The Dam square is the heart of the historic centre of Amsterdam. It is not far from the train station; a 300 meter stretch only. Once you’ve arrived on the square, you have really arrived in Amsterdam.
The Dam is where it is at in this city. This is where the crowds, tourists and locals alike, hang out in their droves, especially when the sun shines. Just head to the Dam, and you will automatically figure out what you will be doing next when you have mentally mapped the scene on this square.
Every year, a number of key events are held on the Dam. For instance, National Tulip day, the start of the tulip growing season takes place on the Dam, as did the recent national beach soccer games matches. WWII heroes are commemorated each year on May 4th, and most recently, when the Malaysian Airlines flight went down, the Dam was the spot where people expressed their sympathy for the Dutch victims by laying flowers.
On a normal day, the scene on the square is bustling with activity, its pavement littered with seeds and breadcrumbs for the many pigeons. Cyclists appear unperturbed by the impromptu encampments of the pigeon colony, or by the tourists and locals feeding the birds; they certainly do not slow down, it seems. That’s not to speak of the trams which traverse the square; they come at you in 90 degree angles when you find yourself at the Madame Tussaud end of the square.
Find a more peaceful spot on the steps of the monument for a few moments at the very least. When you look around, you will realise that in Amsterdam, really anything goes. There are body artists, buskers, uni-cylists, as well as walking tours stopping off at the neoclassical Palace and at the Nieuwe Kerk right next to it. Throngs of shoppers emerge non-stop from Amsterdam’s main shopping street Kalverstraat, and hords of them will be heading for the lovely cafes near the Nieuwe Kerk. And at the opposite end of the square, tourists will be lining up in front of Madame Tussaud’s.
There’s travelers, activists of every breed will try to get the attention of the passer by and from time to time there are demonstrations. Among the tourists, there are the bible bashers, Jehovas Witnesses, Scientologists, Moonies, Hare Krishnas, and many general pleasure seekers looking for conversations with strangers. People buy coffee at mobile stalls on the Dam, eat American hotdogs and French fries from the fast food outlets lining it. You can buy flowers on some days. Roller skaters will be using the square to get from one location to another, ignoring the cycling lanes.
There is a certain degree of history here too, although very little of it is still visible. The Dam is located precisely where the original dam in the river Amstel was which gave Amsterdam its name.
Originally, the River Amstel ran along the Damrak (the street connecting the station with the Dam), into the Dam and then along to the Muntplein (Mint Square), which is known for hosting Europe’s only floating flower market. The Dam itself is no longer present, as the water made way for buildings in the 18th Century. But it was originally built in approximately 1270 -give or take a millennium, the historians are not really sure- and formed the first connection between the settlements on either side of the river.
As the city evolved, the dam naturally became the town square, and was surrounded by a large fish market. Ships used to moor here to load and unload their catch. Soon enough, the square was not only a commercial hub but also became the location for a town hall. In later Millennia, this evolved into a palace. Louis Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon, who was assigned with governing the unruly and quaint Dutch nation, resided there.
Both people who like contemporary attractions and those who are into history, will find the Dam to be a perfect starting spot for getting to know Amsterdam, to meet up with others, or just to hang out. If you are interested in actually doing something active on the square itself, there’s three main options; Madame Tussaud’s, the Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk.
You can visit the recently renovated Palace (Paleis op de Dam), which is open for tourists most days of the year and has a wealth of historical objects on display. Alternatively, the Nieuwe Kerk is open for visitors and frequently hosts art or historic exhibitions. As for Madame Tussaud’s, its wax statues have recently been replenished with the largest one ever; Princess Fiona from Shrek, who’s been given an entire room, in anticipation of the arrival in Shrek the Musical this October.