Amsterdam is not just tulips, cheese, canals and bikes: it’s a treasure cove. Like a Tinder date you’ve spent hours on swiping and are about to meet, she holds infinite surprises (and a lot of misconceptions!). Having lived and loved Amsterdam for so many years, we can now say we’re proper locals.
Here’s some practical advice and things you need to know before visiting Amsterdam.
#1 - More Than Red Lights and Greens
So you think Amsterdam is all smoke and red lights? Think again. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find this Swiss Army knife of a city is bursting with cuisine, culture, community, and future-looking initiatives. So it’s no surprise that Amsterdam has been recently awarded the second-best city in the world. Time Out surveyed city residents from across the globe to put together its 2021 round-up of the world’s best urban hub. And Amsterdam’s right there on top — for good reason.
FOOD AND FUN
Amsterdam’s thriving nightlife, restaurant scene and cultural highlights are literally among the coolest you’ll ever experience. You definitely can’t leave Amsterdam without trying one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants like Ciel Bleu or De Kas, a sustainable restaurant set in a greenhouse that’s earned a Michelin Green Star. For party-goers, Amsterdam’s nightlife surely doesn’t disappoint. From the trendy Chin Chin Club to diverse Club NYX, OT301 for the underground movement and creative hub De Marktkantine, there’s a space for everyone to boogie the night away.
With 70 museums like the world-famous Anne Frank House and the eclectic Electric Ladyland (the world’s first fluorescent art museum), combined with a culturally rich agenda, there’s never a dull moment in Amsterdam. As the weather heats up, the best summer entertainment can be found outside. An Amsterdam institution is definitely the annual Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, featuring a jam-packed program with festivals, dance and cabaret performances, children’s theatre, and all genres of music ranging from classical to avant-garde.
A GREEN CITY
There’s no secret that the green credentials make Amsterdam great. When the Dutch decided to go green, they were not just talking about weed! Thanks to its effort to increase sustainability, our city has cemented its status as a modern, environmentally aware metropolis. With 900,000 bicycles and almost 60% of people cycling every day, Amsterdam’s ambitious project is to make all of its transports emissions-free by 2030.`It’s no wonder Amsterdam came in third place in the sustainability category worldwide according to TimeOut.
#2 - Plan Ahead
Booking in advance can save you a headache, especially if you’re visiting Amsterdam during peak season (between June and August) or if you’re planning a well-deserved weekend in Amsterdam.
When it comes to restaurants and bars, we recommend reserving your spots to secure them. If you plan on visiting popular museums like the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh Museum, be sure to buy your ticket online as there are limited tickets available each day.
With some tips and tricks, 3 or 4 days will be enough to soak in all the beauty of our city. Download our free 24-hour itinerary for some top-notch local recommendations, as well as a few exclusive deals.
AMSTERDAM ON A DIME
If you want to save money, time, and hassle, then the best decision is to get the I amsterdam City Card, giving you free access to over 70 museums in Amsteradam, other major highlights and unlimited citywide public transport. But keep in mind that because of the current Covid safety measures, you’re now required to book time slots before enjoying most I amsterdam City Card activities.
How about accommodations, you ask? Book your hotel or AirBnB in advance as accommodations tend to get snapped up fast, especially during Amsterdam’s peak season or when well-known festivals take place, like the Amsterdam Dance Event.
#3 - Beyond the City Centre
Compared to a metropolis like London or New York, Amsterdam oozes village vibes. Our city is so compact and easy to get around that you’ll feel that everything is at your fingertips. In minutes, you’ll find yourself in a different neighbourhood. One thing we frequently hear from travellers is just how close everything is.
So we recommend exploring the city centre on Day 1 of your trip to experience the essentials. But Amsterdam has a lot more to offer. Every pocket has its quirks and charms. On Day 2, take the time to discover the other neighbourhoods of Amsterdam.
Check out our recommended duration to spend and some of the best things to do in Amsterdam.
NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST
Noord (North), for example, is industrial-cool with amazing street art, hoppin’ microbreweries like Oedipus, as well as amazing dining experiences like Moon Restaurant at the A’Dam Tower. De Pijp neighbourhood tucked in Amsterdam South, also known as Amsterdam’s lively Latin Quarter, is home to Europe’s biggest market, the Albert Cuyp Market. Feast on Amsterdam’s best street food with the awesome Amsterdam Do-It-Yourself Foodie Tour!
Oost (East), known for its vibrant streets lined by trendy bars, ethnically diverse dining options and green spaces, including the excellent Artis Zoo. Amsterdam West is hip, yet unspoilt. There’s the buzzing Food Hallen, Amsterdam’s first food hall with around 20 trendy food stands, as well as awesome local hangouts like Waterkant. So you see, there’s so much to discover beyond the canals and cobblerstone.
#4 - No Photos of the Ladies in the Red Light District
Did you know that Amsterdam’s Red Light District is our oldest neighbourhood? And it’s surely the hottest! It’s home to erotic theatres and bars, adult toy stores, and even a 5D cinema of mature nature. And of course, scantily clad ladies offer their services behind red neon windows out on the streets.
But make no mistake. There are rules here. Locals live and work here. Of all the things you need to know about visiting Amsterdam’s Red Light District, the most important thing to know is that you’re not allowed to take pictures of the ladies behind the windows. Not only is it rude, but it’s also a violation of their privacy. Sidenote: Alcohol is forbidden on the streets and avoid street dealers.
BEHIND THE CURTAINS
Always wondered what goes on behind the curtains of the most controversial neighborhood in Amsterdam, then join our private virtual Red Light District: Stripped Experience. Discover the naked truths about the most famous red light district in the world. For the first time ever, dive into its history and modern affairs and enjoy a Q and A with Sunny, one of the ladies who work in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Learn and laugh as she debunks the myths and shares her views and stories from her personal experiences.
You can join from virtually anywhere in the world and it’s for a private experience for a group of up to 20. Definitely an eye and mind-opener for those who wish to dig a little deeper from the comfort of your home.
#5 - How to Survive Biking in Amsterdam
Cycling in Amsterdam is the most authentic way to discover the city and the best way to get around. However, there are a few things you need to know before you hop on your two-wheeler.
Biking in Amsterdam is like driving a car anywhere else in the world: bikers have dedicated lanes, parking lots, and stoplights. In Amsterdam, bikers have their well-established set of rules, which means that if you accidentally get in their way, boy it could be stressful!
So how do you avoid the jitters and wide-eyed wonder? How do you survive — more importantly, blend in. Here are our top tips:
- Remain in your lane. FYI, we ride on the right-hand side here.
- Don’t cut people off and always use hand signals before making a turn.
- Get a 360-degree view of your surroundings. Amsterdammers tend to be impatient on the road, so don’t be surprised if you’re caught in the middle of a synchronized biking scenario.
- Watch out for pedestrians crossing the street on the zebra crossing/crosswalk.
#6 - Coffeeshops VS Cafes
It’s no secret that Amsterdam is the “green” capital of Europe. Every year, 1.5 million tourists flock to Amsterdam from all over the world just to try some of our fine… ahem… delicacies.
However, if some java and a stroopwafel are what you need, then keep your eyes open for cafés rather than Amsterdam coffeeshops. Cafes serve beverages and pastries, while coffeeshops specialize in special cakes and crops with a side of caffeine.
WHAT’S A COFFEESHOP?
- Amsterdam coffeeshops are required to display their permits on their storefronts.
- Follow your nose. Greens of such nature tend to exude a distinctly skunky smell.
Wanna know more? Check out Amsterdam Coffeeshop Do’s and Don’t’s From a Budtender’s POV. Our recommendations for both coffeeshops and cafe? Two of Amsterdam’s best coffeeshops are Boerejongens (Farmer Boys) and Paradox Coffeeshop. If a great cuppa is all you need, check out the funky Aussie-owned Lot61.
#7 - Be Prepared For All Weathers
Nothing is truer than the ol’ good Dutch saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The weather in Amsterdam is fickle and is famous for four seasons in one day. Pouring rain one minute followed by generous sunshine. So what should you do? Layer up and take a raincoat with you. And check the weather forecast before you leave your accommodation. As the Dutch like to say, “You’re not made of sugar!”
#8 - Amsterdam's Public Transport
One of the things to know before visiting Amsterdam is that the city has officially converted its public transport to a 100 per cent cashless system. The OV-chipkaart is the best choice if you want to save time and money For example, the price for a one-hour ticket costs €3.20, while a 24-hour ticket is a cool €8.50. Sidenote: Covid has seen shops and restaurants forgoing cash in favour of contactless and digital payments, so Amsterdam is quickly becoming a cashless city.
#9 - Tipping in Amsterdam
So you’re sitting in a café, you’ve just enjoyed a delicious meal, and the bill arrives. Then the one-million-dollar question arises: “Should I tip?”
In the Netherlands, there’s no social or written requirement to tip a server. Over here, restaurant and hospitality workers are paid fully by their employers and don’t exaclty need tips to make ends meet. But look, if you received good service or enjoyed the food, it’s always lovely to show some appreciation. A gesture of around 5-10% of the bill goes a long way.
#10 - Be Prepared For Dutch Directness
Ever heard of Dutch directness? Trust us, it’s a real thing.
Cyclists yelling insults when you cut their lanes. Or locals telling you to stop taking pictures when you’re snapping away in the middle of the street. These things do happen. In fact, the Dutch are somewhat proud of their directness and tell-it-as-they-see-it mentality.
So, how to deal with the refreshingly honest Dutch culture? Simple: when in Rome, do as the Romans do! First of all, be open and accept Dutch directness as part of their culture. Then don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will be amazed by how Dutch people are open to talk about cultural differences! It certainly makes for interesing banter.
It’s not always easy to plan the perfect getaway, but with these tips above, you’ll certainly have a memorable experience in Amsterdam.
For the best things to do in Amsterdam, check out our top picks!
Download our free 24-hour itinerary for awesome local recommendations.
Are you one of the lucky ones in Amsterdam? Enjoy a Do-It-Yourself Foodie Tour or browse through our selection of Amsterdam’s best experiences below. Wanna enjoy Amsterdam from home? A’Dam Good Foodie Box is available for shipping across Europe now.