Enchanting Golden Age canals lined by gabled buildings, rambling parks, cosy bruin cafés (traditional pubs), magnificent museums, diverse cuisine and some of Europe's best nightlife make Amsterdam a captivating place to spend a weekend; and its compact size and flat terrain makes it easy to explore its vibrant neighbourhoods as the locals do – by bike (rental companies are everywhere). Here’s our guide to the perfect weekend in Amsterdam.

A canal cuts through the centre of Amsterdam's Red Light District, with bars and restaurants (lit in the iconic red lights) flanking the streets either side, while the roads are busy with people.
A stroll through the bustling Red Light District is an essential Amsterdam experience © Olena Z / Shutterstock

Friday evening

Borrel ('drinks') is a Dutch tradition, so start in the Medieval Centre with a frothy beer at industrial, concrete Bierfabriek, brewing a seasonally changing selection of beers. Or try jenever (Dutch gin), which comes in smooth jonge (young) and strongly juniper-flavoured oude (old) varieties, poured in tulip-shaped glasses. Centuries-old Medieval Centre tasting houses include De Drie Fleschjes, Wynand Fockink and Proeflokaal de Ooievaar.

History-steeped places to dine in the neighbourhood include d'Vijff Vlieghen, whose romantic wood-panelled rooms span five 17th-century canal houses, and De Silveren Spiegel, where sublime multicourse menus are served on handcrafted porcelain. Continue the night with cocktails made from house infusions at Tales & Spirits, and DJs or live music at Bitterzoet. Alternatively, for a glimpse of Amsterdam's wild side, head to the neighbouring Red Light District – a swirl of rowdy bars, scandalous sex shows and smoke-filled 'coffeeshops' (ie cannabis cafes). No trip to Amsterdam is complete without seeing it; but expect to rub shoulders with more tourists than locals here.

A selection of people browse a stall selling an assortment of vegetables at Amsterdam's Albert Cuypmarkt
From trinkets to turnips, everything is on offer at Amsterdam's Albert Cuypmarkt © Richard I'Anson / Getty Images

Saturday morning

Immediately south of the Unesco-listed Canal Ring, the village-like neighbourhood of De Pijp is at the heart of Amsterdam's brunch scene. Fantastic spots include Bakers & Roasters (don't miss the Navajo eggs, or the Bloody Marys) and CT Coffee & Coconuts, in a soaring former art-deco cinema.

Saturdays see De Pijp's Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam's biggest and busiest street market, in full swing. Browse stalls selling everything from bike locks, cut-price cosmetics and clothes to fresh cut flowers, fruit and veggies, cheeses, and ready-to-eat snacks such as caramel syrup–filled stroopwafels (there’s no better hangover cure!).

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A group of people stand in front of 'The Night Watch', a large, famous painting by Rembrandt, hanging in a grand frame.
See Rembrandt's masterpiece

Saturday afternoon

Close by, in Amsterdam's Old South, Museumplein is home to the city's three mega-museums.  The monumental Rijksmuseum is packed with masterpieces by Rembrandt (notably his epic 1642 painting The Night Watch) and Vermeer, among countless others. Van Gogh fans won't want to miss the Van Gogh Museum, displaying hundreds of paintings and drawings (the world's largest collection). Modern and contemporary art and design is showcased at the Stedelijk Museum, whose exceptional collection includes works by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and many more. Having strolled the hallowed halls of these establishments, laze away what's left of the afternoon at the city's favourite urban oasis, the leafy Vondelpark

A crowded square in Leidseplein at nighttime. Tables and chairs, filled with people, occupy the square while fairy lights hang overhead and bars and restaurants line the walls around it.
Leidseplein is one of the Southern Canal Ring's two nightlife hubs © Glen Allison / Getty Images

Saturday evening 

Bordering the Vondelpark to the west, Amstelveenseweg has a string of bars and restaurants. Among them, Restaurant Blauw is a brilliant place for Indonesian cuisine, a fixture of the Netherlands' dining scene due to the countries' historical ties. Its rijsttafel ('rice table'; a banquet of small dishes) is available in meat, seafood or vegetarian versions. Blue Pepper is another neighbourhood standout serving up gourmet Indonesian fare.

It's a short hop over to Leidseplein, one of the Southern Canal Ring's two nightlife hubs, awash with bars, clubs and live music venues – legendary former dairy Melkweg puts on a diverse array of gigs, cinema screenings, multimedia exhibits and more. To Leidseplein's northeast, Rembrandtplein, with life-size sculptures recreating Rembrandt's The Night Watch at its centre, is also ringed with bars. For 24-hour clubbing, venture beyond central Amsterdam to storming places such as the 2500-capacity Warehouse Elementenstraat. Lower-key Saturday night alternatives include concerts at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, which incorporates the renowned jazz stage, the Bimhuis.

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The interior of one of the shipyards at Amsterdam's NDSM-werf. where a giant red Lego brick is on display amongst the shipping containers
NDSM-werf: a derelict shipyard-turned-arts hub © Quince Graphics / Shutterstock

Sunday morning

Jump aboard a free ferry across the IJ River to the post-industrial neighbourhood of Amsterdam Noord. Once the Royal Dutch Shell oil company offices, 22-storey A'DAM Tower now has a panoramic rooftop and giant six-seat swing over the edge. At the striking white, angular EYE Film Institute you can catch cinema screenings and themed exhibitions.

Northwest, the derelict shipyards-turned-arts hub NDSM-werf has around 250 artists working in 80-plus studios at Kunststad. Hip bar/restaurant Pllek, set inside old shipping containers, opens to an artificial sandy beach.

A boat, filled with people, cruises down a canal in Amsterdam on a sunny day. The surrounding streets are busy with cyclists and pedestrians.
Spend Sunday afternoon exploring Amsterdam by boat © Sandra Mori / Shutterstock

Sunday afternoon

Spend Sunday afternoon exploring the city's waterways by hiring your own boat. Back on the southern side on the IJ River near another post-industrial creative hub, the former gasworks of Westergasfabriek, Boats4Rent hires eco-friendly electric boats, as does Canal Motorboats, in the pretty Western Islands (no boat licence is required). More environmentally conscious still is a 'plastic-fishing' cruise with Plastic Whale, with nets provided for you to fish out waste from the rivers, harbours and canals; materials collected are recycled to make furniture and even the electric boats in which the trips take place.

Back on dry land, Amsterdam's former workers' quarter, the Jordaan, is a wonderfully atmospheric place for a wander. Its web of narrow streets are lined with restaurants and bruin cafés, including charming De Reiger, with an excellent gastropub menu, and numerous Italian spots such as rustic Trattoria di Donna Sofia, with made-from-scratch pastas, risottos and other classics chalked on the blackboard. The neighbouring Western Canal Ring also has some superb places for a final weekend meal in Amsterdam, not least De Belhamel, at the head of the elegant Herengracht, with exquisite European dishes and postcard-perfect canal views that will linger long in the memory.

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