Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands! These days the city has a population of just over 790.000 inhabitants and is the largest city in the country. Amsterdam is located in the province ‘Noord-Holland’, situated in the west. It is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, receiving more than 4.5 million tourists annually.
Amsterdam has a great history. It is very unique for its large and untouched historic center. It has a rich architectural history, dominated by water. It is a meeting point for all different cultures around the world and has a welcoming attitude towards visitors. Well known for its museums, red light district, coffee shops but also the great variety of eating & drinking places and night life. It even claims to be the ‘Gay capital of Europe’. Therefore a lot of hotels and hostels can be found on different locations, value for money and ambience.
It is a beautiful and romantic city with its antique houses, lovely bridges, famous canals and of course the list of world class attractions!
Canal Cruises Amsterdam
Besides providing a stunning backdrop to the city’s historical centre, floating down Amsterdam’s canals is one of the most memorable ways to discover the city's sights and attractions. Whether you’re a first-time or frequent visitor, everything in Amsterdam seems a bit more magical when viewed from a boat.
Most canal cruises take around an hour, in which you'll explore Amsterdam's UNESCO protected canal ring and discover plenty of interesting facts about the city along the way. As well as the excellent one-hour options, other types of canal cruises available include practical hop-on-hop-off services, romantic candle-lit tours, child-friendly adventures and intimate guided boat tours for smaller groups.
A few of the best-known operators include Stromma, Blue Boat, and Lovers. If you’d like to break up your canal cruise with some sightseeing, then the ‘hop-on hop-off’ service is an excellent option.
History of the Amsterdam canals
Alongside tulips and windmills, the global image of Amsterdam is one of a city entwined with water. Since its development in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring has grown to be one of the world’s most unique urban landscapes. And it not only remains a historic and beautiful water network through the city, but a stunning backdrop for fantastic cultural and sporting events throughout the year.
The Amsterdam Canal Ring
Built during the Golden Age of the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring, known locally as the Grachtengordel, is comprised of a network of intersecting waterways. These were developed through the drainage and reclamation of land for new development. Yet what was initially a practical feature, allowing the city to grow beyond its fortified boundaries, subsequently evolved into the area’s characteristic gabled canal-side estates and spectacular monuments thanks to financial enrichment from the booming maritime trade. The most famous trademarks of this new canal belt became the concentric loop of the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel canals.
400 years of Amsterdam's Canal Ring
Since 1999, the city’s distinctive canal landscape has officially been protected, and in 2010 the Amsterdam Canal Ring was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In 2013, the Canal Ring also celebrated its 400th birthday.
Amsterdam’s maritime success in the Golden Age not only led to urban expansion, but a boom in trade and architectural development. This was marked by the building of the city’s remarkable canal-side estates in the 17th and 18th centuries – most of which are still standing today. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to call one of these monuments your home, there are plenty of ways to experience life by the water in both museums and special events in and around the canals.
Located inside an actual canal house, Het Grachtenhuis (Museum of the Canals) is a great way to learn more about the Canal Ring and its development over the centuries, with its multimedia exhibits bringing history to life. And for those looking to experience the present as well as learn about the past, events such as Open Garden Days and Amsterdam Heritage Days allow canal houses and city centre monuments to open their doors to the public.
Festivities on the water
Each year, Amsterdam’s canals play host to a variety of major events on or alongside the water. At the end of April, the city turns orange to celebrate King's Day (formerly Queen's Day), a massive event that sees the canals packed with floating party-goers. Likewise, in August, the highlight of the annual Gay Pride celebrations is the world famous Canal Parade, featuring decorated barges, lots of colour and music, dancing participants and fun for all, whether on a boat or watching from a bridge. The Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival) also brings much music to the Canal Ring.
During a 50-year project in the 17th century Amsterdam grew to four times its previous size, becoming the 3rd largest city in the world after London and Paris.
Central to that plan was the Canal Belt, a network of concentric canals that is now UNESCO listed.
Built on reclaimed land, Amsterdam is a feat of ingenuity, and still crackles with the ambition, cultural tolerance and enterprise that drove the 17th-century Golden Age when the Netherlands led the world in trade, maritime power, culture and economic might.
This is the city of Rembrandt, Anne Frank, the Red Light District, Johan Cruyff, and the Dutch East and West India Companies; there’s a world of fascinating stories, spellbinding art and architecture that has stood the test of time.
TIP: Get the I Amsterdam City Card for free attractions, discounts and free public transport.
The 9 Small Streets shopping district
Opened in 1889. Designed by Pierre Cuypers in the Gothic, Renaissance Revival design with a cast iron roof.
Anne Frank House
On the Prinsengracht, the Anne Frank House preserves the secret annexe where the young diarist Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution from 1942 until she was captured along with her family and four other inhabitants in 1944. The rooms are on an enclosed courtyard behind a 17th-century canal house that served as the Dutch HQs of the spice and gelling companies Frank’s father Otto worked for.
Otto was the Frank family’s sole survivor after the Holocaust, and published his daughter’s diary in 1947. You’ll see the original copy of this defining work, as well as photographs and items belonging to the Frank family and the four other inhabitants of the annex.
The secret rooms give a visceral sense of what it was like to live in hiding, while temporary exhibitions on persecution and fascism will inspire renewed vigilance.
Rembrandt Museum House
Amazingly, the house at Jodenbreestraat 4 where Rembrandt lived and worked from 1639 to 1658 has been kept as a museum to one of the masters of the Dutch Golden Age.
The house first went up in 1606 and was rebuilt around 1627. Come the early 20th century the building was in bad condition, but was restored by the eminent architect Karel de Bazel and opened as a museum in 1911. A new extension was built next door in the 90s, and this houses a huge collection of Rembrandt’s drawings and etchings, while the actual Rembrandt house reconstructs the artist’s living space and workshop.
There’s even an exhibition of broken pots found during an archaeological dig and dated to Rembrandt’s stay.
In 2010 the museum received its first painting by Rembrandt with the Tronie of an Old Man with Turban (1627-1628), followed by four panels from the series The Five Senses n 2017.
A square for the whole nation, Dam Square is traced by the Royal Palace, the National Monument (a remembrance obelisk from 1956) and the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk.
Dam Square is at the point where the Amstel River was dammed in the 13th century, and was the scene of Amsterdam’s central market in Medieval times.
This space has a storied history, and not all of it is savory.
Whenever there has been civil unrest, whether it was Anabaptists in the 16th century or students protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, Dam Square is the place where things have boiled over.
The last outbreak of violence was at the Coronation of Queen Beatrix in 1980, while there was a massacre on the square at the end of the Second World War.
On the lighter side, there’s a funfair on Dam Square for national occasions like Kings Day (27 April) and in the build-up to Christmas.
Reopened and launched as the A’DAM Toren after a two-year renovation, this landmark tower was built on the north shore of the IJ for Royal Dutch Shell in 1966. With 22 floors the tower is 100 metres high and commands a supreme view of the IJ, Amsterdam’s historic centre, it’s many canals and out across North Holland’s reclaimed polder landscape.
At the top there’s a smart interactive exhibition about Amsterdam’s culture and past, while in the revolving capsule on the 19th floor is Moon, a contemporary restaurant using local, seasonal ingredients.
On the floor above, at the observation deck, Madam, is a modern French and Mediterranean eatery.
Something to try before you eat anything is, “Over the Edge”, Europe’s highest swing, off the edge of the building and 100 metres over the ground.
National Maritime Museum
Set on some 18,000 wooden piles on an artificial island in Amsterdam’s Harbour, the National Maritime Museum is in the Dutch admiralty’s former main warehouse, constructed in 1646. Even now it’s a staggering technical feat, with an inner courtyard that has been covered with an immense glass canopy.
Since the Netherlands’ hegemony in the 17th century relied on maritime prowess, the museum inside is essential if you want to understand the dynamics of the Golden Age.
The museum shows how the sea has shaped Dutch culture over 500 years, with displays of maps by the eminent 17th-century cartographers Willem Blaeu and son, navigational instruments, maritime paintings, models of ships, weapons and lots more.
This expansive building on Dam Square wasn’t always a palace, as it was built as Amsterdam’s city hall in the middle of the 17th century.
Composed of yellowy sandstone shipped from Bentheim in Germany, the monument captures a city full of confidence and was believed to be the largest secular building in Europe at the time.
It was Louis Napoleon who turned the building into a palace in 1806, and there are ample reminders from the city hall days.
The sculpture of Atlas crowning the pediment symbolises Amsterdam’s central role in global affairs in the Golden Age.
The Burgerzaal, for Amsterdam’s all-powerful burgomasters, is a sublime marble hall, laid with maps by the Blaeus and has figurative sculptures of the four elements on its arches.
The Empire Style sculpture, furniture, chandeliers and bronze pendulum clocks of Louis Napoleon’s court are still in place and suffused with mythological symbolism.
Thank you I amsterdam tourist office for making our trip to Amsterdam special.
Amsterdam in numbers
Inhabitants in Amsterdam Metropolitan Area: 2,457,296
Night Mayor: 1
Bicycles: 847,000 (estimated)
Bike journeys taken ever day: 665,000
Total kilometres cycled every day: 2 million
Busiest tram line: 2 (42,000 users per day)
Tram line with most beautiful route: 2
Ferry routes (provided by GVB): 6
Public electric vehicle charging points 2418 (and rising)
Canals on UNESCO World Heritage List: 10 (the canals within the Canal Ring)
Bridges in the Canal Ring: 80
16th, 17th and 18th century buildings: 8,863
Gable stones: 654
Royal Palace: 1
Paintings by Rembrandt: 23
The Night Watch: 1
Civic Guard Gallery: 1
Paintings by Van Gogh: 207
Wax statues at Madame Tussauds: 140
Species of animal at Artis Royal Zoo: 535
Species of microbes in Artis’ Microbia: 300
Barrel organs: 4