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 culminate in Dam Square.
Dam Square, also called simply "The Dam," also marks the endpoint of the other well-traveled streets like Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, and Damstraat. A short distance beyond the northeast corner lies the main red-light district, de Wallen.
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 monuments and other local attractions for you to check out.
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The National Monument
The 1956 limestone obelisk that rises from the eastern half of Dam Square is the National Monument. It serves as the site of a yearly ceremony, observed on May 4 (Dutch Memorial Day), to remember World War II and all the Dutch fallen soldiers across all wars.
On the front of the pillar is a relief entitled De Vrede, meaning "Peace," consisting of four chained male figures. To either side of these central figures are two male sculptures representing members of the Dutch resistance, one from the educated class and one from the working class. Weeping dogs are at their feet, representing suffering and loyalty. Above the central relief is a sculpture of a woman with a child in her arms and doves flying around her, representing victory, peace, new life, and liberation.
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One of King Willem-Alexander 's three palatial residences in the Netherlands, the "palace on the Dam" is the most historic, most opulent, and for these reasons, the most visited of them. 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.
The balcony of the Royal Palace was used during the investiture of Queen Beatrix in 1980, where her mother Juliana announced the new Queen to the people. The then-Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima kissed on the balcony of the palace in view of the public on their wedding day in 2002.
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The Gothic beauty that stands next to the Koninklijk Paleis is the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk, "new church,"—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 and organ recitals.
The church is used for Dutch royal investiture ceremonies, like those for King Willem-Alexander, as well as royal weddings, like the wedding of Willem-Alexander to Maxima in 2002. The investitures of Queens Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix also took place there.
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In a class of its own on Dam Square is De Bijenkorf, or "The Beehive", the Netherlands' premier 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 seven other locations nationwide. De Bijenkorf is must for avid shoppers, even reluctant ones will appreciate a quick visit.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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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). Founded in 1970, it was the first Madame Tussauds that was opened in mainland Europe after Britain's flagship. 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 Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama.