Dam Square (Photo credit: *S A N D E E P*)
It's most likely you'll catch your first glimpse of Amsterdam by arriving at Central Station, the main train station of Amsterdam. Dam square is just 5 minutes walk from here, you just follow the Damrak, a wide street that used to be the harbour of Amsterdam back in the middle ages but nowadays basically a tourist trap full of bad restaurants, cheap souvenir shops and some terrible budget hotels.
Dam square, day and night is busy and bustling, is the oldest square in Amsterdam and dates back to 1270. The Dam started out as an actual Dam which was build over the river Amstel to prevent the sea from swamping the city. Over the years it developed into a town square. The river ran along the side and it served as a dock for the unloading of cargo. Eventually resulting in the first proper connection between the many settlements and villages on both sides of the river. The square together with the river Amstel is how the city got its name.
Revolutionairies, hippies and other occupiers
The square has witnessed many historic events over the centuries. While you stroll over the cobble stones in front of the imposing Royal Palace at the west side of the square, it's easy to imagine horse-hooves, the rattle of a coach and a wide-headed coachman calling out loudly “Long live the revolution!” in Napoleonic times.
While there was a celebration that the war had ended, 22 people were slaughtered and 144 injured by the Nazis on Dam square, on the 7th of May 1945. So moving on to the east side of the square you can see a huge, white stone pillar, the National Monument build in 1956 in memory of these and other victims of World War II, designed by J.J.P. Oud. This large lump of rock dominates the opposite side of the square, This is where on 4th of May every year the Queens places the memorial wreath after parading over from the Palace on one hell of a long red carpet. You can hear a pin drop during the wreath laying ceremony.
Or remember pictures from the Occupy camp? It was at Beursplein, a small square next to the Damrak behind the department store Bijenkorf, where the Occupiers camped in 2011. Then it becomes easy to depict the long-haired pot smoking hippies that out of protest against everything that was bourgeois and ordinary turned Dam square into their ‘bedroom’ in 1969/’70.
Be seen with Elvis Presley and other famous folk
Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, Amsterdam's main square became a "national" square well known to nearly everyone in the Netherlands. It is always the location of demonstrations and protests as well as many events of all kinds, and twice a year it turns into a fun fair with some great trill rides and a huge Ferris wheel offering amazing views over the square.
Even when there are no demonstrations, there is always something going on at the pigeon populated Dam square and it’s surroundings. When the weather gets a little better you can bump into a huge Gorilla or other disguised folks. These mime artists and other street entertainers ensure you will not simply pass by, if you like that kind of stuff. Are you up for even more statues? Then get into Dam squares Madame Tussaud’s to shake hands with the wax version of Elvis Presley or other famous people.
The Royal Palace and other buildings
The masterpiece of the square is the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis). The Royal Palace has a rich history. It’s original function was that of a town hall, build by Jacob van Campen around 1655. The classicist building, recalling the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, was monumental by Dutch standards of the day. Both the architecture and the decoration proclaimed by the city’s supremacy and prosperity, worthy of a nation so succesfull in trade. Famous artists like Rembrandt van Rijn were asked to decorate it’s most important rooms. The delighted citizens of Amsterdam proudly referred to it as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, and the poet Joost Vondel proclaimed it the ‘crown of creation’.
A 150 years later, in 1808, the town hall acquired a different function when under the occupation of Napoleon Louis Bonaparte took up residence. After French occupation it turned into the hands of the Royal family of Orange, but the queen doesn’t actually live there. Nowadays it is used for official functions like the annual presentation of the Erasmus prize. If you’re interested to see the interior it's possible to pay a visit. Visitors are welcome as the Palace is open to the general public for tours.
Almost all towns in Holland had a weigh house and Amsterdam was no different. The weigh house was situated right from the Royal Palace and can be seen in several early paintings of the time. It got demolished in 1808 under Napoleonic reign because it was ruining the view according to the French ‘King of Holland’.
The church next to the Royal Palace, the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk), is often used for important exhibitions and the Beurs van Berlage, once a stock Exchange market, has been transformed into a concert hall annex exhibition space.
Off the beaten track
Need to quench your thirst after all the walking? There's a several cafe’s and bars around the square. As a local however, there are some spots I particularly recommend you to go when you are at Dam square.
At Pijlsteeg 31, the alley to the right of hotel Krasnapolski, there is Proeflokaal Wijnand Fockink. In this 17th century distillery you can enjoy original home-brewn jenever, a Dutch liquor with appealing names like ‘Bride’s tears’ or ‘Heaven’. There are also workshops and tasting tours, see www.wynand-fockink.nl. Another well-kept secret is beer tasting bar ‘In de Wildeman’, at Kolksteeg 3, a side street of the Nieuwendijk. You can choose from a selection of 200 kinds of beer in this authentic, former distillery.
January / February are the quite months as its so cold but some spring and the city comes back to life.
The Stille omgang is an annual procession in the historical centre of Amsterdam, beginning and ending at Spui. Pilgrims have been participating at this silent procession for centuries in order to commemorate the ‘Miracle of the Host’.
Get ready for a huge street party where the down-to-earth Dutch forget about their national character and go mad. Enjoy the music, crazy performances and flea markets. If you wanna blend in with the locals wear your most wicked orange clothes or accessories.
The opening of the new cultural season when performers show previews of what you can expect to see over the coming year. Hundreds of free performances take place (both indoors and outdoors). Every discipline is represented from opera to pop and classical music, from mime and dance to cabaret and theatre.
You can see more than 60.00 runners in motion at one of the biggest running events of the world. It starts at Prins Hendrikkade.
Shops and Buildings on Dam Square. Here is once around the Square:
1.Dam Souvenirs with giant Clog show outside.
3.Even more Souvenirs.
4. Tours / Money exchange.
Intersection of Rokin
8 Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.
9 Peek and Kloppenburg (clothes shop)
Intersection - Kalverstraat, Amsterdams main shopping street.
10 Entire Other side of square is taken up by the Palace.
11. New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)
12 Coffee shop (not coffeeshop as in cannabis)
13 Mens Cloths shop
Intersection of de Nieuwendijk shopping street.
Intersection of Damrak
16 Bar (great in summer months with huge terrace)
17 NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky.
18 Lane leading to canal and red-light district
19 Small Bar
20 Souvenir shop