Conveniently located right in central Amsterdam, Jordaan is one of the city's most important, and most interesting districts. Never short of things to do, it is the location of the famous Anne Frank house, where renowned holocaust victim Anne Frank hid from the Nazis during WWII.
Currently, the district is bustling with life, with tons of opportunities to visit one of its many specialty shops, soak in Dutch culture at an art gallery, or try some of the local delicacies at its street markets.
Prideful of its early 20th-century music culture, this central district also features wonderful music festivals and has scattered statues throughout, commemorating the likes of local hero and Dutch patriot Johnny Jordaan. Not dead, you can go check out Jordaan's lively modern music scene at many of its bars and club venues, these days mainly featuring alternative, punk and grunge music.
The Rijksmuseum, or National Museum, is the premier art museum of the Netherlands, and no self-respecting visitor to Amsterdam can afford to miss it. Though most of the building is closed for renovations until 2013, key paintings from the museum’s permanent collection can be viewed in the Philips Wing.
The collection includes some 5,000 paintings, most importantly those by Dutch and Flemish masters from the 15th to 19th centuries. The emphasis, naturally, is on the Golden Age. Pride of place is taken by Rembrandt's Nightwatch (1650), showing the militia led by Frans Banning Cocq. Other 17th century Dutch masters include Jan Vermeer (The Milkmaid, and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter), Frans Hals (The Merry Drinker) and Jan Steen (The Merry Family).
Other sections include Sculpture and Applied Art (delftware, dolls' houses, porcelain, furniture), Dutch History and Asiatic Art, including the famous 12th century Dancing Shiva.
The first image one conjures up when thinking of Amsterdam is its tranquil canals. Three rings of canals, lined by elaborately decorated merchants' residences and warehouses built in the 17th century, the Dutch "Golden Age", give the city its iconic and easygoing image. In fact, 90 islands were created when the canals were built, and they’re all connected by hundreds of charming bridges. The best-known canals form the central Grachtengordel (Canal Belt). To the wandering visitor, they’re like lifelines because the subtle turns in the center can throw your inner compass out of whack. The semicircular canals form a huge ring, cut by canals radiating from the middle like spokes on a wheel. Starting from the core, the major semicircular canals are the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. From east to west, the major radial canals are Brouwersgracht, Leidsegracht, and Reguliersgracht.
Topping off the western side of Amsterdam’s plush Canal Ring and crossing into the bohemian enclave of the Jordaan, Brouwersgracht is an enticing canal lined with narrow, gabled townhouses and former warehouses with façades that tilt precariously forwards. Connecting the canals of Singel and Singelgracht, it has been voted the prettiest street in the city and its length is home to hundreds of houseboats moored chaotically along the bank. In the 17th century known for its tanners and brewers, the canal has lost little of its tranquil atmosphere even though many of its houses have been converted into luxurious apartments and boutique hotels. It also has some architectural highlights: Brouwersgracht 2 has one of the best examples of 16th-century step gables in the city; the row at Brouwersgracht 188–194 were formerly warehouses storing leather, coffee and spices, and sport a series of identical spout gables dating from the 17th century.
It is one of the 20th century's most compelling stories: a young Jewish girl forced into hiding with her family and their friends to escape deportation by the Nazis. The house Otto Frank used as a hideaway for his family kept them safe until close to the end of World War II.
The focus of the Anne Frank House museum is the achterhuis, also known as the secret annex. It was in this dark, airless space that the Franks observed complete silence during the day, before being mysteriously betrayed and sent to their deaths.
The Anne Frank House is pretty much intact, so as you walk through the building, it's easy to imagine Anne’s experience growing up here as she wrote her famous diary describing how restrictions were gradually imposed on Dutch Jews.
Located in the center of the city, Amsterdam Central Station is the largest railway station in the Netherlands, as well as the most visited national heritage site in the country. Used by more than a quarter of a million passengers every day, it is a hub for both national and international train services. It has also been continuously under construction for more than a decade due to the development of the North-South Metro line, which should finally open fully in 2017.
Built upon three artificial islands, the station was designed by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the famous Rijksmuseum. The similarity is apparent in the Gothic/Renaissance Revival façade of the station, which features two turrets and a variety of ornamental details. First opened in 1889, the station is within walking distance of many popular tourist sights, including the Royal Palace, the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District (aka De Wallen) has been a familiar haunt for pleasure seekers since the 14th century. Though certainly not an area for everyone, the Red Light District has more to offer than just sex and liquor. For underneath its promiscuous façade, the area contains some of Amsterdam's prettiest canals, excellent bars and restaurants, and shops of all kinds. It also consists of windows with sexy girls, dressed in eye-popping underwear.
The best places for window-watching are along Oudezijds Achterburgwal and in the alleys around the Oude Kerk (Old Church), particularly to the south. The atmosphere throughout is much more laid-back than in other red-light districts. Families, lawyers, young couples, senior citizens - all types of locals live and socialize here, in stride with the surrounding commerce. You’ll probably find yourself on Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk at some point, both commercial thoroughfares chock-a-block with shops and restaurants.
Dam Square is the main city square in Amsterdam and is one of the most well-known locations in all of the Netherlands. Located in the historical center of the city and just 750 meters south of Amsterdam Centraal Station, Dam Square is home to an array of notable buildings and frequently hosts events of national importance.
The square sits over the original location of the dam in the Amstel River and has been surrounded by land on all sides since the mouth of the river was filled in the 19th century. On the west end of the square you will see the Royal Palace, which was the city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808. Next to the palace are the Gothic Nieuwe Kirk (New Church) and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. On the east end of the square is the National Monument, a stone pillar erected in 1956 to memorialize the Dutch victims of World War II.
Built on the banks of Prinsengracht Canal in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Westerkerk is famous for three things: sky-high views of Amsterdam from the top of its spire, Rembrandt's grave, and Anne Frank's ties to the church. Designed by star architect Hendrick de Keyser in the Dutch Renaissance style, the Protestant church's spire reaches 85 meters, making it the highest structure in Amsterdam's old city. From the viewing platform halfway up the tower, you'll get panoramic views right across town. And from outside the church, look up at the bell tower to see the blue imperial crown of Habsburg emperor Maximilian I at its top — it was bestowed on the city as a coat of arms in 1489.
Rembrandt’s paintings may fetch tens of millions today, but he died bankrupt in 1669 and was buried in an unmarked grave, typical for the very poor, at Westerkerk, so that no one quite knows this exact location of his final resting place where he lies buried along with his wife and son.
Magere Brug is a bridge in Amsterdam that crosses the Amstel River. Its name translates as “skinny bridge” and comes from the original bridge that was so skinny, it was difficult for two people to pass each other while walking across it at the same time. Legend also has it that the bridge was built by the Mager sisters to make it easier to visit each other since they lived on opposite sides of the river. Though it is still called the Skinny Bridge, today it is no longer so skinny. The bridge was replaced with a wider one in 1871, and now pedestrians and bicycles can cross with greater ease.
The bridge is a wooden drawbridge that is raised frequently throughout the day to allow boats to pass through. At night it is lit up by over 1,000 light bulbs. Day or night, the Skinny Bridge is a charming place to visit and enjoy views of the river and the city.
On a visit to the Begijnhof, an enclosed former 14th-century convent, you’ll discover a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard.
Contained within the hof is the charming Begijnhofkapel, a "clandestine" chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dog-leg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and stained-glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.
The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees, and still serves as the city's Presbyterian church. Also note the house at No. 34; it dates from around 1425, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.
The Oude Kerk (or Old Church) is the city's oldest surviving building, consecrated in 1306. Yet the location of this triple-nave, late-Gothic church embodies a huge moral contradiction: it's in full view of the Red Light District, with passers-by getting chatted up a stones throw from the church walls.
Still, this Gothic-style church rewards visitors with one of the finest carillons in the country, the city's oldest church bell (1450), and a stunning Christian Müller organ that’s still used for recitals. Check out the lively 15th century carvings on the choir stalls, some of which are downright rude.
The floor of the church consists entirely of gravestones, as the church itself was built on a cemetery. There are 2,500 graves in the Oude Kerk, under which are buried 10,000 Amsterdam citizens, including Rembrandt's first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh. Rembrandt himself visited the Oude Kerk often, and his children were all christened here.
Built in the late 17th century, the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam is one of the most significant legacies of Jewish history in the entire city. During the 16th and 17th, century when the Jewish community was facing persecution in Spain and Portugal, many fled to Amsterdam and the concept of building the biggest synagogue in the world began.
Building of the Portuguese Synagogue began in 1671 and was complete in 1675. Restorations have been made over the years but overall it stands today as it did over 300 years ago. Still in use by the Jewish community in Amsterdam, it also attracts swathes of visitors who come to marvel at its ancient architecture and beguiling interior.
The synagogue is located in a complex that also houses a number of other buildings, including the rabbinate, a mortuary, and the Ets Haim (Tree of Life) library, which is home to a valuable collection of Sephardic Jewish manuscripts.
Get a look at Amsterdam from a different vantage point at the A'DAM Tower's observation deck, known as the A’dam Lookout. Twenty-two floors up, visitors are treated to an unrivaled view of one of the world's most iconic cities, including its historic center, vibrant port and polder landscape, which was reclaimed from below-sea level by the rerouting of water through Amsterdam's famous canals.
A'DAM Tower boasts a 360-degree sky deck and an indoor panorama deck, allowing travelers to view the city from all angles no matter the weather conditions. Inside the tower is a selection of bars, restaurants and even a nightclub and a hotel, plus an interactive exhibition covering Amsterdam's history and culture. Although the tower may look new, it first opened in 1971 before undergoing a complete refurbishment in 2016, with the addition of a massive swing that sends thrill-seekers careening back and forth over the top edge (thankfully, in a full-body harness).
Amsterdam is known for its wide streets, classic museums, and colorful canals. It is also known for its coffeehouse culture and open-minded approach to cannabis and prostitution. Visitors flock to see the city’s Red Light District, where prostitution is legal and very much out in the open. Red Light Secrets, located in the heart of the area, is the world’s only museum dedicated to prostitution — offering an eye-opening glimpse into the profession and its history in Amsterdam.
Housed in a traditional 17th-century canal house, the small museum aims to educate curious visitors without entering a brothel. Full scale replicas of luxury brothel suites, wardrobe displays, interviews with prostitutes about their daily lives, and even the chance to step into a florescent, red-lit window all seek to grant insight. The building itself was once home to an operating brothel, facilitating an authentic experience.
Designed by Jacob van Campen, the impressive Romanesque construction is fashioned around over 13,500 woolen piles sunk into the ground and is best known for its iconic rooftop statue of Greek titan Atlas, straining beneath the weight of the world on his back. First built as a city hall, the building was transformed into a Royal Palace back in 1808, under reign of Louis I, King of Holland and is still used frequently for state visits by today’s monarchs.
Famously described as ‘the eighth world wonder’ by local poet Contantijn Huygens, the Royal Palace does its best to live up to its opulent reputation with glistening marble floors, lavish décor and a slightly ostentatious theme of Amsterdam’s power and prestige. The grand interiors, open to the public, provide the principal attractions, furnished with a spectacular collection of antiques and decorated with ornate carvings and Rembrandt-inspired paintings.
Transformed from a complex for the elderly to a department of Saint Petersburg’s famous Hermitage Museum in 2009, a visit to the Hermitage Amsterdam starts with marveling its the impressive exterior. The sprawling Amstelhof building, designed by architect Hans Van Petersom, dates back to the 17th-century and stretches 105m along the Amstel riverfront, featuring a central courtyard garden shaded by chestnut trees.
Hermitage Amsterdam is now one of the largest museums in the country and features some of the country’s most captivating temporary exhibitions. The collections, rotated each 6 months, feature selections imported from the Russian museum’s enormous treasury of artifacts, including its famously expansive collection of French 19th and 20th century paintings. Past exhibitions have included Modernist and expressionist artworks; sizable exhibits on ‘Peter the Great (1672–1725), the modernizer of Russia’ and ‘The Immortal Alexander the Great’.
The Science Center NEMO overlooks the Oosterdok and is the perfect antidote to Amsterdam on a rainy day, especially for families as its clever interactive experiments can entertain children for hours. Housed in what appear to be a pale green ship – albeit one designed by Renzo Piano in 1997 – the aim of NEMO is to introduce science and maths to kids and make both subjects educational and entertaining. Through experiments, demonstrations and interactive games, they can learn how rainbows form, search for ETs, follow treasure trails through the galleries and send parcels across the world. NEMO looks forward too, with clear explanations of Big Bang and the future of our planet, discussions on harnessing green energies and experiments on purifying water.
Museum Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder) is one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam. The attic of this 17th century canal house conceals a secret church, where Catholics of the Dutch Reformed Church who were unable to worship in public held their services. A merchant purchased the building during this period, and he and his family lived on the ground floor. Catholic masses were officially forbidden from 1578 onwards, but the Protestant governors of Amsterdam generally turned a blind eye, as long as churches such as this one were unrecognisable from the outside.
The lower floors of the building became a museum in 1888 and today contain refurbished kitchens and other rooms housing a collection of church paintings, silver, and various religious artifacts. Visitors can explore the building’s narrow passageways and stairways while marveling at the ornate furniture and works of art.
Situated in the former home of the renowned Dutch painter and etcher, Rembrandt Van Rijn, the Rembrandt House Museum, boasts an illustrious history with world famous paintings like the ‘Night Watch’ created between its walls.
The building in Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam, was purchased by the man himself back in 1639 and he lived there with his wife Saskia and son Titus for 20 years, before being declared bankrupt in 1656. Today, the rooms have been reconstructed to their original condition and form part of the museum.
A tour of the Rembrandt House showcases an almost complete collection of artworks (over 250 graphic prints), alongside exhibits on the life and times of the iconic artist and his renowned painting techniques. The printing studio, where a fully working traditional printing press demonstrates how Rembrandt made his famous etchings, is one of the most interesting rooms, but the kitchen, showrooms and bedrooms are all also open for exploration.