We are used to perceiving ring roads as a necessary evil: they take you from A to B. However, ring roads can also be employed in an entirely different way: as tourist routes. Experience the city from a fresh, new perspective! Drive the 32 kilometre stretch of the Amsterdam ring road full circle, and you’ll see the harbour andthe polders; the business district and the multi-cultural residential areas. By all means, feel free to get out of the car: we’ll show you spots where no tourist has gone before – until now. If you manage to avoid traffic jams, you can drive around Amsterdam in roughly half an hour. So leave the tedious touristy city center for what it is, and start your engines!
The famous Amsterdam ring of canals (Grachtengordel), constituting the city’s picturesque historic center, is worldfamous; UNESCO is about to add it to the World Heritage List. The canals were constructed in the seventeenth century. In those days, Amsterdam was the number one trading city in the world.
After this ‘Golden Age’, however, the development of Amsterdam came to a grinding halt; the city plummeted into a state of lethargy. The city’s governors preferred to live off the accumulated wealth of their ancestors, rather than venture into new investments and take chances. ‘They drink, they piss, they leave everything the way it is,’ a saying from those days declares. As a consequence, The Netherlands missed out on the Industrial Revolution for the longest time.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, the city expanded drastically. The number of Amsterdam residents doubled to half a million (compared to 750.000 today). From all over the country, manual workers flocked to the Dutch capital.
Investors simply stuck new districts onto the historic city, without much care for urban planning. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the city was methodically plotted and well thought-out.
Even though plans to construct a ring road around Amsterdam had been devised as early as the nineteen thirties, its actual realization was considerably delayed due to World War II. Only in the nineteen sixties did construction finally take off and it wasn’t until 1990 that the ring was fully completed.
IJBURG: THE NEWEST PART OF TOWN
Traditionally, the Dutch don’t like big cities – all they ever bring about is revolution and rebellion. As of the nineteen seventies satellite towns such as Purmerend, Lelystad and Almere were designed to house the ever growing post-war population. Within two decades Amsterdam lost 190.000 residents to these towns; over 20% of its inhabitants.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the tables were turned. ‘Construction in or of the existing city’ was the slogan from then on. The most spectacular example of that motto is IJburg, a district that was reclaimed from the waters of Lake IJsselmeer. In 2020, when construction of the district is estimated to be completed, there will be 45.000 people living on 6 artificial islands, raised from the lake.
See this work in progress from the old longitudinal dyke that runs for over a kilometer alongside it, and into the lake. Not only does the dyke provide for a premium spot to see the district; it also allows you to catch a glimpse of a charming fifteenth century fishing-village.
BETONDORP: EARLY IDEALISM
Just after World War I, the Romantic ideals of the garden city were combined with the newly discovered construction material concrete in Betondorp (‘concrete town’). The recently renovated town was once the inspiration for German architect Martin Wagner’s Plattenbau (large-panel system building) designs. Holland’s most famous soccer player, Johan Cruijff, was raised here; the Ajax stadium opposite the town was, unfortunately, demolished in 1996.
BIJLMER: LATE IDEALISM
Most new dwellings that were needed to house the ever growing post-war population arose at a considerable distance from the city, in satellite towns like Purmerend, Lelystad, and Almere: Dutch Suburbia. Over a period of two decades, the city lost 190.000 of its residents to these towns, over twenty percent of its inhabitants.
In the late nineteen sixties, however, the famous and notorious Bijlmermeer arose on the south-east side of the city, with its ten stories high, honeycomb structured flats. May of those flats have been demolished over the past decade, but there is still more than enough left to enjoy (for concrete enthusiasts).
Despite the staggering industrial qualities of the business district, Amsterdam’s south end has managed to preserve a historic landscape in the south part of the city: around the Amstel, the river that gave the city its name. On Zorgvlied, the country’s best known cemetery, a number of famous citizens have found their final resting place – well, famous Dutch citizens, that is.
Bus loads of Japanese tourists are dropped off here to photograph the statue of seventeenth-century painter Rembrandt. After they leave the lovely river is all yours to stroll alongside or to go boating. Hotel Mercure provides rental boats.
ZUIDAS: THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT
In the nineteen nineties the city council tried to transform the banks of the River IJ into a modern business centre; however, companies and offices no longer had any desire to be located in the city center. They were fed up with its short supply of parking spots and its poor accessibility.
As a result, the South Axis (Zuidas) was born: Amsterdam’s ultra modern business district, rising high on both sides of the A10 ring road. The district is visible from miles around, boasts excellent accessibility, and is located at a stone’s throw from the international airport. Today, one out of every 8 Dutch lawyers is to be found in this square kilometer area. A large video screen (spanning 8 by 5 meters) on location broadcasts art 24 hours a day.
BERLAGE: EARLY 20th CENTURY CITY PLANNING
The architect Berlage is known best for drawing the now legendary Project South (Plan Zuid), realized between 1917 and 1925. Today, these areas, built in the typical style of the ‘Amsterdam School’, are still considered the most popular – and, as far as residents go, white – parts of the city. Had city district South (Zuid) been an independent municipality, it would indisputably be the wealthiest town in The Netherlands.
Leading material used in Amsterdam School construction was brick. The same bricks built the 1928 Olympic Stadium – another must-see.
S107 t/m S103
Outside the ring to the west you can find the ‘garden towns’ (Tuinsteden), a celebrated project by Cornelis van Eesteren. His General Expansion Project (Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan) of 1934 heralded the era of the New Construction (Het Nieuwe Bouwen), its mantra being ‘brightness, air and space’. However, the project wasn’t realized until after World War II. Since then, the districts have become impoverished considerably.
Holland’s most disreputable area is located around S103. Do make a stop here, since the district, boasting a squatted mosque, a daily market, gospel, art beneath the highway, and – freshly gutted – raw herring, is a horn of plenty.
S102 + S101
Historically, the city harbours were placed in the heart of the concentric ring of canals (in the exact spot Central Station is located today); at the end of the nineteenth century, they were moved to artificial islands in the east part of the city. After World War II, they disappeared from the city center for good; today, you can find them in the west part of the city.
The Amsterdam harbour – the world’s largest for petrol – is continuously developing. From the ring you can see her in all her splendor.
S117 t/m S115
THE POLDERS: 4 METERS BELOW SEA LEVEL
A topic of discussion is city district North (Noord), in particular when it comes to the question if Noord can, in fact, be considered part of Amsterdam. As a matter of fact, the land above the River IJ has always been looked upon with a certain disregard; up until 1957 – when a bridge was built – its connection to the city center was limited to ferry transfers alone.
Noord wears Amsterdam’s most traditional Dutch face. Just take in the backdrop! Right outside the borders of the ring road, unspoiled peat area still reins; on the horizon, you will detect the blunted church tower of Ransdorp – exactly the way Rembrandt painted it.
Discover where the true Amsterdam resident spends his weekends and summer vacations: on his datsja. In the allotment gardens, sporting tiny wooden cabins, the city shows you its countryside.