looking for a splash of color in your day, you can’t go wrong with this choice.
See famous paintings like The Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and Almond Blossom.
How would I choose? If you enjoy 17th-century Dutch masterpieces or are curious about them, I would opt for the Rijksmuseum. It has so many different things, including an airplane model, and life-sized dollhouses, it’s hard not to find something you like there.
When you’re not so much into art or love Vincent’s colorful paintings, I recommend visiting the Van Gogh Museum. It’s more accessible.
TIP: Whatever museum you choose, prepare yourself and book tickets plus a time slot in advance because tickets do sell out!
PS: If you book via my links in this post, you get a flexible cancelation policy that you don’t get directly at the museum.
Canal Cruise with Blue Boat
Since you’re already in the museum quarter, I would start (or close) your day with a canal cruise from Blue Boat company and see why Amsterdam is called Venice of the north.
They’re located a little bit away from the large tourist crowds, so they work a little bit harder to get customers, in my experience. Tours also last 15 minutes longer than those from Central Station. The departure point is very close to the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum is not much further.
How long will this itinerary take?
As a minimum, I always advise private customers to spend two hours at one museum. If you have the time, three is better.
You need about 30 minutes each way to get to the museum quarter. It’s fair to say you can do this itinerary in about 5 hours.
If you have time for a break, I have two suggestions:
- You can visit “Brasserie Nel” in a beautiful residential neighborhood only minutes from the Rijksmuseum. It’s in a former church, which you see best from the outside. They have a lovely outdoor terrace, weather permitting. A fantastic photo spot area also!
- If you choose to visit the Rijksmuseum, a great alternative is the cafe inside the museum. There is usually a line because insiders know it’s excellent! What makes them great is that they serve some very local dishes from well-known names (locally). Also, they adapt their menu to the art displayed in the museum, adding a cool layer.
3. Seen the highlights? Let me take you off the main tourist track
You might have already been to the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum on a previous trip. Then why not explore a few of the smaller museums in Amsterdam?
Since Amsterdam is most famous for its Unesco World Heritage-listed Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring, why not explore that better?
This is a great itinerary to learn more about the beauty of the picturesque historic building along the beautiful Amsterdam Canals.
Museum of the Canals (Het Grachten Museum)
One of my favorite smaller museums is the Canal House Museum on the Herengracht. When I first visited, I had no idea what to expect, but I wasn’t expecting their (very cool) presentation style.
They made a crossover between a guided and a self-guided tour. Tours start in groups, but you scan around every room with a free audio guide device.
The museum did a great job telling the story of the history of canal houses in Amsterdam in a very interactive way.
Want to visit an authentic canal house on the inside? You’re in luck. I have selected two canal houses turned museums that show you what life looked like when they were built.
Van Loon Museum
The first is a grand canal house, once belonging to the wealthy Van Loon family. It offers a glimpse into the opulent lives of Amsterdam’s elite during the Golden Age. They have a wonderful secluded garden with stables on the other side.
Another canal mansion, this museum is unique for its beautifully preserved garden and insight into high society life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
I love to visit both, but I might slightly prefer the Willet-Holthuysen Museum because of the interior, but that is personal. Both are great.
How long will this itinerary take?
A visit to the canal houses museum takes about 90 minutes. The other two museums can be visited in an hour each. I’ll advise 4-5 hours to complete this itinerary comfortably.
It would take you about 30 minutes from and to Central Station. Once you get to the first museum by tram, you can get to the others by walking. They’re all a few minutes on foot apart.
4. Venturing Beyond Amsterdam’s Canals – Excursions
You don’t have to stay in Amsterdam when you’re in the country, even if it’s for just one day. You can venture out and see some of the Dutch countryside.
One of the advantages of a small country is that many things are close. So it’s easy as a traveler to explore charming towns when you’re short on time.
I’ve handpicked three destinations close enough to Amsterdam to visit in a couple of hours and still provide a Dutch experience different from the city alone.
So why not leave Amsterdam behind this time and admire some different sites this country offers?
- Windmills at the Zaanse Schans – 30 minutes from Amsterdam
- Volendam and Marken – visit two traditional fishing villages.
- If you’re here at the right time – Visit the Tulips!
1. Zaanse Schans – Dutch Windmills
The Zaanse Schans. Touristy? Absolutely. But a crowd-pleaser nonetheless. And it’s lovely when you can look through the tour groups. They preserved local architecture by moving the typical green wooden houses from the area to this museum street.
They even have the first Albert Heijn store, which originated in this area and became the largest supermarket chain in the country later on (and still is today).
The Zaanse Schans is just a short trip from Amsterdam. It only takes 30 minutes to get there. Either by train (15 min), a 15-minute walk, or bus. It’s free to enter; that is where the touristy part comes in. All accessible buildings are sponsored.
PS: The windmills are not free to enter, but you don’t have to for the classic photos. It’s best to have some distance to them to frame them better. This location always looks idyllic in brochures, but in reality, it’s in an industrial area, so framing the right way is essential for good photos.
Click here for my full Zaanse Schans review.
TIP: Don’t forget to get a fresh warm stroopwafel before you leave.
2. Volendam and Marken
Volendam is maybe the most well-known Dutch fishing village. And unfortunately, that shows, and not in the best way. Tour companies almost own it, and you’ll see lots of flashy signs above tourist stores in the harbor.
But it’s also one of the most accessible villages in Amsterdam, and you don’t have to go far to see more authentic parts of the village. Plus, a terrible photo in traditional Dutch clothing is a lot of fun to get. We did ours recently and loved it.
Marken is across the water and is on a former island. There are fewer tourists there. It feels more authentic, more like a museum. I like spending an hour to 90 minutes in Marken. And it’s super easy to get there. Just take the Marken Express Ferry.
From Marken, you can return directly by bus to Amsterdam—no need to travel back to Volendam first.
Here is my dedicated post about Volendam and Marken.
3. Keukenhof – A Blooming Paradise if You’re in Season
If you’re lucky enough to visit between 21 March and 12 May 2024, the Keukenhof is a must-see if you’re short on time and want to see flowers! This beautiful park has been around forever and is crowded every year. It’s beautifully landscaped.
Often dubbed the “Garden of Europe,” it boasts a breathtaking display of tulips and other spring flowers.
It’s good to know that tulips flower only shortly outdoors. They do from mid-April to the start of May. The Keukenhof extends this season by quite a bit by moving a lot of the flowers indoors.
That is the biggest negative review I’ve heard about Keukenhof.
But Nature will not adjust to your travel schedule.
So when you want to see the flowers at their peak in the fields, make sure to come in those three short weeks from mid-April to the first week of May. But if you’re here just before or after, you can still enjoy many flowers, although they might be indoors!
PS: From 2024, The Keukhof will start capping visitor numbers because it’s getting too crowded. So make sure to book your tickets in advance. They’re released in late October. Sold is Sold. Since your window of visiting is so short, and you don’t want to wait another year, you do not want to procrastinate on this.
TIP: I advise you to get Keukenhof combination tickets where transportation and an entrance ticket are included in one package. They’re fairly priced and convenient. You can get a package from Amsterdam Central or the airport.
PS: The airport is closer to the Keukenhof than Amsterdam is, so flying is a great option.
Navigating Amsterdam: From Airport to City Center and Beyond
Amsterdam’s compact nature and efficient public transport system make it easy to explore, even in a short timeframe. Whether you’re landing at the airport or arriving by train, here’s how to get around effortlessly and which tickets to get:
From the Airport to the City Center
The train is the most efficient way to get from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central Station. It’s a short journey of around 15-20 minutes, and trains depart every few minutes.
TIP: Plenty of clear signage at the airport lead you to the train platforms. And if in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask – the Dutch are usually helpful and proficient in English. The train station is one level below the arrivals area. No need to leave the building!
PS: I have a separate post on “how to get from the Airport to the City Center” here.
Trams and Metro’s – Your Most Efficient City Ride
The tram system in Amsterdam is extensive and covers almost all tourist attractions. They’re frequent, reliable, and a great way to see the city while getting from A to B. Metro’s in Amsterdam is limited, but a few are helpful. Especially the M52 North-South line will get you to the main tourist areas quickly.
For our suggested itineraries above:
- Attractions: you only need to use the ferry, which is free.
- Trams 2 and 12 connect Central Station with the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The M52 metro can also reach the Rijksmuseum.
- Trams 2 and 12 also take you to the Canal House Museum, then each museum is an easy walk apart, and then take a tram back.
- The Zaanse Schans can be reached by train or bus. I prefer the train, but it’s a sign-posted 15-minute walk, while the bus takes longer but stops at the entrance, Volendam and Marken are reached most efficiently by bus, as is the Keukenhof.
What Transportation ticket do you need?
Amsterdam + Region Travel Ticket (ARTT): I love this ticket when you’re flying into Amsterdam or venturing outside the city. It covers all public transport, including your ride from the airport, the Zaanse Schans, Volendam, and Marken, and within the city.
Who should get this ticket: Those that opt for options 2, 3, or 4 (museums or an excursion) and arrive at the airport. If you arrive at Amsterdam Central Station by train, this ticket is only valuable if you opt for number 4 (a trip into the countryside).
GVB Day Tickets: This is perfect when you arrive by train and want to go places in the city without worrying about tickets. Exchange your voucher at the GVB ticket building across the central station (center side). And use it all day. This ticket is valid on all city buses, trams, and metros. But you can NOT use it to and from the airport. Then the “Amsterdam + Region Travel Ticket” is the better choice.
This ticket is great for options 2 and 3 (the museum options).
Read my in-depth Amsterdam public transport guide for all your options, including transportation to and from the airport.
So there you have it. Four suggested itineraries if you’re short on time and are only in the city for a day.
I hope this article inspired you and gave you many ideas for enjoying central Amsterdam sights or those a bit more afield, achievable day trips in Amsterdam.
Are you planning a day trip to Amsterdam?
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Which options have your preference? Or are you going for something entirely different? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬. I’ll reply back to every comment personally 👋.
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