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Dam Square Amsterdam

Dam square

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 and cheap souvenir shops and some terrible budget hotels

Dam square, day and night is busy and bustling, and is the oldest square in Amsterdam and dates back to the 13th century (1270 to be exact) when a dam was build over the river Amstel to prevent the sea from swamping the city. Hence  the name Amsterdam. The square together with the river Amstel is how the city got its name.

There are documents dating back to around that time showing the Dam started out as an actual Dam and over the years 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 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.

Back in 1808 the Royal Palace which once apon a time served as the original city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808 when Bonapart came to town and took up residence.

1800's to present day.
Every town square had a weigh house and Amsterdam was no different. The weigh house can be seen in several early paintings of the time

The masterpiece of the square however, is the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis). Originally the palace used to be the city hall of Amsterdam when in 1808 it passed into the hands of the Royal family. Nowadays it is used for official receptions of statesmen, but no longer as a royal residence.

The Royal Palace has a rich history. Built around 1800, Louise Bonaparte took up residence in 1808 shortly after conversion from the Town Hall.
Once installed he demanded that the weigh house be demolished as it was ruining his view. Today it's the home to Queen Beatrice for a few days a year anyway but does not actually live there.

If you’re interested to see the interior it's possible to pay a visit. Visitors are welcome as the Palace is open once again to the general public for tours.  It was closed for several years for renovations and asbestos removal.

The National WW11 War Monument, a huge white stone pillar was erected in 1956 and deigned 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 castle on one hell of a long red carpet. You can hear a pin drop during the wreath laying ceremony. Ironically enough 22 people were shot dead and 144 injured by the Nazis on 7th of May 1945 while there was a celebration that the war had ended on this very spot.

Revolutionairies, hippies and other occupiers
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 bourgeo is and ordinary turned Dam square into their ‘bedroom’ in 1969/’70.

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, twice a year it tuens into a fun fair with some great trill rides and a huge Ferris wheel offering amazing views over the square.

Be seen with the famous folk
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 all sorts, The many mime artists and other street entertainers ensure you will not simply pass by. Are you up for more statues? Then get into Dam squares Madame Tussaud’s to shake hands with the wax versions of your favourite stars and other famous people.

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 Fockinck. 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, see www.indewildeman.nl.   

Nes, a side street from Dam square, is known for it’s many theatres. As Amsterdam hosts people from all over the world, there are always some  performances happening in English. When the night falls a great venue to dance or see live bands and other crazy performances is the Winston. The club is open almost every night and with it’s program that varies from indie-rock, electro to unpretentious retro-pop it makes it one of Dam area’s finest haunts. It’s located in one of the oldest streets of Amsterdam, de Warmoesstraat. For the agenda check www.winston.nl.

Check out the list below to see what’s on at Dam square when you are enjoying your stay in Amsterdam with Amsterdamstay.com:

January / February are the quite months as its so cold but some spring and the city comes back to life.

Stille omgang | www.stille-omgang.nl
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’.

National Museum weekend | www.museumweekend.nl
More than 500 museums in the Netherlands (including major institutes in Amsterdam) open their doors for a festive weekend with either free, or reduced entrance.
Queensday 31st of April | www.koninginnedagamsterdam.nl
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.

Bevrijdingsfestival (Liberation festival) | www.4en5mei.nl
The Dutch celebrate the 1945 liberation from German occupation each year with parties and free-entry festivals all over the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, there's always a free outdoors pop concert on Museumplein and free open-air classical music concert on the River Amstel, outside the theatre  Carré. The night before, on 4 May, there's a more formal ceremony on the Dam, with a two-minute silence observed at 8pm.

Uitmarkt | www.uitmarkt.nl
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.