Fun facts about Amsterdam for kids and curious adults about history, geography, food and much more
One of the things I love the most about planning a trip with my kids is to research fun facts about our destination. I like how this exercise makes them (and me!) learn about a place and I like even more when these fun facts become an excuse to observe our surroundings more, turning even a simple stroll into an educational and fun scavenger hunt.
Amsterdam is one of those cities when this exercise turned out to be exceptionally rewarding and fun!
Here are some fun facts about Amsterdam for kids and some tips on where to go to see the history of the city in action.
Fun facts about Amsterdam for kids and curious adults
Where does the name Amsterdam come from?
Many sources report that the name ‘Amsterdam’ derives from the expression ‘Amstel – dam ‘ or ‘the dam on the river Amstel around which Amsterdam was originally built. However, this may not be the case!
According to many historians, the name has a slightly different story. The name derives from the old Frisian ‘aem’ which means ‘river’ and ‘stelle’ which meant ‘suitable place to stay’.
So in this version of the story, it is the river who took the name from the settlement rather than the other way round and ‘Amsterdam’ means: ‘people who have settled at the dike along the river’.
Schiphol airport is under sea level
Amsterdam Airport is 5 metres below sea level.
While this conjures up images of an underwater world of planes (if you are a kid or a kid at heart) this peculiar location is however not visible from Schiphol itself which is unremarkably similar to many other airports.
Despite the lack of underwater action, Schiphol is a beautiful and a very well equipped airport: kids can visit it with a behind the scenes tour and there are areas special families areas including exhibition from the Nemo Science Museum and the Reijksmuseum!
Amsterdam is a capital without a parliament
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands but the Country parliament, as well as the supreme court, are not in the city. Rather, they are in nearby The Hague.
The Netherlands are a parliamentary democracy but they also have a king (at present) who is the nominal head of state
Does the king live in Amsterdam?
The king and his family have several residences, including the royal palace in dam square and in The Hague, all now owned by the Dutch state.
How many canals in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is built over 165 canals which run for over 60 miles. The most prominent canals are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht & Singel: they form a concentric canal ring in what is now Amsterdam city centre and are filled with a mix of fresh and salt water.
The Herengracht is often considered the most important in the city. In the 17th century, the richest merchants and the most influential regents and mayors of the city lived on this canal.
Is it true Amsterdam has more canals than Venice?
Yes, it is! The number of canals in Amsterdam is higher than those in Venice. Despite this, the city is often dubbed ‘The Venice of the North’ ( a title sometimes shared with Stockholm too).
Is Amsterdam Unesco world heritage site?
Amsterdam canals entered the UNESCO world heritage sites in 2010. They are only one of the several UNESCO sites in the Netherlands which also include Schokland, Kinderdijk, Willemstad in Curacao and more (you can find the complete list here)
What are the canals for?
Amsterdam is built on what used to be swamp land: the Dutch reclaimed the land from the water, creating what effectively became islands surrounded by canals. The canals are nowadays commonly used waterway and they are about 3 metres deep.
Is it true in Amsterdam there are more bikes than people?
Indeed, when the last report on bikes in the city was drafted, the results say that Amsterdam counts 881.000 bikes and about 850.000. This means the city technically has more bikes than people. This count changes significantly if you include the population in the wider Amsterdam metropolitan area; however, there is no doubt the presence of bikes in Amsterdam is noticeable and sometimes overwhelming.
Bikes often fall into the canals and report says over 12.000 of them get fishes out every year! My Amsterdam guide said this number is so high locals joke that the canal bed is now made of both mud and bike steel.
Why are Amsterdam houses tall and slim?
When Amsterdam city centre was built, the canals were the main waterways and it was important to ensure that as many people as possible had easy access to them. Having slim houses meant you could fit more in and allow easy canal access for most.
Other sources report that the reason for the tall and slim houses dates back to a tax regulation that charged on the basis of the size of the facade overlooking the water. While it is true that such a regulation existed, it cannot be the reason for the narrow shape of the house since the canal ring was built before the regulation came to life
Why do Amsterdam houses lean forward?
Amsterdam canal houses lean forward to such an extent the crooked appearance is noticeable even by the most distracted passer by.
They are not however about to collapse but designed this way: Amsterdam’s canal houses used to to be both shops and residences. The shop owners would keep their stock upstairs and having the house lean forward meant it was easier to hot up good without scraping the facade.
As well as the leaning appearance, houses also bear another sign witness of those times: the hoist just at the top of their roofs, still clearly visible above their facades.
Why can I see inside the houses?
One remarkable trait of Amsterdam houses is their lack of curtains. As you walk along the streets of Amsterdam city centre it is not unusual to find yourself just in front of someone’ window, able to get a good look inside their house and their daily lives.
The most common explanation for this peculiar choice is said to derive form the Calvinist roots of this area: having no curtains and allow people to peek in was the ultimate way to show you had nothing to hide and were therefore living a pure life.
This, or maybe the Dutch wanted to make the most of the light, sometimes scarce in the winter months.
Why are they selling herring everywhere?
One of the most popular street foods you find in Amsterdam is herring an this food is more than just a popular snack. Herring has been fished and cured in the Netherlands for over 1000 years and it is the trading and curing of this fish that has allowed the dutch to create the incredible maritime empire that sprawled across the globe.
The herring is till a popular street food now and it is usually eaten in a very relaxed and somewhat awkward fashion: holding it by the tail, you dangle it onto your mouth and give a bite.
Street food at its best if salted oily fish is your type of thing!
Looking for more traditional kids’ fare? Check out these family friendly restaurants in Amsterdam.
There is a houseboat for cats
Amsterdam has several house boats and one of them is now a refuge for cats! While cats are not particularly fond of water, this one is a special place for them where they find care, food and attentions. You can visit the house boat at designated times and support the cats and their caretaker
The symbol of Amsterdam are three black crosses
The symbol of Amsterdam are three black crosses. You see flags with them almost anywhere in the city and many adults associate them with the liberal legislation and adult entertainment the city is known for. However, they are St Andrew’s crosses and current legislation has nothing to do with them!
Orange is not, as such, the colour of the Netherlands
Many people believe orange is the colour of the Netherlands but it is not. Rather, orange is not the colour of the Dutch royal family.
Nowadays you can see it in the colours of the Dutch sports team (football but not only) and absolutely everywhere on kings day, when the city celebrates the Kings’s birthday (the day changes its name to queens day when the sovereign is a queen)
I hope you enjoyed this fun facts about Amsterdam. Safe travels!
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