Self-guided City Walk Amsterdam Center
The main route to the heart of Amsterdam leads from Centraal station to Dam Square. A sea of tourists, day trippers and Amsterdammers saunter along Damrak, a wide avenue running from Centraal Station to Dam Square. I-Love-Amsterdam T-shirts, fridge magnets and tulips spill out on to the pavement outside shops. Amsterdammers ignore them. Tourists can’t get enough of these Amsterdam souvenirs
START: Centraal Station
FINISH: Dam Square
Stationsplein, Station Square, in front of Centraal Station is happily chaotic. Commuters hop onto trams. Day trippers and tourists head into the city on foot.
1. Centraal Station
Built between 1884 and 1889, Centraal Station stands proud on its thousands of wooden piles. The gilt bits of this warm red brick edifice sparkle in the sunlight like the diamonds in Queen Maxima’s tiara. One of the twin towers is adorned with a clock, the other with a wind-rose whose hand twitches as the wind gusts. The roof bristles with turrets and prickly spikes. Reliefs show allegories of sailing, trade and industry. In every respect, the station is a gateway to the city. When Central Station was built, it provoked angry reactions from Amsterdammers. The station blocked the view of the harbour from the city. Today, having a station in the city center is considered very convenient.
Centraal Station in Amsterdam
2. Bike Garage
To the right of the station, in front of the Ibis Hotel, is Amsterdam’s biggest multi-story bike garage where worried-looking tourists and Amsterdammers search for their bikes, a Herculean task because most bicycles look the same.
3. Café-Restaurant Loetje
Stepping out of Amsterdam Centraal Station, the first thing you spot is Café Loetje. Formerly known as the Noord-Zuid Hollands Koffiehuis, a charming white wooden structure built in 1911. The coffee house has its own jetty from which steamboats used to ferry passengers across the IJ River to Amsterdam north from where the steam-tram departed. Today, canal cruise boats still use the landing stage.
4. Amsterdam Tourist Information Centre
Next door to Loetje is the I Amsterdam Visitor Centre, the main tourist information office. Stock up on brochures about Amsterdam. Read them while you sit on the waterside terrace of Loetje enjoying a frothy cappuccino or cool Heineken. Finished reading? Hop on the museum boat moored in front of the visitor centre. Sail under bridges, past 17th century canal houses and get off at your favourite museum, Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum or Amsterdam Hermitage. Just browse the museum shop, if you haven’t enough time for a museum visit.
Damrak in Amsterdam
5. Along Damrak
Damrak is a broad avenue leading to Dam Square. To the left of Damrak is the Oude Zijde (Old Side) and the Red Light District. The domed church towering above the Old Side is St Nicolaas Church. The large red-brick building on your left is monumental Beurs van Berlage, the former Stock exchange, concert hall and exhibition centre. On your right you pass Tulip House souvenirs shops, Amsterdam Today, more souvenirs, Drakes for erotic articles, Albert Heijn Supermarket and the Sexmuseum. In between you will find several snack bars selling Flemish fries.
6. Dam Square
Your free walking tour ends at Dam Square that buzzes with activity. Mime artists jump into action, the moment a coin jingles in their money tin. Tour guides thrust their folded umbrellas to the sky. The tourists follow in his or her wake.
Shopping and a Palace
Shop for designer labels in Bijenkorf Department Store located at the corner of Damrak and Dam Square. Take a tour of the Royal Palace, but only when the Royals have no functions scheduled in this imposing building.
The stone obelisk of the National Monument on Dam Square stands 22-meter tall. The monument commemorates the liberation in 1945 from Nazi occupation after World War II and all war victims. The curved wall behind the monument incorporates eleven urns containing earth from execution sites and cemeteries from the eleven Dutch provinces. A twelfth urn is filled with earth from a military cemetery in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. In the 1960s, the monument was used as a sleeping place by the hippies. Since 1970, this has been forbidden. Eating a sandwich or getting a sun tan is not a problem.