First Time in Amsterdam?
Well never fear because your host, Girl with the Passport, is here to welcome you to the whimsical world of Amsterdam travel tips.
I commit all these unintentional but totally egregious travel fails, while traveling to Amsterdam, so that you don’t have to!
And the Best Part?
You get to read this handy Amsterdam travel guide and avoid all these insane mistakes on your Amsterdam trip.
How lucky are you, right?
What can I say? It’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make for my readers. Because I’m altruistic like that.
If I could have avoided some of these travel annoyances during my trip to Amsterdam, I totally would have.
Calamity is attracted to me like a moth to a flame, so no amount of Amsterdam travel tips could have saved me.
But there is still hope for you grasshopper.
So read on to have an amazing first time in Amsterdam, whether you’re there for a day or are planning 10 days in the Netherlands.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
If you’re booking a trip right now then I IMPLORE you to get travel insurance – even if it’s not from me.
After all, this past year has been a wild ride and I don’t want you to lose money because government regulations have changed.
Truth be told though, I’ve never traveled without travel insurance and don’t think you should either – especially since I think we’ve all had plans drastically change because of the pandemic.
Therefore, find an insurance agency that covers travel changes related to COVID-19, like my two all-time faves World Nomads and Safety Wing. You can also read more about which policy is right for you in my full review here.
1. Avoid Coffee Shops in Amsterdam. Unless you like a Doobie or Two
This was actually the VERY first mistake I made while traveling in Amsterdam.
I Know right? How lucky am I?
Anyway, I was checking into my hotel after a long flight and wanted to grab a coffee.
Before I knew it:
The words, “do you know a good coffee shop?” just sort of flew out of my mouth. Kind of like something out of the Exorcist, only with less profanity.
I got a very strange look from the poor desk clerk, who kindly asked me if I wanted to visit a coffee shop or a cafe.
So the Real Question is:
What does the term “coffee shop” mean in the Netherlands?
Travel Amsterdam Truth Number One:
A coffee shop in Amsterdam is an alcohol-free establishment where weed is sold in small quantities and is consumed by adults 18 and over.
So Where Can You Get Real Coffee?
A cafe my dear friend. That’s where you go to consume copious amounts of what I fondly refer to as the nectar of the Gods (can you tell I love a good cup of coffee in NYC? Lol).
So go forth and Visit a coffee shop if that’s your bag baby.
I’ll stick with the coffee while traveling through Amsterdam.
***As a little FYI for you, the Netherlands has a tolerance policy when it comes to selling weed. Basically, selling cannabis in coffee shops is ILLEGAL, but not punishable (you can also legally smoke weed).
Sounds weird but coffee shops just have to pay taxes and are subject to government regulations. This way, citizens don’t risk their lives trying to buy low-quality weed from dealers and criminals.
2. Walking in the Bike Lane
On my very first day in Amsterdam, I accidentally walked in the bike lane.
Yeah, BIG MISTAKE.
Bikes are the easiest and most popular way to get around the city, But if you get in their way, watch out because they don’t really stop. Unless they have to of course.
I accidentally stepped out into the bike lane and got yelled at by some man cruising past me on his trusty, two-wheeled stead.
So don’t be like me and watch out for passing bikers I mean, no one wants an entire city population shunning them because they impeded the flow of bike traffic.
Because biking really is serious business here.
I mean, I was WAY more scared of the bikes than the cars. and that’s saying something.
3. Taking Pictures in the Red Light District
If you travel to Amsterdam then you’re probably gonna want to visit the Red Light District. Which is totally fine.
But What You Cannot Do Is:
Take pictures of girls in the windows.
That’s a huge no-no in Amsterdam since there are signs everywhere saying no photos (out of respect for the privacy of the women who work here).
What if you do take pictures?
Whatever camera or phone that you use to take photos will be confiscated. So best to follow the rules on this one and take photos of basically anything else in the city.
***The Red Light District is NOT my thing so I spent as little time here as possible. But if you want to explore this area or get your freak on (no judgment here) then go during the day.
It is awful at night when EVERYONE fills the streets. And yes, the lovely ladies work in the morning too.
4. Not Booking Your Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House Tickets in Advance.
First of All:
Both of these museums are some of the best museums in Amsterdam and you should totally visit both of them.
You cannot purchase admission tickets at either museum since both sights only do online ticket booking.
Don’t show up expecting to buy a ticket because it won’t happen. Instead, book your tickets well in advance and you’ll be able to get the date and time that you want.
Alos, Guess What?
Amsterdam is a very popular tourist destination.
These two museums are some of the best attractions in Amsterdam.
Buy your tickets to both museums (some of the best museums in Amsterdam in my opinion) well in advance, especially during the high season (from mid-June through mid-October, with peaks in July and August).
I purchased my tickets about two months before my Amsterdam vacation and had no problem reserving tickets for the date and time that I selected (I went in July so Amsterdam was super crowded).
Okay, maybe one tiny one, If you visit the VanGogh Museum, try and avoid the crowds by booking your time slot any time after 6 pm on Friday and Saturday. On these days, the museum is open until 9 pm and you will virtually have the place to yourself.
***You can also purchase skip the line tickets for the Rijksmuseum but it’s not essential.
5. Not Purchasing the I am Amsterdam Card
If you only listen to one thing I say in this ENTIRE silly post, this should be it.
GET THE I AM AMSTERDAM CARD.
It is an absolute lifesaver and you will end up saving a TON of money on your trip to Amsterdam.
I got a 96-hour card (4 days) because I was in Amsterdam for a full week, and it was totally worth it.
I feel like I’ve saved the equivalent of tuition for one year of college in the United States.
Kidding! Not that much but a lot.
So why is the I am Amsterdam Card worth it?
Well, there are like 10,000 reasons to buy this bad boy, but I’ll keep it short.
Not only do you get free admission to over 44 museums and attractions in Amsterdam (like the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Museum Van Loom, Stedelijk Museum, and about a bazillion others), but you also get to ride all the trams, buses, and metro for free, as well as receive discounts to numerous sights and restaurants around the city.
***FYI the Anne Frank Museum is NOT included.
There are way too I Am Amsterdam card discounts to keep track of them all so I just showed everyone my card everywhere, just in case.
You also get a FREE canal cruise! I mean really, why would you not get the I Am Amsterdam Card?
If you purchase your card online:
Bring your voucher to the I Amsterdam Store at either the North entrance of Central station or at the I Amsterdam Visitor Centre at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Arrivals 2).
6. Taking a Taxi
It’s a Trap! Don’t Do It!
In many cities, if you’re tired or lost, you can just suck it up, pay the extra money, and hire a taxi.
But don’t do this in Amsterdam!
Not only are the taxis expensive but the streets are narrow and hard to navigate by car.
Taxis will not only be more expensive but they will take way longer than the metro, biking, or walking to your desired destination.
So don’t waste your precious time and money and heed this advice during your first time trip to Amsterdam.
Take the Metro instead.
6. Visiting a Tourist Trap
This is probably one of my most important Amsterdam travel tips for your 72 hours in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has some of the most amazing museums and attractions in the entire world.
Yeah, not so much.
But how can you tell the good attractions from the, well, not so good ones?
If it looks like an overpriced store, feels like an overpriced store, and has the prices of an overpriced store, then even if the front says “museum”, it’s a tourist trap that is trying to sell you stuff and inflated prices.
Just walk into the Cheese Museum, the Tulip Museum, the Cannabis Museum, or the sex museum and you’ll see what I mean.
Oh, and There are Two More:
Madam Toussad’s Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
Why People Visit These Places I have no Idea.
I really feel like these places are tourist traps in every city that has them.
And yes, I saw a line around the block for the wax museum. And all I kept thinking was, “Dear lord why?” (Also avoid the torture museum. It’s TORTURE to go through)
7. Visiting During July and August
So before I start whining and making it sound like Amsterdam is a living nightmare during the summer (it’s really not THAT bad), let me just preface this section by saying that I hate crowds and well people really.
That’s why I loved visiting Amsterdam alone.
They Both Make me SUPER Anxious.
I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.
But this is why my opinion about visiting Amsterdam during July and August may be slightly skewed.
I feel like I would love this city even MORE if it wasn’t congested with hordes of tourists.
No one here is Dutch. Okay, that’s a lie, There are some residents but I feel like most of the people in the city are tourists.
I bet all the smart locals are on vacation.
Which is fine, except that when I travel I try to get a MILDLY cultural experience. Which is a bit more challenging when locals are somewhat few and far between.
I just feel like I’m missing out on meeting locals and on some mildly authentic Dutch culture.
So if you can avoid visiting during the summer, do it!
Hotels will probably be cheaper and the weather will probably be a bit cooler.
It’s a total win on so many levels.
8. Don’t Take a Bus Tour
So if You Read Blog Even Once:
Then you know that I LOATHE buses. Not everywhere of course, but in most places, they are slow, smelly, gross, and just no.
I swear I’m not a Prema Donna.
So what is Amsterdam known for? Amazing buses through the city!
In Amsterdam, buses are the WORST.
No WAY can you get a big ass bus through Amsterdam’s tiny, canal-side streets.
It’s NOT gonna happen.
So during your first time trip to Amsterdam, don’t pay a ton of money for a bus tour (a private Amsterdam boat tour would be worth it though) that can really only take you in circles around Amsterdam.
Which sucks since the entire city center is a giant UNESCO World Heritage Site a la the 1600s and 1700s.
So get a comfy pair of shoes and start walking!
Yup. Amsterdam is one of the most walkable cities in all of Europe.
Walking not your thing?
You can also rent a bike, do a “hop on hop off” boat tour, or use the electric tram system, which I might add has some pretty scenic routes.
9. Assuming Amsterdam is Just One Big Party
If you want to party, you can party. Between all the bars, coffee shops, and prostitutes in Amsterdam, you can basically party as much as humanly possible.
But for me?
Yeah, I’m old. I am usually in bed, watching Netflix by 10 pm.
I saw a kid in the elevator today who looked super ROUGH after a “fun” night out. And that is so NOT my idea of a good time.
I make the Golden Girls look like party animals.
Blanche is way more of a “good time girl” than me. My idea of a good time is taking photos, seeing historic architecture, eating delicious food, and exploring a culturally rich museum.
So While Partying is Great:
Don’t sell Amsterdam short. It is so much more than a city where you can legally buy pot and prostitutes.
10. Don’t be foolish with drugs
You wouldn’t be the first traveler whose visit to Amsterdam is ruined by using (unfamiliar) narcotics, or perhaps their last trip ever.
Remember that Dutch marijuana is renowned for being powerful as well. It is more stronger than you would be accustomed to.
Numerous groups, including the police, the emergency services, doctors, and others have seen a substantial increase in the number of persons who have developed psychosis after consuming marijuana.
Don’t deceive yourself; pace yourself. No one is amazed with the quantity or size of joints you can allegedly smoke at once, trust us when we say that (or, for that matter, the amount of beer you think you can drink).
Consume for your own enjoyment, not to please other people.
Do pay attention to and heed the counsel of the coffee shop workers. They are experts in their field and professionals.
Following many fatal events, the selling of hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms was outlawed as of December 1, 2008.
Smart Shops have started using substitute items since the prohibition, some of which have hallucinogenic properties. The shops go to considerable efforts to give accurate instructions even though they are aware that their sector is being closely scrutinized.
Their first piece of advise is to never combine any such items with drugs like alcohol or marijuana or anything more potent.
The second most crucial guideline is to never take more medication than is advised.
It is highly recommended that at least one member of your group refrain from drinking so they can assist you if something goes wrong (for example, if you’re attempting to “fly” out of an open window).
The bottom conclusion is that certain regulations exist just to prevent you or your buddies from doing foolishly.
TADA! The End is Night!
Alright, cool kids, we have come to the end of my hopefully helpful post.
I know these really aren’t Amsterdam insides tips since I’m from New York City, but I wanted to share what I learned from my amazing trip to this charming city.
My Only Hope?
That you get an answer to the question, “What is Amsterdam like?”
You can better prepare yourself for your first time in Amsterdam.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!