The district was established in 1972 by merging the former district of Amberg and the district-free city of Sulzbach-Rosenberg (the latter one lost its status as a district-free city in this administrative reform).
The district is located in the geographical centre of Bavaria, 40 km east of Nuremberg. The main axis of the region is the Vils River (an affluent of the Naab) crossing the district from north to south. West of the river the land rises to the Franconian Jura, while there are gentle hills on the eastern side in the angle between Naab and Vils. The district is mainly covered by forests, especially in its western half.