Although I have plenty to write about living in Amsterdam, I'm most often asked for tips about visiting Amsterdam by friends and strangers. Here's 31 tips (in the form of 15 Do's and Don'ts) to the most frequently asked questions that I get and advice for seeing the best of this beautiful city. If you have any more questions, feel free to comment!
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Note: These are a quick run-down of tourist tips that are helpful to keep in mind! For a more in-depth neighborhood guide, click here for info about my favorite neighborhoods and off the beaten path places. I've now written an ultimate guide to Amsterdam with the most FAQs, including where to stay, what Dutch foods to try, and the top sites to see (from one biased local).
You will get dinged by a lot of bike bells and the bikes have terrified a lot of friends who have visited the Netherlands for the first time. Related to this, do not take photos whilst standing in the bike lane.
You can buy 8 Heinekens at a bar for the price of entry. You could also buy 4 craft beers AND tour a microbrewery for the same price.
Amsterdam is full of amazing microbreweries with incredibly delicious beer and lovely old cafes dating back to the 1600s. Try delicious beers from Oedipus, Jopen, Gebrouwen door Vrouwen, Brouwerij ‘T Ij, Butcher's Tears, and De Prael at cafes like the Arendsnest or the breweries themselves. If you’re after understanding Dutch culture, step into an old Dutch brown bar (due to the large amounts of brown wood) for a fresh mint tea or beer. I recommend Café Papeneiland and De Blaffende Vis in the Jordaan.
Click for an insider's guide to beer in Amsterdam with all the microbreweries that you'll want to try.
Know that soft drugs are tolerated, but illegal. Hard drugs are completely ILLEGAL and please do not buy from street dealers or hesitant to contact police/an ambulance if something goes wrong (112). There have been some high profile deaths where tourists purchased drugs on the street and died/had to be hospitalized as a result of ingredients that were harmful within the drugs. More info about doing drugs in the Netherlands if you're into that. Otherwise click for coffeeshops in Amsterdam with cute cats.
Amsterdam is a pretty safe city (especially compared to US/UK), however you still need to be aware of yourself. Don't leave your stuff out unsecured, especially your bike. Pickpocketing is an issue really only in the most crowded parts of Centre/the Red Light District, however you'll be fine 99% of the time. Be more concerned about scam artists--and obvious cons. Centraal station has lockers to store your items in, so there's no need to walk around with all your items. (I also like to check my luggage at a 4* hotel for a day for added peace of mind when walking around with a lot or in a city for less than 10 hours!)
If you need emergency assistance, call 112, which is the emergency number for the Netherlands. Walking into the police station IS NOT a thing here for minor crimes [yes, that includes theft] and you will be told that you need to schedule an appointment or file a report online.
Most tourists see Prinsengracht as the invisible border of where they should stop walking. However, there are some incredible areas with fantastic food, shopping, and things to do that you would miss if you only stay in the tourist areas. For a local guide to some areas that tourists don’t typically explore, click here for my guide to 5 neighborhoods to explore, eat in, and stay in.
Don’t take photos of people doing their jobs, especially in the red light district. You’re not allowed to take photos in order to protect the identities of the sex workers and their security will take away/smash your camera if they see you doing so.
If you’re not a cat person, tough luck as cats are everywhere. Most of the cats here that you will see on the streets (or in shops) belong to locals who let their cats roam during the day. Some are more friendly than others. There are entire books (in Dutch) dedicated to the friendly bar and shop cats of Amsterdam.
I love cats so much that I wrote a guide to the best places with cats in Amsterdam.
Due to the Dutch colonial legacy, there’s a large number of Dutch people of Indonesian and Surinamese descent who are amazing cooks. You can find Indonesian take out restaurants and “tokos," which are take-out places where locals often pick up a quick dinner to go. Surinamese roti is the most famous Surinamese dish that you will find.
Just be aware that most local restaurants have kitchens that are closed by 10pm and many places really don't serve much food past 8pm without reservations. Tourist food and snackbars are basically 24/7, but if you plan well, you’ll pay about 8-9 euros for fantastic portions of food that you’ll remember long after your trip. More info about delicious AND local cheap eats all under 10 euros here, including Indonesian!
I have watched the garbage boat clean the canals and lost things due to dropping them in the canals. If it falls in the canal, it is gone forever. Also, if you are drunk, please be careful and don't pee in the canal. People actually die this way. (People actually swim in the canals, but it's pretty rare to see!)
I especially enjoy the Rijksmuseum for the Dutch masters. For modern art lovers, I really enjoy the Stedelijk museum. For architecture/history lovers, there’s Our Lady in the Attic, a fascinating hidden Catholic Church built within the attics of 3 different canal houses. Of course, there’s the Anne Frank museum, but you need to purchase tickets way ahead of time, or come late in the day (around 7-8pm). I love Vondelpark and Westerpark the most and they’re perfect for runs/picnics!
If you see PIN graag (like at the popular grocery store Albert Heijn), it usually means that they may only accept cash or a Dutch debit card. If you don’t have cash, you will need to go to an ATM. The situation IS improving and more places are allowing credit cards (mainly Visa/Mastercard/Maestro), however many smaller shops don't accept non-Dutch cards. You'll find shops in the airport, Amsterdam Centraal station, and those close to touristic places (including museums/restaurants in the Centre) will accept credit cards. Some shops have even gone as far as "card only" to minimize the cash on hand, but always carry a little cash on you.
Before you board the Metro or any train, you'll see a a little raised reader that people are tapping their cards against. If you have an IAmsterdam card or OVChipcard, tap your card against the little raised reader and you'll see it turn green/beep. Ask if you're not sure. Be sure to do the same on the way out. For buses or trams, you'll tap your card against the reader in the front and tap your card on the way out towards the back of the bus/tram. You'll exit in the back.
After March, you cannot pay for the bus in change anymore. You'll need to buy a 24 hour ticket or OV chipcard at Centraal Station. The 24/48/72 hour daypass is worth it if you're in Amsterdam for three days without a bike.
Amsterdam is not representative of the rest of the Netherlands. There are so many Dutch cities that have a fraction of the tourists are more beautiful, more charming, and have lots to do. There's even castles that are easy day trips from Amsterdam!
Do take the fantastic public transit (trains) to somewhere besides the airport or Zaans Schans [always a favorite for the windmills]. If you’re looking for a real Dutch experience, it’s only three hours by train to Maastricht, my favorite city in the Netherlands, 15 minutes to Haarlem, 45 minutes to Kampen, or 30 minutes to Utrecht. Definitely lookup when there are “markts” or local markets on the day you'll be there. You’ll be charmed by the plazas where the locals sit outside, drink beer, and eat bitterballen, something that is harder to find in Amsterdam. Click for 15 other beautiful Dutch cities outside of Amsterdam recommended by residents.
#31 Amsterdam is such a lovely city with super friendly people. You're most likely to meet locals at smaller neighborhood cafes/eetcafes/bars/coffee shops once you leave Centre. People are happy to give advice or help you. (For the record, almost everyone speaks English fluently, however it's always polite to say Dankjewel [Thank you in Dutch].)
If you found this helpful, I have a few more posts about Amsterdam...
Wondering what Dutch foods to try while in the Netherlands, what are the best museums to visit, or what you should do before you visit Amsterdam? Click for my ULTIMATE guide to Amsterdam!
Want to read more about Amsterdam or the Netherlands? These are the books that I have found the most insightful as a tourist and as a resident that I've actually read. Amsterdam's history is absolutely fascinating and I strongly recommend reading about its rich history as it will make you appreciate this city more. I always LOVE reading novels about a country before I visit and Amsterdam has so many great books written about it.
I have used the Lonely Planet Guide for the Netherlands since I arrived here and it's full of useful advice for food/accommodations/attractions advice. Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City is nonfiction about Amsterdam's history. Of course, Anne Frank's Diary is a must read if you intend on visiting the Anne Frank House.
For Fiction, I recommend The Miniaturist, a historical fiction novel takes place in the Golden Age of Amsterdam. The Dinner is by famous Dutch author Herman Kochs. (It is sharp, biting, typical of Dutch humor, and dark!).
People who have visited Amsterdam, anything you wish anyone had told you? Fellow residents, anything I missed?
Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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