Amsterdam is one of the most magical cities in the world, but what is the magic of Amsterdam. Why do visitors keep on coming back, and why locals never want to leave? Well, magic is something that can’t be explained, but there are some great things about this city. To show you a little of the cities magic we present you with the 15 best things about Amsterdam.
Amsterdam in short
Designed in the 16th and 17th century to house the growing number of immigrants flocking to the city, the canals today are still an important feature of Amsterdam, and one of the city’s main attractions. Built in concentric rings around the city centre, the canals offer hours of pleasurable wandering. Be sure to explore the small connecting alleys, which harbour some of the city’s finest cafés and shops. Beautiful in all seasons, this UNESCO World Heritage site has a special place in our hearts.
1. Historical Amsterdam
Amsterdam has taken good care of its legacy of the past. Monumental buildings on the canals give you a sense of what life looked like in the high times of the Dutch Golden Age. Get a glimpse of the Dutch trader’s past in the harbour area. Experience the wealth of Amsterdam’s merchants at the Royal Palace on Dam Square. All this history around you gives Amsterdam its unique atmosphere.
2. Art in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a dream come true for art lovers. Whether you are interested in contemporary photography or painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, you can have your pick. The city is bursting with art galleries, presenting us with many interesting exhibitions. With some of the world’s most famous paintings like The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum and an entire museum on Van Gogh, it is hard to rival the art Amsterdam has to offer.
3. Diversity of museums
Apart from the wonderful art museums, the city also has a great number of other types of museums. Experience the life of a rich man in the 18th century at Museum Willet-Holthuysen. Be a scientist at Science Centre Nemo. Learn about the tragedies of WWII at the Anne Frank House or the Dutch Resistance Museum. Get to know all about the construction of the Amsterdam canals and its houses at the Museum of the Canals. Visit Museum Our Lord in the Attic to see how Catholic mass was secretly celebrated in the attic of a merchant’s house, back in the days of the Protestant Republic in the Golden Age. Satisfy your inner fashionista at the Museum of Bags & Purses. It doesn’t matter what interest you have, Amsterdam has a museum for it.
4. Amsterdam Architecture
The diversity of architecture in Amsterdam is unrivalled. From the historical 17th-century houses on the canals, such as the Bartolotti House by Hendrick de Keyser, to the 19th-century neoclassical beauty of the Royal Concert Hall and the superb Rijksmuseum by Pierre Cuypers, the city hits a homerun with the architectural styles of the past. But there is more. The beginning of the 20th century saw the rise of architects like Berlage and the famous Amsterdam School, known for their sober, yet complicated brick constructions and the use of decorative masonry (See Berlage’s Stock Exchange Building for a great example of this style).
Modern times have brought us structures like Science Centre Nemo by Renzo Piano and the spectacular EYE Film Museum on the north shore of the river IJ. Fans of contemporary architecture will be happy to visit newly designed areas like IJburg or the Java-eiland.
5. Park life, Amsterdam Forest and City Beaches
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city, Amsterdam can easily comply. There is always a nice park close by. The biggest star is the centrally located Vondelpark. When the weather is even remotely good, locals head to the park and sit on the grass, or have a drink in one of the great cafés like the Blauwe Theehuis or Vondelpark3. If you feel that Vondelpark is too busy, other parks like the Sarphatipark in De Pijp and Westerpark in the west are great alternatives. The Westerpark is connected to the Westergasfabriekterrein, a recreational area that offers you restaurants, bars and a cinema. The recently renovated Oosterpark in the eastern part of town is also an excellent choice for a nice stroll.
If you want to head into the woods, the many paths in the Amsterdam Forest will make you forget you are still in the city. Even though Amsterdam isn’t officially connected to beaches, the city can still offer you some nice stretches of sand. City beaches have emerged at various places, such as Pllek on the north shore of the IJ, Blijburg in the IJburg area and Strandzuid in the south. If these places are too city-like for you, there is always the option to go to the real beaches of Bloemendaal/Zandvoort (also known as Amsterdam Beach), which are just a 30 minutes car drive away.
Amsterdam is the proud home of two major universities: The University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit. With these two institutes in town, the place is buzzing with young people who contribute to the lively atmosphere in many areas. Science also plays an important part in the emergence of companies and innovations in the city, attracting companies and start-ups to the city.
7. Nightlife: Music & Cinema
The capital prides itself on having excellent music venues and (movie) theatres. Former church Paradiso (Temple of Pop) offers performances of the greatest artists in the world, such as Adele and Coldplay. The Royal Concert Hall is known to be one of the best in the world. The exquisite Tuschinski theatre, built and decorated in Art Nouveau style, is one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world, making a night at the movies feel like a special night out.
8. Kings Day
The Dutch are known to get a little crazy every now and then. If you want be a witness to this, visit Amsterdam on the country’s national holiday King’s Day (April 27). On the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, the city transforms into an overwhelming, orange-coloured festival. The canals are packed with partying people on boats. The streets are filled with people selling all sorts of things. Everyone is in a celebratory mood, making King’s Day one of the best days of the year.
9. Festivals all year round
Amsterdam organises many festivals during the year, celebrating music, food, art, and many other of life’s joys. You will be spoiled for choice. For dance fans, visiting one of the many dance festivals held all year round is a must. Where in the world better to be treated to the music of the world’s best DJs than in the homeland of dance music? During summer, one of the best music festivals to visit is the Grachtenfestival. During this classical music festival Amsterdam serves as a stage for Dutch musicians. Another highlight is Gay Pride, when Amsterdam transforms into the gay capital of the world. The entire city gathers around the canals to watch the parade of party boats sail by. Theatre fans can enjoy the circus vibe at the travelling open-air theatre festival the Parade, where great performers team up with quirky restaurants and bars. If you like food, visit Amsterdam in spring for the Rollende Keukens (Rolling Kitchens), Amsterdam’s major food-truck festival, and get a taste of all the many different types of food and drinks on offer. Another unique event is the Amsterdam Light Festival, held during the dark winter months. Designated areas in the city are transformed into spectacles of light. Seeing the city lit in such a special way makes your heart beat a little faster.
10. A large village
Part of the attractiveness of Amsterdam lies in the size of the city. The distances in the city are easily manageable by foot or bike, making it feel more like a large village than a metropolis. This village vibe is attractive for both locals and visitors. You have all the perks of a city, but always feel like you know the neighbourhood and the people in it.
11. Amsterdam Nightlife
Amsterdam seems to be made of bars and cafés. It is easy to find one to your liking. Want to experience a typical Amsterdam evening? Visit one of the many ‘brown café’s’ in the Jordaan area. Want to try some of the locally brewed beers? A hipster beer bar is the place for you. Feeling like a posh cocktail with a hefty price tag? Go to one of the great hotel bars. Amsterdam is able to serve us all.
Amsterdam has many food markets around the city. It’s hard to beat strolling around a market on a Saturday morning, trying products such as cheese, herring and the infamous ‘patatje met’ (fries with mayonnaise). The most famous one is Albert Cuyp-market in de Pijp, but markets like the Ten Katemarkt in the west or the Dappermarkt in the east also offer great, often locally and organically produced products.
13. Foodies paradise
Amsterdam knows how to cater to the most critical foodies. Hip and happening restaurants emerge on a weekly basis. You can find nearly every cuisine in the world in the many excellent restaurants. But the Dutch like their own cuisine, too. One of the most beloved local dishes is the ‘pannenkoek’, which is something between a French crepe and an American pancake. Toppings can vary from fruit and chocolate to cheese and lots of vegetables.
14. The international community
Ever since the beginning of trade in Amsterdam, the city has welcomed the arrival of foreigners. The economy grew strong because of them, making the Dutch the most prosperous people of the 17th century. To this day, many international companies have offices in the capital, bringing different nationalities to the city. This international atmosphere can really be felt in everyday life, adding to the beloved diversity and liberal feel of Amsterdam.
15. Start-up capital of Europe
Amsterdam is the start-up capital of the west coast of Europe. The city actively runs programs such as Start-up Amsterdam to accelerate the start-up scene and provide it with the necessary tools to grow and excel. Moreover, with the help of organisations such as the national Start-up Delta, companies are getting the best possible start here. The result is impressive: Amsterdam came in second on the European Digital City Index, a survey that ranks 35 major EU-cities on how well they support digital start-ups and scale-ups. File-transfer platform WeTransfer and travel firm Travelbird are good examples of the many successful start-ups in the city.