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Get the inside scoop on Amsterdam before your visit | © Olivier Duquesne / Flickr
Get the inside scoop on Amsterdam before your visit | © Olivier Duquesne / Flickr
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12 Useful Things to Know Before Visiting Amsterdam

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 9 April 2018
Planning a trip to Amsterdam in the coming months? Before setting off to the Netherlands make sure to check out our following guide covering important, peculiar and essential facts about the city and Dutch culture in general.

Speaking English in Amsterdam isn’t usually a problem

Linguistically speaking, Dutch and English are extremely similar and share many grammatical roots. This means that Dutch people have a significant advantage when learning English and often pick up the language by casually watching movies or TV. Nonetheless, it is worth trying out a couple Dutch phrases while in Amsterdam, as locals certainly appreciate the effort.

Holland and the Netherlands are not the same thing

Despite several enduring misconceptions, Holland is a region of the Netherlands, and takes up roughly one third of the country. This area is actually divided into two provinces, called Noord and Zuid-Holland. To make matters more confusing, Amsterdam is the largest city in Noord-Holland (and the capital of the Netherlands) but isn’t the province’s capital – as that title is held by Haarlem.

Cannabis is readily available, but only from licensed coffeeshops

While Amsterdam certainly has relaxed drug laws compared to most other European cities, cannabis is only legally available at certified coffeeshops. These establishments can be recognized by a green-and-white sign that is displayed in their entrance. It is also worth noting that, by law, cannabis can only be smoked inside these licensed venues.

Beer is served in half-pint glasses

The Dutch usually prefer to drink beer in small glasses, called fluitjes or vaasjes, rather than pints. These diminutive vessels are believed to preserve the beer’s taste and, coincidentally, prevent rapid intoxication. As this is the default measurement in the Netherlands, patrons should expect to receive smaller beers when ordering at a bar.

© Henry Burrows/Flickr
Holland is famous for its beers | © Henry Burrows/Flickr

Watch out for bike lanes

Most major roads in Amsterdam are divided into two parts that are separated by a white line. While the inner section may occasionally appear unoccupied, it is actually designated for cyclists. Visitors to the city often neglect to realize that this area isn’t for pedestrians, and that walking in cycle paths is actually dangerous for every party involved.

Cyclists are notoriously unforgiving to careless pedestrians

As cycling is the main mode of transportation in Amsterdam, riders tend to have less patience than people expect. It is exceptionally common to hear hurried cyclists shouting profanities at stray pedestrians or other inattentive cyclists. For obvious reasons, pedestrians should always pay attention to the road and where they are walking, in order to avoid accidents or a scolding.

Beware of suspiciously cheap bikes

Buying a suspiciously cheap bike from a street vendor is rarely a good idea, as these rides are often stolen or damaged in ways that aren’t always noticeable. Instead of taking this risk, it is advisable to rent bikes from reputable stores.

There is more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District

Amsterdam is a modern city with many distinctive neighborhoods, each one with its own unique charms. While many visitors are drawn to the Red Light District, this area certainly doesn’t represent the city in its entirety. Amsterdam’s outlying neighbourhoods are actually quite peaceful in comparison to its center and feature hundreds of attractions.

de Jordaan at night | © Bastiaan_65/Flickr
De Jordaan at night | © Bastiaan_65/Flickr

Paying with foreign cards or cash can be tricky

Stores in Amsterdam usually prefer electronic payments over cash, and many have stopped accepting physical money altogether. Unfortunately for travelers, Visa and MasterCard are quite rare in the Netherlands, and stores often only take Maestro. Most establishments, though, have signs in their entrances or by their counters that specify their preferred methods of payment.

Stuff is orange for a reason

During national holidays or international football matches, Amsterdam people tend to cover themselves in orange clothing or face paint, and drape equally colorful flags throughout the city. This color represents the Dutch Royal Family, who are descendants of the first King of the Netherlands – William of Orange.

King's Day in Amsterdam | ©Rok Hodej/Flickr
King’s Day in Amsterdam | ©Rok Hodej/Flickr

Get an OV-chip card

Every mode of public transport in the Netherlands accepts OV-chipkaart, and these useful items can be purchased from most tram or train stations in Amsterdam. The OV-chip works like the Oyster card in London, meaning that travelers can top up their balance and quickly hop on buses, trams or trains.

There is a Dutch national cuisine, and it is good

Like their British and German neighbors, the Dutch suffer from an unwarranted reputation when it comes to culinary expertise. While several Dutch staples, like snert or raw herring, might take some getting used to, other iconic dishes such as stamppot, saté or borrelhapjes are more universally appealing and unanimously delicious.