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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 cafés 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.
Key industries in Amsterdam today include tourism, manufacturing, finance and increasingly, new technologies. Amsterdam is renowned for its ultra liberal attitudes, although the negative side of this is evident in major drug problems and the infamous 'girls in the windows', the laissez faire attitude makes Amsterdam something of an oasis, where different cultures, ethnic groups and nationalities for most of the time live in harmony. This multiculturalism reached its zenith during the Euro 2000 football tournament, which the Netherlands co-hosted with Belgium, with all sections of the community getting behind the national team.
In the summer all of Amsterdam's eclectic groups come together in Vondelpark to relax in the balmy weather. Amsterdam may statistically be one of Europe's wettest capitals but as soon as the clouds clear and sun is allowed to shine the city's inhabitants spill out onto the streets to sit in one of the numerous pavement cafés, take a cruise on a canal or even that most ubiquitous of Amsterdam pastimes - ride their bicycles. Amsterdam's winters tend to be cold, with plenty of rain, but this seldom seems to deter the tourists who flock to the city all year round.
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