AMSTERDAM — Old Town Amsterdam

At the centre of Amsterdam is the old town which is the most visited area in Amsterdam by tourists which number in the millions each year. There are lots of interesting sights to visit including museums, historic buildings and churches as well as plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants — something for everyone.

The sights found here are:
Schreierstoren
Oudezijds Kolk
Houten Huis In den Aepjen
Oudezijds Voorburgwal
Museum Amstelkring
Huis Leeuwenburg
Zeedijk
Oudezijds Achterburgwal
Amsterdam’s Marionettentheater
Chinatown
Nieuwmarkt
Oude Kerk
Warmoesstraat
Beurs van Berlage
Wynand Fockink
Oost-Indisch Huis
Trippenhuis
Kloveniersburgwal
Sint Antoniesbreestraat
Zuiderkerk
Rembrandt House
Gassan Diamonds

Schreierstoren

Schreierstoren
This structure is one of the two remaining parts of the wall that was built around Amsterdam in 1481 to defend the city. The tower is known as the ‘Weeper’s Tower’ which comes from a gable stone found on the tower dating from 1569. The stone shows a virgin who is sad because the city of Amsterdam is about to enter the 80-year war. The tower was originally named ‘Schreyhoeckstoren’ which means in Old Dutch that the tower is at a sharp angle with the city walls that it was once connected to. The tower now houses a cafe.
For information about the tower visit the website at: http://www.schreierstoren.nl (in Dutch only)

Oudezijds Kolk

Oudezijds Kolk
This is a narrow sluice that runs from the Oosterdok which is the body of water found north of Prins Hendrikkade to the canal, Oudezijds Voorburgwal. The Kolksluis (Kolk Sluice) is one of Amsterdam’s oldest locks still in function dating from the Middle Ages. Its main functions are to protect against high tide and to refresh the water in the canals. A pathway follows the canal on one side which you can walk down but the other side has the backs of buildings that stand directly in the water. At the Oudezijds Kolk you will find some 17th and 18th century warehouses including number 5 which is one of Amsterdam’s oldest warehouses built in 1617. It is a wine warehouse called Het Wijnpakhuis Malaga (Wine Warehouse Malaga) that now houses private apartments and it is a national monument.

Houten Huis In den Aepjen

Houten Huis In den Aepjen
This wooden house found at Zeedijk 1 was built in 1550 and is one of the two remaining original wooden houses in Amsterdam that have managed to survive fires over the years. It was originally built as a sailor’s hotel but it is now a bar. The name which means ‘in the monkey’ originates from the 17th century when the owner asked one of his guests to bring back a monkey from the tropics in order to settle a debt and other sailors started to bring back monkeys until the tavern was full of monkeys.

Huis aan de Drie Grachten

Oudezijds Voorburgwal
This is the oldest canal in Amsterdam and it was built between 1342 and 1380. The part of the canal which is found to the left of the Damstraat used to be called Fluwelen Burgwal (Velvet Rampart) and refers to the wealthy families that lived here who were usually dressed in velvet. Almost all the houses have been restored to their original state. A beautiful example is the Huis aan de drie grachten (House on the three canals) which is found at the end of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. It has a gable stone that mentions the name Fluwelen Burgwal. The house has three beautiful step gables, one on each canal. Over time many different gables were developed and you should take your time when you are walking down this canal to admire the beautiful gables found along its banks.

Museum Amstelkring

Museum Amstelkring
This beautiful Catholic church is one of the most interesting churches in the city because it is found hidden inside a 17th century canal house. It had to be hidden because in the 16th century Catholic Mass was banned in Amsterdam but the Protestant authorities ignored this if people worshipped in private. In 1661 a devout wealthy Catholic merchant, Jan Hartman bought a canal house and the two houses behind it and he had a chapel built which occupied the top floor of the canal house as well as the two houses behind. At this time the church was known as the Hart because of the statue of a stag that hung outside and was dedicated to St Nicholas. It underwent renovation in 1739 after it was bought by a priest and the church was then called Our Lord in the Attic which is how it is known today. It served as the parish church for Catholics living in the centre of Amsterdam for 200 years until 1887 when it was replaced by St Nicholas church which is now found by Centraal station. Today it has become a museum but it still hosts church services and weddings.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.opsolder.nl/eng/home.php

Traveller's Tip

Make sure you visit the rest of the house as well as the chapel especially the drawing room which was designed to impress guests. It is one of the best preserved 17th century rooms left in Amsterdam. A copy of this room has been built in Japan. There are some magnificent paintings found in the house as well.

Huis Leeuwenburg
This house found at number 14 on Oudezijds Voorburgwal is made of stone with a wooden frame. It was built in 1605 by a Russian merchant from Riga. In the middle gable stone there are two crossed keys which are the Coat of Arms of Riga. On the left gable stone is a fortress or burg with a lion’s(leeuw) head sticking out and this is where the house gets its name from. It was restored in 1942 and is now the home of a Salvation Army goodwill centre.

Zeedijk

Zeedijk
Zeedijk refers to the construction of the sea dyke in the 13th century to stop the city of Amsterdam from flooding and it still can be seen today. This area is part of Amsterdam’s Chinese district and is also one of the boundaries of the Red Light district. Here you will find lots of original buildings and especially of note are the 17th century houses found on Zeedijk numbered from 31 to 44. These were the houses of the wealthy merchants who lived here. In more recent times this area and its surrounds became rather seedy and was a centre for nightlife, entertainment, prostitution and illegal street trade in drugs. In the 1980s the city took action and the area was cleaned up and has now become a popular area with its many shops, boutiques and restaurants.

Oudezijds Achterburgwal

Oudezijds Achterburgwal
This is a canal and street found near the Red Light District. It is part of the medieval city of Amsterdam and was built in 1367. Around the time of the Alteration in 1578 this street was full of monasteries and the names of many of the streets around the canal are reminders of this.

Amsterdam’s Marionettentheater
This classical puppet theatre which is found in a former blacksmith’s shop performs mostly operas by Mozart and Offenbach. Children and adults will love the fairy-tale sets and period costumes.
For information about this theatre visit the website at: http://www.marionettentheater.nl

Chinatown
The Nieuwmarkt and a large part of the Zeedijk form the heart of Chinatown. The first Chinese in Amsterdam worked on the large passenger ships stoking fuel but with the decline of this industry many of them started restaurants and Chinese shops. The Chinese community in Amsterdam as elsewhere remains loyal to their traditions and customs. This is a great area to eat Chinese food as well as other Asian restaurants including Thai and Malaysian. At 16 to 18 Zeedijk you will find the Buddhist Temple, Fo Guang Shan He Hwa which was built in 2000. The temple is devoted to Fo Guang Shan, a new branch of Zen Buddhism and houses a priest and four nuns. The temple is dedicated to Guan Yin, a female Buddha whose statue is found in the public area of the temple. Everyone can visit here but remember this is a place of worship and you need to respect this and remain silent.

Nieuwmarkt

Nieuwmarkt
The Nieuwmarkt (New Market) square is dominated by the very large romantic castle with gates and turrets known as De Waag or Weighing House. It was built in 1488 as one of Amsterdam’s city gates known as St Anthony’s gate but in 1601 the city walls were torn down and it was no longer needed. The lower floors were eventually turned into a weighing house for goods to be taxed. The upper floors served as a guardroom for militia and as meeting places for members of various guilds such as surgeons, blacksmiths, masons and artists who went about changing some of the rooms. The building was disbanded by the guilds in the 19th century and for many years it served lots of purposes such as home to the Amsterdam Historical Museum and the Jewish Historical Museum amongst other things. Today it houses a restaurant. The open space around this building has always been a market, especially for the trade in herbs and spices. There is a market here every day and on Saturdays there is an organic food market and during the summer on Sundays there is an antiques and book market. During the summer there are free films and the circus Rigolo performs every August in the square. Nieuwmarkt has a great selection of bars, food places and Amsterdam’s oldest chemist shop dating from 1749 and named Jacob Hooey’s apothecary and drugstore which is still trading.

Traveller's Tip

In WW2 this square was used by the Nazis as a collection point for Jews who had been rounded up to be sent to concentration camps.
Oude Kerk

Oude Kerk
The Oude Kerk or Old Church is the oldest church in Amsterdam and is found next to a canal in the Red Light district. It dates from the 13th century when a wooden church was built here. Construction on the church you see today began in 1250 but it wasn’t completed until 1566. Inside is large and fairly plain. There is a wooden vaulted ceiling with paintings depicting saints, ships, biblical scenes and coats of arms which date from the 15th and 16th centuries. The organ dating from 1728 is fairly impressive. If you look at the floor of the church you will see it consists mainly of gravestones and this is because the church was built on a cemetery.
For information about this church visit the website at: http://www.oudekerk.nl/infoeng.htm

Traveller's Tip

Make sure you look at the inscription over the entrance to the wedding chapel which reads Marry in haste, repent at leisure when translated from Dutch to English.
  • You can climb the church tower with a guide every hour for good views over Amsterdam for €5.
    Warmoesstraat

    Warmoesstraat
    This is one of the oldest and busiest streets in Amsterdam and runs parallel to the Amstel River from the main train station — Centraal to Dam Square. It was once one of the richest shopping streets in Amsterdam but in the 19th century its decline began and it evolved into the area full of bars, restaurants, cheap hotels and sex shops you see today. There has been some attempt recently to to revamp the area and some trendy bars, galleries and shops have begun to make an appearance.

    Traveller's Tip

    If you love coffee or tea make sure you visit number 67 Warmoesstraat. Here you will find Geels and Co which have been around since 1864 selling coffees and teas amongst other offerings. On the second floor of this 17th century building is a coffee and tea museum.
    Beurs van Berlage

    Beurs van Berlage
    This was the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam from 1898 to 1903, and is now used as a venue for conferences, meetings, receptions and dinners. It is also known for its exhibitions on design and architecture. The building is important because its construction heralded the start of modern architecture in the Netherlands. Its brick facade is typically Dutch and it combines early 20th century functionalist details with romanesque splendour. It also houses a cafe with a lovely Art Nouveau interior that is worth a visit.
    For information about Beurs van Berlage visit the website at: http://www.beursvanberlage.nl/welcome

    Wynand Fockink
    This spirits and liqueur distillery on the Pijlsteeg opened in 1679. It includes a tasting room and a shop. Today you will find here a magnificent collection of antique, hand painted storage bottles in the tasting room and you can still purchase an assortment of liqueurs which are produced in the distillery. You can take a tour of the distillery and sample some of the liqueurs if you are interested.
    For information about Wynand Fockink visit the website at: http://www.wynand-fockink.nl/index.php?page=home&hl=eng

    Oost-Indisch Huis

    Oost-Indisch Huis
    This 17th century building was the headquarters of the Amsterdam East India Company which was a company that was set up to capture the market of trade from Asian countries and as such they had the monopoly of this very lucrative trade for many years. The building has a gate that leads through a tunnel into an inner courtyard where you can appreciate the elegant Amsterdam Renaissance facade of the building. Over the years several extensions have been made to the original building. When the East India company was dissolved in 1798 the building became the seat of the colonial government of the Batavian Republic. Nowadays it is used by the University of Amsterdam and it is found at Oude Hoogstraat 24. The original boardroom is worth a visit.

    Trippenhuis

    Trippenhuis
    The Trippenhuis is found at Kloveniersburgwal 29 and is a magnificent building built in 1662. It was the home of two wealthy brothers named Trip who made their money by trading weapons, artillery, ammunition and battle ships. Note on the facade the chimneys that are shaped like mortars, the canons engraved on the gable and the gunpowder grey exterior. The Trippenhuis is notable because it is one of the widest houses in Amsterdam at 22 metres. Today it houses the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Dutch Academy of Science).

    Traveller's Tip

    Look at the very narrow house opposite the Trippenhuis with its ornate gable. Legend has it that this house was built for the coachman of the Trip brothers after he had said to them ‘Oh my, I would be happy if I had a house that was only as wide as the front door of my masters’ house’.
    Kloveniersburgwal

    Kloveniersburgwal
    This canal is found between the Nieuwmarkt and the Amstel River, east of Dam Square. Until the end of the 16th century it was one of the outer city canals. The canal derives its name from when the city militia that practiced here using rifles that were called Klovers. At the corner of the Kloveniersburgwal and the Amstel River was the tavern that the Kloveniers would visit after practicing which is still there and is now NH Doelen hotel.

    Traveller's Tip

    Large paintings of the Klovers were hung on the tavern’s walls and the most famous of these portraits was Rembrandt’s The Night Watch which is a portrait of 18 militia men and their Captain now found at the Rijksmuseum.

    Sint Antoniesbreestraat
    Today this is mainly a shopping street with a variety of speciality shops under the arcades but it was originally a dyke, Sint Antoniesdijk which was an extension of the Zeedijk. From the 17th century part of the street was called Jodenbreestraat because of the many Jewish immigrants who lived here and during WW2 many of the Jewish residents of this street were taken away to concentration camps leaving the neighbourhood practically deserted. Sint Antoniesbreestraat was popular with artists such as Rembrandt who lived here from 1631 to 1635 at the home of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh and again from 1639 to 1656 in his own home.

    Zuiderkerk

    Zuiderkerk
    This was Amsterdam’s first protestant church. Zuiderkerk or South Church was built between 1603 and 1611 and it is built in the Renaissance style. The church was the subject of a painting by Claude Monet thought to be painted during his visit to Amsterdam in 1874 which is found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the USA. Three of Rembrandt’s children are buried in Zuiderkerk. The church was used for services until 1929 but was closed in 1970 because of disrepair. It underwent renovation in the late 1970s and now houses a permanent exhibition of Amsterdam’s future building plans sponsored by the City Planning Office as well as temporary exhibitions.
    For information about the church visit the website at: http://www.zuiderkerk.amsterdam.nl (in Dutch only)

    Traveller's Tip

    Make sure you visit the tower for some magnificent views over the surrounding area. Between April and September you can do so on a guided tour which runs every half hour between 12 and 3.30pm. You can hear the bells every Thursday afternoon between noon and 1pm.

    Rembrandt House
    This was home to Rembrandt and his wife Saskia from 1639 to 1658 and it is where he painted some of his most famous works, including The Night Watch. Originally the ground floor provided living accommodation, the first floor was his studio and his students used the attic. It was renovated in the early 1900s and turned into a museum in 1911. The museum you see today is a reconstruction of Rembrandt’s rooms and his workshop. In the museum you will find furniture and objects from the time as well as 260 of Rembrandt’s 290 etchings as well as works by other Dutch contemporaries. There is a free audio guided tour.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/cms_pages/index_main.html

    Gassan Diamonds
    This diamond factory is housed in an interesting building dating from the late 1880s that cut diamonds using machinery driven by steam. The factory was reopened in 1989 by Gassan Diamonds. You can take a free 20-minute guided tour to find out how rough diamonds are turned into dazzling cut stones and you will see loose polished diamonds in different sizes and qualities.
    For information about Gassan Diamonds visit the website at: http://www.gassandiamonds.nl/en