Amsterdam is an exciting place – it is the capital of the Netherlands and has over 80 thousand people. Amsterdam is a hub of culture, politics, and art. Of course, most people will hear the name “Amsterdam” and immediately think of coffee shops and canals – and of course, the famous Red Light District — but there are dozens of other interesting facts about Amsterdam – so let’s get started.
The most interesting facts about Amsterdam
1. Amsterdam used to be called Amstelredam
Amsterdam is only the modern version of the name of the city – when it was founded, it was called Amstrelredam. The origins of the city’s name come from its location on the river Amstel. Formerly a small fishing village, the city was founded on a dam built to control the Amstel river’s flooding in the 13th century known as the Amstel dam. By 1300, the area gained official city status as ‘Amsterdam’.
Amsterdam is also nicknamed Mokum, after the Yiddish word for ‘safe place’ – this is because it was considered a safe haven for European Jews during the Holocaust.
2. Amsterdam is built on 11 million wooden poles
Amsterdam is below sea level, which is obviously not great as it means the ground is very wet. Amsterdam is built on clay soil, which is very soft and can shift about. Without the poles that support the city, the buildings of Amsterdam could move around, which could cause huge damage. In fact, some of the canal-front houses look slightly tilted, earning them the nickname Dancing Houses.
The Central Railway Station stands on 8687 wooden poles, while the Royal Palace at Dam Square is built on an incredible 13,659 poles – though thankfully they are also reinforced regularly to avoid them ‘dancing’ as well. Most old houses in the city centre are supported by 10 poles, but houses today are mostly built on concrete poles instead.
3. Amsterdam has the smallest house in Europe
The smallest house in Europe is in Amsterdam, and it is only 2.02 metres wide and 5 metres deep. However, while this is the smallest house, Amsterdam often surprises people by having a lot of very narrow and very tall buildings that front on to the canals. These houses were built to evade property tax, as canal-front buildings were historically taxed based on their width – this meant that people usually tried to build the narrowest homes they could. In contrast to this, the widest home in Amsterdam is 22 metres wide, named The Trippenhuis, after the Trip Brothers who had it built.
4. There are 4 times more bridges in Amsterdam than in Venice
Amsterdam is already well-known for its canals, called Grachten – and not without cause. There are over 160 canals, which total around 100km. This means that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. However, the Amsterdam bridges are less well known despite there being a staggering number – in total, Amsterdam has 1281 bridges, which is 4 times more than Venice.
Some of the most famous canals in Amsterdam are Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, which act as concentric transport belts through the city. Some of the most iconic bridges in Amsterdam include the Magere Brug, featured in many films and TV shows, and the Torensluis Brug, the oldest standing bridge in Amsterdam.
5. There are 2500 boathouses in Amsterdam
Unsurprisingly, the waterways of Amsterdam mean that a lot of people choose to live in boathouses. There are roughly 2500 houseboats in the city, many of which are over 100 years old. While houseboats are a great solution to the housing crisis in Amsterdam, they are also interesting to tourists and locals alike, and there is a Houseboat Museum that is well worth a visit.
Boathouses aren’t only a sanctuary for humans in Amsterdam. The Catboat is a cat refuge and animal sanctuary situated entirely on a boat. It’s the world’s only floating animal rescue centre in the world.
6. Amsterdam has the only floating flower market in the world
Amsterdam has so many barges and boats that there is even a floating flower market. This market was founded when traders would transport their goods into the city via barge, but nowadays it is secured on fixed barges. Nonetheless, it is considered one of the most vibrant and fragrant parts of the city to visit. The flower market is open from Monday to Saturday every week, come rain or shine.
7. There are 4 times more bicycles than cars in Amsterdam
Since Amsterdam has so many canals and fewer roads, cars are actually pretty uncommon in Amsterdam compared to other cities. In fact, there are 4 times more bikes than cars, since bicycles are easy and convenient for getting around the central part of the city. In total, this comes to around 881,000 bikes in Amsterdam. Shockingly, around 12,000 to 15,000 bikes are fished out of the canals every year – which means a lot of people are losing their bikes to the canals! Bicycles getting stuck in the canals has become such a big problem that ‘bike fisherman‘ is actually a job now, to help keep the canals clear of debris.
8. Amsterdam has the highest museum density in the world
There are over 90 museums in Amsterdam, giving it the highest museum density of any city in the world. If you’re unsure what museums you might want to visit in Amsterdam with so much choice, there are some that are generally considered the best museums in Amsterdam, such as the Van Gogh Museum and The Rijksmuseum of art and artefacts. There are also some quirky museums such as the Moco Museum of subversive art. One of the quirkiest is The Cat Cabinet – a museum all about cats, complete with cat art, cat sculptures, and even resident cats.
9. Amsterdam has more than 160 coffeeshops
“Coffeeshops” are features of Amsterdam that are internationally well-known. Coffeeshops usually sell coffee and tea, but unlike in the UK, they are also places where people can buy and use cannabis products. These locations are strictly monitored and some are only accessible to locals, though most coffeeshops in Amsterdam are open to tourists as well – which is one reason why Amsterdam is such a popular tourist location. Amsterdam has over 160 coffeeshops, but in 1993 this was over 400 – the numbers have decreased due to stricter policies in recent years, for example, the policy that coffeeshops cannot sell alcohol.
10. Heineken was founded in Amsterdam
Heineken is a popular beer all over the world now, but it was founded in Amsterdam in The Haystack brewery. Heineken lager was first brewed by Gerard Adriaan Heineken in 1873. In 2011 roughly 2.7 billion litres of Heineken lager were brewed. If you want to learn more about Heineken and the history of the beer, there is the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam.
The most interesting Amsterdam Red Light District facts
11. The Red Light District’s local name is De Wallen
As is often the case, the origin of the name De Wallen is in dispute. The name translates to ‘The Walls’, and is thought to reference the walled area of the canal docks that De Wallen now occupies. Another theory is that ‘wall’ can be a slang term for paid sex or prostitution. Either way, the local name is De Wallen, but most people across the world know it as the Red Light District.
12. The Red Light District has blue lights too
The Red Light District has plenty of red lights, showing that an establishment offers paid sex services, but there are also blue lights. Red lights are used by cisgendered sex workers, and blue lights are used by transgender sex workers. The varied colours were introduced to help clients find the kind of service they are looking for when they go out to enjoy Amsterdam nightlife.
13. The Red Light District has the only museum of prostitution in the world
Red Light Secrets is the only prostitution museum in the world. It is set in an old brothel, unchanged since the days when they had clients visit for paid sex. There are also exhibitions covering the history of prostitution, diaries of prostitutes, and chilling information on the unsolved murder of Chinese Annie, a prostitute who was murdered in the very same brothel that the museum is in.
14. The Red Light District is also famous for its architecture
While most people visit the Red Light District with one thing in mind, De Wallen also houses a lot of famous buildings and interesting architecture. The oldest house in Amsterdam is Warmoessrtraat 90, and is believed to have been erected in 1485. De Wallen also has the oldest church in Amsterdam, called Oude Kerk, which literally translates to ‘old church’. It’s also worth trying to walk down Trompettersteeg, the narrowest street in Amsterdam, which is so narrow that it is a single-file street – just try not to get stuck if someone else is walking the other way.
On a final note
Amsterdam is a city with a rich history and culture, thanks to its unique architecture and interesting origins. It is a dream holiday destination for a lot of people due to the huge options of fun things to do in Amsterdam, such as cycling along the historic streets, visiting the wealth of museums, and sampling coffee and cannabis in the coffeeshops.
If you’re visiting Amsterdam for a city break, check out our ClinkNOORD youth hostel in Amsterdam for a friendly affordable place to stay. We also offer cheap group accommodation in Amsterdam if you’re planning a group gateway or a stag do.