Historic charm collides with contemporary creativity in Amsterdam, if you venture off the beaten track. And the I Amsterdam City Card – the city’s official tourist card – encourages exploration, to help you find Amsterdam’s hidden gems.
There’s plenty of off-beat places to discover in vibrant Amsterdam. Along the Golden Age canals, you’ll find cutting-edge photography inside FOAM’s crooked townhouse and contemporary design shows in a 19th century bling mansion, the Willet-Holthuysen House. Head north to discover emotive digital immersive shows in a former TV studio at Nxt Museum, or an inspiring new home for the country’s film memory at the Eye Film Museum. And in a former gas works to the West, you’ll be wowed by state of the art immersive projection shows at Fabrique Des Lumières.
Having recently spent 48 hours in Amsterdam with an I Amsterdam City Card, in this post I share its hidden gems plus hints and tips to help you make the most of your visit to the Dutch capital. I also explore the commonly asked question – is the I Amsterdam City Card worth it for adults and children?
- WHAT IS THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD?
- EXPLORING AMSTERDAM’S HIDDEN GEMS WITH THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD
- CANAL CRUISES WITH THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD
- USING THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
- USEFUL INFORMATION – AMSTERDAM
- USEFUL INFORMATION – I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD
1. What is the I Amsterdam City Card?
The I Amsterdam City Card is the city’s official city card, which you can buy in digital or paper format. It’s designed to help visitors to Amsterdam save money and discover more of the city. Included with the I Amsterdam City Card are several impressive benefits:
- Free entry to Museums: Free access to over 70 museums and cultural places in Amsterdam, from tourist hotspots such as Rijksmuseum to lesser known gems like the ones I’ll share below.
- Discounted entry to attractions: Reduced price entry for attractions, tours, and activities throughout Amsterdam.
- Unlimited public transport: Free access to the city’s extensive network of trams, metro and buses.
- Canal cruise: One complimentary canal cruise, offering the best view of the city – from its iconic waterways.
- Bike rental: One day’s free bicycle rental.
You can choose an I Amsterdam City Card for different durations, from 24 to 96 hours. With only one paper or digital pass needed for travel and entry to so many places across Amsterdam, it’s a very convenient way to see the city.
2. Exploring Amsterdam’s Hidden Gems with the I Amsterdam City Card
The I Amsterdam City Card includes many of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions, such as the Rijksmuseum, Moco Museum and Stedelijk Museum – all of which I visited for free using my City Card. However, in this post I’ll focus on the hidden gems and lesser known places I discovered on this trip, thanks to the I Amsterdam City Card.
A. The Eye Film Museum
Perched on the IJ river is the Eye Film Museum, an inspiring place for anyone interested in film and film culture.
Designed by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, the striking building itself is reason enough to visit. Inspired by light and film, it has so much motion it looks like it’s about to take off. Its cafe-restaurant has stunning panoramic views over the bustling river to Centraal Station. The riverside terrace would be a great place to soak up some sunshine on warmer days.
Four cinema screens showcase selections from Eye Film Museum’s extensive archive of over 54,000 films. You can browse clips of some of these treasures downstairs in the Film Catcher, and either ‘catch’ them onto tablets to learn more or ‘throw’ them onto the wall. What a unique, interactive way to explore a museum collection!
Elsewhere in their ‘What is Film?’ displays, you can take quizzes in the mini cinemas, use the Green Screen to insert yourself into a scene, and – most popular of all – make a flip book and get it printed in the shop.
Eye Film Museum’s temporary exhibitions focus on the intersection of film making and art. I saw Janis Rafa: Feed me. Cheat me. Eat me. This solo exhibition features films and video installations focusing on the tension between caring for and exploiting animals, alongside metal sculptures and neon artworks. Wandering around this darkened, concrete space where stray dogs roam and blinkered horses race on treadmills across large screens was very eerie. I would love to see how this powerful space transforms other subjects – it has previously hosted exhibitions on Martin Scorsese, Ryoji Ikeda and William Kentridge.
Entry to the Eye Film Museum is free with the I Amsterdam City Card, or €15 standard. It’s free for ages 0-17.
B. Nxt Museum
Nxt Museum, the home of digital art in the Netherlands, focuses on large scale works by established and emerging artists that fuse art and technology.
Inside a former TV studio, their latest exhibition is a retrospective of the London-based post-digital art collective Random International. Through sculpture, kinetics, lights and videos the display explores what it means to feel human today.
On its museum debut is Living Room, one of the most intense physical experiences I’ve had with digital art. Light and fog create strong, tight bars, a living labyrinth which continuously changed around me and the others encased in it. I found myself both fearful of the light, yet longing for it when it disappeared.
Other highlights include gesture responsive swarms, and Presence and Erasure, which prints faces of visitors onto a canvas – a commentary on surveillance, privacy and data.
Nxt Museum is not here just to impress – the visual spectacles are interspersed with smaller areas which explore the meaning and making of the works. The final room showcases the work of emerging digital artists with impressive quality floor-to-high-ceiling projections.
With its immersive and emotive works, Nxt Museum is a great option for teens, as well as those interested in digital art. You only need an hour or so to see it all, and it’s open later than most places, making it easy to fit around a busy daytime schedule.
Entry to Nxt Museum with your I Amsterdam City Card costs €18.75 adult or €12.75 youth (5-17). Standard entry costs €19.75 – €24.75 adult or €13.50 youth. Free for under 4s.
C. Fabrique Des Lumières
I’ve done a lot of immersive projection shows in my time – and Fabrique des Lumières is amongst the best. During my visit, bright, colourful shows on two Catalan artists, Dalí and Gaudí, were projected across the floors and 10 metre high walls using state-of-the-art technology.
The industrial character of the former gasworks purification hall brings even more interest to the shows – I like a canvas with character. There are so many different places to view the projections in the 3,800-square-metres hall, you could watch it multiple times without it feeling repetitive.
Climb the stairs on the viewing platform for stunning views across the double height space, step inside the mirrored infinity pavilion, or find the small space showing photographs of the art and architecture which inspired the main projections.
Don’t miss The Studio, a more intimate cinema-like space where video art wraps around its walls.
The life-size images of Gaudí’s iconic buildings, from Parc Güell to the Sagrada Família, were certainly impressive. My favourite however was the Dalí show, which brought his surreal works to life with movement, humour – and music from the legendary Pink Floyd. The whole experience was so upbeat, I left feeling like I’d just had a really good night out – and it was only 11:00! It’s a great activity for all ages, children included.
Afterwards, take time to explore Westerpark. Where once gas was produced to light Amsterdam’s streets, now you’ll find a thriving cultural quarter with independent shops, markets, restaurants and cafés. There’s quirky sculptures and small playgrounds in the park too.
Entry to Fabrique des Lumières costs €12 with an I Amsterdam City Card. Standard entry costs €16, or €12 youth. Free for under 4s.
They say photography is about seeing the world through a different lens – and that’s certainly the case at FOAM. Explore this labyrinthine canal side townhouse dedicated to photography, and you might find blockbuster exhibitions, smaller shows by recently graduated artists, or intriguing displays on lesser-known photographers from history.
Of the three exhibitions on show during my visit, I most enjoyed Carlijn Jacobs: Sleeping Beauty. The striking works mix surrealism with humour, and the playful exhibition design by Sabine Marcelis enhanced them further – check out that mirror-like floor!
Upstairs, Hira Nabi’s How to Love a Tree: Wild Encounters explores disappearing ecosystems in Pakistan through moving images, audio, text, performance, cyanotypes, silkscreen prints, and even tree rubbings – very different to what you might normally encounter in a photography museum.
Top tip: the museum also runs walk-in workshops on Sundays, which are free with entry and suitable for all ages. Currently you can create AI images using DALL·E, and receive a print of your best image to take home with you.
Entry to FOAM is free with an I Amsterdam City Card. Standard entry costs €15, free for under 12s.
E. The Willet-Holthuysen House
The Willet-Holthuysen House is an Amsterdam hidden gem I would never have discovered without the I Amsterdam City Card. Overflowing with paintings, ceramics, glass and silver this canalside mansion is almost frozen in time – it was given to the city, along with all of its contents, in 1895 by Louisa Willet-Holthuysen.
Louisa inherited the house from her father, a coal-and-glass merchant, and enjoyed an opulent, unconventional life here with her husband Abraham. Originally built in 1687 for the Amsterdam mayor, it was extensively remodelled at great expense by Louisa and Abraham into something that wouldn’t look amiss in the Palace of Versailles – if it were an Amsterdam townhouse, of course.
The stunning interiors are fun to explore, and its elegant garden was a pleasant surprise. Its magnificent spaces play host to exhibitions featuring contemporary artists and collectors too – another example of how Amsterdam mixes its past with present day creativity.
Entry to The Willet-Holthuysen House is free with an I Amsterdam City Card. Standard entry costs €12.50, free for under 18s.
F. The Museum of the Canals (Grachten Museum)
The great thing about the I Amsterdam City Card is that you can be spontaneous with it and try places for free. When culture-loving locals told me that The Museum of the Canals is one of the best museums in Amsterdam, I knew I had to squeeze in a last minute visit. And I’m so glad that I did!
Located in a 17th century canal house, The Museum of the Canals is an inventive romp through 400 years of Amsterdam’s history. Using a handheld audio device, projections, models and maps, it takes a fun and fascinating look at how Amsterdam transformed from a small fishing port, how the canals were built and what they mean to the city today.
I particularly enjoyed how theatrical the experience felt, with surprising moments like stepping onto the sandy floor of the canal bottom! There are lots of hidden details, such as the model of the house you’re in where you can listen to what is happening in each room throughout the centuries.
The tour lasts around 45 minutes, after which you can admire the stunning period rooms with original wall paintings by Jurriaan Andriessen from 1776, or visit the temporary exhibitions and their garden. I saw a fascinating photography exhibition on Amsterdam’s crumbling canals, and the different approaches to shoring them up.
My short visit really helped me understand the history of Amsterdam’s iconic canals. The history is told so engagingly, yet without dumbing down, that it works for almost all ages and interests – as long as they can use a handheld audio device. I’d go so far as to say that all visits to Amsterdam should start with The Museum of the Canals!
Entry to The Museum of the Canals is free with an I Amsterdam City Card. Standard entry costs €16.50, free for under 18s.
3. Canal Cruises with the I Amsterdam City Card
The best way to see ‘the Venice of the North’ is a canal cruise through its iconic waterways. Dug during the Dutch Golden Age, the canals were recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. And you can take one free canal cruise with your I Amsterdam City Card.
From historic landmarks like Westerkerk, past the beautiful merchant houses, to modern waterside structures like Eye Film Museum or NEMO, you’ll see many of the city’s highlights in a leisurely way. Look out for the different types of gables on the beautiful merchant houses, travel under picturesque bridges, and pass the old port of Amsterdam and the life-size replica of an 18th-century cargo ship.
You can choose your free canal cruise from four different operators: Blue Boat; LOVERS; Amsterdam Circle Line Sightseeing and STROMMA. They last between 60-75 minutes, depending on the company.
Locals tell me that the canal cruises are of a similar standard, so instead choose your cruise based on which has the most convenient departure point for you. You don’t need to book ahead – simply head to the canal cruise company’s ticket booth and they’ll put you on the next available sailing. You will find the ticket booth details and departure point locations in the I Amsterdam app.
4. Using the I Amsterdam City Card on public transport
Amsterdam’s compact size and fast, frequent public transport makes it easy to explore its charming neighbourhoods – and it’s free with the I Amsterdam City Card.
Card holders gain unlimited access to the city’s extensive public transportation network, including buses, trams, and metro services. This hassle-free and cost-effective means of getting around helps you to explore the city at your own pace – you can hop on and off transport as often as you like at no cost. I took several trams during my stay – it is so easy with Google Maps to navigate Amsterdam’s public transport network, and the trams announce every single stop onboard too.
To use the I Amsterdam City Card on public transport in Amsterdam, simply board buses, trams, or metro services, presenting the card to the electronic card reader upon entry – and exit. Yes, that includes the trams, so have your ticket ready when you get off, as well as on!
And if you want to get around in true Dutch fashion, the I Amsterdam City Card also includes one day’s free cycle hire.
5. Useful information – Amsterdam
A. Where to eat in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s vibrant restaurant scene offers a delectable array of dining options. Here’s where I enjoyed on my visit:
The sleek, modern restaurant at Eye Film Museum has an unrivalled location, providing stunning vistas of the waterfront. But it’s not just your eyes which are in for a treat – I was highly impressed by its plant-based lunch. This beet salad; with red beet gazpacho, roasted beet and nut crumb tasted as good as it looks! The reasonably priced menu focuses on unpretentious world cuisine, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.
Nestled within the historic Amsterdam Archives building, the Cafe Restaurant De Bazel serves up a diverse menu inspired by Dutch and international flavours. From hearty breakfasts to refined dinners, enjoy high quality dishes with a focus on local produce. The vegan toasted sandwich and seasonal soup I had were the perfect warming lunch. It’s a relaxed place which welcomes all types of diners, and offers organic, vegan and gluten free options. Plus their historic tiling is stunning!
Developed by Refugee Company, A Beautiful Mess pop-up at The Manor Amsterdam is a restaurant with a lot of heart. Its run by people who once fled to the Netherlands, and its menu features the dishes they brought with them. It’s a relaxed, comfortable dining experience that’s great for groups. Share Middle Eastern and African mezze-style dishes whilst sat on benches amongst the earthy colours, natural materials and leafy plants. Vegan food options were limited, but omnivores will be spoilt for choice.
Want to experience some Dutch ‘gezellig’? Then head to De Groene Olifant, a cozy neighborhood café in the Plantagebuurt. From a quick bite or bar snack to dinner, it’s a comfortable place to meet friends, or soak up the traditional brown cafe experience. I enjoyed the vegan bitterballs, friendly service, relaxed atmosphere and great company so much I didn’t take any photos – always the sign of a good evening. It’s only 15 minutes walk from The Manor Amsterdam, where I stayed.
B. Where to sleep in Amsterdam
I stayed at The Manor Amsterdam, a four star hotel located in Amsterdam East. This charming local neighbourhood us less than 15 minutes from the centre, thanks to frequent trams.
Once a hospital, The Manor is decorated in a bold contemporary style, with large crosses from both its medical heritage and the city’s logo used liberally throughout shared areas. The lobby is a calm, inviting space, with a mixture of contemporary furnishings and classic architectural elements. Each bedroom has a different photo mural showcasing the best of Amsterdam. Mine featured a canal statue – if you head to reception you can see photographs of them all.
As well as a large, comfortable bed, my standard room had an en suite shower room, neon feature lighting and a Nespresso machine. It was quiet at night, even though it overlooked the main road. Family rooms are available.
Staff were welcoming, and their pride in the hotel was evident – some have worked for the hotel or its parent company for many year. I particularly appreciated the effort the kitchen staff went to at breakfast to provide me with vegan food – they ordered in special breads and the most delicious little cakes! There’s a little vending machine in reception for things you might have forgotten and the onsite bar was a relaxing place for my drink of choice, a negroni.
If you appreciate a quieter place to retreat to after a day of exploring, yet with easy access to the city’s attractions, then The Manor Amsterdam is one to consider.
C. Getting to Amsterdam
I took the Eurostar from St Pancras International to Amsterdam Central. It’s an easy and environmentally friendlier option to flying – you don’t have to get to an airport, and check in times are much reduced too. It takes less than four hours from centre to centre, and if you select a direct train, there’s no need to change – I hadn’t realised that the trains were running direct in both directions again.
A small caveat: Eurostar have just announced that between June 2024 and January 2025 there will be no direct trains from Amsterdam Central to London St Pancras, whilst they do works to improve capacity. Passengers to London from Amsterdam will change at Brussels.
This time I travelled Standard Premier, which made a good journey even better. It cost an €10 extra on the way there, and €35 on the return journey. As well as extra spacious seats, you get a light meal, snacks and drinks served at your seat. Breakfast is usually fresh fruit, yoghurt and a pastry, served with hot drinks and juice. From 10:15 onwards, lunch or dinner is a cold dish followed by dessert, and served with wine and hot and cold drinks. You also get a couple of snacks and refills during the journey.
Eurostar’s menu focuses on sustainability – they’re the first transport provider to receive top marks from Food Made Good with a Three Star Rating. Menus change according to the season, and they work with local farmers, growers and producers. You might even get honey from Eurostar’s own hives in Kent!
My tip: if you have any dietary requirements, log into your booking at least 48 hours before departure to order the food you need. They don’t ask your food choices when you book – but if you haven’t ordered it they probably won’t have spares on the train.
6. Useful information – I Amsterdam City Card
A. Where can I buy the I Amsterdam City Card?
The easiest and most secure way to buy the I Amsterdam City Card is to order it through the official website. Click here to purchase yours.
You can the activate your City Card when you choose – either through the App for the digital card, or the first time you use it for the physical card.
To use your digital or physical card you simply show your card at the entrance or scan it on any tram, bus, or metro.
You can also purchase the I Amsterdam City Card at key locations throughout Amsterdam, including the I Amsterdam store in Centraal Station, major museums and transport hubs.
B. Is the I Amsterdam City Card worth it?
The answer from me is a resounding yes! If you’re an adult planning to visit a few places in Amsterdam, and especially over a few days, then I think the I Amsterdam City Card is definitely worth considering. Starting at €60 for 24 hours, the daily cost of the card drops significantly for longer uses – it’s €125 for 120 hours. That’s from €25 a day for free entry to numerous museums, unlimited public transport, a canal cruise, and more. There are also interim options of 48, 72 and 96 hours.
Here’s how much I saved in my 48 hours in Amsterdam using my I Amsterdam City Card, in order of saving:
- Rijksmuseum: €22.50 adult entry
- Stedelijk Museum: €22.50 adult entry
- Moco Museum: €21.95 walk up adult entry
- ARTIS Micropia: €17.50 adult entry
- Grachtenmuseum / Museum of the Canals: €16.50 adult entry
- Canal cruise: €16 adult
- GVB public transport card: €15 for 48 hours
- Eye Film Museum: €15 adult entry
- FOAM: €15 adult entry
- The Willet-Holthuysen House: €12.50 adult entry
- Fabrique Des Lumières: €4 saving vs full price
- Nxt Museum: €1-€5 saving vs full price
Total savings with I Amsterdam City Card: €179.45
Cost of 48 hour pass: €85
Savings after cost of pass: €94.45
Obviously your itinerary will likely be different to mine, but it goes to show that you can make significant savings with the I Amsterdam City Card.
C. Is the I Amsterdam City Card worth it for children?
My answer to this is – maybe. There is no special child or family price for the I Amsterdam Card so you need to consider how many days you’ll be using the pass and whether the places you’ll visit have child discounts. Remember that most of the museums in Amsterdam are free for under 19s. My itinerary was designed for adults, but a child visiting the same places would save €58.45, which is less than the €85 cost of the 48 hour pass. However, with a different itinerary, and especially with a longer stay, you could still save money using an I Amsterdam City Card for a child. So do the maths – if it works out cheaper, you could always do a combination of paying as you go for any children, whilst using I Amsterdam City Cards for the adults in your party.
D. Top Tips for getting the most out of your I Amsterdam City Card
- Consider visiting Amsterdam for longer
The daily cost of the City Card goes down the more hours it is valid for – the 120 hour pass is only €25 a day, so why not go for 5 days? We spent two brilliant weeks in Amsterdam one summer with kids from teen to toddler. We ran out of time before we ran out of things to do! You can read our highlights in this blog post, many of which accept the I Amsterdam City Card.
- Plan your schedule
If you plan ahead, you can easily fit an earlier or later opening into your schedule, making even better value of your I Amsterdam City Card. Usual museum opening hours in Amsterdam are 10:00-17:00 or perhaps 18:00. The Rijksmuseum opens an hour earlier, at 09:00 daily, and it’s a lot quieter then too! The Eye Film Museum exhibition is open until 19:00 daily whilst the Moco Museum opens until 19:00 Monday to Thursday and 21:00 on Friday to Sunday. On a Thursday or Friday, FOAM Museum also stays open until 21:00. And Nxt Museum stays open until 20:30 Sunday to Tuesday, 21:30 on a Wednesday and a whopping 22:30 Thursdays to Saturdays!
- Allow for spontaneity
Conversely, don’t pack your schedule too tightly – allow time for chance discoveries. When you’re out and about, open the I Amsterdam app to find out which places near you accept the City Card. With so many free places to visit, it won’t cost you any extra – and there’s always the chance you’ll uncover a new hidden gem. Plus by sticking to one area you’ll save travel time – giving you yet more time to explore.
- Common mistakes to avoid
The I Amsterdam City Card does not include some museums such as the Van Gogh Museum, transport to the airport, or travel outside Amsterdam, so do check your itinerary before purchasing the card to make sure it is right for you. Some popular attractions, such as the Rijksmuseum, require advance booking even with a City Card. Check the requirements for each attraction to avoid disappointment.
In conclusion, the I Amsterdam City Card helped me discover many hidden gems. From the inspiring exhibits at the Eye Film Museum, the immersive digital art experiences at Nxt Museum, the captivating projection shows at Fabrique Des Lumieres, the photographic wonders of FOAM, to the opulent Willet-Holthuysen House and the inventive journey through Amsterdam’s canal history at the Grachten Museum, Amsterdam surprised and delighted this seasoned cultural explorer.
The I Amsterdam City Card offered me significant cost savings, proving it can be a valuable companion for those seeking an authentic, affordable exploration of Amsterdam.
Let me know your Amsterdam hidden gems – comment below, or DM me on Instagram to compare notes! And if you use the I Amsterdam City Card, I’d love to hear which new places you discover with it.
Disclosure: I was the paid guest of amsterdam&partners. All thoughts and words are my own.