Twelve hours might not seem like a lot of time when it comes to exploring Amsterdam, but you’d be surprised how much you can fit in. For a solid introduction to the Netherland’s capital try this:
Head straight to the Museum District to visit the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum. You won’t be able to cover both of these museums entirely in one morning so pick one for a more in-depth visit, or be very selective in what you see and try to get a flavor of both. The Van Gogh Museum is smaller in size, if that helps with your decision making. Buy tickets ahead of time to avoid the queues as much as possible and keep an eye on the time.
A location between stops that fits almost every budget and gives you a taste of Dutch tradition is Pancakes Amsterdam (Berenstraat). Reservations are not possible so if it is too busy or you fancy something a little more atmospheric that offers both contemporary and traditional Dutch cuisine, try Restaurant Tomaz.
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After lunch head to the Koninklijk Paleis in Dam Square. This fairly nondescript building from the outside has plenty of surprises inside. It is easy to lose track of time amongst all the information, so keep an eye on your watch and skip the smaller side rooms if needed. Originally built as a city hall, the palace is still used for official functions. Therefore, while there isn’t usually a queue to get inside, it is well worth checking on the website to ensure that it will be open on the day you visit.
Next head to the Anne Frank House—assuming you have a reservation. You’ll need to have booked this well in advance via the website. If you don’t have a reservation, then you can try your luck at queuing toward the end of the day. Failing that, substitute it for the morning section of this itinerary, but (depending on the time of year) this can be a risky option.
Book a canal dinner cruise to kill two birds with one stone. You’ll see the city from the water and enjoy something to eat. The dinner cruises are more expensive than the normal cruises, however, so if you are trying to keep costs low grab a fast meal from one of the shops in the train station (or anywhere else that takes your fancy) and then set sail on one of the traditional sightseeing cruises instead.
Depending on the cruise departure time you can visit, before or after, the Red Light District quickly. The Red Light District is safe at night, but like any large city it will be important to pay attention to your belongings. Also, please remember that photos are not permitted.
You’ll maximise your time in the city by booking tickets ahead, wherever possible. For the Anne Frank House this needs to be done as soon as you know you will be visiting the city. You will also benefit from using public transportation for the slightly longer walks or if you find yourself a little lost.