Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and also that nation’s largest city with a population of roughly 1,364,420. Additionally, the city and the surrounding metropolitan area is one of the largest in Europe. Aside from being the center of Dutch government, Amsterdam is also the country’s cultural and financial center; in fact, Amsterdam is home to the world’s oldest stock exchange. Additionally, the city’s famed canals were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Amsterdam’s roots stretch back to the twelfth century when it was founded as a fishing village on the River Amstel. In fact, the city’s name is traced back to a dam on this river—Amstellerdam which was later shortened into Amsterdam. Amsterdam was deemed a city during the early fourteenth century when it began to flourish as an important center of trade. When the Netherlands finally won its independence from Spain in the sixteenth century, Amsterdam became noted as a haven for those fleeing from religious persecution. Many merchants and artists were attracted to the city which continued to prosper economically and culturally.

With its explosion of prosperity, Amsterdam experienced a Golden Age in the seventeenth century. Scholars believe that it may have been the world’s wealthiest city during this period. Many of the city’s merchants had shares in the Dutch East India Company as well as the Dutch West India Company. Wealth from the colonies poured into city coffers. Wars caused a decline in the city’s prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—though the end of the nineteenth century saw a resurgence and many new buildings and landmarks were constructed. Germany was invaded by Nazi troops in 1940 and many of its Jewish citizens—roughly one hundred thousand including the young Anne Frank—were deported and sent to concentration camps during the war.

Today’s Amsterdam is famous for its myriad of attractions popular with travelers from around the world. The city’s canal system is part of its picturesque appeal. The city reflects a rich representation of historic architecture with many examples from the Dutch Renaissance and Baroque periods. The city is visited by more than 4.6 million tourists annually making it one of the continent’s most popular travel destinations. Some of its best loved landmarks and sites include Oude Kerk (Old Church dating to 1425), Westerkerk, Anne Frank’s House, the Red Light District, the Church of St. Nicholas, and Museum Square. Amsterdam is famous for its hospitality, theatre, and vibrant nightlife as well. Its outdoor markets and festivals are also popular with locals and tourists alike.