Street in Amsterdam along the canal in the late afternoon.

Take a stroll along Amsterdam’s storied canals. (Photo: Getty Images)


The Layover: How to See Amsterdam in 12 Hours

When traveling for business, a long layover in a far-flung place might seem like the last thing you want — if you’re stuck at the airport. Luckily, for those passing through Amsterdam, the city center is just 15 minutes by train from Schiphol International Airport, making it one of the easiest European cities to explore during a layover (or in your spare time between meetings).

Amsterdam is a picturesque place famous for its canals, 1,280 bridges, art museums and welcoming atmosphere.

But if it’s your first time visiting, navigating a day trip can be confusing and time consuming. To maximize your stay, follow this guide to see the city’s highlights in 12 hours or less.

Stash Your Bags and Catch the Train

Once your flight lands and you’ve entered the airport terminal, follow signs to the train, which runs direct to the city center. On the way, you’ll see a sign pointing toward a bank of baggage lockers.

Store your carry-on (since any checked bags are presumably checked through to your final destination) and then head for the train. Purchase your ticket in cash to speed up the process and ride about 15 minutes to Centraal Station.

Refuel with Coffee or Breakfast at Centraal Station

Some 250,000 people travel each day through Amsterdam’s busy Centraal Station via trains, buses, ferries and trams. A hub in the heart of the city, the station is a great shopping and dining destination in its own right.

Once you’ve hopped off the airport train, start your morning with a handcrafted cocoa or coffee at chocolate-lovers’ paradise, Chocolate Company, in the station’s center.

Craving something healthier? Directly across from Chocolate Company, you’ll find one of Amsterdam’s best breakfast spots, Yoghurt Barn. Fill up with a parfait that layers house-made yogurt with fresh fruit and sweet accompaniments like chocolate and coconut.

You’ll find the main tourism office and the starting point of the famous canal tours just outside the station doors.

Take a Canal Cruise

Depart Centraal Station on a narrated cruise through Amsterdam’s famous canal ring, and float past the city’s renowned row homes and streets teeming with cyclists.

Composted of 165 canals, the ring was originally created for trade and transport, and the sheer number of canals means that every tour showcases something different. If short on time, just take the canal cruise before returning to the airport.

Rent a Bike and Ride along the Canals

When traveling for work, it’s tough to fit in time for fitness. Change that while exploring Amsterdam’s cycling culture for yourself.

Rent a bike and sightsee as the locals do — on two wheels. Ride from Centraal Station along the venerated canals, crossing beautiful bridges and passing opulent historic homes to reach Heineken’s waterfront brewery and tour.

Do the Heineken Experience

A veritable beer-musement park for adults, the lines at the popular Heineken Experience can be brutal. Purchase tickets in advance to skip the queue and get right to the tour.

Your entry fee includes historical exhibits, the “Brew U” beer bottle simulation ride, guided tastings and fresh draft brews atop the brewery roof with incredible views of Amsterdam. Even if you don’t normally drink Heineken, experiencing the freshness and flavor here is unforgettable.

Visit the Nemo Science Museum

This striking, copper-green, ship-shaped building certainly stands out, rising above Amsterdam along the River IG. Just a 15-minute walk from Centraal Station, the Nemo Science Museum is packed with four floors of hands-on science exhibits designed for kids but loved by adults, too.

The unique roof terrace, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is considered the Netherland’s highest city square and is free to visit. Explore the community space’s open-air sculpture garden, dine at the restaurant, lounge in the sun or take in harbor and city views.

Visit the Anne Frank House

If you still have time, see the original diary of Anne Frank, one of the most recognized Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and the small space she and seven other people hid in — concealed in her father’s business office behind a bookcase.

The Anne Frank House is a 20-minute walk from Centraal Station, and it’s best to book tickets in advance to prevent a long wait to enter. Visitors without pre-booked time slots are welcome after 3:30 p.m. each day.

Grab a Drink at the Runway Café

Amsterdam business travel
The Runway Café is a friendly sports bar perfect for grabbing a pre-flight beer and a bite. (Photo: Courtesy of Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel)

Before heading to your gate, enjoy a cold Netherlands brew and signature burger at the Runway Café at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center, a 2-minute walk from the airport’s arrivals and departures hall through a covered walkway.

This cozy sports bar is a great place to unwind with a friend or coworker without worries about missing your flight.

Since your luggage is checked to your destination, grab your carry-on from its locker before walking to your gate via security.

Now that you’ve had a taste of this Dutch capital, you’ll be eager to return to see other wonders like the Van Gogh Museum and the famous tulips in spring. See, traveling for work isn’t so bad, after all.