Don’t believe everything you hear about Amsterdam. Yes, this Netherlands city takes a lax look at women beckoning business in the Red Light District and “coffee shops” selling an unorthodox type of herb to a toking clientele, but these descriptions only scratch the surface. At some point, during an excellent Indonesian meal, a twilight canal-side rambling or a shopping excursion through the boutiques of Nine Streets, you’ll realize — as many travelers have before you — that there’s much more to Amsterdam than you might’ve thought.
And although the city’s loose laws on vice seem to attract a college-age, male-dominant crowd, Amsterdam is also ideal as a romantic getaway for two or an educational excursion with the kids. With attractions that range from biking along a maze of canals to remembering the Holocaust through the eyes of Anne Frank; from exploring the swirling Expressionism of Van Gogh to lazing in the expansive Vondelpark, Amsterdam suits a variety of traveler tastes.
How To Save Money in Amsterdam
- Purchase an “I Amsterdam” cardThis little piece of plastic allows you free use of all GVB public transportation, free entrance to more than 40 museums and a free canal cruise, among other perks, for a set price. The catch? You buy your card for 24, 36 or 72 hours and can only access the deals within those time periods.
- Do the heel-toe stepWalking rather than taking taxis or public transportation will cut down on costs. And this small city is immensely walkable; just leave a wide berth between you and the serious cyclers on the bike lanes.
- Visit in winterInvest in a cozy coat and come to Amsterdam in the winter, where the slashed hotel rates will keep you feeling warm and fuzzy. An added bonus: crowds are at an all-time low, as are lines for top attractions.
Amsterdam Culture & Customs
Amsterdammers officially speak Dutch, but most residents also speak English — and it’s insulting to think otherwise. If you’re versed, try to speak a little Dutch: hallo for “hello” and dank u for “thank you.” But don’t patronize Amsterdammers by asking, “Do you speak English?”
“Going Dutch” is more a way of life than an expression. The Dutch are notorious for their frugality yet they also have a large appetite for consumerism, so enjoy shopping. Amsterdam’s official currency is the euro (EUR). Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates often, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
Marijuana use in Amsterdam is permitted though not legal. Though as of 2011, Amsterdam has implemented a ban on tourists from its coffee shops. As a result, many coffee shops have had to shutter their doors. Let’s Go Amsterdam also notes that “hard drugs — including heroin, ecstasy, or cocaine — are very much illegal and not tolerated, and possession is treated as a serious crime.” And as of 2008, hallucinogenic mushroom sales have been banned.
Raw herring. Pancakes. Indonesian. Like many other international cities, Amsterdam has a multiplicity of ethnic establishments sure to whet appetites. But the city does have a few specialties like pancakes, smothered or stuffed with every topping imaginable, from bacon to blueberries. (Recent travelers rave about The Pancake Bakery). Raw herring is a Netherlands specialty and is consumed whole. And Indonesian rijsttafel (or rice tables) — rice topped with spiced meats, vegetables and fish — are hugely popular.
Indonesian establishments are scattered throughout the city. Cheap ethnic eats are mainly gathered in the De Pijp neighborhood. For an upscale dining experience, try the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) or the Reguilersdwarsstrat areas. Travelers also praise the food finds on Elandsgracht Street in the Canal Ring. Beware tourist traps in the party-hearty areas of Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein and the Red Light District.