With so much to see and do in Amsterdam, it's often best to just point yourself toward a couple of major areas and wander the laneways and canals. A perfect starting point is Dam Square, the heart of the city. From here you're in spitting distance of the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the stately Royal Palace, and hundreds of shops and cafes. From here, walk up to Centraal Station. You can cross over to Oosterdok and admire the cutting-edge architecture (especially Renzo Piano's design for the NEMO science museum), and take in the exhibits at the temporary relocated Stedelijk Museum. Then head back towards the 14th-century Oude Kerk - which just happens to be in the middle of the 'Wallen', or Red Light District - so, hey, why not have a gander? (Unless you're with kids - definitely not for kids.) Further south-southeast is Waterlooplein Market, a big daily flea market with clothes, souvenirs, and other bargains. The Rembrandthuis Museum is just around the corner.
Along the way you'll pass plenty of cafes and pubs, so refreshment is readily available. There are also quite a few 'coffee houses' should you be curious. There are a few ways to get an overview of the city on your first day. You'll cover a lot of territory in a coach sightseeing tour. Alternatively, make like a local and ride a bicycle; try a self-guided tour of some of the city's impressive old mansions. Then treat yourself at the end of the day with a candlelight cruise along the canals. The 'I Amsterdam' card gets you a canal boat tour and free admission into 24 of the main museums.
Day 2 is Museum Day. Several of them are conveniently clustered together in or near the Museumplein ('Museum Square'), including the Rijksmuseum (which is showing a limited selection of its collection while undergoing renovations), and the Van Gogh Museum, which has an unparalleled collection of the Dutch painter's work. A few minutes' walk away is FOAM, a very fine museum of photography. If that doesn't wear you out, make your way to the Anne Frank House.
Amsterdam being a gorgeous city to be outside in, don't let yourself be cooped up indoors for too long. Stretch your legs in Vondelpark (with its fine 19th-century church) or Oosterpark (home to Tropenmuseum, which specializes in anthropology), or admire the architecture - in addition to its famous 17th-century houses, Amsterdam also has many fine art deco and art nouveau buildings. And when you're all walked out, grab a cold one at the Heineken Brewery
If you happen to be in Amsterdam in the springtime, you might find yourself downwind from the flower fields at Keukenhof Gardens. The grounds here are stunning - you could easily spend the entire day here (note that the gardens are only open from March to May).
Other options farther afield include the fishing villages of Marken and Volendam, local cheese farms, windmills, and the famous blue pottery of Delft. Rotterdam, with its unique collection of modern architecture, is another excellent day-trip option; it's also home to Madurodam , a miniature village composed of typical Dutch buildings. You can also trip over to Belgium for that beer-and-chocolate fix. You can do day tours of Antwerp and Brussels, or Ghent and Bruges.
Want more? Go forth - let your nose follow the scent of tulips and that smoke wafting out of the coffee shops, and let yourself get lost wandering the canals. For more ideas, check out our complete list of things to see and do in Amsterdam