Once a swamp, now an attractive, liberal city. Amsterdam started as a small fishermen’s settlement along the rivers IJ and Amstel. Shortly after the start of the settlement, a dam was built in the river Amstel, to protect the settlement from the floods of the river IJ. The settlement around the dam in the Amstel became known as ‘Aemstelredamme’, which evolved over the centuries into Amsterdam. Dam Square is still the very centre of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam city centre consists of a lot of famous smaller neighbourhoods, like the ‘Wallen’ – or as most people know it: the Red Light District, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Amsterdam Canal Belt, the famous Jordaan district and shopping area De 9 Straatjes (the 9 little streets). The city centre furthermore consists of the Antique Quarter and the shopping street Utrechtsestraat.
The (in)famous Red Light District
Amongst the ‘Amsterdammers’ the area around the Warmoesstraat, Zeedijk and Red Light District, is better known as ‘De Wallen’ (The Ramparts). This is the oldest part of Amsterdam and originated in 1385. Several ramparts where built along the various canals and the river Amstel; hence the name De Wallen. The prosperity of Amsterdam has always attracted prostitution, but the Red Light District only became known as such, in the early 1900’s. Read more on the Red Light District.
The UNESCO heritage listed Canal Belt
The Canal Belt of Amsterdam was built in what is known as The Golden Age, at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, as a major expansion of the then fast growing city. In 2010 the Canal Belt got accepted onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. The four main canals are the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. They form a concentric ring in the city centre. Read more on the historic Amsterdam Canal Belt.
The Jordaan, the garden of Amsterdam
The Jordaan District wasoriginally built as the neighbourhood for the working class. Here lived the people that worked and serviced the wealthy citizens living along the main canals. In the Jordaan, the streets are narrow and densely populated. This famous, now very desirable neighbourhood boasts many charming, independent shops and restaurants, waiting to be discovered by you. Read more on the Jordaan District.
Charming shopping area De 9 Straatjes
If you have not heard of De 9 Straatjes (the 9 Little Streets) in Amsterdam, let alone not been there, you are missing out…seriously! The streets connect the four main canals in three parallel lines of streets. De 9 Straatjes are known for their charming character and eclectic mix of shops. But these little streets are also the home of some charming bars, cafes and restaurants. Read more on the De 9 Straatjes.
The historic centre enriched with antique shops and galleries
Parallel to the mainstream shopping street Leidsestraat, runs the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, which leads straight to the Rijksmuseum. The Nieuwe Spiegelstraat forms the centre of the Antique Quarter. Here you will find many antique stores and art galleries, not exclusively selling historic art. If your purse doesn’t stretch that far, you will still enjoy the window shopping.
The lesser known shopping and restaurant area Utrechtsestraat
As most people focus on other areas of the city centre of Amsterdam, the Utrechtsestraat is somehow forgotten. Undeservingly so! In this long street that runs off Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) and crosses all the main canals, you can find many charming restaurants, groovy and cosy bars, trendy cafes and a wide variety of shops. Read more on the Utrechtsestraat.
Highlights in the city centre of Amsterdam
Unique about Amsterdam is the easy-going pace of the city. Many visitors mention the relaxed atmosphere that they feel come over them, when they arrive in Amsterdam – and this is even before they enter a coffee shop!
There is a wide selection of museums in the city centre of Amsterdam, such as the Royal Palace on Dam Square, the Amsterdam Museum, Foam photography museum, the Museum of Bags and Purses, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder and many more. Amsterdam city centre also includes the mainstream shopping streets Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, but also the more charming shopping streets: Haarlemmerstraat, Herenstraat and Prinsenstraat, De 9 Straatjes and the Utrechtsestraat. Nightlife concentrates itself mainly around the Red Light District, Leidseplein (Leidse Square) and Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square).
It is very easy to walk in Amsterdam, nothing is far away. Besides, when you explore the city centre by foot, it is easier to look around in your own pace. Look up occasionally to not miss the sometimes incredible architecture of the Amsterdam gables. Walk along the canals and take in the beauty and richness of the 17th century or explore the neighbourhoods that we described above.