by Bob Brooke
Your first impression of Amsterdam may be how much it resembles a giant outdoor museum. Indeed, 6,700 buildings in the city center are protected monuments, virtually intact from the Golden Age of the 17th Century, during which time Amsterdam rose to spectacular wealth, political power and cultural heights.
Beginning as a fishing village at the intersection of the Ij and Amstel River in 1275, on the site of a dam that the fishermen built to protect their village, Amsterdam grew into a large seaport by the 17th Century. Freed from Spanish rule, the city's merchants sent out ships, owned by the Dutch East and West India Companies, on voyages of exploration around the globe.
Although an active, cosmopolitan city, Amsterdam still contains the quaintness most people associate with the Dutch. The vitality of a modern metropolis together with a strong sense of history provides a satisfying sense of age and continuity. Here, you'll find Europe's largest selection of antiques, some world famous cheeses, extensive sidewalk cafes, beautiful flowers, and great museums housing paintings by the Dutch Masters. To see all this requires only a good pair of walking shoes. And because of this, Amsterdam is the ideal city for the first-time visitor to Europe.
Built on a design of expanding horseshoe canals that fit one within the other, Amsterdam is unlike other cities. Crossing through this pattern of parallel, concentric canals, like the spokes of a wheel, are avenues, the most important of which is the Damrak, which starts at the Central Station and heads straight to the Dam Square, built on the site of the original dam, from which the city gets its name.
And even though many visitors consider the city, itself, a museum, Amsterdam also features two of the top art museums of Europe — the Rijksmuseum, containing Dutch art from the first half of the 17th Century and the nearby Van Gogh Museum, which displays the work of one of the most noted painters of the Impressionist Period. And while the facades of most of the houses in central Amsterdam have been preserved, the interiors have been converted to more modern living. Two canal houses, the Willet-Holthuysen Museum and the Toneelmuseum, offer a glimpse into life during the Golden Age of the 17th Century.
As you stroll around the city, you'll not only discover restaurants serving traditional Dutch dishes, but also those serving food from The Netherlands' former colonies. A special treat is the Indonesian Rice Table, an individually served array of rice and 15 side dishes and condiments. For the quick snack or light lunch nothing satisfies more than the characteristic Dutch little bread, or broodje, filled with cheese, meat or fish.
The city's "brown cafes," so named because of their brown wood paneling, most dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, serve sherry, wine, and genever, a strong gin concoction that's now the Dutch national drink, serve as great rest stops as you wander about town. On balmy nights the outdoor cafes along the Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein throb with life.
For a city built by and on the water, the best way to see it is from the water. Roundboats with knowledgeable guides navigate the city's canals and port offering a unique glimpse into this Venice of the North. No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without visits to the Heineken Brewery and a diamond cutter. Another must-see stop is the home of Anne Frank, where a 14-year-old hid from the Nazis for two years. This beautiful, flower-bedecked city, will surely steal your heart and may become one of your all-time favorites.
Tiny AmsterdamA wonderful tilt-shift look through the lens at Amsterdam from Pieter Manders
A Little Amsterdam Luxury
€475.00 per night
€340.00 per night
€375.00 per night
€305.67 per night
*rates above are daily double room rates based on dates: 02-07-2013 to 05-07-2013.
Lonely Planet Amsterdam iPhone App
Lonely Planet's Amsterdam city guide app is the perfect on-the-go guide to get you to the heart of Amsterdam. Featuring all the top sights plus where to eat, sleep, shop and go out, researched and road-tested by their team of expert authors. And with their location-aware maps, you'll know exactly where you are, what's nearby, and how to get there - all without requiring an internet connection or incurring any data fees.
Download the Amsterdam Lonely Planet iPhone App from iTunes.
Amsterdam ResourcesAmsterdam Festivals - From Jam in the Dam to Amsterdam Pride, 2camels has dozens of Amsterdam festivals covered
Amsterdam Info - has tons of relevant info on everything from attractions to dining our for anyone visiting Amsterdam
Anne Frank's House - located on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam is a museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank
I Amsterdam - provides you with everything you need to know to travel, live and do business in Amsterdam
Lonely Planet Amsterdam - the popular guidebook's take on the Netherlands' capital
Time Out Amsterdam - your critical guide to hotels, restaurants and going out in Amsterdam