Amsterdam has one of the most extensive historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of which are attractively floodlit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, few buildings from the period have survived. Exceptions are two medieval wooden houses at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. Number 34 Begijnhof is the oldest house in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the community living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal Ring, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals. Typical of the area are the traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, which is over 300 years old and practically in its original state. It is a beautiful place to view the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the lower class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname ‘Jordan’ for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of “gentrification” in the Netherlands, as recently it has been turned into a fashionable shopping district.
There are several large warehouses built originally with specific roles in mind. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and ‘s-Gravenhekje. The city office for architectural heritage, BMA, has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples. There are also several warehouse galleries in Amsterdam Noord, including Nieuw Dakota, a young gallery space for contemporary art.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the surrounding buildings obstructed the wind too much. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in Amsterdam, and most of them are in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is used as a brewery open to visitors. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.