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Amsterdam History

The Dutch capital has its roots in the damming of the River Amstel in the 13th century, spawning the settlement of Aemstelledamme. The town became a trading centre, with ships delivering grain and timber from the Baltic region, then picking up cloth manufactured in Leiden. As the sea trade grew, more ships were built and in the mid-16th century the harbour was expanded.

After the Kingdom of Spain acquired Holland in 1519, King Philip II's attempts to restore Catholicism were fiercely opposed. In 1579, seven northern provinces formed an alliance against Spain, marking the inception of the Netherlands as a country. In the 17th century, as Dutch ships plied the seas seeking foreign sources of goods, Amsterdam became the centre of a thriving shipbuilding industry.

During this period, the city’s network of canals was completed and stately homes were built along their banks for the wealthy merchant class. It was also a golden age for the arts, when The Night Watch and other masterpieces that now hang in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum were painted.

The Anglo-Dutch Wars began in 1652, as England challenged Holland for hegemony of its trade routes, which weakened the country. At the end of the 18th century, Revolutionary France invaded and Napoleon installed his brother Louis in Amsterdam's Royal Palace.

After Napoleon's defeat, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was restored in 1815 and the country slowly began to regain its prosperity. The construction of the grand Centraal Station secured Amsterdam's position as a rail transport hub.

Massive industrialisation and then the Great Depression in the early 20th century were followed by the Nazi invasion in WWII. Unlike Rotterdam and Arnhem, Amsterdam emerged physically unscathed, though it suffered the mass deportation of its substantial Jewish population.

In the 1960s the city became a countercultural mecca, with escalating rents in the following decade provoking a squatters’ movement. By the turn of the millennium, Amsterdam had transformed itself into a global business centre with many foreign firms setting up operations in the capital.

Did you know?
• There are an estimated 847,000 bicycles in Amsterdam - and around 12,000 are pulled from its canals each year.
• Amsterdam has more museums per square metre than any other city in the world.
• Schiphol Airport is actually 4m (13 ft) below sea level.

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The Hoxton

The Hoxton flung its decorative doors open in 2015, shaking up the city’s mid-range hotel scene in the process. Occupying a former mayoral residence on Herengracht, the hip and handsome Hoxton is an establishment of effortless cool. Rooms retain a 17th century charm (embroidered rugs, paneled walls, wooden floors, etc.), but with mod cons (digital radios, power showers and the like). There’s a fine bar and restaurant downstairs and checkout is a hangover-friendly 1200.

Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam

As a former shipping house, this five-star hotel still showcases its maritime heritage with its nautical themed stained-glass windows, original ship lanterns, and statues depicting Poseidon and Fortuna overlooking the hotel entrance. With 165 plush rooms, a wellness centre boasting two saunas, a steam room, heated swimming pool and fitness room, plus a stunningly decorated bar overlooking the charming Amsterdam canals, the Amrâth offers its guests a luxurious stay in historical surroundings.

ClinkNOORD

When Amsterdam’s shipbuilding industry went to the wall, the Noord district became a ghost of past glories. Happily, the area is in the process of regeneration, which ClinkNOORD is helping pioneer. The hostel opened to much fanfare in 2015, taking over a former Royal Dutch Shell testing lab. Rooms are a bit bland, but the hostel is good value, affable and only a short (and free) ferry ride from Central Station.

Hotel Prinsenhof

About the finest budget option available, the Prinsenhof is a homey establishment in an 18th-century canal house. Overlooking a picture-postcard section of the Prinsengracht, it stands in the pleasant southern canal belt, a quick bike ride from the nightlife centre of Rembrandtplein. Simply furnished with painted ceiling beams, the 11 guest rooms are quite cosy, though only nine are equipped with bathrooms. At these prices, they're booked far in advance.

The Dylan

Located in the western canal belt this small boutique hotel is the epitome of style and sophistication. It's housed in a former 17th-century theatre which in its heyday staged concerts conducted by Antonio Vivaldi. Today the minimalist east-meets-west designer décor of the 40 individually designed guest rooms combined with an intimate courtyard garden spectacular canal views efficient staff and an excellent restaurant ensures a luxurious stay.

Hotel de l'Europe

Standing majestically on the banks of the River Amstel, this grand old dame is still the address in town for lavish Old World luxury. From the 19th-century paintings adorning the public areas to the plush appointed guest rooms, this modern hotel maintains an old-fashioned charm. Hotel de l'Europe features the restaurant Bord'Eau which was awarded two Michelin stars, two bars, a brasserie, a café, meeting rooms and a spa.