Your first impression of Amsterdam may be how much it resembles a giant outdoor museum. Indeed, 6,700 buildings in the city centre are protected monuments, virtually intact from the Golden Age of the 17th Century, during which time Amsterdam rose to spectacular wealth, political power and cultural heights.
Beginning as a fishing village at the intersection of the Ij and Amstel River in 1275, on the site of a dam that the fishermen built to protect their village, Amsterdam grew into a large seaport by the 17th Century. Freed from Spanish rule, the city's merchants sent out ships, owned by the Dutch East and West India Companies, on voyages of exploration around the globe.
Although an active, cosmopolitan city, Amsterdam still contains the quaintness most people associate with the Dutch. The vitality of a modern metropolis together with a strong sense of history provides a satisfying sense of age and continuity. Here, you'll find Europe's largest selection of antiques, some world famous cheeses, extensive sidewalk cafes, beautiful flowers, and great museums housing paintings by the Dutch Masters. To see all this requires only a good pair of walking shoes. And because of this, Amsterdam is the ideal city for the first-time visitor to Europe. eShores.co.uk can help you put together an itinerary that takes in Amsterdam and many other European capitals.
Built on a design of expanding horseshoe canals that fit one within the other, Amsterdam is unlike other cities. Crossing through this pattern of parallel, concentric canals, like the spokes of a wheel, are avenues, the most important of which is the Damrak, which starts at the Central Station and heads straight to the Dam Square, built on the site of the original dam, from which the city gets its name.
And even though many visitors consider the city, itself, a museum, Amsterdam also features two of the top art museums of Europe — the Rijksmuseum, containing Dutch art from the first half of the 17th Century and the nearby Van Gogh Museum, which displays the work of one of the most noted painters of the Impressionist Period. And while the facades of most of the houses in central Amsterdam have been preserved, the interiors have been converted to more modern living. Two canal houses, the Willet-Holthuysen Museum and the Toneelmuseum, offer a glimpse into life during the Golden Age of the 17th Century.
As you stroll around the city, you'll not only discover restaurants serving traditional Dutch dishes, but also those serving food from The Netherlands' former colonies. A special treat is the Indonesian Rice Table, an individually served array of rice and 15 side dishes and condiments. For the quick snack or light lunch nothing satisfies more than the characteristic Dutch little bread, or broodje, filled with cheese, meat or fish.
The city's "brown cafes," so named because of their brown wood paneling, most dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, serve sherry, wine, and genever, a strong gin concoction that's now the Dutch national drink, serve as great rest stops as you wander about town. On balmy nights the outdoor cafes along the Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein throb with life.
For a city built by and on the water, the best way to see it is from the water. Roundboats with knowledgeable guides navigate the city's canals and port offering a unique glimpse into this Venice of the North. No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without visits to the Heineken Brewery and a diamond cutter. Another must-see stop is the home of Anne Frank, where a 14-year-old hid from the Nazis for two years. This beautiful, flower-bedecked city, will surely steal your heart and may become one of your all-time favourites.