The central hub of downtown Amsterdam is Dam Square, and it’s been at the heart of the city’s history since the 13th century. Today, the open-air public space is ringed by shops and restaurants and packed with people, including street performers and tourists en route to nearby attractions like the Royal Palace, the National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), where you can catch a horse-drawn-carriage tour of the city.
By Travis Marshall, AFAR Local Expert
Dam Square: Amsterdam's Beating Heart
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.
A Special Day for An Iconic Flower
After a long, cold winter, Amsterdammers typically yearn for spring. In Dam Square, it arrives in January when Dutch tulip growers transform Dam Square into a sea of color on National Tulip Day. Since 2012, growers have banded together to erect a giant temporary garden for the public's flower picking pleasure. The annual event is perfect for an afternoon date, family outing, or just a chance to grab as many tulips as you can carry to bring spring into your home. Choose from a rainbow of colors to create a one-of-a-kind bouquet for that special someone or your own organic eye candy. As the official kick-off of tulip season, National Tulip Day marks the arrival of thousands of tulip varieties in florist shops, supermarkets and flower stands throughout Holland. Through April, an estimated 1.7 blooms are exported around the world each year.
A Cacophony of Cultures in a Global Village
With more than 170 different nationalities and a 45% ethnic minority, Amsterdam is a global village that boasts Europe's most diverse population. Over the last half-century, immigrants from Suriname, Turkey and Morocco have flocked to a city known for its cultural diversity and tolerance for alternative lifestyles. More recently, there's been an influx of residents from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. While ethnic pockets exist in the city―Moroccans congregate in the Oude West while many Turkish families live in the Oost―city streets, trams and squares are a melting pot of languages that come together in a lively cacophony. Thankfully, most Dutchies under age 50 speak English fluently, so there's common communication ground. Even young street performers capitalize on Amsterdam's tolerance for cultural diversity. The costumed creatures in this photo are teenage students from Hong Kong. They were chaperoned on a trip to Amsterdam by a university professor keen on encouraging Chinese youth to travel and to learn about cultural differences outside the classroom. Left to their own devices for accommodations, two of the young girls couchsurfed with me before suiting up in alter-ego costumes and performing with their friends in Dam Square.
Traditional street organ
The square had about 10 of these very old street organs ("draaiorgel") playing, I liked how fascinated the little boy was. When I was a kid my mom always gave me a coin to give them. They're very rare these days.
By Linda R
Thanks to Vincent Van Gogh
The last night in Amsterdam we are walking near Dam Square. We have been to the Van Gogh Museum earlier and are still marveling at his brilliance. I take two photos nearby and then this one which somehow transforms into a Van Gogh styled image, by itself. All the other photos came out normal but somehow this one evokes van Gogh's spirit. I have no idea why or how.
By uncle Louie
Tulips for Sale
Tulips abound in May and June in the Netherlands, culminating in the Tulip Festival in early June. Tulips and tulip bulbs are among the Dutch's top exports, and they are a beautiful sight to see at local markets and street vendors.
By Joel Speyer