• Photo: © Halie Cousineau/ Fodors Travel

Centrum

As you walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station, you'll be heading toward the commercial center of the Amsterdam and the place where most visitors organically converge—the Dam, the heart of the city since a dam was built over the Amstel in the 12th century. Home to the Royal Palace (Het Koninklijk Paleis, the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk church, and the oddly phallic National Monument, the Dam itself is a bit anticlimactic, but it fulfills the role of focal point for protests and celebrations. There are lots of international-chain shopping opportunities in the pedestrianized Nieuwendijk and Kalverstraat leading off the Dam. The top cultural stops here are the Amsterdam Museum and the peaceful Begijnhof, the best known of the almshouses built round a central courtyard or hofje. The entrance to this can be found off graceful Spui, which is the literary headquarters of the city–-it's a beautiful square with a clutch of great bookshops, and it hosts famous book and art markets.

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