City Center Walking Tour, Amsterdam

City Center Walking Tour (Self Guided), Amsterdam

The inner-most borough and historic heart of Amsterdam, known locally as Centrum, is a tightly woven network of canals and overlapping micro-neighborhoods, each bursting with their own unique vibe and history. Formerly a working-class area, this district is reputed for its traditional community spirit, radical politics and historic brown bars.

Here, all within an easy walking distance you will find lively canal-side terraces packed to the brim with restaurants and bars, vintage shops and quirky, world-class museums, renowned cultural attractions and other notable buildings dotted around the charming, leafy cobbled streets, high-end shopping areas, and sprawling market squares.

Walking from the Central Station, Amsterdam's main public transport hub, you will soon find yourself at Dam Square – dominated by the neoclassical Royal Palace and 14th-century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Venturing further into the tightly clustered area you encounter more prominent sights, like Madame Tussaud's and the National Monument (an iconic World War II memorial) before ending on Kalverstraat – one of the most popular thoroughfares in Amsterdam, lined with flagship stores, restaurants and world-famous entertainment venues.

Beyond the best known attractions, there's also a treasure trove of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered, like Begijnhof – one of the oldest local hofjes (hidden courtyards).

If you're keen to “unearth” these and other cultural treasures in the historic center of Amsterdam, in your good time and at your own pace, take this self-guided walking tour.
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City Center Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: City Center Walking Tour
Guide Location: Netherlands » Amsterdam (See other walking tours in Amsterdam)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Centraal Station
  • Sex Museum
  • Beurs van Berlage
  • Dam Square
  • National Monument
  • Madame Tussauds
  • Royal Palace
  • Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)
  • Magna Plaza
  • Begijnhof Courtyard
  • Kalverstraat
Centraal Station

1) Centraal Station (must see)

When in Amsterdam, you are bound to visit the Centraal Station, one way or another, at least once. With over 1,500 trains pulling in here daily, this is one of the busiest transportation hubs of the city, serving nearly 250,000 commuters per day. In this sense, this is a true heart of Amsterdam!

The Centraal Station began service at the end of the 19th century. Designed by architects P.J.H. Cuypers and A.L. van Gendt, it symbolized the rebirth of the country's once ailing economy.

An interesting fact about this station is that it was built on three man-made islands and its current location is not the one originally chosen. To erect the structure as massive as a railway station on the muddy soil, it took precisely 8687 wooden piles to support the structure. The entire project seemed like a huge blunder and was promptly condemned by many experts, but in the end, the architects managed to pull it off and proved the skeptics wrong.

Today, the Neo-Gothic building stately rises over the banks of the river IJ delighting the numerous beholders, much as the commuters using it daily to get to/from Amsterdam, with its colossal presence and the engineering genius behind its creation.

Why You Should Visit:
A mass transit and cosmopolitan fever hotspot, harmoniously blending neo-Renaissance architecture and modern technology.

There are several (free) ferry trips through the canals running from here every 5 or 15 minutes which are very worthwhile. You can cruise right back to the station on the boat if you want to.
Sex Museum

2) Sex Museum

What started off skeptically has turned today into one of the key attractions in Amsterdam. Along with a rich past, spectacular art and breathtaking architecture, Amsterdam is home to the most flamboyant sex and erotic industry, as well as the world’s first Sex Museum.

Opened in 1985, the Sex Museum gets on an average over 500,000 visitors every year. Also known as the Venus Temple, the Sex Museum is recorded as the fourth most visited museum in Amsterdam just after the Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank’s House. Likely so, the museum provides detailed historical accounts of how civilizations sated their carnal desires. (Now, who wouldn’t want to know that).

The museum is definitely not for everyone, only for those who are curious and definitely not children. It is filled with paintings, sculptures, vintage photographs, cartoons and other recordings having one denominator, erotica and sensuality. The Sex Museum also has a vast collection of objects, personal belongings and recordings of personalities of the past who have played a huge role in shaping and influencing the history of sex. This includes people like Marquise de Pompadour, Marquis de Sade, Mata Hari, etc.

Another fun exhibit at the museum is the one dedicated to the practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Altogether, the Sex Museum is a fun experience which should not be missed at any cost.
Beurs van Berlage

3) Beurs van Berlage

The Beurs van Berlage will be of much interest to those who are intrigued by a city’s architecture. The structure constructed between 1898 and 1903 was built as the stock exchange of Amsterdam. Located in the center of city, the Beurs van Berlage was designed by architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage. Considered as one of the leading architects in Amsterdam, Berlage has contributed to the new wave of modern architectural designs in the city.

Not only is the designer of the building an important figure in the history of the city’s architecture, the Beurs van Berlage itself has influenced many modernist architects and has garnered appreciation from different art schools of Amsterdam. The most unique aspect of the building and its architecture remains its aloof yet simple patterns and designs. Set on the backdrop of vintage Gothic and Renaissance styled buildings, the Beurs van Berlage makes its own stand with its colour, structure and style. Proposed to be ahead of its time, the designs come as a refreshing change and can easily be singled out in the Amsterdam skyline.

Today the building no longer serves as a center for city’s stock exchange but is now used as an exhibition and concert hall. There are also souvenir shops and cafes in the building.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Dam Square

4) Dam Square (must see)

Dam Square lies in the historical center of Amsterdam. The surrounding architecture and frequent public events taking place here make it one of the most important locations in the city. The word “dam” in the name derives from the place's original function – damming the Amstel river. As the matter of fact, it also relates to the name of the city itself – Amstelredamme. Built around 1270, the dam formed the first connection between settlements on the banks of the river.

Gradually, the dam grew wide enough to accommodate a town square, which proved a core of the town's further development. Dam Square, as it's seen today, evolved out of what was originally two squares: the actual dam, called Middeldam; and Plaetse, the adjacent plaza to the west. A large fish market appeared near the spot where ships moored at the dam to upload and download their cargoes. The area eventually became the center of not only the commercial but also the administrative activity (Amsterdam's Town Hall).

Traditionally busy and crowded, Dam Square is grand in terms of shopping. Here, among numerous boutiques, one will easily spot the famous Dutch department store De Bijenkorf.

Why You Should Visit:
A perfect place to feel the pulse of the city, explore different cuisines, shops, enjoy music or sit by the fountain...
As it is well linked to other parts of the city, you'll have a wealth of choices getting to your next destination after strolling through the square.

Free, clean toilets available at the De Buenkork shop, 5th floor.
National Monument

5) National Monument

Designed by the famous Dutch architect Jacobus Oud, the Dutch National Monument stands as a memorial to the Second World War. A national icon in Amsterdam, the obelisk is a place famous amongst both locals as well as tourists who visit the city.

Although the structure is popular amongst visitors, very few actually appreciate the underlying symbolism that is crafted on the pillar. Placed in a series of concentric circles, the obelisk is beautifully sculpted with figures of men, canines and birds. The front side of the monument has two male figures that represent the Dutch Resistance Movement while the left and right sides represent the intellectuals and the working class. The canines stand as a symbol of loyalty and suffering. The woman along with the child represents victory, peace and new beginnings, and the doves that ascend to the skies symbolize freedom and liberation.

The urns behind the obelisk hold the soil that was collected from the World War II cemeteries and execution grounds.

Every year, on the 4th of May, the ceremony of Remembrance of the Dead is held at the National monument. The obelisk stands as a representation of all the turmoil, suffering and lives that were lost and sacrificed during the Second World War.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most important European symbols that recall the immense tragedy of the Second World War.

A nice place to make a brief stop along the way to other exhibits within the area.
Madame Tussauds

6) Madame Tussauds

After taking a good look at the works of some noted figures in Dutch history in various museums in and around Amsterdam, how about taking a look at their life-size figurines? The experience is quite surprising and it is for this very experience that people all over the world come to Madam Tussaud’s.

The space is filled with life-size figurines of artists, craftsmen and famous personalities from the Dutch Golden Era. Along with the various stars of yesteryears, the highlight of the museum is the plethora of global personalities ranging from present-day movie stars, politicians, members of royal families and many more.

With each passing year, the wax models seem more like their subjects than they were before. Capturing a moment with your favorite celebrity from the present or the past is what Madam Tussauds strives to offer to every visitor.

Worth climbing to the top floor for a brilliant view of Dam Square!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-8pm
Royal Palace

7) Royal Palace (must see)

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam – sitting on the west side of Dam Square at the heart of Amsterdam, opposite the War Memorial and next to the Nieuwe Kerk (“New Church”) – is one of the four palaces in the Netherlands still left at the disposal of the Dutch Royal Family and Queen Beatrix in particular. Built in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age, it was originally designed to house Amsterdam's city hall. After 150 years, circa 1808, the building was taken over by Louis Napoleon, brother of the more well-known French Emperor. Five years later, it reverted back to the Dutch and has since served as the royal palace for the House of Orange through to our day.

Visitors to the Palace are immediately struck by the grandeur of the central hall (Burgerzaal), whose high ceiling, spacious design, high columns, chandeliers and marble floors, complete with two maps of the world with a celestial hemisphere, attest to the Dutch influence and opulence of that period. As if to enhance this feeling further, the grand hall is dominated by that statue of Atlas standing with the world on his shoulders.

In many ways, this historical and architectural landmark illustrates the progression of the Netherlands as a nation. As a town hall, it highlights the importance of democracy and how it contributed to the life of the Dutch, whereas its transformation into a royal property speaks to a time when Holland was in a state of transition. Today, the Royal Palace demonstrates the Netherlands' place in the world: a beautiful, culturally rich nation attractive to many as a place to visit and live.

Why You Should Visit:
If you love opulence, loads of chandeliers and lavish ceiling decoration, this palace won't disappoint.
Very affordable for families; free entrance for under 18s plus senior and student discounts.

Check online for opening times beforehand, as the palace may be closed for royal events.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)

8) Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)

The Nieuwe Kerk or “New Church” is a 14th century temple located on Dam square in Amsterdam, next to the Royal Palace. This church was built to accommodate the growing number of parishioners after the Oude Kerk (Old Church) was no longer able to cope with the task. Repeatedly damaged by fire in 1645, it was rebuilt and assumed Gothic style.

With time, the building acquired some early Renaissance features, while remaining tower-less. The beautifully decorated stained glass windows depict historic events associated with the church, such as the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina. The interior's highlights include admirable altar, great pipe organ, sepulchral monuments with the tomb of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, a Dutch naval hero, and more. In 1578 the church became Protestant, upon which many of its treasures were removed and frescoes painted over.

After being declared the National Church in 1815, it has been the site of royal weddings and inaugurations. Dutch Prince Willem Alexander and Princess Maxima married here in 2002.

Although still used for recitals, the Nieuwe Kerk is no longer used for services and instead represents a popular exhibition space. The themes of exhibitions held here are varied and include some rather peculiar ones, like the Buddhist art of ancient Bactria. Postcards, books and gifts are sold at a museum store within the church. A popular cafe adjoining the building, called the Nieuwe Café, has a large outer terrace.

Why You Should Visit:
Worth seeing if you like old buildings and history in general, but don’t expect a religious experience.

Feel free to step inside the lobby to marvel at the beautiful giant stained glass panes.
Exhibitions can be a little overpriced but good value with the I Amsterdam card.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Magna Plaza

9) Magna Plaza

The Former Amsterdam Main Post Office, currently a shopping mall known as Magna Plaza, is a monumental, yet elegant 19th-century building located directly behind the Royal Palace in Dam square. Built in 1895–1899, the edifice features a mix of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles, and has been a rijksmonument – a listed national heritage site (one of the Top 100) in the Netherlands – since July 9, 1974.

The Amsterdam Post Office was designed by Cornelis Peters, and was meant to replace the Royal Post Office of 1854, which had served as a gallery shortly before being torn down in 1897. The brick exterior of the building is heavily and variedly decorated in polychromatic brick with details in dressed stone, including framing for all windows and doors. Across the roof edges are a large number of dormers, each with their own crow-stepped gable.

Due to the pear-shaped crowns on top of the towers, the building is colloquially referred to as “Perenburg” (English: pearburg). The interior consists of a central hall with galleries on two upper floors, surrounded by arcades and crowned by a sunroof. Originally, the public function of the building was limited to the ground floor, while the rest of the structure was accessible only to working personnel.

In 1987, Larmag, a Swedish real estate developer announced plans to re-purpose the building as a luxurious shopping mall. The construction started in February 1991, during which the exterior work was mostly limited to cleaning, repair and restoration of the facades, while the interior was completely rebuilt, maintaining the carrying structures and decorative elements. After renovation, the shopping mall Magna Plaza, named after Larmag's CEO Lars-Erik Magnusson, was finally opened to the public on August 17, 1992.
Begijnhof Courtyard

10) Begijnhof Courtyard

The Begijnhof Courtyard is one of the oldest hidden courtyards in Amsterdam. A group of historical buildings, mostly private dwellings, center around it. As the name suggests, it was originally a community of Beguines, which was laywomen who lived a semi-monastic life dedicated to prayer and charitable works.

The Begijnhof is the only inner court in Amsterdam which was founded during the Middle Ages, and therefore lies within the Singel — the innermost canal of Amsterdam's circular canal system. The Begijnhof is at medieval street level, which means a meter below the rest of the old city center.

The buildings in the court are tall, characteristically Amsterdam-style town-houses, emphasizing the court's relatively private character. The Begijnhof is the only court whose houses have addresses bearing the name of the court itself. Unlike most courts, the houses here do not form rows joining one dwelling with another. Instead, there are 47 regular town houses, most of them with facades from the 17th and 18th century. However, the buildings themselves are usually of earlier date, eighteen of them still possessing a Gothic wooden framework.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

11) Kalverstraat

Kalverstraat is probably the busiest shopping thoroughfare in Amsterdam, stretching across the entire city center, roughly North-South for about 750 meters, from Dam Square to Muntplein Square. It is also the most expensive shopping street in the Netherlands (among the 20 most expensive streets in the world), with rent prices up to 3,000 euros per square meter (2016).

After the construction of the medieval city walls, the street between Munttoren (originally a gate in the city walls) and Spui square came to be known as Byndewyck. Later it was renamed Kalverstraat ("calf street"), after the cattle market that was held here from 1486 until 1629.

In 1345 a Eucharistic miracle was said to have taken place in a home between the Kalverstraat in the Rokin. A chapel, the Heilige Stede, was built on the spot where the miracle reportedly occurred.

Painter Piet Mondrian lived at Kalverstraat 154 from 1892 to 1895. The first HEMA department store opened on Kalverstraat in 1926. Nowadays, a number of high-end and medium-class stores establish their presence on the street, including Mango, Esprit, Zara, WE, and H&M. Kalverstraat is also home to the Kalvertoren Shopping Center – a big brash mall with 45 stores, cafes and restaurants, as well as the department store Hema.

Walking Tours in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Create Your Own Walk in Amsterdam

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Southern Canal Belt Walking Tour

Southern Canal Belt Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 Km or 3.2 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Western Canal Belt Walking Tour

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Western Canal Belt is a historic neighborhood in Amsterdam that forms part of the larger Canal Ring, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which comprises a web of concentric canals. The three main canals making up the Western Belt are Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. They are lined with beautiful and somewhat bizarre gabled houses that were built by prosperous merchants in the 17th century,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
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The Jordaan district of Amsterdam is a popular neighborhood renowned for its charming, narrow streets, quaint courtyards, and picturesque canals. Replete with beautiful historic houses, many of which have been converted into cozy cafés, trendy boutiques, and art galleries, this district has a distinctive atmosphere that sets it apart from other areas in the city.

The Jordaan was originally...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles

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