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Amsterdam's Centraal Station | © Dietmar Rabich / WikiCommons
Amsterdam's Centraal Station | © Dietmar Rabich / WikiCommons

A Brief History of Amsterdam's Centraal Station

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 17 April 2017

Despite its utilitarian role within the city’s infrastructure, Amsterdam’s Centraal Station is actually among the most prized example of Dutch Neo-Renaissance architecture. Like other buildings from this period, the station was designed to glorify Dutch culture and represent the nation’s economic prowess. In fact, its palatial, almost imposing facade was devised by Pierre Cuypers– a famed Dutch architect whose work includes the Rijksmuseum.

Today, over 162,000 travellers pass through its gates on a daily basis, making it the most visited national heritage site in the Netherlands. Although it is now recognised as a vital, iconic part of Amsterdam’s civic centre, its presence was once an extremely controversial issue.

In the late 19th century, Amsterdam’s municipal government was eager to adapt the city around Noord-Holland’s growing railway network and began laying plans for a centralised station. Finding an appropriate site for this new hub was particularly difficult, due to Amsterdam’s unique urban layout and extensive waterways.

Amid considerable protest, the station was eventually constructed on three artificial islands in Amsterdam’s harbour. This decision effectively cordoned off the river IJ, creating a large barrier between Amsterdam’s waterfront and its historic town centre. Many officials despised the station and claimed that its existence undermined Amsterdam’s image and character.

However, many other Amsterdammers admired its grandeur and thousands paid to visit the station when it finally opened in 1889. Soon after the station’s completion, Amsterdam’s urban planning began to shift away from aquatic transit and towards ground based modes of transportation, leading to the development of the city’s extensive tramway network.

Over the next century Centraal Station was renovated several times and given a whole new wing. Currently, Amsterdam’s municipality is working on a metro line that runs through the city’s North-South axis and is redeveloping Centraal Station in order to accommodate these changes.

For obvious reasons, Centraal Station is open to the public every day of the year.