Easily the most popular city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is known as the creative, cultural, and financial center, the beating heart of the country. With its mix of cobblestone paths and busy streets, Amsterdam manages to feel like a bustling village with all the amenities of a modern city. This lovely and surprising city has more canals and bridges than Venice. Live and study abroad in Amsterdam — there are some great programs in this picturesque place.
Geography & Demographics
The city is located in the western Netherlands, less than 20 miles from the North Sea and just off a large inlet. Amsterdam’s past, present and future is filled with water. It started out as a fishing village and rose to its prime in the Golden Age of the Dutch, when Amsterdam was the country’s main port and the richest city in the world. The 165 canals of Amsterdam run crisscross throughout the city and are officially an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearly 1,300 bridges cross the many canals, and “the bridge was open” is a tardy Amsterdam schoolkid’s version of “the dog ate my homework.”
The city itself enjoys the a mild climate that can be somewhat unpredictable, but the summers are warm and the winters cold. The famous tulips bloom around the city in early spring and make the countryside look like an endless velvety rainbow. Some of the most well known areas for viewing the blooms are in villages under an hour away.
Food & Culture
Known for its laid-back atmosphere and welcoming people, it is a city where friends can be easily made and students will quickly feel immersed. Although the official language is Dutch, it is estimated that up to 90 percent of the people speak English as a second language, so students can learn another language but also find many programs taught in English.
The food in Amsterdam is as warm and inviting as the people. Meats, breads and pastries are very popular. It is very typical in Amsterdam to serve a meal with a little sweet treat on the side. Coffee comes with a small cookie; poffertjes, small, fluffy pancakes served with butter and powdered sugar, can be found along almost any street through the colder months. Sinterklaas, or The Night of Saint Nicholas in early December, is accompanied by chocoladeletters. The large letters are made of chocolate then decorated and passed between friends, family — and of course left in shoes as a sweet surprise.
Stamppot is a staple of the more savory variety. It consists of mashed potatoes mixed with a variety of vegetables and topped with a smoked sausage. The hearty meal will leave anyone full and comforted.
Things to Do
Stay in the city limits and see amazing architecture during the day and enjoy a thriving nightlife afterwards. The Oude Kerk, or old church, is built in the Gothic renaissance style and is a popular tourist site located in the heart of the Red Light District. Rembrandt Square pays homage to the famous artist with a statue and streets lined with typical Dutch pubs offering authentic Dutch music and food.
Studying in Amsterdam
A few of the many options include the study abroad program with Council on International Education and Exchange (CIEE), which provides students in the social sciences and humanities an opportunity to gain credits while adding a research component. The program is taught in English and offers courses in everything from Anthropology to Finance and Film to Tourism. It includes excursions to several cities and plenty of opportunities for volunteer work and university involvement. Other study-abroad programs in Amsterdam include SIT Study Abroad’s interesting course on International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender, and Eastern Michigan University’s European Cultural History tour, which hits Amsterdam on its multi-country summer abroad program.