The famous canals were built during the 17th century to control the flow of the Amstel River and to add acres of dry land to the city. Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants soon discovered that the canals were ideal for showcasing their mansions as well. A boat ride along one of the city’s 100 canals offers visitors a relaxing way to view traditional Dutch architecture. Lined with elm and lime trees and crossed over by more than a thousand bridges, the canals are home to some 2,000 houseboats, including houseboat hotels. Tour operators offer a variety of cruises, ranging from hour-long excursions to candlelight cruises.
Occupying the northeastern section of the Museum Square, the Rijksmuseum is arguably the most important of the nation’s arts and history museums. The total collection numbers more than one million artifacts dating from the 13th century onward. For decades, the collection was housed in buildings all over the country until 1876, when the architect Pierre Cuypers won a design contest and the construction of the Rijksmuseum began. Opened in 1885, the museum currently has around 8,000 objects on display, the most famous of which are paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vemeer. Rembrandt’s masterpiece Night Watch is worth the price of admission alone.
The district of Begijnhof, or Beguines Courtyard, occupies the center circle of land in Amsterdam’s circular canal system. In the 14th century, the area was an enclosed courtyard that served as a residence for the sisterhood of Catholic Beguines. The Begijnhof wasn’t a convent in the traditional sense because the women were free to leave the order if they chose to marry. When the sisterhood’s chapel was confiscated during the Reformation, they began to worship secretly at the Begijnhof Kapel, a charming structure fitted with marble columns and stained-glass windows. Begijnhof is also home to the English Reformed Church, built around 1392. The city’s oldest preserved wooden house, which dates from around 1465, is located within the Begijnhof as well.
Located between Muntplein and Koningsplein on the south bank of the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Seven days a weeks, flower sellers load stands and floating barges with all of the flowers and bulbs for which the Netherlands is famous. Founded in 1862, the Bloemenmarkt includes more than a dozen different florists and garden shops as well as souvenir stalls. Although locals shop here too, the market is primarily designed to cater to tourists. The bulbs offered for sale have been designated as ready for export, so visitors can purchase tulip, daffodil, narcissus and other bulbs as a lasting memento of their trip to Amsterdam.
Named Nieuwe Park when it opened in 1865, Vondelpark is located in the Oud-Zuid, or Old South district of Amsterdam to the west of the city’s Museum Square. The park earned its current name after a statue of the Joost van den Vondel was placed in the park in 1867. Designed and crafted by sculptor Louis Royer, the statue of the famous 17th-century Dutch poet and playwright became such a familiar landmark that people began to call the park Vondelpark. The park serves as a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists. It’s a place where people can relax, play sports on the grass, bike along pathways and enjoy a herring sandwich or Dutch beer at one of the park’s horeca facilities.