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10 photos that perfectly describe Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famous for many things, canals, Coffee Shops, bikes, and of course it’s Red Light District. But this city has many cultural and historical layers that make it the amazing place it is today. If you ask anybody who has visited Amsterdam how they best describe it, you would get a different answer every single time. Here are some of my favourite pictures I took whilst in Amsterdam that I think best describe Amsterdam for those that haven’t had the pleasure to visit just yet…

1) Iamsterdam Sign

Iamsterdam SignLocated at the back of the Rijksmuseum, the large Iamsterdam slogan quickly became a city icon and a much sought-after photo opportunity for tourists. It’s meant to serve not only as part of the city’s promotional activities, but also to convey the city’s hugely diverse population. The sign is meant to convey Amsterdam’s inclusiveness: everyone should be able to say, “I Am Amsterdam” and be proud. Don’t bother queuing when you approach it, just dive in when there is even a hint of some space as the sign is a free for all in Amsterdam! It’s marketing genius if you ask me.

2) Bikes

Bikes and Town Houses Amsterdam

This is not a stereotype, the Amsterdammers love their bikes. Forget looking either way when you cross the road for cars, it’s the bikes you’re more in danger of being run over by! The city authority claims there are around 600,000 bikes in the city alone. Cycling is key to the city’s character and with 248 miles of cycle paths it’s the best way to get around the city besides the terrific tram links.

3) Clogs and Tulips*

Clogs and Tulips Amsterdam

You won’t see anyone actually wearing clogs in Amsterdam but they’re still a big part of the country’s heritage and culture. Clogs (or klompen) are still worn in rural parts of the country, especially in agriculture as they’re great for walking on muddy ground and can easily be removed. They also had dual uses as once the clogs had worn down they were used as fire wood. The first clogs appeared at least 850 years ago and the oldest wooden shoe known was found in the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam dated around 1230. About six million souvenir clogs are produced in the Netherlands each year and you’ll no doubt be one of them when you go visit!

Although Amsterdam is well known for tulips, they’re actually indigenous to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of central Asia. They were originally brought to Amsterdam in 1593 and tulip mania subsequently followed! Today over four billion tulip bulbs are planted each year and continue to be popular, there’s even a whole museum in Amsterdam dedicated to them (which is a bit cheesy but actually quite good!).

*please pardon my typical tourist moment here outside a gift shop!

4) Amsterdam’s maritime history

Ship Model Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a deep rooted maritime history. The origins of the city lie in the 12th century, when fishermen living along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway. The mouth of the river Amstel, where the Damrak is now (running between Amsterdam Centraal in the North and Dam Square in the South), formed a natural harbour, which became important for trading exchange. Out of the marshlands and swamps surrounding the Amstel River, a structure of dams and dikes were forged, the first of which is marked by Dam Square in the heart of the city today. If you have time check out Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum for more info on the history.

5) Canal Houses

Town Houses Amsterdam

Amsterdam has the most beautiful canal houses in the world, they’re so iconic. Because of the fast trades in Amsterdam, emerging merchants, artists and political classes who wanted to show off their new wealth made their homes along the canals. Due to space restrictions as the city grew during the 1600s, a policy of taxing buildings by the width of the front of the houses came in. Residents in Amsterdam got round this by building their houses tall and slim at the front and extending their houses at the back which is what makes them so unique.

From first glance is appears that lots of the old canal houses in Amsterdam are leaning forwards but it’s not true. The houses were actually built like that to make it easier to haul everything in via the hook and window at the front of the house. Clever eh?

6) The Red Light District

Belle Statue Amsterdam

Understandably, there is a zero tolerance policy on photography in the Red Light District but it’s important to mention as Amsterdam has one of the largest and most well known Red Light Districts in the world. This statue titled “Belle” was placed in the heart of Amsterdam as a way of honouring sex workers in the Red Light District. The plaque reads: “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Prostitution is actual legal in Amsterdam, the government ensures that all prostitutes are able to access medical care and work in better conditions by regulating and monitoring working practices and standards. Since October 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally ply their trade and also pay tax.

7) Politie

Police Bikes Amsterdam

Contrary to popular belief Amsterdam is one of the top 25 safest cities in the world, with a much lower crime rate than many other popular European capitals. I think Amsterdam has a global stigma that is attached with soft drug use in Coffee Shops and the Red Light District but they are probably the safest areas in the city. The Red Light District has a Politie (or ‘Police’) Station on both sides of the district and private bodyguards are employed by the girls themselves that are always on duty. The only danger in Amsterdam like in any city is mostly pick pockets so as long as you’re always aware of that, you’re probably safer in Amsterdam then you are at home!

8) Art history meets the modern day

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The synergy between the old and the new is perfectly represented in the Rijksmuseum. The museum houses over one million objects dedicated to arts, crafts, and history from 1200 to 2000. The original building opened in 1885 but additions have been made with beautiful new architectural installations inside. This photo is of the entrance lobby at the Rijksmuseum which as you can see is simply stunning. If you don’t get time to go to any other museums whilst in Amsterdam, make this the one on your trip.

9) Street Art

Street Art Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a rich, street art scene, where graffiti plays an important role. What’s so fantastic about the street art is that it’s everywhere in Amsterdam, you never know what you’ll find when you turn the corner! Amsterdam municipality has an interesting approach towards the graffiti artists, trying to decriminalise the whole activity by creating legal opportunities and places to paint. They promote the most interesting graffiti painters to the status of an artist, sponsor them and give them commissions to decorate. The photo above is actually someone’s garage door, I just loved it.

10) Canals


Although a little dark because it was taken in Winter, this picture captures the essence of Amsterdam with it’s canals connecting the whole city. Amsterdam has 165 canals with a combined length of 60 miles! They’re beautiful to walk down all year round and every street you go down offers a new perspective on the city. Canal tours are a must when visiting Amsterdam so make sure you to catch one when you visit. There are loads of companies operating them so you won’t need to book.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? Are there any descriptions you would add? Comment below :)

Mel x

About the author

Hi, I’m Mel! The adventure-seeking vegan travel blogger behind Footsteps on the Globe. On this blog you'll find my latest adventures, travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks on how to be vegan around the world. You don’t have to give up being vegan to follow your travel dreams and I’m here to show you how!