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The Description of Amsterdam

Updated on April 8, 2014

Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands. It is the commercial, banking, and industrial center of the country and the official capital, although the actual seat of government is The Hague.

Amsterdam's many canals add great beauty to the city, besides providing it with transportation routes. There are more than 50 canals and 500 bridges in the city. A boat trip through the canals gives a visitor a good first view of Amsterdam's attractive old houses and busy modern harbor.

Amsterdam depends on waterways for its commerce. Situated in the province of North Holland, the city is built on the IJ, a long bay of the IJsselmeer (a lake formed by the damming of the Zuider Zee). The Amstel River divides the city into two main parts. Amsterdam's lifeline is the North Sea Canal, which links the landlocked harbor with the North Sea, 16 miles (26 km) to the west. The canal is deep enough (40 feet, or 12 meters) and wide enough (400 feet, or 120 meters) for large ocean vessels. Other major canals connect Amsterdam with the North Sea by a longer route to the north and with the Rhine River to the south.


The port of Amsterdam is the second busiest in the Netherlands, outranked only by Rotterdam. More than 8,000 seagoing vessels enter the port each year, loading or discharging about 15 million metric tons of cargo. Most of the imports are bulk cargoes of oil, ores, coal, and grain. Manufactured products, bulbs and seeds are exported. Much of Amsterdam's water trade is bound to or from Germany. The city is also a major fishing port.

Schiphol Airport, 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Amsterdam, is the main port of entry for people arriving in the Netherlands by plane. More than 20 international airlines serve Schiphol.

The major manufacturers, banks, and insurance companies of the Netherlands have home offices or branches in Amsterdam, and more than 300 foreign companies are represented. The stock exchange is one of the most active in Europe.

One of Amsterdam's oldest industries is diamond cutting and polishing. These skills, introduced by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain in the 1580s, have made Amsterdam the leading diamond market of the world. The city's heavy industries produce iron and steel, machinery, locomotives and railroad cars, bridge materials, ships, motor vehicles, and aircraft. Other important industries are clothing manufacture, printing and publishing, sugar and oil refining, food processing, brewing and distilling, and the manufacture of chemical, glass, leather, paper, rubber, and plastic products.


The city is laid out in the shape of a fan, with three main canals forming concentric half-circles around the business center. Amsterdam lies below sea level but is protected by dikes and floodgates. The ground is so soft that the city is built on wooden or concrete piles sunk into the earth. Because of this insecure foundation, some buildings seem to hang over the canals, out of vertical alignment.

The most attractive parts of Amsterdam are the tree-lined canals along which rich merchants of the 1600s and 1700s built their houses. These gabled brick houses are often tall and narrow because they were once taxed according to their frontage. Many buildings in the city have pulleys at the top to hoist furniture through the windows if the stairs are too narrow.

The central square of Amsterdam is the Dam, where the royal palace is situated. The palace was originally the town hall, built between 1648 and 1662. On the same square is New Church, begun in 1417. Every Dutch monarch since 1814 has been crowned there. One of the city's oldest shopping streets, Kalverstraat (Calves' Street), leads from the Dam to the old Mint Tower, a prominent landmark.

The most beautiful church in Amsterdam is Old Church. Consecrated in 1306, it is the city's most ancient building. Another historic place is the Weeper's Tower, the last remnant of the city wall of 1482. From this point, on April 4, 1609, Henry Hudson sailed in the vessel Half Moon on a voyage that brought him to New York harbor and the Hudson River.

A fascinating old section of the city is the Jewish quarter, where Spinoza was born and where Rembrandt lived. In another section is the warehouse in which the young diarist Anne Frank and her family took refuge from the Nazi persecution of the Jews during World War II. Here can be seen the rooms where they hid for two years before they were betrayed and captured.

Although Amsterdam is rich in historic buildings, the city also takes pride in its 20th century architecture and town plannings. Outstanding among the many modern buildings is the Stock Exchange, completed in 1903. The impressive Olympic Stadium, seating 60,000 persons, was constructed for the 1928 Olympic Games.

Amsterdam began expanding into carefully planned suburbs after World War I. These areas have houses, apartment buildings, and schools of advanced design. They are among the finest parts of the metropolitan area. Amsterdam's expansion has been planned up to the year 2000.

Amsterdam has outstanding museums and theaters. The Rijksmuseum houses the world's greatest collection of Dutch art. Its most famous painting is Rembrandt's Night Watch. The Municipal (Stedelijk) Museum is devoted to modern art. It contains many of the best paintings of Van Gogh. The museum of the Royal Institute of the Tropics exhibits the arts and products of the Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the former Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). Amsterdam's Concert Hall is the home of the world-renowned Concertgebouw Orchestra. Opera, ballet, and drama are presented in the Municipal Theater.

There are two universities. The University of Amsterdam, founded in 1632, has about 10,000 students and a library of over 1,500,000 books and manuscripts. The Free University, founded in 1880, has more than 3,000 students.


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      This is a good fact file on Amsterdam.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      5 years ago from Essex, UK

      Good summary of the city whyjoker, and a video which gives an excellent impression of the sites and sights one may expect to see on a visit.

    • Monis Mas profile image


      6 years ago

      My husband loves this city. I hope to visit someday...


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