This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Amsterdam is the picturesque capital of The Netherland. Once a small fishing village, it has become one of the most charming cities in Europe. Everyone wants to cruise its canals, walk through the red light district, check out the coffee shops or cycle through the Dutch countryside! 2 days in Amsterdam will be enough to enjoy all the highlights, thanks to its compact city center and excellent public transit. Of course you can also rent a bike, but me and Al decided we just wanted to walk around to really “feel” the Dutch capital. Amsterdam is one of those multicultural cities where you feel a citizen of the world, no matter where you go. Over 30% of those living in Amsterdam are foreigners: it’s one of the most loved cities for expats! In case you have an extra day, I suggest you plan a day trip from Amsterdam using the train. You can also take your bike with you in case you have rented one!
Let’s have a look at my Amsterdam 2 day itinerary to make the most out of your trip!
Two days in Amsterdam: first day in the city!
Your first day in Amsterdam should be devoted to visiting two of the most important museums in the Netherlands, enjoying lunch in a lively park in the middle of the city, exploring a “controversial” district. And if you are too tired to keep walking, rest your feet with a beautiful Canal Boat tour where you’ll learn interesting info from the locals and appreciate this charming city from the canals.
Van Gogh Museum
Vincent Van Gogh (side note, our Birman cat is named after him!) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter, among the most famous and influential artists in the history of Western art. At the Van Gogh museum you will see the largest collection of Van Gogh’s artworks in the world.
Your first taste of Amsterdam will this include over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 personal letters in a modern and cutting-edge facility that will guide you through the life of Vincent Van Gogh.
Because there are usually long lines and you don’t have much time, make sure you book your tickets online: they will grant you priority access.
It might be the fact that I’m Italian and I love everything that has to do with art and history, but I think your second highlight of the day should be the Rijksmuseum. Located within walking distance from the Van Gogh Museum, it attracts people from all over the world who want to learn about Amsterdam’s history and culture. Its collection includes masterpieces from Rembrandt, sculptures and artefacts.
In my opinion it’s a must see in Amsterdam and you should know that it’s the most important museum in the Netherlands!
If the weather is good, take a walk in the lovely gardens. Entrance to the gardens is free so you can also visit if you decide not to go to Rijksmuseum.
Just like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum can be crowded. Book your tickets online to get priority access!
After visiting the two best museums in Amsterdam, it’s time for a nice break. Walk over to one of the city’s most visited attractions.
Vondelpark is the largest park in Amsterdam and one of the oldest in the Netherlands: it’s been there for 150 years! It welcomes about 10 million visitors every year, and it’s the perfect place to go to to enjoy a quiet lunch. We planned a picnic on a bench and were lucky enough to be entertained by street artists and an open-air concert. Don’t worry, if you want to sit down at a cafè, there’s plenty, and you’ll find also a few very nice restaurants.
If the weather is good, consider visiting the rose garden and the music dome. Vondelpark is also home to a huge statue of Dutch poet Joost van der Vondel.
Amsterdam canal cruise
Amsterdam’s canals have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Together with the iconic windmills they’re probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of The Netherlands.
After lunch when it’s more quiet I suggest you to enjoy a canal boat tour. They last on average between 75 minutes and 1.5 hour and usually offer a free audio guide in different languages that will tell you everything about the city. The best ones are more “interactive“, so the Captain might also start telling stories and sharing his best tips about Amsterdam. They are a great way to explore without having to walk, also if you only have 2 days in Amsterdam.
Me and Al tried the City Canal Cruise, it lasted 75 minutes and it was absolutely cheap. Bring your camera because they always make sure they stop long enough around the best highlights so everyone can take nice pictures!
If you want to enjoy Amsterdam by night in a different way, then visit the Red Light District after lunch and go for an evening Canal cruise. It lasts 1.5 hour and it is the most romantic thing ever!
For a special occasion book a candlelight dinner canal cruise with unlimited drinks: it will be unforgettable!
Red Light District
Unless you decided to swap with the evening canal cruise, your last stop for the day will be the Red Light District in Amsterdam.
Located in one of the oldest parts of the city, for the longest time it has been thought of as a dodgy or plainly dangerous area, especially for solo female travelers.
While I visited with Al, I can tell you that the Red Light District, also known as Rosse Buurt to the locals, is well protected and safe. We saw many policemen and private guards patrolling it. And while it’s true that it’s a network of brothels, sex shops, peep shows, coffee houses and museums, we still found it an essential part of our trip to Amsterdam.
Many of the sex shop have funny or colorful windows, meant to make you smile rather than to make you feel uncomfortable.
Prostitution in the Netherlands is legal, and women parade their bodies through window parlours. Yet there are many signs asking tourists not to take pictures: even in this case, overtourism is making things difficult for the locals. Please, be respectful when you visit! There’s nothing more rude than pointing, staring, laughing at these women or taking pictures even when they clearly say they don’t want you to.
The Red Light District in Amsterdam wakes up properly from 11 pm. You can explore it on your own or book a guided tour with a local to get the full experience.
Cool things to do in Amsterdam: day two
Your Amsterdam 2 days itinerary will have you visiting an important museum today, a bohemian district, the most famous square in Amsterdam, a Royal palace and quite a few Churches. Are you ready to go?
Anne Frank House
As you probably already know, we strongly believe that the atrocities happened in the past should never be forgotten. We have visited Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland, so we decided to also pay our respect at the Anne Frank House, the Jewish wartime diarist who was deported (and died) to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Of course you only have 2 days in Amsterdam and you might think you don’t want to spend them visiting a “depressing” museum. But you really should.
Anne and her family hid in this canal house for more than two years. The museum offers a lot of information on persecution and discrimination of Jews during World War II, through photographs, short movies and historical documents, including Anne Frank’s diary. You will go through the life of this young girl who was forced to hide for over two years before the hideout was discovered by the Nazis.
Anne Frank House is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, and tickets can only be bought online at least 2 months prior to your visit. In case you can’t find your ticket, you can check every day early in the morning until you visit Amsterdam, to see if they put up some more, or opt for a walking tour with a guide who will tell you everything about the Jewish persecution in Amsterdam and Anne Frank.
While today Jordaan is a bohemian district, home to young artists, students, independent art galleries and cute restaurants, it once was a very poor area of Amsterdam.
Walking through its narrow streets and canals will lighten your mood and provide lots of photo ops, as here there are some of the most instagrammable spots in Amsterdam!
Enjoy the hidden courtyards, art studios and tiny museums, but don’t forget the most important thing: enjoy some yummy Dutch dishes!
The best way to experience Jordaan is in fact through a food tour, that will walk you through the best parts of this unique neighborhood and offer you the chance to taste up to 12 traditional dishes. You can book your food tour here.
The first thing I noticed about Dam Square in Amsterdam wasn’t the National Monument, but the huge number of bicycles parked basically everywhere. I’d never seen so many all in the same area, it was mighty impressive!
While you wrangle your way through the maze, make sure you take pictures of the World War II memorial. It stands at 22-meters high, with a Latin inscription on the pillar which you can translate with: “Here, where the heart of the fatherland is, may this monument, which citizens carry in their heart, gaze at God’s stars.”
Designed by Dutch architect J.J.P. Oud, it became an official national heritage monument in 2009.
Royal Palace of Amsterdam
The Royal Palace, located on Dam Square, is one of the only three palaces in the Netherland. It once was a city hall, and then became house to King Louis Bonaparte first, and the Dutch Royal house later.
Today the Royal Palace is used as location for royal events as the King’s New Year reception, the welcoming of foreign heads of State and more. You can take a guided tour to visit it or just opt for a free audio tour.
The “New Church” is the most important church in the Netherlands. It dates back to the 15th century and lies next to the Royal Palace. After a fire many years ago, it was restored and transformed into an exhibition space, but it was also used to host the wedding of His Majesty King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima.
It is open every day aside from Christmas and New Year’s day.
The oldest surviving house, Houten Huys, dates back to 1460.
Oude Kerk means “Old Church” and it’s Amsterdam’s oldest building. This 800-year-old building towering over the Red Light District was originally built as a Catholic place of worship. Nowadays it has become an expression of Dutch Protestantism and features exhibits and concerts.
When you step inside the first thing you’ll notice is the impressive architecture and the high windows. Rembrandt’s beloved wife, Madame Saskia van Uylenburgh was buried here, and you can visit her grave. Another highlight is the massive 17th-century grand organ.
Oude Kerk is open every day of the week. You can take a guided tour, they have one usually every 30 minutes.
Kalverstraat and Amsterdam Flower market
Kalverstraat is a 750 meter road full of shops, boutiques and souvenir stores. Near the end of the street you’ll see Kalvertoren Building, a historic building turned into a modern mall on three levels.
Full disclosure: we bought lovely bulbs that we planted in our garden, but we have never seen one single tulip. Apparently our dogs enjoyed searching for bulbs and playing soccer with them! But hey, now we have the perfect excuse to get back to Amsterdam for more!
Best time to visit Amsterdam
Since you only have 2 days in Amsterdam I’m sure you’d want the weather to be awesome, am I right?
Let’s start by saying that the tulips will be in bloom from the end of March until mid May. If you want to visit the amazing tulip fields in the Netherlands, then you should plan your trip to Amsterdam in mid April (a bit as with Cherry blossoms in Japan). Yet you also have to be aware of the fact that this is high season so it will be difficult to find a budget accommodation and the capital will be very crowded.
September and October are also great months to visit Amsterdam as it’s low season, right after the summertime, and there won’t be as many tourists.
While everyone kept on saying that a short trip to the Netherlands in July was going to be horrible because of the “high temperatures” and the hordes of tourists, we still decided to visit once by mid-July to celebrate my birthday in Amsterdam.
What can I say, I am a die-hard Neapolitan girl, I love the weather and beauty of Naples, and to me The Netherlands in July felt absolutely perfect. Not only it wasn’t as warm as everyone kept on saying (it was like springtime in Naples), but we only rarely experienced some light rain in the afternoon. It stopped after half an hour max and we weren’t bothered at all.
As for the tourists, after visiting Japan we can honestly say that the Netherlands in July are absolutely fine!
If you find a summer deal to visit Amsterdam, or if like us Italians you can only take some time off work in summer, then go for it!
Amsterdam on a budget: how to save money
To spend 2 days in Amsterdam on a budget I recommend you buy a 48 hour I Amsterdam card. It includes free entrance to 44 museums and attractions (included most of those I’ve added to this itinerary), free public transport in Amsterdam, a 25% discount at a selection of restaurants and cafés. Also included there’s a free canal cruise. In case you’re also planning a few day trips from Amsterdam, make sure you stay for a few more days and that you buy a 72, 96 or 120 hours I Amsterdam City Card: they also include a ferry ride (and entrance to several attractions) to Zaanse Schans, free museums entrance to Haarlem and more!
An alternative can be the Holland Pass, which lasts for 30 days and includes up to 6 free entrance tickets at museums and attractions in Amsterdam.