Amsterdam Travel Tips – Top 10 things to know before visiting Amsterdam

February 21, 2018

You might have already booked the tickets to Amsterdam or are you planning to visit soon?. Amsterdam is incredibly attractive; be it a rich cultural, architectural, heritage tour or you’re prepping-up for the wild adventures of “coffee shops” and “Red light District”, you’ll surely enjoy your time in the beautiful city of Amsterdam.

However, there are some crucial things you need to know upfront, for a more enjoyable and less strenuous visit to Amsterdam.

Tip#1: Never worry about language barrier
Let me start with some good news first. You don’t need to dread about language issues at all. Dutch speaks good and fluent English. My Dutch colleagues often say that “our English is better than our Dutch😉”. Yes, it’s not a joke, many international surveys show that the Dutch are best at speaking English than any other non-native country.

If you still want to impress the locals, here are a couple of basic phrases in Dutch: "Dank U" = is a polite/formal way of saying thank you and “Bedankt” or “Dank je wel” is little informal/friendly way of saying your thanks. You might hear the waiter in the restaurants/shops may say “Alsjeblieft”, which is translated as “please” or “here you go”.

Tip#2: Be prepared for the unpredictable weather
It doesn’t matter which season of the year you’re coming in or which tool you use to predict the weather, you can never ever predict the weather of Amsterdam. The forecasts may tell you a nice sunny day, but somehow the clouds of Amsterdam will surprise you with rain and wind.

Rainfall is quite common in Amsterdam (on an average there are 217 rainy days a year!). So, it’s never a bad idea to carry your rain jacket or umbrella. Don’t lose your hopes on Amsterdam yet; you know what they say: after rain comes sunshine😊, just be prepared mentally and physically, that’s it.

Tip#3: Use public transport as much as you can:
Amsterdam has one of the best public transport networks; trains, metros, trams, buses, and ferries all are fittingly interconnected - to help you get around the city. Taxis are expensive, but also the traffic can be crazy during the peak hours.

If you’re in the city for a few days, it’s sensible to buy the public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) - a single chip card allows you to board all the modes of transports. The most convenient option for visitors is a disposable one-hour card or day card (valid for one to seven days). They allow unlimited journeys across the whole network, throughout the duration you choose.

Tip#4: Beware of bikes!! (because they rule the roads)
Amsterdam is an incredibly bike-friendly city; there are designated bike lanes everywhere. Biking is fun, efficient (saves time & money) and the easiest way of getting around Amsterdam - just like the locals do!

With nearly a million cycles running around (yes, on a typical day, bikes account for more than 50% of traffic in Amsterdam), it may be quite challenging and you must pay attention to the traffic rules. Please don’t try to copy the cycling style/speed of locals, they’ve been biking there since they were 3 years old, you can’t match their skills😊.

Tip#5:  Make use of Park & Ride (P+R) facilities outside the center:
As I mentioned above, the Amsterdam is filled with bikers and walking tourists; which makes it difficult to drive at the city center (especially for the newcomers/visitors). If you’re coming to Amsterdam by car, it is always wise to use parking garages or Park & Ride (P+R) facilities available outside the City Centre.

Believe me, this will give you peace of mind (from the stress of driving within the city) and perhaps may save you from some “heavy” traffic fines as well. P+R facilities are cheaper (or sometimes free) and will always have a good connection to the metro/train network.

Tip#6: Coffeeshops and cafés are NOT the same!
Here comes the interesting part. A friend of mine recalled his Amsterdam memories on, how he ‘accidentally’ visited a coffee shop (just like how he ‘innocently’ sprawled into the Red light district😉). If you don’t want to (or may want to?) make the same mistake, then you must know the difference between the Coffeeshops and cafés.

A coffee shop is a place where you can legally buy soft drugs (marijuana, hashish, space cakes,..etc) as well as regular coffee/tea /snacks (but none goes there for regular coffee/juice). A cafe is the actual coffee bar/ café/ Coffee House that sells regular coffee, tea, snacks and some with beer/ soft liqueurs too.

Tip#7: Don’t touch cameras in the Red light district
You can take photographs of the canals and bars around, but never try to focus the ladies behind the windows. It is an offense to film them and your cameras are sure to be thrown into the canals at least (if not you’re in the police custody already).

Tip#8: Think before you buy tulips to bring back home
From Cheese, Chocolates, drops,… to stroopwafels (syrup wafers) almost all the famous Dutch products can be taken back to your home. But tulip bulbs are always a bit tricky! , You need to be sure about your home country’s import/customs law.

Countries like U.S and Canada allow the tulips but under very strict conditions. You need to buy the bulbs from authorized sellers, who can give you a “phytosanitary certificate” - which confirms that the healthiness of the bulbs (regulated by the government of the Netherlands). It's always a safe choice to buy from the airport, they know the regulations well.

Tip#9: Use online tickets to avoid queues in attractions
My workplace is close to the Anne Frank house, but have never seen a single day without a crowd in front of it. Not just Anne Frank house, places like Van Gogh Museum and Madame Tussauds are always with miles long queues.

Be smart enough to buy the tickets online, which mostly give you the fast-track entrance for free. Otherwise also fixing a time-slot for the entrance will save you all the unnecessary waiting times.

Tip#10: Amsterdam is not just about the city center; allocate some time for the neighborhoods
Of course, Amsterdam has so much to keep you engaged. But at one stage, if you feel that you’re done with those old buildings and canals😉, you must visit the charming neighborhood. Personally, I like the neighborhood very much than the city itself.

Zaanse Schans (beautiful village with majestic windmills and clog factories), Harlem (one of the oldest cities of the Netherlands), Keukenhof (the world famous tulips fields & garden), momentous towns like Volendam, are all well within 30-60 minutes from the Amsterdam city, with a perfect public transport connection. To truly experience the real-Amsterdam, you must visit them, you’ll be amazed!

That’s the end of my list. The last thing I would say is: 
"just feel free to ignore everything I've said above so far😊". Sometimes it is fun NOT to make any plan/preparation. Just wander the city with all that Amsterdam has to offer. Just go-on-the flow and take whatever good and bad😉 you encounter! I'd still love to hear your thoughts/questions/ advice in the comments section below. Will you?.

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  1. Very good summary. I was in Amsterdam last year and I can't agree more.