Amsterdam is a unique city which combines a historic atmosphere with the outlook and variety of a truly modern, 21st century metropolis. The small scale of the buildings - you’ll find no towering skyscrapers here - and the intimacy of the narrow city streets create an atmosphere that visitors love and make Amsterdam the ideal city to explore on foot or by bicycle.
History of Amsterdam
The story of Amsterdam begins in the 13th century when a small fishing village grew up around the spot where settlers had first begun damming the Amstel river. By the time the town gained its first charter in 1300, the ‘Aemstelledammers’ who started the young Amsterdam had become experts at boat building and the brewing of beer.
Free passage and the development of trading networks proved instrumental in the economic development of Amsterdam. Innovation also played its part. The herring trade grew rapidly after the invention of herring curing, which allowed the fishermen to catch more fish and make more money. But things were to really take off in the 17th century, when the Dutch East India Company was founded. The city of Amsterdam had a majority stake in the trading company - widely to believed to be the first multinational in history - and the prosperity that resulted from its trade with Asia funded what became known as the Golden Age.
During this period of great wealth Amsterdam saw significant expansion, the results of which include the now-famous canals and the Jordaan district. The city’s art scene also flourished at this time, leaving a legacy of Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen.
Decline and poverty followed as the Golden Age came to an end, but in 1876 the completion of a canal linking Amsterdam to the North Sea marked a turning point for the city as fresh trading possibilities brought new prosperity to the city. But as the 20th century dawned, a time of turbulence lay ahead. The Netherlands remained neutral during the First World War, but German occupation during the Second World War led to starvation and the persecution of Amsterdam’s Jewish population.
After the war the face of Amsterdam changed rapidly and an influx of Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan immigrants boosted the city's population. Today the city on the Amstel is a modern, multicultural metropolis that is home to more than 780,000 residents from 180 different countries.
Five things to do in Amsterdam
So you are ready to start your Amsterdam adventure. But what are the ‘must see’ attractions that should be on every visitor’s itinerary? Here are five suggestions of things to do during your visit to Amsterdam - and a map to help you find your way around this exciting, cosmopolitan city.
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands and houses one of Europe’s finest collections of art and history. But the museum’s recent past has been one of great turmoil. It closed in 2003 for renovation but the project overran by five years and the budget spiralled, meaning the museum could only be officially reopened by Queen Beatrix earlier this year.
It’s fair to say the wait has been worth it, as today the Rijksmuseum takes visitors on a spectacular journey through Dutch history, from the Middle Ages to the present day. More than 8,000 paintings, drawings, prints and other fascinating objects bring the story of the Netherlands to life. At the heart of the museum is the restored Gallery of Honour where masterpieces by the likes of Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt make for an inspiring celebration of the Dutch Golden Age.
Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
The Heineken Experience
For beer-lovers the Heineken Experience is an Amsterdam highlight not to miss. The former brewery has been transformed into a celebration of this world-famous Dutch beer, and visitors flock here to learn about the 150-year history of the drink and, naturally, sample a few of the brews for themselves. The tour only takes about 90 minutes and the experience is open seven days a week, but please be aware that those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam
Anne Frank House
A visit to the Anne Frank House - where the teenage Anne wrote her famous diary while her family hid from the German occupiers of Amsterdam - is a moving experience. The building was saved from threatened demolition after the Second World War by campaigners determined to preserve the place where Anne and her family hid for two years before they were betrayed to the Nazis. Today visitors can see Anne’s original diary as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions documenting the wartime persecution of Jews and contemporary fascism, racism and anti-Semitism.
Prinsengracht 267, 1016 GV Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum
Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh remains one of the most famous artists of the 19th century and his work had a significant influence of the art of the century that followed. Nowhere else in the world can you see as many of the great painter’s works together in place as at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which displays such famous works as The Sunflowers and The Bedroom in Arles. Visitors to the museum can also learn more about the artists Van Gogh was friends with and who he influenced in their work.
Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX Amsterdam
Red Light District
Situated in the oldest part of the city, Amsterdam’s famous red light district is the known the world over for leaving little to the imagination. At night the neighbourhood comes alive as curious tourists explore the canal-side streets lined with the iconic red-lit windows, sex shops and live shows. The Dutch are famous for their tolerant attitudes towards sex and drugs, and nowhere is this relaxed approach more evident than in De Wallen.
But the rosse buurt, as the area is known to Amsterdammers, is not just about the nocturnal sights and sounds of the red light district. The neighbourhood is full of interesting shops, great places to eat and drink, and some of the city’s finest architecture, such as the gothic Oude Kerk.
Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, lying at the center of the Randstad, one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe. Getting there is easy if you book one of the frequent cross-Channel ferries to France, with Amsterdam being less than four hours away by car if you travel on one of the Dover ferries to Calais.
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MyFerryLink offers up to 16 sailings between Dover and Calais every day and you can book your crossing by visiting our booking page on the website or by calling 0844 2482 100.