Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. Known for its liberal drug laws, personal freedom and positive attitude toward gays, this has always been one of Europe's most radical cities. Amsterdam derives its name from 'Amstel dam' which literally means dam on the river Amstel.
Amsterdam is home to 165 canals giving it its reputation as the 'Venice of the North'. These canals were mainly built during the Dutch Golden Age and the three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht form a concentric belt around the city known as the grachtengordel.
Packed with bikes, canals, cafes, museums and coffee shops, this vibrant city has come a long away from its humble origins as a small fishing village in the 12th century. It now boasts of 738000 residents from 173 different countries, 51 museums, 141 art galleries, 600000 bicycles, 24 diamond polishing factories, 2500 houseboats and 141 art galleries.
There's a famous adage that says, "God made the world but the Dutch made the Netherlands". One can clearly see the point to this statement. Over 33,000 square kilometres of the Netherlands is artificial. Over the centuries, its lands have been reclaimed from the seas and the drained polders protected by dikes. It is geographically low-lying (over half the country is below sea level) and one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The Netherlands is located in Western Europe and is bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south and Germany to the east.
There is often confusion about the name Holland. Many people call the Netherlands Holland, but it is not the same. Holland refers to only two of the twelve provinces that have been the most powerful economically. To the outside world, Holland thus became synonymous with the Netherlands (this is however a bit like saying Wales when you mean Britain).
The Netherlands is often described as a small country with a big reputation for liberalism. It is a modern, advanced and open society that is known for its rather liberal policies toward recreational drugs, prostitution, abortion and euthanasia. It is also one of the most densely cabled countries in the world with an internet connection rate of 73.3% which is the fifth highest in the world.
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