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What is I amsterdam?

The I amsterdam letters

I amsterdam” is Amsterdam’s hugely successful marketing slogan.

i amsterdam sign

The main I amsterdam letters at the back of the Rijksmuseum. Photographed in the winter, when the reflection pool is used an an ice skating rink.

Launched in September, 2004, the sign — at the back of the Rijksmuseum — has become one of the city’s most photographed icons. You rarely see the letters without people in front, behind, or on top of the slogan — taking photos and selfies which help market the city through social media.

Amsterdam Marketing happily estimates the letters are photographed some 6.000 times a day. ‘Happily,’ because the original intention — marketing Amsterdam abroad in the wake of the financial crisis — has worked far beyond expectation.

In fact, now that (according to a growing number of locals) Amsterdam is “overrun” with tourists, many Amsterdammers believe the sign has worked too well, and has overstayed its welcome.1

The marketing folks, meanwhile, have changed their focus from attracting tourists to promoting the city as an ideal place to do business, organize international conferences and congresses, and locate or relocate company headquarters or satellite offices.

What is the meaning of the I Amsterdam sign?

The sentiment behind the slogan was, ostensibly, to make Amsterdammers feel good about themselves:

Amsterdam’s strongest asset is its people.
The people who live here, who work here, who study or visit here.
The people of Amsterdam are Amsterdam.
We are Amsterdam.
I amsterdam
– Amsterdam Partners2

The larger message (intended or not): Amsterdammers are happy. Tourists are happy. Expats are happy.

Indeed, Quality of Life surveys — used by international companies to decided where to locate their offices — generally rank Amsterdam highly.

Where is the I Amsterdam sign?

i amsterdam sign

The I amsterdam sign and its shadow, as seen on the 3D version of Google Maps

The main set of letters is located at the back of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ premier art museum — just a stone throw from the Van Gogh Museum (which houses the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world).

Take trams 2, 3, 5 or 12 to get there (stops listed on the map).

A second set of the I Amsterdam letters is found at the plaza of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Meanwhile a third, smaller version travels around the city. It pops up at events — such as fashion shows, fairs, festivals and congresses — but also at museums, along the river IJ, or just about anywhere else.3

gay pride i amsterdam sign

No joke: On April 1, 2016 the move-about sign was decked out in rainbow colors to celebrate the fact that the Netherlands was, 15 years earlier, the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The first weddings were held in Amsterdam.

Finally, a scaled-down version lives in the courtyard of the Amsterdam Museum (a must-see, by the way).

And of course you’ll find the I amsterdam phrase printed on every imaginable souvenir.

I Amsterdam Letters Trivia

  • The main sign is 2 meters (6.5 feet) high and 24 meters (26 yards) long
  • On average each letter weighs about 250 kilo (551 pound)
  • Nevertheless, one night in February 2010, two of the letters ‘went missing.’
  • Warning stickers on the side of the sign state that the letters are not meant to be climbed on
  • The I amsterdam motto was designed in 2004, by advertising agency KesselsKramer
  • Two years earlier designer Vanessa van Dam created and printed an ‘IAmsterdammer’ postcard with an accent on the first three letters. Though it was determined her design was not plagiarized, the City bought the right to her logo for € 20.000
  • Cities and countries around the world have copied Amsterdam’s slogan in one form or another
  • The I amsterdam City Card is a really good deal

Notes:

  1. Amsterdam’s 800.000+ residents in 2016 saw an estimated 12 million visitors — from the Netherlands and from abroad — visit their city
  2. When the ‘I amsterdam’ phrase was introduced, Amsterdam Partners was the “platform for city marketing in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.” It has since been renamed, Amsterdam Marketing
  3. See: Where are the travelling letters now?
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This post was last updated: Oct. 7, 2017