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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam

What is Koninklijk Paleis?

Koninklijk Paleis, or Royal Palace in English, is Amsterdam’s former town hall that was converted into a royal palace by King Louis I of Holland.

Koninklijk Paleis

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Royal Palace History

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam sits here on Dam Square, in the very centre of the city. It was originally built as the city’s town hall, but now functions as King Willem-Alexander’s official reception palace, hosting state visits, royal dinners, and ceremonies. Although it serves a state function, it’s often open to visitors.

The building was constructed entirely of sandstone, with a foundation of over 13,000 wooden piles. Over the centuries, weathering has turned the exterior a mottled grey and beige, but the façade remains an impressive sight. The building project was taken over by the architect Jacob van Campen in 1648, and Mayor Cornelis de Graeff opened the first section of the new town hall in July 1655. The entire building was finished 10 years later. Shortly before construction started, a treaty had been signed, marking the end of the 80 Years’ War between the Dutch Republic and Spain. Van Campen’s town hall was designed partly as a monument to commemorate the event. It made sense, therefore, to crown the façade’s triangular pediment with a bronze personification of Peace.

The structure, whose exterior is in Dutch Classicist style, made an immediate impression on contemporary Dutch society. The diplomat and poet Constantijn Huygens called it ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, whilst the English Ambassador, Sir William Temple, scornfully described it as ‘a big little thing’. Indeed, it must have towered over the nearby medieval houses. The town hall’s interior was no less striking, filled with works by the most celebrated artists of the time.

In the early 1660s, Rembrandt painted The Conspiracy of the Batavians Under Claudius Civilis, commissioned by the burgomasters (or governors) of Amsterdam. At five and a half metres tall and wide, it was to be the biggest, most prestigious painting of his career, and was intended to be hung as part of a series of Batavian paintings in the town hall. (The Batavi were an ancient tribe from the Netherlands, whose struggle for freedom was used a symbol of Dutch liberation from Spanish rule.) In a famous 17th-century controversy, we know that although Rembrandt’s painting hung in the building’s Great Hall in July 1662, a month later the artist took it down to make changes to it after a discussion with his patrons. We don’t know what was said or requested, but the canvas never returned to its former place. It was cut down to its current 196- by 309-centimetre size, probably by Rembrandt himself, and now hangs in the National Museum in Stockholm.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte set up the Kingdom of Holland as a puppet state to better control the Netherlands, and installed his brother Louis Bonaparte as King Louis I of Holland. In 1808, Louis transformed the town hall into a palace, filling it with imperial furniture and richly decorating the interior. Although he was forced to abdicate a mere two years later, the furnishings of the Royal Palace still bear his imprint. The furniture he installed is used to this day. Upon the fall of Emperor Napoleon in 1813, the new King William I returned the palace to the city. However, he then realised that he needed a home in Amsterdam and asked for it back; it was made state property in 1936.

For the last 200 years, the palace has been used by the monarch to receive world leaders and heads of state, hold prestigious ceremonies, host celebrations like the New Year’s Reception, and of course for royal events such as weddings and investitures. Between these grand events visitors are welcome to walk in the Citizens’ Hall, a reminder of the building’s original role as Amsterdam’s Town Hall.

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