As a Dutchie that loves to travel, I know the word Amsterdam conjures up images of a wild, seedy city, where everyone smokes weed, and tall handsome men and women roam the streets. Time to set the record straight and tell you ten things about the real Amsterdam. Soak up the knowledge and use it when you visit: the locals love a well-informed stranger!
1. Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands (and some info about Holland too)
If your reaction to this first item is a loud sigh please skip to the next. You'd be surprised though how many people have problems with geography. To be fair, it does get a bit confusing with the names of the country. The official name is actually Kingdom of the Netherlands (and yes, we have an actual king). The capital city of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, with the government residing in The Hague. Holland is a name that we often use when we are abroad and/or when speaking in English. It is shorter and easier and more people understand what we are talking about. But in fact, Holland officially only signifies two of the 12 provinces: North Holland and South Holland. Some people from the other ten provinces will object heavily to their country being called Holland. Don't worry too much though: Amsterdam is in North Holland! And one more thing: don't ask Dutch people why their language is called Dutch while the country is called the Netherlands. In Dutch itself, this incongruency does not exist!
2. Not everyone smokes
Although it is legal to buy marijuana in the Netherlands, the majority of Dutch people don't smoke and have never smoked weed. According to the respective national research institutes, only 26% of Dutch people between 15 and 64 have ever tried weed in their life, with 4% currently using. Compare that to the US, where 45% of 2th-graders have tried the stuff, 23% the month prior to research. I am not trying to tell you that you should or shouldn't smoke. But it doesn't hurt to be aware that most Dutch people will not understand your excitement about weed and will not particularly care to join you on a coffeeshop-crawl.
3. Bikes ALWAYS have right of way
As you may or may not know, Dutch people love to bike. The country is flat, distances are small, and parking spaces for cars are hard to find and very expensive. It's no surprise then that almost everyone owns at least one bike. For you as a tourist, it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially in Amsterdam it will be hard NOT to step into someone's way. Try your hardest though: there is nothing that Dutch people hate more then having to dodge tourists that don't even look before stepping onto the street. Even legally, when a car hits a cyclist and the cyclist was in the wrong the car is assigned the blame because the cyclist is much more vulnerable. Don't get stressed. All you have to do is keep to the sidewalks and look left and right before you step into the street. And remember: the red lanes are bike lanes!
4. Don't assume you are safe on a zebra crossing
This one is related to the one above. Dutch cars don't always stop for zebra crossings, so take care before you step out onto the street. Also, it is an unwritten rule that pedestrians don't make cyclists stop for a zebra crossing. This doesn't apply if you are really old or when there is no other way of making it across the road. In that case: go for it.
5. Hallo, lekker, dankjewel
Three very useful Dutch words. Make sure you remember them and you'll impress everyone. Hallo means hello (what a surprise, right!). Lekker means delicious and can be used for food, drinks, the weather (no joke) and hot men or women. Use it all the time, 'mmmm, lekker!'. You almost can't go wrong here. Dankjewel means thank you. As in any country, thanking people is a sure way to make Dutch people like you.
6. The letter combination ij is not as scary as it looks
This may seem like a very random point, but once you visit you will understand and thank me for this advice. If you already have a little bit of knowledge about the Dutch language you will know what I am talking about. In Dutch, we have the same vowels as in English, except we like to combine them to make new vowels: aa, oe, ie, uu, ui. With ui actually being the word for onion. Although the j is not a vowel, the combination of i and j actually is. It sounds somewhat like the English y in dyke. Now that you know this you will start seeing this combination of letters everywhere (Station Sloterdijk, Bilderdijkstraat) and you won't have to twist your tongue into severe cramps trying to make it sound like 'idge'.
7. Yes, Dutch people are tall and gorgeous
Tall: definitely. As for gorgeous? Well, that's what a lot of travellers I know have told me about the Dutch people they'd met. So who am I to disagree!
8. You can book museum tickets online and avoid the queue
The well-known museums in Amsterdam are all definitely worth a visit. Unfortunately everyone knows this, so queues are usually huge. The good news is that most museums have a service online where you can book and purchase (e-)tickets with your credit card. Just Google the name of the museum + tickets and you'll get to the right page. The Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum all offer this service.
9. Avoid taking taxis
Taxis in Amsterdam are expensive and drivers can be very rude. Instead, walk or use the trams and buses. Getting to the city from the airport is fast and easy by train. Good websites for planning your trips are www.9292.nl and www.ns.nl.
10. There is more to Amsterdam than the red light district
Last but certainly not least I'd like to try and inspire you to explore more than the tourist areas. There is no doubt that the city centre is gorgeous (even the red light district), and you'll find locals there too. However, I know that visitors can have a hard time picking the right bars. Going a little further afield will greatly improve your chances of finding a nice local bar of café. My favorite area is Amsterdam West. Explore the bars and restaurants in Oud-West and the Baarsjes, you'll love them too. Two of my favorite places are Café Kostverloren for drinks, and Bar Spek for dinner.
Have a good trip!
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