Walking through the Amsterdam City Centre is like travelling through time. From the early 1500s, when Amsterdam was still a small fishing village, to the Golden Age (1568-1672) and the city’s rise as a world empire, and then the nineteenth and twentieth century, ages of reconstruction and protest. Join us on a tour via the most famous landmarks in the Palace District, hidden treasures and museums. Stop at traditional bars and enjoy the collection of remarkable shops along the way.
A Perfect Walking Route through the Amsterdam City Centre
We’ll start the walk through Amsterdam City Centre at the shores of t’IJ, the city’s former harbour where once many hundreds of galleons of the Dutch East India Company were anchored, waiting to trade their cargo in town. The barren northern shores in the east were mostly used to pile wood, grain and coal but today this area is mostly used as industrial festival area NDSM-Werf (with some trendy restaurants and bars). Right in front of us we can see the iconic white building of the Eye Film Institute (designed by Roman Delugan and Elke Delugan-Meissl). Behind that you’ll find the so-called Tolhuistuin – an artistic hotspot with bars, restaurant and regularly changing art expositions. The islands to our right, now boasts the glass façade theatre building of the Muziekgebouw aan t ’IJ as well as an excellent seafood restaurant, Zouthaven, and a huge summer terrace overlooking the IJ-river and the upcoming neighbourhood Amsterdam Noord. The Northern part of town is easily reached; boats leave every ten minutes or so at the back of Central Station.
There was a good chance that the monumental train station of Amsterdam was never built on its current location. Fearing for their trading, business owners heavily protested against the construction of the station island in the old port and thus the closing of the city to the main waterways and the sea. Petrus Cuypers’ design was mostly inspired by the Dutch Middle Ages (he also made the construction plans for the monastery-like Rijksmuseum), which was a long time before the age of the prosperous maritime trade. The newly unveiled giant tiled wall (consisting of 70,000 hand-painted tiles) in the Cuypserspassage though is a fair tribute to Amsterdam’s seafaring past. The fairytale wooden café on the waterfront at the central entrance of the station, once a pleasant waiting area for travellers, now houses a branch of the famous Amsterdam steak restaurant Loetje.
Getting around in Amsterdam is quite easy. Standing in front of Central Station, facing Damrak and at the back Dam Square, one can easily divide the city into the old side (Oudezijds, to the left) and the new side (Nieuwezijds, including the Canal District and Jordaan area, to the right). Also on the right is St. Nicolaaskerk – named after the patron saint of fishermen, children and the city of Amsterdam – a majestic church built in different styles (so as not to offend any religious movement in the city at the end of the nineteenth century). As we walk towards Dam Square, we’ll find café De Heffer at our right (once the place where marketable goods were weighed), and after that Beurs van Berlage (the central location of the Dutch Royal marriage in 2002). Once intended as a showcase of Dutch grandeur, the original draft of the design was rejected because it was supposedly stolen from the architects of the town hall of Rochelle in France. The municipality eventually settled for the industrial drawings by architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage.
The site where the 58-year-old palatial department store De Bijenkorf is situated now originally belonged to the world-famous Beurs van Berlage – the first stock exchange in the world and later the classical building of De Beurs van Zocher. Ever since the building of the dam in the river Amstel over 800 years ago, the square has been the centre of the city. Not surprisingly, citizens of the Dutch Republic (with which the Dutch were again the first in the world) chose this spot as the building site for their magnificent town hall in the 1600s. In 1808, however, the colossus was transformed into the residential Palace for the royal rulers in the Netherlands. The grand church next to the Royal Palace is De Nieuwe Kerk, which is used for national commemorations and major expositions. We’ll stop for a moment at the almost 350-year-old distillery of Wijnand Focking in the (recently) covered Pijlsteeg right across Dam Square, to enjoy a glass of real Dutch gin or another locally distilled specialty.
In the 1500s this narrow street hosted as many as five monasteries. Residents, who were required to make a quick prayer when passing each monastery, nicknamed it ‘the never-ending prayer’. By the nineteenth century, most of the holiness had left Nes; the street became the centre of the capital’s nightlife with many emerging theatres, bars, restaurants and brothels. Bubbles & Wines is known for its immense selection of rare and valuable grape juices and tasty snacks. A must visit is Bridges, a restaurant that prides itself on serving sublime fish dishes in a unique atmosphere.
At the end of Nes, we’ll turn right to end up in the middle of Rokin. After two centuries of stagnation, the nineteenth century was again a period of growth for Amsterdam – thanks mostly to the rise in colonial trade. In those days Rokin served as an elegant boulevard with numerous exclusive department stores and (secret) club houses for the rich and famous. One of the very few remaining businesses is tobacco firm Hajenius (halfway down Rokin), where we can still enjoy homemade cigars in the atmospheric lounge. The grey building on the other side of the canal was built as the headquarters of the Dutch National Bank but now serves as a repository of the university collection of ancient art, the Allard Pierson Museum.
Don’t be fooled by the limited width of Oude Hoogstraat; this was once one of the richest passages in town. The powerful Dutch East India Company (VOC) even established its head office here: Het Oost Indisch Huys. The building, and in particular the beautiful courtyard and richly decorated boardroom, are open for visitors. De Waalse Kerk, a church built for Belgian and French religious refugees in 1578, is located further up the road. Be careful not to pass the narrowest house in Europe at Oude Hoogstraat 22 (approximately just 2 metres wide).
As we walk back to the red light district, we pass De Oude Kerk (the old church) on the left of Oudezijdsvoorburgwal, the oldest building in Amsterdam. This imposing late-medieval building now serves as an exhibition space (and is known as the home of World Press Photo). In the presbytery (De Koffieschenkerij), on the waterfront, coffee master Job Oosting serves delicious coffee, tea and homemade cake in the traditional dark-toned room of the building.
A couple minutes away, we arrive at the beginning of Zeedijk. The wooden building on the left, at number 1, is t’Aepje – one of the oldest existing taverns in town. It is said that a visit to this inn was quite risky because of the lice-infested monkey (donated by a sailor in debt). There is still a Dutch saying that refers to the bar: ‘you’ve stayed at t’ Aepje’ – meaning that you’ve probably come across trouble. A couple of minutes down the road, Zeedijk changes into Amsterdam Chinatown. The tasty specialty Nua Nam Tok, a delicious rib-eye salad with glass noodles and local herbs, is worth the wait at the always-crowded Thai snack bar and restaurant The Bird. At neighbouring four-storey Nua Nam Tok, you can find ingredients, cooking utensils, dishes, teapots and even Asian art. The beautiful, newly constructed He Hua Buddhist temple serves as places of worship for local Chinese.
Nieuwmarkt, located at the end of Zeedijk, was the scene of heavy protests against the construction of a new subway line in the seventies and eighties. Unfortunately, angry residents and protesters could not prevent part of the late medieval city being demolished. De Waag, in the middle of Nieuwmarkt, built as the Amsterdam City Centre gate in the 1500s and later used as clubhouse for the powerful guilds of Amsterdam, now houses an attractive grand café. Also worth a visit is traditional Amsterdam ‘brown bar’ Cafe Fonteyn to the right. Cafe Bern right behind De Waag is famous for its Swiss cheese fondue and chopped sirloin steak with delicious sauce.
We now move from Nieuwmarkt to Staalstraat, a recently-blossomed shopping street with many attractive and creative boutiques. Droog offers a variety of dinnerware, lamps, plants and many special gadgets. Neighbouring Papabubble is an authentic candy maker that specializes in candy prepared according to ancient recipes. When we’ve finished shopping, we stop for a beer and a traditional cheese platter in the old drugstore (with a Moorish bust attached to the façade) De Gaeper.
Through the Staalmeestersbrug – packed with padlocks left by couples in love (following the example of Pont des Arts in Paris) – we arrive at the Waterlooplein, once the bustling centre of the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Though little is left of the characteristic narrow streets with often dilapidated houses, the Portuguese Israelite Synagogue (one of the first and largest of its kind in Western Europe) remains one of the last landmarks of Jewish culture in Amsterdam. Nowadays, the next door seventeenth-century Great Synagogue and Abbene Shul operate as the Jewish Historical Museum.
The rest of Waterlooplein is now dominated by the modern red brick and white marble colossus of the Stopera (City Hall – Stadhuis and The Dutch National Opera & Ballet House) and the flea market. The flea market is open every day (expect Sunday) and is a must-see for lovers of curios, antiques, unique second-hand clothing and souvenirs. Do save time to visit the Rembrandthuis, the former working space of Rembrandt van Rijn, on Jodenbreestraat (Jewish broadway, parallel to Waterlooplein) which can now be visited as a museum dedicated to etches and drawings of the Dutch master.
Culture lovers have a lot to choose from in the city centre: from Allard Pierson (ancient history and art) to Amsterdam Museum and the grand expo at the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk).
A tour through Amsterdam’s past, from its early beginning as a sherman’s village to the Golden Age and present times. Amsterdam Museum – housed in the former city orphanage – has a great collection of art works, furniture and everyday goods from times gone by. – Kalverstraat 92
Visit Rembrandt van Rijn’s home and workshop. For twenty years the Netherlands’ greatest artist lived and worked in this impressive building in the heart of Amsterdam, now a museum. The museum has an almost complete collection of Rembrandt etchings and stages inspiring exhibitions about Rembrandt. – Jodenbreestraat 4
The National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum invites visitors to discover how the sea has shaped Dutch culture. In this freshly modernised museum, stimulating, interactive exhibitions let visitors explore 500 years of maritime history.life. – Kattenburgerplein 1
Our Lord in the Attic
A “schuilkerk”, or clandestine Catholic church, on the third oor of a seventeenth-century canal house. This museum with its delightful chapel provides great insight in the city’s religious struggles from the 1500s to the end of the nineteenth century. – Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38
Pack your camera, pick up a map, and get ready for an adventure! With more than 800 years of history, Amsterdam is a city that’s rich in visitor sights and attractions.
In the historical heart of Amsterdam, rough diamonds are transformed into dazzling jewels every day. Delve into the exciting world of diamond cutting and see every step of the process first-hand at Gassan Diamonds, where four centuries of craftsmanship and tradition are brought to life. – Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175
Nature and cultural heritage collide at Artis Royal Zoo. Admire the tropical
sh in the aquarium, travel through the planetarium and experience a wide range of beautiful plants and exotic animals. Every plant, animal and exhibit tells its own story. – Plantage Kerklaan 38-40
This beautiful botanical garden presents a large collection of beautiful plants, owers and insects, and presumably the largest collection of cactuses and succulents in the Netherlands. A truly relaxing oasis minutes away from the busy city centre. – Plantage Middenlaan 2A
The only museum of microbes, in the centre of Amsterdam. You can’t see them, but they’re here. They are on you. In you. And you’ve got more than a hundred thousand billion of them. They’re with you when you eat, when you breathe, when you kiss. They are everywhere. – Plantage Kerklaan 38
With everything from multi-storey department stores and exclusive boutiques to antiques and contemporary Dutch design, Amsterdam inspires even the most discerning shopper.
A trip to Amsterdam is not complete without a visit to the city’s largest premium department store. With ve oors of luxury brands, fashion, accessories, beauty products, shoes and culinary delights, visitors are bound to nd an elegant souvenir or an exclusive present from Amsterdam. – Dam 1
Magna Plaza is an indoor shopping centre located in a historical building behind the Royal Palace. Built at the end of the 19th century, this former post o ce is now an exclusive shopping destination with more than 20 stores. From clothes and shoes to jewellery and souvenirs. A shopping centre with an excellent variety of shops. – Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182
An awe-inspiring 700-square-metre hybrid store, lled to the brim with today’s most inspiring Dutch fashion, art and design. Located in a beautiful Art Deco former bank building, X Bank is a wonderland of creativity and delight, showcasing the comprehensive collection of works by over 180 artists. – Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182
Eat, drink, shop and relax in Droog and its lovely courtyard garden. roog is an attractive boutique devoted to Dutch Design. At this stylish establishment you’re sure to nd what you are looking for, whether that’s a present, a unique piece for your interior or just inspiration. – Staalstraat 7
Betsy Palmer is not your regular shoe store. Neither their location nor their collection is regular. Just o Dam Square, you nd an overwhelming collection of trendy women’s footwear and bags. They are all stylish, colourful and di erent. An absolute must see for shoe lovers. – Rokin 9-15
Whether you’re looking for Michelin standard cuisine or a cosy local joint, you’ll nd plenty to please your palate in Amsterdam. Make sure you check out the thriving bar scene too.
One of the best seafood restaurants in town, located in the former nineteenth and twentieth-century city hall. Bridges o ers culinary creations, from oysters and scallops to delicate tuna tartars and cod let. Its garden terrace is one of Amsterdam’s best- kept secrets and an oasis of tranquillity in the city centre. – Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197
The grand dame of top-end restaurants in the city centre. This establishment, opened in a former exchange bank, o ers mouth-watering dishes, great wines and fabulous cocktails in an exclusive setting. The ideal place for a romantic night out or a dinner with friends. – Spuistraat 172
Chef Christopher Naylor uses mainly local Dutch ingredients on his menu at Michelin-starred Restaurant Vermeer. His passion for seasonal products is especially evident in his seasonal menus, where vegetables are his great inspiration. – Prins Hendrikkade 59-72
Floating restaurant Sea Palace will grasp you by surprise. The oriental interior of Sea Palace has dazzled many guests before you. It is an unique experience to be submerged by the mystical exotic surroundings and at the same time marvelling the excellent view overlooking Amsterdam. – Oosterdokskade 8
The city centre offers some of the best bars in Amsterdam clustered around bustling neighborhoods such as Nieuwmarkt, Nes, Spui and Warmoestraat. Whether you favor craft brews, classic cocktails or a good glass of wine, Amsterdam got is all.
A unique Amsterdam experience, the rooftop o ers a breathtaking, 360-degree view of the old city skyline. Enjoy lunch, a wide selection of wines, ne, classic and modern cocktails and luxurious snacks at night. – Oosterdoksstraat 4
Wynand Fockink consists of a charming distillery, an authentic tasting room and a centuries-old café. The establishment has been a piece of liquid history since 1679. Try one of the 70 house-crafted liqueurs and genevers and slurp a so-called ‘kopstootje’ at the bar! – Pijlsteeg 31
Tales & Spirits
Tales & Spirits shakes up delicious cocktails in a cosy, casual setting. The bar is decorated with antique cocktail paraphernalia, giving it an intriguing look. The cocktails are created with care and surprising, fresh combinations. -Lijnbaanssteeg 5
At Bierfabriek -a brewery, restaurant and café in the city centre of Amsterdam- you can enjoy home brewed beer and delicious spring chicken grilled on the charcoal BBQ in an easy going ambiance. You can even draft their home brewed beer by yourself on one of the tap tables. In the weekends, DJ’s and live musicians entertain the guests. – Nes 67