Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. With more than one million inhabitants in its urban area (and almost two and a half million inhabitants in its metropolitan area), it is the country’s largest city and its financial, cultural, and creative centre.
Amsterdam derives its name from the city’s origin as “Dam” of river “Amstel”. In the past, the name was “Amstelredamme” which later changed as “Amsterdam”. Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, attracting over 7 million international travellers annually.
Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges. There is something for every traveller’s taste here; whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.
The medieval centre and most visited area of Amsterdam. It is known for its traditional architecture, canals, shopping, and many coffeeshops. Dam Square is considered its ultimate centre, but just as interesting are the areas around Nieuwmarkt and Spui. The Red Light District is also a part of Centrum.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal Ring was dug in the 17th century to attract wealthy home owners. It is still a posh neighbourhood with many Dutch celebrities owning property. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are the city’s prime nightlife spots.
A traditional working class area gone upmarket with plenty of art galleries, hip boutiques and happening restaurants. Also includes the Haarlemmerbuurt and the Western Islands.
Pleasant 19th-century district with many museums. Just beyond the Waterlooplein you will find the Jewish Historical Museum, the Hermitage Amsterdam and the botanic gardens. All within walking distance from the Artis Zoo, the Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) and the spectacular Scheepvaartmuseum.
One of Amsterdam’s prime areas, a trip to the city is not complete without a visit to the Museum Quarter. You can chill in the Vondelpark with a bottle of wine, or go hunt for bargains at the Albert Cuyp Market. It is the most popular area for accommodation as rates are considerably cheaper than in the city centre.
A vast suburban area that can be divided in Old and New West. The Old West is a charming area built in the late 19th century. The New West was built after World War II and often catches newspaper headlines for crime; urban renewal is underway to improve living conditions in this area.
The North is mainly a residential suburb that lies at the northern side of the IJ, with a rapidly developing hub of cultural activity along the shore of the river. Many visitors are attracted to the area east of the motorway A10, a protected polder area that culturally belongs to the Waterland and Zaan Region. This traditional Dutch countryside is best explored by bicycle.
The East is a large and diverse residential area. The Eastern Docklands and IJburg stand out as relatively affluent neighbourhoods known for their modern architecture.
An exclave of Amsterdam, Southeast was foreseen as a neighbourhood of the future with large apartment blocks separated by tracts of green. It turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, often associated with crime and robberies. Its safety record has improved remarkably the last years, but it still is mostly visited by adventurous travellers (and football fans).
An affluent green suburb of Amsterdam (and technically not Amsterdam), home to most ‘Amsterdam’ sports clubs, a large shopping mall and the Amsterdamse Bos (a park south of Amsterdam, east of Amstelveen). Tramline 5 and metroline 51 go to Amstelveen. (Not highlighted on the map.)
Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important trading centres in the world during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, with the first stock exchange and the joint ventures that gave birth to modern day Capitalism. The city’s small medieval centre rapidly expanded as the Jordaan and the Canal Belt neighbourhoods were constructed; the latter’s cultural significance was acknowledged when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded in all directions, with many new neighbourhoods and suburbs designed in modernist styles.
Amsterdam is not the seat of the government, which is in The Hague. It has always been a city that attracted many people from outside its borders. Nowadays it’s the city with the most different nationalities in the world (178 in 2010). The city has an informal atmosphere unlike other capital cities its size. In fact, Amsterdam has a history of non-conformism, tolerance and progressivism, all of which come together in its liberal policies concerning cannabis and teleiophilic prostitution. Other attractions include the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Flower Market, Albert Cuyp Market, and the Vondelpark.
The “Amsterdam” that most visitors experience is the city centre, the semi-circle with Central Station at its apex. It corresponds to the city as it was around 1850. Six major concentric canals ring the Old Centre; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, the Lijnbaansgracht, and the Singelgracht, together forming the Canal Ring. Other districts inside the city centre are the Jordaan, a former working-class area gone upmarket, and Plantage, a leafy and spacious area known for its zoo and botanical gardens. The roads Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade surround the centre and mark the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870.
The semi-circle is on the south side of the IJ, originally the estuary of the Amstel to the Zuiderzee (South sea), nowadays canalised. Going east from Central Station, the railway passes the artificial islands of the redeveloped Eastern Docklands. North of the IJ is mainly housing, although a major dockland redevelopment has started there too.
The river Amstel flows into the city from the south. Originally, it flowed along the line Rokin-Damrak. The dam in the Amstel, which gives the city its name, was located under the present Bijenkorf department store. The original settlement was on the right bank of the Amstel, on the present Warmoesstraat: it is therefore the oldest street in the city. The city has expanded in all directions, except to the northeast of the ring motorway. That area is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages that could be considered a part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semi-circle is about 2km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, a large swathe of Amsterdam is never visited by tourists: at least 90% of the population lives outside this area. Most economic activity in Amsterdam — the offices of the financial sector, and the port — is near or outside the ring motorway, which is 4-5km from the centre.
The expansion of Amsterdam outside this beltway, and the expansion of activity outside the old centre, is redefining what locals consider the ‘central area’ of Amsterdam. Without a doubt the most popular district outside of the city centre is the South for its quality museums and gentrified neighbourhood ‘De Pijp’.
Many people choose to visit Amsterdam because of its reputation for tolerance, although part of this reputation is attributable to cultural misunderstandings. Prostitution is legalised and licensed in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam it is very visible (window prostitution), and there are large numbers of prostitutes. The sale, possession, and consumption of small quantities of cannabis, while technically illegal, is tolerated by authorities (the policy of gedogen). This does not mean that you can get away with anything in Amsterdam. In any case, public attitudes and official policy have hardened in recent years. For more on coffeeshops and drugs, see below in Stay safe.
Depending on your viewpoint some people will consider Amsterdam an unwholesome city whereas other people will find their relaxed attitudes refreshing. If you avoid the red light district, Amsterdam is an excellent family destination.
Amsterdam is a large city and a major tourist destination, so you can visit it all year round. However, in winter the days are short (8 hours daylight around Christmas), and the weather may be too cold to walk around the city comfortably, let alone cycle. January and February are the coldest months, with lows around -1°C and highs around 5°C. July and August are the warmest months, with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F). Some things are seasonal: the tulip fields flower only in the spring, and as of 2014, after the abdication of Queen Beatrix on 30 April 2013, King’s Day (Koningsdag) is, unless it falls on a Sunday, on 27 April, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. If the 27 April is on Sunday, the birthday of the king is celebrated on 26 April.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (IATA: AMS) is 15km southwest of the city. It ranks in the top 15 airports worldwide for passenger traffic, serving more than 60 million passengers per year.
KLM is the largest carrier operating at Schiphol and offers flights to many major cities around the world. British Airways offers 15 flights per day to 3 London Airports; Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.
Transavia, Jet2.com, TUIfly, Easyjet, and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, offering service to many cities in Europe. WOWAir offers discount service to Reykjavik, with further discounted connections to the United States.
Free WiFi is offered at the airport.
Coin-operated storage lockers are available at the airport at a cost of €6-12 per 24 hours, with a maximum of one week.
Restaurants are plentiful at the airport, which includes many locations of Burger King and McDonalds.
To travel between the airport and the city centre:
Using airports other than Schiphol could prove cheaper in some cases, as some budget airlines fly to Eindhoven and Rotterdam Airports. Then buses and trains can be used to get to Amsterdam. Renting a car is also an option. Taxis are extremely expensive in the Netherlands (€100+ from Rotterdam and even more from Eindhoven) and it is advisable to book them upfront.
From Eindhoven Airport (IATA: EIN, ICAO: EHEH)  take a local bus (Hermes bus 40 or 401, duration about 25 minutes, frequency about eight times per hour, €3.20 on board or €1.71 using an OV-chipkaart) to the train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration 1h20, frequency six times per hour, single €17.20). Alternatively, take the express bus directly from the airport to Amsterdam central station, which takes 2h15. This service goes only 3 to 4 times per day; see their website for a schedule. The ticket price is €25.50 for a single or €42.50 for a return .
From Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM, ICAO: EHRD)  (“Zestienhoven”) take a city bus (RET “airport shuttle” bus 33, duration 25-30 minutes, frequency every 10-20 minutes, €2.50 on board or €1.39 using the OV-chipkaart) to Rotterdam Centraal train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration about an hour, frequency every 10-20 minutes, single €13.40).
Schiphol airport is 11km from the centre of Amsterdam in a straight line, Rotterdam is 57km and Eindhoven is 107km. Other airports that could possibly be used are:
Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal Station (with one extra ‘a’ in Dutch), located on an island between the Amsterdam/Old Centre and the IJ waterfront. Other important train stations are Duivendrecht and Bijlmer-ArenA in the southeast, Amstel and Muiderpoort in the East, RAI and Zuid-WTC in the South, and Lelylaan and Sloterdijk in the West. Schiphol Airport also has its own train station, which functions as a major interchange station. It has at least seven trains an hour to Amsterdam Centraal, with additional trains going to other stations in Amsterdam.
Thalys is a high-speed train that connects Amsterdam with Paris (3h19), Brussels (1h54), and Antwerp (1h12). Thalys trains run up to ten times a day. The cheapest tickets are sold out early, so book in advance if possible. There is a bar coach available where food, drinks and public transport tickets are sold. When travelling in first class, a meal and all drinks are included in the train fare.
ICE International connects Amsterdam up 7 times each day with Düsseldorf (2h16), Cologne (2h41), and Frankfurt (3h46). One ICE-train runs to Basel (6h43). There is a BordBistro-coach available on each ICE-train.
The Intercity train to Berlin runs every two hours and connects Amsterdam Central Station with Osnabrück (3h08), Hanover (4h20), and Berlin (6h22). A BordBistro-coach is available on each train to Berlin.
Eurostar runs a high speed service from London St Pancras Station to Brussels Zuid/Midi Station. From Brussels you can continue to Amsterdam by Thalys. However, starting in Spring 2018 there is now 2 Eurostar trains every weekday and 1 on Saturday/Sunday that extend from Brussels to Amsterdam via Rotterdam. At this time you cannot return to London directly but that should change when passport control is build at Amsterdam Centraal sometime in 2019. Tickets are sold on the Eurostar website and (sometimes cheaper) on the NS Hispeed website.
If you plan to take a train to Amsterdam, it’s advisable to check the train times in the international journey planner. Most tickets are sold online, and often it is cheaper to book tickets in advance. Tickets are also sold at the international ticket offices at Amsterdam Centraal Station and at Schiphol Airport. Or visit the Treinreiswinkel (Singel 393).
Most international bus services are affiliated to Eurolines, which has a terminal at Duivendrecht station (was at Amstel Station) buses 40, 62, 65, 240, 355. One bus per day is usually the maximum frequency on these routes.
The British low-budget bus company Megabus operates bus services twice-daily from both London and Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels, terminating at the Zeeburg Park and Ride Coach Park/Zuiderzeeweg tram stop in the east of the city. From there, there are frequent tram and bus services into the city, although the driver will usually advise you to take a tram.
OUIBUS operates bus service few times a day from both London and Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels as well as Megabus, terminating at the Sloterdijk Station, metro 50, tram 12.
The German low-cost bus company FlixBus operates bus service few times a day from mutiple locations in Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg, terminating at the Sloterdijk Station (Radarweg). It sometimes operates together with Megabus.
There are other international bus services, but they are often aimed at very specific markets, e.g. Polish migrant workers. There are almost no long-distance internal bus services in the Netherlands, and none to Amsterdam.
The western part of the Netherlands has a dense (and congested) road network. Coming from the east (Germany), the A1 motorway leads directly to Amsterdam. On the A12 from Arnhem, change at Utrecht to the A2 northbound. From the south (Belgium), the A2 goes directly to Amsterdam: the A16 /A27 from Antwerp via Breda connects to the A2 south of Utrecht. From The Hague, the A4 leads to Amsterdam. All motorways to Amsterdam connect to the ring motorway, the A10. From this motorway, main roads lead radially into Amsterdam (the roads S101 through S118).
In most cases, you’ll want to avoid going into the city centre by car: traffic is dense and parking spaces are expensive and nearly impossible to find. Instead, when on the A10, follow the signs to one of the P+R-spots (P+R Zeeburg to the east, P+R ArenA to the southeast, P+R Olympisch Stadion to the south, and P+R Sloterdijk to the west). Here you can park your car for 1 € per day (up to 4 days, then 25 € per day) and take public transport to the city centre (you’re required to do this in order to get the P+R pricing). Public transport takes you to the city centre for up to 5 people from 5 € to 7,70 € There are also a few places a short walk from outer tram stops to park for free.
Another option is to use different parking websites to find out about prices and available parking garages, one can find a nice overview about all the public parking garages there in the city and the prices they charge. Besides public garages, there are also private parking opportunities since recently whereby one can park in a hotel or company building, the advantage is that you can make a reservation for your parking in advance and often this alternative is also cheaper.
For short visits it’s one option to park very close to the city centre for free and take a free ferry to other side of the channel. On the Amsterdam ring take s118 or s116 exit (s118 is easiest because s116 goes to the city centre by tunnel under the channel) and go to Ijplein where the parking is free for 2,5 hours (so-called “blauwe zone”) using a parking disc. Then go to the ferry stop and take the free transport to the central station (every 5-8 minutes). Just a 5min trip and you are in Amsterdam Centraal. Enjoy!
The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 130km/h, except where indicated. On the A10 ring motorway around Amsterdam, the maximum speed is 100km/h, and 80km/h on the Western section. These limits are strictly enforced and there are many speed cameras.
The maritime Passenger Terminal Amsterdam is close to the city centre but is only for cruise ships. The nearest ferry port is IJmuiden which is served by DFDS Seaways, who offer a daily overnight ferry services from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (North Shields) in the United Kingdom see the official website. 125km away by car there is a ferry terminal at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Kingston Upon Hull), and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). Hook of Holland has a train station. Take the train to Schiedam Centrum or Rotterdam Centraal and from there a train to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s centre is fairly small, and almost abnormally flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot – from the train station, within half an hour.
In June 2010, a contactless card called OV-chipkaart (“public transport chip card”) was introduced. Since 3 June 2010, the old ‘strippenkaart’ system has been abandoned on all forms of public transport in Amsterdam, making the chipkaart the only valid way of travelling in Amsterdam. To travel with a card, one has to check in at the start of the journey and check out at the end by holding the card in front of the card reader.
Three types of OV-chipkaart are available:
The first two types carry a fee of €7.50 for the card itself, and you have to have at least €4 on it to be able to travel. The OV-chipkaart can be obtained from GVB vending machines in all metro stations, from the desks at some bigger stations (including Centraal Station) and some shops
For visitors, the most useful type of travel pass is probably the 1/24/48/72/96/120/144/168 hour ticket, issued as a disposable OV-card without extra cost. This allows the holder to travel on an unlimited number of journeys on tram, metro and GVB bus services throughout the validity period of the pass. On a tram, only the 1 and 24 hr tickets can be purchased on board. These passes are also available at tourist offices (located at Schiphol airport and just outside Centraal Station), AKO bookstores in Schiphol Airport and Centraal Station, many hotels and GVB Tickets & Info. Day passes are not valid on buses operated by Connexxion and Arriva.
Prices as of March 2017: €7.50/24 hours, €12.50/48 hours, €17/72 hours, €22/96 hours, €27/120 hours, €31/144 hours and €34/168 hours. If you stay longer in Amsterdam, you can buy discounted weekly or monthly tickets from most post offices or other ticket sale points which are cheaper. GVB tickets are not valid on trains to Schiphol airport. You can use them on buses to Schiphol (note: The only GVB bus that goes to the airport is number 69) but it’s usually quicker to get there by train. For current information on the Dutch Public Transportation-system (‘Openbaar Vervoer’ or O.V. in Dutch/NL) check online Openbaar Vervoer (O.V.).
Public transport within the city is operated by the GVB (Gemeentevervoerbedrijf. The tram (14 lines) is the main form of public transport system in the central area, and there are also dozens of night bus routes which run in place of the trams between midnight and 5am. All tram stops have a detailed map of the system and the surrounding area. You can also get a free public transport map at the GVB Tickets & Info offices (just outside Centraal Station) or in the tram.
Most trams have conductors near the rear of the tram. Board (and obtain tickets if necessary) from the driver or the conductor. The tram conductors no longer take cash payments, so you will need to use a credit card or OV-chipkaart. If you have questions, the conductor or driver will be sure to respond to your query. Remember that you can only buy 1h and 24h tickets on board the tram.
When boarding and alighting a tram, you must check in and out by placing your ticket/OV-chipkaart on one of the abundant round-shaped readers, even if you have just bought a ticket on board. All trams have pre-recorded audio announcements indicating the next stop, with most also having visual indication. All announcements on board are in Dutch, however some announcements (such as those indicating termini and important stops (such as Dam Square) and reminders to check out when alighting the tram) are also in English.
There is a five line metro, including a short underground section in the city centre, that serves the neighbourhoods of the South East. It takes 15-20min from Centraal Station or Waterlooplein to the Bijlmer (Amsterdam Arena stadium, Heineken Music Hall and Pathe Arena cinema and IMAX).
The fifth metro line, the north/south line opened in July 2018. This big project started in 2003 to build a new underground metro line to connect the north of Amsterdam with the south (the Noord/Zuidlijn or North/Southline). The project has proved somewhat of a disaster for the city government with big budget overruns and delays. Building in the wet underground of Amsterdam is difficult and some buildings along the line have sustained damage due to subsidence. For the visitor to Amsterdam, the only thing to note are the ongoing roadworks along the route of the metro line. Underground metro stations are still being built or finished often causing parts of roads to be blocked off to cars, buses and trams for an extended time. Usually you can pass on foot or bicycle.
Just like the tram and metro, local buses are operated by the GVB. There are also suburban buses to nearby towns such as Haarlem and Uithoorn; these are operated by Connexxion or EBS (the company name and house style is prominent on the bus side) and can be used within Amsterdam if you travel with an OV-chipkaart. Disposable cards are only valid on the GVB buses.
There are several free ferry services across the IJ river, to Amsterdam North, the most frequent runs every 7min. They all leave from a new jetty on the northern (rear) side of Centraal Station. The nicest one is the 15min service to NDSM Werf, a funky up and coming industrial neighbourhood with a nice cafe-bar (IJkantine), restaurant (Noorderlicht) and indoor skateboard park (Skatepark Amsterdam). In addition, the Pancake Boat (Pannekoekenboot) sails many times each week from the NDSM Werf. Ferries leave every 30min from Centraal Station and from NDSM Werf. Double frequencies during rush hours. Another boat company to discover Amsterdam is Canal Company, which offers a large selection of canal cruises. You can choose between the classic canal cruises, open boat tours, canal bikes or evening cruises in several variations.
By rental scooter
There are several scooter rent shops in the city centre of Amsterdam. Gilex scooter rental, Scooter Rent Amsterdam, AmsterBike, Boka Scooter Rentals and Left Bank Scooters Rentals & Tours are just a few examples.
A pleasant way to cover a lot of ground is to rent a bicycle. There is at least one bike for every one of the 800,000 people living in Amsterdam. The city is very, very bike-friendly, and there are separate bike lanes on most major streets. In the city centre, however, there is often not enough space for a bike lane, so cars and cyclists share narrow streets.
Cyclists do not have the right of way even though it might appear so when observing the typical Amsterdammer’s cycling behaviour (see Extra legal protection). Be very careful to watch out for other cyclists. Always show other traffic where you’re going (e.g., by holding out your hand) in order avoid accidents and smooth the traffic flow. If not indicated otherwise by signs, the right-before-left rule applies. Avoid getting your tyre in the tram rails; it’s a nasty fall. Always cross tram rails at an angle. When crossing tram lanes, watch out for fast approaching taxis. They have a rather ruthless driving style. Let none of the above deter you from doing it the Amsterdam way. Be advised, however, that cycling the Amsterdam way takes a significant amount of skill: the locals have been riding bikes from the moment they could walk and this informs their behaviour. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable on a bike, it may be a stressful affair rather than the smooth ride you may imagine it to be. On top of that, if your lack of confidence makes you block pathways used by other people who can skilfully manoeuvre along them (e.g. groups of people, between stationary vans and the rows of bollards dividing street and footpath), who have appointments to make and jobs to attend, it can create tensions between you and locals. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable on a bike, walk! It’s less stressful, and Amsterdam is so small the entire city centre can be navigated on foot within half an hour.
A good map for cycling (routes, repairs, rentals + also public transport) is Amsterdam op de fiets (a Cito-plan). When preparing a route, there’s a digital bicycle route-planner for Amsterdam.
Bicycles can be taken on all metros and tram 26 using the bike supplement fee (€1.70 in 2016, valid 1d) on the OV chipcard. Use the special bike racks, locations indicated by a bicycle sign on the outside of the carriage.
Bicycles (and scooters) can be taken for free on all ferries across the IJ.
Make sure to get a good lock (or two), and to use it. Amsterdam has one of the highest bicycle theft rates in the world, see the Netherlands page. Note also that, if buying a bike, prices that seem too good to be true are stolen bikes. Any bike offered for sale to passers-by, on the street, is certainly stolen. There’s an old Amsterdam joke; When calling out to a large group of cyclists passing by; “Hey, that’s my bike!” about five people will jump off “their” bikes and start running.
If you are as good a cyclist as the locals, rent a bike! There are bike rental shops at stations, and several others in and around the city centre. Bikes cost about €9 to €20 per day. (Bring wet gear.)
The bicycle is ideal for exploring the surrounding countryside. Within half an hour you’re out of town. Go North, take the ferry across the IJ to Waterland. Or go South, into the Amsterdamse Bos (a giant park), or follow the river Amstel where Rembrandt worked. You can also take your bike on the metro (with a reduced fare ticket, see public transport webpage) to the end of the line at Gaasperplas, and cycle along rivers and windmills to old fortified towns like Weesp , Muiden and Naarden.
New guidelines were introduced in June 2013 to bring down the bad cab drivers. Many new companies were founded and bad companies failed. Amsterdam needed these guidelines to help the taxi branche.
Try avoiding the taxi stands at Central station and Leidseplein. Some drivers, traditionally at Centraal Station or Leidseplein, will refuse short trips or will quote outrageously high fares, even though all taxis are metered. Even if you convince the driver to use the meter, he will often take a circuitous route that racks up €15 or more on the meter. For reference, no trip within the historic centre should cost more than €10 or so. If you want to avoid these circumstances try pre-booking at a company like Deluxe Taxi Amsterdam
Regular taxi price have the following rates: Start: €2,95 per km: €2,17 per min: €0,36 (jun 2016) all taxis have a meter which will calculate the price. You can also go for a fixed rate but it’s recommended to follow the meter if the right route has been taken by the driver you will pay as it should be.
Unlicensed, illegal, cabbies operate mainly in Amsterdam Zuidoost, Leidseplein crossing Prinsengracht and at the Rembrandt Square. These aren’t easily recognized as such, and most certainly don’t drive Mercedes cars. They are known as snorders and most easily reached by mobile phone. Rides within Amsterdam Zuidoost (the Bijlmer) range from €2.50 to €5, whereas Zuidoost-Centre can run up to €12.50. Snorders have a bad reputation, so never consider their services.
It is practical to use a car only outside of the historic centre; within the historic centre, the traveller is advised to stay with public transport. In Amsterdam, a car is generally a liability and not an asset. Use a car only if you are going to an obscure location many miles out that is not served by public transport.
Driving around Amsterdam is a pain: many of the streets are narrow, the traffic (and parking) signs are baroque and obscure, and cyclists and pedestrians may get in your way. Plus, petrol is about 1.54€ to 1.7€ per litre. You can try parking at one of the secured parking garages, for example under Museumplein, or near the Central Station, and then walk around the city centre, or use a tram. Car parking is very expensive in Amsterdam and it’s often hard to find a place to park. You can choose to pay by the hour or for the whole day. Parking is free outside the centre on Sunday. There is always a spot available on the Albert Cuypstraat (which is a market during the rest of the week). From there, it is a 5 minute tram ride or 15 min walk downtown.
Another option is to park your car further outside the city-centre. For 8€,- you get a full day (24 hr) of parking and a return ticket downtown. The ride takes about 15 minutes. Look for the P+R (Park and Ride) signs. 
You can also park for free in some parts of Amsterdam outside the city centre though this may be slowly changing. Parking is still free everywhere in Amsterdam-Noord, and you can just take the bus from the Mosplein stop to the city centre easily. Plenty of buses run through here.
Popular car rental chains operate in a smaller capacity in Amsterdam, including Avis and Budget Rent a Car. Most recently ‘Car 2 Go’ has all-electric Smart cars availible within and around the city.
Amsterdam has one of the most extensive historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of which are attractively floodlit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, few buildings from the period have survived. Exceptions are two medieval wooden houses at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. Number 34 Begijnhof is the oldest house in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the community living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal Ring, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals. Typical of the area are the traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, which is over 300 years old and practically in its original state. It is a beautiful place to view the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the lower class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname ‘Jordan’ for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of “gentrification” in the Netherlands, as recently it has been turned into a fashionable shopping district.
There are several large warehouses built originally with specific roles in mind. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and ‘s-Gravenhekje. The city office for architectural heritage, BMA, has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples. There are also several warehouse galleries in Amsterdam Noord, including Nieuw Dakota, a young gallery space for contemporary art.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the surrounding buildings obstructed the wind too much. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in Amsterdam, and most of them are in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is used as a brewery open to visitors. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.
Churches and synagogues
Since the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. The Jewish people especially have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Netherlands was a protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. Some of the most notable churches:
The late-medieval city also had smaller chapels such as the Sint Olofskapel (circa 1440) on Zeedijk, and convent chapels such as the Agnietenkapel on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231 (originally 1470), now the University of Amsterdam museum. Later churches included the Oosterkerk (1669) in the eastern islands, and the heavily restored Lutheran Church on the Singel (1671), now used by a hotel as a conference centre. Catholic churches were long forbidden, and built again only in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
Also, investigate some of the “hidden churches” found in Amsterdam, mainly Catholic churches that remained in activity following the Reformation. A prominent hidden church is Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Chapel) Well worth the visit. Two hidden churches still in use are the Begijnhofchapel near the Spui, and the Papegaaikerk in the Kalverstreet (both Catholic).
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it’s worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (e.g. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can’t miss:
The other museums are described in the district articles.
The Museum Card (Museumkaart)  costs €59.90 (or €32.45 for those under 18 years old) which includes a €4.95 admin fee. It covers the cost of admission to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and you can buy it at most major museums. It is valid for an entire year for Dutch residents (visitors receive a 31-day temporary card), and you will need to write your name, birthday, and gender on it. If you are going to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, €17.50 and €15 respectively, this card can quickly pay for itself. Another advantage of having this card is that you can visit the same museum twice at no extra cost (for example Rijksmuseum is so huge you may want to spread it over two visits), or try out museums you’re not sure you will like. The tickets to the major museums, including the audio guide, can be bought early from the tourist information desk at no extra cost. Alternatively, for short stays, you can consider buying the Iamsterdam card’ , starting at €42 per day, which includes “free” access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
The locals spend their summer days in Amsterdam opening a red wine in the Vondelpark — and so should you. Every district in Amsterdam has at least one park, but the Vondelpark in South is notable for its size and convivial atmosphere. The neighbourhood best known for its greenery is the Plantage. Besides its leafy boulevards and grand mansions, it also features the botanical gardens of the Hortus Botanicus. Finally, Artis Zoo is a good attraction for the kids.
A more recent tradition is the opening of so-called city beaches. Yes, it’s now possible to lie in the sand far from any natural coastline! Amsterdam has three of these beaches, which are located in West, East and South. The one in the east is probably the best, and you get the fine architecture and atmosphere of the IJburg neighbourhood thrown in for free.
Red Light District
The Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Central Station and east of Damrak. Known as ‘De Wallen’ (the quays) in Dutch, because the canals were once part of the city defences (walls and moats). Prostitution itself is limited to certain streets, mainly side streets and alleys, but the district is considered to include the canals, and some adjoining streets (such as Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk). The whole area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. Nevertheless it is still a residential district and has many bars and restaurants, and also includes historic buildings and museums — this is the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. The area has many sex shops and peep show bars.This section of town is a common attraction for bachelors celebrating a stag night, if you ever get hassled, a firm and loud “Leave me alone” will work most of the time.
Modern architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam (as opposed to Rotterdam), but as the outer districts were built in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is definitely some to be found. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Central Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers. Amsterdam West, especially the neighbourhood De Baarsjes, was built in the Amsterdam School and New Objectivity architectural styles from the 19th century. A completely different approach to architecture has been the Bijlmer, built in the 1970s and forseen as a town of the future for upper-middle class families. Large apartment buildings and relatively large rooms were combined with common grass fields and a separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but eventually the neighborhood turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, and it is often associated with crime and robberies. It has improved remarkably the last years though, and adventurous travelers might be interested to know more about the history of this bizarre district.
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic centre, most 20th-century and recent architecture is outside it. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat / Oostzaanstraat.
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic Dutch experience.
Amsterdam for Free
Amsterdam is a cultural haven with year-round festivals for every pocket. At crowded festivals, watch out for pickpockets…
Amsterdam has a range of unique cultural backdrops that appeal to travelling photographers, from its unique architecture to urban street scenes and picturesque canals.
Amsterdam has amazing theatres to attract and entertain visitors from around the world.
Amsterdam is home to three universities, two of which offer summer courses and other short courses (with academic credits).
Many people plan to move to Amsterdam for a year to relax before “settling down”. This plan often falls apart at the job phase. Many people will find it difficult to get a suitable job, if they do not speak Dutch. However, hostels and hotels in Amsterdam may need bar staff, night porters etc, who speak English and other languages. There are also specialist websites for English and non-Dutch speakers looking to work in Amsterdam and they are a often a good place to start; Octagon Recruitment Blue Lynx – Employment by Language, Undutchables, Unique and Xpat Jobs are all useful resources.
Immigration matters are dealt with by the Immigration Service IND. Registration is done by both police and municipalities. Immigration policy is restrictive and deliberately bureaucratic. That is especially true for non-EU citizens.
European Union citizens do not require a work permit. Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are awarded a one year working-holiday visa. In general the employer must apply for work permits. Immigration is easier for “knowledge migrants” earning a gross annual salary of over €45,000 (over €33,000 for those under 30).
There are many flexible office solutions in Amsterdam that enable you to rent office space for a short term. See for example Regus or the Ph120 flexible office solutions at Prins Hendrikkade 120 .
The main central shopping streets run in a line from near Central Station to the Leidseplein: Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, Leidsestraat. The emphasis is on clothes/fashion, but there are plenty of other shops. They are not upmarket shopping streets, and the north end of Nieuwendijk is seedy. Amsterdam’s only upmarket shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat (near the Rijksmuseum).
Other concentrations of shops in the centre are Haarlemmerstraat / Haarlemmerdijk, Utrechtsestraat, Spiegelstraat (art/antiques), and around Nieuwmarkt. There is a concentration of Chinese shops at Zeedijk / Nieuwmarkt, but it is not a real Chinatown.
The ‘interesting little shops’ are located in the side streets of the main canals (Prinsengracht / Keizersgracht / Herengracht), and especially in the Jordaan – bounded by Prinsengracht, Elandsgracht, Marnixstraat and Brouwersgracht. The partly gentrified neighbourhood of De Pijp – around Ferdinand Bolstraat and Sarphatipark – is often seen as a ‘second Jordaan’.
In the older areas surrounding the centre, the main shopping streets are the Kinkerstraat, the Ferdinand Bolstraat, the Van Woustraat, and the Javastraat. The most ethnic shopping street in Amsterdam is the Javastraat. There are toy stores and clothing shops for kids in the centre, but most are in the shopping streets further out, because that’s where families with children live.
You can find plus size clothing in the centre of Amsterdam. C&A, and H&M are both on the main shopping streets from the Central station. A bit further from the city centre you can find Mateloos, Promiss, Ulla Popken as well as several stores by chain M&S mode.
A give-away shop can be found at Singel 267, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 17:00-19:00 and Saturdays 12:00-17:00.
English-language books can mostly be found in the Old Centre. Large Dutch bookstores also carry a selection of foreign language books.
A lot of shops aimed at tourists sell a certain kind of woolen hat with “AMSTERDAM” printed on it. Locals refer to this article as “the tourist hat” and wearing one will immediately mark you as a tourist, as no Dutch person would ever wear one. Buy one if you like it, but be aware of this if you want to simply blend in. If you lived in London, would you go around wearing a hat with your city’s name on it?
Street markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialised. A complete list of Amsterdam markets (with opening times and the number of stalls) can be found at online at Hollandse Markten and Amsterdam.info in English.
Places to Eat
There is a large diversity of restaurants in Amsterdam, especially if you are looking for Asian cuisine, although much of it is tailored to the fairly bland local tastes and might not have the fire you would expect. The influence of the Dutch colonial past is apparent, as can be seen in the wide array of Indonesian restaurants.
Jordaan Jordaan is for Amsterdam standards a geographically large neighborhood and offers a lot of options for dining, but particularly the Tweede Tuindwarsstraat and neighboring streets host a variety of lovely restaurants. La Perla is famous for its wood-oven pizzas, Burger Patio offers a chance for Mediterranean-style dining outside and La Oliva offers Cantabarian-Basque tapas. The first and only Afghan restaurant of the city, Mantoe, can be found on the Tweede Leliedwarsstraat.
Nieuwmarkt Most Asian restaurants are clustered at the Zeedijk in Nieuwmarkt, for this reason often dubbed as Amsterdam’s Chinatown. It’s also home to many tokos, small Asian grocery stores that sell Eastern food and spices. Indonesian restaurants are usually of excellent quality, but Indian ones can be expensive. Chinatown also offers plenty of Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants.
Damstraat Is a fairly busy road filled with small and cheap Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants – expect sticky tables, but it’s definitely a good place for budget travellers. The numerous falafel bars have a good value, often sporting a “all you can pile” salad bar.
Nieuwezijds Kolk Hosts a lot of Indian and Japanese restaurants and for instance an ice cream parlor Bakkerij van der Linde. Its officially a bakery, but they don’t sell bread, but Amsterdam`s most famous whipped ice cream, lovely almond cookies and cakes. The texture is really creamy and soft, it melts easy and they put it in a cone with a soup spoon. A small ice cream costs 1 euro, a big one 2.
Surinamese food is widely available and worth a try. The highest concentration of Surinamese restaurants can be found in the South, especially in the Albert Cuypstraat. A good example can be found in Surinaams-Chinees Afhaalcentrum Albina at Albert Cuypstraat 69. It costs €6 and very good. If you arrive around dinnertime you probably have to wait for a table. The surroundings are depressing but the food is so good you will come back anyway. Locals recommend the roti with bone, the moksi meti, petjil and Bojo as dessert. Try the Dawet as well; this typical drink is made from milk, coconut milk and rose sirup and has sago balls in it (tastes like cough syrup). Most kids like it.
Eetcafe’s is Dutch for bars that serve evening and night time meals.
Many restaurants of all kinds can be found in the Haarlemmer Neighborhood (north of Jordaan), and in the narrow streets crossing the two. Also worth trying is the Van Woustraat in the Pijp, or continue to the Rijnstraat in the Rivierenbuurt. Exquisite but expensive restaurants can be found in the Utrechtsestraat.
Local cheese Buy some at the Albert Cuyp market, Dappermarket or at specialist cheese shops found around central Amsterdam. Dutch cheese is traditionally firm, and is made in large wax-covered wheels, and falls into two main categories – Young and Old. Within those categories, there exists a rich variety. Among the more unusual young cheeses is cumin (Komijn) cheese, which is particular to the Netherlands. Sheep (Schapen) and goat (Geiten) cheeses are also common. Old (Oud) cheese can be made of any sort of milk, and is often reminiscent of Italian parmesan in consistency and sharpness of flavour.
Ossenworst A raw beef sausage with nice spices. Originally from Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has several small local beer breweries, like Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Bierfabriek, De Bekeerde Suster and De Prael. They make very good beers. At Herengracht 90 you’ll find Proeflokaal Arendsnest, serving a large collection of Dutch beers, including those from Amsterdam.
Also check out bitterballen, a kind of fried meatball, and the kroketten (the same, but shaped like a cylinder). Last but not least, don’t forget to try a traditional herring or a broodje haring (herring sandwich), available from fish stalls around the city. Herring in Amsterdam is usually served with onions and pickles. A good try is the fish stand on the Koningsplein near the Flower Market. If you’re visiting in late November or December, you can enjoy oliebollen, which are round blobs of sweet fried dough embedded with raisins (sultanas) and dusted with powdered sugar.
Places to avoid
You might consider avoiding some of the steak houses or fast food shops in the centre – they could be tourist traps. It is typically Dutch to eat fast food snacks from a coin-operated wall machine. Although the quality is generally good, do this at your own risk.
All the bigger supermarkets are cheap and have all kinds of meals ready-to-eat. Don’t expect any quality though. You’ll find good food for a low price at the day markets, especially when they’re almost closing at the end of the afternoon.
For budget meal, check out also the various Falafel and Shoarma restaurants around the Damstraat and Muntplein. They usually include in the dish a large amount of salad. Lange Leidsedwarsstraat (just off Leidseplein) has about five Italian restaurants that sell pasta or pizza for €5.
Amsterdam’s famously wild nightlife caters to all tastes and budgets.
Bars and pubs
The archetypical Amsterdam watering hole is the bruine (“brown bar” or “brown café”), a neighborhood pub of sorts with gorgeous dark wood panelling — hence the name — and booths. These do not sell cannabis, see coffeeshops below for that. Popular entertainment areas with lots of bars are the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein.
The nightclubs in Amsterdam are not as rough as one might think. Many nightclubs are grouped at Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein in the Canal Ring. As these two squares are also the typical tourist traps of Amsterdam, prices are relatively high and there are lots of scams. You can’t go wrong at Melkweg and Paradiso, two live music venues that usually have a large queue in weekends. Paradiso has the best interior, as it used to be a church, while Melkweg feels more like a nightclub. Jimmy Woo is an impressive VIP-room, but their dress code is very strict. There are also some nightclubs in Eastern Amsterdam (notably Panama) and near Westerpark. Techno/minimal lovers go to De School in the Jan van Breemenstraat, just outside the city centre (West). The club is a new initiative of the group that started “Trouw”, the famous techno nightclub that was closed down in 2015.
Amsterdam’s gay nightlife is not what it used to be, but there is still an active community at the Reguliersdwarsstraat in the Canal Ring and at Club Church. The annual gay pride in August is a fun event that can be attended by gays and straights alike.
Amsterdam is renowned for its liberal drug policy. Coffeeshops, not to be confused with coffeehouses or cafes, are allowed to sell cannabis and hash for personal use (not more than 5 grams). While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. The city council of Amsterdam allows coffeeshops to operate only with the provision of set, non-transferable licenses as shown by an official green and white sticker on the window of a coffeeshop. Coffeeshops are to sell only soft drugs (such as cannabis), selling of other drugs is not allowed. Also selling of dried hallucinogenic mushrooms is not allowed.
That said, drug usage is increasingly being strictly controlled by the Dutch government. Garish advertising is not allowed (look for red-yellow-green rasta colors and the English word “coffeeshop”); no alcohol or edible cannabis products may be sold inside a coffeeshop; customers who want to smoke their weed mixed with tobacco are limited to special sealed ‘smoking areas’; the amount of coffeeshops has decreased significantly since 1995; coffeeshops within a ‘250 meter school zone’ have been closed down; and the usage of magic mushrooms has been forbidden since December 2008 (after two fatal incidents with foreign tourists).
Still there are about 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, most of them in the Old Centre. Prices hover around €7.50 for 1 gram, with the average joint holding around 0.33g and a 5g/person sales limit. Most coffeeshops are happy to recommend varieties and prepare your joint for you. Some offer vaporizers/inhalators for people who don’t want to smoke.
Using (soft) drugs is not allowed in public places, though in reality it will never be an issue. Just stay away from children’s playgrounds and schools. Many coffeeshops offer a ‘smoking lounge’ where soft drugs may be used. Also note that despite the confusion on the subject, the Netherlands-wide smoking ban applies only to tobacco. However, since the Dutch commonly smoke tobacco mixed with their marijuana or hash, many coffeeshops, especially those unaccustomed to tourists, may require all smoking to be done in a separated smoking section or outdoors (this is far more common in coffeeshops outside of Amsterdam). Most central coffeeshops with large tourist clienteles will allow marijuana or hash smoking in their entire space, requiring you to smoke in the separated section only if your joint contains tobacco. Many coffeeshops also provide a non-tobacco herbal filler for those who find pure joints too strong. You may usually smoke joints containing this herbal filler anywhere within the coffeeshop although individual house rules may vary. If in doubt, always ask the staff.
Amsterdam has over 400 registered hotels of varying standards from budget facilities to some of the most expensive hotels in Europe. Advance booking is recommended, especially for weekends and holidays. Don’t expect you’ll find an affordable bed once you’re here. Most hotels and hostels can be found in the Old Centre, notably south of central station, and in the South around the Museum Quarter. Charming boutique accommodation can be found in the wealthy residential Canal Ring, home to the rich and famous and its squares are the prime nightlife spots of the city. The Jordaan is another area for hip boutique accommodations, slightly upmarket, but still for mid-range prices. Some cheaper hostels can also be found in the Red Light District.
A simple bed in a hostel starts around €15 on weekdays in the winter and up to €90 on a weekend in the summer. Hostels often expect you to book at least 2 nights in a weekend. A twin room in a budget hotel, 1-2 stars, might cost around €40 on weekdays in the winter and up to €100 on summer weekends. In a three and four star hotel, the prices would range from €100 to €200, depending on season, and five stars hotels can cost between €150 and €400 a night.
Do not expect a wide amount of services from cheaper end hostels and hotels. Most of these do not have elevators and have the usual steep staircases; if you suffer from vertigo, do get an assurance that you will be getting a first or second floor room or book a hotel that has an elevator.
Since the internet business started many Amsterdam visitors prefer book some hotels alternative such as holiday apartments and houseboats. There are several sites offering short term apartments. Here you can book your own apartment Amsterdam Stay. A company specialized on accommodation offered by private owners (rooms, apartments and houseboats) is CityMundo.
You should take normal precautions against pickpockets and luggage theft, especially in the main shopping streets, onboard trams and trains, at stations, and anywhere where tourists congregate. Street begging is no longer common in Amsterdam, since the police take a harder line. Some beggars are addicts, some are homeless, and some are both.
What looks like a footpath, especially along a canal bank, may be a bicycle lane. Bicycle lanes are normally marked by red/purple tiles or asphalt, and a bicycle icon on the ground. However, the colour fades over time, so you might miss the difference. Don’t expect cyclists to be kind to pedestrians: some consider the pavement to be an extension of the road, to be used whenever it suits them. Never stay or walk on the bicycle path or street for extended periods of time, as you will be greeted only by angry bicycle bell ringing. Keep in mind that for many Amsterdammers, the bicycle is their main form of transport, they are not cycling for fun; but instead, to get to an appointment or their work on time. So be cautious. For the bike theft problem see above, Get around.
Watch out for trams when crossing the street. Taxis are also permitted to use some tram lanes, and even if not allowed, they often use them regardless.
Groups of women visiting the Red Light District at night might feel harassed in the aggressive environment, though this is said to be the safest area because of the police presence. Keep to main streets and groups. If you do choose to visit the Red Light District, do not take photographs of prostitutes! You will be yelled at, or worse. There are even signs displayed there telling you not to take photographs.
Although not really dangerous, women especially might want to avoid the narrow lane north of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) after dark as the atmosphere can be quite intimidating. If you would like to see the nightlife in action, visit as part of a guided tour; that way you will be much safer than if you were to visit alone.
Amsterdam is actually one of the safest cities in the world. International consultancy Mercer ranked Amsterdam 13 out of 215 world cities for personal safety in it’s 2010 Quality of Life Survey.
Journeywoman.com calls Amsterdam ‘female-friendly’ and recommends it as a city where solo women travellers should feel comfortable and safe.
However, there are differences between the neighbourhoods. While it’s filled with all types of people during the day, the Red Light District does attract seedier visitors and vagrants after sunset. But plenty of police too. Some visitors even describe the district as “Disneyland”.
You may want to avoid walking alone in parks at night.
The Bijlmer and Slotervaart in West still have a bad name regarding violence and harassment. With recent urban renewal projects, these neighbourhoods have made significant progress in the last few years.
Cannabis and Other Drugs
It cannot be denied that many tourists come to Amsterdam for the coffeeshops. Coffeeshops (in English but written as one word) sell only soft drugs such as marijuana and hash – asking for other drugs is pointless because coffeeshops are monitored closely by the authorities, and nothing will get them closed down faster than by having hard drugs for sale. ‘Café’ is the general name for a place licenced to sell alcohol, in other words; a bar.
Quality varies. Coffeeshops aimed at tourists are more likely to have overpriced and poor quality products. A simple rule of thumb is: if the place looks good and well-kept chances are their wares will be good as well. Don’t just enter a coffeeshop being overwhelmed that it’s possible at all to buy and consume cannabis openly: be discerning as to the quality.
There’s a small chance you will be approached by people offering to sell you hard drugs in the street, especially as you are walking through the Red Light District. Ignoring them or simply a firm refusal is enough – they will not pester you. The selling of drugs in the street is illegal and often dangerous; moreover the drugs sold to strangers are usually fake. When they invite you to see the goods, they can lure you into a narrow street and rob you.
So-called smartshops do not sell any illegal products, but a range of dietary supplements, including ‘herbal ecstasy’ – a legal attempt at an ecstasy pill alternative is a complete waste of money and various more or less obscure psychedelic herbs and despite a change in the law, one type of magic mushrooms.
Do keep in mind that all hemp-related products (except the seeds) are still illegal. This can be confusing for most tourists, who do think hemp products are legal since they are sold in coffeeshops. Hemp products are not legal, rather they are “tolerated” under the Dutch Opium Act. Read more about the legalities in the article about the Netherlands.
Amsterdam plays host to the Cannabis Cup, the most important marijuana-related event in the world every year during the week of Thanksgiving. The Cannabis Cup is organized by High Times magazine, and offers both tourists and natives the chance to enjoy 5 days of consuming and judging marijuana in different forms. Participants are eligible to pay $199 in advance or €250 at the door to obtain a “judges pass”, which allows entry to the event for all five days of the competition, admission to numerous concerts and seminars held during the event, the ability to vote on numerous awards that are handed out, and free bus tours to and from the event. Day passes are available for €30 for each day, and certain concerts sell tickets at the door provided they are not already sold out.
If you bring a laptop, tablet or smartphone, many hotels in the city offer wifi free of charge for guests, but inform before making a booking. Plenty of coffee houses and cafés offer free wifi to their consuming guests.
If you don’t bring your own device you’ll have a harder time finding internet access. Try the phone shops which cater for immigrant communities in the Netherlands. They usually have one or two terminals.
The telephone country code for the Netherlands is 31, and Amsterdam’s city code is 020. You only need to dial the 0 if you’re calling from within the Netherlands.
Pay phones are increasingly rare as most Dutch people have a mobile phone. That’s why pay phones mostly cater to tourists and can be found around tourist areas, such as the central station. If making local calls from a pay phone, you will need a phone card (€5 minimum) as many green KPN telephone booths do not accept coins. blue/orange Telfort booths accept both coins and cards. The KPN booths are currently being replaced by newer models, which will accept coins again. There are very few public telephones on the streets or in public transport stations in the Netherlands. If you need to make a call and do not have access to a local phone or hotel phone, it is best to go to a call centre or use a calling service over the internet (like Skype, for example). Most payphones require phone cards which can be bought at post offices and some delis, although the cards are increasingly hard to find. Also, as in any area, some of the pay phones are scams. If you do need to use a payphone, call the free customer service number listed on the payphone first to make sure the phone is actually in service. When you call the customer service number listed on the phone, if you get a recorded message or ‘number not in service’ message in Dutch or English, then DON’T put your money or credit card into the phone. Phones run by BBG Communications, common in Europe and the U.S., have repeatedly been alleged to make fraudulent charges with credit cards used in their phone, for calls that were never made.
If you really do need a pay phone, they can be found in groups of six near the main entrance of the Central Station.
There are phone shops (‘belwinkel’) all over the city. Outside the city centre, they mostly serve immigrants calling their home country at cheap rates.
If your smartphone breaks, there is a company Terello that fixes phones on the spot. Within an hour they come to you to fix your phone.
If you have a simlock-free European GSM mobile phone (suitable for GSM 900/1800 networks), consider buying a prepaid simcard. You can buy these in any electronics store, and they are often the same price as buying a KPN phonebooth card. Calling then is a lot cheaper than using pay phones, and you are mobile. When budgeting your trip, remember to take the price of the card itself into account. Providers will often list the prices of their plans online without the price of the sim too; while this makes sense for a resident of the Netherlands who already owns a sim, you may need to spend as much as €19 on the simcard itself. Sims can be bought at any size necessary.
For pre-paid dataplans, Lebara and Lyca Mobile have outlets at Schiphol Airport selling SIM cards (typically €10 for 150 to 120MB data plans).
Holy Mass in Catholic churches (Overview of Cath. Masses in the city centre (English):
English language worship for Protestants
The older generation of Dutch people tend to be more religious.
Direct trains connect Amsterdam to Paris, to major Belgian cities like Brussels and Antwerp, and to German cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin. The ticket machines directly sell tickets to nearby destinations in Belgium and Germany, for longer journeys you will need to consult the international ticket office at the west end of the Central Station. CityNightLine trains run directly from Amsterdam Central Station to Milan, Vienna, Copenhagen, Prague, Warsaw, Moscow, Munich, Innsbruck, and Zurich (reservation compulsory).
Almost any place in the Netherlands can be reached within 3 hr of rail travel. To make more sense, day trips can be divided into those close to the city (about 30 min by public transport) and those further afield.