You'll want to limit yourself in what you attempt to accomplish with just a day in Amsterdam. It's better to leave with a few good memories than try for quick, unsubstantial glimpses of everything. That doesn't mean you can't see a lot. The Center is a small enough neighborhood that you'll get around it without much trouble, either on foot or by using public transportation. This itinerary takes you to most of the must-see attractions, and includes the two most popular museums, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Still, the route affords plenty of opportunity for diverting to sights that strike your fancy.
Start: Trams 4, 9, 14, 16, 24, or 25 to the Dam.
1. The Dam
Amsterdam grew up around a dam on the Amstel River that's now a monumental square. So opulent was the town hall on the Dam, royalty took it over for the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace). Teens can join the young people hanging out at the World War II Nationaal Monument, just across the tram rails. Younger kids might want to feed the pigeons in front of the palace.
2. Canal-Boat Cruise
Sailing is easier on your feet than walking, and the view of this city from the water is the best one. Stroll or take any tram from the Dam south along Rokin to Spui and cross the street to get to the tour-boat dock. Catch you back here in an hour.
3. The Begijnhof
A former religious cloister for women, the Begijnhof, founded in the 14th century, is now a residence for elderly women. You're allowed to stroll (quietly) through the tranquil courtyard.
4. Café Luxembourg
The best of the "grand cafes" is a place to kick back for coffee, breakfast, lunch, or a cosmopolitan salad or snack. Dine in the dusky interior or on the sidewalk terrace.
Humpback bridges on Leidsestraat afford views of the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht canals: Amsterdam's 17th-century Golden Age Grachtengordel (Canal Belt). In summer, Leidseplein's sidewalks are just about filled with cafe tables.
6. Café Americain
This Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewel dating from 1900 has lost none of its visual allure, though tourist popularity has ruined its once-exclusive cachet.
Renovative work at Holland's National Museum means that most of this trove of Dutch art and culture is behind impenetrable walls until 2013. Yet the vast collection's highlights alone, squeezed into the Philips Wing, under the title The Masterpieces, is more than worth a visit.
8. Zeebanket van Altena
Nowhere is that Dutch specialty, fresh raw herring, better than at this haringhuis fish stall next to the Rijksmuseum.
The Rijksmuseum is at the top, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum are down one side, and the Concertgebouw is at the bottom of this wide open space. In warm weather, picnic under the trees or cool your feet in an oval pond.
10. Van Gogh Museum
Be prepared to join the line for a museum dedicated to a no-hope 19th-century Dutch artist who sold a single painting during his lifetime and ended his life by suicide. Vincent's admirers are now legion and each of the more than 200 van Goghs hung on the museum's walls is as near priceless as paintings get.
11. The Concertgebouw
If you've planned ahead, you'll be the one with the smug look and the ticket in your pocket for a concert by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Amsterdam's stellar concert hall.
12. Brasserie Keyzer
Dine adjacent to the Concertgebouw at this venerable, atmospheric, and moderately formal restaurant.
A walk in the park should be a relaxing way to end your explorations on a late afternoon or early evening when it's still light. After dark, it's not so desirable.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.