Follow the crowds of non-Dutch-speakers from Amsterdam Central Station and you will reach the Damrak, a wide boulevard lined with souvenir shops that culminates in Dam Square, seat of several Dutch monuments and other local attractions. This is the triumphal route of countless tourists who have made it to Amsterdam, and an ideal first "stop" -- or rather stroll, punctuated by a series of memorable stops. Here are Dam Square's best attractions.
Photo © 2006 Matt Rubens
The limestone obelisk that rises from the eastern half of Dam Square is the National Monument, the nation's chief World War II memorial. The monumental sculptures and reliefs depict wartime phenomena, both abstract and concrete. It also serves as the site of a yearly ceremony, observed on May 4 (Dutch Memorial Day), to commemorate national victims of war.
One of Queen Beatrix's four palatial pads in the Netherlands, the "palace on the Dam" is the most historic, most opulent, and for these reasons the most visited of the four. Built as a town hall in the 17th century on the model of Roman administrative palaces, it is now used for official functions; after substantial renovation, it re-opened to visitors in 2009.
Photo © 2008 David Spender
The Gothic beauty that stands next to the Koninklijk Paleis is the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk -- so called because it was built to alleviate the overpopulation of the Oude Kerk (Old Church). The church has since ceased its services, and now acts as an exhibition space for reliably top-quality exhibits.
Photo © 2007 bMA
In a class of its own on Dam Square is De Bijenkorf, or "The Beehive", the Netherlands' premiere department store. Founded in 1870, it expanded from a modest storefront on a narrow street to its current, monumental home on the corner of Damrak and Dam Square, in addition to a dozen other locations nationwide. A must for avid shoppers, but even reluctant ones will appreciate a quick visit.
The Netherlands' own outpost of this wax statuary emporium borders Dam Square (and provides a fantastic view of it all from its upper-floor windows). Excellent fun for families and an effortless introduction to Dutch pop culture; visitors will encounter models from Queen Beatrix to DJ Tiesto, as well as international celebrities from closer to home.