Amsterdam Canals © Frans de Wit/Flickr

Tourists can enjoy Amsterdam’s historic canal houses, as well as the Anne Frank and Rembrandt houses, Van Gogh and Rembrandt paintings,tulips and the red light district.

Amsterdam’s 15 million annual visitors, as well as its natives, can still enjoy the charm of the historic canal houses that characterize the city, thanks at least partly to the successful renovation of a prominent Jewish residence.

That renovation, according to the city’s Department for Preservation and Restoration (DPR), helped city fathers finally come “to their senses” after World War II. They then halted a modernization program that threatened both the historic residencies and the city’s famous canals.

First, a bit of background: Unlike many European cities, Amsterdam is not a castle, cathedral or palace town. It is admired, instead, for the hundreds of centuries-old, gabled houses that line its famed canals. Side-by-side, we’re told, those houses would extend more than 32 miles.

Demolitions Threatened Old City

Beginning late in the 19th century, developers and city leaders began a movement to modernize the city by filling in canals, building new thoroughfares, widening streets and demolishing houses and other historic buildings in the old central city. The program, including efforts to bring more vehicular traffic into the city, continued for almost a century.

DPR said the demolition movement finally ended after World War II. The successful renovation of the prominent Huis (house) De Pinto in an old Jewish section demonstrated the potential and value of preserving old houses. Some canal houses that had been converted into offices have since been restored as residencies.

Most Historic Buildings

Today, Amsterdam claims “more historic buildings and sites than any other city in the world.” At last count, it had nearly 7,000 buildings classified as historic and protected by the Dutch government They are part of the old crescent-shaped city that was built around a series of semi-circular canals.

Instead of bumper-to-bumper, smog-generating auto traffic, it has 600,000 bicycles traversing 400 kilometers of bike paths. Walk into a bike path at your own risk. Instead of car thefts, Amsterdam has thousands of bike thefts and serious bike parking problems.

Historians say Amsterdam was started in the 12th Century. Houten Huis at the Begijnhof was the last wooden house to survive from the medieval city.

Amsterdam’s Golden Age

Amsterdam developed into one of the world’s primary trade centers in the 16th and 17th centuries, known as the city’s “Golden Age.” The Royal Palace, originally the town hall, and a few canal-residences are the primary survivors from that period. But most of Amsterdam’s present historic houses date back to the 18th Century.

Since then, Holland has been invaded by the English, the French and the Nazi, but Amsterdam has survived. It has a city population of over 700,000 and a metropolitan area of more than 1.5 million. The population includes 174 nationalities.

According to the city tourism board’s count:

Amsterdam has 165 canals and 1,281 bridges, including eight wooden drawbridges. It has 110 glass-topped canal boats and saloon boats, 2,500 houseboats and 9 ferryboats. Tip: If you want to see the beautifully gabled canal residences, take a narrated tour aboard one of the glass-topped canal boats.

It has one legal red light district, but numerous coffee shops where small amounts of technically-illegal marijuana are openly sold.

It has the Anne Frank house and the Rembrandt house, plus 51 museums, 141 art galleries, 22 Rembrandt paintings and 206 Van Gogh paintings.

It has 230+ city trams.

It has 21 markets, over 6000 shops, 165 antique shops and 24 diamond polishing factories.

It has 28 parks and 600,000 bulbflowers (think tulips) in parks and public gardens.

Sorry, the city has only six windmills, but more can be seen elsewhere in Holland.