Amsterdam is a small (~850 million people), but vibrant city in the heart of Europe. While perhaps most known for it’s cannabis bars (called coffee shops) and the Red Light District,
Amsterdam is cultural and picturesque, with it’s tall, narrow, crooked houses lining the many canals. It also has a very rich and – sometimes controversial – history.
Amsterdammers are known for being open and direct. Don’t be alarmed if a complete stranger walks up to you and comments on your clothes, no matter if it’s a compliment or telling you that they don’t think that color looks good on you.
They don’t consider this rude, they consider it being frank and honest, no matter if they are asked for their opinion or not.
In general, the Dutch people have a live and let live attitude, which means that they tolerate many things that would be deeply offending elsewhere – such as drug use and sex. Don’t think that this means that they cannot be offended, though. Even though they are tolerant in general, there are taboos and things you shouldn’t do when in Amsterdam.
English is never a problem. Dutch people are the best non-native English speakers in the world.
While the city is home to less than a million people, it is still much more crowded than most western cities.
This is partly due to the city itself being small – the area inside the city ring is much smaller than the neighbouring Schiphol Airport.
But it is also due to the blocks being small, streets and sidewalks narrow and a lot of space is taken up by canals.
Due to it’s diminutive size, small streets and flat topography, bicyxle is the default mode of transport in Amsterdam. Driving is confusing and often slow, and while the public transport network is excellent, biking is often the fastest alternative. In fact, you can get to anywhere in the city within 20-30 minutes, and to most in 10-15.
Areas to visit
Even though Amsterdam is small – or maybe because it is – it contains many different neighbourhoods with very different character. This is something that many tourists who mostly stay in the De Wallen / Redlight District and surrounding areas.
De Wallen, Redlight District and Chinatown
The areas surrounding the central station is by many tourists believed to be the center of Amsterdam. The truth is that most Amsterdammers rarely set foot in this area, and while the buildings and architecture is very much traditional Amsterdam, you won’t get the geniune Amsterdam experience here.
The entire area is overran by bachelor partties and other groups of young, drunk, obnoxious tourists. Amsterdammers are happy that they stay there, but any tourist with basic respect for other people is warmly welcome were we Amsterdammers go and hang out with us.
While it is definitely worth visiting the Red Light District, a couple of hours is enough. Use the rest of your time in Amsterdam to explore the areas of Amsterdam that are better suited for gentlemen.
De Pijp is one of the main bar and restaurant areas for locals to hang out. This fairly recently gentrified area is home to the largest outdoor market in Amsterdam, Albert Cuypmarkt, as well as plenty of hip bars and restaurants.
Jordaan & Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets)
If you prefer to explore local brands and smaller boutiques over the large international chains (and you absolutely should), then head to the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) for your shopping.
You find them in the canal district just east of Jordaan, and you’ll find everything from second hand stores to the coolest, hippest Amsterdam brands.
When you need a break, head for one of the traditional Brown Bars in Jordaan to keep your thirst at bay.
Museum District, Leidseplein and Vondelpark
Rijksmuseum and The van Gogh Museum might be the most famous of the Amsterdam museums. That unfortunately also means that they are some of the most crowded, and you need to book way in advance.
The can Gogh Museum is open until 10PM on Fridays once a month. If you’re in town, I recommend it, as it’s calmer. The bars and music they play also helps.
If not, I recommend going to the Stedelijk Museum, filled with modern and contemporary art or the private Mocum Museum, specializing in Banksy instead.
While in Amsterdam, Please
If you want to visit one of the cannabis bars, called coffe shops, keep in mind that the products are much stronger than in many other places, so take it easy.
Technically, smoking weed outside of coffee shops or private homes is not allowed. In practice, however, noone will mind if you rather want to sit on the edge of a canal or in a park as long as you behave and show some common
courtesy. Pick a spot that is a bit to the side, so that you don’t bother anyone with your smoke.
Amsterdammers are not strangers to alcohol, and we don’t mind having a few drinks ourselves on occation. As long as you behave, it’s all good.
Keep in mind that it’s not allowed to drink in public in some areas in central Amsterdam. However, if you want to have a picnic with a bottle of wine in a park, it’s not a problem as long as you behave.
Rent a bicycle
The best way to get around Amsterdam is by bike, so if you want to explore the city like a local, do rent a “Granny Bike”, as the dutch people call their traditional bikes.
Don’t, however, think that you can bike like an Amsterdammer. The bike traffic is crowded and might seem chaotic to an outsider. There is a system, but until you get used to it – be prepared to yield at all times.
Respect the sex workers
Prostitution is allowed in Amsterdam, and is generally seen as any job. The prostitutes even pay taxes and enjoy social security. While not seen as a high status job, prostitutes are generally respected, as most people here acknowledge that they are providing an important service to some people.
Wether you agree with that or not, respect the sex workers. Don’t stop and stare or ask for the price unless you intend to shop, and don’t take photos.
While in Amsterdam, Please Don’t
Urinate in public
No further explanation is needed. There are public urinals everywhere. Use them, or ask to use the restrooms in one of the bars.
Buy hard drugs on the street
Hard drugs (basically all drugs except for cannabis, mushrooms and peyote) are illegal, and street pushers cannot be trusted. If you want to experiment with hard drugs, it’s better to befriend some locals.
Walk on bike paths
Bike riders own Amsterdam. They are everywhere. Always look both ways when crossing a street or bike path unless you want to learn all the Dutch curse words.
- Cash is often not accepted.
- Credit cards are often not accepted.
- PIN Cards, a local version of Maestro Debit cards, are the most common form of payment. Some places with PIN signs will also accept international Maestro cards, but not all.
- Beware of bikes. Always.
- Dog owners are not always good at picking up after their dogs.
- Be prepared for the Dutch Directness
- Don’t be offended if you try to speak Dutch, and they answer in English. They are not offended by your crooked Dutch, they simply think it’s more efficient with English.