Amsterdam

The cultural, financial and creative capital city of the Netherlands is located in North Holland, in the northern part of Randstad. It has the country’s largest population – 1.4 million in terms of urban population numbers and 2.1 million in metropolitan population.  The city from a dam in the River Amstel (where its name is derived from-“Amstellerdam”) is relatively younger than the other cities of Rotterdam and Utrecht which had settlers as far back as 900 AD. Amsterdam was granted city rights in the early 1300s and has flourished since then. 

Two important eras in the history of the city mark its “Golden Ages” – the 17th century when it became the world’s wealthiest city as a trading post for countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. It was then the leading Financial Centre of the world and had the world’s first stock exchange market with the Dutch East India Company trading in the city. Another golden age for Amsterdam was towards the end of the 19th century when Industrial Revolution propelled the construction of the train station and he Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was built thus improving commerce with all of Europe and the world. 

World War II and the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 has left the city in near ruins.  Plans to restore it went underway after the war, mostly due to the efforts of large private organizations such as the Stadsherstel Amsterdam. Today the city has retained its urban glory with a number of historical monuments and landmarks. They city centre is now a protected area and its canals listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Amsterdam is comprised of eight boroughs (originally 15): Centrum, Noord, Oost, Zuid, West, Nieuw-West, Zuidoost and Westpoort). Because it is an open and tolerant society, Amsterdam also has one of the biggest number of nationalities and ethnic groups living in the city – as of last count, there are 176 different groups.  Among them immigrants from Suriname, Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, Italy, Africa, Asia, America and other parts of Europe. The largest of the religious groups are Christians followed by Sunni Muslims.

There are two distinct and prominent features of the city’s landscape: one is the concentric formation of five canals that ring the Old Center. These are the Singelgracht, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singelgracht. The Canal Ring is acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural and historical significance.  Second is the impressive architecture of the buildings, where Amsterdam has street patterns that have not changed since the 19th century and about 7,000 registered historic buildings.

As a tourist destination, Amsterdam enjoys one of the biggest number of visitors every year (around 4.63 million annually).  The city offers a wide variety of attractions, tours and enjoyable events year-round – from historical landmarks, museums, shopping malls, musical festivals and a colorful nightlife. Some of the notable places to see are:

The Museumplein (Museum Square) is where most of the important museums in the city can be found. Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s main museum that houses the largest collection of the works of Dutch masters. There is also the Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the Dutch post-impressionist painter and his works. The Stedelijk Museum houses the works of modern artists including Piet Mondriaan, Karel Appel and Kazimir Malevich. 

Those who are seeking more fun and lively activities will never run out of things to do in Amsterdam. Apart from the ubiquitous city tours where first-time visitors will be taken on guided visits, there are planned cultural activities lined up every month. For instance, on Queensday held every April, the city becomes one giant carnival and fair where parties, food, music and flea markets litter the streets from sunup to sundown. A music fest (Holland Festival) and food fest (Taste of Amsterdam) happens every June. On June 2012, Amsterdam is one of the proud hosts for the Euro 2012 Football Championship.

For music and the performing arts, Amsterdam is also in the forefront of this cultural facet. The city has one of the finest concert halls in the world, the Concertgebouw located in the Museumplein. The concert hall hosts the performances of the city’s own world-class symphony orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Another music venue is the Heineken Music Hall, mainly used for pop concerts and international performances.  The city is also quite popular for its pulsating nightlife. Party-goers and night revelers congregate at Leidseplein, a square full of bars, restaurants, cafes, theaters and dance clubs. Another popular nightspot is the Rembrandtplein, where bars and cafes line the streets, and locals engage in lively karaoke or sing-along sessions, Dutch-style.