Top 10 photos and words that perfectly describe Amsterdam

Pinterest image of Mel posing on the I on Amsterdam's famous Iamsterdam sign with the text: "Top 10 photos and words that perfectly describe Amsterdam"

Top 10 photos and words that perfectly describe Amsterdam

Amsterdam may be known as the “naughty” capital of Europe with its infamous Red Light District and liberal stance on cannabis, but behind the racy facade is a city steeped in hundreds of years of maritime history, art and culture. If you ask visitors how they would describe Amsterdam, you’d get a different answer every time! But here are the top 10 photos and words that perfectly describe Amsterdam that everyone will agree on!


1) Iamsterdam

Formerly located 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 was meant to serve not only as part of the city’s promotional activities, but also to convey the city’s hugely diverse population.

However, it was estimated that 6,000 selfies were being taken with the sign every day. Officials were concerned about the increasing number of tourists in the area so removed it.

The sign now moves around the city to encourage tourists to visit lesser-known neighbourhoods.

There is also a second more permanent sign you can have your picture taken with at Schiphol Airport outside arrivals though!

Ice skating rink in front of the rijksmuseum with the Iamsterdam sign in the background

2) Canals

Believe it or not, Amsterdam actually has more canals than Venice! It has 165 canals with a combined length of 60 miles, which connect the whole city.

They’re lovely to walk along all year round and every street you go down offers a new perspective on Amsterdam. Especially with the beautiful canal houses adorning each side.

The canal houses are equally famous in their own right and actually have a cool history!

Thanks to the fast trades in Amsterdam, emerging merchants, artists and political classes who wanted to show off their new wealth built their homes along the canals.

But 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 them at the back. It’s this that makes the houses in Amsterdam so unique!

From first glance it appears that lots of the old canal houses in Amsterdam are leaning forwards as well. But they were actually built like this to make it easier to haul goods in via the hook and window on the front of the houses. Clever eh?

If you’d like to see more of Amsterdam’s canal belt, you can also take a Canal Boat Tour.

A row of canal houses in Amsterdam

3) Cannabis

Amsterdam is well-known for its liberal stance on cannabis use.

It’s one of the only places in Europe where public cannabis smoking is tolerated. The law on decriminalising it was initiated in 1976 in order to help crack down on other drug use.

It’s not illegal to smoke cannabis at local “Coffee Shops” and take a maximum of five grams home with you. However, where you smoke it in public spaces is restricted.

If you’d like to find out more about cannabis use in the Netherlands, you can visit the Cannabis College which provides education on Amsterdam’s favourite herb. 

Since opening in the late nineties, the college has become a hub for public lectures and gatherings.

It strives to provide visitors from across the globe with free, honest information regarding every aspect of the cannabis leaf.

If you’d like to experience this side of Amsterdam for yourself (but with a little guidance!), I recommend booking a Coffee Shop Tour.

You’ll learn all about the history and legalisation of cannabis as well as have the opportunity to try the cheapest, high quality cannabis in Amsterdam at Coffee Shops recommended by locals.

Hand showing a cannabis leaf

4) Red Light District

Amsterdam’s legal and regulated Red Light District is part of its history and culture. It’s one of the largest and most well-known Red Light Districts in the world.

The statue below 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.”

The government ensures that all sex workers are able to access medical care and work in good conditions by regulating and monitoring working practices and standards. 

If you want to learn more about the history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and how it operates within the city today, I recommend a walking tour with Get Your Guide.

It’s only £25 and will give you a greater understanding of how and why Amsterdam developed its reputation towards sex and drugs.

You’ll also learn how the Dutch government regulates the area to make it safe for workers and clients.

"Belle statue" in the red light district in Amsterdam

5) Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the Netherland’s most famous artists (and one of my personal favourites too!).

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam opened in 1973 and holds the most comprehensive collection of Vincent’s work in the world.

It includes more than 200 of his paintings, 500 drawings and hundreds of letters. As well as his Japanese prints and work by his contemporaries.

What’s wonderful about this museum is that you don’t actually need to be a fan of Van Gogh’s work to enjoy it (weirdly!). Gone are the days that you’re required to be an art aficionado to appreciate the works of fine artists!

Van Gogh’s paintings are beautifully expressive and colourful with unique detailing thanks to his trademark brush stroke. I think it’s this distinctive style that makes his work that more fascinating and enjoyable to look at personally!

The museum houses many of his most famous pieces including, “Sunflowers”, “The Potato Eaters” and “The Bedroom”. Unfortunately, one of his most popular and renowned paintings, “The Starry Night” is in The Museum of Modern Art in New York, boo!

But there’s lots to learn in this fab modern museum about Van Gogh’s colourful work and his equally colourful life.

His work is a must-see whilst visiting Amsterdam!

Self portrait of Van Goph in the Van Goph Museum in Amsterdam

6) Bikes

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 need to watch out for!

Cycling is a big part of Amsterdam’s character and with 248 miles of cycle paths, it’s the best way to get around the city besides the great tram links.

The city authority claims there are around 600,000 bikes in the city alone!

If you’d like to explore Amsterdam by bike and feel more like the locals, I highly recommend going on an Amsterdam Bike Tour. It’s so much fun!

Rows of bikes stacked up outside a building in Amsterdam

7) clogs

You won’t see anyone actually wearing clogs in Amsterdam but they’re still a big part of the country’s heritage and culture.

The first clogs (or klompen) appeared at least 850 years ago, with the oldest wooden shoe known being found in the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam dating back to 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 visit Amsterdam! Exhibit A: embarrassing tourist moment below!

Clogs are still worn in rural parts of the country, especially in agriculture. They’re great for walking on muddy ground and can easily be removed. Once, they’re worn down, they’re used for firewood, so have dual purposes!

Mel stood in giant clogs and giving a thumbs up in Amsterdam

8) Tulips

Although Amsterdam is well known for tulips, they’re actually indigenous to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan 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!).

But it’s not just tulips that Amsterdam is known for, they have specialised in flower markets since the 17th century.

It’s even home to the world’s only floating flower market which is open six days a week.

Tulips at a flower market in Amsterdam

9) maritime history

Amsterdam has a deep rooted maritime history which began around 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, 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, I highly recommend checking out Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum as it houses the world’s largest maritime collections, including: paintings, ship models, navigation instruments and sea charts.

It’s one of my favourite museums in Amsterdam and has some incredibly fascinating artefacts!

Ship model at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam

10) Street Art

Amsterdam has a rich street art scene where graffiti plays an important role.

Amsterdam even houses the world’s largest street art museum. It has an international collection of more than 150 objects, paintings, sculptures and installations!

What’s so fantastic about the street art in Amsterdam is that it’s everywhere! You never know what you’ll find when you turn a corner in the city!

Amsterdam municipality has an interesting approach towards the graffiti artists. By creating legal opportunities and places to paint they aim to decriminalise the whole activity. They promote the most interesting artists and then give them commissions to paint.

Street art in Amsterdam of ET and Elliot in the moonlight


Have you ever been to Amsterdam? How would you describe Amsterdam? 😄

Quick FYI guys – this post contains affiliate links to various tours. I will receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for your support!

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