Amsterdam is a very visitor-friendly city. It is easy to get around on foot and a guided tour through its streets will help you to get to know its history and the way of life of its inhabitants.
1. City Centre Walking Tours
If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, you may want to wander around its cobbled streets, charming corners and around its monuments and canals to get an idea of what the Dutch capital is like before you delve into its sights. This small-group walking tour of Amsterdam, where a professional guide will accompany you on your excursion with no more than 15 other people, is designed for just that.
The guide will explain in English the highlights of the city and its history, from its beginnings as a muddy village on the river Amstel to the most important trading city in Europe. He will review its tragic passage through the Nazi occupation during the Second World War through its old Jewish Quarter and its controversial history around prostitution in the Red Light District and the decriminalisation of drugs in its Coffee Shops.
You'll explore areas such as Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam today and from which the city was shaped, with historic buildings such as the National Monument and the Royal Palace. You'll see other city neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, home to Amsterdam's Buddhist temple, and bustling markets such as the Nieuwmarkt and the colourful Flower Market.
I've put together a list of the main sights that are included in the most popular tours of the city:
- Dam Square, Dam Square, located in the heart of Amsterdam.
- Oudekerkstoren, in the middle of the Red Light District, where you will also see the Oudekerk, the Old Church.
- Zeedijk, the Chinatown, where Amsterdam's Buddhist temple is located.
- Nieuwmarkt, the new market and St. Anton's Gate.
- Zuiderkerk, the Jewish quarter and the sad history of the Second World War.
- Begijnhof, on Spui square, with the gardens and St. Francis Church.
- Bloemenmarkt, the flower market.
- Amsterdam Museum, the museum about the history of the city.
- Statue of Multatuli, the statue in honour of the famous Dutch writer.
- Homomonument, The Westerkerk, the memorial to all homosexuals, gays and lesbians persecuted for their sexual orientation.
2. Private and personalised city tours
If you already have a clear idea of what you want to see and do in Amsterdam and you are looking for a different experience from a more conventional, organised tour, I recommend you take this walking tour in English and fully personalised with a local guide, the so-called lokafyers.
These "lokafyers" are inhabitants of Amsterdam who do not dedicate themselves exclusively to guiding, but who go on tours out of devotion to their city and have a great knowledge of its history. The curious thing about this tour is that it is organised according to your tastes and interests and has a variable duration, from seeing only the most essential monuments of the Dutch capital, to also getting to know the most everyday areas visited by the locals.
The explanations of these guides are really rich as they not only give you the most important information about each enclave, but they also show you the real life of Amsterdam through their own experiences, anecdotes and stories, as if they were a friend showing you around their city!
The tour itinerary will depend on what you choose yourself, with recommendations and tour tips from the guide himself.
3. Alternative neighbourhood tours
As in any self-respecting major city, there are a few imponderables that we must visit in terms of monuments, museums and areas that we more or less already know about before we start our trip. But if you want to delve deeper into the real Amsterdam, that side of the city that locals love and visitors come to discover, I recommend looking for a different tour.
You will discover, on an alternative walking tour guided in English and with groups of no more than 9 people, some of the most typical places of Amsterdam, such as Dam Square, its canals or the Red Light District, but from a more cultural and social point of view. This is the tour that will give you an insight into Amsterdam's intrahistory through its alternative life and subcultures, its relationship with drug consumption in its Coffee Shops, the origin and functioning of prostitution in its shop windows.
You will also learn about the bicycle culture as a way of life, the phenomenon of houseboats and squatters in the post-WWII housing crisis, as well as the counter-cultural movements that gave rise to its unique cityscape with its unique coffee shops. Optionally, you can visit the exhibition of the brilliant Bansky at the Moco, its Museum of Modern Contemporary Art.
You can also take one of the two-wheeled tours available, such as this historical bike tour of Amsterdam, where you'll learn about the history of the city's most important monuments while getting a taste of the city's cultural life.
4. Sightseeing bus tours
If it is your first time in Amsterdam or you have little time to visit it, this guided tour in English with a stop at the museum is designed to give you an overview of everything you should see and learn about the city through a panoramic bus tour of its main points of interest with the possibility of leaving in the morning or afternoon and adding a sightseeing cruise along its canals or a visit to its main gallery, the Rijksmuseum.
About the bus tour
Comfortably seated, with on-board commentary by a professional guide and from the heights of the sightseeing bus you can admire places such as the Royal Palace and the National Monument on Dam Square, the Magere Brug and the Albert Cuyp Market, the most popular and largest not only in the city but in the whole of Holland and named after Albert Cuyp, a 17th century Dutch painter.
Combine with a visit to the Rijksmuseum
Afterwards, you can choose to visit the Rijksmuseum, one of the largest museums in the Netherlands, with more than two million visitors a year and which houses the best collection of Dutch Golden Age art in the world with fundamental works, spanning from 1200 to 2000, such as 'The Night Watch' by Rembrandt, 'The Milkmaid' by Johannes Vermeer and 'The Joyful Drinker' by Frans Hals, among others by geniuses such as Vincent Van Gogh.
Combine with a cruise
If, on the other hand, you choose to take the cruise, you'll enjoy another of Amsterdam's must-do experiences with a stroll along the city's World Heritage-listed ring of canals lined with elaborate merchant houses, charming brick bridges, warehouses and churches built in the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, ending at Amsterdam's old harbour before returning to the departure dock.
- Dam Square, Amsterdam's main square
- Royal Palace Amsterdam, in Classicist architectural style, was built as the city's town hall during the 17th century.
- The Amstel, part of the city canals
- Magere Brug, the narrowest bridge of the canals
- National Monument, the National Monument on Dam Square, dating from 1956 and commemorating the dead of the Second World War and subsequent armed conflicts.
- Albert Cuyp Market, the largest market in the city and in the Netherlands.
- Diamant Museum Amsterdam, an educational museum about the history of the most important diamond collections in Amsterdam
- Rijksmuseum, the most important art gallery in the Netherlands
5. Anne Frank Jewish Quarter Tours
This guided tour of Amsterdam's old Jewish Quarter focuses on the settlement of the Jewish community in the capital since the 1600s with visits to key sites such as the Jewish Historical Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue and the Auschwitz Memorial and others such as the exterior of the Anne Frank House Museum.
Entrance to this museum is not included, but the guide will explain the story of this little girl who left us a chilling but absolutely necessary account of those dark days after the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans between 1940 and 1945. A turbulent past that you will relive in groups of no more than 15 people and through monuments and buildings that still show signs of the war.
You will discover the places that the Dutch Resistance offered as secret hiding places for families like the Franks and the effects of this brutal regime not only on the Jewish community but also on the everyday life of all Dutch people, discovering how they behaved and why they tried to coexist with the occupying army.
- Joods Historisch Museum, the only museum in the Netherlands dedicated to Jewish history.
- Portuguese Synagogue, the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue is a 17th century Sephardic synagogue.
- Dokwerker, statue and monument on the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein in memory of the strike of February 1941
- Auschwitz Monument, in memory of those who suffered in the concentration camp
- Dam Square, Amsterdam's historic square
- Statue of Anne Frank, the statue in memory of Anne Frank
- Anne Frank House, the museum house of the Frank family
6. Red Light District Tours
Opinions aside, a visit to Amsterdam's legendary Red Light District is a must-do and a safe experience. You can visit it on your own with the many tourists who stroll through its streets every day, or you can take this guided tour in English where an expert will explain the origins, functioning and points of interest of Amsterdam's oldest district, the Red Light District, in groups of 20 people maximum.
With this tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District you will walk through streets that are home to a mix of art galleries, important sculptures less known to the conventional tourist, cinemas, cafes, coffee shops, sex shops and some of the city's most important monuments, such as the Oude Kerk, the Old Church.
Not forgetting, of course, its famous shop windows bathed in neon and red lights, where prostitution has been practiced in a completely legal way since the first shop windows appeared in the area in the 17th century, making Amsterdam one of the thirteen Dutch cities with prostitution in shop windows, being legal in the Netherlands since 1911.
- The Condomerie
- Oude Kerk, the Old Church
- Warmoesstraat, the leather quarter
- Sex Shop
- Video booths
- Elite streets
- The prostitution information centre
- Hidden sculptures
If you are interested in guided tours of Amsterdam you will also be interested in
Once you've done the walking tour of the city, it's time to relax by taking a canal cruise if you haven't already done so. And if you prefer to complete your visit to Amsterdam with an excursion around the country, I recommend you to read this article about the best of Amsterdam. 5 Best Day Trips from Amsterdamwhere you can find a selection of what I consider to be the best ones.
Frequently asked questions
How long do most walking tours in Amsterdam last?
Most walking tours of Amsterdam last around 2-3 hours. While there are some that last up to 4 hours, these usually include a lunch break.
Which walking tour should I choose?
The most popular tour is the walking tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District. This is an adults-only tour where expert guides will take you through the Red Light District and show you the Prostitution Museum. If exploring the Red Light District is not to your liking, you can always choose the Amsterdam city walking tour, which will show you how the city has changed over the centuries.
What is the best way to get around Amsterdam?
In fact, the city of Amsterdam is small enough that walking along its many canal-lined streets while exploring every nook and cranny is the most genuine way to experience it.