Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, though not the location of the seat of the kingdom, which is in The Hague. It is The Netherlands’ largest city, with close to a million residents and has existed since the late 12th century when a bridge was built over the river Amstel. The city was granted its charter in either 1300 or 1306, and by the 16th century the city was the epicenter of the War of Dutch Independence against the Spanish Hapsburg king, Phillip II. As the capital of Holland, which was one of two provinces that successfully attained independence in this time, Amsterdam became a refuge for many who had been persecuted throughout Europe. The Netherlands as a whole would not, however, gain complete independence until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, when the Spanish finally acknowledged the state’s independence. The 17th century was good to Amsterdam, and it was during this “Golden Age” that the city became one of the wealthiest in the world. The first stock exchange was also created in the city in 1602. The Dutch Republic did see several flare-ups with both England and France, and The Netherlands was, for a brief time, absorbed into France before the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Following the wars, Belgium and The Netherlands were united before splitting a quarter century later.
After a disastrous 18th century, the 19th century was better for Amsterdam, which saw expansion, industry, and better lines of commerce with the rest of Europe. The First World War did result in food shortages, even though the country remained neutral, however, the Second World War saw Nazi occupation, deportation of Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps (including Anne Frank), and desperate foraging for basic foodstuffs by residents of the city in the countryside. The city sought by the 1970’s to revitalize the sections of the city that had fallen into disrepair, however, after some demolitions took place the residents rebelled, shifting the focus from demolition and modernization to preservation. Today, Amsterdam, especially downtown, is not only restored, but also heavily protected, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010.
Amsterdam is truly a city of canals, with over 1,200 bridges and 60 miles of canals, making it comparable to Venice or Bruges. Thankfully, due to the preservation efforts in the last few decades, the city maintains a certain charm. Of course, there’s the infamous Red Light District and “coffeeshops,” however, these are not the only reasons to visit the city. Much of the medieval architecture still stands, and there are over 7,000 registered historic buildings in the city, particularly in the Old Centre. There are also several important museums. The Rijksmuseum has many works of the 17th century “Dutch Masters” and the Van Gough Museum has almost all of the paintings by the famous post-impressionist painter. The Anne Frank house is also a popular attraction and serves as a sobering reminder of the horrors of the Second World War.
Of course there is plenty of food and drink to be had as well. Since Amsterdam is the home of Heineken (though most is brewed elsewhere), it should come as no surprise that there is plenty of beer in the city. The Dutch are also famous for their delicious waffles and apple cakes. Also, thanks for the large influx of immigrants from former Dutch colonies and elsewhere, there are plenty of spicy options, especially the Indochinese Satay.