It had been a little quiet in terms of work travel recently. But in April, I finally had a business trip coming up. The first one this year. To the Netherlands. And since Amsterdam was the nearest airport, I decided to make the most of it with a brief sightseeing tour of Amsterdam. As with most work trips, time would be limited, but I had it all planned out. I would be landing in the afternoon and stay the night in Amsterdam. Sufficient time for a self-guided 2 hours in Amsterdam walking tour.
I’m not saying 2 hours in Amsterdam is nearly enough to see it all. Far from it. In an ideal world, I would allow for a whole weekend for a sightseeing tour of Amsterdam. But if 2 hours in Amsterdam is all you have, you better make the most of it. And I fully intended to do just that.
This wasn’t my first stay in Amsterdam. I have visited a few years back, when Mr T and I did a trip through the Netherlands (Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Ijsselmeer) before heading to Germany. Back then I didn’t really enjoyed Amsterdam much. Which somewhat confused me. Because I really wanted to like Amsterdam and couldn’t work out why I didn’t. But I think we were just unlucky with our timing. It was at the height of summer and boiling hot. And as if that wasn’t enough, the day before Amsterdam hosted a big street parade. Meaning, the city was chock-a-block with visitors and rather smelly and dirty. Paired with the heat and all present smell of weed and Amsterdam summed up my idea of hell. We arrived in the afternoon and only stayed one night. But in the end, we called it a day straight after breakfast and headed to the beach instead of exploring Amsterdam more.
When my work trip came up, I had high hopes that Amsterdam would finally redeem itself. After all, Amsterdam has plenty to offer, and it SHOULD be right up my alley. And I am glad to say, I did enjoy it a lot more second time round. Still not saying that it is my favourite city in Europe, but at least it isn’t bottom of the barrel anymore.
So, why would you even consider 2 hours in Amsterdam? What is the point if you will barely scratch the surface during a rushed sightseeing tour of Amsterdam? True. But surely, I am not the only person that frequently finds herself with just a few hours in a major city? Whether you have a couple of hours layover at Schiphol Airport or like me have one night during a business trip, why not make the most of your 2 hours in Amsterdam (or three or four).
As I came from London, I opted for a flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. I could have done Eurostar to Amsterdam Centraal instead, but truth to be told, I completely forgot about that option at the time. So instead, it was a KLM flight from London City Airport.
How to get from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam
Despite Schiphol being one of the biggest and busiest airports in Europe, this was actually my first time there. Yes, I can hardly believe it myself. Before I went, I did a quick check on the best option to get from the airport into town.
Good news. Turns out it is super quick and easy to get from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam. So, even if you only have a few hours stop over at Schiphol, it is well worth heading into town and spending 2 hours in Amsterdam.
The easiest way from Schiphol Airport into Amsterdam is by train. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station in the centre of Amsterdam. And to make it even easier, you don’t even need to buy a ticket. Just use your contactless payment card to touch in and out. A single adult ticket costs just 4.90 EUR. Which is actually cheaper than taking the bus from Schiphol to Amsterdam. The bus costs 6 EUR and takes 45 minutes. A no brainer in my book.
2 hours in Amsterdam: A self-guided walking tour
It might not always be the case, but this time I came prepared. I made a list of all the places I would like to see and tried to work out a walkable sightseeing tour through Amsterdam that would ensure I could see it all in around 2 hours. Preferably without backtracking on my own path. And without relying on public transport.
If you look at Amsterdam on a map, you will see that it looks quite different from many other European capitals. Wherever you turn, there is a water way. Or at least it feels like it. Three main grachten (canals) run through the centre of Amsterdam: Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht. They were dug in the 17th century and form three circles around the inner city, the Grachtengordel (canal belt). Which means that getting from A to B might not always be a straight line. You might have to walk up and down canals a little before getting to the next bridge. Checking your map before setting off might be a good idea for a change.
Overall, my sightseeing tour through Amsterdam was around 7km, so totally doable on foot.
Centraal to Dam Square
Since I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal (and I guess a lot of you would also start there, if coming from the airport), it made sense for me to start my Amsterdam sightseeing tour right here.
After a quick stop at my hotel to check in and leave my luggage, I walked down Damrak until I arrived at Dam Square (around 750m). If you fancy some shopping rather than walking during your 2 hours in Amsterdam, Damrak (and Rokin beyond) is the perfect spot.
As you walk, keep an eye out for the Beurs van Berlage building on the left-hand side. The large red brick building was originally built as a commodity exchange at the end of the 19th century. Nowadays it is used as a concert and exhibition venue.
Dam Square is the main town square in the historical centre of Amsterdam. As the name suggests, it was built as a dam for the river Amstel that originally ran down what nowadays is Damrak and Rokin.
There is plenty to see around Dam Square. Immediately to your left, you have the Bijenkorf Department Store with the National Memorial in front.
To your right, you have the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk.
The Koninklijk Paleis op de Dam is one of three palaces in the Netherlands still in use by the Royal family. It was originally built as Amsterdam’s City Hall in the 17th century but became a Royal Palace under King Louis I in the early 19th century. If you have more than 2 hours in Amsterdam, you can go inside the palace, but unfortunately, I did not have time for that. The palace is open most days from 10am to 5pm (until 6pm in summer) and you will have to buy a ticket upfront (12.50 EUR for adults).
Once you’ve had enough of the palace, the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) is just to your right. Even though the name might suggest otherwise, the Nieuwe Kerk isn’t really all that new. In fact, it’s been around since the 15th century. Nowadays it is no longer a consecrated church, instead it is used as an exhibition space.
The Nieuwe Kerk is open from 10 till 5 and tickets cost 15.50 EUR.
2 hours in Amsterdam: Dam Square to Anne Frank Huis
With Dam Square done, exit between the palace and the church. As the next stop on our Amsterdam walking tour is just behind the Royal Palace.
Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal)
Nowadays the Magna Plaza is a luxury shopping mall. But the impressive Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance style building started out as the main post office. Built at the end of the 19th century, the exterior looks as impressive nowadays as it did back then, with its detailed multicoloured brickwork. The building was declared a Dutch heritage site back in the 1970s, but once the post office moved out, it eventually was refurbished and reopened as a shopping mall in the early 90s. The shopping centre is open from 10am till 7pm daily. But since I was ploughing on to see as much as possible during 2 hours in Amsterdam, I did not get a chance to see the interior (by the time I made it back to the area, it was closed unfortunately).
From here, we’ll gradually continue to the Anne Frank House. If you have time, check out Spuitstraat first. Apparently, it has some amazing street art. Unfortunately, I made a note of it, but then completely forgot to stop there. So, if you do make it there, please let me know if I missed out big time (the answer is probably yes, but there is always next time, I hope).
To get to the Anne Frank House, you will cross three grachten: Singel, Herengracht and Keisersgracht, before you eventually make it to Prinsengracht, where the house is located. Enjoy the canals and beautiful facades on your way. After all, the grachten (canals) is what Amsterdam is all about.
I am a little unsure whether I should really include the Anne Frank House in my recommendations for 2 hours in Amsterdam. As two hours in Amsterdam won’t really give you enough time to visit the museum. All that you will be able to do is see the exterior of the house on Prinsengracht. Which looks pretty much like any other house on the road. Apart from the tourist crowd in front of it.
I did include the Anne Frank Huis on my Amsterdam walking tour. But in hindsight I would have rather skipped it and used the time elsewhere.
If I had more time, I would have definitely included the Anne Frank House in my Amsterdam itinerary. Visit the museum and learn some more about the Jewish girl, that hid with her family for two years to escape the Nazis and documented it all in her diaries.
If you do decide to head to the Anne Frank house, you might also want to have a quick look at the Tulip Museum across the canal. It is open daily from 10am to 6pm and entry costs 5 EUR. Don’t ask me, if it is worth it. I honestly don’t know. As it was already closed by the time I arrived.
Amsterdam walking tour: Anne Frank Huis to Museumsplein
Once done with the Anne Frank house (and possibly the Tulip Museum), we continue our 2 hours in Amsterdam tour.
To get to our next stop, you can either walk back towards Dam Square and then down Spuistraat. Or go along the canals and head back along Huidenstraat. Totally up to you. But either way, you want to go back across the Singel canal and into the inner part of Amsterdam. As we are heading to the Begijnhof next.
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam. A ‘hofje’ is a courtyard with charitable housing, usually for elderly women.
The Begijnhof was founded in the Middle Ages and is a private courtyard hidden away behind Spui and Gedempte Begijnensloot. Nestled around two central greens you’ll find a row of Amsterdam town houses, as well as two churches.
Look out for the Houten Huis, one of only two surviving wooden houses in Amsterdam. As you walk around Begijnhof, please remember that this is not just a tourist attraction. People live here. So please don’t be a nuisance to the residents.
The next stop on our Amsterdam walking tour is the Bloemenmarkt (flower market). After all, the Netherlands are famous for their colourful tulips. Located on the Singel canal between Koningsplein and Muntplein, the floating market offers a myriad of flowers. The stalls are floating barges and they offer tulips and other flowers in planters, as bulbs or ready cut bunches. The Bloemenmarkt is open daily until 5.30pm, all year round. And if flowers aren’t really your thing, most stalls also offer other souvenirs. Like cute little porcelain trinkets in famous Delft blue. I ended up buying myself a little Amsterdam town house to go on my Christmas tree. Don’t judge, I do quite like to buy myself little souvenirs every now and then that serve some sort of purpose (if only to look pretty on my Christmas tree), rather than collect dust on a shelf all year.
Walk across the flower market, then continue down Nieuwe Spiegelstraat towards the museums square.
2 hours in Amsterdam: Museums and Red Light District
Once you cross the Museumbrug (museum bridge), the Rijksmuseum will be right in front you. The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands and displays around 8000 pieces of art. At 22.50 EUR / adult I would suggest you allow some time here. So probably not ideal, if you only have two hours in Amsterdam. Also, the museum closes relatively early at 5pm. Meaning I didn’t really get a chance to go in at all.
Actually, I didn’t even get to go through the museum grounds to exit the other side, thanks to some event happening that evening. The entire museum and its grounds were closed off, police were stationed along the perimeter and there were a couple of (I assume) fans and paparazzi waiting outside… don’t ask me what was going on, I haven’t got a scooby doo (clue).
The Rijksmuseum isn’t the only museum in the area. As you reach the museum square on the other side, you’ll also find the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. As the name suggests, the Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the works of Van Gogh (who would have thought). The Stedelijk specialises in design as well as modern and contemporary art.
Should I eventually come back for a full weekend of exploring Amsterdam (maybe during one of our mother-daughter weekends, who knows), I will definitely visit at least one, if not all 3 of those museums.
I leave it up to you if and how much time you’d like to spend at the museums. But when you are ready, we’ll head back towards Amsterdam city centre.
No sightseeing tour of Amsterdam is complete without a walk through the red-light district. Even if you only have two hours in Amsterdam, you could still include De Wallen in your itinerary. Obviously, it depends on time of day… the later in the evening, the more interesting the area becomes. If you are exploring Amsterdam during a morning layover, that might not be the most interesting time.
De Wallen – red light district
De Wallen is the largest red-light district in Amsterdam and located in the oldest part of the city centre. As you wander along the canal, you’ll find charming 14th century houses line the banks. Head into the little alleys and you’ll find plenty of prostitutes offering their services behind windows and doors. The red illumination of those windows is what gives the area its name.
De Wallen is a big tourist attraction and will be particularly crowded in the evening. And no photography allowed. Personally, I had a brief wander, but left the area relatively quickly. Too crowded for my liking.
The last stop on our two hours in Amsterdam tour is the Oude Kerk (old church). Located in De Wallen, it is the oldest building in Amsterdam, consecrated in the 14th century.
The church is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm. Its church tower apparently offers a great view of Amsterdam. But you will need a ticket to access the tower. Tickets cost 13.50 EUR for adults. Unfortunately, the church was closed the day I visited, so I didn’t get a chance to see the interior or head up the tower.
With my 2 hours in Amsterdam tour completed, I went back towards Dam Square to try and find some food (and give my feet a little rest).
I hope you enjoyed my little Amsterdam walking tour. I know, it barely scratched the surface of what to do and see in Amsterdam. But I believe, if you only have two hours in Amsterdam, it does give a good overview. And definitely better than not seeing anything at all. Which has happened to me only too often during business trips.
If I had more time, there would have been more things that I would have liked to do. Like a canal boat tour. A walk through Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam. A visit of Waterlooplein market, the oldest flea market in Amsterdam. Or even a stroll through the Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus).
And if you are into beer (which I am not), the Heineken Experience might also be an interesting stop.
What do you reckon. Anything else I should have included in my two hours in Amsterdam walking tour? What is your absolute Amsterdam highlight?