Hotels in Amsterdam


Flag of Amsterdam

Amsterdam, (pronunciation (help·info)) the capital of the Netherlands, lies on the banks of two bodies of water, the IJ bay and the Amstel river. Founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village on the banks of the Amstel, it is now the largest city in the country and its financial and cultural centre. As of 2005, the population of the city proper is 742,951[1]; the population of the greater Amsterdam area is approximately 1.5 million.

Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, dating largely from the 17th century, the Golden Age of the Netherlands, of which it was the focal point. At this time, a series of concentric, semi-circular canals were built around the older city centre, which still defines its layout and appearance today. Many fine houses and mansions are situated along the canals; most are lived in, others are now offices, and some are public buildings. Some of the narrow brick houses are gradually sinking because they are built on wooden piles to cope with the marshy subsoil.

The city is noted for many outstanding museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum, the Anne Frank House, and its world-class symphony orchestra, the Concertgebouworkest, whose home base is the Concertgebouw. Notable are also its red-light district, de Wallen, and its numerous "coffee shops" selling cannabis.

Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, it is neither the capital of the province in which it is located, North Holland (which is Haarlem), nor the seat of government (which is The Hague).


Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village in the 13th century. According to legend Amsterdam was founded by two Frisian fishermen, who landed on the shores of the Amstel in a small boat with their dog. The damming of the river Amstel gave it its name. It was given city rights in 1300 or 1301. From the 14th century on, Amsterdam flourished, largely on the basis of trade with the cities of the Hanseatic League.

The 16th century brought a rebellion by the Dutch against Philip II of Spain and his successors, escalating into the Eighty Years' War which ultimately led to Dutch independence. The Dutch Republic became known for its relative religious tolerance and Jews from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp (economic and religious refugees from the part of the Low Countries still controlled by Spain), Huguenots from France (persecuted for their religion) sought safety in Amsterdam. It was the rich, refined migrants from Flanders who set the tone (their Brabant dialects became the basis of standard written Dutch) and made Holland a mercantile power.

Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's "Golden Age". In the early 17th century Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to North America, Africa and present-day Indonesia and Brazil and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam's merchants had the biggest share in the VOC and WIC. These companies acquired the overseas possessions which formed the seeds of the later Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was the most important point for the trans-shipment of goods in Europe and it was the leading financial centre of the world. Amsterdam's stock exchange was the first to trade continuously.

The population grew from slightly over 10,000 around 1500 to 30,000 around 1570, 60,000 around 1600, 105,000 in 1622 and almost 200,000 around 1700 (a twenty fold increase in 200 years). Thereafter, the population did not change much for another century and a half. During the century before World War II it almost quadrupled to 800,000, but then remained fairly constant again to this day.

The 18th and early 19th centuries saw a decline in Amsterdam's prosperity. The wars of the Dutch Republic with the United Kingdom and France took their toll on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic Wars Amsterdam's fortunes reached their lowest point. However, with the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, things slowly began to improve. In Amsterdam new developments were started by people like Sarphati who found their inspiration in Paris.

The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam's second Golden Age. New museums, a train station, and the Concertgebouw were built. At this time the Industrial Revolution reached Amsterdam. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine and the North Sea Canal to give the port a shorter connection to the North Sea. Both projects improved communication with the rest of Europe and the world dramatically. Joseph Conrad gives a brief description of Amsterdam, seen from the sea at this period, in The Mirror of the Sea (1906).

Shortly before the First World War the city began expanding and new suburbs were built. During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. Amsterdam suffered a food shortage and heating fuel became scarce. The shortages sparked riots in which several people were killed.

Germany invaded the Netherlands in 10 May 1940, taking control of the country after five days of fighting. The Germans installed a Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam that cooperated in the persecution of Jews. More than 80,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps, of whom perhaps the most famous was a young German girl, Anne Frank. Only 5,000 Jews survived the war. In the last months of the war communication with the rest of the country broke down and food and fuel became scarce. Many inhabitants of the city had to travel to the countryside to collect food. Most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms of Amsterdam is composed of three St Andrew's crosses, aligned vertically, but rotated 90 degrees for the flag. Historians believe they represent the three dangers which have traditionally plagued the city: flood, fire, and pestilence. The city's official motto, Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig ("Valiant, Resolute, Merciful") which is displayed on the coat of arms, was bestowed on it by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947 in recognition of the city's bravery during World War II. The lions were added in the sixteenth century.

The crown was awarded to the city in 1489 by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, out of gratitude for services and loans. The crown was a sign of imperial protection and acted as a seal of approval for Amsterdam merchants abroad. The Westertoren also features the imperial crown.

City government

As all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, his aldermen, and the municipal council. However, unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into fifteen stadsdelen (boroughs), a system that was implemented in the 1980s to improve local governance. The stadsdelen are responsible for many activities that previously had been run by the central city. Fourteen of these have their own council, chosen by a popular election. The fifteenth, Westerpoort, covers the harbour of Amsterdam, has very few inhabitants, and is governed by the central municipal council. Local decisions are made at borough level, and only affairs pertaining to the whole city, such as major infrastructure projects, are handled by the central city council.


Amsterdam enjoys a moderate temperate climate, with the weather patterns being strongly influenced by Amsterdam's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the prevailing westerly winds. Winters are mild and average above freezing, although frosts are not uncommon during periods of easterly or northeasterly winds that blow from the interior of the continent. Summers are comfortably warm but seldom hot. However, although days with measureable precipitation are common, Amsterdam does not have an overly wet climate and averages less than 760 mm (30 inches) of precipitation annually. The amount of precipitation seems heavier than it actually is, as much of it falls as protracted drizzle or light rain. Cloudy and damp days are common, particularly in the cooler months.


Demographic evolution of Amsterdam between 1300 and 1999
1300 1400 1500 1600 1650 1796 1830 1849 1879 1899 1925 1999
1,000 3,000 12,000 60,000 140,000 200,600 202,400 224,000 317,000 510,900 714,200 727,100


Amsterdam has two universities: the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam), and the Vrije Universiteit. Other institutions for higher education include an art school, De Rietveldacademie, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, the Hogeschool voor Economische Studies Amsterdam and the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten. Amsterdam's International Institute of Social History is one of the world's largest documentary and research institutions concerning social history, and especially the history of the labour movement. Amsterdam's Hortus Botanicus, founded in the early 1600s, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, with many old and rare specimens, amongst which the coffee plant that served as the parent for the entire coffee culture in Central and South America.

Public transport

Public transport in Amsterdam, operated by Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, Connexxion, and Nederlandse Spoorwegen, consists of:

  • national and international train connections
  • 3 metro lines and 1 light rail line, together the Amsterdam metro
  • 16 tram lines
  • An express tram line (IJtram)
  • 55 local bus lines
  • regional bus lines
  • several ferries for pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ (free of charge)
  • a Fast Flying Ferry towards Velsen-Zuid on the North Sea shore

A new underground line, the North/South Line (Noord/Zuidlijn) is under construction. The estimated completion date is in 2012.(See also Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, Amsterdam metro, Amsterdam Centraal).


During the construction of the Amsterdam metro, plans to demolish the entire Jewish neighbourhood near the Nieuwmarkt led to strong protests. The metro was still built (wall decorations at the Nieuwmarkt station are dedicated to the protests), but plans to build a highway through the neighbourhood in the centre of Amsterdam were abolished. In 1975 there was an incident where a planned bombing of the Venserpolder station led to a political scandal when mayor Ivo Samkalden and everyone in the city council, except for Roel van Duijn, instantly and erroneously blamed the left-wing protesters, which was exactly the objective of the right-wing bombers.

Private transport

Many people in Amsterdam use bicycles to get around. Most main streets have bike paths. Bike racks are ubiquitous throughout the city. There are about 700,000 bicycles in the city. Each year, about 80,000 of them are stolen and 25,000 end up in the canals. In the city centre, driving a car is complicated and limited by traffic jams and expensive parking spaces.


Schiphol, about twenty minutes by train from downtown Amsterdam, is the biggest airport in the Netherlands, and the fourth largest in Europe. It handles about 42 million passengers a year and is home base to KLM.


Amsterdam is the home town of Ajax, a team in the Dutch Football League. Its home base is the modern stadium Amsterdam ArenA, located in the south-east of the city. The team shares that facility with the Amsterdam Admirals, an American football team.

In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the Games of the IXth Olympiad. The Olympic Stadium built for the occasion has been completely restored and is now used for cultural and sporting events.

Amsterdam also is home to a famous ice rink, the Jaap Eden baan. The Amstel Tijgers play in this arena in the Dutch ice hockey premier league. In speed skating many international championships have been fought in the 400-meter lane of this ice rink.

The city also has a baseball team, the Amsterdam Pirates who play in the Dutch Major League. Three field hockey teams, Amsterdam, Pinoké and Hurley, and a basketball team, the Amsterdam Astronauts who play in the Dutch premier division and play their games in the Sporthallen Zuid, near the Olympic Stadium.

Periodic events

  • Koninginnedag, Queen's day, 30 April, the former Queen's (Juliana) birthday
  • Uitmarkt, last weekend in August, the start of the cultural season
  • Amsterdam Roots, last week of June. International music festival
  • Amsterdam Pride, mid-August, gay pride weekend
  • Amsterdam Marathon, mid-October
  • Sail Amsterdam, a five-yearly event, when tall ships from all over the world can be visited.
  • Cannabis Cup, mid-November annual cannabis competition, hosted by High Times.

Famous Amsterdammers

  • Karel Appel - painter
  • Dennis Bergkamp - football player
  • Frits Bolkestein - politician
  • George Hendrik Breitner - painter
  • Simon Carmiggelt - writer and columnist
  • Johan Cruijff - football player
  • Candy Dulfer - saxophonist
  • Max Euwe - chess player
  • Anne Frank - Holocaust diarist
  • Theo van Gogh - filmmaker and colummnist
  • Vincent van Gogh - painter
  • Ruud Gullit - football player
  • Patrick Kluivert - football player
  • André Hazes - singer
  • Freddy Heineken - beer magnate
  • Meindert Hobbema - painter
  • Jozef Israëls - painter
  • Wim Kok - former prime minister
  • Karel Miljon - boxer
  • Harry Mulisch - writer
  • Multatuli - writer
  • Rembrandt - painter
  • Frank Rijkaard - football player
  • Baruch Spinoza - philosopher
  • Paul Verhoeven - film director
Back to Main Page
Travel to City | Travel to Bratislava | Travel to Lisbon | Travel to Venezia
Travel to Belgium | Travel to Montenegro | Travel to Dalmatia | Travel to Provence | Travel to Andalusia | Travel to Netherlands