Amsterdam is a must, whether you want to party the weekend away, or explore its picturesque streets and fascinating museums. Most people have heard about Amsterdam and Holland’s very different laws, but there is so much more to it. So, is it really safe to visit the red-light district? Is it just a city for people who want to drink and smoke? What is the best way to get around? And is there really THAT many canals? Find out here with 45 things you NEED to know before you go!
Travel, traffic and public transport
1. You can save money with a travel card – The GVB transport company has trams, buses, trains and ferries throughout Amsterdam, all of which can be used with a travel card. Buy tickets valid for 1 hour to 1 week. Tickets can be bought from the airport when you arrive or the ticket machines in the stations. We really got our moneys worth as we were staying outside the city centre. If you’re staying centrally and happy to walk a lot, then a travel card might not be worth it for you.
2. Go one step further with an I Amsterdam card – If you want to use a lot of public transport and visit a lot of the top tourist attractions then it may be beneficial to get yourself an I Amsterdam card. They start from €59 euro for 24 hours so I advise you work out what you want to do and how much it would normally cost first. You’ll find some example itineraries on the website to help you.
3. Mopeds are neither vehicles nor bicycles – Mopeds or scooters seem to be in limbo in Amsterdam. You’ll find them shooting down bike paths rather than using the roads! Because of this bicycle-like status, no one seems to wear a helmet either as it isn’t compulsory to do so in Holland. It looks as if this may be changing from 2019, but until then, watch out!
4. More bikes than people – No, really! There are more bikes in Amsterdam than there are people.
5. Trams are the transport of choice – Quite simply, trams are the way forward. Most lines run every 5-15 minutes and are easy to negotiate, reliable and run into the night.
6. You can take a canal tour or a hop-on hop-off boat – You can’t visit the ‘Venice of the north’ and not experience it from its canals. So grab a ticket for one of the many boats situated around the central train station
7. Rent a bike – If you want to feel like a local then grab your own bike and cycle the city. You can find plenty of rental companies and will pay around 10 euro for 24 hours.
Food and drink
8. SO many fries – The Dutch really love their fries and this is evident in Amsterdam. There are a lot of shops selling cones of chips with various sauces, often with queues out the door!
9. They’ve managed to put Cannabis in everything – Cakes, cookies, lolly pops, chocolate, beer….
10. No really, everything…
11. It is the city of indulgence, and that includes eating! – As well as the more obvious indulgences, you can be forgiven for succumbing to all things sweet or savoury in Amsterdam. The city is full of every kind of food, from chocolate and cream loaded waffles to greasy burgers and burritos. Even if you don’t smoke, you can just blame your gluttony on the munchies, no one will ever know!
12. There are foods from every culture – Did I say every kind of food? I meant EVERY kind of food, from just about EVERY culture around the world. You name it, you can find it.
13. The space cakes will not get you high – You’re going to see so-called ‘space cakes’ EVERYWHERE. All of the souvenir shops are full of cookies, brownies and all sorts of other sweets, biscuits and teas claiming to be made with real Cannabis. While they may be real, they won’t have one vital ingredient, THC – which is the stuff that gets you high. Best case scenario, they may have CBD oil which has pain and anxiety relieving effects. Worst case, they’re just going to taste really bad! If you want the real deal, head to one of the coffee shops.
14. They can’t make hot chocolate with soy milk anywhere – Seriously, Amsterdam, whats the deal? All of the cafés seem to use the same machines for hot chocolate, which combines the chocolate with milk powder. So they may advertise soy milk – but you’re only getting it in a coffee or tea. If you’ve really got your heart set on a hot choc – head to a Starbucks.
15. Drinks are expensive – A large Aperol Spritz in the centre was €13.50, that’s €3.50 more than the French Riviera!
16. Scrap that, Everything is expensive – Oh, yeah, it’s basically one of the most expensive cities in Europe – don’t say I didn’t warn you!
17. The tap water is great – I happen to spend my most of my time on a campsite in France where the tap water is especially bad, butttt even so. The water here really is great.
18. There are thousands of sweet treats – You’ve never seen so many crazy deserts and sugar loaded treats. I guess we have a city full of stoned people to thank for all the bakeries – what better customers than ones with the munchies!
19. There are a lot of Argentinian steak houses – I’m not saying you should go to them, I just feel like you should be prepared. I don’t know if there are a lot of Argentinians in Amsterdam but some streets they’re every 3rd building! I did spot a couple with some veggie Mexican dishes too!
20. They make great coffee – Some cafés use a traditional method of brewing the coffee with cold water to maximise the flavour and the result is called ‘dutch coffee’.
21. You’ve (probably) never seen so much cheese – Holland is famous for its cheese, so it’s no surprise that you can find it everywhere in Amsterdam. And I mean everywhere. Just a shame it isn’t famous for its non-dairy cheese… yet.
22. There is a China town – Well, its more of a Asia street really, but it’s there and full of all the goodies you would expect.
Red light district
23. Blue lights for ‘ladyboys’ is a myth! – You may have heard that some of the windows in the red light district have a blue light where the sex worker is transgender or male. It’s not actually true! While transgender sex-workers can be found, the blue light is actually used for all genders. The blue simply breaks up the red and shows them in a better light!
24. It’s the safest place to be – There are more police stations in the red light district than anywhere else and police can be seen on foot, bikes or horses, patrolling the streets regularly.
25. There is literally pornography on the walls – If you have an image of dark back streets and drawn curtains then forget it! Not only is it bustling with people at all hours, the various sex shops, shows and museums are very open about what they are. Think pornagraphic-posters and window displays of sex toys.
26. Prostitutes pay tax – Although it may seem novel to see the women in their windows, this is how they make a living. They rent the rooms, pay taxes and are classed as self-employed business owners!
27. No photos – You can’t take photos in the red light district. While they may be on show in a window, these women aren’t there for tourists to take selfies with.
28. The sex is real – There are adverts for sex shows all hours of the day and for 2 euro you can even watch through a slit in a booth, if thats what you’re into. Don’t be fooled by the word show though – what goes on in there is very real!
Popular tourist attractions
29. Ripley’s is the most fun you’ll have in a museum – No offence to the other museums (there are ALOT of them) but this one has to be the most fun. Many of the exhibits are interactive or make for a good selfie and you’ll learn about things you never even knew existed!
30. The famous ‘I am sterdam’ sign may not say ‘I am sterdam’ – Sorry to disappoint, folks. When we visited the end of October it looked like this:
31. The Rijks museum’s garden is the best bit and it’s free – Ok, so thats a bold statement given that I didn’t actually go inside, but still. The gardens really are very pretty!
32. You can sit in a giant clog! – There are a few clog-related photo-opportunities, but this particular one is just on the corner, outside Ripley’s gift shop.
33. The oldest building in Amsterdam actually looks pretty new – Begijnhof 34 is the oldest house in Amsterdam. It can be found inside a quiet courtyard, once built for catholic women who lived liked nuns but took no monastic vows. Built in around 1425, the house is one of only 2 wooden-fronted buildings left in the city. Timber houses were banned in 1521 after a few catastrophic fires. While the old building still has it’s charms, it’s refurbishment has left it looking deceptively new!
34. Amsterdam has a Museum for every occasion! – From great artists, terrible history and fascinating science – to sex, handbags, dead bodies and cat related art. There’s something for everyone!
35. Anne Frank’s house is booked up 2 months ahead – If you want to visit Anne Frank’s house (and you should) then be aware the tickets go quickly! You must book on line and 80% of tickets go on sale 2 months before the date. On the day, the remaining 20% go on sale but go quickly and you could find yourself queueing for up to 2 hours!
Streets and canals
36. You will (probably) want to up-sticks and move into a house boat – I did! It’s fun to wander the canals and see the floating homes from the bridges, but you can even catch a glimpse of life inside one! Visit the Houseboat museum and for €4.50 you can see if life on the water is for you.
37. There are 9 streets you can’t miss, and they’re called… The 9 streets! – De 9 Straatjes are often referred to as the ‘real’ Amsterdam. After 400 years it still boasts typical dutch architecture, hidden cafes, unique shops and pretty views across the canals.
38. Many of the buildings have sunk – being built on water, there is always danger of sinking houses! While it must be a pain for the owners, it certainly creates a quirky aesthetic in the city. There are even a row of buildings so crooked, they were nick-named ‘the dancing houses’.
39. Amsterdam has more canals than Venice – the same can be said for bridges! 409 in Venice and 1281 in Amsterdam!
40. People have to use hooks and ropes to get their furniture in! – Make sure to look up every once in a while just incase a sofa is hanging over your head! Perhaps the falling grand piano joke originated Amsterdam!?
41. The buildings are narrow for tax reasons – Since the 17th Century, residents were taxed based on how wide their home was. Because of this, owners kept their buildings as narrow as possible!
How not to look like a tourist
42. Invest in an umbrella – It’s Holland, it’s probably going to rain while you’re there. Especially if you’re visiting in the Autumn or winter. You can buy plenty of umbrellas from the souvenir shops but they’re not necessarily very strong and are likely to be expensive! So take one you trust with you, or try to buy one that’s sturdy, otherwise this might end up like me…
43. Expect the unexpected in the Dam Square – Before Amsterdam was the city we know today, it was literally a Dam. It sat on the Amstel river and settlements began to grow around it until they came together to form Amsterdam. The Dam Square is the site of the original dam and today is filled with everything from protestors and musicians, to lookalikes and street performers. Who knows what you might see there?
44. No one wears clogs but everyone sells them – If you’d like a pair, either to wear (no judgements here) or as an ornament, then you will be spoilt for choice here.
45. Don’t confuse coffee shops and cafés – Cafés are for drinking cappuccino and snacking on cake. Coffee shops are primarily for smoking joints, although many have coffee and cake too!
So there you have it, 45 things you should know before you go to Amsterdam! Do you have a trip planned? Maybe you’ve been before and there’s something you wish you’d known? I would love to hear what you thought of this vibrant city! Leave a comment or keep in touch with me on Instagram or facebook! And don’t forget to pin this post!