The Vondelpark area derives its name from one of Holland’s famous poets, Joost van den Vondel, and is the biggest and most famous city park of Amsterdam. This is where many people come on a sunny day to enjoy the green around them. You can have a picnic here, sit down on a warm evening and bring some nice drinks, or simply go for a stroll if you wish to get away from the busy streets of downtown.
Created in the nineteenth century, this park was formerly only accessible for the higher class of the community, as it was private property. However, the city realized that this place would suit as a public park, so eventually everyone could come to this park. There’s a couple of nice cafés where you can have a cup of coffee, such as the Blauwe Theehuis, and during the summer you can even look at some open air theatre.
Museum Square or Museumplein as it is locally known, is something of a cultural hub for those in search of art and the city’s most popular museums. It is located just south of the city centre on the edge of the famous Canal Belt almost alongside the Vondelpark.Since the city boasts around 60 museums and art galleries there’s lots of competition for your money. The Rijksmusem and Van Gogh Museum in the square are still reigning supreme in the most popular stakes (after the Anne Frank House Museum).
The plaza dates back to the end of the 19th century when it was in a previous form known as the Brouwersplein (Brewers’ Square). The name Museumplein later came into use much later when several museums were added to the vicinity. The latest incarnation of the square was created in 1999 by the Dutch/Swedish architect Swen-Ingvar Andersson. Since much needed renovation work had to be carried out on the site they took the opportunity to also incorporate an underground parking facility and a cleverly disguised subterranean supermarket here. The final results you see today divide the square into two areas. The southern part is a large open grassy area where people play football in the warmer months and enjoy picnics. Meanwhile at the northern end in front of the majestic Rijksmuseum a granite plaza incorporates a long fountain which is regularly transformed into an ice skating area in the winter time. Thousands of people pack out the square at major annual events in the city including New Year’s Eve, the Queen’s Day celebrations (the birthday of the Queen Juliana, former Queen of the Netherlands), and whenever the Dutch football team is playing. On quieter days it is a great place to sun bathe or enjoy a good book or just sit back and do a bit of people watching.
The Oud Zuid, or Old South area, is known to be an exclusive and very beautiful area. This is just south of the Canal District, the historical part of the city with all its impressive waterways that run through the cute streets with magnificent houses.
The Oud Zuid area is of a bit more modern nature yet remains an iconic representation of stunning Dutch architecture known as the School of Amsterdam. To the Dutch, this region is known to be an area for the rich and famous, which can partly be rationalized why the street with the most exclusive brand stores, the P.C. Hooftstraat, is located right here. One of the best aspects of this area would have to be that you are only a stone’s throw away from the absolute city centre. Yet some of the most amazing parts of Amsterdam can be found right in this area.
The delightful district of the Jordaan lies to the west of the city centre and is bordered by the famous Prinsengracht Canal. This famous network of parallel streets possibly takes its name from the French word ‘jardin’ meaning ‘garden’. Indeed you will notice that many of the street names incorporate flowers and trees. The district was initially created as an overflow for the city’s burgeoning population in 1612 but became quickly extremely overcrowded itself and remained so for several hundred years. More recently in the 1960s the buildings themselves had fallen into disrepair following the Second World War. 80,000 Amsterdam Jews never returned from the Nazi concentration camps across Europe of which many were homeowners in the Jordaan.
The local city council concocted plans to demolish many of the ancient buildings with the intention of building ‘modern’ housing blocks in their place. Fierce street battles between residents, police and demolition companies ensued. Eventually the destructive plans were updated and restoration began in the neighbourhood where possible. Over the last 50 years the Jordaan has certainly come into its own. Its enchanting architecture, pretty inner courtyards, boutiques, art galleries and traditional ‘brown’ pubs have combined to make it one of the most sought after locations to live in the Netherlands.
One of the most instantly recognised landmarks in the Netherlands has to be Dam Square with its beautiful Royal Palace at one side and tall iconic World War II memorial at the other. Many people consider this extremely busy plaza to be the historical heart of the city and its existence dates back to the 13th century. It is located at the end of Damrak which leads directly south from Central Station. Alongside you will find the famous Red Light District and the beautiful Canal Belt neighbourhood.
Known locally as de Dam, the square is a great place to grab a frothy Amsterdam coffee and watch the many hundreds of people bustling back and forth trying to avoid the cars, trams and thousands of bicycles and pigeons. Admire the many human statues that litter the square in good weather. Standards have somewhat slipped over the years and some performers no longer seem to be bothered to actually stand still anymore. Meanwhile other statues have intricate home made costumes and are clearly experts in their art. It’s up to you to indentify which ones deserve your loose change the most.
The Plantage district can be found on the eastern side of the Amsterdam city centre, and is the perfect area to stay if you want to be right next to the heart of the absolute epicentre of town, yet prefer to have the down-to-earth attitude of the locals around you, as this area is a true hidden treasure here, mostly missed by the bigger tourist crowds.
Created in the seventeenth century in order to cope with the expansion of the city, it ended up being a very green area, with little gardens and pleasant city parks to walk around in, which is where the neighbourhood gets its name from (plantation).
Amsterdam’s most iconic and attractive district, the Canal Belt, is made up of four great waterways that loop around the oldest part of the city centre. Known locally as the Grachtengordel, the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht canals were created during the city’s famous 17th century Golden Age. You will find some of Amsterdam’s most elegant architecture here in this almost fairytale-like setting. You will never tire of the classically tall leaning townhouses, pretty houseboats and unexpected wildlife to be found along these delightful waterways. At night time many of the little bridges are lit up prettily by fairy lights creating an extremely romantic ambience that has come to represent quintessential Amsterdam.
It is quite shocking to learn that much of the area was to be lost forever when plans were unveiled in the 1970s to demolish many of the buildings and even fill in some of the canals. A large number of buildings in the city were extremely dilapidated following the war and the local council wanted to build a new access road into the city. Thankfully the plans did not happen as they were met with such strong opposition from residents. Indeed there were many actual street battles involving residents, politicians, demolition workers and police. Unfortunately at this point some of the city had already been flattened in the development of the new underground metro system including the Jewish district, the Waterlooplein. You will be pleased know that the Canal Belt is now considered to be of great architectural and historical importance and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010 for its future protection.
The delightful Nine Streets can be found within the city’s most beautiful and oldest central district, the Canal Belt. Four huge waterways loop around the old city centre like an ornate necklace. The Nine Streets, known locally as Negen Straatjes, link and bridge each of the canals.
Here you will find some incredibly charming and unusual gift shops, boutiques, antique stores, art galleries and vintage clothing stalls. Look out for the rather unusual curiosity shops here too. There are also lots of tasty restaurants and cool cafes to keep you refreshed on your travels around the city.
Take a look at the street names on the map. Many of them incorporate the names of animals such as Berenstraat (Street of Bears) and Wolvenstraat (Street of Wolves) and relate to the animal skin and leather tanning businesses that were established here some 400 years ago. Don’t forget to look upwards to admire the beautiful 17th century architecture. This area incorporates a broad range of styles typical of this ancient city.
Currently it is a very exclusive and luxurious area with a lot of amazing places to visit. A trip alongside the Amstel is a treat of its own, as you will pass some impressive bridges and amazing estates, such as the Amstel Hotel and the National Theatre Carré.
The city’s famous Leidseplein, or Leidse Square, is a favourite choice for many visitors and local people in Amsterdam. Located almost opposite the Vondelpark at the end of the Leidsestraat, close to the beautiful Canal Belt district, the plaza is easily accessible. The square incorporates shopping, eating, drinking and general entertainment with its many bars and laid back outdoor cafes. You will also notice lots of buskers and people performing street theatre and magic here in the warmer months. You won’t be short of ideas for something to do in the evening here. Take your pick from the many theatres, concert halls, nightclubs and a stand-up comedy store.
Getting around Amsterdam is extremely easy from the Leidse Square since it is a major hub for the city’s transport network. Two tram lines intersect in the square whilst you can also catch a bus or taxi. It is always wise to ask the driver of your taxi to quote the price of your journey in total before jumping inside. Alternatively insist that the meter is turned on to measure your journey accurately.
Rembrandt Square is located in the very centre of Amsterdam just a short walk from the famous Red Light District and Dam Square and lying alongside the mouth of the Amstel River. Known locally as the Rembrandtplein, it is one of the most popular entertainment areas in the city. Visitors to the city will enjoy eating a meal and enjoying a few glasses of cold Dutch beer outside in the sun or under the huge umbrellas here. Wall to wall restaurants, bars and laid back cafes can be found around the edge of the square catering for thousands of people daily. At night time the plaza really comes into its own with the opening of several nightclubs including the famous Escape and Club Rain. At the centre of the square stand a small fountain and a huge statue of Rembrandt himself.
Depending on the time of year you visit you will often find the central part of the plaza converted into anything from a market square selling European delicacies to a giant outdoor dance floor or even an ice rink in the colder winter months.
People have traditionally congregated at the square since its original creation in 1668 as a dairy market. Over the centuries with the addition of more businesses, successful marketing and financial investment the plaza has become a popular hotspot for both locals and visitors to the city today.
Known locally as de Wallen, Amsterdam’s world famous Red Light District is located in the very centre of the city just minutes from Dam Square and Central Station. It mainly circles the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and spreads across several blocks incorporating many narrow alleyways and two pretty canals. There is no way to disguise the main attraction of this area however and the women in the windows remain an iconic image of the city. This controversial neighbourhood has existed here continuously since the 14th century, the women providing sexual favours mainly to sailors arriving at the port. If you are interested in the city’s history then a visit to the district arguably has some cultural merit and the architecture is certainly very impressive.
The nature of this famous neighbourhood simply intrigues many visitors to the city and it is perfectly acceptable to wander around the area at your leisure. At night time the district really comes to life as the red neon lights reflect very atmospherically in the canals. Please understand it is not allowed to take photos of the windows, no matter how tempting. The consequences for you will not be favourable.