Amsterdam is known for its window brothels, wild nightlife, and coffeeshops selling soft drugs. Amsterdam is also famous for housing more bicycles than citizens, more canals than Venice, more bridges than Paris, and more crooked houses than any other place.
When you hear the Dutch capital’s name, we bet a lot of unusual sights and quirky activities pop into your mind.
To fully understand this vibrant city, we’ve prepared 33 things Amsterdam is famous for.
From peculiar symbols to strange snacks, and from mind-boggling architecture to eminent artists, let’s explore this vibrant city!
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The Most Famous Symbols of Amsterdam
Fast-moving cyclists, flags with unusual crosses, and fragrant flowers are everywhere you turn in the city. Let’s find out what are the most iconic things Amsterdam is known for.
- Bicycles. The Dutch love their bicycles. They probably learn to bike even before they learn to walk. To fully comprehend how much bicycles are part of the Dutch lifestyle, imagine this. In a city of 800,000 people, the number of bikes is close to 900,000! Cyclists are everywhere: in the narrow cobblestoned alleys, between the tram tracks, on the bridges, and even in the boats.
- The Three Xs. Contrary to popular belief, the symbol of Amsterdam – the three Xs – is not an abbreviation for adult entertainment. It represents three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. The saint was a fisherman, tortured on a cross in the 1st century. The crosses became the city’s symbol around the 16th century when Amsterdam was a small fishing town.
- Canals. Since 2010, Amsterdam’s canals have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 165 canals with a total length of 60 mi (75 km) crisscross the city. 1,753 bridges connect its islands. For comparison, Venice has 150 canals and 391 bridges, while only 37 bridges span the River Seine in Paris.
- Orange. The color is most associated with the Netherlands, despite not being present on the national flag. The reason is that the Royal Family originates from the House of Orange. If you want to see the whole city flooded with people wearing orange, visit Amsterdam on April 27, King’s Day. The sight is unbelievable.
- Windmills. The center of Amsterdam used to boast countless mills serving different purposes. Some helped prevent flooding, while others grounded mustard or crops. When the city grew, many windmills were relocated or dismantled. Today, only eight remain. Just one of them is still open to the public for tours and demonstrations. Molen van Sloten has been functioning since 1847.
- Crooked Houses. One of the most typical Amsterdam images is of a row of crooked houses. The reason for the unusual shape is that wooden poles hold the constructions. They’re drilled into the wet soil and constantly exposed to water. Over the centuries, the poles have sunk or twisted unevenly. This gave the historical houses of Amsterdam their typical crooked look. Another peculiarity is the buildings’ tilted façades. Since most of them are very narrow, you can’t bring anything bulky up the stairs. That’s why the houses lean towards the streets to make it easier to pull up goods through the windows.
- Tulips. The vibrant spring flowers were introduced to the Netherlands in 1593. At the peak of the tulip mania in the 17th century, tulips sold for approximately the value of a mansion on the Amsterdam Grand Canal. Nowadays, the best places to see the beautiful flowers are the Flower Market and Keukenhof Gardens.
- Clogs. In the Netherlands, people have worn clogs since the early 13th century. The purpose of the thick-soiled shoes was to protect the feet of workers, artisans, farmers, and fishermen. Today, you can buy clogs or clogs-shaped souvenirs in every gift shop in Amsterdam.
The Lifestyle Amsterdam Is Known For
The Dutch capital represents a funky fusion of different cultures and traditions. Below, you’ll find the way of life Amsterdam is famous for.
- Multicultural and Cosmopolitan. While Amsterdam’s urban population is under 1 million, people from 180 nationalities live in the city. But that’s not all that makes the Dutch capital so multicultural and cosmopolitan. Nearly 20 million visitors from all over the world explore the city every year. If you want to join them, plan your trip with the help of the best Amsterdam travel tips.
- Safest European City to Visit. Amsterdam is one of the safest places to travel. At #6, it’s one of the highest-ranked European cities in The Economist’s Safe Cities Report for 2021. Despite that, avoid doing these two things in Amsterdam, as they’ll put you in danger. Firstly, don’t photograph the brothels or their occupants in the red-light districts. Secondly, don’t buy and consume drugs on the streets of Amsterdam.
- The Oldest Chinatown in Europe. Being a multicultural city, Amsterdam hosts a Chinatown. It is the oldest in Europe. Chinese sailors settled in the area at the beginning of the 20th century. The district is one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods full of unique restaurants, shops, and saloons.
- Houseboats. Once a sign of poverty, nowadays they are some of the most sought-after accommodations in the city. Approximately 5,500 people live onboard 2,500 houseboats in the canals of Amsterdam. Many of the unique residences are more than 100 years old. They are permanently anchored to a specific address, for which the owner has a special permit. Tip: Looking for a unique accommodation? You can book your houseboat stay via this link.
- Sex Tourism. Amsterdam is known for being an international sex tourism destination. In the Netherlands, prostitution and owning a bordello is legal and regulated. In the red-light districts, you’ll find brothels, sex shops, peep shows, sex theaters, and sex museums.
- Red-light Districts. Amsterdam is home to three red-light areas: De Wallen, Ruysdaelkade, and Singelgebied. The most popular and provocative one is De Wallen, which is also the largest and oldest. Even if you’re only spending one day in Amsterdam, stroll its streets for a unique travel experience.
- Window Brothels. Speaking of De Wallen, the district is infamous for its window brothels. The neighborhood is a maze of alleys, housing around 300 one-room cabins. Ladies of the night rent the tiny spaces where they offer their sexual services. They sit or dance behind a window that has red lights on. It’s also the best area to explore if you’re looking for unique and unusual things to do in Amsterdam.
- Coffeeshops. Amsterdam is famous for its coffeeshops. Over 160 establishments sell mainly different marijuana strains. You can select your choice from a large menu. If you’re looking for a “normal” coffee place, visit a coffee house (koffiehuis in Dutch).
- The Nightlife. When it comes to nightlife, Amsterdam is world-famous. Venues, festivals, and parties will suit every taste. The city’s thriving club scene covers all bases. DJs entertain the crowd with everything from techno, dub step, and trance to hip-hop, funk, and deep house. Whether you’re looking for posh bars or abandoned warehouses, gigantic structures or off-beat basements, there’s no shortage of places to show your dance moves and pump your heartbeat in Amsterdam.
- Below Sea Level. Just like most of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is famous for being located below the sea level. The capital city has an average elevation of -6.5 ft. (-2 m). The lowest point is at an altitude of almost 23 ft. (7 m) below sea level.
- Unique Accommodations. Amsterdam is known for its quirky lodgings. You can choose between 17th-century buildings, quaint houseboats, and restored bridge houses. The best areas to stay in Amsterdam for an unusual experience are De Wallen, De Pijp, and Jordaan.
Interesting Facts Amsterdam Is Famous For
The Dutch capital will surprise you with a ton of cool and unusual things. Let’s discover the most peculiar facts Amsterdam is known for.
- Canal Cruises. Cruising Amsterdam’s canals is without a doubt the best way to explore the city. The tickets start from €12.50 ($14.70). Prices vary based on the starting pier, the trip duration, the type of the vessel, and what’s included in the tour. Click here to book our favorite canal cruise in Amsterdam!
- Free Ferries. Very few cities in the world offer free transportation options. Amsterdam is famous for being one of them. Departing behind the central station, you’ll find free connections across the River IJ. The blue-white boats carry pedestrians, cyclists, and mopeds to several piers in Amsterdam Noord.
- Transportation Hub. Amsterdam is a well-known transportation hub in Europe. Apart from one of the largest seaports in Europe, the Dutch capital also features a major train station and an important international airport. Amsterdam Centraal services the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, the U.K., and Switzerland. From Schiphol, you can fly non-stop to 209 cities worldwide.
- Islands. One of the coolest facts about Amsterdam is that approximately 90 islands form the city’s territory. Many of them are artificial. In fact, a man-made archipelago consisting of 10 islands was built in the last five years. Its purpose is to provide additional housing for the ever-growing population of Amsterdam.
- Cheese. The Netherlands is the biggest cheese exporter in the world. If your favorite cheese is Edam, Gouda, Leyden, Maasdam, or Limburger, then you can taste it in Amsterdam! The Dutch capital is the country’s cheese trading center. In other words, when in Amsterdam, try the cheeses.
- Dutch New Herring. Another popular treat you should devour in Amsterdam is Harring Hollandse Nieuwe. It is probably the most famous food in the Netherlands. This scrumptiousness consists of raw herring, gherkins, and chopped onions, served on bread or on its own.
- Beer. Since the 16th century, Amsterdam has been a major beer-brewing center. At the time, water in the city was unsafe to drink. Along with the world-famous Heineken, another excellent local brand you should sample is Amstel. If you fancy something stronger, order the Trappist brew La Trappe.
Famous Landmarks and People of Amsterdam
The city’s attractions hold records and tell fascinating stories. Fill your Amsterdam itinerary with the most famous spots and learn about the best-known people who lived in the city.
- Rembrandt. The most famous Dutch painter spent most of his life in Amsterdam. His best works await you at Rembrandt House and Rijksmuseum, together with the masterpieces of other Dutch masters. You can also explore a 3-D model of one of his most famous pieces, The Night Watch, on Rembrandtplein. A monument of Rembrandt himself overlooks the sculptures.
- Vincent van Gogh. The prominent Dutch post-impressionist painter spent his life between the Netherlands and Paris. In his short career, he managed to create over 2,000 artworks. His landscapes, natures mortes, portraits, and self-portraits are famous for the bold colors and dramatic brushstrokes. Nowadays, you can see a large number of his finest masterpieces at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It displays the world’s largest collection of the artist’s paintings and drawings.
- Anne Frank. The German-Dutch girl of Jewish descent is one of the most discussed victims of the Holocaust. She became known after her death, when The Diary of a Young Girl was published. In the script, Anne Frank documents her life in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. It is one of the world’s most famous books. You can learn about the life of Anne Frank and the Jewish heritage of Amsterdam during this historical walking tour.
- The Royal Palace. Amsterdam’s Royal Palace is the biggest and most prestigious building from the so-called Dutch Golden Age. During this period in the 17th century, Amsterdam was Europe’s most important city. The capital’s wealth came from trading on the high seas. In the past, the Royal Palace served as a city hall for magistrates. Today, the King and his entourage use it for events. You can visit the palace every day except when royal proceedings take place.
- Rijksmuseum. The famous museum boasts over 8,000 artworks and historical objects on display. Inside, you’ll find the masterpieces of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. Yearly, more than 2 million people explore them, making Rijksmuseum the most visited museum in the Netherlands.
- The Only Floating Flower Market in the World. The Amsterdam Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) is the only floating flower market in the world. The historic marketplace has existed for over 150 years. The unique stalls stand directly on houseboats, just like in the old days. You can find the most fragrant and vibrant place in the Dutch capital on the Singel Canal.
- The Largest Outdoor Market in Europe. Albert Cuypmarkt in Amsterdam is famous for being the largest outdoor market in Europe. The historic marketplace has been functioning since 1905. Its impressive 260 stands occupy approximately 2,000 ft. (600 m). On them, you’ll find anything from exotic fruits, fish, and flowers to books, leather goods, and clothing. Another thing the market is well-known for is the vendors’ typical Amsterdam humor.
How Many of the Things Amsterdam Is Known For Did You Already Know?
This wraps up our list with 33 things Amsterdam is popular for.
The Dutch capital abounds in art, culture, history, peculiar architecture, and crazy traditions.
One of our best Amsterdam travel tips for first-time visitors is to explore with an open mind and leave all your prejudice at home.
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What comes to mind first when you think of Amsterdam?
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