Grachtengordel, also known as the Amsterdam Canal District, is one of Amsterdam's cultural hubs. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this district comprises four principal canals, namely the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, and the Prinsengracht canals, a historic network that dates back to the 17th Century. This neighborhood is also noted for its impeccable urban planning which endured nearly four centuries. A major landmark situated in this area is the Anne Frank House, which is a museum dedicated to the Jewish writer Anne Frank.
One of the city's oldest neighborhoods, the Jordaan traces its roots to the 17th Century as an area built for the working class. The neighborhood has since transformed into an upscale quarter. Today, the Jordaan is a harmonious blend of the old and new, with charming historical courtyards, stellar art galleries, and great dining options. Of particular interest are the markets regularly held at Noordermarkt, Lindengracht and Westerstraat, the Jordaan Museum, and the Westerkerk with its lofty bell tower. Over the years, the neighborhood's diverse makeup has also given rise to a distinctive musical style that is still celebrated through performances at Jordaan's many bars and cafes. Down the streets and along the canals of Jordaan, quaint historic homes and contemporary attractions vie for the attention of passersby.
This large, green oasis was created in the second half of the 19th Century, and named after the poet Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), a statue of whom was unveiled here in 1867. Today Vondelpark, one of the most-visited spots in the city, is a restful haven for citizens away from the city's chaos. Come here for inline skating, let your children play in the large playground or have a cup of coffee on one of the four terraces.
The Netherlands' most renowned church has been the source of inspiration for many musicians. The famous tower was completed in 1638, its bells manufactured by acclaimed bell-founder François Hemony in 1658. Though the Protestant community owned Westerkerk, the tower was the property of the local authorities and served as a lookout. This marks the site of Rembrandt's burial, as well as the marriage of Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus. For Anne Frank, whose hidden annex is located just a few doors down, the ringing of the clock was a beacon of hope during World War II.
Amsterdam's Centraal Station dates back to 1889, when it was first used for the transport of goods. Today, besides being Amsterdam's largest and busiest railway station, it is a rijksmonument (Netherland's national heritage site) and an important tourist attraction in its own right. The designer of Rijksmuseum, P.J.H. Cuypers, was the chief architect during its construction. Its magnificent facade is a blend of Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles of architecture. The building's foundation consists of 8687 wooden piles, while its roof made from cast iron stretches for 40 meters (131.2 feet). The original construction has been rebuilt more than once due to rapidly expanding traffic and rail transport. With an influx of more than 250,000 passengers everyday, it ranks among the top three busiest railway stations in the country.
With origins that date back to the 14th Century, Begijnhof is Amsterdam's oldest hofje, or inner courtyard. The Medieval Courtyard was originally laid-out as a Beguinage, or dwelling for the Begijntjes - a Catholic sisterhood of single women. When the practice of the Catholic faith was deemed illegal in the 16th Century, the Beguinage was forced to surrender its chapel. A "hidden church" was built in its stead, concealed behind residential facades. This chapel still exists and is a cherished place of pilgrimage. Most of the other buildings that fringe the Begijnhof were built in the 17th and 18th Centuries, except for the Houten Huys. Constructed in 1528, this medieval timber house is Amsterdam's oldest and offers a glimpse into the city's architectural past. The courtyard also hosts the medieval home of the English Reformed Church and several historic stone plaques. Isolated from the bustle of the historic city center, the Begijnhof remains shrouded in an air of mystery, a rare, hidden gem that has survived the march of time. The entrance to the secluded courtyard is located at Spui.
The Nieuwe Kerk is a 15th-century building, partly destroyed and refurbished after several fires. Located in the bustling Dam Square area of the city, this historic church has held a prominent place in the country's political and religious affairs over the centuries. It has been the venue for coronations of kings and queens, and also plays host to an array of exhibitions, concerts and cultural events. Admire its Gothic architecture, splendid steeples, glass-stained windows and ornate detailing.
Amsterdam's Royal Palace is the crown jewel of the city's cache of architectural marvels from the Dutch Golden Age. The palace was originally constructed in the 17th Century as the new Town Hall, designed by Jacob van Campen as a symbol of the Netherlands' far-reaching influence and its hefty stake in global commerce at that time. The palace is an embodiment of opulence and lavish taste, generously adorned with marble sculptures, vivid frescoes and sparkling chandeliers that illuminate rooms of palatial proportions. Within, are numerous symbolic representations of the country's impressive economic and civic power in the realm of world politics in the 17th Century, including a larger-than-life statue of Atlas. In 1806, Louis Napoleon, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, was named King Louis I of Holland, transforming the former Town Hall into his Royal Palace. Today, the historic abode is one of the three palaces granted to the Dutch Royal House by an Act of Parliament. The Royal Palace hosts visiting heads of state and serves as a venue for Royal Receptions and other events.
The Atlas Sculpture is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in the city. It is placed on the roof of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. This is one of the many representations of the famous Greek mythology sculpture which exhibits a man carrying heavy celestial spheres on his back.
This distinctive bridge over the historic Singel canal has stood since 1648 and is easily identified by its unusual width. 39 meters (128 feet) wide, the bridge is able to hold the terraces of two nearby cafés, a statue to Multatuli, and a street large enough for cars to pass over. The bridge, whose name means "tower lock," held a tower known as the Jan Roodenpoortstoren until 1829, and close examination of the bridge's stonework still reveals the shape of the tower that once stood there. In its long history it has also served as a prison, and barred windows of the dungeons can still be seen underneath.
Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker is best known by his pen name, Multatuli, and was one of the most prominent critics of the Dutch colonial system (as well as a favored author of Sigmund Freud). In 2002, he was declared the most important Dutch writer of all-time. A statue to Multatuli now sits on the Torensluis bridge, over the Singel canal, and was created by Dutch artist Hans Bayens. The statue features a stylized bust of the author, looking out over the terraces of the cafés that now dominate the bridge.
Perhaps one of the best known of Amsterdam's attractions, Dam Square forms not only the core of the present-day city but is also where Amsterdam first took root in the 13th Century. It is here that the River Amsel was originally dammed, lending the city its name and giving rise to the thriving fishing village that would eventually become Amsterdam. Today, the town square is the cultural epicenter of the city, playing host to iconic attractions like the neo-classical Royal Palace, the Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, and the National Monument - a stoic memorial to the victims of World War II. Also at the square are Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Hotel Krasnapolsky and the Bijenkorf department store, while the De Wallen is just a short walk away. All around are visions of architectural mastery and markers of a colorful past. Numerous carnivals, festivals, concerts and other events are often hosted here as well, creating a vibrant, and vivacious space that is quintessentially Amsterdam.