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Visiting Amsterdam: A brief overview of Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city, but it is also a country by itself, a small nation inside a larger one”, wrote Geert Mak in ‘Amsterdam: a brief life of the city’. You’ll probably not only find the city different from the rest of Holland, but also different to anywhere else you have been. Take any city of comparable size in any country and you’ll conclude that Amsterdam is exceptional.

With its 175 nationalities, it is the most multicultural city in the world. It has the appeal of a metropolis yet at the same time it doesn’t seem bigger than a huge village full of little wonders to explore. Who doesn’t get enchanted by the small inner court ‘Begijnhofje’ (Beguinage), an oasis of peace in the middle of the bustling center, the charming ‘Milkmaid’ of Vermeer or the romantically lighted canals by night?

Herring, beer, and spices

Herring and beer are the commodities that turned the former fishermen’s settlement into a town of significance. This testifies that already in the 13th century the Dutch knew how to win land from water and actually make a nice life of it. Open-minded Amsterdam received newcomers such as the Jewish who fled from Antwerp, with open arms. With the capital the refugees also brought along, the first multinational ever, the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (East India Company, VOC) financed by its trade in Indian spices, turning Amsterdam into a hegemonial trading center in 1600-1800, the Golden Age.


Warehouses, canals, and gable stones

The glorious Golden Age drove the growth of the city in all aspects. Warehouses were needed, to store all the goods from the far-east. And Amsterdam’s most picture-perfect historic feature, the gabled houses. The different gable types were used to camouflage architectural idiosyncrasies like sharp, pitched roofs. They were built on the world-famous canals. Simultaneously, the ‘Jordaan’ was built, originally the area of the workers, today one of Amsterdam’s most popular neighborhoods to live.

The more than 1200 bridges didn’t only account for complete accessibility throughout the city, they are also one of the biggest attractions of the city. If you stop between Reguliersgracht en Herengracht, you can admire fifteen bridges at the same time. Nowadays the ‘Grachtengordel’ (canal ring) which contains the ware- and gable houses and 165 canals and its bridges, is a UNESCO world heritage site. However, the city is not ancient for European standards. After the expansion in the Golden Age, the majority of the city was built in the twentieth century by architects from the Amsterdamse school. That meant mostly social housing in areas like ‘the Pijp’ (South) and ‘Oud-West’.

There are no major ancient palaces or squares. The charm is in the detail. When you stroll around in the center one might be keen on capturing, for example, special gable stones which served as house numbers during the Middle-ages. On the stones, the profession of the owner, religious scenes and family weapons are often depicted. Some of them are hard to interpret: what to think of an angry monkey working on a spinning wheel at Lindengracht 53 for instance?


Precious paintings and people

Along with its economic prosperity in the Golden Age, Amsterdam also became a cultural hotspot. You can experience which affects the ‘Nachtwacht’ (Night Watch), the ‘Melkmeisje’ (Milkmaid) by 17th-century masters Rembrandt and Vermeer have on you in the Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam boasts more museums than any other city in the world, measured per square meter. So you can find always find a museum with a topic of your taste. Multicultural Amsterdam only hosts 745.000 inhabitants yet it lodges 175 nationalities. As a trading nation race or background never played an important role, everybody was welcome. As a result of the persecution of the Jewish in World War II, the city lost 10% of its population. After the war, the composition of Amsterdam also changed because many people moved out to surrounding towns. Currently, 37% of Amsterdammers belong to an ethnic minority group.


What to do

Hop aboard a boat to glide past mansions standing in all their glory aside the shimmering canals on a sunny summer day, or at night, with their mysterious middle-age shadows from their fairy lights. Viewing Amsterdam from the water-side is astonishing.

Or you could choose to experience Amsterdam as many of the locals do, as the best cycling city in the world. Everybody uses a bike to go anywhere. Discover the cultural secrets packed into Amsterdam, like courtyards tucked behind 17th-century facades, a hidden church in a merchant’s house.

Or you could visit a cultural breeding ground like Overtoom 301, with all kinds of innovative, contemporary art and performances. And do as the locals, sit back and relax with a coffee or something stronger in one of the many cafés. There is one for every mood and occasion, before dancing the night away or for brandies after a classical concert. Laze in one of the numerous parks, visit a biological market or the ‘negen straatjes’ (nine streets) in the ‘Jordaan’ area. And don’t forget to take a look at what the famous windows in the Red Light District and a ‘coffeeshop’ are all about.


Where to stay

We can advise you on finding a hotel that meets your wishes if that is your preferred way to be lodged. If you stay longer than two nights though, we advise you to take an apartment and live like a local, see apartments list. You can check our site as we have a very wide selection of apartments to offer. Whatever your wishes are, we have a good offer for you to choose from: from tiny, basic furnished apartments to luxurious accommodation equipped with a bubble bath.


How to get around

The center of Amsterdam is very compact so you’ll see and enjoy the most if you go around on foot. You can also rent a bike for the time you stay in Amsterdam. Public transport consists of trams, buses, and metros. Another way to get around is by Tuktuk, a bike-taxi. Taxis are expensive, there are official and non-official taxis.

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