Nieuwezijds is southwest of Centraal Station and west of Damrak and its extension, Rokin. The waterway Singel bounds it to the west and north. The area is split lengthwise by the pedestrianised shopping streets Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk. Nieuwezijds also includes two of the city’s main squares: the bookish Spui and the central Dam Square with the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the National Monument and the iconic Dutch department store De Bijenkorf.
Dam square has been the city’s geographical heart since a dam was built here in 1270. The Royal Palace reflects important moments in history, serving as Amsterdam's city hall for its first 150 years, then as an imperial palace and now as a place for the royal family to receive important guests. When not being used, it is open for visitors.
Built in the 17th century atop 13,659 wooden piles, it was originally designed as a city hall befitting the richest harbour in the world, whose residents had achieved a Golden Age without the help of monarchs. In 1806, when Napoleon made his brother Louis king of the Netherlands, this ‘eighth world wonder’ was rezoned as a royal palace – and today it remains part of the real estate holdings of the House of Orange.
One will not be in want for a shop: Kalverstraat is the country’s most famous commercial pedestrian street. Book lovers also have Spui square with its three major book shops and an outdoor book market on Friday. For reading, there always a quiet bench to be found in the Begijnhof or the smaller courtyards and alleys around the Amsterdam Museum (formerly known as Amsterdam Historical Museum).
There are, in fact, few residents in Nieuwezijds. The streets are generally filled with shops, bars and restaurants catering to locals, tourists and the students attending the University of Amsterdam. Back in the heady 1960s, youth gathered around the Lieverdje statue in front of the Athenaeum News Centre to loudly combine radical politics and absurdist theatre as part of the Provo movement. These days, however, the students seem more focussed on their studies.
Eating, drinking etc
Some of the city’s more charming ‘brown cafés’ are located on or near Spui square. Prime examples are Café de Zwart, Café Luxembourg and Café Scheltema. Many originated when Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal was home to most of the major newspaper offices.
Hipper bars and clubs are now clustered around Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal near the Dam. But of course: the whole city is at hand.