What is it and what can you do there?
One of our favourite things to do in the whole wide world, here at Lilly Likes, is to get out and about in the streets, exploring what makes Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Of the approximately 3 million yearly guests to the city, most will pass through, shop on, eat at out at, buy engagement rings on, attend the fair at, or otherwise stroll through, the world-renowned Dam Square.
Thinking of taking a trip to Amsterdam in the near future? Prepare yourself in advance by having a scroll through our website. We have insight on what to see, where to go, and what to do in Amsterdam, and even offer deals on some of the things you can do there… We know Coronavirus has had most of us grounded this year, so now we even offer an Amsterdam box that can bring a whiff of the city straight to your living room… check it out.
So let’s get on with today’s subject: the Dam Square… the location so real it gets its own Insta hash tag. What is it and what’s so special about it? First off, we turn to the history books to find out.
The Making of Dam Square
Dam Square is to the south of Centraal Station, not even a third of a mile away. It is recognisable by the Palace and the National Monument, the latter of which used to be a flagpole and is now just a giant white spike. It is the internationally recognised heart of the city, which was created when they built a dam to stop the city flooding. Some sources say they built it to stop the Amstel River, some say it was to prevent the Zuiderzee Sea from flooding the city proper. At any rate, the powers that were built a dam in 1270 and suddenly found themselves with a space wide enough to turn into the town square, which they then did.
The Dam Square sits at the opposite end of the Damrak from Centraal and was once the tram hub, as opposed to the new station. At some point in history the whole river/sea was filled in to make way for the growing city. Before the Square as we know it now was formed, the water came right up to the shops. Fishermen could tie up outside the fish market and send their catches to sale straight off the boat. In the 19th century, this was filled in to make space. In 1808 the old weigh house for the fisherman’s market was knocked down by Lois Bonaparte – who said it was ruining his view. Monarchs. Who needs ‘em?
Dam Square has seen many changes in its time. From original street growing wide enough for a town square as the dam was enlarged, to fish market and trade centre, then on to have the stock market, which later moved to Beurs van Berlage. It has seen statues come and go, monuments rise and fall, and war memorials removed because of more wars. It has been the sight of many a delighted shopper at the famed De Bijenkorf shopping mall, which has stood since 1914… but it hasn’t always been privy to a pretty history. The Dam Square, home to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, has a history mired in bloodshed and violence, too.
A Gruesome History…
During the Second World War, Amsterdam was the sight of one of the worst civilian shootings in history… and it all went down on Dam Square. The story goes that a few Germans were drinking in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. The civilians were in the Square, waiting for the Canadian’s to arrive to relieve them. The war had ended two days beforehand, and those Nazi’s knew they weren’t into a good thing when the Canadians arrived. It must have been galling for them, then, when the civilians in the square started dancing and drinking, celebrating that the war was about to be officially over for them.
The Germans were drunk, so the story has it, and took offence to the revelry in the square below the Grote Club, which was on the corner of the square. The Germans opened fire on the civilians with a machine gun. 120 people were injured and 22 lost their lives that day… when the war was already over, and they were unarmed.
The Square wasn’t finished with the bloodshed yet, either. In the 1980 Amsterdam Coronation Riots, the Square was the central place for the protestors to meet. The riots were the result of twenty years’ worth of ‘squatters’ in Amsterdam. These people sat around in the square quite a lot and were often called hippies instead of protestors. They had little space, with more people than there were rooms, so they lived in the streets. Cut forward to the 80’s and the Regent says she is abdicating so that the Princess can be crowned, and it drove the squatters into a frenzy… wouldn’t you be mad if you had to live on the streets but the royals splashed out on a fancy coronation?
More than 600 civilians were injured in the riots, despite more than 10,000 police officers on the streets. The majority of the violence occurred on the Dam Square. Up until the 60’s this place ad been the heart of the city, now it is marred in blood.
Shops, Restaurants, Other Dam Square Sights To See
If we by-pass all the terror of the past and move on to what you can do on Dam Square nowadays, you will find multiple reasons it is worth adding to your travel itinerary. There are multiple sights, not least of which is the Royal Palace. Some of our other Dam Square favourites include:
- The National Monument, mentioned earlier
- A funfair, inclusive of Ferris Wheel
- The New Church – which is more like a cathedral in elegance
- Madame Tussauds, which we have deals for if it is one your itinerary
- The A’DAM Lookout and Over-the-edge swing
- Ripley’s Believe it or not weird oddities collection is there
- A bakery, several restaurants, pubs, and hotels.
- The Rijksmuseum is just off it
- As is the Van Gogh Museum…
- … you get the picture
The Heart of Amsterdam
The Dam Square is the heart of Amsterdam, which puts it at the centre of the city we love to talk about, write about, and visit. Add it to your bucket list and start adding favourites from Lilly Likes. One thing we can guarantee is that you can visit the city for decades, and still not see it all.