Amsterdam: The Financial, Cultural and Creative Centre of the Netherlands
Colloquially known as the ‘Venice of the North’, Amsterdam has something for everyone
The financial, cultural and creative centre of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is one of the greatest small cities in the world frequented by more than 11 million tourists each year. Affectionately known as the ‘Venice of the North’ thanks to its world-renowned belt of winding canals, impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges, the capital is home to world-famous museums, historical points of interest, lauded nightlife and incredible dining scene.
With all the advantages of a big city within cycling distance or a short ride on a well-linked transport network of trams, metros, buses and boat connections, Amsterdam remains a popular destination for short breaks. With plenty to offer to discerning business travellers with either a few hours or few days to spare, there is plenty on offer to keep you entertained, especially lovers of architecture; with most of the city’s popular tourist attractions located within one of the best-preserved historical town centres in the world.
Housed within this eight square kilometre centre, you’ll find 7,800 monumental buildings – primarily from the 17th and 18th centuries – appearing alongside modern architecture developed to complement the existing historical building facades. Amsterdam Centre also sports more than 2,200 shops – a quarter of all shops in the city – and close-to half of all the city’s restaurants and cafes.
Additionally, the wider-metropolitan area has a lot to offer; with excursions to the Cheese Market at Alkmaar, the traditional fishermens’ villages of Marken and Voldendam and the unique Dutch countryside north of Amsterdam all welcome places to escape the crowded city centre.
Facts and figures
Province: North Holland
Boroughs: 8 districts
Area (municipality): 219.32 km2
Population (municipality, 2016): 841,186
Time zone: UTC+2
Dialling code: +31
Internet TLD: .nl
Languages: Dutch, English
Famous residents: Anne Frank, Vincent van Gogh
In an otherwise moderately expensive city, travelling by public transport in Amsterdam is a fairly affordable and effective way to get around. The city’s comprehensive transport network comprising tram, bus and metro is supported by a series of value-add discount travel cards; some of which include free access to famous sights and museums.
The I Amsterdam City Card is the most convenient and affordable way to experience Amsterdam; offering unlimited access to public transport for up to four days with free entry to the Museums in Amsterdam and other selected Dutch museums, as well as a canal cruise, thrown-in for the price.
The general rule of thumb for travel advice is to plan the attractions you want to visit over a period of how many days and decide if this option is for you. If you are lucky enough to have more than four days to dedicate to sightseeing, then the GVB Card is a good starting point which provides unlimited travel in the city centre for €7.50 a day. You can get them from drivers and conductors on buses and trams and ticket machines around the city.
Of course, for those who wish to take on the city by bike and join the 63 percent of Amsterdammers who opt for this environmentally-friendly alternative to transportation by car (not only is travelling by car usually slower than by public transportation or by bike, it’s also much more expensive), prices range from around €12 a day. Moreover, you can take advantage of the many guided bicycle tours that provide a great overview of the city and a little taste of the typical Dutch lifestyle.
For an authentic experience, Amsterdam is best seen from the water. While there are canal cruises available for tourists, they don’t offer the freedom to do your own exploring. Many other travel guides encourage trying to bond with local boat owners; otherwise your options are limited to the pedal-powered canal bike or pedalo.
The business end
Regularly scoring highly in the city indices for its liveability and economic stability, Amsterdam is the world’s leading exporter of cut flowers; including its famous tulips, plants and trees. A vital contributor to the Netherlands’ overall agri-food business, second only to the US in terms of export of food and other farm-related businesses, the city’s port is the world’s most important for cocoa beans; handling a quarter of global production annually. Furthermore, the city's Heineken brewery, which brews 171.7 million hectolitres of beer every year, is the world's third largest.
A recent survey that combined the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual global city rankings with other factors including proximity to UNESCO heritage sites and connectivity to the rest of the world saw Amsterdam come second only to Hong Kong.
The Dutch capital is also strong in the chemical sector and is home to the headquarters of global powerhouse, AkzoNobel. The Company is located in Zuidas, Amsterdam's key business district, occupied by some 700 businesses; rivalling the size of London's Canary Wharf. Elsewhere, there are several smaller business districts in the centre, with Amstelplein the home of technology Company, Philips for example.
Although the Dutch are easy-going and relaxed in private, they have a very professional business manner and the majority speak very good English. “There is no beating around the bush in business negotiations, as your Dutch contacts will often cut right to the chase. Expats who are used to a more indirect way of interacting may consider this a bit rude at first. However, once you’re used to it, it doesn’t leave much room for misunderstandings...Titles and formalities are often dropped after the first introduction. Instead, talking on a first-name basis is the rule,” summarised internations.org.
“Amsterdam combines its glittering past with a wry, rough, rebellious contemporary edginess.” – The Telegraph
Food & Drink
de Kas is one of Amsterdam’s finest restaurants and offers diners an unforgettable culinary experience based on fresh, seasonal produce. The glass building dates back to the 1920s when it was used as the city’s municipal greenhouse, and retains its old-fashioned charm despite its conversion into a super-stylish restaurant.
A truly unique “dining in the dark” experience
Entertainment & Leisure
Comprising around 300 stands, Amsterdam’s largest daily flea market, Waterlooplein is the oldest and most famous flea market in Amsterdam and is very much connected with the city’s youth culture.
Situated in the former Jewish quarter, the Waterlooplein market dates back to 1885 when it was open every day except the Sabbath. Now, you can visit the market every day except Sundays and public holidays. Situated right beside Amsterdam City Hall, every stall has something different on offer surrounded by attractions such as the Rembrandt House Museum, Dutch National Opera & Ballet and the River Amstel.
Today, Heineken is one of the three largest beer producers in the world. It’s rich and successful history is now showcased in the brand’s old defunct brewery in Amsterdam; with several amusement park attractions having been added to the exhibit over the years.
An added bonus for beer lovers, the adult ticket includes tokens for two glasses of Heineken, which you receive at the end of the tour. To enhance your experience further, Heineken has released an app as an audio and video guide to provide visitors with additional tour information available in multiple languages.
Welcoming 10 million visitors every year, Vondelpark is the largest and most famous park in the Netherlands. Its central location just south of Leidseplein – near Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum – is loved by locals and tourists alike. During the summer months, free concerts are given at the open-air theatre or at the park's bandstand. Other attractions include the statue of the poet Vondel, the cast iron music dome, the Groot Melkhuis with playground for children and the historical Pavilion with its restaurant, Vertigo, which opens in the summer months.
Just a five-minute walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station takes you into this jam-packed square, jostling with locals and tourists day and night; along with seasonal carnivals and other musical entertainment.
Without doubt, of all the attractions in Dam Square, Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace) is quite literally the jewel in the crown. Other must-sees in Dam Square are Madame Tussauds, the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) often used for important art exhibitions and Beurs van Berlage, an old Stock Exchange building now used as a concert hall and an exhibition space.
“Whatever the weather, there is always something going on here so expect lots of entertainment.” – Amsterdam.info
The main events
TCS Amsterdam Marathon
“Whether you're taking part in the race itself or coming along to support friends and family, the Amsterdam Marathon is a great reason to visit the Dutch capital. There's nothing quite like the atmosphere in Amsterdam around marathon time, as more than 40,000 people descend on the city to race, cheer on the runners, and enjoy everything else that the city has to offer.” – iamsterdam.com
Date: 16 October, 2016
Amsterdam Light Festival
“Look out for dedicated canal cruises and a walking route taking in the selection of spectacular illuminated artworks. The renowned Water Colours’ canal cruises can be enjoyed for the entirety of the Amsterdam Light Festival, ensuring you can see the city at its best – from the water – and get up close to all of the major artworks.” – iamsterdam.com
Date: 1 December, 2016 - 22 January, 2017
“The celebration traditionally takes place in January each year on Amsterdam's Dam Square, inviting tulip-lovers to pick their own bloom for free from a specially constructed ‘picking garden'. And throughout the entire month of April, the Tulip Festival allows visitors to marvel at a variety of colourful – and occasionally rare – tulips in the gardens of museums, private homes and institutions throughout the city.” – iamsterdam.com
Date: Spring, 2017
Grachtenfestival (Canal Music Festival)
In the middle of August, a unique festival of classical music and jazz takes place in the Amsterdam Old City centre, held on and around Amsterdam’s canals. With venues including various public buildings, museums, theatres, open space places, pontoon boats on the canals, even private houses and apartments Grachtenfestival recitals are a genuine chance for a music lover.
Venue: Amsterdam Old City centre
Date: Mid-August, 2017