Amsterdam Travel Guide

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Dam Square is where it all began for Amsterdam.  As this is the site where the Amstel River was dammed in the 1200s, the Amstel-dam eventually morphed into the name Amsterdam.  Today the square is the core of the city, with the Royal Palace located at one end, and the War Memorial at the other.  Full of souvenir shops, street performers, and pigeons, Dam Square is also surrounded by tourist information centers and is frequently the starting point of many excursions.

The Damrak leads from Dam Square to Amsterdam's main train station, Centraal Station, while the Rokin leads from the square to may of the city's tourist attractions.  Both of these streets, along with the square itself, divide Amsterdam's medieval city center into the Old Side (east of this axis) and New Side (west of this axis).


The Red-Light District (De Wallen)
Amsterdam's most famous Red Light District is called De Wallen, and is located in the Old City Centre just east of Dam Square.  Full of the famous red-light windows, the neighborhood also has many sex shops, souvenir shops, coffeeshops and restaurants.  In the center of the Red Light District you will find the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam's Oldest Church, while the District is bordered by two canals, the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal.  The Zeedijk (Amsterdam's Chinatown) runs along the eastern border of the District, along with Nieuwmarkt, a square dominated by De Waag (the weight house of the city's medieval gates) and surrounded by many cafes.

It is important to note that it is not allowed to take pictures of the women working in the windows of the Red Light District.  They will get violently angry with anyone who breaks this rule.


Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein
By night, the Leidseplein (Leidse Square) and Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) are the party destinations for both tourists and locals alike.  Leidseplein has some of the city's most popular bars and concert venues, and is quite popular with expats and the Dutch visiting Amsterdam for a night of partying.  Rembrandtplein is Amsterdam's answer to Times Square, with flashy billboards and signs dominating the square.  It is more popular with tourists from abroad, and surrounded by dance clubs catering to all music tastes.  By day, both squares are lined with terraces and cafes, and frequented by street performers looking to entertain the crowds.  


Jordaan
The Jordaan is Amsterdam's greenest neighborhood, and may have gotten its name from the French word "Jardin", meaning garden.  Built in the 17th Century, the neighborhood was a result of Amsterdam's rapid growth during its Golden Age.  In the 1960s, during a housing shortage, many of the city's famous houseboats were moored in this neighborhood, and to this day the Jordaan has a high percentage of these.  Originally a neighborhood of bohemians and artists, the area is now becoming a favorite with Amsterdam's yuppies, and the many cafes and traditional "brown bars" are frequented by locals.


Canals
Amsterdam's famous canals, which wind for over 100 kilometers and divide the city center into more than 90 islands, all started at the Amstel River when it was dammed at Dam Square in the 1200s.  From there on, a series of canals were dug to drain the swampy land and make it habitable.  The Singel canal was the first, and by the Golden Age of the 17th Century the city had expanded so much that the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were dug to accommodate the wealthy merchants.

The result is a matrix of canals, creating a web-like city center that is very easy to get lost in.  An easy trick to help you find your way is remembering that the canals are named in alphabetical order from the city center outward: Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht.


De Pijp
The streets in this neighborhood run in a pattern similar to that in a network of pipes, hence its name: De Pijp or The Pipe.  The neighborhood's main street, the Albert Cuypstraat, is home to Amsterdam's biggest market: the Albert Cuypmarkt.  This is also Amsterdam's most ethnically diverse neighborhood, as is evident by the various ethnic stores and restaurants located in the winding side streets.  The neighborhood itself is easy to find as it's located directly behind the famous Heineken Brewery.


Museumplein
The Museumplein is Amsterdam's museum quarter.  The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are the city's most famous museums, each containing an extensive collection by the country's most famous artists: Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh, respectively.

The famous IAMsterdam sign travels around the city, but most frequently it can be found in Museumplein behind the Rijksmuseum.  Also walking distance from the square are the Leidseplein and some of Amsterdam's most exclusive shopping streets, including the P.C. Hoofstraat and Van Baerlestraat.

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