AMSTERDAM — Centrum

This area centres on Dam Square and the prime shopping area of Kalverstraat and the Flower Market. Also in this area is the infamous Red Light District of Amsterdam. Most visitors to Amsterdam will spend a lot of their time in the Central area.

The sights found here are:
Montelbaanstoren
Scheepvaarthuis
Centraal Station
Red Light District
Sexmuseum
Vodka Museum
Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum
St Nicholas Church
Pintohuis
Oudemanhuispoort
Allard Pierson Museum
Torture Museum
Bloemenmarkt
Old Lutheran Church
Spui
Begijnhof
Amsterdam Historical Museum
Nes
Madame Tussauds
Dam Square
Koninklijk Paleis
Nieuwe Kerk
Damrak

Montelbaanstoren

Montelbaanstoren
This tower was built in 1512 and is part of the wall that was built around Amsterdam to protect it. It housed Amsterdam’s military guards who were stationed there to defend the city from foreign invaders. It is believed that it was also used as a meeting place for sailors before they headed off on long sea voyages to other countries.Today it houses Amsterdam’s Department of Sewage and Water Management.

Traveller's Tip

The clock that you see on the tower was added in 1606 and rumour has it that it was nicknamed ‘Silly Jack’ because the clock’s bells were unreliable and rang at odd times of the day or wouldn’t ring at all.
  • The tower became slightly tilted at one time and became known as the ‘Leaning Tower of Amsterdam’.
  • Montelbaanstoren was a favourite subject of Rembrandt’s paintings but he didn’t paint in the spire and clock because he preferred the original 1512 facade.
    Scheepvaarthuis

    Scheepvaarthuis
    The Scheepvaarthuis or Shipping House is regarded as an architectural masterpiece of the Amsterdamse School. It was built in 1913 for the Amsterdam shipping companies and its interior is beautiful. Many artists including Krop, Kramer and De Klerk contributed to the decoration. It is now the Grand Hotel Amrâth. Even if you’re not a guest of the hotel you can enjoy the magnificent staircase as well as the lobby, bar and restaurant.
    For information about the hotel visit the website at: http://www.amrathamsterdam.com

    Centraal Station
    This is Amsterdam’s main train station and here you will find trains from all parts of The Netherlands as well as other parts of Europe. It is also the transportation centre for trams and buses. It was opened in 1889 and it is built in a neo-Renaissance style but has many Gothic features. The facade is of red stone with many carvings and spires and has been restored in recent times. As well as being a transport hub the station contains shops, places to eat and a tourist information centre.

    Red Light District
    The Red Light District covers a large area in one of the oldest parts of the city and is found around 10 minutes south of Centraal Station in the Walletjes area between the station and Nieuwmarkt. The area dates back to the 14th century when sailors arrived from all over the world in need of some female company. The area is full of sex shops, brothels, gay bars, cinemas, hotels and some unusual museums. Many people are unaware that this is also one of the prettiest as well as oldest parts of the city withs its narrow cobblestoned streets and beautiful 14th century buildings. Each year millions of visitors come here to enjoy its many offerings.

    Traveller's Tip

    Probably the most famous attraction in the Red Light District are the 250 or so ‘windows’ with girls dressed in revealing underwear. A lot of people just wander around this area in the evening to look but be aware you cannot take photos. The best time to visit the area is after 11pm which is when it is at its liveliest.
  • It is probably not the best place to wander around by yourself — either go in pairs or preferably in a group and be aware that here are pickpockets here.

    Sexmuseum
    This unusual museum has exhibits of erotic prints and drawings and trinkets such as tobacco boxes decorated with naughty pictures. There are also displays of pornography from the 14th century and some of the world’s earliest nude photos. It is all rather fun but if you are easily offended then it is best to stay away from here.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.sexmuseumamsterdam.nl/index2.html

    Vodka Museum
    This small and modern museum is located in an old townhouse at Damrak 33. You visit the Vodka Museum with a personal guide who will walk you through the 3-storey museum. The museum tells the story of the history of vodka, the production process and the different types of vodka and at the end you get to drink some. This museum is also used as a party and events venue.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.vodkamuseum.com

    Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum
    This museum displays the 8,000-year history and the many uses of cannabis and hemp including the production of paper and textiles as well as its medicinal benefits. The process of producing hash and marijuana and the various rolling and smoking methods are all explained in detail.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://hashmuseum.com

    St Nicholas Church

    St Nicholas Church
    This is the main catholic church in Amsterdam and it opened in 1887. Originally it was a place of worship for sailors as St Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors and is one of others found in Amsterdam dedicated to the same saint. The rather gloomy neo-Baroque facade contains twin towers and a high domed cupola. The interior has high ceilings and murals illustrating themes from St Nicholas’ life including the Miracle of Amsterdam which happened in 1345 and the execution of the Catholic martyrs of Gorcum.
    For information about the Miracle of Amsterdam visit the follwoing website at: http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/english_pdf/Amsterdam1.pdf

    Pintohuis

    Pintohuis
    This Italian Renaissance-style house was bought by Jewish refugee Isaac de Pinto in 1651 after he had escaped the Inquisition in Portugal to come to Amsterdam and become one of the founders of the East India Company. In the early 1970s it was almost demolished so that the street could be widened but it was saved by activists and is now a public library. It is beautiful inside especially the birds and cherubs painted on the ceiling.
    For information about the library visit the website at: http://www.oba.nl/index.cfm?vid=BC638BCA-3FFA-497D-9CA1C74A819C832A

    Oudemanhuispoort

    Oudemanhuispoort
    This former almshouse was built in 1601 as a house for the elderly as is indicated by the chilseled pair of spectacles found in the pedestal of the gateway. It is now part of the University of Amsterdam and is closed to the public but you can still walk in the courtyard. The covered walkway found here is lined with tiny shops whose rents helped subsidize the almhouse in the 18th century. Since the mid-1700s it has been the home of second-hand booksellers.

    Traveller's Tip

    As you enter the courtyard note the bust of the goddess Minerva over the entrance.

    Allard Pierson Museum
    This museum is the archeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. It displays antiquities and artefacts from the ancient civilisations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Etruria and the Roman Empire. The objects date from 4000BC till 500AD. There are permanent as well as temporary exhibits. The Egyptian exhibits include scale models of the pyramids of Giza and the temple of Edfu and a computer can print out your name in hieroglyphics. The Greek treasures of pottery, sculpture, glassware and jewellery are great as well. The exhibits are on two levels and it will take you around an hour or two to explore everything depending on your interest.
    For information about this museum visit the website at: http://www.allardpiersonmuseum.nl/english

    Torture Museum
    This is an unusual museum which shows displays of torture instruments in dark, dingy rooms and recreations of medieval jail cells. There are paintings throughout the museum showing the uses of torture and how it was implemented. This is a very small museum and will not take very long to get around as there really isn’t that much to see.
    For information about this museum visit the website at: http://www.torturemuseum.com

    Bloemenmarkt

    Bloemenmarkt
    This is Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market and is the only one of its kind in the world. The stalls stand on houseboats but it is a semi-permanent fixture now. It is an amazing place where you will find all kinds of bulbs and flowers depending on the season. The bulbs are ready for export so can be taken home. The market is located on the Singel canal between Koningsplein and Muntplein and is open year round from Monday to Saturday 9am to 5.30pm and on Sundays from 11am to 5.30pm.

    Old Lutheran Church
    This church was built between 1632 and 1633 and it now belongs to the Amsterdam University and is used for religious and other activities. It looks a little like a warehouse rather than a church which isn’t surprising as the city council insisted that the building resembled the Verguide Pot which was a warehouse where the Lutherans from Germany used to gather from 1600 onwards before this church was built.

    Spui

    Spui
    The Spui is a square in the centre of Amsterdam that is mostly car free. The Spui was originally a body of water that formed the southern limit of the city until the 1420s, when the Singel canal was dug as an outer moat around the city. In 1882 the Spui was filled in and became the square that you see today. It is a popular destination for book lovers as there is a variety of bookstores on or near the square and a weekly book market on Fridays. Every Sunday an art market is held here from 10am until 6pm which shows the work of sixty Dutch and international professional artists on a rotating system. You can buy directly from the artists and all mediums are covered including paintings in oil and acrylics, watercolours, graphic arts, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery. On the square you will find some of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam as well as the entry to the Begijnhof, a medieval courtyard. A small statue called Het Lieverdje (The Little Darling) stands on the square. This statue represents the youth of Amsterdam and in the 1960s the Provo counterculture movement held weekly gatherings around it.

    Begijnhof

    Begijnhof
    This is an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who wished to live a pious life of service without becoming nuns. These women received free accommodation in return for caring for the sick and educating the poor of Amsterdam. The Begijnhof consists of a row of tiny houses grouped around a courtyard. There is a small church with its original medieval tower which is found at number 48 and is called English Church though it is really Scottish Presbyterian. This church dates from 1400 and it belonged to the Begijntjes until it was confiscated during the ‘Alteration’ of 1578 when Catholic churches were handed over to the Protestants. Some other buildings of interest are number 34 which is Amsterdam’s oldest surviving house and dates from around 1465. This house which is called Het Houten Huis is wooden and one of only two such houses to survive. On the left side of this house are biblical plaques with scripture quotes and illustrations. Numbers 29 and 30 are the Begijnhof Chapel which was a secret church finished in 1680. It once contained the communion wafer from the Miracle of Amsterdam dating from 1345 and this story is told in the stained-glass windows. The Begijnhof is open daily from 9am until 5pm and the Begijnhof Chapel is open on Mondays from 1pm to 6.30pm; Tuesday to Friday from 9am until 6.30pm and Weekends from 9am until 6pm.

    Traveller's Tip

    This serene oasis from the busy city of Amsterdam is still occupied by single women and their privacy is to be respected. You are asked to be quiet whilst visiting here. Be aware that tour groups aren’t allowed in here.

    Amsterdam Historical Museum
    The Amsterdam Museum is housed in some magnificent buildings dating originally from the 15th century when it was the city orphanage but also an extension from the 17th century. There are around 15 rooms which display the history of Amsterdam from medieval times to the 20th century but its main focus is on the golden age of the 17th century. The displays consist of paintings, objects and archaeological finds as well as videos and interactive displays. This is a great museum if you are interested in the history of Amsterdam and you can easily spend a few hours here.
    For information about this museum visit the website at: http://en.ahm.nl

    Traveller's Tip

    When you enter the building look at the windows above to see the ‘children’ looking out. These are realistic models of orphans that used to inhabit the building.
  • Make sure you see the huge set of carillon bells that you can sit down and play.

    Nes
    This small street which was once a marshy area is now filled with theatres and restaurants, some of which have been here since the 1880s. At the end of the 14th century the street was filled with monasteries and convents until the Alteration of 1578 with the Protestant takeover of Catholic churches. At the southern end of the Nes is Gebed Zonder End which means the ‘Prayer Without End’ alleyway, which got its name because it was said you could hear prayers from behind the walls of the convents that used to line this alley.

    Madame Tussauds
    This waxworks is rather expensive and if you have visited Madame Tussauds in other cities this one may well disappoint as many of the figures are Dutch and you may not recognise them. The more familiar celebrities are there as well but not as many as you might like. If you are unfamiliar with Madame Tussauds the museum displays wax statues of important figures of local and global history, figures from the entertainment world and current world leaders.
    For information about the waxworks visit the website at: http://www.madametussauds.com/Amsterdam/en

    Dam Square

    Dam Square
    This busy square at the centre of Amsterdam is home to the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The square dates from the 12th century when travellers from central Europe came floating in their canoes down the Amstel River and decided to stop to build a dam. The square became the focal point of the small settlement and the location of the local weigh house which was demolished in 1808. People came here to trade, talk, protest, and be executed. The towering white obelisk in the centre of the square was erected in 1956 as a memorial to the Dutch soldiers who died in WW2 and it is the national focal point for Remembrance Day on May 4 when the Queen walks from the Koninklijk Paleis to the monument and lays flowers. The monument contains 12 urns — 11 are filled with earth from all the Dutch provinces and the 12th contains earth from the former colonies (Indonesia, Suriname, and the Antilles). The steps around the obelisk are a popular rest spot to watch the world go by or as a meeting place.

    Koninklijk Paleis

    Koninklijk Paleis
    This is the Royal Palace of Amsterdam and it is found on Dam Square. It was originally built in the 17th century as the city hall for the magistrates of Amsterdam. The Royal Palace is one of three palaces which the State has given to the Queen of The Netherlands for her use by an Act of Parliament. It is used mainly for official state functions such as state visits, the Queen’s New Year reception and other official receptions including the presentation of various official and royal prizes each year. Inside the palace there are some great paintings by Rembrandt amongst others as well as some very fine Empire furniture from the time of Louis Napoleon, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte who was the King in the 1800s. Temporary exhibitions are held in the summer months highlighting different aspects of the building’s history and information about these can be found on the website. You can visit the palace but check the website for opening times as these depend on what is happening there.
    For information about the palace visit the website at: http://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/english/index.html

    Nieuwe Kerk

    Nieuwe Kerk
    The New Church is a 14th century Late Gothic parish church found on Dam Square next to the Royal Palace. Originally the inside was painted with frescoes. During the Alteration in 1578 the church was taken over by the Protestants and these frescoes were painted over and some of the church’s other treasures were removed. Inside the church some of its original grandeur has been restored and the highlights include the stained glass windows, the carved gilded ceiling above the choir, the elaborately carved altar and the pipe organ from 1645.
    For information about the church visit the website at: http://www.nieuwekerk.nl/en

    Traveller's Tip

    During the summer months there are special tours available of the church including a ‘Behind the Scenes Tour’. Information about these can be found on the website.
  • Organ concerts are held on Sunday evenings between 8 and 9pm. Information about these can be found on the website.
    Damrak

    Damrak
    This is the main street that runs from Centraal Station to Dam Square. The name of the street refers to the dam that was once in the river Amstel. Rak is an old Dutch term for a straight river or canal. Damrak was once Amsterdam’s busiest canal and the gateway to the Zuiderzee (South Sea) and from there to the North Sea but over time the canal was filled in. Today when you walk along the street you will find a mixture of architectural styles from some large buildings to lots of tacky souvenir shops as well as garish neon signs. Some of the buildings that you will come across on your walk include the Victoria Hotel which is found across the street from the Centraal Station. It was built in the 19th century in the style of that period but more interesting are the neighbouring tiny 17th century houses. These houses were supposed to be pulled down when the hotel was built but the owners refused to sell even though they were offered a lot of money. The Stock Exchange building found on the left further along the street was opened in 1903 to much controversy because of its modern style for the time. It is now considered a fine example of the style and much admired. Before you reach the Stock Exchange you will see a body of water which is all that remains of the former harbour and is now home to many of the canal tour boats.
    For information about the palace visit the website at: http://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/english/index.html