Life in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the creative and cultural heart of the Netherlands and a thriving global business centre. People from around the globe are attracted to the city for its open, progressive attitude, its international orientation and its culture of cycling.

Amsterdam, Leidseplein, Theatre


As a key cultural and intellectual centre in western Europe, Amsterdam provides an ideal environment for academic study. Amsterdam attracts students from all over the Netherlands and beyond.

The inhabitants of Amsterdam, known as Amsterdammers, are easy-going and welcoming to foreigners. English is the city's unofficial second language. It's easy to find Anglophone bookstores, TV channels, restaurant menus, library resources and cultural activities.

A big city with a cosy, small-scale feel

Amsterdam is a colourful and lively city. With some 800,000 inhabitants (as compared to London's 7.5 million and Paris's 10 million), it has all the advantages of a major metropolitan centre while retaining a cosy, small-scale feel.

Amsterdam boasts beautiful architecture and over 150 canals, lending the city its characteristic shape and atmosphere. It is full of museums, art galleries, theatres, concert halls and many lovely parks, which serve as the inhabitants’ gardens in summer. The city is home to world famous music, opera, theatre and dance companies, as well as many internationally recognised visual artists.

City history

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. The city is named after the river Amstel, which flows through its centre and was dammed by the region's first inhabitants in 1275. Amsterdam expanded rapidly from the early thirteenth century onwards as maritime trade developed and by 1500 it was the largest city in the Netherlands.

The seventeenth century, known as the Dutch Golden Age, was a period of wealth and power for Amsterdam. It was in this period that the city’s famous crescent shape was designed.

Because of Dutch society's relatively tolerant attitude towards dissidents, Amsterdam attracted scholars and writers who wanted a level of freedom they could not find in their own countries. Dutch scholars, poets and artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Benedictus Spinoza, P.C. Hooft, Constantijn Huygens and his son Christiaan Huygens flourished during this period.

Amsterdam culture today

Intellectual and cultural curiosity have prevailed in the Netherlands since the Golden Age. The city is still known for its spirit of tolerance, which has made it a natural locus for international intellectual exchange.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the Dutch have developed a rich, dynamic culture and a forward-thinking professionalism. Education has been central to this development, and the University of Amsterdam is one of the largest and most comprehensive centres of study and research in the Netherlands.

Websites on Amsterdam

The website I Amsterdam is the city of Amsterdam's comprehensive guide for anyone planning to visit, work or study in Amsterdam. Find information on everything from buying a transit pass, to registering as a new resident, to 'what's on this weekend'. 

For the city's best restaurants, try The Fork. For bars, music venues and clubs, check out the Amsterdam Hotspots website.

Published by  University of Amsterdam

12 November 2018