Best Historic Sites in Amsterdam: Discover the City's Rich History
By Anne de Buck
Amsterdam Local Expert
Some people say that walking around in Amsterdam is like walking in one big open air museum. There is just so much to see and historic sites to visit that it's advices to plan your trip carefully. Luckily most historic sites are located close to each other in the old city center.
Every city has its own unique feel and vibe, which is determined by a number of things. The local historic sites are no doubt one of the largest contributing factors to the aura that surrounds a city. When in Amsterdam, users recommend paying a visit to Anne Frankhuis, in the Jordaan area to get a feel for what truly makes up the city.
Another great area to experience and wander around are the most famous canals the: Prinsengracht, Herengracht and Keizersgracht. There you find the unique museums Willet-Wolthuysen and Museum van Loon. If you always wanted to know what a canal house looked like on the inside during the 17th century these museums are two historic sites not to miss.
In the evening the Tuschinski theater is perfect for a night out. This cinema is located in an old art deco theater and seeing one of the blockbuster movies there is just a totally different experience.
If you take the train to the airport plan some extra time to check out the beautifully renovated central station in Amsterdam.
So many historic sites in Amsterdam! This list will give you some guidance on where to go.
Amsterdam Centraal Station, one of the Netherland's main transportation hubs, is an intersection of activity. Trains, trams, taxis, buses, ferries and metros -- you name it; this station gets people where they need to go. While many visit Centraal Station on a daily basis, the beauty and history of the building is often lost in the hustle and bustle. The building, which was designed by Pierre Cuypers and A. L. van Gendt, opened in 1889. The station is located on three man-made islands. Wooden piles support the structure, as the base is sandy soil. Centraal Station is a striking attraction that plays a significant role in Amsterdam's past, present and future. (+31 20 - 344 50 74)
A stately, elegant home built in the late 17th century, this museum displays the wealth of generations, as well as various decor styles popular during the past few centuries. The home's final owner, Louisa Holthuysen, bequeathed the residence to the city in the late 19th century on the condition that it be made into a museum. These days, the beautiful interior, the gardens, and the art collection are stunning glimpses into Amsterdam's past and the life of its well-to-do denizens. Once a year Museum Willet-Holthuysen opens the garden to the public and hosts tours telling all about the unique very old inner gardens of canal houses. (+31 20 523 1822)
Museum van Loon
This gracious, beautifully ornamented canal house dates from the late 17th century and is a virtual time capsule of decorative arts, family treasures and city history. Purchased by the Van Loon family (one of Amsterdam's foremost dynasties) in 1884, the home was filled with their portraits, furnishings and goods. Instituted as a museum in 1974, the canal house was meticulously restored, and its interior and landscaped grounds are open to history buffs and lovers of architecture and design alike. Personal tours are available for an additional fee. Museum van Loon is by far the best museum if you want to see an original canal house interior in Amsterdam. (+31 20 624 5255)
Make your way to Dam Square and enjoy the constant hustle and bustle. The square is home to many attractions, including the Royal Palace, National Monument, Madame Tussauds and others. Take a tour of the Royal Palace; admire the beautiful architecture and elegance. In addition, the Royal Palace is still being used by the monarchy for state functions, ceremonies and other receptions, so you can experience not only history but also the here and now, modern day affairs. Make sure to check opening hours. The National Monument, situated at the other side of the square, is a memorial to the victims of World War II, as well as a symbol of liberation and peace. The Dam is also home to many events, such as celebrations, fairs and memorials. As it's less than a kilometer from Centraal Station, you cannot miss it. (N/A)
Museum Het Rembrandthuis
Get a glimpse behind the scenes of the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn. Visit The Rembrandt House, where you can explore the place he called home, as well as a studio, from the years 1639 and 1658. This historic building is made up of memories and is a place where numerous pieces of art, including several of his more famous masterpieces, were created. The interior has been refurnished to appear similar to how it would have looked in Rembrandt's time. Plus, you'll see some of Rembrandt's etchings on display (they rotate). Don't forget to admire the fantastic works of art, both from Rembrandt and his teacher, pupils and contemporaries. Last but not least, you have the chance to learn about the etching technique and how to prepare paints. (+31 20 520 0400)
Beurs van Berlage (Old Stock Exchange)
Designed by Hendrik van Berlage, this structure originally housed Amsterdam's Stock Exchange. Illustrating the shift from 19th to 20th-century architecture, the substantial building makes evident its methods of construction, even utilizing them as decoration. Berlage, in fact, was an aesthetic contemporary of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. These days, the building is employed as a conference center and also features gallery space. If you opt for a climb to the top of the structure's tower, you'll be rewarded with fabulous city views. The Beurs van Berlage is located in the middle of the city center and a perfect start of a day exploring Amsterdam. (020-626-8936)
Visit the former headquarters of one of the most powerful companies in history, the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in the Dutch language). Founded in 1602, the company's main goal was to trade with Asia. The East India House, probably designed by Hendrick de Keyser, was home to the boardrooms, administration and warehouse. The building signified class and luxury. When the VOC shut down in 1799, government entities occupied the building. The building, now a national monument, is in use by the University of Amsterdam. Today, you can relax in the peaceful courtyard or stroll through the corridors and admire the numerous paintings. (+31 20 525 2258)
Many of Amsterdam's historic buildings have enjoyed multiple uses through the centuries, and this turreted edifice on the Nieuwmarkt square is no exception. Constructed first as a gate for the city's fortified walls, it was later transformed into a 'weigh house' where goods brought back by ships from overseas were weighed. In later years, it served as a guild house for local professions and has also been a museum, fire station and more. In its most recent incarnation, the Waag houses a well-received café-restaurant as well as space (the former anatomy theater) for various types of exhibits. The Waag is located in the Chinatown district of Amsterdam.Great place to go for Chinese food afterwards. (+31 20 422 7772)
Whimsical and extravagant, this circa-1921 theater is a mad foray into creativity, an Art Deco study of color and shape. Named for the Jewish tailor who envisioned and financed the structure, the movie theater is a spectacle of stained glass, exotic woods, handmade carpets, and painted murals. Completely restored in April 2002, the theater is not only a bit of history reclaimed but a tribute to Abraham Tuschinski, who created the building and was put to death in a concentration camp. Movies are still shown today, but even if you don't experience one, make sure to step into the Tuschinski for the pure visual appeal. (0900 1458)
Thanks to her diary, the story of Anne Frank's hiding from the Nazis is a well-known historical event. Nevertheless, visitors to the actual building where she, her family and friends hid during the German occupation will find themselves thrown into instant contemplation in the face of this tangible reminder. Once-hidden rooms still contain period memorabilia, along with the haunting presence of those who spent two years of their lives secreted behind walls, dreaming of eventual freedom. Although only Otto Frank, Anne's father, would realize that hope, the experience of the rest will never be forgotten. Come early -- or in the evening -- to avoid the lines at this humbling site. (+31 20 556 7100)