During a 50-year project in the 17th century, Amsterdam grew to four times its previous size, becoming the 3rd largest city in the world after London and Paris.
Central to that plan was the Canal Belt, a network of concentric canals that is now UNESCO listed.
Built on reclaimed land, Amsterdam is a feat of ingenuity and still crackles with the ambition, cultural tolerance, and enterprise that drove the 17th-century Golden Age when the Netherlands led the world in trade, maritime power, culture, and economic might.
This is the city of Rembrandt, Anne Frank, the Red Light District, Johan Cruyff, and the Dutch East and West India Companies; there’s a world of fascinating stories, spellbinding art and architecture that has stood the test of time.
One of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions – and certainly its most important art repository – the Rijksmuseum was founded in 1809 to house the country’s huge collection of rare art and antiquities. The museum’s impressive collection includes some seven million works of art, among them more than 5,000 important paintings spread across 250 rooms of this sprawling building. In addition to its paintings, the Rijksmuseum boasts a well-stocked library of more than 35,000 books and manuscripts, as well as numerous fascinating displays dealing with the development of art and culture in the Netherlands. Of special note are its collections of traditional handicrafts, medieval sculpture, and modern art styles. A variety of themed English language guided tours are available. For a special experience, try the fun art history canal cruise taking in many of the sites represented in the Rijksmuseum’s collections.
Anne Frank House
On the Prinsengracht, the Anne Frank House preserves the secret annexe where the young diarist Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution from 1942 until she was captured along with her family and four other inhabitants in 1944. The rooms are on an enclosed courtyard behind a 17th-century canal house that served as the Dutch HQs of the spice and gelling companies Frank’s father Otto worked for.
Otto was the Frank family’s sole survivor after the Holocaust and published his daughter’s diary in 1947. You’ll see the original copy of this defining work, as well as photographs and items belonging to the Frank family and the four other inhabitants of the annexe.
The secret rooms give a visceral sense of what it was like to live in hiding, while temporary exhibitions on persecution and fascism will inspire renewed vigilance.
Dam Square is one of the most tourist-packed areas of Amsterdam, and for good reason. Its most prominent feature is the 17th-century Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace), former home of the Dutch royal family and present-day venue for royal functions. Dam Square is also home to top tourist attractions like the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk); Madame Tussauds wax museum; and the National Memorial Statue, which is dedicated to Dutch soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. This huge public square is, naturally, lined with cafes and shops, and full of vendors selling food and souvenirs. Tourists will also find a Ferris wheel, perfect for getting a different perspective, as well as plenty of entertainment, which ranges from street performers to annual music festivals.