Dam Square

What to see at Dam Square
What to do
Where is the dam?
Shops along the square
Cafes, pubs and Eateries
Hotels at or near Dam Square
How to get to Dam Square
Map of Dam Square and surroundings
Video: The History of the square
More about ‘the Dam’
Was Amsterdam named after a dam in the river Amstel? (Other page)

© Dutchamsterdaml.nl — Dam Square is Amsterdam’s best-known square, and it is a handy central location from which to explore the medieval city centre.

As the site of the Royal Palace, Dam square often is the focus of events of national importance — as in the annual Remembrance Day (May 4) ceremonies which take place at the National Monument, commemorating those who died during the Second World War.

National Monument at Dam Square, Amsterdam

National Monument at Dam Square, Amsterdam, commemorating those who have died during World War II

Several times a year the square is the site of a funfair. From time to time there are other events as well, such as concerts, sports events or a used-books market.

Usually the square is home to a number of living statues and other buskers. At times protests are organized here.

Many people feel that Dam Square itself doesn’t have the allure and ambience of other big city squares. A relatively recent redesign hasn’t helped much either. The square’s distinctive cobblestones were discarded and replaced by, well, other distinctive cobblestones that have turned the place into a challenge for, among others, those who wear high heels.

The street furniture is uninspired and out of touch with the general setting.

The square could do with a fountain or two, perhaps, and certainly with some color: a lot more trees, for instance. And while we’re at it, some establishments where something to eat and drink doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

And yet, miss Dam Square and you haven’t really seen Amsterdam. The Dam is the city’s beating heart.

What to see at Dam Square

  • Royal Palace
    When it was completed this neoclassical building was referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but you’ll have to go inside to see why someone would think that. Though the outside doesn’t promise much — in part because the once white sandstone facade has over the centuries taken on a grey/brownish appearance — inside you’ll be treated to opulent beauty. The building started out in 1655 as Amsterdam’s City Hall, but was re-purposed as a palace in 1808 by the brother of Napoleon. A definite must-see
  • Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)
    This 15th century gothic building is the site of Royal coronations and weddings, as well as art exhibitions, but not of church services.
  • National Monument
    Erected in 1956 to memorialize the victims of World War II. Visitors often marvel at the fact that people are allowed to sit all around the monument, but the Dutch government says that’s simply a reflection of the freedom we enjoy.
  • Madame Tussauds
    In our opinion visiting this branch of the famous wax museum is one of those things not to do in Amsterdam. It’s expensive and often quite crowded. If you do go, you’ll enjoy a great panoramic view of Dam Square and Damrak from the round picture window at the top floor.

There are several other monumental buildings, a few cafes, and some shops.

The building with the ugly façade — next to Bijenkorf — is an office complex designed by Cees Dam. The architect is also known as the designer of the Stopera — the monstrosity that serves as combination city hall/opera building — as well as the Options Exchange building at Rokin.

Royal Palace and New Church at Amsterdam Dam Square

Royal Palace and New Church at Amsterdam Dam Square

What these buildings have in common is that they are ugly, especially since they are totally out of context with neighbouring buildings. In our opinion people who design these type of projects in those kind of settings, and the people who allow them to be built, hate Amsterdam.

Things to do at Dam Square

  • People-Watch
    Just like in the rest of Amsterdam the whole world passes by your eyes. You’ll see flocks of giggling school girls and small herds of business men on their lunch break; spike-haired youths who have never outgrown the punk era and overdressed ladies trying to look important in their real or fake fur coats; and anyone from evangelists to, well, other tourists. In fact, try and determine the number of different people groups you can spot. Amsterdam itself is home to people from over 170 nationalities — and the city attracts visitors from literally around the world
  • Sit at the monument
    In the late Sixties Amsterdam was a mecca for hippies. They held their love-ins at Vondelpark, where many also spent the night. The Dam was another popular meeting point, and many hippies slept there overnight — the so-called ‘Damslapers’ (Dam sleepers). A new city ordinance brought and end to the practice in August 1970, largely due to the nuisance the hippies represented but also because many older Amsterdammers wanted to see more respect for the war monument. The city did provide two so-called Sleep-ins, dorms where folks could spend the night at roch-bottom prices. Over time sitting (though not sleeping overnight) at the monument became accepted as a reflection of the freedom Amsterdam represents
  • Watch the buskers
    Personally we don’t care much for the living statues. But if there’s a busker — across from Madame Tussauds on the palace side of the square — you’re in for a treat
  • Shop
  • Ride a horse-drawn carriage
    In front of the palace, close to the New Church, you’ll often find a number of horse-drawn carriages. There is a choice of tours: through the Old City, along the Canals, through the Red Light District or the Jordaan neighborhood. Hotels in the city center can also order a carriage to be used instead of a taxi. Expect to pay anywhere from €35 for a 20 minute tour, to €85 for 60 minutes (maximum of 4 people per carriage).
  • [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIbKXnlgOME]
  • Get prayed for — or converted
    Street evangelists representing different denominations — and sometimes religious cults — like Dam square. At times Christians sporting ‘Free prayers’ jackets offer just that: a free prayer. A mission organization has been known to perform drama skits with an evangelistic theme.
  • Wear a giant wooden shoe
    Outside Dam Square Souvenirs tourists line up to take pictures of each other while sitting or standing in a giant yellow clog outside Dam Square Souvenirs

For some reason tourists like their European squares to be overrun by pigeons. Oblivious to the nuisance the disease-ridden animals represent, many visitors feel obliged to be photographed while feeding them.

The city, meanwhile, actively tries to reduce the pigeon population. Among the approaches: sterilizing them via genetically-modified food, replacing their eggs with fake ones, and stationing a hawk on top of one of the buildings at the square. So please… don’t feed the pigeons.

Where is the dam?

Most tourist guides claim that Dam Square is the spot where Amsterdam was first settled, and where the city got its name: a dam in the river Amstel. However, that is not quite true. To understand why not, read Was Amsterdam named after a dam in the river Amstel? (The article includes an annotated, 1544 map of Amsterdam).

As noted in that article at one time there was indeed a dam at what is now Dam Square. But don’t bother looking for it today. You won’t find it as it hasn’t been there for centuries. The dam — a wide bridge with wooden doors to stem the flow of water during high tide — was located roughly between where you currently see the National Monument and the busy Damrak/Rokin thoroughfare.

However, deep beneath the cobblestones there is a culvert through which water from the river Amstel still flows from Rokin to the remaining cul-de-sac of water at Damrak near Central Station.

Shops at Dam Square

Bijenkorf Warehouse at Dam Square, Amsterdam

Bijenkorf Warehouse, Amsterdam. © DutchAmsterdam.nl

  • Bijenkorf
    A 20.000 m² shopper’s paradise. Anything from groceries to diamonds, and from books and newspapers to high fashion. Not inexpensive, to say the least. But shopping at this warehouse is an experience not to be missed. The whole setting — a gorgeous building, opulently designed — makes you feel rich and important just walking through it.
  • Peek & Cloppenburg — Dam 20
    Peek & Cloppenburg is a German company that has grown into an international brand with fashion department stores in several countries. Madame Tussauds is located in a corner of the imposing building. The building, in the neo-Classical style, was opened on April 17, 1916. At the time it was viewed by many as a “dull and lifeless structure,” but it is now listed as a national monument. Locals long referred to the store as the ‘Trouser Palace.’ The building sports 14 gable stones that are reminders of the houses and businesses that used to be at this location prior to the contruction of the P&C building.
  • H&M — Dam 4
    The Amsterdam flagship store of Swedish fashion chain Hennes & Mauritz is located in an historic building formerly occupied by the ABN-Amro bank. Originally this location housed several buildings that over time were combined and reconstructed a number of times. The buildings, which through the years have served several functions, have now again been reconstructed. The facade has been renovated and the original turret at the corner of Dam Square and Nieuwendijk has been restored. ABN Amro still has a presence at the Damrak corner of the building, while H&M occupies the rest.
  • Dam Square Souvenirs — Dam 17-19
    You know what to expect: a huge collection of souvenirs — including wooden shoes (many of which cover a large portion of the ceiling). What you probably don’t expect: life-sized cows, hanging upside-down from the ceiling in “100% Holland” part of the store. Yes, you can take photographs

Cafes, Pubs and Eateries at Dam Square

Nieuwe Kafe in Amsterdam
Nieuwe Kafé overlooking Dam Square
© Copyright DutchAmsterdam.nl. Want to use this photo?

  • ‘t Nieuwe Kafé — Eggerstraat 8
    Located in a building attached to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Terrace has an excellent view of Dam Square at the palace side. Caters to tourists and locals alike. Good coffee, breakfast baskets, sandwiches and pastries. Known for its excellent service and decent prices. Recommended by DutchAmsterdam.nl
  • Majestic / Euro Pub — Dam 3-7
    Very tourist-oriented café/eatery. Terrace has fantastic view of Dam Square at the monument side. Good food, coffee and beer, but sky-high prices. Mostly avoided by locals, but always busy nevertheless. Owners also operate Yip Fellows and Café Zwart
  • Yip Fellows — Dam 11
    Small pub located next to Hotel Krasnapolsky. Tiny terrace. Expensive. Operated by the folks who own Majestic
  • Café Zwart — Dam 15, corner Damstraat
    By all accounts a good place with friendly personnel. Small terrace. Pricey. Operated by the folks who own Majestic
  • Coffee Company — Dam 10
    A francise operation. Whether or not yet get a good cup of coffee — or something resembling the coffee drink you ordered — largely depends on who is working. Small terrace has a view of Dam Square at the palace side

As a discerning visitor you’ll likely give Ripley’s Believe It or Not! a miss. Same goes for Tours & Tickets, since you can get those all conveniently from Get Your Guide.

You could also pop into the Nieuwendijk shopping street (between the New Church and Damrak) where, after just a few steps, you’ll find a number of fast-food places including McDonald’s, Burger King, a pizza place and the Dutch favorite, Febo.

Restaurants at Dam Square

  • Bijenkorf Kitchen — inside the Bijenkorf warehouse, at the top floor.
    Technically not at Dam Square, but listed since Bijenkorf has an entrance there. One of the biggest warehouse restaurants in Europe. Dissed not just once but twice by Amsterdam’s top food critic, Johannes van Dam. Other reviews have been mixed. A small outdoor terrace provides a rather limited view toward the old stock market at Damrak. Pricey, especially considering the (if we’re generous) average quality of the food. Self-service
  • Reflet
    Established in 1885 as “De Witte Kamer” (The White Room), Reflet is the oldest original restaurant in Amsterdam. Top-notch dining inside Hotel Krasnapolsky. 4-6 course menus, or a la carte. Classical French and Dutch kitchen. Average menu price around EUR 50. Fantastic ambiance without a hint of the hustle and bustle of Dam Square

Hotels at or near Dam Square

While Dam Square is easy to reach from just about anywhere in downtown Amsterdam and its surrounding suburbs, many tourists prefer to stay at or near this central location. Here is a listing of hotels at or near Dam Square. [View them on a map]

Note that the only hotel actually at Dam Square is the 5-star NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky

How to get to Dam Square

Dam Square is reached from Central Station via Damrak — the gaudy main drag which the City would like to turn into a red carpet of sorts. It’s a 5-10 minute walk.

Alternatively you can take trams 4, 9, 16, 24, or 25 and exit at the first stop, across from the Bijenkorf warehouse.

Across from Dam square Damrak turns into Rokin, the main thoroughfare between Dam and Munt square.

If you prefer you can saunter toward the Dam via the Nieuwendijk shopping street which feeds into Dam Square in front of the palace.

Across the square from Nieuwendijk the shopping street continues as Kalverstraat, which runs between the Dam and Munt square.

If you are coming from — or going to Munt square — you can also take Rokin. Rokin features stores, some pubs, a some very nice buildings as well.

Map of Dam Square and surroundings

View Dam Square in a larger map

Video: The History of Dam Square

More about Dam Square

DutchAmsterdam’s articles — including news items — that mention Dam Square

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