Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of 24 August 1815 and its successors. The city is in the province of North Holland in the west of the country. It comprises the northern part of the Randstad, the sixth-largest metropolitan area in Europe, with a population of approximately 8.1 million according to larger estimates.
Its name is derived from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city’s origin: a dam in the river Amstel. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed. The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam (in Dutch: ‘Grachtengordel’), located in the heart of Amsterdam, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2010.
The city is the financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters there, and 7 of the world’s top 500 companies, including Philips and ING, are based in the city. In 2010, Amsterdam was ranked 13th globally on quality of living by Mercer, and previously ranked 3rd in innovation by 2thinknow in the Innovation Cities Index 2009. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world, is located in the city centre. Amsterdam’s main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops draw more than 3.66 million international visitors annually.
Sail the canals
The city built on and around a network of canals is best explored from the water. A canal cruise will take you through all the historic buildings, bridges and places of interest, give you a glimpse into grand houses and marvel at some truly incredible architecture. A few of the most notable canal cruise operators include Lovers and Canal Company.
Spend some time with the Old Masters
Paintings by Rembrandt (The Night Watch), Vermeer (The Milkmaid), and other Dutch Masters put Amsterdam on the map as a centre of artistic innovation. Visitors come from around the world to see these masterpieces in all their glory at the Rijksmuseum. The building itself, the largest museum in The Netherlands, is a spectacle in itself. It was designed by Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers and built between 1876 and 1885. Amsterdam’s iconic park is a vibrant inner city space, where locals and visitors alike go to picnic, sunbathe, exercise and socialise. Vondelpark was designed by landscape architect L.D. Zocher and has since been awarded national heritage status. A selection of cafés and restaurants are dotted throughout the park, and the open air theatre and extensive rose garden is well worth a look.
Get to know Van Gogh
The artist who made a profound contribution to modern art created an astonishing 900 paintings during his lifestyle. A large collection of these can be viewed at the dedicated museum: the Van Gogh Museum. The permanent collection is supplemented by fascinating artefacts, letters, Japanese prints and recordings that give an insight into the life, and personal struggle, of one of the greatest artists of the 19th century. The museum also hosts exhibitions that give a broader perspective of Van Gogh’s influences and themes.
Wander around the iconic canals
The winding waterways that Amsterdam is known for around the world, hark back to the Golden Age. Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), and Prinsengracht (Princes’ Canal) provide some of the most impressive photo opportunities in the city. Walk through the tree-lined streets to see 17th-century canal houses with classical features and gables. The Canal Ring provides the backdrop for some of the city’s best cafés, restaurants and boutiques.
Visit a more obscure museum
Aside from the grand galleries, Amsterdam is also home to some unique and quirky museums that can be found alongside the canals. The Museum of Bags and Purses is just what the name suggests, the Museum Van Loon is the historic house of a wealthy merchant family, Het Grachtenhuis (Museum of the Canals) reveals all you ever wanted to know about the canals, and FOAM fotografiemuseum is a Mecca of contemporary photography.
Explore the historic Nine Streets
These nine narrow streets (Negen Straatjes) in Amsterdam’s fashionable Jordaan neighbourhood are where you will find the most scenic views of canals, historic architecture and charming cobbled streets which date back to the 17th century. Today the Nine Streets are dotted with highend boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, café terraces, Michelin-starred restaurants and a well-heeled crowd.
See Anne Frank’s former home
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without visiting the Anne Frank House: the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. Here you can peek into the secret space where Anne and her family lived, and learn about the harrowing stories surrounding Nazi occupation in Europe. Anne’s original diary is preserved in the museum, along with notebooks and personal possessions to create a touching picture of life in the annex. It is recommended to book well in advance to tour the museum.
Immerse yourself in history at the Hermitage Amsterdam
The Hermitage Amsterdam is a fascinating museum housing collections and exhibitions from the world-renowned Hermitage in St Petersburg. The museum presents a varied programme of special exhibitions, drawing large crowds that come to see the priceless artworks and archaeological discoveries with an emphasis on Russian history.
Stroll through the Red Light District
As one of Amsterdam’s most controversial neighbourhoods, the Red Light District has roused curiosity around the world. Separate the facts from the stereotypes by taking a walk through this unique part of town. The glowing red windows, sex shops and peep shows are clustered throughout the oldest part of Amsterdam, which is worth exploring for its history alone. The Museum of Prostitution and several walking tours explain everything you ever wanted to know about the world’s oldest profession in Amsterdam. Note that photographing the women in the windows is strictly prohibited. While you’re in the area, it is worthwhile exploring Nieuwmarkt square, which was once a bustling market, the gothic Oude Kerk church and the Zeedijk, Amsterdam’s Chinatown that is filled with culinary delights and a beautiful Buddhist temple.
Uncover the secrets of the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
Hidden away behind the façade of a house, is one of Amsterdam’s most intriguing museums. Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Museum) was built during a time of Protestant Reformation, when Catholic Mass was forbidden. A wealthy merchant had an opulent church built in the attic of his home, hidden away from public view. Step inside this unique piece of history and discover the relationship between religion and art through its exhibitions on themes of religious diversity.
Find food and treasures at the Albert Cuypmarkt
Street markets are plentiful in Amsterdam, and the Albert Cuypmarkt is one of the largest and longest standing. Visitors and locals have flocked to the outdoor market since 1905 to shop for fresh vegetables, fish, flowers, clothing, luggage and collectables. You could spend hours walking the long street, following the delicious aromas from stall to stall. The market is a great opportunity to sample Dutch delicacies such as sticky sweet stroopwafels, raw herring and local cheeses. In addition to the market, the De Pijp neighbourhood boasts some exceptional cafés, restaurants, bars and vintage stores.
Have the ultimate Heineken Experience
The green-bottled national icon is the biggest international beer distributor in the world, and its origins began in the heart of Amsterdam, where it was brewed until 1988. The former brewery is now a national monument listed in the European Route of Industrial Heritage, and an exhibition space where interactive exhibits demonstrate the brewing process, traditional techniques and interesting facts about its history. A visit to the Heineken Experience takes about 90 minutes including a tour and tastings, and two drinks are included in the admission price.
Dam Square which includes The National Monument (which is a 1956 World War II monument )
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam.
The English Reformed Church is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam, situated in the centre of the city.
The ancient, restored wooden house (“Houten Huys”, 34 Begijnhof) is famous as one of the two wooden houses still existing in the center of Amsterdam
The Zuidas (literally South Axis in Dutch) is a large, rapidly developing business district in the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Zuidas is also known as the ‘Financial Mile’.
In the city centre, driving a car is discouraged. Parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or are one-way. The local government sponsors carsharing and carpooling initiatives such as Autodelen and Meerijden.nu. Public transport in Amsterdam mainly consists of (night)bus and tram lines operated by Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf. Regional buses, and some suburban buses, are operated by Connexxion and Arriva. Currently, there are 16 different tramlines. There are currently four metro lines, with a fifth line, the North/South line, under construction. Three free ferries carry pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ to Amsterdam-Noord, and two fare-charging ferries run east and west along the harbour. There are also water taxis, a water bus, a boat sharing operation, electric rental boats (Boaty) and canal cruises, that transport people along Amsterdam’s waterways.
The A10 ringroad surrounding the city connects Amsterdam with the Dutch national network of freeways. Interchanges on the A10 allow cars to enter the city by transferring to one of the 18 city roads, numbered S101 through to S118. These city roads are regional roads without grade separation, and sometimes without a central reservation. Most are accessible by cyclists. The S100 Centrumring is a smaller ringroad circumnavigating the city’s centre.
Amsterdam was intended in 1932 to be the hub, a kind of Kilometre Zero, of the highway system of the Netherlands, with freeways numbered one through eight planned to originate from the city. The outbreak of the Second World War and shifting priorities led to the current situation, where only roads A1, A2, and A4 originate from Amsterdam according to the original plan. The A3 road to Rotterdam was cancelled in 1970 in order to conserve the Groene Hart. Road A8, leading north to Zaandam and the A10 Ringroad were opened between 1968 and 1974. Besides the A1, A2, A4 and A8, several freeways, such as the A7 and A6, carry traffic mainly bound for Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is served by ten stations of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways). Five are intercity stops: Sloterdijk, Zuid, Amstel, Bijlmer ArenA and Amsterdam Centraal. The stations for local services are: Lelylaan, RAI, Holendrecht,Muiderpoort and Science Park. Amsterdam Centraal is also an international train station. From the station there are regular services to destinations such as Austria, Belarus, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Switzerland. Among these trains are international trains of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen and the Thalys(Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris-Cologne), CityNightLine, and InterCityExpress. Eurolines has coaches from Amsterdam Amstel railway station to destinations all over Europe.