There are so many reasons to visit Amsterdam. It has the most museums per capita in the world, it has over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of canals to cruise on, and, of course, you can make a date with Mary Jane at one of the local coffee shops. Central Amsterdam and the Red Light District are known as very touristy areas, and with that comes many tourist traps and rip-offs. There are many mistakes that tourists to the city make and that they should try to avoid, be it for their safety or their wallets.
To help you avoid these common mistakes, we have crafted a list of the top things NOT to do in Amsterdam. These will help you experience the city in the best way possible and also avoid angering the local residents.
1. Don’t Go to Famous Coffee Shops
If you are an avid smoker, chances are you’re coming to Amsterdam to smoke and test out the famous herbs freely. Many people make the mistake of immediately running to the most famous coffee shops, like the Bulldog. Now, if you are an occasional smoker, the quality of the herbs in these shops will most likely be okay for you. But if you are looking for the best of the best in Amsterdam, a good rule of thumb is that the more famous the shop, the crappier the product. This is because the famous shops do so much more business than the other shops that they can afford to rely on their reputation alone instead of their quality.
The coffee shops with the best products have loyal customers among the Dutch residents and don’t need to advertise too much, so you have to seek these out. Some of the better coffee shops to try out in the city center are the Dampkring on Haarlemmerstraat, the Grey Area behind Dam Square, and the Boerenjongens near Rembrandt Square.
It is also worth noting that marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated. It was decriminalized for personal use, but technically you could still get a ticket. If you follow the rules, such as not having more than five grams on you, not smoking in prohibited areas, and not causing a public disturbance, you should be fine.
2. Don’t Do the Heineken Tour
As much as Heineken is a classic Dutch beer, it is to the Dutch what Busch Light is to Americans. Tourists tend to line up and flock to the brewery for the Heineken experience, but there are so many better, more Dutch, and less expensive brewery tours to do.
For example, Brouwerij T IJ is a popular beer in Amsterdam, and its brewery is located on the east side of the city, next to the tallest windmill in the country. For less than half the price of the Heineken experience, you can tour the brewery in English or in Dutch and sample some tasty craft beers. Another great option is this five-star-rated guided craft beer tour from GetYourGuide. The tour includes transport to three different breweries in the city, three beers at each stop, and an experienced beer guide.
3. Don’t Do a Big Boat Tour
Many tourists make the mistake of booking canal cruises with big boat companies like Blue Boat or Lovers Canal Cruise. These boats are large and nice to look at, but they won’t give you the best experience on the canal.
First, they can’t get down most of the canals to take you to different areas of the city and to some of the smaller, more peaceful canals because they are so large. Second, they are not open boats. They are boxed-in glass boats that can be hard to see out of when it rains, and there isn’t any fresh air. Lastly, the big boat tours don’t come with guides but instead with GPS audio-guide headsets. So there isn’t anyone to ask questions to or get more insight into the local area from.
To find smaller boat tours, you can head down the Oudezjids Voorburgwal to where the Bulldog Mack is; in front of it, there is a small dock where many cruises leave from. For a more family-friendly and history-based tour, check out Amsterdam Boat Trips. If you are looking to smoke hookah or a joint, check out Buddha Boat.
4. Don’t Try to Speak Dutch
As much as trying to speak the native language of the country you are in is a nice thought, the Dutch are not for it. Dutch is a hard language, and if you try to speak it to locals, they will most likely just become annoyed. In fact, 90%–93% of Dutch people are proficient in English. So, if you attempt to spark up a conversation or ask a question in Dutch, they will almost always reply in English. It’s not that they don’t like the effort, they are just very direct people who recognize that the easiest way to have a conversation with tourists is in English!
5. Don’t Buy Souvenirs From a Souvenir Shop
Central Amsterdam is lousy with souvenir shops that are extremely overpriced and repetitive. If you are looking to get a trinket or gift for someone back home, head to one of the street markets instead.
Albert Cuyp Market is one of the best street markets in Amsterdam and has roughly 260 vendors. Here, you can find all the same souvenirs you see in the Amsterdam City Center and more. The prices are lower as they don’t have to pay hefty central rent prices, and you are welcome to haggle as well. You can get anything from stroopwafels to clogs and custom T-shirts.
6. Don’t Walk on the Bike Paths
You will hear this over and over and over again: Don’t walk on the bike paths! Amsterdam’s bike paths are always busy, and bikes go flying by at high speeds. Just as you wouldn’t walk in the middle of the road, don’t walk where the cyclists bike. Biking is a very popular mode of transportation in the Netherlands, with four times more bicycles in Amsterdam than cars! The Dutch love to ride bikes, which makes these bike paths very busy.
If you are walking on the bike path, bikers will often try to get around you and clip you with their handlebars, or worse…and you do not want to spend your holiday laid up with a broken arm or aching back. It’s best just to avoid the bike paths, and if you need to cross them, always look both ways. You will recognize bike paths as they are usually painted red or have a bike symbol on them. Many of these paths also allow access to small cars and Vespas, which are even more dangerous to get in a collision with.
7. Don’t Rent a Bike if You Don’t Know Road Laws
Riding a bike in Amsterdam is no easy task. It is a lot like driving a car. As previously mentioned, the bike paths are very busy, so if you’re looking for a leisurely bike ride, Amsterdam is not the place. In fact, if you are a nervous rider or have never ridden a day in your life, it’s best to avoid this form of transportation altogether.
However, if you are dead set on renting a bike in Amsterdam, you should know a few things. Bikers must yield to pedestrians, stop at red lights and specific bike lights, and signal with their hands when turning. If you are passing another bike in the lane, always look over your shoulder to ensure no one is trying to pass you. There are also triangle lines when you come to intersections and crossings. If the point of the triangle is facing you, you must yield to traffic coming the other way. Also, don’t be surprised when you see no one wearing bike helmets in the Netherlands; they just don’t like them!
8. Don’t Take Pictures of Prostitutes in the Red Light District
Amsterdam is known for its progressive views on sex work, and it is also a very big part of the city’s tourism industry. Yes, these women are in glass windows for everyone to see, but they do not want their pictures taken. Like anyone, they value their privacy and don’t want embarrassing or derogatory images taken without their consent.
Many of these sex workers also lead a double life and have family members, friends, and other employers whom they don’t want to find out about their work in prostitution. In fact, there is a famous case of a weekend sex worker who also worked as a supervisor in a bank. Once the bank found out that she was involved in sex work, she was let go.
If you try to take a quick pic of the sex workers, chances are they will chase you down the street to get you to delete it, or when you pull out your phone, they will pull the curtain across their window. These women deserve the same amount of respect as any other person, so please don’t take pictures of them.
9. Don’t Think Blue/Purple Lights and Red Lights Are the Same
While red lights are famously known as a beacon for sex work, blue and purple lights hold a slightly different meaning. If you pass by a brothel with a blue or purple light, that means the sex workers are transgender; red lights, meanwhile, indicate that the worker is biologically female. It is important to know the difference between the two, especially if you plan on going into the brothel.
Another thing to note is that you won’t find any male prostitutes in the Red Light District windows as this district is mostly reserved for female sex workers.
10. Don’t Rent a Car
Unless you are planning on leaving the city, there is absolutely no need to rent a car in Amsterdam. The city is very pedestrian-friendly and also has a fantastic transit system. There are trams, a metro, and even a free ferry to use to get around. You can also bike pretty much anywhere in the city in about 20 minutes.
Having a car is a massive hassle as there is barely any parking in the city center. It can also be extremely stressful trying to drive in Amsterdam as you have to watch out for trams, pedestrians, and lots of bikes. If you are planning on leaving Amsterdam on a road trip or day trip, only rent it for the day or days you need it.
There you have them, the top things not to do in Amsterdam! As with any city, always keep an eye out for pickpockets and scammers when you are wandering through Amsterdam. The city is fairly safe, however, and if you follow these tips for what not to do in Amsterdam, then you are sure to have a great time!