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Amsterdam, Netherlands Travel Guide Hot
 
Last Updated: Jan-14-2012, Hits: 15,820, Rating: 5.00, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Amsterdam, Netherlands Travel Guide Restaurants (79)
Hotels and Lodging (74)
Bars and Nightlife (61)
Attractions (17)
Services (9)
Maps (4)
Links (9)
Additional Articles (5)
Netherlands Travel Forum (2)
 
Location: Europe
Geography: City
Vacation Type: Cosmopolitan, Culture and History
Popularity: Touristy
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Nightlife, Historical Sites, Cultural Attractions, Festivals, Gambling, Shopping, Breweries, Gardens

Facts and Stats:
City population - 767,773
Metropolitan population - 2,158,372
Government - Constitutional Monarchy
Telephone Area Code: 020
Country dialing code: +00 31
Electricity: 220v
Languages: Dutch and Frisian
Time Zone: Central European Time - GMT +1
Current Time:

Introduction:
Amsterdam isn't just about prostitutes and pot smoking (although it certainly has those in spades), it is a place where the people have experimented with the notion of tolerance. And while that is on the decline now, Amsterdam still offers a wealth of cultural attractions, good food, and an excellent nightlife.

Brief History:
Amsterdam was originally founded as a fishing village during the 13th century. The Golden Age occured between 1585-1672 and was the height of Amsterdam's commercial success. It was during this time that many of Amsterdam's famous historical buildings were erected such as The Royal Palace (Dam Square), the Westerkerk, Zuiderkerk, and many others. The Golden Age came to an end in 1672 when the city was attacked by the French and English. Despite this setback, Amsterdam was able to retain its status as the financial center of the world for the next 120 years. In 1795, the government was overthrown and the French occupied it. This led to a massive recession that lasted for nearly 20 years.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815 and Amsterdam began its recovery from the recession. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I, but suffered invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EEC (now the EU), and participated in the introduction of the Euro in 1999.

Geography:
Amsterdam is laid out in concentric half circles with canals between many of the streets and is one of the few cities in the world with canals. The canals are fed by the Amstel river and this water eventually empties into the River IJ that borders the city center to the north.

At the center of the rings is Central Station which is a hub for subways, trams, buses, etc. Just down Damrak street from Central Station is Dam Square, the city center.

Amsterdam is divided into many districts called "plein". Popular areas are Museumplein, Leidseplein, Muntplein, Rembrandtplein, and of course, the Red Light District.

Much of the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, is located at or below sea level. Amsterdam is slowly sinking and periodically, you may see construction crews jacking up buildings. The Dutch have created a number of protective dams and other creations known collectively as The Deltaworks to aid them in their neverending fight against the water.

People/Culture:
Everybody knows about Amsterdam's Red Light District, but not everybody knows that it is pretty much gone. Beginning in 2007, the Mayor began efforts to limit the scope of the area because of human trafficking and the growing power of gangs. Most of the brothels have been replaced with stores and restaurants and the mayor's successors have continued his work.

Along those lines, many of Amsterdam's coffeeshops have been closed as well. In fact, current law states that no new coffeeshops can be introduced, even if the previous establishment was a coffeeshop. This will likely mean that over time (a long time), they will all go away. It is now also nearly impossible to find a coffeeshop that serves alcohol as this has been cracked down on as well. Another difficulty for coffeeshops was the 2008 tabacco ban in restaurants and bars, however, most have found ways to deal with this.

But don't get down on Amsterdam yet. Although not as old as many other European countries, the Netherlands has a deep cultural history. Amsterdam alone is home to many museums and art galleries featuring works from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and many others. There is also no shortage of theatres and music halls. For WWII history, the Anne Frank Huis is a must visit, there is a National Monument in Dam Square and the Verzetsmuseum displays Dutch and Jewish resistance during the war. Amsterdam has something for everyone - yes, there is even the Hash Marihuana Museum. Follow the link above to our "Attractions" section for more information about things to see here.

The Dutch have been known as adept traders and business people which is the reason that nearly everybody speaks English in Amsterdam. When I got here, I did not want to be the ignorant American that expects everyone to speak my language. I tried to learn as much as I could, only to discover that I wasn't pronouncing anything correctly and they couldn't understand me anyway. From my experience, it seemed like most Dutch people preferred that I speak English from the start. This way you don't murder their language (which is VERY difficult to get right) and don't waste their time trying to figure out what you are saying. I would suggest learning polite words such as please, thank you, etc. Use Dutch words and phrases that you have down and use English for the rest.

Honestly, my first impression of Dutch people was that they are rude. When boarding the trams people will push and shove, people don't tend to hold doors for others, they cut in front of you in lines, etc. I later discovered that this is just the hustle and bustle of urban life. The city is fast paced and the residents behave a lot like New Yorkers. They tend to be reserved and serious in the cities, but appear to be more outgoing and laid-back when you get out of the city. Having said that, if you want to find a place in the city to talk to the locals, go to a brown cafe or beer bar. After a few hours in one, you will likely have some new Dutch friends and will discover that they are poignant and interesting people. If you listen, you will likely learn a lot about them and yourself.

I expected a lot of anti-American sentiment in Amsterdam due to stereotypes and media coverage of anti-American protests. In reality, it seems that the Dutch are as divided in their opinions about Bush and the war in Iraq as we are at home. Whether they are left or right, they seem to like Americans and believe that we are genuinely nice, caring people. I got in trouble on a couple of occasions for apologizing for our country's mistakes and for loud, obnoxious Americans that don't know how to behave in another country. I was told that Dutch people take each person on their own merits and to assume otherwise is insulting.

The Dutch are stereotyped as being frugal, but I think this is a misunderstanding. The Dutch are practical with their money and it is considered tacky to flaunt one's wealth. For this reason, you will likely not see a Dutch person driving a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce. However, they do not lack generosity - we have had many Dutch people buy us drinks in bars, including bartenders.

Tolerance was possibly the hallmark quality of the Dutch people, although that seems to be in question as of late. Nevertheless, Amsterdam is a multicultural city, has a large gay community, and has people from all walks of life. If you want to enjoy Amsterdam, it is best that you leave your prejudices and hang-ups at home.

Despite their tolerance, there seemed to be some resentment towards Arabs among the Dutch people including many of the politicians who would like to limit the flow of immigrants or stop it altogether. It is not a matter of prejudice, but rather a problem of cultural integration, use of public services, taxes, etc. It is very similar in a lot of ways to USA's immigration problems with Mexico and the huge influx of illegal aliens.

Dining/Food:
Before coming here, I heard horror stories about the food. I have found the food here to be very good, the one exception being the beef. It may just be different tasting, but I do not like it. I found the fish and chicken to be very good here. Their produce is organic and fresher than what you will find in most places in the U.S. I read that there is very little in the way of vegetarian dishes in Amsterdam, however, I have also found this to be untrue. Vegetarian dishes are easy to find and actually quite good. In general, the Dutch are known for Flemish French Fries (vlaamse frites), herring (haring), Pancakes (pannenkoeken), pea soup (snert), smoked eel, mashed potatoes with carrots and onions (hutspot), bitterballen, and cheese (Kaas). If you are there during the winter/holiday season, make sure you try "oil balls" (oliebollen).

There are over 1,400 restaurants and bars in the city of Amsterdam. In addition to Dutch food, there are a lot of Italian, Surinamese, Indonesian, Moroccan, Indian, Turkish, Chinese, and Thai restaurants. Many of them are exceptionally good. One type of food that the Dutch do not do well is Mexican, so you are probably better off just forgetting about it while you are here. Try Indonesian instead - they do it very well. The Leidseplein has a very high concentration of restaurants and bars within a relatively small area and is a good place to go if you aren't sure about where you want to eat or what type of food you are in the mood for. Because there are so many restaurants and bars, your best bet is to just experiment and try different places you come across. There is a good chance you will find some very good places that aren't listed here or other review sites.

The grocery stores are stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and other usual items you would expect to find in a grocery store. There are quite a few American products such as Coke, Doritos, Kraft, etc, available in case you get home-sick. Grocery stores do not carry much in the way of drugs or hygiene products. All drugs have to be bought at a drugstore (Hypotheek). This includes items that are over-the-counter in the U.S.

Their main supermarket chain is Albert Heijn and most of the stores are quite a bit smaller than supermarkets in the U.S.. For some reason the Dutch go in masses on Sundays and the stores turn into a complete zoo. There can literally be hundreds of people crammed into these smaller markets and it can take a couple of hours to run the gauntlet.

Money/Costs:
The Euro is the form of currency used in Amsterdam. The Euro coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 1 Euro, and 2 Euro denominations. Bills are found in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, etc. denominations. It is a good idea to keep plenty of coins on you while you are out because you will need them. For starters, you have to pay to use the restrooms in many places. If you use a shopping cart at the store, you may have to pay a coin deposit. In addition, the Dutch want you to pay in as exact change as you can. You will quickly get used to people asking you if you have exact change. American money is not accepted, however, most places accept credit cards.

Depending on what you do during your stay, Amsterdam can be fairly affordable. Food and alcohol are reasonably priced. Food in restaurants is more expensive on average when compared to the U.S., however, tipping practices are a little different. What is practiced is rounding up the bill to the nearest Euro for smaller bills (up to €25 Euros) and to the nearest €5 for larger bills - it usually comes out to around 10%. Lunches are quite reasonable, however, you should expect to spend at least €15 for an entree if you want a decent dinner.

The most expensive part of Amsterdam is probably lodging. Hotels can be pretty expensive, however, there are other options such as hostels.

Getting Around:
Although the layout of the city is very confusing, Amsterdam (like most European cities) has an excellent public transportation system. Having a car in this city is difficult because parking is a real problem and extremely expensive. It is actually easier to walk, bike, or use the trams and busses.

Maps of Amsterdam make the city look much larger than it really is and it is possible to walk from one end to the other in about an hour. Walking is probably the best way to experience this city. When walking in Amsterdam, be very careful. Just because a light is green for you doesn't necessarily mean everyone is going to stop, particularly bicyclists. In my first week here, I was almost hit by a bicyclist and nearly run over by a motorcycle.

The trams are probably the easiest way to get around and passes (Strippenkaart) can be purchased at grocery stores such as Albert Heijn. The trams stop running at around 12:30am so if you are out at the bars until later than this, you will either have to take a bus, walk or cab home.

Cab drivers will completely rip you off if they know you are a tourist (and we were told that they do this to locals too). They will drive all over the place just to increase your fare. This happened to us both times we cabbed home from the bars and we decided that cabbing was no longer an option, until we discovered TCA. This is a 24 hour taxi switchboard which will quote you a reasonable price and then send out a cab to your location. They can be reached at 020 777-7777 - I would highly recommend going this route rather than pay double fares with the others. If you are not getting a TCA cab, I would highly recommend asking for a ballpark fare before getting in the cab. They will tell you. One other note about cabs - You can no longer hail a cab on the street. You have to find a taxi stand where they will be all lined up waiting for fares.

If you wish to visit another city in the Netherlands or take a train to another country, you will want to visit Central Station to get tickets. If leaving the country, the international section is on the 2nd floor. Tickets are average priced for most destinations. They are cheaper if you can book them 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Trains run very often and you will have a lot of departure times to pick from.

Weather:
The current weather in Amsterdam is shown below:



The weather in Amsterdam can tend to be pretty frigid, particularly in the winter. The table below shows the average highs, lows, and rainfall.

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 40 31 2.7"
February 42 31 1.9"
March 48 34 2.6"
April 55 38 2.1"
May 63 45 2.4"
June 68 50 2.8"
July 71 53 3.0"
August 71 53 2.8"
September 66 49 2.6"
October 58 44 2.9"
November 48 37 3.2"
December 42 33 3.3"

Tips:
  • When you are in a restaurant, they often will not bring you a check. I believe they consider this rude. You will need to ask for your check when you are ready. In fact, you may often have to hail down the wait staff to get what you want. Do not consider this bad service unless they are unavailable on the restaurant floor for long periods of time.
  • According to the law, you are supposed to keep your passport on you at all times. Keep your passport and your wallet in your front pants pocket or an inside coat pocket. There are lots of pickpockets in Amsterdam. You get so used to people brushing up against you in crowds, that you may not even notice if one of them takes your valuables. Make them hard to get.
  • Do not go to the Red Light District by yourself. Not that it is very dangerous, but being alone down there will make you a greater target for illegal drug dealers, pickpockets, and other undesirable people. When in groups the Red Light District seems very safe.
  • Do not give money to panhandlers. This is a semi-socialist country that takes care of everybody that lives here. If someone is panhandling, they either do not belong here or they are a local that is too lazy to go sign up for welfare.
  • Try not to stand out as a foreigner. Try to avoid wearing clothes that identify where you are from such as university t-shirts or sport team clothing. Amsterdam is a melting pot of many different cultures and contains a lot of people under the influence of various substances/beverages. For these reasons, it is best to just try to blend in as much as you can.
  • Some stores will charge more if they know you are a tourist. It is a good idea to compare prices at other stores before buying anything of value.
  • The Dutch don't really have "convenience stores", but they do have some small 24 hour markets that are similar. If you shop at one of these stores at night, they are going to charge you about twice as much as during the day or what you would pay at a supermarket. It is best to do any shopping that you need to do during the day at the supermarket.



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User Reviews (1)




Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Feb-25-2009

My family had a nice house in Museumplein for quite a few years and I got to go over and house sit on many occasions. I definitely fell in love with the city and had many great times there. They no longer have the house and I haven't been back for about 3 years and I miss it. Unfortunately, it sounds like this Labor Party is destroying the freedom that made the city so fun. Personally, I smoke very little and I have never had a prostitute, but just knowing it was there and legal made me feel more free. For drinkers like myself, there are some incredible beer bars here including Gollem, Het Elfde Gebod, De Beiaard, and Cafe Belgique. Overall, the food in Amsterdam is very good except for their beef which tastes like hot garbage. Get some salmon while you are there - it is very good. The Netherlands are tiny, so if you rent a car, you can explore the entire country very easily. Check out the Hague, Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, Utrecht. If you are there during tulip season, you have to go to the Keukenhof. 

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