If Vondelpark forms the lungs of Amsterdam, Dam Square is its beating heart. Created in the 13th century when a dam on the Amstel morphed into a town square, it was originally a commercial center and City Hall site. Ships docked at a fish market and a weigh station existed until 1808, when Napoleon had it demolished because it obstructed his view from the Royal Palace.
As the Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, City Hall and stock exchange emerged, Dam Square grew in importance. In the late 19th–early 20th centuries, the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky and De Bijenkorf (Amsterdam's largest upscale department store) took prominent places. The late '60s saw pot-smoking hippies become as plentiful as pigeons on sunny days, contributing to the square's laid-back vibe.
Today Dam Square is a world-recognized landmark symbolic of Dutch patriotism and Amsterdam's famed tolerance for alternative lifestyles. In April 2013, it was the backdrop for the coronation of Holland's first king in a century, Willem-Alexander of Orange, at the Royal Palace.
Just five minutes by foot from Central Station, Dam Square remains an animated hub for tourists and shoppers. On both sides of Damrak, visitors chill on café patios and Amsterdam's famously phallic National Monument, erected in memory of Dutch soldiers and resistance members who died in World War II. Mimes, comedians and break-dancers frequently perform, so keep a few euros handy to tip street performers who've entertained you in this lively city core.