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Archaeological excavations suggest people were already living in the area, which is nowadays known as Amsterdam, during Roman times. There is no evidence of human settlement, but coins and several other artifacts show that there were people in the region. The area consisted of numerous shifting lakes, swamps and soggy peat. During the 12th century the marshlands around the Amstel River were dammed by farmers and fishing men who settled in the area.

The settlement expanded rapidly and by the 14th century it was one of the most important trading places between the North and Baltic Sea regions and southern Europe. When Amsterdam became richer, different classes started struggling for power. The Catholic aristocrats were defeated by the newly rich merchants, who turned to Calvinism. The Calvinists got rid of the Spanish Catholic Philip II and in 1578 they captured Amsterdam. One year later they declared the seven northern provinces an independent country, named Holland. They were led by Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), who is the forefather of the present royals.

Peace returned and Amsterdam's 'Golden Age' started in 1580 when the Spanish captured Antwerp and restricted access to the sea from that city. Many merchants moved their businesses to Amsterdam. By 1600 ships from Amsterdam dominated trade and traffic on most European Seas. In the 17th century overseas trading ports were established.

Slowly money industries such as banks became more important than trade. In the beginning of the 19th century the importance of Amsterdam started declining, after the French occupied the city and the British blockaded access to the sea. The French left in 1814, but by that time Amsterdam had become a local market town of little importance and the British ruled the seas.

Amsterdam shifted its economy to that of industry. Railways were built and steel production plants established. The city grew and during WWI, when The Netherlands was neutral, as well as the 1920's Amsterdam boomed once again. In 1928 the Olympic games were held in the capital. But in the 1930 came the recession and unemployment hit 25%. In 1940 Germany invaded and overran the city. Amsterdam had a large Jewish population of bankers and traders and the Germans slowly introduced measures against them. At the end of WWII it was clear that only 1 in 16 of Amsterdam's Jews survived the holocaust. With almost 94% Amsterdam had the highest proportion of Jews murdered anywhere in Western Europe. During the severe winter of 1944/1945 many of Amsterdam's citizens died from hunger. In May 1945 Amsterdam was liberated by the Allied forces.

After WWII rebuilding started, but by the 1960's when the city was back on track, it became the radical heart of Europe. The Provos organized 'street happenings' and students and women demanded greater freedoms. Soon Amsterdam became famous as the freest city in Europe, where everything was possible. During the 1970 crime rates soared, but in the 1980's and 1990's consensus settled in and Amsterdam became quite a pleasant and relaxed place. During that period numerous ethnic minorities from Suriname, The Netherlands Antilles, Morocco and Turkey changed the ethnic makeup of the city totally and nowadays about half of Amsterdam's population is made up of minorities.

Migrants have come to the city for centuries though and have always been an important source of the city's power and wealth. Along Amsterdam's numerous tree-lined canals you can see beautiful buildings that were constructed by merchants during the Golden Age. There are many scenic spots all over the city, which makes Amsterdam one of the places in the world that are very hard to leave once your holiday is finished. Amsterdam is an excellent place to explore either on foot or by bike, as the city center is very compact, although the canal belt can be confusing sometimes. The old city is contained within a ring of concentric canals (gracht). As the city grew new canals were built to serve the warehouses in the newer parts of town. The outermost canal is the Singelgracht. Dam square is the heart of the city. There you can see the National Palace, as well as the National Monument to commemorate the victims of WWII. Several other places nearby, such as Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are thriving as well.

Places to visit

Holland's most important art museum is Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. It has a huge collection of old masters and you will be able to see paintings from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and Steen, as well as antique doll's houses, delftware, art from Asia. The museum has changing exhibitions of prints and drawings. Only a few hundred meters away is the Van Gogh Museum, which is home to some 200 paintings from Vincent van Gogh. It also includes a collection of Japanese works that influenced the painter. More recent art can be seen in the Stedelijk Museum next door. It houses art from 1850 to the present and it is one of the world's leading museums of contemporary art.

The Anne Frankhuis is west of the city center. During WWII numerous Jews got help from other citizens, who hid them in their houses, so the Germans couldn't find them. In one of these buildings the family Frank lived, hidden in several rooms from 1942 to August 1944. The entrance was camouflaged by a bookshelf. Anne's diary was recovered from the house and has been translated into 55 languages. She died in a concentration camp only several weeks before the war ended. The building, called het achterhuis is open to the public. Everything is exactly as it was when the Germans discovered the Franks.

Other museums in Amsterdam include the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, where you can see an interesting exhibition on Amsterdam's maritime history and the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, which is housed in an old orphanage and shows what life in the city was like during various periods in history. There are also museums in the capital that have a lighter side. The Hash and Marijuana Museum and the Tattoo Museum are both in the red light district and display artifacts that might appeal to those with special interests. The same can be said about the Seksmuseum, not far from the Dam square. It has an exhibition of pornographic materials.


Amsterdam's canals were built during the Golden Age. Goods from warehouses along the canals could easily be shipped in and out of the city that way. As the city grew, new canals were built to serve businesses and warehouses that were too far away from the earlier canals. Many of the canals were filled at the turn of the 19th century for sanitary reasons, but several still remain and can be explored by bike or on foot. The best perspective of the old warehouses and buildings you get from the water itself. Boat trips through the canals are available from several places throughout the city. Along the canals are numerous houseboats, where people live quite comfortably. It is also possible to rent pedal boats and during the winter, when the canals are frozen, they are excellent for ice-skating. During the winter vendors sell green soup and sausages (rookworst).


The Begijnhof is a lovely, well-kept, enclosed courtyard that was built in the 14th century. It is surrounded by several beautiful houses that used to be a convent inhabited by a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women from wealthy families, known as Beguines. They cared for the elderly and lived a religious life without taking monastic vows. The last of the Beguines died in the 1970's. One of the houses was built in 1465; it is the oldest wooden house in The Netherlands. The Begijnhof is on the busy Kalverstraat, the main shopping archery in the center of Amsterdam.


The Jordaan is an old neighborhood, where working-class people used to live. There are numerous beautiful little old houses lining the canals. Most of them have a mirror attached to the windowsills, so the people who live there don't have to get out of their chair to see who is walking through their street. There are numerous pubs, restaurants and small shops and art galleries in the Jordaan, as well as several flee markets. The houses are usually grouped around a courtyard (hofje), which has a fenced entrance to the public road. The courtyards have beautifully maintained gardens.

Amsterdam Noord

Amsterdam Noord (Amsterdam North) was long an uninhabited collections of swamps and marshlands, where executed criminals' bodies where left to the stray dogs. As the city needed more land to build houses, the area was developed and nowadays it's one of the few suburbs that is within walking distance from the city center. Ferries across the water (the IJ) behind the Central Station are free for pedestrians and on the other side is Amsterdam Noord. It is a good place to see how people live in Amsterdam and there are several good markets and very few tourists.

Red-light district

Amsterdam is probably most famous for its red-light district. It is in a nice part of the city and if you want to explore it you can always say you came to see the beautiful architecture. The area started developing during the 14th century, as sailors needed some place to go after their long journeys on the sea. There where numerous distilleries and bars to serve them. Nowadays prostitutes display themselves behind the windows. You can walk past and if you see something you like you go in. If a curtain is closed, it means that the woman has a customer. There are also numerous sex theatres and shops that sell porno and related items. You shouldn't take any photographs in the red-light district and you shouldn't start a conversation with any of the countless drug dealers there.

Other sights

There are too many sights in Amsterdam to mention all here, but the most important ones include the Magere Brug, an original wooden bridge that crosses the Amstel River, not far from the town hall and opera building, known as Stopera. Magere Brug means 'Skinny Bridge' and it got its name, cause it is very narrow. Artis, just east of the center is Amsterdam's zoo. There is also an interesting planetarium there. At the end of the Kalverstraat, near the Rembrandtplein is the Munt tower, where money used to be made in the city's Golden Age. Munt simply means 'coin'. The Leidseplein is a very lively square with numerous bars and discotheques in the vicinity. In the winter it has an ice-skating rink. The Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam square has art exhibitions that change regularly.

If you want to get some piece and quiet, you can go to the lakes of Sloterplas, in the west of the city, or Nieuwe Meer to the south. They are surrounded by large parks and perfect places to get away from the busy center. The Amsterdamse Bos is excellent for jogging and walking and there are numerous smaller parks, such as the Vondelpark, closer to the center, if you have less time. The Oranjesluizen locks separate the IJ from the IJsselmeer and are an interesting place to see ships enter and leave the city.

When to go

Any time of year Amsterdam is a lively place. During the summer the whole city seems to be outdoors, but everything is very expensive, as it is top tourist season. During the winter the cultural life is the same as in the summer, but it is far less crowded. Spring and autumn are in between these two.

The best day to be in Amsterdam is, without any doubt, 30 April. On this day people in Holland celebrate Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) and especially in Amsterdam it is crazy! On that day everybody is allowed to sell whatever they can find on their attics and don't need anymore. The entire city is turned into one huge market and traffic comes to a complete stop. There are vendors, street artists and numerous live music events. In the summer the weeklong Uitmarkt is held in the center. Cultural events are promoted during that week and there are many stalls and activities. Other interesting events are the National Windmill Day in May, the Holland Festival, the country's largest art festival, in June, while in August there are usually numerous concerts throughout the city. Another weird event is Sinterklaas. In November Sinterklaas 'arrives' in the harbor of Amsterdam from Spain, where he supposedly lives. On the 5th of December children in Holland receive presents from him and he leaves again. It is the Dutch version of Santa Claus and during November and the first week of December you will see numerous Sinterklaases with their black helpers throughout the city. Christmas is celebrated as well.


Schiphol is Amsterdam's international airport and Europe's fourth largest. It is about 20 km southwest of the city and has connections with countless destinations worldwide. The airport has excellent rail and road connections with the city center. There are also good rail, road and water connections with the rest of the country and buses run from Amsterdam to numerous cities throughout Europe. The main railway station is called Centraal Station and it is right in the center of town. Trips to interesting sights in the rest of Holland are widely available in Amsterdam. They are often only a short ride, as The Netherlands is one of Europe's smallest countries.

Amsterdam's center is very compact and easily explored on foot. If you want you can rent a bike and explore a wider area. If you are staying for a longer period it is a good idea to buy a second-hand bike (with a good lock!). There are dedicated bicycle routes throughout the city (actually there are dedicated bike-lanes all over the country). Transportation in Amsterdam is also available by tram, bus, metro, train, boat and taxi. At the Central Station free city maps are available and the tourist information office is also located there. Within the city limits you can use one ticket for all public transport. You have to know where you want to go and according to the distance stamp several strips from your ticket. If you stay in Amsterdam for a longer period, it is wise to buy a week or month ticket (for those a photograph is needed). Tickets are available on trams or buses, at the Central Station and in outlets, such as newspaper shops, throughout the city. Just ask for a strippenkaart.

If you come to Amsterdam with your own car, it is better to park it somewhere in the outskirts and go to the city center using public transport, as parking rates in the center are sky-high and it is very rare if your car doesn't get broken in to, or stolen altogether. Because of traffic congestion you will loose a lot of valuable time just driving to the center. Taxis in Amsterdam are among the most expensive in Europe.

Accommodation, food and entertainment

There is a wide variety of hotels, boatels, dormitories, hostels, camping-sites, etc. in Amsterdam. Many cheap places are within walking distance from the city center. There are also numerous bars and restaurants throughout the city. Be sure to visit one of Amsterdam's so-called Bruine Cafe (Brown Café), typical Dutch pubs, with very little light inside. Usually the air is thick with smoke and it has sand on its wooden floor. The best of these bars are situated around Nieuwmarkt, the Jordaan, Prinsengracht and Rembrandtplein. Also eat a raw herring at one of the city's numerous fish stalls. If you go into a coffee shop, beware that apart from coffee, many of them also sell cannabis. It you just want to have a cake and a coffee it is better to look for a eetcafé (eat-café).

There are always numerous concerts and musical events in Amsterdam. Classical music can be heard at the Concertgebouw with its perfect acoustics, while more modern events are often organized in the Melkweg (Milky Way) or the Paradiso, both near the Leidseplein. There are also numerous discotheques and dance halls, most of them around the Rembrandtplein.

For updates on what is going on in Amsterdam, when you are there, get a copy of the Uitkrant. It is a free weekly, with information on all sorts of cultural events. It is available at cinemas, theatres, cafés and booking agencies, for free.

Beware of pickpockets on busy places in the center and on public transportation.


Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    59 56 N
Longitude: 30 16 E
Elevation:  5 m (16 ft.)

Population: 500,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: 120%

Hours from UTC: 2
Daylight savings time: Late March through late October

City phone code: 812
Country phone code: 7

Average Weather Patterns

January-2.1°C (28.2°F)2.5 cm (0.98 in)
April3.3°C (37.9°F)2.5 cm (0.98 in)
July17.8°C (64°F)6.4 cm (2.52 in)
October5°C (41°F)4.6 cm (1.81 in)

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