Amsterdam History, Culture and Museums

AmsterdamAmsterdam is regarded by many as the city with the most intricate and efficient navigable waterways in the world. It was once the financial hub for all of Europe but today is known more for its ‘tolerant’ character with regards to activities such as prostitution and cannabis.

It has over 50 museums satisfying the hunger of many tourism tastes including that of art, architecture, diamonds, Jewish history, war history and beer. There are even museums displaying the history of sex, erotica, hash and torture. The museums vary in size from the grandiose of the Rijksmuseum to the fascinating Amstelkring, also known as Out Lord in the Attic, in the Red Light district.

Despite its rich and turbulent art, religious and trade history, the city had a modest beginning early in the 13th century as a fishing village and by the middle of the 13th century construction of ‘ Aemestelledam , medieval Dutch for ‘Dam in the Amstel, commenced. The first canals were then built for defence and water management but the ease of transporting traded goods between ships from all over the world contributed to the expansion of the 17th century.

By 1660, the city had quadrupled in size with 3 main canals. Both sides of the canals were lined with houses of wealthy merchants reaping the benefits of having their goods delivered to their doorstep on the water.

Although, in the early 20th century, many canals were filled in to allow for the building of more roads, a quarter of the city’s area still consists of waterways with up to 65 miles of ancient canals. There are now 5 main concentric semi circles of canals or ‘grachts’ called Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht and Singelgracht.

Today the original dam is known as the famous Dam Square. Damrak, the main road leading into Dam Square was once the end of the Amstel River. It remains in the heart of the city and although not everyone’s image of beauty, is flanked by the Royal Palace and remembered as the meeting point for Napoleon and his troops during the 1808 takeover of the city.

An array of transport modes are available to get around the sites of Amsterdam including buses, trams, the subway, taxis, cars and even bikes. However, for door to door services like the ancient residents, the public transport operators Museumboat and the Canal Bus, stop at almost all of Amsterdam’s museums and attractions via the web of canals. Some of these main attractions include Anne Frank’s house, Madame Tussaud, Rembrandt’s house, Stedelijk Museum, Van Gogh’s Museum, Heineken Brewery Museum, Diamond Factory Tours and the Jewish Historical Museum.

As Amsterdam was built to be appreciated from the water, there are endless types of canal cruises on offer. The historical luxury Saloon boat cruises are appealingly restored from their original early 20th century creations. They were once sailed by professionals to entertain their clients and guests.

Cruises from the various fleets can be taken at virtually any meal time including breakfast, lunch, high tea and even cheese, wine or beer tasting. Dinner time cruises offer the choice of cuisine including Thai, French, Indonesian, barbeque, pizza, sushi and even pancakes.

Other themed cruises cater for lovers of music, cocktails and drinks, theater, romance, children’s parties, antique ferryboats, literature and of course the famous red light district.

The central part of the city revolving around Dam Square is divided by Damrak into the old part (Oude Zijdse) on the east side and the new part (Nieuwe Zijdse) on the west side. The Oude Zijdse was once a hive of activity during the middle ages and Amsterdam’s Golden Age of the 17th century. Boats would sail up to Nieuwe Markt to have goods weighed at the Waag before being traded. Attractions of the Oude Zijdse include the gothic Oude kerk which is the oldest church in Amsterdam dating back to the 13th century. Passers by often hear the exquisitely toned 1724 organ in the summer months through the beautiful stain glass windows.

The major modern museums are found in the Nieuwe Zijdse as is the pedestrians only shopping street, Nieuwedijk.

Coffee shops and cafes are found all over the city. Generally speaking, cafes serve only standard non alcoholic beverages and food. Coffee shops present more liberal menus for their customers to meet their various consumption desires.

Apart from the smorgasbord of restaurants, coffee shops, cafes and museums many squares (pleins) and parks provide visitors with down time after busy days. Relax in Vondelpark near Leidesplein, which is also the main nightlife area, or just past Waterloo plein is the Hortus Botanicus and Artis ( one of the oldest zoos in the world ) Leidesplein, Leidesestraat, Rembrandtplein, Muntplein and Museumplein all are lined with various boutique, family, budget and modern hotels. The luxurious Hotel Krasnapolski and Amstel Hotel both date back to the 19th century.

Amsterdam has something for everyone to do including children and on any budget. Its relaxed atmosphere and modern approach to life is welcoming yet allows for escapism back in time for a valuable historical education.

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