Amsterdam's reputation is much larger than the city itself, whose canals and narrow streets keep things close and cozy, making it easy for visitors to get oriented and feel right at home. Dutch traders have kept Amsterdam exotic for centuries, bringing art, design, cuisine and people into the harbor and incorporating all into its tolerant culture. There's no question as to why this city is one of the world's favorite European destinations, and in one of our city apartments you can become so much more than a tourist in warm and welcoming Amsterdam.


Trade has been an important part of Amsterdam's development from the very beginning. The first documented settlers came and put up a dam on the Amstel River in the 13th century. When Baltic traders came along with beer and herring, the locals charged them a tax to pass through their territory and by the time Amsterdam became a chartered city somewhere around 1300, the clever little community was on its way to becoming a world power.

The Amsterdammers traded with Hanseatic League members throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, acquiring timber and other building materials, from which the city was built until two large fires destroyed much of the town. Stone buildings followed and careful city planning have characterized Amsterdam ever since.

Amsterdam's reputation for tolerance—especially religious tolerance—goes back to the 16th century when Catholics, Jews, and other ethnic and religious minorities were welcomed into the city while the rest of Europe was busy kicking people out. Amsterdam seemed to have a giant revolving door and this open policy both in and out resulted in the city's Golden Age of trade, when ships left the harbor full of Dutch influence and returned with the resources and culture from the far corners of the world. It was the world's most important port, the financial center of the world and the most ethnically diverse place on the planet.

The following centuries saw a leveling off of Amsterdam's incredible growth. Eventually, the world's financial center moved to London and wars within Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century took their toll on the city, though the period of decline was not so long and an industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century turned things around.
The last century left its dark spot when more than 100,000 Jews—including the famous diarist Anne Frank—were forced from Amsterdam's safe harbor. Demographic shifts have always characterized the city and the loss of one group has always been balanced out by the immigration of others. In recent decades Amsterdam has become home to large populations of Indonesians, Surinamese, Turks and Moroccans and the city boasts residents from 175 different countries.

Location and size

Amsterdam is located in the northwestern part of the Netherlands in the province of North Holland. Its famous canals make it the watery link between the Amstel River and the IJ. The city center occupies just 219 square kilometers, a quarter of which is water.


There are around 750,000 people living in Amsterdam and almost as many bicycles. The population is quite dense and very diverse.


Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands and it is the dominant language in Amsterdam. However, there are over one hundred other languages represented in the city due to large numbers of immigrants. Amsterdammers are highly educated in foreign languages and English is spoken by nearly everyone. French and German are other common second languages for Dutch people.

General characteristics of the locals

While Amsterdam has a reputation for being a city where anything goes, the people are generally characterized as a highly educated, bike-riding, tolerant bunch. It's the tourists to Amsterdam who usually party the hardest and take advantage of the lax laws on drugs and prostitution. The locals themselves are usually hard-working and optimistic, spending their free time at a warm café or riding home from the grocery store with their basket full of vegetables—hardly the kind of counterculture visitors expect.

City tours

If you are opposed to city bus tours, you'll love Amsterdam. City tours here are usually on foot or bike, which are the only practical ways to explore the narrow streets of the city center. Of course canal tours are also very popular and a comfortable and scenic way to get acquainted with the city's waterways. Architectural tours are also available—either by foot or bike—pointing out the most interesting buildings in town either escorted by a guide or self-guided with a special map.


There are hundreds of museums in Amsterdam, and while many of them have "tourist trap" written all over them, there is a nice collection of fine art and some excellent educational museums in town.

Rijksmuseum (National Museum): The Netherlands' leading art museum, the Rijksmuseum has a little bit of everything when it comes to art, but certainly the collection of Dutch masters paintings is the crown jewel. Jan Luijkenstraat 1. +31 (0)20 674 7000.

Van Gogh Museum: Amsterdam's most popular museum, the Van Gogh Museum houses hundreds of paintings by not only Van Gogh but also his famous contemporaries and friends. Paulus Potterstraat 7. +31 (0)20 570 5200.

Hermitage Amsterdam: The first satellite museum of the famous Hermitage in St. Petersburg is opening in phases in Amsterdam. The doors will officially open summer 2009, but small exhibits are already open to the public. Nieuwe Herengracht 14. +31 (0)20 530 8755.

Rembrandt House Museum: The actual house where the famous painter lived from 1639 – 1658 is now home to a museum dedicated to his life. Personal history is mixed with a collection of paintings and an extensive—nearly complete—collection of sketches. Jodenbreestraat 4. +31 (0)20 520 0400.

Amsterdams Historisch Museum (Amsterdam City Museum): An informative collection of art and artifacts tells the city's history. Housed in the former city orphanage. Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 359. +31 (0)20 523 1822.

Anne Frank House: Located in the former hiding place of the famous young diarist, the museum tells Anne Frank's story and displays her family's objects, including her actual diary. Prinsengracht 267. +31 (0)20 556 7100.

NEMO: NEMO is the Netherlands' main science and technology museum. The state-of-the-art educational exhibits are geared toward children. Oosterdok 2. +31 (0)20 531 3233.

Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic): Also known as the Amstelkring, the museum looks like a typical 17th-century canal house from the outside, but inside an entire Catholic church is hidden in the attic. The church is an attraction in itself and the museum's exhibits cover religious artwork and religious history in Amsterdam. Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40. +31(0)20 624 6604.

Tropenmuseum: The Tropenmuseum is one of Europe's largest ethnographic museums, focusing on the cultures of the tropics. There is a special section—Tropenmuseum Junior—devoted to children. Linnaeusstraat 2. +31 (0) 20 568 8200.

FOAM (Photography Museum Amsterdam): A large photography museum with rotating exhibits of famous photographers from all over the world. Keizersgracht 609. +31 (0)20 551 6500.


Dam Square: The geographic and historic center of Amsterdam, Dam Square is the main square of the city. The dominating sites here are the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk ("New Church," though it dates back to the 15th century), both worth having a look at from the outside at least.

Hortus Botanicus: The Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam are the oldest in the world with an astounding variety of exotic plants, many from original stocks brought back by the Dutch East India Company over three hundred years ago. The gardens include outdoor cultivations and several greenhouses. Plantage Middenlaan 2a. +31 020 625 9021.

Artis Zoo: The 19th century Artis Zoo is in Amsterdam's oldest city park. Along with the live animals, the park is home to a zoological museum, planetarium and aquarium. Plantage Kerklaan 38-40. +31 20 523 3400.


Amsterdamse Bos: This manmade forest was created with escaping the city in mind. Located about 10 kilometers from town, there are lots of paths for walking, cycling or horseback riding through the trees. Other activities include canoeing, ice-skating, a petting zoo and camping facilities. Bosbaanweg 5, 1182 AG, Amstelveen (visitor's center). +31 020 545 6100.

Day trip

Most of the Netherlands can be reached in a day trip from Amsterdam. There are dozens of small traditional villages, medieval cities, beach towns and windmills to visit just a short bus, train or even bike ride from Amsterdam. The following are a few suggestions:

Hoge Veluwe Park and the Kröller-Müller Museum: An hour southwest of Amsterdam, this large national park is a unique combination of nature, culture and art. It's a good place to see wild deer, boars and birds. There are free bikes and lots of walking trails. The park is also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, a world-class modern art collection, surrounded by Europe's largest sculpture garden.

Den Haag (The Hague): The Netherlands' third largest city is certainly a destination in its own right, but it can easily be visited from Amsterdam as it's only about an hour away. There are excellent museums and a totally different feel from Amsterdam, making it a good place to experience Dutch culture outside of the big city.

Delft: Between Den Haag and Rotterdam, Delft is a charming little town—very characteristic of Dutch towns of its size—but with two big draws: the famous Delftware factories cranking out blue and white ceramics for hundreds of years and Johannes Vermeer, the famous painter who was born and died here.

Tulips: In the springtime, of course, blooming fields of tulips are a big attraction and there are plenty of places to see them close to Amsterdam. Look for maps of bike routes through the fields between Haarlem and Leiden.

For Families

Despite its misguided reputation as a den of vice, Amsterdam is a great destination for children. There are lots of parks around and almost all the major museums have special exhibits for kids. Younger visitors to Amsterdam will love a short canal tour, and a visit to NEMO and Amsterdamse Bos will make them think you definitely had them in mind when you planned your trip.


The Dutch aren't exactly famous for their cuisine, but Amsterdam has become famous for having some of the best Indonesian food in the world. Food from various Asian countries is abundant as well as some Middle Eastern and North African options worth trying. For more traditional European fare, you'll probably be best having a sandwich or pancakes at an eetcafé or teahouse (not a "coffeeshop," which usually sells more smokable fare). One thing the Dutch are well-known for is cheese and a visit to a local grocery store, market or specialty shop can hook you up with some local samples that will make an excellent breakfast or lunch with some bread.


Amsterdam has an excellent and varied nightlife. Even the arts stay up late here, so that seeing a play or a movie or a concert before or after going to the bar is a common way to spend an evening. The drinking establishments range from cozy and laid back to frenetic and fast-paced. Live music is common and world-class DJs often pay the city a visit. There's a rich gay scene and there are even two casinos in town. There is surely something in Amsterdam to keep you up at night, no matter what your scene.


All the high-end international brands are easy to find in Amsterdam, but the unique shopping here is for antiques and books. Hundreds of years of trade have left Amsterdam with shops and shops full of exotic imports and curios. Even if you're not in the mood for spending, just browsing through these antique shops can be both entertaining and educational. There are also excellent bookstores in Amsterdam, many of them representing a wide variety of foreign languages.


The busy Schiphol Airport, about 15 kilometers away from the city center, brings thousands and thousands of tourists and business travelers to Amsterdam every year. But for the amount of traffic it serves, Schiphol is surprisingly organized. Getting to the city is easy by train (20 minutes) or taxi (30 minutes / 40 euros).

Local Traffic

Driving within the city center of Amsterdam is nearly impossible and certainly not recommended. When the narrow streets and canals were built, the Dutch most definitely did not have cars in mind. Finding a parking place and avoiding pedestrians are just two of the challenges you can expect behind the wheel. If you arrive into Amsterdam with a car, you are encouraged to use a parking garage or park-and-ride area outside the center. Your familiarity with the public transportation begins as soon as you lock the door. Use the trains, buses, bikes or your own two feet to experience the best the city center has to offer.


The busy Central Station welcome trains from all over Europe. If you arrive by train it's easy to get to the city center either by walking or jumping in a cab or a bus or tram.


The subway tends to run from the city center outward toward the suburbs. Visitors are more likely to use the above-ground trams or buses. You can use a combination of buses and trams to get anywhere in the city. Tickets can be purchased onboard for single-use or you can buy a strippenkaarten from a machine to use for multiple trips.


There are a lot of taxis in Amsterdam when you get away from the dense city center. They are not cheap, but they are generally reputable and can be hailed from the street with no problem.


Amsterdam is an inviting city year round. The climate is quite mild, if a bit damp. Of course, July and August are the warmest months (mid 20s°C). Winters are cold but not freezing. Temperatures don't usually dip below zero for long in January, but the days are quite short. Spring is a popular time to visit because of the flowers and the sun is often shining, despite sometimes chilly temperatures. It can rain any day of the year, though rainfall is usually quite light.

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