Photo Credit: Getty Images
13 Things To Remember When Visiting Amsterdam
Amsterdam, and The Netherlands in general, take pride in being progressive, with a very “live and let live” approach to most things. While other countries flat out prohibit sex work and drugs, Holland allows for both of these, and they are government regulated.
Don’t get it twisted, though, there are still some restrictions in place. You can’t, for instance, do “hard” drugs like cocaine, legally. But you can smoke a joint or enjoy edibles in the coffee shops or at home, without fear of repercussions.
Amsterdam is the most visited city in Holland, and among the most popular in Europe. NPR noted in 2018 that for a time there was an “overtourism” problem, to the chagrin of the less than one million citizens living there. It isn’t that tourists aren’t welcome, after all, tourism is an asset to any economy. The issue is that some tourists don’t bother to show deference to the host country, which can be problematic.
That said, if you’re the kind of person who digs places with chill vibes, Amsterdam is a winner. Here are 13 things to remember when visiting.
1. So, About The Red Light District....
New York is a pretty liberal city, but let’s be honest, Amsterdam runs circles around us without getting tired.
So with this in mind, it makes sense that you’d be wide-eyed while visiting the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) Red-Light District.
Seeing the women pose like mannequins in shop windows, sometimes tapping on the glass to get your attention, is…. different.
But don’t take this as an invitation to act piggish. If you want to pay for the services of a sex worker, there’s a way to go about it respectfully. You’ll know she’s busy if her curtains are closed.
Taking pictures of the sex workers is strongly frowned on, and don’t be surprised if you get reprimanded for it. However much we live in a “document everything” world, some things are best committed to memory, rather than film or phone.
2. Bikes Are Popular To Say The Least
Don’t be surprised if you see more bikes on the streets than cars!
There’s a historical, and tragic reason for why The Netherlands is one of the world’s bike capitals.
According to The Guardian, there were “400 children killed in traffic related accidents in 1971,” due to buildings being torn down to make way for more roads.
Pressure was put on the government to act, and today, The Netherlands boasts “22,000 miles of bike paths,” with 38% of them in the capital.
The locals are very serious about not having their designated paths blocked by pedestrians. So just as you would when crossing the street, be sure to look both ways for any oncoming bikes.
3. Light Up Responsibly
According to Amsterdam Info, “there are 250 coffee shops in the city, most of which are in The Red-Light District.”
These shops are places where you can come with friends to light up, play card games and chill. They can also be great places to socialize with new people.
You can purchase pre-rolled joints, and the shopkeepers are good at advising which strain is best for you. If it’s your first time, or you don’t smoke often, it might be best to start with something light.
If you’re not into smoking, many coffee shops offer edibles.
4. Club Life Is Lit
If you’re looking to dance the night away, this is the city to do it. Some clubs are open 24 hours for the dedicated club kids.
Have you ever partied in a church? Check out Paradiso, a converted 18th century club, which is also a concert venue.
Air Amsterdam in Rembrandt Square, not unlike House of Yes in Brooklyn, champions “quality, freedom, tolerance and diversity.” It mostly plays Hip-hop, House, Techno and related genres. At full capacity, it can hold about 1300 people.
Got a craving for Latin music? Club Mystique is known for its Salsa and Bachata nights.
There are also lounges, where you can kick back with a cocktail, and plenty of hookah bars.
5. There Are Great Art Museums
The contributions of the Dutch to the art world can’t be overstated.
From Rubens to Vermeer, Rembrandt to Van Gogh (pronounced Van- Ho, with a guttural sound behind the second word), you’ll see them all.
If you’re into fine art, the Rijksmuseum is the place to be.
Van Gogh has a museum named for him, and the visible brush strokes in his paintings are his trademark.
6. No Dutch? No Problem. English is Widely Spoken
Dutch is a difficult language to learn, but you may be relieved to know that English will get you pretty far in Amsterdam.
It’s common for Europeans to speak several languages. According to research done by Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences, “the Dutch have overtaken Sweden as the most proficient English speakers in the world outside the Anglosphere.”
Still, it’s nice to throw in a few phrases in Dutch whenever you can. One of the ways to thank somebody sounds close to how we’d say it in English. You can say dank u, for thank you, or dank u wel for thank you very much.
7. Canals, Canals, Canals
Amsterdam is sometimes called “Venice of The North,” because of its many canals. There are around 165 of them.
Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel are the principal canals.
Not unlike the Seine in Paris, you can take boat tours, which is a pleasant way to explore the city from another angle.
Amsterdam is very gay friendly. During the Pride parade, expect to see boat parties on the canals, with revelers waving rainbow flags.
8. The Huge Pancakes Are Delicious
Available in sweet and savory varieties, the pancakes here are worth cheating on your diet. They are much larger, but thinner, than the ones we are used to here.
I Amsterdam has several recommendations: The Pancake Bakery (which supposedly has a crazy long menu), Moak Pancakes, and Carousel Pancake House.
Hop on board the Pannenkoekenboot, a pancake boat, where you can gorge yourself on all the deliciousness you can stomach for over an hour.
9. Dam Square Is Cool If You Don't Mind Crowds
Just minutes from Central Station, this square is always crackin’, no matter the season.
It was built in the 13th century, and since then has expanded into an important hub, filled with restaurants, cafés, street performers and various rides, like the Ferris Wheel.
There’s a monument here in memory of the Dutch soldiers who died in the resistance during World War II. You’ll recognize it on sight for its distinctive shape.
10. Want Beer? Say Less....
Yes, of course there’s Heineken, but you can have that at home.
The Dutch, like the Germans, are authorities on beer. Sip some delicious craft beers, IPAS, stouts and bitters you may never find anywhere else.
There are plenty of cute little bars and restaurants serving them, not to mention the breweries, where you can learn how they are made. Proost!
11. Don't Confuse The Two Sex Museums
The Erotic Museum in the heart of The Red-Light District is pretty fun, but it’s much smaller.
The more impressive museum covering the history of human sexuality is across from Central Station.
At the Sex Museum, or Venustempel, you’ll be greeted by a statue of Venus, and beyond that, a few seats shaped like penises. Feel free to take pictures for a laugh.
12. Wallsnacks Are A Thing
Check out the Febo automats, the Dutch answer to the vending machine, except they usually serve hot food.
As The Low Countries indicates, they are noticeable for their “eerie glow, like a diner in an Edward Hopper painting.” Febo as a chain, has been around for generations, and takes “self serve” to another level.
Simply put in a coin or two and open the little doors for a burger, sandwich, or fries.
Fine dining it isn’t, but if you’re looking for something tasty to wolf down on the go, this is convenient.
13. Tulips Are A Cultural Symbol
If you’re an aspiring botanist, or simply love plants, you might be intrigued by the Dutch love of tulips.
Tulpenmanie, or Tulip Mania, took hold in The Netherlands back in the 17th century. The flower became popular for its bulbous shape and wide variety of colors.
This mania persists today, with tulips on full, beautiful display in various gardens and other green spaces across the country in the warmer months.
Each year, Amsterdam hosts The Tulip Festival. Some attractions can be enjoyed on foot or by bike, others you have to pay for. The tulips add splashes of color to an already vibrant city.
If you want to see fields of this beloved flower, head to Keukenhof, on the outskirts of the city.