If you don’t have a lot of time off work but are able to take a cheap flight from any EasyJet or RyanAir port to the Dutch cultural capitol (a train works fine too) you’re in luck because there is now a guide just for you!
To begin, I must presume that your entrance to the city through Centraal Amsterdam Station, which is a piece of art in and of itself - especially during the wee hours of the night and morning when observation would do you good.
While the temptation to go towards the buildings ahead you see is strong, which I understand, you should do two things first. The skyline of Amsterdam is beautiful, it always will be and always has been and one of the best ways to see it is at the Skybar at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel. This is a time sensitive thing - noon is typically the best time to go, so be sure to plan that visit accordingly. The best tip I can give you is to walk in looking and feeling as if you own the entire place. That means not questioning yourself or looking too misshapen - just as you would expect someone might if they were allowed to go up the DoubleTree. The skyline is nothing short of fantastic and it’s quite the rush to sneak up! Following this there is a bicycle rental shop called Star Bikes which offers an eclectic set of choices for bikes without the need of a down payment and for such inexpensive prices rather than the standard tourist bike rental spot which is directly beside the train station for prices to hefty for any budget traveller. Once you have your inexpensive and unique rental bicycle the fun really begins!
The first place to stop is The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, which is over 100 years old. The Basilica lasted stands out strong against the surrounding buildings and is decorated with the religious imagery you’d expect. If you are willing to see a standing piece of history up close, please do. You won’t be disappointed. From there you may go through the Red Light District, where biking in certain areas is not allowed. Please be mindful of this and respectful to the volunteer police and police alike. You are not to take photographs of the men and women as they work, as well. But mostly, don’t be surprised when you see friends of the sex workers stop them for a regular conversation as it’s not taboo in the Netherlands as it is in other places to work in the sex industry. A confusing thing to wrap ones head around, I’m sure. As you go through you will see another church, called De Oude Kerk (The Old Church), which has a cafe and is surrounded by the Red Light District and was made in the 13th century with adaptations along the way. Aside from being so aged, it is host to many cultural events and can even be rented out at will. The entire church is put atop graves of many important Dutch persons, so the floor are all gravestones. A somber and interesting reminder mostly and if nothing else the contradiction between surroundings is utterly laughable. Even more-so when you look on the floor outside and see a bronze statue, called Belle. Look down for her; it’s quite the laugh.
Moving on, as 12 hours is hardly anything to sniff at, go to the Dam Rak where you will see a monument erected in the centre but mostly for the view directly across to the Palace. While it’s not in use much by the Royal family anymore, who knows you might see the new King. If you do, let King Willem-Alexander know who sent you! Provided you haven’t been knighted, you should move onto the Anne Frank House, where sadly you won’t have time to see the inside of but will get to see outdoors while snacking on some Dutch fries (try them with mayonnaise) and laughing at the ridiculous queue. From there I always like to go to my favourite neighbourhoods in the city - Jordaan. It’s a gentrified area of the city but for good reason as the culture surrounding that district is unlike any other in the city. It’s the perfect area for a drink, but you don’t have the time so a bike ride will do!
If you don’t know much about the Netherlands you should know, at the very least, that there is a very large market for Tulips. At one point men would have sold their homes and everything they owned for a tulip so beautiful but so doomed with cancer that it wrecked the Dutch economy. Yes, the Dutch love their Tulips so go see why at the Bloemenmarkt along the canals. Whether you buy anything or not it will be worth it to see all the colours - do pick your seasons appropriately.
Any trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without snapping a photo in the Museum District by the IAMsterdam sign and looking at the beautiful gardens attached to the museums - a thing for a later date, to be sure. For now, you must go onto the Vondelpark biking through for however long you like. It’s much larger than you’d ever expect and busy from locals and travellers alike. It’s the one place where everyone can truly enjoy.
Sadly, the day is slowly dying down and so as you leave the park, return in the direction to Centraal station and pass through the Rembrandtplein to get another few tourist-driven photos of yourself within the statue depicting the artist, Rembrandt, most widely recognized pieces. It makes for a good Facebook photo, if you choose to do it. From there, a view point by Bimhuis is a must. The horizon across the water is truly lovely, as you can see and with one more view point you may overlook the children’s science museum NEMO only to return the bike back, and go to Central station to say goodbye to the city.
With this much packed into such a short amount of time, depending on your pace of biking and preferences there may be things you can skip but all in all this is a wonderful way to spend half a day.