Things to Know before Visiting Amsterdam

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination in Europe for several reasons. There are several well-known museums for the cultural traveler and plenty of opportunities for fun if you are seeking out the coffee shops and Red Light District that Amsterdam is known for. No matter what you plan to do in Amsterdam, it is important to know these things before you visit.

Best Time to Visit Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a popular European destination. The summer months are beautiful but visiting between April-May or September-November will help you to beat some of the crowds. No matter when you visit, expect rain. When I visited Amsterdam in June of 2019, there was a huge overnight storm that knocked trees into the canals, so you never know what the weather is going to do.

Public Holidays

The Netherlands officially recognizes fewer Holidays than many other European countries. Still, stores, museums and other attractions are likely to be closed or close early on these days. You can also expect crowds on some days and less public transport.

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Easter Sunday & Easter Monday (March/April)
  • King’s Day (April 27)
  • Sinterklaas (December 5)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
  • Boxing Day (December 26)

What You Need to Know Before Your First Trip to Amsterdam

English is Widely Spoken

It is helpful to learn a few common Dutch phrases but English speakers will be able to comfortably order food and navigate the city. Locals will always appreciate the extra effort if you can say hello or tell them thank you in Dutch

  • Hallo - Hello
  • Tot ziens - Goodbye
  • Proost - Cheers
  • Dank u wel - Thank you
  • Spreek je Engels? - Do you speak English?

Be Aware of Pickpocketing

As with any popular European city, there can be people waiting to take advantage of tourists. However, I didn’t feel as though Amsterdam was less safe than anywhere else I traveled to in Europe. Keep your belongings on your person and be aware of your surroundings. 

Watch out for Cyclists

Cyclists rule the streets in Amsterdam, as it is a popular way to get to work or any other destination. Don’t walk in the bike lanes and make sure you are alert whenever you are headed somewhere Bicycles can seem to come out of nowhere.

Learn the difference between Cafes and Coffeeshops

You can order coffee at a cafe but not a coffee shop. In Amsterdam, if you are 18 years or older with a valid ID or passport, you can purchase up to 5 grams of marijuana per day. Green and white signs denote stores where it is legal to do so.

Expect to Pay for Water

Across Europe, water is typically not free with a meal as it would be in the United States. Keep that in mind as you order food because drinks can really drive up the cost of a meal. You can specifically request tap water and if the restaurant offers it, that will be complimentary.

Don’t Take Photos in the Red Light District

During the day, it is totally fine to take photos in the Red Light District. However, it looks very different at night and it is incredibly disrespectful to take photos of sex workers. Prostitution is legal, but not on the streets which is why women offer their services from behind a window. 

Tulip Season is in the Spring

Tulips are an icon of the Netherlands. If you want to see the tulip fields, you will need to visit Amsterdam in April or early May. Tulip fields only bloom for a few weeks but there are many gardens and festivals to celebrate these flowers. 

How to Locate the I Amsterdam Sign

When I visited Amsterdam, I was unaware that the I Amsterdam sign had been taken down due to overcrowding. The giant letters have returned for a few events and festivals but there are also permanent sets. You will find one set at Schiphol Airport and one at Sloterpas lake. 

Have you been to Amsterdam before? What is something you wish you knew before travelling to Amsterdam?

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