The "Amsterdam" that most visitors experience is the city centre, the semi-circle with Central Station at its apex. It corresponds to the city as it was around 1850.
Five major concentric canals ring the Old Center; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singelgracht, together forming the Canal Ring. Other districts inside the city center are the Jordaan, a working-class area gone upmarket, and Plantage, a leafy and spacious area known for its zoo and botanical gardens. The roads Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade surround the center and mark the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870.
The semi-circle is on the south side of the IJ, often called a river but more exactly is an estuary. Going east from Central Station, the railway passes the artificial islands of the redeveloped Eastern Docklands. North of the IJ is mainly housing, although a major dockland redevelopment has started there too.
The river Amstel flows into the city from the south. Originally, it flowed along the line Rokin-Damrak.
The dam in the Amstel, which gives the city its name, was located under the present Bijenkorf department store. The original settlement was on the right bank of the Amstel, on the present Warmoesstraat: it is therefore the oldest street in the city. The city has expanded in all directions, except to the north of the ring motorway. The region there, the Rural North, is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages that could be considered as part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semicircle is about 2 km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, much of Amsterdam is never visited by tourists: at least 90% of the population lives outside this area. Most economic activity in Amsterdam — the offices of the service sector, and the port — is on or outside the ring motorway, which is 4-5 km from the centre.
The expansion of Amsterdam outside this beltway, and the expansion of activity outside the old centre, is redefining what locals consider the ´central area´ of Amsterdam. Without a doubt the most popular district outside of the city centre is South for its quality museums and gentrified neighbourhood ´De Pijp´.
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