2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Europe; European Cities

The Herengracht at night
The Herengracht at night
Flag of Amsterdam
Coat of arms of Amsterdam
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Mokum, Venice of The North, Damsko
Motto: Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig
(Heroic, Determined, Merciful)
Location of Amsterdam
Location of Amsterdam
Country Netherlands
Province North Holland
Boroughs 15
 - Type Municipality
 -  Mayor Job Cohen ( PvdA)
 -  Aldermen Lodewijk Asscher
Carolien Gehrels
Tjeerd Herrema
Maarten van Poelgeest
Marijke Vos
 - Secretary Erik Gerritsen
 - Total 219 km² (84.6 sq mi)
 - Land 166 km² (64.1 sq mi)
 - Water 53 km² (20.5 sq mi)
 - Urban area 1,896 km² (732 sq mi)
Elevation 2 m (7 ft)
Population ( January 1, 2006)
 - Total 751,757
 -  Density 4,459/km² (11,548.8/sq mi)
 - Urban area 1,468,122
 - Randstad 6,659,300
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 - Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Postcodes 1011 – 1109
Area code(s) 020

Amsterdam (pronounced [ɑmstərˈdɑm] ) is the capital and largest city of the Netherlands, located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country. The city, which had a population of 747,290 on 1 January 2008, comprises the northern part of the Randstad, the 6th-largest metropolitan area in Europe, with a population of around 6.7 million.

Its name is derived from Amstel dam, indicative of the city's origin: a dam on the river Amstel. Founded as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During this time, the city was the leading centre for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed.

The city is the financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch corporations and banks have their headquarters in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, part of Euronext, is located in the city centre. Amsterdam's main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, its red-light district and its many cannabis coffee shops, draw 4.2 million tourists annually.


The earliest recorded usage of the name "Amsterdam" is from a certificate dated 27 October 1275, where the inhabitants of a late 12th century fishing village, who had built a bridge with a dam across the Amstel, were exempted from paying a bridge toll by Count Floris V. The certificate describes the inhabitants as homines manentes apud Amestelledamme (people living near Amestelledamme). By 1327 the name had developed into Aemsterdam. A local romance has the city being founded by two fishermen, who landed on the shores of the Amstel in a small boat with their dog. Amsterdam's founding is relatively recent compared to much older Dutch cities such as Nijmegen, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.

Painting of Amsterdam in 1538
Painting of Amsterdam in 1538

Amsterdam was granted city rights in either 1300 or 1306. From the 14th century on, Amsterdam flourished, largely due to trade with the Hanseatic League. In 1345, an alleged Eucharistic miracle in the Kalverstraat rendered the city an important place of pilgrimage until the alteration to the protestant faith. The Stille Omgang — a silent procession in civil attire — is today a remnant of the rich pilgrimage history.

In the 16th century, the Dutch rebelled against Philip II of Spain and his successors. The main reasons for the uprise were the imposition of new taxes, the tenth penny, and the religious persecution of Protestantism by the Spanish Inquisition. The revolt escalated into the Eighty Years' War, which ultimately led to Dutch independence. Strongly pushed by Dutch Revolt leader William the Silent, the Dutch Republic became known for its relative religious tolerance. Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, Huguenots from France, prosperous merchants and printers from Flanders as well as economic and religious refugees from the Spanish controlled parts of the Low Countries found safety in Amsterdam. The influx of Flemish printers and the city's intellectual tolerance made Amsterdam a centre for the European free press.

Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde
Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde

The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's Golden Age when it became one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, and Africa, as well as present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Brazil, forming the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam's merchants had the largest share in both, the VOC (Dutch East India Company) and the WIC (Dutch West India Company). These companies acquired overseas possessions that later became Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was Europe's most important point for the shipment of goods and was the leading financial centre of the world. In 1602, the Amsterdam office of the VOC became the world's first stock exchange by trading in its own shares.

Amsterdam's prosperity declined during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The wars of the Dutch Republic with England and France took their toll on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic Wars, Amsterdam's fortunes reached their lowest point, however, the later establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 marked a turning point. New developments, by people such as city planner Samuel Sarphati, drew their inspiration from Paris.

View on the Munttoren in 1900
View on the Munttoren in 1900

The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam's second Golden Age. New museums, a train station, and the Concertgebouw were built, while during this time, the Industrial Revolution reached the city. 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 commerce with the rest of Europe and the world dramatically. In 1906, Joseph Conrad gave a brief description of Amsterdam as seen from the seaside, in The Mirror of the Sea. Shortly before World War I, the city began expanding and new suburbs were built. Even though the Netherlands remained neutral in this war, Amsterdam suffered a food shortage and heating fuel became scarce. The shortages sparked riots in which several people were killed. These riots are known as the Aardappeloproer (Potato rebellion). People started looting stores and warehouses in order to get supplies, mainly food.

Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 and took control of the country after five days of fighting. The Germans installed a Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam that cooperated with the persecution of Jews. Some Amsterdam citizens sheltered Jews, thereby exposing themselves and their families to the high risk of being imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps. Perhaps the most famous deportee was the young German girl Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Only 5,000 Dutch Jews survived the war. At the end of World War II, communication with the rest of the country broke down, and food and fuel became scarce. Many citizens traveled to the countryside to forage. Dogs, cats, raw sugar beets, and Tulip bulbs—cooked to a pulp—were consumed to stay alive. Most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel, and all the wood was taken from the apartments of deported Jews. After the war approximately 120,000 Dutch were prosecuted for their collaboration with the Nazis.

Subway station Nieuwmarkt with historic images of the Nieuwmarktrellen
Subway station Nieuwmarkt with historic images of the Nieuwmarktrellen

Many new suburbs, such as Osdorp, Slotervaart, Slotermeer, and Geuzenveld, were built in the years following World War II. These suburbs contained many public parks and wide open spaces, while the new buildings provided improved housing conditions with larger and brighter rooms, gardens, and balconies. Due to the war and other incidents of the 20th century, almost the entire city centre had fallen into disrepair. As society was changing, politicians and other influential figures made plans to redesign large parts of it. There was an increasing demand for office buildings and new roads as the automobile became available to most common people. A metro started operating between the new suburb of Bijlmer and the centre of Amsterdam. Further plans were to build a new highway above the metro to connect the central station and city centre with other parts of the city.

The incorporated large scale demolitions began in Amsterdam's formerly Jewish neighbourhood. Smaller streets like the Jodenbreestraat were widened and saw almost all of their houses demolished. During the destruction's peak, the Nieuwmarktrellen (Nieuwmarkt riots) broke out, where people expressed their fury about the demolition caused by the restructuring of the city. As a result, the demolition was ceased and the highway was never built, with only the metro being finished. Only a few streets remained widened. The destroyed buildings were replaced by new ones corresponding to the medieval street plan of the neighbourhood. The new city hall was built on the almost completely demolished Waterlooplein. Meanwhile, large private organisations, such as Stadsherstel Amsterdam, were founded with the aim to restore the entire city centre. While the success of this struggle is visible today, efforts for further restoration are still ongoing. The entire city centre has reattained its former splendor and — as a whole — is now a protected area. Many of its buildings have become monuments and plans exist to make the Grachtengordel ( Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht) a Unesco World Heritage">Unesco World Heritage site.

Geography and climate

Satellite image of Amsterdam
Satellite image of Amsterdam

Being part of the province North-Holland, Amsterdam is located in the northwest of the Netherlands next to the provinces Utrecht and Flevoland. The river Amstel terminates in the city centre into a large number of canals that eventually terminate in the IJ. Amsterdam is situated 2 meters above sea level. The surrounding land is flat as it is formed of large polders. To the southwest of the city lies a man-made forest called het Amsterdamse Bos. Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea through the long North Sea Canal.

Amsterdam is intensely urbanized, as is the urban area surrounding the city. Comprising 219.4 square kilometers of land, the city proper has a population density of 4457 inhabitants and 2275 houses per square kilometer. Parks and nature reserves make up 12% of Amsterdam's land area. The concentrations of both carbon dioxide and small particles were above the limits the European Union directives.

Amsterdam enjoys a temperate climate, strongly influenced by its proximity to the North Sea to the west with prevailing north-western winds and gales. Winter temperatures are mild, seldom below 0°C. Frosts merely occur during spells of eastern or northeastern winds from the inner European continent, i.e., from Scandinavia, Russia, and even Siberia. Summers are warm but rarely hot. Days with measurable precipitation are common. Nevertheless, Amsterdam's average annual precipitation is less than 760 mm. Most of it pours as protracted drizzle or light rain, making cloudy and damp days common during the cooler months, October through March. Only the occasional Western storm may bring a lot of water at once, requiring all of it to be pumped out to higher grounds or to the seas around the city.

Weather averages for Amsterdam
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average high °C (°F) 5 (41) 6 (43) 9 (48) 13 (55) 17 (63) 19 (66) 22 (72) 22 (72) 19 (66) 14 (57) 9 (48) 6 (43)
Average low °C (°F) 1 (34) 1 (34) 3 (37) 5 (41) 8 (46) 11 (52) 13 (55) 13 (55) 11 (52) 8 (46) 5 (41) 2 (36)
Precipitation mm (inches) 48 (1.89) 42 (1.65) 42 (1.65) 34 (1.34) 35 (1.38) 47 (1.85) 56 (2.2) 61 (2.4) 64 (2.52) 63 (2.48) 66 (2.6) 58 (2.28)
Source: Foreca 2008

Cityscape and architecture

Amsterdam fans out south from the Amsterdam Centraal railway station. The Damrak is the main street and leads into the street Rokin. The oldest area of the town is known as de Wallen (the quays, this does not refer to the old city walls, the Dutch word for wall being 'muur'). It lies to the east of Damrak and contains the city's famous red light district. To the south of de Wallen is the old Jewish quarter of Waterlooplein. The 17th century girdle of concentric canals, known as the Grachtengordel, embraces the heart of the city. Beyond the Grachtengordel are the formerly working class areas of Jordaan and de Pijp. The Museumplein with the city's major museums, the Vondelpark, a 19th century park named after the Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel, and the Plantage neighbourhood, with the zoo, are also located outside the Grachtengordel.

Several parts of the city and the surrounding urban area are polders. This can be recognized by the suffix -meer which means lake, as in Aalsmeer, Bijlmermeer, Haarlemmermeer, and Watergraafsmeer.


Boat on the Prinsengracht in 2006
Boat on the Prinsengracht in 2006
A woodcut (1885) of the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, a canal that is now a filled in
A woodcut (1885) of the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, a canal that is now a filled in

The Amsterdam canal system is the result of conscious city planning. In the early 17th century—when immigration was at a height—a comprehensive plan was developed that was based on four concentric half-circles of canals with their ends resting on the IJ bay. Known as the Grachtengordel, three of the canals are mostly for residential development: Those are the Herengracht (Gentleman's Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal), and Prinsengracht (Princes Canal’). The fourth and most outer canal, the Singelgracht (not to be confused with the older Singel), served purposes of defense and water management. The defensive purpose was established by moat and earthen dikes, with gates at transit points, but otherwise no masonry superstructures. Furthermore, the plan envisaged: (1) Interconnecting canals along radii; (2) creating a set of parallel canals in the Jordaan quarter, primarily for transportation purposes; (3) converting the defensive purpose of the Singel to a residential and commercial purpose; (4) constructing more than one hundred bridges.

Construction started in 1613 and proceeded from west to east, across the breadth of the lay–out, like a gigantic windshield wiper as the historian Geert Mak calls it—and not from the centre outwards as a popular myth has it. The canal constructions in the southern sector were accomplished by 1656. Subsequently, the construction of residential buildings commenced slowly. The eastern part of the concentric canal plan, covering the area between the Amstel river and the IJ bay, has never been implemented. In the following centuries, the land was used for parks, old people homes, theaters, other public facilities, and waterways without much planning.

Over the years, several canals have been filled in becoming streets or squares, such as the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and the Spui.

Expansion of Amsterdam

After the development of the canals of Amsterdam in the 17th century Amsterdam did not grow beyond its borders for two centuries. During the 19th century the first of many plans were devised to expand Amsterdam. The first one to do so was Samuel Sarphati. He devised a plan based on the grandeur of Paris and London of that time. The plan consisted of the construction of new houses, public buildings and streets just outside the grachtengordel. The main aim of the plan however was to improve public health, since people became frequently ill from a lack of it. Although the plan did not expand the city that much, it did produce some of the largest public buildings Amsterdam ever saw, like the Paleis voor Volksvlijt.

Following Sarphati were Van Niftrik and Kalff who designed a whole ring of 19th century neighborhoods surrounding the city’s centre. Most of these neighbourhoods became the home for many of the working class.

By the beginning of the 20th century Amsterdam became too populated and a shortage of living space became a reality. In response to this two plans were designed, which were very different from anything Amsterdam had ever seen before: Plan Zuid and West. The first plan was designed by an architect named Berlage. These plans consisted of new neighborhoods consisting of housing blocks for all social classes.

After the World War II large new neighborhoods were built in the western, southeastern and northern parts of the city. These new neighborhoods were built to relieve the city from its large shortage of living space and give people affordable houses with modern day conveniences. These neighborhoods consisted mainly of large housing blocks situated within a lot of greenery connected to wide roads making these neighborhoods easily accessible by automobile. The western suburbs which were built in that period of time are collectively called the Westelijke Tuinsteden. The area to the southeast of the city build during the same period is known as the Bijlmer.


17th century houses at the Rokin, the second building from the right was designed by Philip Vingboons
17th century houses at the Rokin, the second building from the right was designed by Philip Vingboons
Early 20th century houses in the architecture of the Amsterdam School
Early 20th century houses in the architecture of the Amsterdam School

Amsterdam has a rich architectural history. The oldest building in Amsterdam is het Houten Huys at the Begijnhof in Amsterdam. This wooden building was built around 1425 and is one of the two still existing wooden buildings in Amsterdam. It is also one of the few rare examples of gothic architecture in Amsterdam. In the sixteenth century wooden buildings were broken down and replaced by brick ones. During this age many buildings were built according to the architecture of the Renaissance. Buildings built during this period are very recognizable, since they all have a façade which ends at the top in the shape of a stairway. This is however the common Dutch Renaissance style. Amsterdam quickly developed its own Renaissance architecture. These buildings were built according to the principles of the architect Hendrick de Keyser. One of the most striking buildings designed by Hendrick de Keyer is the Westerkerk. In the seventeenth century baroque architecture became very popular as it did elsewhere in Europe. This was roughly in the same period as was Amsterdam’s Golden Age. The leading architects of this style in Amsterdam were Jacob van Campen as well as Philip Vingboons and Daniel Stalpaert. Philip Vingboons designed splendid merchant’s houses throughout the city. A famous building in baroque style in Amsterdam is the Royal Palace on Dam Square. Throughout the eighteenth century Amsterdam was heavily influenced by French culture. This is reflected in the architecture from that period. At around 1815 architects broke with the baroque style and started building in different neo-styles. Most gothic style buildings date from that era and are therefore said to be built in a neo-gothic style. At the end of the nineteenth century the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau style became popular and a lot of new buildings were constructed in this architectural style. Since Amsterdam rapidly expanded during this period, new buildings adjacent to the city’s centre were also built in this style. The houses in the vicinity of the Museum Square in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid are an example of Jugendstil. The last style that was popular in Amsterdam before the modern era was Art Deco. Amsterdam had its own version of the style, which was called the Amsterdamse School. Whole districts were built in Amsterdamse School, such as the Rivierenbuurt. A notable feature the facades of buildings build in Amsterdamse School, is that they are highly decorated with decorative ornaments and the windows and doors are oddly shaped.

The old city’s centre is the epicenter of all the architectural styles before the end of the nineteenth century. Jugendstil and Art Deco are mostly found outside the city’s century in the neighborhoods built in the early twentieth century, although there are some striking examples of these styles present in the city’s center. Most historic buildings in the city’s centre and near it are houses, such as the famous merchant’s houses lining the canals.


The administration of the municipality of Amsterdam is divided into 15 boroughs or stadsdelen; the central one, Centrum, being circled by Westerpark, Bos en Lommer, De Baarsjes, Oud-West, Oud-Zuid, Oost/Watergraafsmeer, Zeeburg and Amsterdam-Noord, with the six outer boroughs creating a further encirclement.


The 15 boroughs of Amsterdam
The 15 boroughs of Amsterdam

Amsterdam is usually understood to be the municipality of Amsterdam. Colloquially, some areas within the municipality, such as the village of Durgerdam, may not be considered part of Amsterdam. Statistics Netherlands uses three other definitions of Amsterdam: metropolitan agglomeration Amsterdam (Grootstedelijke Agglomeratie Amsterdam, not to be confused with Grootstedelijk Gebied Amsterdam, a synonym of Groot Amsterdam), Greater Amsterdam (Groot Amsterdam, a COROP region) and the urban region Amsterdam (Stadsgewest Amsterdam). These definitions are not synonymous with the terms urban area and metropolitan area, which are commonly used in English speaking countries for the purpose of defining large conurbations. The Amsterdam Department for Research and Statistics uses a fourth conurbation, namely the City region Amsterdam. This region is similar to Greater Amsterdam, but includes the municipalities Zaanstad and Wormerland. It excludes Graft-De Rijp.

The smallest of these areas is the municipality, with a population of 742,981 in 2006. The metropolitan agglomeration had a population of 1,021,870 in 2006. It includes the municipalities of Zaanstad, Wormerland, Oostzaan, Diemen and Amstelveen only, as well as the municipality of Amsterdam. Greater Amsterdam includes 15 municipalities, and had a population of 1,211,503 in 2006. Though much larger in area, the population of this area is only slightly larger, because the definition excludes the relatively populous municipality of Zaanstad. The largest area by population, the urban region Amsterdam, has a population of 1,468,122. It includes Zaanstad, Wormerveer, Muiden and Abcoude, but excludes Graft De Rijp, Uithoorn and Aalsmeer. Amsterdam is also part of the conglomerate metropolitan area Randstad, with a total population of 6,659,300 inhabitants.

City government

As all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, 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, Westpoort, 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.

National government

The present version of the Dutch constitution mentions "Amsterdam" and "capital" only in one place, chapter 2, article 32: The king's confirmation by oath and his coronation take place in "the capital Amsterdam" ("de hoofdstad Amsterdam"). Previous versions of the constitution spoke of "the city of Amsterdam" ("de stad Amsterdam"), without mention of capital. In any case, the seat of the government, parliament and supreme court of the Netherlands is (and always has been, with the exception of a brief period between 1808 and 1810) located at The Hague. Foreign embassies too are in The Hague. Although capital of the country, Amsterdam is not the capital of the province in which it is located, North Holland, whose capital is located at Haarlem.


The coat of arms of Amsterdam
The coat of arms of Amsterdam

The coat of arms of Amsterdam is composed of several historical elements. First and centre are three St Andrew's crosses, aligned in a vertical band on the city's shield. These St Andrew's crosses can also be found on the cityshields of neighbours Amstelveen and Ouder-Amstel. This part of the coat of arms is the basis of the flag of Amsterdam, flown by the city government, but also as civil ensign for ships registered in Amsterdam. Second is the Imperial Crown of Austria — in 1489, out of gratitude for services and loans, Maximilian I awarded Amsterdam the right to adorn its coat of arms with the king's crown, in 1508 replaced with Maximilian's imperial crown when he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. In the early years of the 17th century, Maximilian's crown in Amsterdam's coat of arms was replaced with the crown of Emperor Rudolph II, a crown that also would become the Imperial Crown of Austria. The lions date from the late 16th century, when city and province became part of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Last came the city's official motto: Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig ("Valiant, Determined, Compassionate"), bestowed on the city in 1947 by Queen Wilhelmina, in recognition of the city's bravery during World War II.


The World Trade Center Amsterdam is located in the financial district Zuidas.
The World Trade Centre Amsterdam is located in the financial district Zuidas.

Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is currently one of the best cities in Europe to locate an international business in. It is ranked fifth in this category and is only surpassed by London, Paris, Frankfurt and Barcelona. Many large Dutch corporations and banks have their headquarters in Amsterdam, including ABN AMRO, Akzo Nobel, Heineken International, ING Group, Ahold, TomTom, Delta Lloyd Group and Philips. KPMG International's global headquarters is located in nearby Amstelveen.

Though many small offices are still located on the old canals, companies are increasingly relocating outside the city centre. The Zuidas (English: South Axis) is the new financial and legal hub. The five largest law firms of the Netherlands and Dutch subsidiaries of large consulting firms like Boston Consulting Group and Accenture have their offices here. The World Trade Centre Amsterdam stands here.

There are also three other smaller financial districts in Amsterdam. The first one is the area surrounding Amsterdam Sloterdijk railway station. A lot of newspapers like De Telegraaf have their offices here. Also Gemeente Vervoersbedrijf and the Dutch tax offices are located there. The second other financial district is the area surrounding Amsterdam Arena. Last the area surrounding Amsterdam Amstel railway station. The highest building in Amsterdam (Rembrandttoren) is situated there and it is the location of the headquarters of Philips.

The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), nowadays part of Euronext, is the world's oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe's largest bourses. It is situated near Dam Square in the city's centre.


Anne Frank House
Anne Frank House

Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors. This number of visitors has been growing rapidly and steadily over the past decade. 41743 beds were located in 19400 rooms in 351 hotels as of 2007. Two thirds of these hotels are located in the city's centre. Hotels with 4 or 5 stars contribute 42% of the total beds available and 41% of the overnight stays in Amsterdam. The room occupation rate was 78% in 2006, up from 70% in 2005. The origin of tourists visiting Amsterdam is largely European: 74%. The growth in recent years can be attributed to an increase in the number of visitors from Europe too. The largest group of non-European visitors came from the United States, with 14% of the total. Certain years have a theme in Amsterdam to bring extra tourists. For example, the year 2006 was designated "Rembrandt 400" to celebrate the 400th birthday of Rembrandt van Rijn. Some hotels offer special arrangements or activities due to these years. The average number of guests per year staying on the four campsites around the city numbers from 12,000 to 65,000.


Amsterdam shops range from large department stores such as Metz & Co, founded in 1740, De Bijenkorf founded in 1870, and Maison de Bonneterie a Parisian style store founded in 1889, to small specialty shops. Amsterdam's high-end shops are found in the streets Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat and Cornelis Schuytstraat, which are located in the neighbourhood of the Vondelpark. One of Amsterdam's busiest high streets is the narrow, medieval Kalverstraat in the heart of the city. Another shopping area are the Negen Straatjes: nine narrow streets within the Grachtengordel, the concentric canal system of Amsterdam. The Negen Straatjes differ from other shopping districts by displaying a large diversity of privately owned shops. The city features also a large number of open-air markets such as the Albert Cuypmarkt, Westermarkt, Ten Katemarkt, and Dappermarkt.


In the 16th and 17th century non-Dutch immigrants to Amsterdam were mostly Huguenots, Flemings, Sephardi Jews and Westphalians. Hugenots came after 1685's Edict of Fontainebleau, while the Flemish Protestants came during the Eighty Years' War. The Westphalians came to Amsterdam mostly for economic reasons – their influx continued through the 18th and 19th centuries.

The first mass immigrants in the 20th century were people from Indonesia, who came to Amsterdam after the independence of the Dutch East Indies in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s guest workers from Turkey, Morocco, Italy and Spain migrated to Amsterdam. After the independence of Suriname in 1975 a large wave of Surinamese settled in Amsterdam, mostly in the Bijlmer area. Other immigrants, including asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, come from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. In the seventies and eighties many 'old' Amsterdammers moved to 'new' cities like Almere and Purmerend, prompted by the third planological bill of the Dutch government. This bill promoted suburbanization and arranged for new developments in so called "groeikernen", literally "cores of growth". Young professionals and artists moved into neighbourhoods de Pijp and the Jordaan abandoned by these Amsterdammers. The non-Western immigrants settled mostly in the social housing projects in Amsterdam-West and the Bijlmer. Non-Western immigrants make up approximately one in three residents of Amsterdam and more than 50% of the children in Amsterdam have a non-western background.

The Church of St. Nicholas (Sint Nicolaaskerk)
The Church of St. Nicholas (Sint Nicolaaskerk)
The Amsterdam Esnoga
The Amsterdam Esnoga

Amsterdam's largest religious group are the Christians followed by Islam, mainly Sunni Islam.

In 1578 the previously Roman Catholic city of Amsterdam joined the revolt against Spanish rule, late in comparison to other major northern Dutch cities. In line with Protestant procedure of that time, all churches were "reformed" to the Protestant worship. Calvinism became the dominant religion and although Catholicism was not forbidden and priests allowed to serve, the Catholic hierarchy was prohibited. This led to the establishment of schuilkerken, covert churches, behind seemingly ordinary canal side house fronts, one of them the current debate centre de Rode Hoed.

A large influx of foreigners of many religions came to 17th-century Amsterdam, in particular Sefardic Jews from Spain and Portugal, Huguenots from France, and Protestants from the Southern Netherlands, led to the establishment of many non-Dutch-speaking religious churches. In 1603 the first notification is made of Jewish religious service. In 1639 the first Jewish synagogue was consecrated.

As they became established in the city, other Christian denominations used converted Catholic chapels to conduct their own services. The oldest Church of England building outside the United Kingdom is found at the Begijnhof. Regular services there are still offered in English. The Huguenots accounted for nearly 20% of Amsterdam's inhabitants in 1700; being Calvinists, they soon integrated into the Dutch Reformed Church, though often retaining their own congregations. Some, commonly referred by the moniker 'Walloon', and are recognizable today as they offer occasional services in French.

In the second half of the 17th century, Amsterdam experienced an influx of Ashkenazim, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, which continued into the 19th century. Jews often fled the pogroms in those areas. They not only founded their own synagogues, but had a strong influence on the 'Amsterdam dialect' adding a large Yiddish local vocabulary. Amsterdam's nickname of Mokum, the Yiddish word for the Hebrew makom ("town"), stems from this immigration.

Despite an absence of an official Jewish ghetto, most Jews preferred to live in the eastern part of the old medieval heart of the city. The main street of this Jewish neighbourhood was the Jodenbreestraat. The neighbourhood comprised the Waterlooplein and the Nieuwmarkt. Buildings in in this neighbourhood fell into disrepair after World War II and a large section of the neighbourhood was demolished during the construction of the new subway. This led to riots and as a result a small part of the old neighbourhood was saved.

Catholic churches in Amsterdam have been constructed since the restoration of the bishopric hierarchy in 1853. One of the principal architects behind the city's Catholic churches, Cuypers, was also responsible for the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum, which led to a refusal of Protestant King William III to open 'that monastery'. In 1924 the Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands hosted the International Eucharistic Congress in Amsterdam, and numerous Catholic prelates visited the city, where numerous festivities were held in churches and stadiums; Catholic processions on the public streets however were still forbidden under law at the time. Only in the twentieth century was Amsterdam's relation to Catholicism normalized, but despite its far larger population size, the Catholic clergy chose to place its bishopric seat of the city in the nearby provincial town of Haarlem.

The most recent religious changes in Amsterdam are due to large-scale immigration from former colonies. Immigrants from Suriname have introduced Evangelical Protestantism and Lutheranism, from the Hernhutter variety, Hinduism, from South East Asia and a liberal branch of Islam from various parts of the world. Turks, Kurds and Moroccans have introduced other Islamic sects. Islam has now become the largest non-Christian religion in Amsterdam. The large community of Ghanaian and Nigerian immigrants have established African churches, often in parking garages in the Bijlmer area, where many have settled. In addition, a broad array of other religious movements have established congregations, including Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism.

Demographic evolution of Amsterdam between 1300 and 2006
1300 1400 1500 1600 1675 1796 1810 1850 1879 1900 1930 2006
1,000 3,000 15,000 54,000 206,000 200,600 180,000 224,000 317,000 523,577 757,000 742,981

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An Amsterdam bike
An Amsterdam bike

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and is a centre of bicycle culture with good provision for cyclists such as bike paths and bike racks, which are pervasive throughout the city. There are an estimated one million bicycles in the city. Bike theft is common, so cyclists use large secure locks. Approximately 100 000 bicycles get stolen a year in Amsterdam. People use their bicycles for a lot of different purposes, which range from going to work to picking up the children from school and doing groceries with. A wide variety of bicycles can be found throughout the city. Most people use a common bicycle, but some use mountain bikes, racing bikes or even recumbent bikes.

In the city centre, driving a car is discouraged. Parking fees are steep and a great number of streets are closed to cars or are one-way. The local government sponsors carsharing and carpooling initiatives such as Autodelen and

Public transport in Amsterdam mainly consists of bus and tram lines, operated by Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, Connexxion and Arriva. Currently, there are 16 different tramlines and a freight tram operation is being developed; there are four metro lines, with a fifth line, the North/South line, under construction. Three free ferries carry pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ to Amsterdam-Noord, and two fare charging ferries go east and west along the harbour. There are also water taxis, a water bus, a boat sharing operation and canal cruises, that transport people along Amsterdam's waterways. Some 35% of all people travelling in Amsterdam uses public transport.

The A10 Ringroad surrounding the city connects Amsterdam with the Dutch national network of freeways. Interchanges on the A10 allow cars to enter the city by transferring to one of the eighteen city roads, numbered S101 through to S118. These city roads are regional roads without grade separation, and sometimes without a central reservation. Most are accessible by cyclists. The S100 Centrumring is a smaller ringroad circumnavigating the city's centre.

Amsterdam was intended in 1932 to be the hub, a kind of Kilometre Zero, of the highway system of the Netherlands, with freeways numbered one through eight planned to originate from the city. The outbreak of the Second World War and shifting priorities led to the current situation, where only roads A1, A2, and A4 originate from Amsterdam according to the original plan. The A3 road to Rotterdam was cancelled in 1970 in order to conserve the Groene Hart. Road A8, leading north to Zaandam and the A10 Ringroad were opened between 1968 and 1974. Besides the A1, A2, A4 and A8, several freeways, such as the A7 and A6, carry traffic mainly bound for Amsterdam.

A tram crossing a bridge over the river Amstel
A tram crossing a bridge over the river Amstel

Amsterdam is served by eight stations of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways). Five are intercity stops: Sloterdijk, Zuid, Amstel, Bijlmer ArenA and Amsterdam Centraal. Many other stations exist in the Amsterdam urban area.

Eurolines has coaches from Amsterdam to destinations all over Europe.

Amsterdam Centraal is an international train station. From the station there are regular services to destinations such as Belgium, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Among these trains are international trains of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen and the Thalys, CityNightLine, and InterCityExpress.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is less than 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station. It is the biggest airport in the Netherlands, the fourth largest in Europe and the twelves largest in the world by passengers. It handles about 44 million passengers a year and is the home of the airline KLM. Schiphol is the third busiest airport in the world measured by international passengers.


Amsterdam has two universities: the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam), and the VU University Amsterdam ( Vrije Universiteit or "VU"). Other institutions for higher education include an art school, De Rietveldacademie, the Hogeschool van 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, among them the coffee plant that served as the parent for the entire coffee culture in Central and South America.

Amsterdam is thought to have excellent elementary schools. Some of these schools base their teachings on particular pedagogic theories like the various Montessori schools. Many however are based on religion. This used to be primarily Roman Catholicism and various Protestant denominations, but with the influx of Muslim immigrants there is a rise in the number of Islamic schools. You can also find Jewish schools in the southern suburbs of Amsterdam. In addition to these schools based on distinct beliefs there are public schools.

The same goes for secondary education. Amsterdam is noted for having three independent grammar schools (Dutch: gymnasia), the Vossius Gymnasium, Barlaeus Gymnasium and St. Ignatius Gymnasium, where a classical curriculum including Latin and classical Greek is taught. Though believed until recently by many to be an anachronistic and elitist concept that would soon die out, the gymnasia have recently experienced a revival leading to the formation of a fourth grammar school in which the three aforementioned schools participate. Most secondary schools in Amsterdam offer a variety of different levels of education on the same school.


Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

During the later part of the 16th century Amsterdams Rederijkerskamer ( Chamber of Rhetoric) organized contests between different Chambers in the reading of poetry and drama. In 1638 Amsterdam got its first theatre. Ballet performances were given in this theatre as early as 1642. In the 18th century French theatre became popular. Opera could be seen in Amsterdam from 1677, first only Italian and French operas, but in the 18th century German operas. In the 19th century popular culture was centred around the Nes area in Amsterdam (mainly vaudeville and music-hall). The metronome, one of the most important advances in European classical music was invented here in 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel. At the end of this century the Rijksmuseum and Gemeentelijk Museum were built. In 1888 the Concertgebouworkest was established. With the 20th century came cinema, radio and television. Though the studios are in Hilversum and Aalsmeer, Amsterdam's influence on programming is very strong. Many people who work for television broadcasters live in Amsterdam. Also, the headquarters of SBS 6 are located in Amsterdam.


The most important museums of Amsterdam are located on het Museumplein ( Museum Square). This square is the largest square of Amsterdam and lies adjacent to the southern side of the city's centre. It was created in the last quarter of the 19th century on the grounds of the former World Exposition. The northern part of the square is bordered by the very large Rijksmuseum. In front of the Rijksmuseum on the square itself is a man-made pond. This is transformed in winter time into an ice rink. The western part of the square is bordered by the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience and Coster Diamonds. The southern border of the Museum Square is the Van Baerlestraat, which is a major thoroughfare in this part of Amsterdam. The Concertgebouw is situated across this street from the square. To the east of the square are situated a couple of villas, one of which houses the American consulate. A parking garage can be found underneath the square, as well as a supermarket. Het Museumplein is covered almost entirely with a lawn, except for the northern part of the square which is covered with gravel. The current appearance of the square was realized in 1999, when the square was remodeled. The square itself is the most prominent site in Amsterdam for festivals and outdoor concert, especially in the summer. Plans have been made this year (2008) to remodel the square again, because many inhabitants of Amsterdam are not happy with its current appearance.

The Nachtwacht, by Rembrandt
The Nachtwacht, by Rembrandt

The Rijksmuseum possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. It opened in 1885. Its collection consists of one million pieces of art. The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt's masterpiece the Nightwatch is one of top pieces of art of the museum. It also houses paintings from artists like Van der Helst, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, Albert Cuijp, Van Ruysdael and Paulus Potter. Besides paintings the collection consists of a large variety of decorative art. This ranges from Delftware to giant dollhouses from the 17th century. The architect of the gothic revival building was P.J.H. Cuypers. Only one wing of the Rijksmuseum is currently open to the public, where the 200 most important pieces of art are on display. The museum will open again after the year 2010. The Rijksmuseum is being expanded, renovated and a new main entrance for the museum is being created.

Van Gogh lived in Amsterdam for a short while, so there is a museum dedicated to his early work. The museum is housed in one of the few modern buildings in this area of Amsterdam. The building was designed by Gerrit Rietveld. This building is where the permanent collection is shown to the public. A new building was added to the museum in 1999. This building, known as the performance wing, was designed by a Japanese architect. It's purpose is to house temporary exhibitions of the museum. Some of Van Gogh's most famous paintings like the Aardappeleters and Zonnenbloemen are present in the collection of the museum. The Van Gogh museum is the most visited museum in Amsterdam.

Next to the Van Gogh museum stands the Stedelijk Museum. This is Amsterdam's most important museum concerning modern art. The museum opened it's doors at around the same time the Museum Square was created. The permanent collection consists of works of art from artists like Piet Mondriaan, Karel Appel, and Kasimir Malewitsj. This museum is also currently being renovated and expanded. The main entrance will be relocated from the Paulus Potterstraat to the Museum Square itself. It will be open again to public in 2009.The current exhibition of this museum is housed in a former post office near the central station.

Amsterdam contains a lot more museums then just those on the Museum Square. These museums range from little ones, such as the Verzetsmuseum, the Anne Frank House, and the Rembrandthuis, to very large ones like the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, and Joods Historisch Museum. These museums are all located in the city's centre or nearby.

Performing arts

Amsterdam has a world-class symphony orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Concertgebouw is the home of across the Van Baerlestraat from the Museum Square. It is considered by critics to be a concert hall with one of the best acoustics in the world. The building contains three halls: Grote Zaal, Kleine Zaal and Spiegelzaal. 800 concerts a year are performed here for an audience of approximately 850.000 people.

The main theatre building of Amsterdam is the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam at the Leidseplein. It is the home base of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The current building dates from 1894. Most plays are performed in the Grote Zaal (Great Hall). The normal programm of events encompasses all sorts of theatrical forms, mostly by Dutch writers. The Stadsschouwburg is currently being renovated and expanded.

The opera house of Amsterdam is situated adjacent to the city hall. Therefore, the two buildings combined are often called the Stopera. This word is derived from the Dutch words stadhuis (city hall) and opera. The building was officially opened in 1986. This huge modern complex lies in the former Jewish neighbourhood at Waterlooplein next to the river Amstel. The Stopera is the homebase of De Nederlandse Opera, Het Nationale Ballet and the Holland Symfonia.

Het Muziekgebouw aan 't Ij is a new concert hall, which is situated in the Ij near the central station. Its concerts are mostly modern interpretations of classical music. Adjacent to it, the Bimhuis, a concert hall for Jazz music, is located.

The Heineken Music Hall is a concert hall located near the Amsterdam ArenA. It main purpose is to serve as a podium for pop concerts. Many famous international artists like Armin van Buuren, James Blunt and Rihanna have performed there.

Nightlife, festivals

Amsterdam has a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene and is famous for it. The two main epicentres for nightlife are the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. The Rembrantplein is more visited by Dutchmen from outside Amsterdam and the Leidseplein tends to be more for the locals and tourists from outside the country.

Amsterdam contains a lot of cafes. They range from large cafes, like the ones on the Leidseplein itself to smaller cafes sought after by locals in the smaller streets of this city. Passersby can sit down in an old fashion cafe, which are called a bruin kroeg by Dutchmen. These bruine kroegen contain a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere and the interior is lit with dim lights. Tourists could also choose to sit down in one of the many trendy, stylish new cafes Amsterdam has to offer. These cafes are more sought after by a younger crowd, who drink cocktails or mixed drinks. Most cafes have terraces in summertime. A common sight on the Leidseplein during summer is a square full of terraces packed with people drinking beer or wine.

Many restaurants can be found in Amsterdam. Since Amsterdam is a multicultural city a lot of different ethnic restaurants can be found here. Restaurants range from being rather luxurious and expensive to being normal and affordable. Some of the best restaurants in the Netherlands are located in Amsterdam. Many hotels have an adjacent restaurant.

Amsterdam also possesses many discothèques. Most of the discothèques are situated near or on the Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein. An example of a discothèque near the Leidseplein is the Jimmy Woo, a trendy club that only accepts those on a guest list. The Paradiso and Melkweg are cultural centres, which turn into discothèques on some nights. Those nights in the Paradiso are popular with students. Large discothèques near the Rembrandtplein are the Escape, Club Home and Cineac (currently closed). There are in addition to these also a lot of cafes with a dance floor throughout the city. Various other large discothèques in Amsterdam are located outside these two epicentres. Panama is located near the Ij, which also is a restaurant. The Powerzone is a discothèque, which used to be an office building. House music is a popular category of music in the Powerzone. Club Arena is situated near the Oosterpark and used to be a chapel. Now it is a place where people dance and drink all night long. The age limit is 21 years or older to get in, but it is not always that strict, and for some parties it is 18 years. The Reguliersdwarsstraat is the main street for gay bars and clubs. It can get very crowded in this small street on weekend nights.

Koninginnedag 2007 in Amsterdam
Koninginnedag 2007 in Amsterdam

The cinemas of Amsterdam which feature Hollywood productions are all part of a larger chain of cinemas in the Netherlands owned by Pathe. They have two cinemas in the city's centre, one of which ( Tuschinski) is a beautiful old art deco style building in the Reguliersbreestraat. Scattered throughout the city's centre are a lot of smaller cinemas, which show a various selection of movies from documentaries to movies for children.

Amsterdam is a city of festivals. In the last year alone there were 140 festivals in Amsterdam. Famous festivals in Amsterdam are the events taking place during Koninginnedag (Queensday), Amsterdam Gay Pride and the Uitmarkt. On Koninginnedag (Queensday), hundreds of thousands of people travel to Amsterdam to join the inhabitant to celebrate and party. The entire city will be overcrowded with people who are buying products from the freemarket or visit one of the many music concerts. It is held on the 30th of April. During Gay Pride, there is a very long parade of boats with extravagant people floating on Amsterdam's canals and there are various events taking place in the city elsewhere. It is held in August. Finally the Uitmarkt is a cultural event which lasts three days. It consists of many podia with a lot of different artist on them, like musicians and poets. It is held in late August.


Fashion brands like G-star, Gsus, BlueBlood, 10 feet and Warmenhoven & Venderbos and fashion designers like Mart Visser, Viktor & Rolf, Marlies Dekkers and Frans Molenaar are based in Amsterdam. Model agencies Elite Models, Touche models and Tony Jones have opened branches in Amsterdam. Supermodels Yfke Sturm, Doutzen Kroes and Kim Noorda started their career in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has its garment center in the World Fashion Centre. Buildings formerly housing brothels in the red light district have been converted to ateliers for young upcoming fashion designers.

Red light district

Red Light District
Red Light District

De Wallen, also known as Walletjes or Rosse Buurt, is the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam, a major tourist attraction. It is a network of alleys containing several hundred tiny one-room apartments rented by male and female prostitutes who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. The area also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, an erotic museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops offering various cannabis products. The city administration is actively pursuing a policy of reducing the number of venues.

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Amsterdam is the hometown of the Eredivisie football club Ajax. The stadium Amsterdam ArenA is the home of Ajax. It is located in the south-east of the city next to the new Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA railway station. Before it moved to its current location in 1996, Ajax played their regular matches in De Meer Stadion.

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, such as the Amsterdam Marathon.

The ice hockey team Amstel Tijgers play in the Jaap Eden ice rink. The team competes in the Dutch ice hockey premier league. Speed skating championships have been held on the 400-metre (1,310 ft) lane of this ice rink. Amsterdam is also a major destination for many skateboard competitions.

The baseball team the Amsterdam Pirates competes in the Dutch Major League. There are three field hockey teams, Amsterdam, Pinoké and Hurley, who play their matches around the Wagener Stadium in the nearby city of Amstelveen. These teams are often referred to as playing in Amsterdam. The basketball team MyGuide Amsterdam competes in the Dutch premier division and play their games in the Sporthallen Zuid, near the Olympic Stadium.

Since 1999 the city of Amsterdam honours the best sportsmen and -women at the Amsterdam Sports Awards. Boxer Raymond Joval and field hockey midfielder Carole Thate were the first to receive the awards in 1999.

Since 2003, Amsterdam has also been home to the Flying Touchmen touch rugby side. This has become the Netherlands national team and competed in the 2008 European Championships in Paris in July.

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