Amsterdam, Netherlands, is a popular travel destination for many people because of its rich history and culture. The city’s architecture reflects this well with the many canals that run throughout it.
There are plenty of museums to visit, which showcase Dutch art and design from centuries ago. People who love the outdoors will enjoy the numerous parks in the area where they can relax or even go on bike rides.
More than being a “simple city” like many call it; it offers more than the usual places to visit. You can have your own adventure on tour around restaurants, explore the city’s secrets, or have a beautiful view in one of the many residences available for tourists.
One of our favorite travel destinations ever. Amsterdam has a lot to offer, including its characteristic coffee shops and the Red Light District.
To decide whether or not this city goes on your list, just keep reading a bit more about its history and architecture below.
Amsterdam Early Days: Introduction & Origins
For starters, the city is older than most people realize. It has a beautiful story of tolerance and beauty both in its inhabitants and its architecture.
It also has a turbulent history, from being involved in the Eighty Year’s War and being under Napoleon Bonaparte to being captured by the Nazis. All of this has helped it become the open-minded, accepting, and tolerant city it is today.
However, would it be good to change history? Things are done and what we can do now is appreciate the good things and a bit of background.
Setting the first years from 1200 to 1572, Amsterdam used to be called Amstelerdam, and instead of the international name, it is still called Mokkum by its inhabitants today.
Named after the 13th-century Dam on the River Amstel, the city quickly developed into a successful trading center. Amsterdam was one of the most important and largest cities in the world during the Dutch Golden Age.
Today, you can still see the glory days in Amsterdam, such as the Grachtengordel and the rich 17th-century residents, the Old Church, and the New Church, and some of the valuable artifacts in museums such as in the Amsterdam Museum or Rijksmuseum.
Tourists from all over the globe still visit these museums. They allow them to marvel at the city’s many achievements as a pillar of tolerance, change, and progress. Amsterdam is internationally known for being tolerant and liberal, thanks to the Pride Amsterdam and the coffee shops.
The city lies at the junction of the IJ and the Amstel. The Amsterdam port is the gateway to the North Sea Canal.
The city is also the largest in terms of economic importance. Amsterdam is home to many international companies, mostly in the Zuidas. International politics is conducted in The Hague, where the majority of foreign embassies are located.
The city was formed where the Amstel River flows into the Zuiderzee. Today, the Zuiderzee can be called the Ijsselmeer.
The Zuiderzee was the first point where the Amstel split off. These branches or deltas created an area where fish was plentiful, and people wanted to travel further into the country via Amstel.
These were the reasons people began to live in the delta’s hamlets, and before reaching today’s point, the city was originally a fishing settlement.
A flood defense structure was built to protect residents from flooding around the turn in the 12th and the 13th centuries. A dam was constructed in the mouth of the IJ to fight the wild water halfway through the 13th century as well.
A safe zone was created to allow ships to unload and load after the Dam was built. The Dam was completed, and Amsterdam’s heart was now more well-known.
Amsterdam got its name from a dam that used to be on the River Amstel. The Bishop of Utrecht granted Amsterdam city rights in 1300 or 1306.
However, it is not clear when this date occurred. Although “city rights” can be understood to include several rights, such as tolls, markets, and city walls, they essentially refer to the city’s right to its own jurisdiction.
The family ties between the Bishop of Utrecht and William III, Count from Holland, meant that the city passed to the Dutch when he died in 1317.
Development: “The Golden Age”
Commercial success didn’t come to the city until 1585. Amsterdam was the most important place in Dutch history, and the staple market was entire of its own during this time.
The Amsterdam waterways have been driving Amsterdam’s economy for hundreds of years, and this is how the city reached the Dutch Golden Age.
Beer and herring played a significant role as well.
The city was granted a significant trade monopoly in Holland. The Baltic Sea countries had traditionally controlled the herring trade. However, the North Sea was where the herring would spend their breeding time, so Amsterdam was able to intervene.
Herring jaws were also invented at that time. This Dutch technique of removing the entrails from the herring after it has been caught allows it to stay fresher for longer. This allowed fishers to catch more fish, and therefore make more money.
The Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) is also a key player in the development of Amsterdam. The V.O.C. was one of the first multinationals established in the 17th century.
The company brought spices and herbs from India to the Netherlands by sailing to India on ships. These spices were brought from far away by merchants who stored them in large warehouses.
Merchants required these warehouses to store their goods. They would get less money if they sold everything at once than if they sold it in smaller amounts.
In addition, the number of artists grew tremendously in the first decade of the 17th century, and Amsterdam saw an explosion in art production and trade.
The economic boom gave people more money to buy luxury goods like art. Amsterdam was a vibrant cultural city that attracted some of the best writers, painters, and creative minds in the world.
Bredero, Vondel, and P.C. Hooft were a part of some of the famous people who visited the city and left some of their art in Amsterdam.
Rembrandt and his students also had their office in Amsterdam. Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, and other artists also displayed their finest works in many corners of the beautiful and central place.
There were many philosophers such as Descartes and Spinoza who put their thoughts down on paper.
This period was known as The Golden Age due to how much the city thrived between 1585 and 1672. However, more was waiting to come.
The Not-So-Golden but Silver Age
Between 1672 and 1795, Amsterdam didn’t go through its best years, but neither the worst.
Starting in 1672, it was a disastrous year for the Dutch Republic, with both the French and English simultaneously attacking and marking the end of The Golden Age.
Despite the dire circumstances in which the Republic was placed, Amsterdam still maintained its prosperity in the 1672-1795 period.
It remained a major staple city and maintained its status as Europe’s financial center. The Golden Age was primarily an era of pitch and tar. However, the new era can be described as one of gold and silver, which was reflected in the city’s wealth.
Simple or rich, many dwellings were built during this period. The majority of houses in the city’s center are from the 18th century, rather than the 17th.
Following these events, the government of patrician oligarchies was thrown out in 1795, and the Republic ended its existence.
The French would soon occupy the country. The economic recession that hit Amsterdam in the 1795-1813 period was a result of stagnant demographic development and where the beautiful city and its golden days were nowhere to be found.
Many homes were abandoned, and many even fell apart from lack of maintenance. Some facades and interiors from the Empire period still exist today.
Recovering from the Hit: Expansion & Amsterdam Today
The end of the 17th-century saw the Amsterdam economy come to a halt, leading to increasing poverty and a period of decline.
However, with the construction of the North Sea Canal (1876), Amsterdam was finally connected to the sea. Steamships were a part of daily life in Amsterdam’s port from that point onwards.
This was a pivotal moment for the city since Amsterdam gained a prominent position in the global spice trade thanks to its trade with Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies). At this time, the diamond trade with South Africa began to develop.
This new period of prosperity was reflected in the creation of architectural masterpieces. Amsterdam’s Central Station opened in 1889. The Concertgebouw and Theatre Carre followed a few years later.
The 20th century started well. Amsterdam School, an idealistic architectural movement, offered low-cost housing in the city’s old district. Schiphol Airport was also added to the city, making it the largest airport in Schiphol.
The Netherlands was neutral in World War I. However, there was a severe food shortage that forced the country to ration its products. A ship carrying potatoes for the army arrived in 1917.
The ship’s arrival with potatoes for the army caused dismay among the local population, which led to the “potato riots.” This marked the beginning of a turbulent time in Amsterdam’s history.
A revolt broke out during the crisis years (1934). Protests were held against the reduction in unemployment benefits, which are the only source of income for many. Residents from the Jordaan were particularly active and threw rocks at police officers.
The Jordaan riots were the name of this uprising. All streets in the area were paved to make it impossible for stones to be pulled up and used for weapons.
World War II did not damage the buildings and infrastructure of Amsterdam. However, starvation caused by the persecution of Jews did cause the city to lose ten percent of its population.
The composition of Amsterdam’s population changed quickly after the war. Many Amsterdammers fled to satellite towns such as Purmerend, Hoorn, and Almere. The city also saw an increase in the number of Surinamese and Turkish immigrants.
Amsterdam now has more than 780,000 residents, who come from 180 countries.
Amsterdam is today one of Europe’s most popular cities and draws millions of tourists each year. Its economy remains stable, and new international companies are opening their own buildings and franchise.
Airbnb is one of the most recent companies with over 11k accommodations, and over 15 million people rent a space to visit the city.
The culture, constructions, and new additions between 2000 and 2020 have greatly supported Amsterdam’s economy today.
Worth Visiting? – Why People Love Amsterdam, Netherlands
Europe is known for having some of the most beautiful cities in the world, and Amsterdam is just another one of those that straighten this belief.
Tourists visit Amsterdam for its attractions such as coffee shops, the Red Light Districts, and museums like Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Museum, Van Gogh Museum Anne Frank House, Royal Palace on the Dam Square, and the list just continues.
On the other hand, the Amsterdam Central Station offers canal cruises through Amsterdam canals. This is definitely one of the top three things tourists should do when they visit the city.
Every year, thousands visit Amsterdam’s Pride. This has helped Amsterdam cement its status as one the most liberal and tolerant cities in Europe and the globe.
Residents and tourists alike have the chance to visit Amsterdam’s beaches, such as Amsterdam Beach-Zandvoort or Scheveningen, as well as relax in renowned parks like Vondelpark, Westerpark Saphartipark, Oosterpark, and Westerpark.
You can also enjoy the country’s famous canals and tulips at events like the Keukenhof or Amsterdam Light Festival.
Unconventional restaurants and local craft beers join the list and even then have lots of history to share with any tourist. After all, beer has its own story to tell, considering its involvement in the city’s growth.
You need to know that Amsterdam is a place that pays off and gives even more than expected for the money you spend. Thus, we are confident you will want to visit it at least once like many to enjoy the modern and contemporary art and everything it has to offer.
But What Should You Do? – Amsterdam Activities
With a large list of places, how do you know where to start?
Although you are free to make your own list of attractions and activities to do, we will lend you a hand with the primary ones you should consider.
For starters and any history lover, Rijksmuseum is one of the most popular attractions and a national museum that was founded in 1798.
The rarest and most antiquity country’s collection is located in this beautiful building, and you can have a look at over 7,500 pieces, including paintings and sculptures.
Anne Frank, the world’s best-known Holocaust victim, lived in the city as a refugee and wrote the diary that became a best-seller worldwide later.
You can visit her house and look at all the belongings and part of some old registers.
Next, we have Vondelpark that is the largest and most visited park in the city. It occupies over 120 acres and what you can find is endless.
Among the beauties you will witness, you can find 65 or more different types of flowers, and some activities are set for tourists at certain hours of the day.
Dam Square, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, The Botanical Gardens, Kalverstraat, and Vlooienmarket. We can continue listing more places and how you can enjoy Dutch tradition.
The last two are perfect for shopping therapy and looking at luxury goods, local crafts, and buying all your souvenirs. You can find almost anything.
Many people from South Holland and North Holland visit Amsterdam every year and are the main tourists that come every year.
Finally, depending on how long you will stay, we would definitely add the next options to what you must do in the city:
- Red Light District Tour.
- Tour around bars and restaurants.
- Canal cruise with Dutch food and amazing drinks.
- Day trip to Volendam, Marken, Edam, and Windmills.
- Private tour in the Van Gogh Museum.
- Icebar experience.
- Walking tour in Amsterdam’s Jordaan Area.
- Go cycling in the canals.
- Tour most historic buildings.
- Amsterdam Centraal Station visit and going to the city center.
Shooting in the Magic Canals: Films in Amsterdam
With the city’s beauty, it is only natural to have some amazing films shot on the streets, in the Canal, or maybe in some of the most popular tourist attractions.
Amsterdam has been a favorite for decades, and besides being a second scenario for some movies, it has also been the primary one.
“Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) is the 007 James Bond film starring Sean Connery is one of the most renamed ones to this date. Several areas in the city were part of the filming areas for the movie, including the Boruwersgracht in the Jordaan.
“Amsterdamned” (1988) is quite a bit different from the previous one.
The canals of Amsterdam are stunning and should be admired to the point of UNESCO announcing them to be a World Heritage Site.
However, the last film mentioned goes beyond the beauty of the canals and focuses on a horror film by director Dick Maas of De Lift.
Of course, Amsterdam and its canals are the main scenarios, and it has lots of jumpscares to offer.
Other films like “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” (2015), “Mindhunters” (2004), “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004), “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014), and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2003) can be included on the mentions.
6 Stunning Facts About Amsterdam, Netherlands
- The city houses the most museums per capita worldwide. Despite being a small capital city, its culture is bigger than most in Europe.
- The motto under the sign of Amsterdam (the three crosses) says “Heroic, Determined, and Merciful.”
- In total, Amsterdam has 165 canals and runs for a total of over 100 kilometers.
- You can find over 1,500 bars and cafes to enjoy amazing drinks.
- Amsterdam is considered the gay capital of Europe since the Netherlands was the first country in the world that legalizes same-sex marriage in 2001.
- Officially, Amsterdam has more canals than Venice but also more bridges than Paris.
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