Dam Square. Plaza in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Dam Square

Plaza in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam: Dam Square 4 Photo © Salon NYC

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Dam Square

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Dam Square is the historic center of Amsterdam, as well as being the economic center, and the seat of the Amsterdam Royal Palace, and impressive 17th-century magistrates hall. The square itself is not a major attraction, but it does feature some great stop-offs, photo opportunities, and its own unmistakable ambiance.

Dam Square and Horse
	Drawn Heineken Truck - Dam Square
Dam Square and Horse Drawn Heineken Truck - Dam Square. Photo by David Saddler
Visitors may be somewhat disappointed by the lack of seating, the constant crowds, and the very busy traffic road that cuts straight through the middle of it. Despite these nuances, no visit to Amsterdam would ever be complete without a trip to “The Dam” itself.

History

The square, as it exists today, was born out of a fusion of two smaller squares; the actual dam itself, known then as ‘Middeldam’, and ‘Plaetse’, an adjacent plaza. Trade grew as ships docked in the harbor to load and unload, and a large fish market arose. The market square once featured a weigh house, but this was later demolished by Louis Bonaparte (Wikipedia
	Article), who thought it looked hideous as he gazed out of his residence at the recently converted Royal Palace.

In the 19th century the river Amstel was partially filled in, and the square was left surrounded by land on all sides. This extra room was used to build a stock exchange in 1837, which later moved to the Beurs van Berlage in 1903 (Wikipedia Article), and can still be visited today.

The Royal Palace (left) and Nieuwe Kerk (right) -
	Dam Square
The Royal Palace (left) and Nieuwe Kerk (right) - Dam Square. Photo by Arthur Chapman

What to See and Do in Dam Square

For locals, Dam Square is often seen as a place of passing; somewhere that they have to walk through everyday to get on with their lives. For the tourist, Dam Square is an unmissable part of Amsterdam, and is certainly worth a wonder and a gaze. Here is what Dam Square has to offer the traveler:

The Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)

The Royal Palace began as Amsterdam's City Hall in 1655, before being converted into royal residential use in 1808, by the brother of Napoleon, Louis Napoleon (Wikipedia Article). It was originally commissioned to demonstrate the wealth and prosperity of the Dutch Golden Age, and this was accomplished well, as displayed by the grandeur of the outside of the building alone. To really appreciate the Royal Palace, you can take a tour of the inside, where you can see a huge collection of imperial furniture and arts.

The National Monument

Rising from the east of Dam Square, is a huge limestone phallic memorial symbol, an obelisk that reminds people of the lives lost during World War II. On May 4th every year a memorial service is held.

New Church (Nieuwe Kerk)

The popularity of the Old Church in De Wallen, promoted the building of another church in Dam Square, which was to become appropriately known as “New Church”. A beautiful 15th-century Gothic design, New Church no longer offers services, though it does open up the space to art exhibitions and acoustic events like concerts.

De Bijenkorf (Beehive)

Are you a fan of shopping? Then you have found your dream place in Amsterdam, as *De Bijenkorf is well-known as the hottest, biggest, and best department store in the Netherlands. Six floors of goods ranging from electronics, to fashion, and prices to suit every budget, make this an eclectic place for shoppers to spend their hard earned tourist pennies. The main shopping street in Amsterdam, Kalverstraat, also runs through Dam Square.

Madame Tussauds

The famous wax works, Madame Tussauds is also one of the striking features of Dam Square, and is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the city. Most people know what to expect when they visit a waxworks, and you would be right to guess that you are going to look at life-like wax statues of all of your favorite celebrities; from pop stars, to Barack Obama.

What is great about visiting the Dutch Madam Tussauds, is that you get to see some faces that might help you to learn more about the culture of the Netherlands; Queen Beatrix for example, or Freddy Heineken, the late president of the brewery of the same name.

What Else?

Dam Square was renowned for its “hippy” presence in the 1960s, before stricter laws prohibited them from sitting around all night getting high on a war memorial. So much for Amsterdam's famous liberal appeal? Being the city's main square, many events occur there, including regular fairs through the summer, protests, carnivals, and the omnipresence of street performers, and people giving out free hugs, or free prayers to save your soul from certain doom.

Any day that you take a stroll through Dam Square, you are likely to be graced by one of many street artists, some of them quite original. This certainly adds to the spirit of an otherwise straight forward town square.

There are a few places to eat and drink in Dam Square, though prices are generally through the roof, catering to business persons who will pay for the esteem, and tourists who have a hole in their pocket. Take a short walk anywhere else to find cheaper and better options to eat, smoke, sleep, and party.

Getting There

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is one of the largest in the country, and it is possible to fly in from anywhere in Europe, and many other destinations worldwide. Direct trains can help you to reach Central Station, along with tram and bus options, and from there you can stroll less than 1 km South, down Damrak, to reach Dam Square.

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Author: M.Warburton. Last updated: Jan 25, 2015

Pictures of Dam Square

Dam Square and National Monument - Dam Square
Dam Square and National Monument - Photo by daryl_mitchell

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