Things to see and do - Amsterdam
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Amsterdam, a Dutch masterpiece :
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Amsterdam, a Dutch masterpiece
Amsterdam, a Dutch masterpiecePedestrian, 10 km, 2 days
With its 160 canals, 1,281 bridges and 550,000 bikes, Rembrandt’s city inspires a feeling of incomparable well being. Amsterdam continues to maintain a lifestyle all of its own...Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Lying around the Dam, Amsterdam's main square, and covering the area of the medieval city as delineated in the 16C (before the cutting of the great canals to the west), the historic centre has numerous important buildings: the New Church, The Royal Palace, the Amsterdam History Museum. Stroll along a canal and stop at a café to savour the atmosphere of the Golden Age.
Formerly a defensive moat, the Singel is the border between Medieval Amsterdam and the "urban" developments of the 16th Century onwards. Initially focused on the transport of goods, little by little this canal took on a residential aspect. As on the neighbouring canals, a fine collection of warehouses, churches and houses can be seen here. Sometimes thought of as girdling the city, it does enclose the western part of the historical centre.
This canal is lined with glorious houses. Rich merchants and traders were persuaded to finance the work that began 1609. It is named after the Heren XVII (the "17 gentlemen"), governors of the Dutch East India Company. To keep the buyers sweet it was decided that the plots would be wider than usual, and that no bascule bridge would cross it. In return each purchaser was to be responsible for the portion of quayside corresponding to his acquisition.
Cut from 1586 onwards, these nobly-named canals ("Emperor's", "Prince's", "Patricians'") have majestic quaysides, bordered by narrow gabled façades, opulent patrician residences, old warehouses and houseboats. Venture into the nearby Jordaan district and wander between the canals, taking in the House with the Heads, Bartolotti House and Anne Frank's House.
This canal is 4 km long, and is crossed by 14 picturesque bridges. "Floating" houses are set at each end. The name, Keizergracht, honours Emperor Maximilian I, who, in 1489, gave the city the right to add his crown to its coat of arms.
Springing up in the 17th Century around ditches that carried away waste water, for a long time the Jordaan area was where the poor lived, along with the French Huguenots. Formerly rowdy and pestilent, it was entirely rebuilt after the Second World War. The warehouses with their coloured shutters have been converted into apartments. Today the area has attractive shops and pleasant cafés, and artists, students and well-to-do professionals have chosen to live here.
Situated at the southern end of the Singel, this open-air market has existed since the 17th Century. Some of the stalls are aboard the barges that deliver the bulbs and cut flowers. The charm of this place cannot fail to please, and a visit is also an opportunity to appreciate some gems of Amsterdam's domestic architecture.
A tourist cliché for some, a marvellous escape for others, a boat excursion certainly offers new and different perspectives. The water-level view of the series of seven bridges on Reguliersgracht, for example, is alone worth the trip. The companies do not all offer the same route, but they all follow the Herengracht and the IJ, and many take the Oude Schans and the Amstel. The ticket offices can explain the variations.
Traditionally the aristocratic district, this southern part of the canal belt, between the Leidsegracht and the Amstel, is more refined than the northern part but also more commercial and animated. Culture and nightlife are centred on two squares, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. For a good canal view, head to the charming Reguliersgracht, from where seven bridges (lit up by night) can be seen.
The Museumplain is the focus for the city's cultural life, boasting three of Amsterdam's greatest museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum (covering 1850 to the present day), drawing tourists from around the globe, here to see Vermeer's The Milkmaid, Rembrandt's The Night Watch and Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Nearby is the Vondelpark, a green lung in the city centre and an ideal spot to pause after museum visits.
Opened in 1973, this museum contains hundreds of Van Gogh's paintings, drawings and letters, through which his development can be followed from the Nuenen period (1883-1885) to the Auvers-sur-Oise period (1890). There are also some works by artists who were friends of the painter. To visit this museum is to discover a body of work by one of the greatest Dutch painters, a man who fled his country to explore the light of the South. The very spacious building is the work of Gerrit Rietveld, one of the leaders of the De Stijl ("the Style") movement. Amongst the most noteworthy canvases by Van Gogh's contemporaries are Monet's Young Woman at a Table, Emile Bernard's Martinique Landscape, and, especially important, the Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh painting the Sunflowers by Gauguin. Of Van Gogh's own pictures mention must be made of The Potato-Eaters, Apples, White Grapes, Lemons and Pears and the Self-portrait with Grey Hat. Some landscapes from the Arles period reflect the influence of Japanese prints, like the Fishing Boats on the Beach at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Also painted in Arles, The Sower and The Sunflowers are exceptional. Not to be missed are The Irises and the Cornfield with Reaper (from the St-Rémy period). The Auvers-sur-Oise period groups together the artist's last masterpieces, such as Trees, Roots and Branches and the Cornfield with Crows. The museum is unforgettable.
The name reflects both the famous concert hall built in 1888 and its great symphony orchestra. In 1988, on the orchestra's centenary, Queen Beatrix awarded it the title "royal" (Koninklijk).
Built in the 12C the Trencavel Palace was transformed into a Citadel after 1226. Since the reign of St Louis, an immense ditch and a semi circular barbican have transformed it into a fortress inside the city. It houses a lapidary Museum (see the Calvary of Villaniere) and also has two interior courtyards of remarkable architectural interest set against numerous towers (West-Rampart).