Amsterdam City Guide

Amsterdam guide

Amsterdam is one of Europe's most beautiful cities, with its ancient city centre built around a network of stunning, tree-lined canals. Rich in culture and steeped in history, it is as famous for its artists and museums as it is for its vibrant night life.

Amsterdam is a great shopping city and home to lots of independent & specialists shops. Download our free shopping map to take with you (prints on A4): illustrated Amsterdam shopping guide

The best of Amsterdam

Amsterdam has many highlights ranging from visiting the museums (probably the best in the world), touring the canals to strolling around the beautiful old streets of the city centre.

Perhaps less well known is that Amsterdam excels in speciality shops, independent boutiques, art galleries and all things vintage. The city also enjoys a growing international reputation as an innovative design centre.

The Stedelijk has temporarily moved!

The Stedelijk museum normally houses Amsterdam's collection of contemporary art. However as it is currently being renovated. The full collection will be on view again once the Museum reopens, currently expected to be 2011.

If you are visiting the Oosterdokskade, it is worth taking a look around as this is an interesting area of Amsterdam currently under development. Here you will also find the inspirational new Amsterdam public library Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam which was opened in July 2007. Drop in to browse through newspapers and magazines or to use one of the many computer terminals. Wireless internet is also available. Visit the café on the top floor and enjoy amazing views over Amsterdam.

Also nearby is the beautiful new concert hall Het Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (the Music Building on the IJ), specialising in modern and ensemble music.

While in the area, you can't miss the Nemo (or New Metropolis), Amsterdam's science and technology centre. Housed in a striking building resembling an enormous ship sinking into the IJ. Nemo has a fantastic roof terrace with great views over the city centre. Each summer, the roof becomes a sort of city beach and is open to the public, complete with a café. A great place to lounge around on a sunny afternoon.

Things to do in the city
Amsterdam Classics

21st Century Village
Explore the city by taking a tour of Amsterdam's bustling open air markets
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For special occasions, take a Water Taxi to your destination through Amsterdam's canals
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Try the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Workshop in the old City Centre...
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Take an enchanting private boat tour through the stunning waterways of Amsterdam.
Private Boat Tour...

Amsterdamsterdokskade - Enjoying the sunshine before an openair concert at Het Muziekgebouw aan't IJ

Amsterdam today

Amsterdam has a population of around 740,000 and is the largest city in the Netherlands. It is relatively compact and ideal for exploring on foot. Amsterdam's network of canals is an essential part of the city's charm. The inner city's main canal belt comprises four canals. The innermost - Singel - is the oldest of these main canals, dating from the 1400s, and once marked the outskirts of the still young town of Amsterdam. As the city grew, more canals were added to house Amsterdam's growing merchant population.

In the in the 1600's, the Herengracht, the Kaisersgracht and the Prinsengracht were added. In addition to the main canal belt, a series of smaller but very picturesque canals flow through the Jordaan and other parts of the city.

Canals of Amsterdam - the charming Egelantiersgracht in the Jordaan

Amsterdam historical context

Probably as a result of being underwater for hundreds of years, the city of Amsterdam had a relatively late beginning. It is generally thought to have originated as a settlement of fishermen based around the Amstel River in circa 1200 AD. The original settlers occupied the area which is now known as Dam Square. At that time, this is where the Amstel River flowed into the Ij (then the Zuiderzee, now called the Ijsselmeer).

Around the late 1300s, the settlers built a dam across the Amstel to try to control flooding thus giving the city its name - originally spelt Amstelledamme. It soon flourished as the new route to the North Sea and became a successful trading base, rising to prominence as a port and merchant shipping city by the 1400s.

And so began the Golden Age of Amsterdam, in its heyday one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Its success was built largely on its trading culture, its merchants, its flair for commerce, culminating in the issue of the first share certificate and the creation of the world's first stock exchange (in 1602). It is no doubt due to the city's wealth that art flourished and artists could make a good living from portrait commissions from the wealthy merchants, their families and their guilds (the most famous of which is of course Rembrandt's "Nightwatch").

For a glimpse back in time visit De Drie Fleschjes , Cafe Chris is the oldest bar in the Jordaan and cafe Papeneiland is a great example of an Amsterdam Brown Cafe

In the late 1500s, Amsterdam joined the reformation movement and became a protestant city. Gradually, it earned a reputation for religious tolerance and diversity. As a result, Amsterdam saw an influx of Jews from all over Europe (especially Spain, Portugal and Antwerp) and the Huguenots from France. In fact, Amsterdam's affectionate nick name - Mokum - comes from Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe who sought refuge in Amsterdam in the 17th Century. Amsterdam's reputation today as a city of tolerance no doubt has its roots in the city's accepting past.

Visit the fascinating Amsterdams Historisch Museum to find out more about the story of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam's famous Westertoren looms majestically over the Prinsengracht

Amsterdam - Getting around

Amsterdam is an ideal city to explore on foot, which is the best way to get around the centre. There is also a good network trams, buses and an underground. The ticket system is based on the Strippenkaart (literally a card of strips), with the strips representing zones. In addition to stations and on trams and buses, tickets are also available from tobacconists throughout the city.

Generally, there is little public transport around the canals so the best way to see these is by foot, bicycle or by boat.

Hire a bicycle - be an Amsterdammer for a day...
Hire a Water Taxi – from Amsterdam’s original yellow cab service

Amsterdam is not a car friendly city and driving in Amsterdam is difficult especially in central Amsterdam where the narrow canal streets can get frequently blocked by an offloading truck. There is no free parking anywhere in the city centre. Parking tickets can be purchased from the parking metres.

Cruise ship in Amsterdam's Oosterdokskade

Amsterdam Tourist offices(VVV offices)

Amsterdam has four main tourist information centres where you can drop by to pick up information on bike rental, walking tours, canal trips etc. There addresses are as follows:

Central Station, Stationsplein 15, Platform 2b

Opposite Central Station, Stationsplein 10

Schiphol Airport, Arrival Hall 2

Leidseplein, Stadhouderskade 1

Amsterdam's bustling Nine Street shopping district

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