Amsterdam’s intimate streets, enchanting canals and charming squares make it hard to believe that the city was once the world’s most lively and important trade hub – a status it enjoyed during the Dutch Golden Age.
Exuding a 17th century historical atmosphere, the Netherland’s capital is still an alpha world city – an important European financial and commercial centre – and a popular holiday destination. Museums, coffee shops, peep shows, relaxed laws, bike culture, friendly locals and a host of quirky drawcards attract more than 3.4 million visitors to the city every year.
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Amsterdam is a true foodie’s paradise. Grand cafes line the banks of the city’s historic canals. Cheese shops, delis, snack stalls and breweries proudly highlight Netherland specialities. Bars, pubs and coffee shops provide lively all hour settings. While Michelin Star restaurants dot the city, offering sensation dining experiences.
Amsterdam has a long tradition of cafe culture, owing to its Golden Age status as Europe's most important port for the tea and coffee trade. Do as the locals do, grab newspaper, order a koffie verkeerd (milky coffee) and a light meal, and watch the world go from one the city’s legendary grand cafés. Café Americain and Café Luxembourg are two of Amsterdam’s oldest and most respectable grand cafes. Visitors beware; there is a distinct difference between Amsterdam’s cafes and coffee shops (which sell marijuana).
Dutch pubs known as a 'brown cafes’ (bruin cafés) offer a quintessential snapshot of Amsterdam dining and drinking culture. Taking their name from their dark, but cosy wooden interiors (nicotine-stained walls and ceilings) 'brown cafes’ are great haunts to read the newspaper, enjoy a simple lunch, indulge in a beer or jenever, and to meet colourful locals. A typical Dutch pub snack is bitterballen (breaded and deep-fried balls with a ragout filling), often served with mustard.
Holland’s economy revolves around exports like flowers, cheese, and beer. Cheese is big business, generating 7 billion euros yearly. Amsterdam brims with cheese shops, the most famous of which is Reypenaer Shop and Tasting Room, a small company that sells cheese and operates a shop and tasting classes by the Singel canal.
Beers is also big business, and as a result the city features a number of breweries, microbreweries, brew-pubs, and beer festivals (most prominently the Bokbier Festival). Visitors can experience Heineken's rich history at the company’s former brewery.
Other unique Amsterdam specialities include koggetjes (biscuits), ossenworst (ox sausage), Amsterdamse uien' (Amsterdamse onions), croquettes, Dutch gherkins and fresh herring – best tried raw!
Amsterdam’s food scene is impressive year round, but the city sparkles throughout the warmer months. Spring and summer bring the city’s dining and social scene to life, as locals come out of hiding and flock to Amsterdam’s many terraces to soak up the sun and enjoy a drink outdoors. Squares like Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein and Spui as well as Vondelpark are lively meeting places.
Amsterdam has a vibrant and dynamic retail scene, divided into neat and well-ordered shopping districts.
The city centre is home to high streets, Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, where high fashion brands and international labels are on offer. The area concentrated around PC Hooftstraat is known for luxury shopping. The Nine Streets area is a melting pot of culture, hosting vintage stores, trendy boutiques, designer studios, art galleries, providores, cafes and restaurants. While Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District is a hub for the country’s up-and-coming designers.
Amsterdam is an important artistic centre. Throughout the ages Holland has given the world several of its biggest painters – i.e. Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Art galleries play a major role in Amsterdam’s cultural landscape. Local galleries found in the Spiegelkwartier, within the Nine Streets area, and along Kalverstraat highlight experimental paintings, graphics and photography.
Colourful and lively markets also present authentic Amsterdam shopping adventures. The city hosts dozens of markets, most of which are located in the centre of town. Noteworthy markets include: Waterlooplein Flea Market – one of the few markets where haggling is commonplace; the Bloemenmarkt – a famous Flower Market; Boerenmarkt, Marqt and Nieuwmarkt – farmer’s markets, selling Dutch specialities; Albert Cuypmarkt – Amsterdam’s largest and busiest general goods market; Art Plein Spui - the city’s busiest art market; and Boekenmarkt – a very popular book market .
A number of retail malls and department stores cater to shoppers looking for an all-in-one experience. Most are located within short walking distance from Dam square. Upmarket department store De Bijenkorf (The Bee Hive) has its flagship store on Dam Square, offering prestigious clothing, accessories, beauty, food and homeware brands. Directly behind the Queens Palace, housed in an elegant 19th century building, Magna Plaza is a great place to buy international brands and Dutch specialities. While the Kalvertoren (on Kalverstraat) boasts the world’s leading fashion names.