The capital and largest city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has a population of nearly one million people. Derived from Amstel dam, meaning a dam in the river Amstel, Amsterdam's name fits both its geography and its history. During the historic Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam was one of the most important ports in the entire world and was considered a leader in nautical trade. With this role in mind, early city expansion efforts combined beauty and function to create an extensive network of navigable canals.
Today, Amsterdam's canal system spans one hundred kilometers, resulting in its nickname as "Venice of the North." Over 1,000 monuments and attractions can be viewed along the canal routes, so it's no surprise that exploring the city by water is a popular activity. Guests can hop aboard the City Canal Cruise, offered by Amsterdam City Tours, to explore the 17th century buildings and merchant houses in and around the Old Harbour.
Amsterdam by land is just as attractive. In fact, tourists who travel to Amsterdam always remark upon the buildings, which are rather unique compared to those of other European countries. In the 16th century, wooden structures were replaced with brick buildings constructed in the popular Renaissance style. However, the Dutch made this style their own by adjusting building façades with a decorative point at the top that resembles a stairway.
Guests can observe Amsterdam's distinctive style at buildings such as the Westerkerk, designed by architect Hendrick de Keyser, a pioneer of the movement, or in the canal houses of the Gachtengordel. Make a quick stop in De Wallen to see the Oude Kerk, or Old Church, the oldest building in Amsterdam. Or, visit Begiijnhof to see Het Houten Huis, the oldest wooden building in Amsterdam and one of few examples of Gothic architecture.
For non-architecture buffs, what lies inside Amsterdam's historic buildings may be most exciting. Noted for its large collection of paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals, the Rijksmuseum is one of the most popular attractions in the city. The Anne Frank House is another must-visit. Though its popularity often means waiting in lines that trail around the block for admission, it's more than worth it to experience a historic account of the Frank's secret life in hiding.
When a desire to explore the city becomes a desire for good food and drink, visitors are happy to discover that in Amsterdam they are never far from a terraced bar or inviting bistro. A variety of restaurants populate the streets, serving everything from international fare to traditional Dutch cuisine, which includes pea soup, dinner pancakes and meat croquettes. Stop by the popular Albert Cuyp Market to experience it all. Here, vendors selling fresh Dutch cheese and Vlaai, a sweet pastry, mingle with ethnic restaurants and cafes serving Moroccan, Cambodian, Serbian and other global cuisine.
As day turns into night, guests can also stop into one of Amsterdam's famed brown cafes. Similar to the pubs found in London, these casual gathering spots are the place to enjoy a regional beer, a light snack, and good conversation. For a more boisterous night on the town, Amsterdam's over 1,000 bars and discotheques are sure to please the most avid club hopper. Offering intoxicating cocktails, live DJs and bass-thumping beats, the city's club scene keeps the party going until the sun rises.