13 fun facts you might not know about Amsterdam

You’ve heard about the canals, coffeeshops, tulips, and cyclists in Amsterdam. You have the Van Gogh masterpieces and Anne Frank House on your must-see list. Your restaurant reservations and tour tickets are in the bag. But what are you missing in the Netherlands’ biggest and most exciting city?

These 13 fascinating facts show you a side of the Dutch capital you might not have known, from how it stays above water to where to find its tropical residents. Impress your friends and make your time in Amsterdam all the more interesting with this newfound knowledge.

1. The city stands on 11 million poles

Amsterdam sits two meters (6.6 feet) below sea level and is built on soft peat and clay, so in order to stay above water, the foundations of the city required a major feat of engineering. To sum up the full history, which you can see in the Amsterdam Museum, 11 million wooden beams stop the city’s buildings from sinking. In fact, wooden piles are even put in place to stop trees in Vondelpark from slipping into the naturally marshy ground.

2. You can travel 100 kilometers on the canals

If you’ve ever dreamt of living on a houseboat, Amsterdam is the city for you. With over 165 canals, you can travel 100 kilometers (60 miles) along them without ever leaving the city limits or cruising the same canal twice. Impressive for a city that’s only about 15 kilometers across. It’s impossible to see all the waterways on a 1-hour canal cruise, but it's the perfect way to see the highlights, like the quirky 17th-century houses, beautiful bridges, and magnificent landmark museums.

Discover Amsterdam's best canal cruises

3. Every drop of Europe’s most popular beer is made here

While most European countries have at least one big homegrown beer brand, the Dutch can proudly claim to have the most popular. Founded in Amsterdam in 1864, Heineken now churns out almost 200 million hectoliters (that’s 5.2 billion gallons) of its amber nectar every year. And while some brands find local brewers in each market to produce their beers more locally and save on shipping costs, Heineken produces every pint in-house. At the Heineken Experience, you’ll learn all about its history and how it’s made, and finish with a cold glass right from the source.

4. There’s a houseboat just for cats

In a city of canals, living on a boat is far from out of the ordinary. Everywhere you look on a canal cruise, you’ll see the people of Amsterdam going about their daily lives on the water. But it’s not just people that call boats home in the city — The Catboat was founded in the 1960s as a refuge for stray and abandoned felines. You might not be able to take one home if you don’t live nearby, but The Catboat welcomes cat lovers three days a week, so you can still meet and support them.

5. The canals are filled with bikes as well as boats

Amsterdam’s cycle lanes are infamous among regular visitors to the city. With more bikes than homes in the city, the canalside cycle lanes operate like miniature highways and it’s all too easy to get in the way of the traffic, especially in rush hour. Perhaps that’s why a whopping 25,000 bikes are fished from the canals each year. Or maybe one too many Heinekens is involved? While we don’t recommend taking your ride for a quick dip, a private bike tour is still the best way to visit the lesser-known parts of the city. Your guide will be well-versed in the rules of the Amsterdam roads to keep you on dry land.

Discover Amsterdam's best bike experiences

6. Anne Frank’s diary is available in 70 languages

One of Amsterdam’s most memorable attractions, the Anne Frank House is a fascinating look at the city’s darkest period and its most remembered WWII resident. On the Anne Frank Tour, you’ll hear the full story of the Nazi-occupied city and the secret annex where the Jewish Frank family lived in hiding for two years from 1942 to 1944. Thirteen-year-old Anne’s famous diary tells the story of their life at Prinsengracht 263 and is so captivating that it has been translated into 70 different languages so that her story can be told around the world.

Discover Amsterdam's Jewish history

7. Vondelpark is full of parakeets

Northern Europe isn’t the first place you’d expect to see a flock of colorful parakeets, but that’s what you’ll find in Vondelpark and in trees across the city. Around 4,000 of the bright green tropical birds call Amsterdam home. But how? One urban legend has it that a truck carrying exotic birds overturned, its cargo escaping and settling in the park. Others believe that a woman set a mating pair of parakeets free. The only thing that’s certain is that they’re thriving in this unlikely location — be sure to look up to spot them on a tour of Vondelpark and the city’s highlights.

8. The houses are narrow for a good reason

The picturesque houses that line the canals of neighborhoods like Jordaan are renowned for their slender profiles. In fact, the narrowest of all has a facade only two meters wide. This odd building approach has a simple explanation — tax. Back in the 17th century, residents of Amsterdam were taxed on the width of their property, so the narrower your home, the lighter your annual tax bill.

9. There are more museums per head than almost anywhere else

For a relatively small capital city with a population of just over a million, Amsterdam is head and shoulders above most when it comes to culture. There are 85 world-class museums in Amsterdam, only beaten by museum-heavy cities Paris, Vatican City, and Washington, DC, when it comes to museums per capita. When you’ve had your fill of masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum, check out the modern art at Moco Museum or the city’s more off-beat collections. Street art at STRAAT? Movies at Eye Filmmuseum? Fresh produce at the Cannabis Museum? It’s all here.

Discover Amsterdam's museums

10. Amsterdam has the world’s only floating flower market

Amsterdam is famous for its tulips, but there’s a bunch more varieties that come out of the Netherlands. The small country produces blooms more than half of the global flower trade. There’s even a floating flower market, the only one of its kind. This 160-year-old market was originally founded as a hub for traders to who transported their goods by barge and congregated on the canals. Now in a more permanent state, the market is a colorful landmark that smells as beautiful as it looks, and it’s open to all every day except Sunday. It’s the perfect place to pick up a bouquet of fresh blooms and take in some local culture.

11. Amsterdam has more bridges (and canals) than Venice

Amsterdam used to be a small fishing village, but its close proximity to the sea made it attractive for trade back in the 1600s. The city grew quickly, and soon the Dutch government began to build bridges and canals to help connect the different parts of Amsterdam. As a result, there are more than 1,200 bridges in Amsterdam today — more than three times the number in Venice. There’s around twice as many miles of canal too. They’re lovely to walk over, but for the best view, cruise under them on a canal boat. A bundle that includes a walking tour and a canal cruise lets you do both. Plus, of course, you can take in the scenery and snap a few photos along the way.

12. It wasn’t always called Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the Dutch capital’s modern moniker, but it was originally called Amstrelredam. The name is thought to date back as far as 1275, and was a reference to the dam built across the Amstel river to prevent flooding. As Amsterdam grew, its name was shortened and simplified, and Amsterdam became the norm.

13. Amsterdam has the world’s oldest stock exchange

A fun fact if finance is your thing, The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, which opened in 1602, is the world's oldest stock exchange and it still operates today. You’ll find a bronze bull sculpture near its entrance, a replica of the Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue outside the New York Stock Exchange. Now known as Euronext following a merger with the Paris and Brussels stock exchanges, it hosts tours so you can take a look inside and learn more about its history.