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Amsterdam Culture

The Dutch Golden Age
Amsterdam Culture
Thanks to the city’s rich museum and gallery scene, you’ll never lack for something to do. Just be sure to plan and prioritize so you don’t miss out on enjoying a stroll along the canals or hanging out in one of the ubiquitous cafés with the locals.
By Hannah Wijana, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Marketing
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    The Dutch Golden Age
    The Dutch Golden Age
    It’s hard to believe that the Dutch Golden Age ever ended in Amsterdam. The majority of the city’s 17th-century buildings, cobbled streets, and bridges are so well-maintained that you wouldn't know they’ve been around for 400 years. Tearing yourself away from the beauty of the Canal Ring may be difficult, but many other neighborhoods also hold great historical significance. In the Jewish Quarter, Nieuwmarkt, IJ waterfront, De Pijp, Oud-West, and Jordaan areas, you’ll find everything from medieval structures to Buddhist temples blending in with their modern surroundings.
    Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Marketing
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    Old Masters
    Old Masters
    The Dutch Golden Age of painting took place from about 1575 to 1725. During this period, such artists as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Frans Hals created masterpieces that are now world-renowned. You may have seen Vermeer’s The Milkmaid or Frans Hals’ The Gypsy Girl in books and on posters, but nothing compares to viewing them in person. The Rijksmuseum on Museumplein displays a vast collection of old masters and is not to be missed. For a closer look at one of the masters, the Rembrandt House Museum, where Rembrandt lived and worked for 20 years, provides deeper insight into the life of a revered painter.
    Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan/Amsterdam Marketing
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    Live Music and Theater
    Live Music and Theater
    Amsterdam is known for its extremely active international music and theater scene, with a variety of performances every night. Enjoy a classical concert at the Royal Concertgebouw, home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, or a play at the prestigious Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, with English subtitles for Thursday night performances. At Westergasfabriek, a complex of restaurants and bars, the intimate, low-lit North Sea Jazz Club is a great spot for live jazz and blues, or if rock-n-roll is more your thing, Pacific Parc, a café with rock bands and DJs, obliges.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    An Architectural Feast
    An Architectural Feast
    Amsterdam's buildings are a feast for the eyes, a mix of Renaissance, art deco, Amsterdam School, and super-modern architecture seamlessly integrated with the city’s iconic canal houses. Highlights include the 600-year-old De Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square and the 1920s Theater Tuschinski cinema. On the IJ waterfront, across from Centraal Station, an iconic 1970s office building has been renovated and rebranded A'DAM Tower, with a rooftop observation deck A'DAM Lookout. Next door is the sleek EYE Film Institute, which resembles a spaceship. Foodhallen, a transformed tram depot, is a monumental hall housing restaurants, a movie theater, and shops.
    Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Marketing
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    Amsterdam's Festivals
    Amsterdam's Festivals
    Amsterdammers love to get out in the streets and party, which can make summer seem like one long festival. The biggest annual celebration is King’s Day in April. The city swarms with people clad in orange to show their pride for the Dutch royal family, members of the House of Orange-Nassau. Every district, especially the area around the canals, comes alive with music, food, drinks, markets, and all kinds of street entertainment. Gay Pride in August gets equally wild and is not for the fainthearted. The Grachtenfestival and Uitmarkt, also in August, are more mellow and celebrate the city’s classical music and cultural scene.
    Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Marketing
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    The Red Light District
    The Red Light District
    Well-known for being a liberal city, Amsterdam is perhaps most famous for its Red Light District. During the day, before the neon signs turn on, it’s a pleasant place to stroll around. You can see the area’s 13th-century architectural gems and lanes filled with tiny houses that lean at peculiar angles. At night the red lights flick on and the crowds—mostly giggling tourists and rowdy bachelor parties—come to gawk at the famous ladies behind glass. Thanks to a strong police and security presence, the Red Light District is pretty safe, but do beware of pickpockets.
    Photo courtesy of NBTC Holland Marketing
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    Discover the City on Two Wheels
    Discover the City on Two Wheels
    Amsterdammers eat, chat with friends, and talk on their phones with ease as they tool around town on bicycles. The city is flat and has bike lanes that are safe, well-marked, and car-free, so you can ride with ease even if you're not an avid cyclist. Rental shops are scattered across Amsterdam, and staff members are happy to give tips on navigating the city safely. If you don’t want to go it alone, there are numerous companies that offer guided tours. If you do rent a bike, be sure to lock it up securely.
    Photo courtesy of NBTC Holland Marketing
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    Eccentric Jordaan
    Eccentric Jordaan
    The über-trendy Jordaan district wraps around the west side of the Canal Belt. During the past decade, the once working-class neighborhood has transformed into a home for young professionals and a more bohemian crowd. The cozy, narrow streets are now packed with cafés, unique shops like Robins Hood, which stocks locally made products, independent galleries, and some of the city’s top restaurants. The Jordaan also has a lively traditional music scene that's celebrated during the Jordaan Festival every September.
    Photo by Peter Phipp/age fotostock