9 Things you need to know about Amsterdam before visiting
Having lived in Amsterdam for over 15 years now, we can say we are well-established locals. There are some misconceptions about Amsterdam, and we would like to clear things up. They might come in handy for first time visitors.
1. Amsterdam is not just about parties and prostitutes
Amsterdam is a popular destination for bachelor parties. There are plenty of clubs and the Dutch capital has the red light district. Truth is that most locals won’t ever set foot in the red light district unless they need to pass it on their way. Firstly, the women behind the windows are mostly foreign and secondly, the shops and café’s are mainly here for tourists purposes. It will probably disappoint. If you visit Amsterdam for the first time, we advise you to skip this tourist trap and go for the more local experience. Instead, visit the contemporary and street art museum Moco Museum. They showcase exhibitions from Banksy, Daniel Arsham, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol to name just a few. Yes, there is so much more to Amsterdam than the tourist district.
2. Cannabis isn’t officially legal in The Netherlands
Now, the drugs. Did you know that cannabis isn’t officially legal in The Netherlands? (shocking right?) Weed in the Netherlands is actually decriminalised (‘toleration policy’). This basically means that it’s tolerated. When it comes to growing your own, this is another story. Locals can grow up to five cannabis plants, but if you start growing on a larger scale or decide to sell the weed, this is a major no go. Very confusing, we know. As a result coffeeshops in Amsterdam hire people to get the soft drugs and bring it for them. So can you officially smoke weed on the streets of Amsterdam? technically no, but if you have less than 5 grams on you and you are not causing a public disturbance, you are fine.
3. Bicycles rule the streets of Amsterdam
This is an unwritten rule. No matter if you ride a Harley or monster truck, people on bicycles are relentless. Cyclist ignore stop signs and find their way through the most narrow streets, plus they always seem to be in a hurry. As a pedestrian, you need to watch yourself. Before crossing the streets of Amsterdam, make sure you look to every direction possible, twice. Just obey by this rule and you will be fine.
Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom.
4. Rent a bicycle
On the other hand, this may seem a bit in contrast to our previous tip, but renting a bicycle is a must do if you visit Amsterdam. This is the best way to see the city and enjoy it. On a bicycle you can get to places you wouldn’t get to if you go by foot or public transport. You will discover little alleys and the prettiest canals. Renting a bike is possible almost anywhere in the city center. Make sure you bring your ID and wear a helmet if you don’t feel too confident.
5. Be prepared for all weather conditions
This basically means you need to pack you raincoat, umbrella, sunglasses and sunscreen. The Dutch weather can play tricks on you so come prepared! If you want to be certain, check this website which tells you exactly if the rain is coming and for how long it will last. Subsequently, when there is a ray of sunlight, the Dutch run outside and sit outside on any terrace in the city they can find.
6. Get yourself a OV Chipcard
A what?? Basically an OV Chipcard is the same as the English equivalent of an Oystercard. If you’re likely to visit Amsterdam again, this card is very useful and will save you money on public transport. It is also convenient because you can quickly add new credit. You can do this at most train stations or supermarkets. Since of last year, it’s only possible to pay by bank card in the tram and busses. No cash!
7. Get out of the city centre and explore
Did you know that just outside Amsterdam, you have a huge forest called Het Amsterdamse Bos or Oeverlanden? This is a must visit if you have kids because there is a goat farm, a large lake, beautiful walking paths and an outdoor theater. But there is more, find out how to escape the hustle and buzz.
8. Download the Via Van app
To clarify, once you’ve downloaded Via Van, it works the same as Uber, the only difference is, that you might have to share your ride with another passenger along the way. Therefore it’s much cheaper than any other taxi. You need a credit card to connect the app and there is no need to pay the driver in cash.
9. These are the parties you do not want to miss
There are a few dates in Amsterdam that you should mark into your diary. Firstly, it’s Kingsday on the 27th of April. Secondly, the Dutch also celebrate freedom on May 5th. And if you’re up for it, check out the Amsterdam Gay Pride on the 27th of July until the 4th of August. Just look at the header photo and you’ll understand.
Do you want to know where to eat and what to do in the Dutch capital? Find the best local tips in our Amsterdam Guide below!