The Binnenstad is the medieval heart of Amsterdam. It is where most foreign visitors arrive and leave, and has a lot of the city's prime attractions.


Most visitors arrive in Amsterdam at the Centraal Station, and then walk south over the Damrak and Rokin. In medieval times, both roads actually were the final stretch of the Amstel River that used to cut Amsterdam in half. East of the Damrak-Rokin-axis was the Oudezijde ("Old Side") of Amsterdam, the oldest part of the city dating from the 13th century. West of the Damrak-Rokin-axis was the Nieuwezijde ("New Side"), which was constructed later, but still dates from the late Middle Ages. Damrak used to be a busy harbour where loads of ships docked, bringing valuable spices with them from the Dutch East Indies. Nowadays, together with Rokin, it's the glue that holds both sides of the city together, and the endless line of tacky souvenir shops won't give a hint about the street's history as a trading quarter.

The division between the Oudezijde and the Nieuwezijde never completely faded, and both have a lot to offer for visitors. The Oudezijde is lead by the Warmoesstraat, the oldest street of Amsterdam. It started out as a residential street for the wealthy, but they moved to the Canal District in the 17th century and commerce has been its driving force since. The Red Light District is in the same area, at the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, and dates back to the 14th century. Lustful sailors have been replaced by hordes of curious tourists, however. Adjacent to it is the Nieuwmarkt, a large square that in recent decades turned into a Chinese neighborhood (though it's smaller than Chinatowns in other cities). The Zeedijk particularly offers some great Asian restaurants and snack joints. The Nieuwezijde is known for Dam Square, with the Nieuwe Kerk ("New Church") and the pompous Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis), that was once taken from Amsterdam by Napoleon's brother (and still a touchy subject among the city's residents). Around it are the city's prime shopping areas with the Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk and the bars at the Spui.

The area east of the Nieuwmarkt, now known as the Nieuwmarktbuurt, was built outside of the city's medieval walls. Part of it is known as the Jodenbuurt ("Jewish neighborhood"). As the Netherlands had a relatively high level of religious freedom from the 16th century onwards, many Jewish communities had migrated to this area. In the 1920s this was one of the busiest areas of town with large open-air markets and smoky factories. This changed in World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands and those of Jewish heritage were deported to concentration camps. The area went into decay and even today isn't quite as interesting as one might hope. It turned into a big traffic junction, but the Jewish Historical Museum (Joods Historisch Museum) keeps the history of the neighborhood alive.

Next to the more official cultural venues, the Binnenstad offers a lot of forgettable (and overpriced) tourist traps. Damrak has the Sex Museum and one of two torture museums, and in the Red Light District you can find the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum.

Get in

By tram

The tram is the best way to get around the area. Amsterdam Centraal railway station at the north of the Binnenstad is the centre of Amsterdam's public transport network and most tram lines start, finish or pass through it. Tram lines 4, 9, 16 and 24 start at Centraal Station and then pass Dam Square, Rokin and Muntplein, making these lines the most convenient for getting around. The Oudezijde and the Nieuwmarktbuurt do not have any tram lines, so you'll have to walk there from stops along these lines. The Nieuwezijde is covered by the central tram lines as well, but in addition, tram lines 1, 2 and 5 from Centraal Station cover the western side of the district along Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.

If you're coming from the Museum Quarter or Leidseplein, take tram lines 2 or 5 towards Centraal Station. Tram 5 can also be taken if you're coming from the Zuidas or Amsterdam-Zuid railway station. Trams 16 and 24 come from the Olympic Stadium, De Pijp (Albert Cuyp Market, Heinekenplein) and the southern Canal District and also end at Centraal Station. From the western Canal District, Jordaan and Oud-West, take tram 13 or 17 towards Centraal Station.

From Rembrandtplein, it's a bit complicated. Get on tram 4 or 9 towards Centraal Station if you want to go to the Oudezijde or Nieuwezijde (e.g. Dam Square). If you want to go to Waterlooplein or the Jodenbuurt, you need to take the same lines, but in the opposite direction. Get out at the stop Waterlooplein for the flea market or at Mr Visserplein for the Jodenbuurt, the Esnoga and the Rembrandt House. Plantage and the Oosterpark are served by tram 9, while IJburg and the Western Docklands are served by tram 26.

By metro

The metro serves the eastern end of the Binnenstad and connect it with the outer boroughs of Amsterdam. The metro lines do not go to any notable tourist attractions, but can be used as a fast way to get to or from the outer railway stations. All lines leave from Centraal Station and stop at railway station Amsterdam Amstel. Line 51 covers the Zuidas and stops at railway station Amsterdam Zuid, while line 51 covers Zuidoost and stops at railway station Amsterdam Bijlmer-ArenA.

Three metro stops are located in the district: Centraal Station, Nieuwmarkt and Waterlooplein. If you don't feel like walking, you can get on any train at Centraal Station and get out at the first stop for the Nieuwmarkt and the Oudezijde, including Chinatown and the Red Light District.

A new metro line, the Noord/Zuidlijn, is under construction and will be completed in 2017. This line will connect Centraal Station and Rokin with the Canal District, De Pijp and the Zuidas.

Three forms of transportation: The landmark Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station, a tram, and a boat in a canal


Amsterdam is a living museum with an architectural landscape that has changed little since the 17th century. Many vistas in Rembrandt's paintings, such as at the Geldersekade, are still largely similar as of this day. As such, Amsterdam is best experienced by getting lost in the city's old tiny corridors. Those rushing through busy shopping streets like Damrak and Kalverstraat don't do the city justice and miss the city's historic air.

Royal Palace at Dam Square


Beurs van Berlage seen from the Damrak

Churches and synagogues

Amsterdam's coat of arms over the entrace to the Amsterdam Museum


Rembrandt House
Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder
NEMO's distinctive building


Canal tour boats follow one another

As most attractions are clearly aimed at tourists, one of the best things to do is to wander. Get lost in the little side-streets, have a chat with the locals and just appreciate the beautiful architecture all around you. The Oudezijde lends itself especially well for exploring on foot. Of course, you can also rent a bicycle and get around the Dutch way.

Many visitors take a canal tour through the city centre. On these tours, a narrator will overload you with fun-facts as you're cruising along the city's beautiful buildings. A canal cruise costs around €15 for one hour, and many operators can be found along Damrak. However, there's no reason to actually do this—walking is free, more fun and more authentic.


The Spui


Book stores


This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Below €20
Mid-range €20-50
Splurge €50+

The Binnenstad has a wide variety of restaurants, most of them in the cheaper or mid-range category. Asian restaurants are congregated in the Zeedijk, where many cheaper-end Chinese, Indonesian and Thai restaurants line up. Middle Eastern fast-food can be found in the Damstraat, just like a plethora of Argentinian, Chinese and Italian joints. If you have a higher budget, or want quality, it's better to go next-door to the Canal District.

The Nieuwendijk is filled with inexpensive eating opportunities, from international fast-food chains to local bakeries

Ice cream and bakeries

In the Nieuwendijk you can find the best ice cream of Amsterdam, and a couple of bakeries.

Further reasonably-priced eating opportunities are in and around Zeedijk



De Waag, Nieuwmarkt, formerly part of the city's defenses, now a restaurant




Beer shops and tasting rooms

The Binnenstad has a lot of beer shops and tasting rooms, and even a brewery and a distillery.

Bars and pubs

Avoid all bars in and around the Dam Square area, they're among the most expensive in the country. A beer will easily set you back €5, and the atmosphere is usually not that good. Better pubbing areas are the Nieuwmarkt and the small streets (such as Handboogstraat) that border the Spui. Also, there are some excellent specialty bars and tasting rooms for beer fans out there.



The Binnenstad is the area with the highest concentration of, along with most other attractions in Amsterdam, marijuana coffeeshops.


This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under €80
Mid-range €80 to €150
Splurge Over €150




Scheepvaarthuis, the first building in Amsterdam School style, now a hotel


Go next

The Binnenstad has an awful lot of museums, but quite frankly, most of them are not that good. The Anne Frank House in the Canal District is interesting, as are the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Zuid. An excellent addition to Amsterdam's already rich museum landscape is the Hermitage in Plantage, an annex of the famous museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

You can also take the ferry over the IJ from Amsterdam Centraal to Buiksloterweg in Noord. These are free of charge and provide nice views of the harbour and skyline. Then make a short walk to the EYE Film Institute for its architecture and visit the free exhibition in the basement (or see a film).

Routes through Binnenstad

END  N  S  Canal District Amstelveen
END  N  S  Rembrandtplein Waterlooplein Plantage Diemen
END  N  S  Canal District Zuid
West Canal District  W  E  END
END  W  E  Oost

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, January 06, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.