Amsterdam city symbols

Amsterdam flags and colour
From its three crosses ('XXX') to the colour orange, learn the story behind Amsterdam's most famous city symbols.

As you wander through Amsterdam, you can spot the city's 'XXX' symbol on buildings, flags or even local food brands. And if you’re in Amsterdam during a major sporting event or on King's Day (formerly Queen's Day), you’ll see a sea of orange everywhere. So what’s the story behind these symbols and colours?

House of Orange

The colours of the Dutch national flag are red, white and blue (a horizontal tricolour) so it may seem strange that the Dutch flaunt their national pride with the colour orange so vehemently. The reason is that the Dutch Royal Family stems from the House of Oranje-Nassau and the lineage of the current ruling family dates back to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange). So the colour orange has royal roots but it also symbolises a much broader pride in being Dutch.

Orange expression

With this in mind, orange is a great colour for celebrating and uniting the nation! On King's Day and royal birthdays, the Dutch tricolour flag is flown with an orange pennant above it. Even during the occupation in WWII, Dutch housewives often made a small show of resistance by hanging their wet washing outside in a particular pattern: something orange, something red, something white and something blue. Oranje is also the nickname of the Dutch national football team and the colour is a fairly common uniform across all sporting teams representing the Netherlands, from darts and hockey to basketball and rugby.

Coat of ArmsAmsterdam's coat of arms

Amsterdam’s coat of arms is pretty prevalent sight throughout the city. At its core is the 'XXX' symbol, which is actually three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. For the Amsterdam coat of arms, the three crosses are in white, atop a red shield with a black pale. St. Andrew was a fisherman who was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the 1st century AD, which is relevant to Amsterdam as the city’s symbol dates back to 1505 when it was a fishing town and all ships registered in Amsterdam flew this flag. In its most official form, the coat of arms is also decorated with the Imperial Crown of Austria and two golden lions.

XXX and the city

It's actually a complete coincidence that the St. Andrew's Crosses on Amsterdam’s 500-year-old coat of arms are also similar to the modern-day shorthand for x-rated entertainment. Of course, this coincidence is also widely utilised via the producers of gimmicky city souvenirs, but it's a world away from the historic truth. As such, the 'XXX' symbol can be seen all over the city – on flags, buildings, manhole covers and even on the poles that stop cars from driving on the pavement (known locally as Amsterdammertjes). So have fun spotting them in weird and wonderful places as you explore the city.

I amsterdam letters

I amsterdam lettersAnother contemporary symbol widely associated with Amsterdam is the I amsterdam letters. This city slogan has been adopted by visitors and tourists alike, and the large-scale letters outside the Rijksmuseum are an immensely popular photo hotspot. As of 2012, a second set of letters was installed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to welcome visitors to the city, while a third set of letters playfully changes location around town, making appearances at fashion shows, fairs, festivals and other major events.