As well as being one of the world's top tourist destinations the Dutch capital, Amsterdam is a city that has managed to preserve its greatest natural and manmade attractions as well as staying at the forefront of modern Europe. Amsterdam's origins delve back deep into the thirteenth century when a small settlement sprung up around the 'dam' on the Amstel River that gave the city its name. Today the old merchant houses and historical streets still look like they would have centuries ago in a city that boasts a real sense of living history, with apartments and cafes in buildings that in other cities would be museums.
The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built on a myriad of canals that neatly divide the city into easily navigable districts and imbue it with a small town ambience. There seems to be a canal around every corner in Amsterdam, not too surprising considering that the city is home to a staggering 165 canals. Amsterdam's sprawl of waterways are now used by a dizzying array of vessels, everything from glass roofed tourist boats and pedalos, right through to speedboats and gigantic industrial barges that testify to the role the canals and waterways still play in the city's economic life.