Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands. Found within the Dutch province of North Holland, Amsterdam is colloquially referred to as the "Venice of the North", due to the large number of canals which form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amsterdam is primarily known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled façades; well-preserved legacies of the city's 17th-century Golden Age. These characteristics are arguably responsible for attracting millions of Amsterdam's visitors annually. Cycling is key to the city's character, and there are numerous biking paths and lanes spread throughout the entire city.

During the later part of the 16th century, Amsterdam's Rederijkerskamer (Chamber of rhetoric) organised contests between different Chambers in the reading of poetry and drama. In 1637, Schouwburg, the first theatre in Amsterdam was built, opening on 3 January 1638. The first ballet performances in the Netherlands were given in Schouwburg in 1642 with the Ballet of the Five Senses. In the 18th century, French theatre became popular. While Amsterdam was under the influence of German music in the 19th century there were few national opera productions; the Hollandse Opera of Amsterdam was built in 1888 for the specific purpose of promoting Dutch opera. In the 19th century, popular culture was centred on the Nes area in Amsterdam (mainly vaudeville and music-hall). An improved metronome was invented in 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel. The Rijksmuseum (1885) and Stedelijk Museum (1895) were built and opened.In 1888, the Concertgebouworkest orchestra was established.

Amsterdam's main attractions include its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, the Concertgebouw, the Anne Frank House, the Scheepvaartmuseum, the Amsterdam Museum, the Heineken Experience, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Natura Artis Magistra, Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, NEMO, the red-light district and many cannabis coffee shops. It drew more than 5 million international visitors in 2014. The city is also well known for its nightlife and festival activity; with several of its nightclubs (Melkweg, Paradiso) among the world's most famous.

A few of Amsterdam's notable residents throughout its history include: painters Rembrandt and Van Gogh, the diarist Anne Frank, and philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

The most important museums of Amsterdam are located on the Museumplein (Museum Square), located at the southwestern side of the Rijksmuseum. It was created in the last quarter of the 19th century on the grounds of the former World's fair. The northeastern part of the square is bordered by the large Rijksmuseum. In front of the Rijksmuseum on the square itself is a long, rectangular pond. This is transformed into an ice rink in winter. The northwestern part of the square is bordered by the Van Gogh Museum, House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience and Coster Diamonds. The southwestern border of the Museum Square is the Van Baerlestraat, which is a major thoroughfare in this part of Amsterdam. The Concertgebouw is located across this street from the square. To the southeast of the square are several large houses, one of which contains the American consulate. A parking garage can be found underneath the square, as well as a supermarket. The Museumplein is covered almost entirely with a lawn, except for the northeastern part of the square which is covered with gravel. The current appearance of the square was realised in 1999, when the square was remodelled. The square itself is the most prominent site in Amsterdam for festivals and outdoor concerts, especially in the summer. Plans were made in 2008 to remodel the square again because many inhabitants of Amsterdam are not happy with its current appearance.

The Rijksmuseum possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. It opened in 1885. Its collection consists of nearly one million objects. The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt's masterpiece The Night Watch is one of the top pieces of art of the museum. It also houses paintings from artists like Bartholomeus van der Helst, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter. Aside from paintings, the collection consists of a large variety of decorative art. This ranges from Delftware to giant doll-houses from the 17th century. The architect of the gothic revival building was P.J.H. Cuypers. The museum underwent a 10-year, 375 million euro renovation starting in 2003. The full collection was reopened to the public on 13 April 2013 and the Rijksmuseum has remained the most visited museum in Amsterdam with 2.2 million visitors in 2016 and 2.16 million in 2017.

Van Gogh lived in Amsterdam for a short while and there is a museum dedicated to his work. The museum is housed in one of the few modern buildings in this area of Amsterdam. The building was designed by Gerrit Rietveld. This building is where the permanent collection is displayed. A new building was added to the museum in 1999. This building, known as the performance wing, was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. Its purpose is to house temporary exhibitions of the museum. Some of Van Gogh's most famous paintings, like The Potato Eaters and Sunflowers, are in the collection. The Van Gogh museum is the second most visited museum in Amsterdam, not far behind the Rijksmuseum in terms of the number of visits, being approximately 2.1 million in 2016, for example.

Next to the Van Gogh museum stands the Stedelijk Museum. This is Amsterdam's most important museum of modern art. The museum is as old as the square it borders and was opened in 1895. The permanent collection consists of works of art from artists like Piet Mondrian, Karel Appel, and Kazimir Malevich. After renovations lasting several years, the museum opened in September 2012 with a new composite extension that has been called 'The Bathtub' due to its resemblance to one.

Amsterdam contains many other museums throughout the city. They range from small museums such as the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum), the Anne Frank House, and the Rembrandt House Museum, to the very large, like the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics), Amsterdam Museum (formerly known as Amsterdam Historical Museum), Hermitage Amsterdam (a dependency of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg) and the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum). The modern-styled Nemo is dedicated to child-friendly science exhibitions.

Amsterdam has a world-class symphony orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Their home is the Concertgebouw, which is across the Van Baerlestraat from the Museum Square. It is considered by critics to be a concert hall with some of the best acoustics in the world. The building contains three halls, Grote Zaal, Kleine Zaal, and Spiegelzaal. Some nine hundred concerts and other events per year take place in the Concertgebouw, for a public of over 700,000, making it one of the most-visited concert halls in the world. The opera house of Amsterdam is located adjacent to the city hall. Therefore, the two buildings combined are often called the Stopera, (a word originally coined by protesters against it very construction: Stop the Opera). This huge modern complex, opened in 1986, lies in the former Jewish neighbourhood at Waterlooplein next to the river Amstel. The Stopera is the home base of Dutch National Opera, Dutch National Ballet and the Holland Symfonia. Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ is a concert hall, which is located in the IJ near the central station. Its concerts perform mostly modern classical music. Located adjacent to it, is the Bimhuis, a concert hall for improvised and Jazz music.

The Stadsschouwburg at the Leidseplein is the home base of Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The current building dates from 1894. Most plays are performed in the Grote Zaal (Great Hall). The normal program of events encompasses all sorts of theatrical forms. In 2009, the new hall of the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, Toneelgroep Amsterdam and Melkweg opened, and the renovation of the front end of the theatre was ready.

The Dutch National Opera and Ballet (formerly known as Het Muziektheater), dating from 1986, is the principal opera house and home to Dutch National Opera and Dutch National Ballet. Royal Theatre Carré was built as a permanent circus theatre in 1887 and is currently mainly used for musicals, cabaret performances, and pop concerts.

The recently re-opened DeLaMar Theater houses more commercial plays and musicals. A new theatre has also moved into the Amsterdam scene in 2014, joining other established venues: Theater Amsterdam is located in the west part of Amsterdam, on the Danzigerkade. It is housed in a modern building with a panoramic view over the harbour. The theatre is the first-ever purpose-built venue to showcase a single play entitled ANNE, the play based on Anne Frank's life.

On the east side of town, there is a small theatre in a converted bathhouse, the Badhuistheater. The theatre often has English programming.

The Netherlands has a tradition of cabaret or kleinkunst, which combines music, storytelling, commentary, theatre and comedy. Cabaret dates back to the 1930s and artists like Wim Kan, Wim Sonneveld and Toon Hermans were pioneers of this form of art in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam is the Kleinkunstacademie (English: Cabaret Academy) and Nederlied Kleinkunstkoor (English: Cabaret Choir). Contemporary popular artists are Youp van 't Hek, Freek de Jonge, Herman Finkers, Hans Teeuwen, Theo Maassen, Herman van Veen, Najib Amhali, Raoul Heertje, Jörgen Raymann, Brigitte Kaandorp and Comedytrain. The English spoken comedy scene was established with the founding of Boom Chicago in 1993. They have their own theatre at Leidseplein.

Famous festivals and events in Amsterdam include: Koningsdag (which was named Koninginnedag until the crowning of King Willem-Alexander in 2013) (King's Day – Queen's Day); the Holland Festival for the performing arts; the yearly Prinsengrachtconcert (classical concerto on the Prinsen canal) in August; the 'Stille Omgang' (a silent Roman Catholic evening procession held every March); Amsterdam Gay Pride; The Cannabis Cup; and the Uitmarkt. On Koningsdag—that is held each year on 27 April—hundreds of thousands of people travel to Amsterdam to celebrate with the city's residents. The entire city becomes overcrowded with people buying products from the freemarket, or visiting one of the many music concerts.

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