The Amsterdam Bucket List: 46 Things to Do Before You Die (Or Leave)

everything to do in amsterdam
Europe's Highest Swing | A'DAM Lookout
Europe's Highest Swing | A'DAM Lookout

While Amsterdam may be known as one of the most permissive places on Earth, some things here aren't merely within your right to do, but rather are your responsibility to experience. This list includes EVERYTHING you should be ashamed you've never done in Amsterdam…

de westertoren
Veniamin Kraskov/Shutterstock

You know you need the exercise, and at 40 meters, this is the tallest (and prettiest) tower in central Amsterdam, so the views are unparalleled. It's also super-historic (dating back to 1638), what with the crown of the Hapsburg emperor on top and Rembrandt and others buried in the church below. Entrance is by guided tour only (€7.50), and only six people are allowed to go up every half-hour, so show up at the beginning of the day to reserve the time slot of your choice -- also, it's only open in the summer.

Don't want to make the trip to the pier at Scheveningen beach in The Hague? This clever and high-profile new(ish) NDSM hotel has moved the bungee action closer to home. Not only is it conveniently located, but in this version you go down feet-first in a swinging motion, saving yourself from the head-popping pressure we suffered through doing it the old-fashioned way. You get 30 minutes to admire the view from 50 meters over the IJ, then it's down you go.

Even if it's just for one of the free lunchtime concerts, go to experience what's been unanimously decreed as some of the best acoustics in the world. Robeco SummerNights, going on through August, is an excellent excuse to go.

Bike to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

4. Bike to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

This picturesque village, a mere 30-minute bike ride from the city center, has somehow managed to hold on to its identity and a surrounding swathe of open green space between two of the city's hungry, southern-reaching arms. Several classy restaurants make use of the charming setting -- including one of our favorites, Jaimie van Heije.

5. Bike through the tulip fields around Haarlem in April

This doesn't really need an explanation. Take your bike on the train to Haarlem and start there.

Even if you're not a soccer fan, do it once. The enthusiasm is contagious, and if you speak any Dutch, the taunts the fans throw at each other are... noteworthy (if not always in a good way).

This old village perched at the western reaches of Amsterdam's harbor zone is a squatters community-turned-artist retreat. Basically, it's Amsterdam’s answer to Christiania, where the love and creative juices are flowing whenever they put on an event. The best party of the year is the five-day Landjuweel Festival, this year taking place August 2-6.

Walk by this isolated fountain late at night, right around student-group hazing time, and you might stumble upon a square overflowing with magical bubble foam. It's pretty damn magical -- just don't be the one to get caught trying to make it happen.

9. For the more smartshop-inclined, take your "truffles" to the Amsterdam Forest

There's more space and privacy for you to do your thing, as well as a varying landscape of natural scenery. Spring, when the most flowers are in bloom, is the best time. Bring (sober) friends.

gondola ride amsterdam

Let's take the "Venice of the North" nickname very seriously for a moment here (though Amsterdam actually has more canals, hmph). For €140-250, you can rent out the services of your own gondolier for one or two hours in the boat she made with her own hands. She'll throw in a bottle of prosecco and/or Champagne too, for a little bit extra.

Thanks to Amsterdam's Night Mayor (this is a real position) Mirik Milan, the city's nightlife has never been better -- and by nightlife, we mean 24-hour parties. The 24-hour-license club is now seven members deep: RADION, De School, Tolhuistuin, A'DAM Toren (especially basement club Shelter), Doka, and private party spaces and planners De Overkant and De Koning Events. Even better news: The City has promised to start reviewing new applications for more 24-hour licenses starting in May.

The interior is grimy, the bar staff is frequently rude, they don't hand out shots to the singers like at other karaoke nights, and we've had wallets stolen there more than once -- but let's face it, this loud and cramped drinkers black hole is the best karaoke game in town. You'll leave closer to your friends and to the strangers nearby, all of whom have been up on stage with you at some point in the evening. Usually at the same time.

It's an expat rite of passage to check out this nightly show: a mix of American- and Dutch-baiting sketch and improv comedy from the troupe that used to count Seth Meyers and Jason Sudeikis among its members. Did that whet your comedy appetite? Then check out easylaughs, Mezrab, and the growing number of other English-language comedy and storytelling nights popping up around town. Or take one of easylaughs' weekly workshops.

14. Rent your own boat

Free yourself from the shackles of professional (or even private) tours. Gather up five to seven friends and hit up one of the many rental spots around town -- just remember you'll need a sober driver.

You'll be shocked at how relatively un-scary the whole experience is, and once it's over, you'll have conversation fodder for any tourist you ever meet.

king's day
Elysia Brenner/Thrillist

Yeah, it means blocking out a spot days in advance and getting up early and staying with your stuff… so maybe warm up by selling your stuff at the IJ-Hallen first. But some year soon you're going to need a King's Day break. Or some money.

Sinterklaas is like the love child between Santa and the pope, and he arrives riding a white horse on a steamboat, surrounded by, according to David Sedaris, "six to eight black men." Actually, these are the guys (or gals dressed as guys) you're really going for -- they're the ones who hand out the free candy loot.

18. Eat raw herring from a food truck

You have to, right? I mean, you don't have to. But you definitely should. Aim for June or July for the freshest stuff.

A mass of wheeled Amsterdammers move through the city as a pack once a week, leaving Vondelpark at 8:30pm. Around since 1997, the Friday Night Skate is a social-exercise institution.

If you haven't been to these late-night museum parties each November, you're only punishing yourself. When else can you play cocktail-fueled dress-up or do arts and crafts in museums large and small, and then dance off all that cultural consumption until dawn? If you find the activities not quirky enough, and the 2am closing time downright draconian, just wait until Nuit Blanche rolls around again…

21. Rent a tandem bike

Because it's Amsterdam and you can. And because there's no better way to test a relationship.

amsterdam canal
Eo naya/shutterstock

22. Fall into a canal

You'd have to be really liquored up to go in voluntarily, but, in made-up statistics, about one out of every five Amsterdammers will take an accidental tipsy spill at some point. Consider it your city christening -- just don't be one of the five people per year who drowns.

23. Harvest fruit, nuts, and other plants from around the city to eat at home

Picking edible plants already growing around the city is becoming all the rage in Amsterdam, with everyone from hippies to high-end restaurants offering guided tours and workshops. Zoom in on your area of the Wildplukwijzer ("wild plucking pointer") map to find out what's edible and just laying around on the ground near you, or head to an official spot like the Fruittuin van West for a bigger produce selection.

24. Do an apple pie taste-test: Villa Zeezicht vs. Winkel 43

Do you like your apple pie saucy, or do you prefer it chunky? This is something you need to know about yourself, and the two best slices in the city will help you on your journey of self-discovery.

25. Yell at a tourist walking in the bike path

It feels good, doesn't it? Deep down we all know what that clueless sap feels like. But that's deep down. Up top, we know that the pavement there is pink with a bike painted on it, and they are IN. THE. WAY.

26. Get a bike ticket

Inevitably it will happen: You'll be caught without your lights at night, or running a red. You'll be ticketed. You'll be a contributing member of society. Other common ticket generators: not checking in properly for the tram/metro/train or not putting your garbage in the right spot on the right day. How else do you think the city is paying to clean up after your bucket list antics?

From the Entrepotdok (or the water next to it, if you come by boat) you can see right into the giraffe enclosure without entering the zoo -- the long-necks are just out there walking around on the other side of the fence. From here you can also see zebra, antelope, and a few other animals from the "Savannah" enclosures. From the little Artisplein square around the corner behind the Plantage restaurant, you can also see the flamingos, camels, and actually reach into the petting zoo and steal some free goat cuddles.

28. Get into a bike accident

Hopefully don't break your leg (like we did), then get back up and brush yourself off and get on with life -- maybe a little more carefully for a while.

It's a tulip glass of traditional jenever (drunk to begin like one of those bobbing desk ducks) followed by a full beer chug. The older the bar you do it in, the better.

These funnily shaped, weatherproof umbrellas were invented here because they're needed here. I mean, come on, it just makes Senz. (See what we did there?)

dam square
Ruslans Golenkovs/shutterstock

31. Join in on a random event taking place on the Dam Square

From serious protests to frivolously fun pillow fights and bubble days, there's a lot of random crap that happens on the Dam Square. When you see it, jump in. At least once.

32. Play giant chess

The most well-known spot is Max Euweplein, the Leidseplein-adjacent square named after the country's most famous chess star. But there's another set-up of the same size just in front of the entrance to the Tropenmuseum, and it's never busy. Go there if you don't want an audience, or don't want to wait.

33. Play drag-queen bingo

It's rowdy and it's raunchy, and it happens every Tuesday night at The Queen's Head.

The decor is a nod to the queen (mother, now). The menu is a love letter to garlic, with everything from garlic aperitifs to garlic ice cream, and at the end of your meal they'll give you a pin that apologizes to anyone who comes near you. You'll want to wear it for the next 24 hours.

It's like a zombie, but stronger and more impressive. Have a second if you like. But don't have a third, because the bar staff won't let you.

36. Snack on a HEMA rookworst

HEMA may be the Kmart of the Netherlands, but it's absolutely nailed the delicious national smoked sausage. For some reason the place also bothers to sell really long hot dogs in funny circular breads next to this, but pay them no mind. It's all about the rookworst.

A'DAM Lookout
A'DAM Lookout

Bungee jumping a step too far? Stay firmly in your seat while still dangling your toes a full 100 meters over the IJ in this giant swing built for two on the A'DAM Toren's Lookout platform.

Now that there's also a winter restaurant, this leaping-sheep-spotted, war-era-bunker-dotted islet of (about two) rolling hills just beyond IJburg, in Dutch called Vuurtoreneiland, is open year-round for all-night meal occasions that include a well-stocked round-trip cruise and plenty of leisurely (and boozy) fine dining. Just be aware: Reservations generally need to be booked (on the website) two months in advance.

In a city of small and quirky museums, Electric Ladyland is one of the smallest and the quirkiest… and maybe also one of the few attractions in the world you'll never hear a complaint about, ever. The subject of the museum is fluorescent geology, but it's really just one giant mindtrip/photo opportunity.

40. Swim in the canals on purpose

People (who don't mind smelling funny) have been doing it for years anyway, but now there are more officially clean-and-safe places to take a dip in the Amsterdamse grachten. We recommend starting at Roest.

41. Farm out your fun

Hidden just a 10-minute bike ride behind Westerpark is Buurtboerderij Ons Genoegen ("Neighborhood Farm Our Pleasure"), where the pace of life slows down, even by Amsterdam standards, and the prices are very non-standardly cheap (or even free, at the give-and-take "store").

42. Scream bloody murder at an all-night horror fest

This movie-loving town puts on two a year: Fright Night (formerly known as the Night of Terror) during the Imagine Film Festival in April, and Mr. Horror’s Halloween Horror Show in October. Both pack in a boisterous audience for four films and a whole host of activities, from trivia quizzes to screaming contests, between midnight and 5am.

43. Eat at a foodie pop-up

Any foodie pop-up will do -- there's literally at least one going on every day of the week/month/year (Facebook is your friend). But may we suggest starting with the doehetzelf fusion-dumpling dining option Pinch?

frites amsterdam

44. Get some fries at Vleminckx

Just get in the line snaking up the Voetboogstraat to find out why that line is always there in the first place. Use the power of Google to look up descriptions of your sauce options before you get to the window – these are not terribly patient people (see: line).

Though the oft-flavored Wyngaard cheeses there are equally tasty (or more, if young and soft is your thing), there's nothing quite like the salt crystal-packed two-year-old varieties aged in a centuries-old warehouse, where a professional cheese turner makes sure the wheels evenly soak up the tasty bacteria living in the wood. (Mmmm, antique bacteria…) Plus the cheese guillotines are fun to (responsibly) play with, and cheese and wine tastings are offered daily.

46. Join a King's Day (or Night) boat party

Because some things are cliché for a reason.

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Elysia Brenner is an American freelance writer, editor, and translator (and third-place Night of Terror screaming contest winner) who, after 11 years in Amsterdam, has checked off almost every item on this list... except #18. She will never do #18.