Amsterdam in 3 days – A first-timer’s itinerary (With Map)
First time to Amsterdam and wondering what to do in Amsterdam in three days? Look no more because we have a detailed and flexible itinerary planned. We did months of research, tested our 3-day Amsterdam itinerary on our first trip and came back with lots of learnings. Join us on this virtual ride through Amsterdam in 3 days.
Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.
– John Green, Fault in our stars
The choice of Amsterdam in our 15-day Euro-trip itinerary in spring was simple for two reasons-
Amsterdam Itinerary 3 days
- Day 1
- Dam Square and surroundings
- Rijk’s museum
- Vondelpark – the largest park in Amsterdam
- Stroll on the bridges of Amsterdam- Highlight
- Canal Cruise tour – Highlight!
- Walk and dine at Red light district
- Day 2
- Day trip to Zaanse Schans – Highlight!
- Day 3
- Visit Keukenhof Tulip Festival – Must visit in Spring!
- Van Gogh Museum
- Anne Frank Museum – Highlight
Note that this is the best 3-day itinerary for Amsterdam in Spring. If you visit Amsterdam on any other season you can replace Keukenhoff day trip with a day trip to Giethoorn village or Rotterdam. Depending on your interest you may choose the Heineken experience instead of parks or biking tours instead of walking. We had to skip Volendam, Marken, and Vondelpark because of some last-minute plans to visit old friends.
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Amsterdam in 3 days | Where we stayed
Amsterdam is an expensive city. Everything from food to accommodation is costly, more so in the peak season of the Tulip Festival in Holland during April. It is also crowded at this time, so we did not want to experiment with a hostel in this city. If you are willing to spend over 200 euros per night, you may book a hotel at the city center which is close to the major attractions, but we were not, so this is where we stayed.
IBIS budget Amsterdam City South We planned for the trip well in advance hence got this hotel at the same price as that of any standard hostel dorm and we did well with our choice 🙂 It is located in the tranquil Amstelveen, away from the city crowd yet within 50 meters from the metro+tram station Kronenburg. We never regretted not staying in the city center itself because it was so peaceful where we stayed. It took us hardly 20 minutes to reach the busy Amsterdam Centraal by metro.
Top Travel tips for three days in Amsterdam
I won’t bombard you with instructions, but there are a few travel tips that will help you make the best of your three days in Amsterdam. I wish I knew these before my first visit to Amsterdam.
- Use the Iamsterdam Card if you want to see the best places in the least time (and money).
- Otherwise, if you are not sure of how your schedule will turn out, book a city transport card.
- Book your preferred slot at Van Gogh Museum online. This is especially for the peak season of March to June.
- Book your tickets to the Anne Frank Museum online and well in advance for your preferred slot.
- Save your canal cruise experience and Anne Frank Museum tour for the night. Most other attractions close by 6 pm.
- Always have a waterproof jacket or a raincoat in your carry-on bag no matter how sunny the day is.
- You need Schengen Visa to enter Netherlands. Apply for your visa here.
About the Iamsterdam card
Public transport of the city is as close to perfect as I could imagine – the 72-hour Iamsterdam card which we booked online at 87 Euros made it faster and cheaper for us with unlimited use of public transport within the city and free access to most of the museums within and around Amsterdam. The physical card needs to be collected at the airport or any Iamsterdam center and it comes with a welcome kit that includes a travel magazine, Amsterdam neighborhood guide booklet and a handy pocket map with the entire list of museums and experiences covered by the card.
Few important exclusions under the Iamsterdam card that should be noted-
- Van Gogh Museum is included but needs prior slot booking.
- Though transport within the city is unlimited, transport to and from an airport not included
- Transport to and from nearby day-trip destinations like Keukenhof, Harlem, Zaanse Sachs, etc. are excluded
- Although access to a lot of museums/monuments in these regions is free, Anne Frank Museum entrance is not included.
- Keukenhof garden tickets not included.
Highlights of our 3 day trip to Amsterdam
I have already given the best suggestive itinerary for you. However, the best thing about traveling independently is that you can shuffle your items based on changing priorities. These are the highlights of Amsterdam, that made our trip special. We shuffled our pre-planned itinerary to accommodate our priorities. Note the places, and don’t miss them on your trip.
Dam Square and a mini family reunion – Day 1 in Amsterdam
Dam Square is the central square of Amsterdam located 750 meters away from the Amsterdam Centraal, the busiest gateway to the Netherlands. The National Monument (in the picture below) erected in 1956 in memory of the victims of World War II is the most iconic structure of the historic city center. It is surrounded by major tourist attractions – the Royal Palace, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and the Gothic New Church among others. The place is always throbbing with a large number of activities happening at the same time.
My uncle and aunt, the eldest couple of our family exude the kind of energy that could put twenty-year-olds to shame. They came all the way from England on an overnight cruise just to spend a few hours with us and those were indeed among the best few hours of our trip. We met them at the Amsterdam Centraal station, from where we took the Canal cruise around the city, had lunch near the Dam square, checked out local markets and even strolled in the famous red-light district.
The Canals and Bridges of Amsterdam – All three days
With 165 canals and 1281 bridges, Amsterdam is touted as the “Venice of North” in Europe. The canal circle is well-deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site.
Fun fact: Amsterdam has more bridges than Venice.
We read about so many things to do in Amsterdam, but just walking on the bridges and along the canals is activity enough to keep you engaged on all 3 days in the city. On day 1, during our hour-long audio-guided canal cruise, we listened to the history of Amsterdam starting from the 12th century. The canals that stretch over 50km today, were built in the 16th and 17th century. Before this they were swamp-lands.
The canal-system connected the different parts of the city serving as a means of transport, trade, irrigation, water management as well as defense. This engineering masterpiece is a symbol of the Dutch Golden age during the 16th and 17th centuries. We were told that the houses along the canals, which cost a bomb at present, were intentionally built leaning towards the canals a bit. The audio-guided canal cruise was a highlight of our 3-day itinerary for Amsterdam.
The houses had a hook at the top of the triangular facade to help lift goods from the boats without touching the windows. The audio documentary did not shy away from mentioning the role of Amsterdam in moving slaves across other European and Arab countries, though the Dutch did not keep slaves. It is a practice that has been abolished and is a part of a shameful past. Hiding or denying the truth wouldn’t change it, rather accepting that it happened prevents humanity from repeating mistakes.
Do you know half of the Netherlands was below the sea level? And that was before global warming!
As a tourist, I was filled with respect for the country for being vocal about the wrongs of the past. We also heard about the conquest of the Netherlands by Hitler’s forces and the heart-wrenching story of Anne Frank who, along with fellow Jews had taken refuge in a house behind the Cathedral.
On the remaining days, we never missed stealing some time to just stroll on the bridges.
Exploring the nightlife in Amsterdam on Day 1
Amsterdam is known for a throbbing nightlife and summer is the best time to explore it. April is usually cold at night. Thankfully we got to spend one of the warmest days of the month when we landed in Amsterdam. We walked along the bridges looking at the night cruises, floating flower markets and hippie houseboats in the canals – it was like poetry in motion. We go to the hills and forests in search of such serenity, that you can enjoy such an unobstructed view in a densely populated city was unknown to us.
Then we went to the famous Red-light District once again to see what the fuss was all about. It was nothing like the rest of the city and the red neon lights on the cobbled streets and even in the outdoor eateries made it stand apart even more. There are hoardings at places stating “Sex Work is Real Work”. Well, that’s one hell of a bold statement – but coming from the country that was one of the first to legalize prostitution and marijuana this is not entirely surprising. It’s amazing how safe the city is despite (or perhaps “because of”?) being so open about the “taboo topics” of other parts of the world. Thoughts?
Zaanse Schans in Day 2 | 3 days in Amsterdam
A visit to the peaceful countryside of Zaanse Schans must be in your 3 day Amsterdam itinerary at any time of the year. Zaanse Schans located in Zaandam neighborhood derives its name from the Zaan river. It became the world leader in production during the 16th and 17th centuries with its windmill technology.
The Windmills of Zaanse Schans are an important part of its landscape and have been romanticized by artists for centuries. With the advent of more advanced production technology around the world, the golden era of the city was gone. It slowly retreated into the modern countryside. Some of the old windmills are preserved and even operated regularly here. To the Dutch and the tourists alike, Zaanse Schans is an object of nostalgia.
We had a free entry and audio guide to the Zaans museum with our Iamsterdam card. I thoroughly enjoyed an hour-long audio-guided tour into the history of Zaanse Schans. It is an anchor point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, a theme route of the key areas of the industrial revolution in Europe. The state-of-art museum has models demonstrating the process of production and the history of famous business families like Heineken. It also has a large collection of paintings and artifacts from the aristocratic families of the past.
This is the most fun-filled museum experience I have had, with interactive history lessons and games attracting kids and adults alike. Outside the museum, you can also enter one of the three windmills that are open for tourist visits. You can see the machines being operated inside, climb up the steep ladders and rise to the top to get a panoramic view of the countryside. Spend the rest of the time exploring the place on foot or on rented bikes.
Keukenhof Tulip Gardens at Lisse in Day 3
Tulips are an integral part of Holland’s culture and every year people from all corners of the world throng into the city for this ultimate sensory delight of being surrounded by millions of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. The entire city of Amsterdam is adorned with tulips at this time of the year – you find colorful blossoms in front of almost every shop, restaurant and balcony.
The Keukenhof garden in Lisse hosts the world’s most famous flower show in Spring every year. Remember to book the tickets online to avoid the queue – the place is unbelievably crowded for a European destination even on a weekday!
When in the garden you can also see a tiny shelter for rabbits, turkey and other domestic animals where children can run around and play with them. At the far end of the 32-acre garden lies the vast Tulip fields which can be accessed by a boat ride in the river.
The garden itself has a large number of flower shows each with a unique combination of colors and designs, the most iconic one being the river of blue Muscari flowers (also called grape hyacinths) with colorful tulips on both sides. Other striking sights were the windmill near the riverside and the yellow blossoms on an old Volkswagen.
Anne Frank House in Day 3
A must-visit place in the city is the Anne Frank House museum- the secret annex where the Frank family, along with a few other Jewish families hid for over two years during the second world war. Considering the structure of the building, the entry is highly regulated during the peak season. When we visited, the booking could only be done online. Entry was permitted only during the booked time-slot. We booked a slot at 8:00 pm and could enter exactly at that time, not a minute earlier.
The entry to the museum is open till 9 pm. The entry passes include a free audio-guided tour that gives you a peek into the lives of innocent families who clamped themselves into a secret annex hidden behind a cupboard, living in silence and constant fear of being discovered. An eerie feeling engulfs you as you hear the lines from Anne Frank’s diary while walking into the nooks and corners of the building. The Diary of a Young Girl, based on Anne Frank’s diary is available at a huge discount on Amazon, so I’d recommend you buy the book online rather than on-site.
Museumplein in Day 2 and 3
Museumplein is the one-stop place for the best art and historical museums of Amsterdam – Rijk’s museum, Van Gogh’s Museum, and Diamond museum to name a few. The last entry to the Rijk’s museum was at 4:30 pm. The musical atmosphere in the corridors and the lovely garden outside is equally enjoyable. Please keep these timings in mind when you visit Amsterdam.
On Day 3 we took a guided tour of Van Gogh’s museum, a museum dedicated to the life and work of Van Gogh. The Dutch artist is most famous for his heartfelt depiction of peasant life. Along with a collection of Van Gogh’s paintings, the museum also has a collection of his handwritten letters -from those expressing the joy of sharing his work of art to those revealing his painful struggle with mental illness. The I-Amsterdam card not only gives you free access to this museum but also a free audio guide. Don’t forget to pick yours at the reception.
The Parks of Amsterdam
One of the most underrated aspects of this romantic city is a large number of public parks. Vondelpark, Westerpark, Rembrandt park are some of the most famous names on the list.
We missed these and instead, we spotted an obscure park while on our way to IBIS city south in Amsterdam Zuid. I never heard about it but it looked like a dream, so we decided we would take a stroll in the evening. There were hardly five people we could see in the park even on a Saturday evening. We watched as the Goose crossed the path and a puppy went around amicably. When in Amsterdam keep an eye on these nooks and corners of the city to discover such hidden gems.
A three-day trip and six months of meticulous research do not make me an expert on Amsterdam. However, based on the comments from locals, I feel we really did experience the best of Amsterdam in 3 days. Of course, I also have my Netherlands expert aunt to thank for.
I can’t say much about Marken and Volendam which were there in our Amsterdam 3 day itinerary but we had to skip for other plans. You must do both of them in day 2 along with Zaanse Schans. You may find more about those three places here. Also, read about sustainable travel in Amsterdam.
Other important details you need to know
Time of Visit
The budget for two including interchange fees
- Hotel + Breakfast buffet – ~Rs.22000 (the costliest city on our Europe itinerary especially in April)
- Keukenhof ticket (Entry+ Transport combo) – Rs.2744 +~ Rs.850 for two.
- Bus to Zaanse Schans – ~Eu 7 per person, ~Rs.1300 for two
- Everything else was covered in Amsterdam card – Eu 87/person, i.e. Rs.14000.
Now enjoy this 2-minute video that I made and leave your comments.
Recommended Books and Movies based on Amsterdam
- Amsterdam: History of the world’s most liberal city
- Lonely Planet Travel guide – Amsterdam
- The Diary of a Young Girl based on Anne Frank
- The Fault in our stars (A fiction that takes you to Amsterdam)
- Queen (one of my favorite Hindi movies)
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