Amsterdam Centrum is the centre of the capital city of the Netherlands. Spreading out in concentric rings from Dam Square and Amsterdam Centraal station, the district is a mix of 17th-century canals and Flemish architecture.

As the heart of the Dutch capital, Amsterdam Centrum is also where you'll find many of the city's most iconic draws, such as Anne Frank House, Rembrandt House, and De Wallen. But it's also an attraction in itself, boasting a UNESCO heritage tag, charming cafes, coffee shops, and canal boat rides.

Amsterdam Centrum - one of the highlights of 10 Most Popular Neighbourhoods in Amsterdam and 10 Bucket List Destinations for UK Travellers in 2022 (Read all about Amsterdam here)

A brief history of Amsterdam Centrum

The area now called Amsterdam Centrum really took shape during the glory days of the Dutch Golden Age. That lasted throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries when the Dutch Republic was a kingpin of global cloth, spice, and metal trading. It saw the expansion of the Canal Ring and the construction of many of the grand merchant homes that surround it.

Later centuries weren't so kind, though. The Napoleonic Wars brought destitution and plague to the Centrum area, while WWII meant a brutal Nazi occupation that forced Anne Frank and her family into hiding in the area.

Even so, things then changed again with the 1960s and 1970s, when The Dam became one of Europe's hippy hubs. That ushered in the smoke-plumed 'coffeeshops' and gave rise to the liberal Red Light District.

What are the highlights of Amsterdam Centrum?

These days, Centrum is the highlight of most people's trips to Amsterdam. The area is packed with things to see and do. It's the epicentre of the country's cafe culture, boasts UNESCO-tagged canals, and hosts unquestionably the most famous monuments and attractions.

You won't be short on museums. A trip to the haunting Anne Frank House is not easy to forget, as you travel back to the dark days of Nazi occupation and visit the house where the diary writer herself stowed away before being discovered and deported. You can also go to the Rembrandt House on the eastern side of Centrum – it's the onetime home of the Netherland's most iconic painter, Rembrandt van Rijn.

When culture is checked off the list, hit the streets. They're famed for the Canal Ring, a concentric circle of 5 waterways that begins on Dam Square and ends at the Singelgracht. The whole thing's a maze of handsome urban scenes, where big-windowed guild houses from the 1600s tower over bobbing boats. Some of the highlights as you stroll are sure to be at the Bloemenmarkt – the fragrant Amsterdam flower market – and the Oude Church – a 13th-century Calvinist worshipping spot.

What's the nightlife like in Amsterdam Centrum?

Amsterdam Centrum is one of the most happening quarters in the whole city. The nightlife is driven by a mix of locals and travellers, which gives it a varied feel. Many will make for the bars and coffee joints that lurk around the alleys of De Wallen (red-light district) for the evening. They're tucked between bordellos and cabaret theatres that most certainly aren't for the prudish.

There's even more on offer in the way of buzzing student pubs at the Leidseplein and the Rembrandtplein. They go into overdrive on weekends, with drinkers spilling onto the cobbled streets, while multi-storey megaclubs get pumping until the early hours.

Good to know about Amsterdam Centrum

Amsterdam Centrum is probably the area you're going to want to be based if you haven't visited this city before. It's got all the major sights and plenty of hotels. It's also very easy to reach.

The main Amsterdam Centraal station is where you'll get in if you come off international or domestic train links. It's also the place where shuttle trains arrive from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. It's right on the northern cusp of the area, within walking distance of pretty much everything.

The whole of Centrum is linked up by efficient tram lines. They all meet at the Amsterdam Centraal station on the Damrak square to the north. Most locals prefer to travel by bicycle. You can rent one at any number of spots throughout Centrum. But if you choose to walk, be wary of stepping on cycling lanes and always give those on 2 wheels the right of way – it's rare for them to stop for you.

Amsterdam Centrum is generally safe, but it's also the busiest part of the city. Have your wits about you and pay particular attention in key areas like the Red Light District and around the train station after dark. Also bear in mind that some parts – Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein – are very loud, so might not be the best choice for family breaks.

Amsterdam Centrum

Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer