Many tourists visit Amsterdam each year to see the Red Light District and take part in the signature party culture, but Amsterdam is so much more than that. It’s a beautifully landscaped city, vibrant with arts and culture and rich with history.

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and was settled in the 12th century as a small fishing village. Since then, the city has blossomed into a booming financial and cultural epicenter, with the first stock exchange ever originating here.

Amsterdam has been ranked the second most livable city in Europe and the twelfth most livable city in the world in terms of environment and infrastructure. It was also ranked as second globally for innovation.

The city is home to many museums, famous artists, parks, cathedrals and cultural activities.

View of Hotel NH Barbizon Palace at night

View of Hotel NH Amsterdam Barbizon Palace at night | Photo: Alexa Albanese

One great thing about Amsterdam is that it’s super easy to get around. Not only is the city extremely walk-able, but there is also a fantastic public transportation system that will take you anywhere you need to go.

The Dutch are famous for their waffles, called stroopwafel, which are two thin layers of waffle with a gooey, caramel layer in between. Buy from a street vendor and warm it on top of a steaming take away drip coffee and you have yourself a delicious brekkie.

stroopwafels amsterdam

Stroopwafels in a shop in Amsterdam

There are a ton of museums in Amsterdam, and wandering through the halls of history is a great way to spend the morning. Head to Museumplein (or “Museum Square,” in English) in Amsterdam South and you’ll have a few to choose from.

While you’re there, don’t forget to scramble on top of the famous IAmsterdam letters to get a picture.

iamsterdam letters

The iconic Amsterdam letters | Photo: Alexa Albanese

The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to the history and arts of Amsterdam. The Van Gogh museum is a stunning chronology of the artist’s works and story of his life. And the Stedelijk Museum features contemporary art from modern artists all over the world.

Visiting the Anne Frank House is another must do. The museum is a heavy experience and not for the faint of heart, but a beautiful recollection of the life of a spirited girl who died too soon. Both educational and emotional, it’s worth a visit.

For lunch, feel free to visit one of the city’s many coffee shops. You can enjoy a nice meal and if you’re so inclined, a joint to go with it. Amsterdam is one of the few cities in the world where marijuana is legal.

For an afternoon activity, you have a few options. If you like to shop, head to the quintessential Dutch quarter, De 9 Straatjes, which literally translates to “the 9 Streets.” These streets are dotted with typical Amsterdam boutiques offering all sorts of goods, from handmade fashions to quirky books and gadgets and fine dining restaurants.

canal amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam | Photo: Alexa Albanese

As you’ll notice, Amsterdam has a lot of canals — almost 200, with over a thousand bridges spread throughout the city. Taking a tour on one of the canal boats is a relaxing way to see the city from a different point of view. You’ll also get a little history lesson with your tour.

canal amsterdam

View of one of many canals in Amsterdam | Photo: Alexa Albanese

You can also stroll around de Jordaan, which is arguably Amsterdam’s most famous neighborhood. Originally a working class neighborhood dating back to the 17th century, Jordaan is now one of the most upscale and expensive neighborhoods in the Netherlands. Here you can find modern art galleries and specialty shops and restaurants. Markets are held nightly and a great place to find unique souvenirs.

cheese stall in de Jordaan

Cheese stall in de Jordaan | Photo: Alexa Albanese

If you’re getting peckish, pick up a delicious cheese snack from a street vendor while you’re meandering the picturesque neighborhoods. Typically served with mustard, there’s great variety in Dutch cheese; and regardless of whether you prefer soft and gooey or hard and mild, you’ll find something to satisfy your nibbles.

On a particularly beautiful day, head to Vondelpark, the biggest and most visited park in Amsterdam. It sits on over 120 acres of land and is beautifully landscaped, with immaculately manicured lawns, original statues and a body of water throughout. Be sure to check out the open-air theater and rose garden in the middle of the park.

vondelpark amsterdam

Vondelpark | Photo: Alexa Albanese

As you might imagine, Amsterdam has quite the vibrant nightlife scene. Paradiso is a must if you’re into live music. The music venue/club is in an old converted church building with a rich history; it was squatted by hippies in the 1960s and eventually turned into an “entertainment and leisure” club. Acts such as Frank Zappa, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Billy Idol and even the Rolling Stones have performed there.

Of course, the Red Light District can’t be without mention. The tourists flock here every year to see the working girls, coffee shops and available legal drugs. Although it’s definitely a sight to see, the Red Light District is not an integral part of Amsterdam and there are other more culturally rich places to spend your time.

red light district amsterdam

Coffee shop in the Red Light District | Photo: Alexa Albanese

If you’re looking for something a little swankier, head over to Jimmy Woo, where the ambiance is soft and the drinks are expensive. Jimmy Woo attracts a crowd of both tourists and locals, young professionals, students and the like. The music played is popular on the charts and the dance floor is always burning up. Jimmy Woo is a great place to end your night with a good group of friends.

It’s hard to do everything in Amsterdam because there are so many opportunities at your fingertips. If you like art and history, you can spend the whole day exploring museums. If you’re a foodie, hop on a food tour and taste everything that the city has to offer including delicious cheese, beer, sausage and specialty desserts like fresh crepes and chocolate.

sausage amsterdam

The shopping is great as well, with many specialty boutiques catering to every different style and budget. If you’re up for a lazy day lounging in the grass and people watching, a picnic at Vondelpark should do just fine.

Take advantage of the sparkling nightlife and you’ll leave with memories from a trip unlike anywhere. After all, there is nowhere else that parties quite like Amsterdam. Just be responsible.

amsterdam canal

Image via Pixabay under license CC0

As you can see, no matter what you fancy, there’s no shortage of things to do in this beautiful city. If it wasn’t already, definitely put Amsterdam on your list of must-visit cities this summer.