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Amsterdam in a day how to spend layovers in Netherlands

Amsterdam in a Day: How to Spend Layovers in The Netherland’s Capital

This post was most recently updated on May 2nd, 2019

Like any other European city, Amsterdam boasts with fascinating architecture, culinary feasts, and a whole bunch of stuff to do and see. You wish you could experience it all, but due to the limited time it will be quite a challenge. This post sums up our short yet worthwhile layover in The Netherland’s capital. I hope this one will give you ideas on how to spend quality time even if you only have Amsterdam in a day. Whether you are in Amsterdam for a lengthy stopover or plan to stay for a couple of days, you will never run out of options to keep you busy and awestruck.

As we boarded the plane in Manila bound for Linkoping, Sweden, I was feeling neutral. Just fine knowing that the main purpose of the travel was work. Lol just kidding. Of course, I was feeling ecstatic since we also had the chance to tour around Amsterdam in a day or actually stay there for an 8-hour layover, to be specific. It was all our first time in Europe and Amsterdam was our first point of entry, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I did my research if we can easily squeeze museum tours, restaurant visits, and strolling around Amsterdam in a day.

amsterdam in a day: royal palace

Amsterdam City has this reputation for being populous and busy, where people are just having fun. Contradicting to what welcomed us, the city was empty. This could have been because we were there as early as 6 in the morning.  A very peaceful site means we had the streets all to ourselves, although there were some marks how wild, or fun I should say, it was the previous night. We walked past the streets with broken Heineken bottles, just imagine what we missed visiting Amsterdam during the night.

Go Around The Amsterdam Or Stay At The Airport?

First thing that you need to do is to determine how much time do you have in Amsterdam. Whether it’s 2 or 24 hours, you need to have a rough plan of where you’re headed. In this way, it will help you figure out what activities you’ll fit in. The wonderful thing about Amsterdam is that it’s very easy to get around and see a lot in a just short amount of time.

I personally think that you need at least 4 hours to get around Amsterdam City. Of course, it will also depend on each one’s preference of what you like to see and do. I could have spent a whole week in The Netherlands to see also the countryside, but we didn’t have much time that trip since it was just an 8-hour layover. I read some blogs about trips to other European countries, where they also spent their layovers in Amsterdam. There, they went for the Tulip Festival in North of Holland, a 30-minute drive away from Amsterdam. Considering the distance, it’s also possible if you have more than 4 hours to kill. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck in the airport, which is not that bad either.

The Schiphol Airport

The main international airport of the Netherlands is the Schiphol Airport. It opened on the 16th of September year 1916 but only as a military base. Then in 1920, it took its first commercial flight, a year after the KLM, the oldest airline in the world, was founded. Now Schiphol Airport is one of the busiest airports in the continent as it serves as a hub, connecting flights to popular destinations across Europe. I was so thankful that we had to spend our layover in this place. Luckily for us, we had enough amount of time of about 8-hour layover to go around since the city is close and easy to reach from the airport.

Nonetheless, if your layover comes only 3 hours or less, I suggest that you should just stay inside Schiphol airport. You will not enjoy the place if you’re always in a hurry and besides, it’s a bit risky that you could miss your outbound flight. Within that 3 hours, you need to pass through the immigration for passport control which might take half an hour depending on the number of tourists and another security check on the way back in the airport.

I remember that we queued for about 20 minutes just to get to the immigration officer. It was such a funny meeting with the officer because the moment that he took my Philippine passport, he greeted me in Filipino “Kamusta?” So, I responded with “Okay naman, ikaw?” (I’m okay, how about you?). Next scenes surprised me more when we answered “Mabuti.” (Good). I assumed that he had gone to the Philippines many times. Gone were those fears of getting offloaded in Europe.

Things to Do in Schiphol Airport

There are many things that you can do at Schiphol Airport. For sure you will not get dying from boredom through various activities that involve adventure, luxury, entertainment, and authentic Dutch food. Allow me to share some top ideas.

Holland Boulevard in Schiphol Airport is the place to be. You will have a glimpse of Dutch culture and art by just spending some time here. This perfect place is home to Airport Library, consisting of more than 500 books written by well-known Dutch authors. Thou shall not worry because some of the books were translated into different languages for foreign travelers. If you’re a science enthusiast, then you need to visit the Nemo Science Museum. You can learn more about technology and science by performing your own experiments in 8 interactive setups.

You don’t also have to go outside the Schiphol airport since in here you’ll find the world’s first in-airport museum, Rijksmuseum Schiphol. Located near the Delta customer service desk and business clubs between Lounge 2 and 3 on the second floor, this gallery features ten masterpiece paintings of Dutch masters of the Golden Age. Rijksmuseum Schiphol is free of charge and is open 24/7, easily accessible by travelers having a layover in Amsterdam in a day or night.

There are also shopping stores and restaurants available in the terminals that you could choose from just outside of customs. You can have a grocery in Albert Heijn supermarket or shop at luxurious brand boutiques scattered around the airport. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport does even have an interactive Heineken bar.

Things to Note in Schiphol Airport:

  • Your passport will be first stamped in Amsterdam upon entry in Schengen zone, even if you’re just taking a layover or spending Amsterdam in a day. You need to consider it in the validity when applying for visa.


  • No need to get the check-in luggage as you will pick those in your last destination. However, if you have hand carry luggage, there’s a luggage station where you can leave them for just a few euros, for a hassle-free tour in Amsterdam in a day.


  • Amsterdam accepts currencies in Euros. EUR is used by the locals and all the establishments across the Netherlands. As far as conversion goes, 1 EUR = $1.14 USD or 1 EUR = 60 PHP. Basically, no need to have your money exchanged if you’re visiting countries like France, Belgium, etc, using the same currency. However, tourists can exchange currencies inside airport as well as in the banks.

How to Commute from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam City Center

amsterdam in a day, how to commute from schiphol to amsterdam central

amsterdam in a day, how to commute from schiphol to amsterdam central

The main train operator across the Netherlands is Nederlandse Spoorwegen. Ticket for one-way journey costs about 5€ and 9.6€ for the roundtrip ticket. You may buy your train tickets at the yellow ticket machines on the platforms or at the ticketing booth near platform 1 and 2. The train will take you to Central station, and it’s just a few steps into the center from there. The good part is that most of the places of interest are accessible by foot.

amsterdam in a day, how to commute from schiphol to amsterdam central

There are taxis available at the arrivals terminal. Though a taxi ride to the city center is quite expensive. Prices ranges from 39€ up to 50€, and can get higher if you booked through online.

Popular Places to Visit in Amsterdam in a Day

I’ve listed down the possible options to see during your visit in Amsterdam in a day.

Dam Square

amsterdam in a day dam square

You just can’t visit Amsterdam City without taking the time to visit the Dam Square. The Dam Square is located approximately 750 meters south of Central Station walking down the Damrak. It’s well worth the trip because it is an all-concrete square to explore the medieval city center with pigeons and street artists. It is then easy to cover a lot of the tourist attractions of Amsterdam from Dam Square by walking. Across the four corners, you’ll find the famous Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk, Madame Tussaud’s, and the National Monument. Several occasions are being held on Dam Square including King’s Day, a carnival, and even a Christmas celebration.

Narrow Houses

1 month europe trip amsterdam cruise

amsterdam in a day

Probably the most photographed and iconic feature of Amsterdam’s urban center are the narrow houses alongside with the canals, which can be also regularly seen in souvenir items. Every street is filled with these same colored palette houses where if you’re a first timer in this city, you’ll for sure get lost and confused. The buildings are lined aesthetically which becomes the identity of Amsterdam. But do you know why these houses were built this way? When Amsterdam’s economy boosted, many traders decided to relocate in the capital leading to a problem in the layout housing of the city. So to solve this problem, they put high prices for the cost of lot so it’s designed very narrow and also to allow as many houses as possible to be built onto the banks of the canals.

Museums in Amsterdam

The museums of Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House are not that easy to squeeze in Amsterdam in a day as visiting only one museum can take hours already. Of course, having only 8 hours of layover you can only choose from the options. Below I did an overview of what you could expect inside. Hopefully this will give you ideas on what’s suitable in your preferences.

Madame Tussaud

amsterdam in a day, madame tussaud wax

The first Madame Tussauds wax museum was founded in London by none other than herself. She was a French artist and sculptor during the 19th century. Her museum is known for displaying wax figures of famous and historic people. The Madame Tussaud museum Amsterdam opened in 1970 and it’s situated near the Royal Palace in Dam Square.

Van Gogh Museum

amsterdam in a day, van gogh museum

amsterdam in a day, van gogh museum

Van Gogh Museum exhibits the works of this Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, roughly around 200 paintings and 400 drawings. The collection includes world famous paintings like SunflowersAlmond Blossom, and The Potato Eaters. Ticket for the Van Gogh Museum costs about 18€ for adults, and free for ages under 18 with school groups excluded.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank was a 15 year old German-born Jewish girl and is one of the victims of the Holocaust. She was known for “The Diary if a Young Girl” where she documented her life from year 1942 to 1944. Her story is an eye-opener and inspired a lot of people. Now her monument and house is one of the most visited in Amsterdam so visitors can have a glimpse of what has been like to hide from persecutors. Anne Frank died at the age of 15 in Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp in Northern Germany.

Book a ticket to Anne Frank House in advance!


amsterdam in a day, rijksmuseum

The Dutch national museum is the Rijksmuseum. The museum can be found in the Museum Square and is close to Van Gogh Museum and the famous iAmsterdam sign. While it’s the grandest museum in the whole Netherlands, it showcases masterpieces by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and many other Dutch artists.

Things to Do in Amsterdam in a Day

Amsterdam travel and itinerary is incomplete without some special experience. There are lots of options to make this trip memorable. Some include going on food-tripping, museum hopping to learn more about the Dutch art and culture, going to Heineken museum and partying at the Red Light District, etc. I enjoyed the  most is the DIY walking tour that we did, but honestly after walking for hours and passing by different narrow streets and canals, I got tired of the views. I don’t know if it’s just me but I realized after that they all look the same. I’m still recommending though to visit the Amsterdam due to the following reasons and for sure I’ll be back to experience the lively night life there.

Listen to Street Musicians

Dutch are also musically inclined people. You can spot street musicians in the most touristic places as they are targeting a much wider audience. The bigger the crowd, more tips keep flowing.

Visit the Red Light District

Netherlands is one of the few countries which legalizes prostitution. Be mindful though that it’s not allowed to take photos of the girls in the windows, as some of their family don’t know their line of work. If you get caught, they will confront you to delete the pictures on the spot or worse your phone will be confiscated or destroyed. One thing also to be cautious in this area is the number of pickpocketing incidents.

Try the Amsterdam’s Coffee Shops

Aside from prostitution, Marijuana usage is also legal in Amsterdam. But, of course, it needs to be done only in the allowed areas, like the coffee shops, around the city. It’s not that difficult to spot one since it’s obviously indicated in the signs outside.

Boat/Bicycle/Walking Tours

amsterdam in a day, bicycle tour

amsterdam in a day, bicycle tour

amsterdam in a day, bicycle tour

Another way to experience Amsterdam in a day is by taking a tour. Price is ranging from 17€ to 200€ depending on the duration and the inclusion of the tour, as some have already food included. The city tour takes you to the popular attractions inside the Amsterdam area, but it’s also possible to book for tours in the countryside of Netherlands. If you are feeling adventurous, don’t be afraid to explore Amsterdam on your own. Dutch are friendly and easy to approach if you need some help with the directions. Also, download a free mobile app maps.me that provides offline map. This app will come in handy when visiting Amsterdam for the first time.

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amsterdam in a dayDo you have other suggestions on what to do in Amsterdam in a day? Comment down below!

Kevin del Prado

Kevin is currently working as a Business Analyst. Interests also include traveling, watching movies, outdoor activities, and photography. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

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