Amsterdam: 25 Must-See Highlights - AmazingPlaces.com

Amsterdam

Multicultural city in a historic setting

Amsterdam in The Netherlands is much more than canals and the Red Light district. It is a wonderful city for shopping, and for a nice dinner or a drink. It has a great variety of attractions and things to do.

The canals of Amsterdam make it a very special city, time after time. It has many famous attractions, for instance Anne Frank’s house. The many coffee shops make Amsterdam a modern city, where a striking multicultural society can be found. The rich past is never far away.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Since August 2010, the Amsterdam canals have been officially on the Unesco World Heritage List. According to the UN committee, the old city center of Amsterdam is a cultural location that is of exceptional value from an international perspective.  The canals, also sometime called the Venice of the North is the ninth world heritage site in the Netherlands.

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. ©Christian Fregnan

The Rijksmuseum opened recently after a large-scale renovation. The building now fits perfectly with the many masterpieces that you will find in this world-famous museum. There is a lot to discover on your visit.

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Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is very well known. This museum has the most painting of Vincent van Gogh in the world, and of his pupils. You can see about 200 paintings of the Dutch master. Among the most famous works are the Potato Eaters, Bedroom in Arles and one of three sunflower paintings.

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Amsterdam Light Festival

The annual Amsterdam Light Festival.

The Amsterdam Light Festival has quickly grown into a well known light festival. With countless artists who literally shine their light on the world. You can see the many works of art from the quay, but also from a tour boat of course.

Lookout Swing Amsterdam

Enjoying the Lookout Swing Amsterdam.

The A’DAM Lookout is a unique observation point in Amsterdam. And, on top of the roof is a swing. The Lookout Swing is the highest swing in Europe, and quite scary. On this excursion you are hanging over the edge. Where you have a unique view over the IJ, but also over the city.

Street Art Museum

Street Art Museum in Amsterdam. ©Roderik van Nispen

The largest Street Art Museum in the world can be found in the Lasloods at the NDSM Wharf. With an area of over 7,000 m², the former Lasloods, now a national monument, is twice the size of the famous Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London. This lovely museum can be found in the northern part of Amsterdam.

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Royal Palace of Amsterdam

Originally, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam was designed as a town hall for the administrative and judicial powers. The famous master builder Jacob van Campen was commissioned in 1648 by the Mayor and Aldermen of Amsterdam. The building is made entirely of white brick. The same Van Campen was also involved in the construction of Huis ten Bosch Palace and Noordeinde Palace in The Hague. 

Just like Huis ten Bosch Palace and Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, the Royal Palace in Amsterdam has been made available to the Queen by law by the State. With the arrival of Napoleon, the town hall was turned into a palace.

Dam Square

Dam Square is also the beating heart of the city. The square in the center of Amsterdam is the central point of the city. It owes its name to its original function: a dam in the river Amstel, which according to experts was built between 1204 and 1275. This part of the dam was probably built between 1265 and 1275.

Old maps show how the dam formed the first connection between the settlements on Warmoesstraat and Nieuwendijk. The dam gradually expanded, until it eventually became a square. The square now houses the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the National Monument.

Wandering in Amsterdam.

Grachtengordel of Canal District

The historic canals in the Grachtengordel, also known as the canal ring is a unique construction system. Islands were built in a swamp, on which identical plots were measured. To show the richness of the Golden Age, the houses were richly decorated. Each house has a closed courtyard. All islands are connected by bridges.

The canal ring actually consists of the three main canals: Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. These run parallel to each other. Digging began in 1612. All three canals flow into the river Amstel. These were later extended into Nieuwe Herengracht, Nieuwe Keizersgracht, and Nieuwe Prinsengracht. These canals continue in the direction of the eastern harbour area.

Amsterdam Red Light District

The Amsterdam Red Light District is known as the Red Light District. The area is unique in the world. Nowhere else is it possible to see so many sex houses, sex shows, and prostitutes together. Amsterdam is therefore perhaps the most tolerant city in the world. 

Unfortunately, the area has had some negative publicity in recent years. Suspicion of many owners of the buildings in the Red Light District of illegal practices. With a major investigation as a result. Various sex houses had to close their doors in 2007 and 2008 by order of the judiciary.

National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum, locally known as Scheepvaartmuseum, is one of the most important museums in the world. The museum gives a good impression of the Dutch maritime past. It is therefore appropriately located in ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn, which was built in 1656 as a warehouse for the navy. The museum also has a reconstructed VOC ship, Amsterdam as part of its exhibition.

Shipping House

The Shipping House, locally known as Scheepvaarthuis, was the communal office building of six large Amsterdam shipping companies. It is considered the first building to be built entirely in the style of the Amsterdam School. The architect Jan van der Mey had it built at the beginning of the 20th century.

The richly decorated building is located on the Prins Hendrikkade. Today it is the 5-star Hotel Amrath Amsterdam. The atmosphere of the VOC is still abundantly present here. Especially the conference room on the third floor is more than worth a look. While the exterior of the building evokes associations with a moored ship.

If you look closely, you will see the anchor chains hanging down from the roof edge over the facade. The waves of the sea in the silver-gray fence surround the building. Those who find an overnight stay too expensive (quickly more than 150 euros) can take a guided tour led by an art historian. Of course you can also do both.

Rembrandt House Museum

From 1639 and 1658 Rembrandt van Rijn lived and worked in this monumental building on Jodenbreestraat. The 17th-century interior, from the bedroom to the studio, has been carefully reconstructed and restored to its former glory.

Oude Kerk

According to archaeologists, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) was built around 1300. In 1306 it was consecrated by the Bishop of Utrecht. Because Amsterdam was no more than a small fishing village at the time, the church also functioned as a meeting square, as a shelter, and even as a workshop where sails could be repaired. The City Rights were also preserved here, as the church was then the only stone building in the city.

The church suffered greatly from the Iconoclasm of 1566, during which many statues and paintings were removed from the church. The Oude Kerk also served as a burial place for the many prominent and less prominent residents of the city. Historians believe that about 10,000 people were buried in the church.

Amsterdam Museum

The building of the Amsterdam Museum largely dates from the 18th century. After it was first an orphanage, it now houses the city’s past. From its origins as a fishing village in the 13th century to the current 21st century, you can see maps, paintings, archaeological finds, and models about the construction of this city.

Logically, especially the 17th (Golden Age) and 18th centuries are discussed extensively. It also becomes clear why so little has been preserved about the periods. The museum is located in the Kalverstraat.

Zuiderkerk

The Zuiderkerk (South Church) is a church that was made famous by a painting by the French painter Claude Monet. He painted the Zuiderkerk around 1874 with a view over the Groenburg. The church itself dates from 1603 to 1611. The Amsterdam architect Hendrick de Keyser built the church in Renaissance style.

When he died in 1621, he was buried in the church. His tombstone is still present here. The Zuiderkerk is located at the Zuiderkerkhof in the Nieuwmarkt area. And can be seen from many places in Amsterdam.

Westerkerk

The Westerkerk was also built by Hendrick de Keyser. And, like the Zuiderkerk, is characterised by the Renaissance style. The church was inaugurated on June 8, 1631, and is located on the edge of the Amsterdam Jordaan, on the Prinsengracht. Just like the Zuiderkerk, you can see this church from the various canals.

Jewish Historical Museum

The Jewish Historical Museum, locally know as Joods Historisch Museum, used to be a complex of four synagogues. In the building at 2-4 Jonas Daniël Meijer square a lot of information can be found about the history of the Jews in the Netherlands. There are also many religious objects on display and themed exhibitions are regularly organised.

Artis

Artis, short for Natura Artis Magistra, is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands. The bookseller Gerardus Frederik Westerman, commission agent Johann Wilhelm Heinrich Werlemann, and watchmaker Johannes Wilhelmus Wijsmuller had visited a meeting of the Zoological Society in London and decided to set up a zoo in Amsterdam.

The opening at Plantage Kerklaan 38-40 was in 1838. It was named Zoological Genootschap Natura Artis Magistra. In recent decades, Artis has housed various special animals, such as the now-extinct quagga, a type of zebra.

Vondelpark

The Vondelpark is named after the poet and playwriter Joost van den Vondel. The park itself opened its gates in 1864. The design in the English landscape style was by garden architect Jan David Zocher. This style makes the visitor imagine himself in nature. Remarkably, the park was privately owned until 1953. But the Association for the Construction of a Driving and Walking Park was no longer able to pay for the maintenance and donated the park to the municipality of Amsterdam. You can find a statue of Joost van den Vondel in the park.

EYE Film Museum

The Film Museum was opened in 1946 in the Vondelpark. It calls itself the largest and most important center for cinematography in the Netherlands. The Film museum manages a collection of films spanning the entire film history: from silent films from the early days of cinema (late 19th century) to the latest digital productions.

In 2012 the Film Museum moved to another location, at the IJ. As the museum merged with the Film Archives, it was also renamed EYE Film Museum. Its address is IJpromenade 1, close to Central Station. 

Tropen Museum

The Tropen Museum offers a good and realistic overview of the colonial past of the Netherlands. But there are also countless objects, clothing, and other characteristics of cultures from Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. The museum is also famous for its changing themed exhibits. The Tropen Museum is located at Linnaeusstraat 2.

Hortus Botanicus

The Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam contains one of the largest botanical collections in the world. More than 4,000 plant species can be seen here. Including many plants that were brought back in the 17th and 18th century thanks to ships of the Dutch East India Company. 

The VOC ships brought not only herbs and spices but also exotic ornamental plants. Some of the crown jewels of the Hortus date from this period, such as the 300-year-old East Cape bread tree. And you will find the oldest cycas palm in the world here. The botanical garden is located at Plantage Middenlaan 2a.

Allard Pierson Museum

The Allard Pierson Museum is one of the lesser-known museums in Amsterdam. While it is the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. The civilizations from Ancient Egypt, the Near East, the Greek World, Etruria, and the Roman Empire come to life in the museum. 

Art and utensils from the period of 4,000 BC. until 500 AD. provide a good picture of everyday life, mythology, and religion in ancient times. This museum also regularly has temporary exhibitions.

Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum

The Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum opened its doors in 1985. For tourists, it is one of the most curious museums in the world. For example, because it shows how cannabis is grown. In addition to the modern effect, the traditional medicinal effect that these plants have is also discussed. The museum is located on Oudezijds Achterburgwal in the Red Light District.

Book your tour online

Schreierstoren or Weepingtower

The Weepingtower in Amsterdam.

The Schreierstoren is the oldest tower in Amsterdam. This historic building dates from 1486 and still retains much of its medieval appearance. The tower was part of the city’s defensive stronghold. It was strategically built on the open harbor front. The Schreierstoren also formed the eastern city boundary. 

Today the tower is located in the middle of the city. The IJ is completely dammed. The open harbor disappeared when the Central Station was built in 1889. Together with the Waag on the Nieuwmarkt and the base of the Munt Toren, the Schreierstoren is the last remnant of the Amsterdam fortress wall that was built between 1481 and 1494. Today the building houses the VOC café and is located at Prins Hendrikkade 94-95.

De Waag

Amsterdam’s House of Weights, locally known as De Waag, is according to many the most important remnant of the Middle Ages that Amsterdam still has. Originally the building was a city gate, which was given the name Sint Antoniespoort. The city wall was built between 1481 and 1494 and ran along the current Singel, the Kloveniersburgwal, and the Geldersekade. Later the building was given the function of a weighing house, which is a building where goods could be weighed.

Today a restaurant, In de Waag is located here. In 2009, the Waag Society administrator sounded the alarm about the cracks in the walls. The municipality has decided to restore the tower. Note the stone in the turret on the side of the Zeedijk with the text “MCCCCLXXXVIII (1488) de XXVII (27th) dach in April wart d’ eerste steen van dese dese poert gheleit.” Which means: On 27 April 1488 the first stone of this gate was put down.  

Magere Brug (Bridge No. 242)

Magere Brug is the most famous bridge in Amsterdam. This wooden bridge runs over the Amstel River in the center of Amsterdam and connects the banks of the Amstel at Kerkstraat / Nieuwe Kerkstraat and Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. The bridge is not very old, it dates from 1934.

The design comes from Piet Kramer and is labeled the Amsterdam School. Incidentally, the first bridge was built in 1691, it was called Kerkstraatbrug. This remarkably narrow bridge was soon given the name Magere Brug (literally translated: Skinny Bridge) in popular language. Its official name is Bridge No. 242.

The current bridge featured prominently in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When night falls, the bridge is illuminated with 1,200 lights.

This bridge is also famous for newlyweds to have their wedding pictures taken. 

Amsterdam Canal Cruise

The famous Amsterdam canal cruise.

It may be a bit cliché, but a cruise through the canals should be on your itinerary. You can of course go during the day as most tourists do. But you can also book a dinner cruise. Although there are also cruises without dinner at night. In the evening you can see how the canals are beautifully lit with thousands of lights, the famous “lights of Amsterdam”. Ideal for a romantic evening.

Book your boat tour online

Guided VOC tour

Amsterdam’s rich past is largely due to the VOC, which was founded here. Various tours are offered where you visit the Scheepvaarthuis, but also numerous warehouses and houses from the 17th century. These tours are suitable for anyone who wants to know more about the VOC history of Amsterdam.

Mroe information: tours.amsterdamtour.nl/voc-tour-rondleiding-amsterdam/ 

Amsterdam in the evening.

P.C. Hooftstraat

P.C. Hooftstraat is known as the most expensive shopping street in the Netherlands. This shopping street is home to countless exclusive brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, and Cartier. Where you can’t believe your eyes and where you can easily spend a lot of money.

But there are also many cheaper shops to be found. It is nice to stroll on the P.C. Hooftstraat in the afternoon and have a cup of coffee. You can easily bump into a famous Dutchman here. They usually come during the week to avoid the tourists as much as possible.

Shopping at Magna Plaza in Amsterdam.

Shopping in the Negen Straatjes

The Negen Straatjes, in English Nine Streets, is a lovely area to go shopping. According to the New York Times, this part of the city center is a charming mixture of designer boutiques, art galleries, vintage clothing stores, gift shops and places to eat and drink.

The Nine Streets as it is often referred to are: Berenstraat, Gasthuismolensteeg, Hartenstraat, Huidenstraat, Oude Spiegelstraat, Reestraat, Runstraat, Wijde Heisteeg and Wolvenstraat. 

    History of Amsterdam

    Amsterdam probably dates from the 13th century. The city has an extremely rich history. The Dutch were once leaders in the world.

    The city is mentioned for the first time in a letter from 1275 from Floris V in which he grants the residents free navigation on the Dutch waters. How long the city has existed then is unknown. At that time it belonged to the diocese of Utrecht.

    This land has only recently been conquered on the rising waters. The bishop has it run by the Lords of Amstel, but this is a constant struggle. In 1296 they murder Floris V.

    Archaeologists think that around 1230 countless dikes were built along with the mouth of the Amstel River. Which gives the city the corrupted name Amsterdam. According to them, the very first houses were built on the dike along the west bank (which is nowadays called the Nieuwendijk). It is not known when the city will receive city rights, but this is probably around 1300.

    The most important archaeological site is located near the courtyard between the Nieuwezijds Kolk and the Dirk van Hasseltssteeg. In 1994, a walled site with corner towers was found here. They form the head of a settlement on the IJ and the Amstel. The walls date from the 13th century and are therefore the oldest building in Amsterdam.

    Beer and herring

    Beer and herring play a special role in the history of Amsterdam. In the first years, the economy runs entirely on beer and herring. There is even a toll on beer. It’s hard to imagine these days, but the canal water was once clear and clean enough to brew beer. Amsterdam is building up a lucrative beer trade with countless other major cities, such as Hamburg. This actually lays the foundation for the later trading city. The Damrak, which is still in the sea at that time, is developing into the port of Amsterdam.

    Amsterdam only joined the revolt against Spain in the 16th century late. The reason is simple; trade interests compel the city government. When the Spaniards take Antwerp during the Eighty Years’ War, many residents flee to Amsterdam. As a result of which the city is not only growing, but also received an immense economic boost. With the Golden Age as a result …

    But growth has not always been easy in Amsterdam, the area around Amsterdam was one big swamp in the 16th century. The Netherlands is now used to living with water, which is why countless ingenious inventions are being made. One of these is to keep the growing city above water. And to expand. Just outside the existing buildings, a canal is being dug, which is connected to the other canals. So that the water can always escape.

    And each time rows of embankments are made with the acquired sand. On which the characteristic merchant houses and warehouses are built. On a foundation of wooden posts. Slowly, this creates the famous canal belt, a human spider web that is unique in the world.

    The journey to the Indies

    Dutch beer ensures good contacts in the Baltic Sea region. But when trade stagnates, Amsterdam merchants look for new outlets. In 1595 they send Cornelis de Houtman to what was then the Indies, which is now called Indonesia. His job is simple: look for trade. When he returns with promising reports, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) is founded in 1602.

    Amsterdam is the major shareholder in this first cooperation in the world. The city is growing into the most important trading city in Europe and is therefore also the financial center. The VOC ensures that drinking coffee and tea in the Netherlands becomes a normal phenomenon. And that we are going to use spices such as pepper, nutmeg, mace, and cloves.

    In the Golden Age (which usually refers to the entire 17th century) Dutch art also flourished. Rembrandt is making a name for himself in Europe, but also writers and poets such as Joost van den Vondel, Bredero, and P.C. Hooft make themselves heard. Just like the composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who was then also famous abroad. Science is also flourishing. In 1632 the Athenaeum Illustre is opened, this is the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam.

    Crop failures, wars, and an English trade embargo put Amsterdam under pressure at the end of the 17th century. The city is slowly losing its leadership position. The population is falling dramatically and it will take until the 19th century before any recovery is visible. The North Sea Canal, which came into use in 1876, gives Amsterdam some status as a port again.

    Which caused a great boom again during the Industrial Revolution. And generates countless new residents, especially from the provinces. But the time of the Golden Age will not return. In the following years, the liberal policy in the Netherlands ensures that the city flourishes again. This time it is tourism, where mainly young people and art lovers visit the city.

    Best time to visit Amsterdam

    Amsterdam is a madhouse in the summer. You literally stumble over the Japanese and American tourists. Spring (especially April, May and early June) is still relatively quiet. The end of September and October are also good for a visit. Those who really want peace and quiet should go during the week. 

    It can be very busy in summer at the bigger attractions. Especially the tourist attractions like Anne Frank House. It makes sense to go early in the morning or at the very end of the day. It is better to avoid the high season and the holidays.

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