Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and its largest city. It started as a dam on the river Amstel, "Amstelredamme" and the name stayed virtually the same. From a small fishing village in the late 12th century, it became the most important city of commerce in Holland and especially during the 17th and 18th century was home to wealthy merchants.
Amsterdam is a lively, vibrant city with a population of around 800,000 people within the city limits, an urban population of 1,200,000 and a metropolitan population of almost 2,200,000. It is a fascinating city where modernity mixes easily with seven centuries of history.
The city is dominated by a concentric system of canals, lined with rows of trees and beautiful 17th and 18th century merchant's houses. A trip in a boat along the canals is a great experience. There are many squares, each with their own atmosphere and cafés and restaurants. The central point of the city is the Dam, featuring the Royal Palace and the National Monument, among others. From there the busy Damrak leads to the Central Station and there are shopping streets like the pedestrian-only Kalverstraat that leads to the Muntplein, formerly the city's mint.
There is a lot of culture in Amsterdam: museums like the famous Rijksmuseum, with the most complete collection of Dutch paintings from the 15th-19th century, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandthuis, among others; there are beautiful churches, some dating back from as long ago as the 14th Century, and theatres and concert halls. But the most appealing aspect of Amsterdam is its atmosphere, especially in the old city centre where just walking along the canals and enjoying the sights is most rewarding.