For a nation of born traders, the Dutch don’t haggle much – if only because most retailers aren’t set up for it. Flea markets, art galleries and antique shops are among the few places where you can try.
Dangers & Annoyances
Amsterdam is a safe and manageable city and if you use your common sense you should have no problems.
- Be alert for pickpockets in tourist-heavy zones such as Centraal Station, the Bloemenmarkt and Red Light District.
- Avoid deserted streets in the Red Light District at night.
- It is forbidden to take photos of women in the Red Light District windows; this is strictly enforced.
- Be careful around the canals. Almost none of them have fences or barriers.
- Watch out for bicycles; never walk in bicycle lanes and always look carefully before you cross one.
Visitors of various professions, including artists, journalists, museum conservators and teachers, may get discounts at some venues if they show accreditation.
Students regularly get a few euro off museum admission; bring ID.
Seniors over 65, and their partners of 60 or older, benefit from reductions on public transport, museum admissions, concerts and more. You may look younger, so bring your passport.
I Amsterdam Card (www.iamsterdam.com; per 24/48/72/96 hours €59/74/87/98) Provides admission to more than 30 museums, a canal cruise, and discounts at shops, entertainment venues and restaurants. Also includes a GVB transit pass. Useful for quick visits to the city. Available at VVV I Amsterdam Visitor Centres and some hotels.
Museumkaart (www.museumkaart.nl; adult/child €59.90/32/45, plus one-time registration €5) Free and discounted entry to some 400 museums all over the country for one year. Purchase it at participating museum ticket counters. You initially receive a temporary card valid for 31 days (maximum five museums); you can then register it online to receive a permanent card sent to a Dutch address, such as your hotel, within three to five working days.
Holland Pass (www.hollandpass.com; three/four/six attractions from €40/55/71.25) Similar to the I Amsterdam Card, but without the rush for usage; you can visit sights over a month. Prices are based on the number of attractions, which you pick from tiers (the most popular/expensive sights are gold tier). Also includes a train ticket from the airport to the city, and a canal cruise. Purchase it online; pick-up locations include Schiphol Airport and the city centre.
Priopass (www.priopass.com) is offered by many hotels. The pass – either a printed piece of paper or an electronic version on your mobile phone – provides fast-track entry to most attractions. It's not a discount card – you pay normal rates for museums and tours. But many visitors like it because it's convenient for queue-skipping, there's no deadline for use (so you don't have to scurry around and see several museums in a day to get your money's worth), and you only end up paying for what you use (ie it's not bundled with transit passes, canal cruises etc). The pass itself is free; you link it to your credit card and get charged as you go along.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Police, fire, ambulance||112|
|Netherlands country code||31|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering the Netherlands is a breeze, assuming your papers are in order.
For visitors from EU countries, limits only apply for excessive amounts. Log on to www.belastingdienst.nl for details.
Residents of non-EU countries are limited to the following:
Alcohol 1L of spirits, 4L wine or 16L beer.
Coffee 500g of coffee, or 200g of coffee extracts or coffee essences.
Perfume Up to €430 in value.
Tea 100g of tea, or 40g of tea extracts or tea essences.
Tobacco 200 cigarettes, or 250g of tobacco (shag or pipe tobacco), or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars.
Generally not required for stays up to three months. Some nationalities require a Schengen visa.
Tourists from nearly 60 countries – including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, the USA and most of Europe – need only a valid passport to visit the Netherlands for up to three months. EU nationals can enter for three months with their national identity card or a passport.
Nationals of most other countries need a Schengen visa, valid within the EU member states (except the UK and Ireland), plus Norway and Iceland, for 90 days within a six-month period. Schengen visas are issued by Dutch embassies or consulates overseas and can take a while to process (up to two months). You'll need a passport that's valid until at least three months after your visit, and will have to prove you have sufficient funds for your stay and return journey.
The Netherlands Foreign Affairs Ministry (www.government.nl) lists consulates and embassies around the world. Visas and extensions are handled by the Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst (Immigration & Naturalisation Service; www.ind.nl). Study visas must be applied for via your college or university in the Netherlands.
- Greetings Do give a firm handshake and a double or triple cheek kiss.
- Marijuana & alcohol Don't smoke dope or drink beer on the streets.
- Smoking Don't smoke (any substance) in bars or restaurants.
- Bluntness Don't take offence if locals give you a frank, unvarnished opinion. It's not considered impolite, rather it comes from the desire to be direct and honest.
- Cycling paths Don't walk in bike lanes (which are marked by white lines and bicycle symbols), and do look both ways before crossing a bike lane.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage (in 2001), so it's no surprise that Amsterdam's gay scene is among the world's largest.
Five hubs of the queer scene party hardest: Warmoesstraat, Zeedijk, Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein and Reguliersdwarsstraat.
Top festivals include the music-rocking Milkshake Festival (www.milkshakefestival.com) in late July, Amsterdam Gay Pride in late July/early August and Hartjesdagen Zeedijk on the third weekend of August.
- Gay Amsterdam (www.gayamsterdam.com) Lists hotels, shops and clubs, and provides maps.
- Pink Point Located behind the Westerkerk, Pink Point is part LGBT information kiosk, part souvenir shop. It's a good place to pick up news about parties, events and social groups.
- Reguliers (www.reguliers.net) Info on the Reguliersdwarsstraat scene, including current club openings and closings.
- Gay & Lesbian Information and News Center (www.gaylinc.nl) Lists hotels, restaurants, nightlife and 'sexciting' events around town.
Travel insurance is strongly recommended. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Free wi-fi is common in lodgings across the price spectrum; many places also have a computer or tablet on-site for you to use.
- Hotels will usually print boarding passes and tickets for guests on request.
- Most bars, cafés (pubs) and coffeeshops have free wi-fi. You may need to ask for the code.
- For free wi-fi hot spots around the city, check www.wifi-amsterdam.nl.
Amsterdam politie (police) are pretty relaxed and helpful unless you do something clearly wrong, such as littering or smoking a joint right under their noses.
Police can hold offenders for up to six hours for questioning (plus another six hours if they can't establish your identity, or 24 hours if they consider the matter serious). You won't have the right to a phone call, but you can request that they notify your consulate. You're presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Anyone over 14 years of age is required by law to carry ID. Foreigners should carry a passport or a photocopy of the relevant data pages; a driver's licence isn't sufficient.
- Technically, marijuana is illegal. However, possession of soft drugs (eg cannabis) up to 5g is tolerated. Larger amounts are subject to prosecution.
- Don't light up in an establishment other than a coffeeshop without checking that it's OK to do so.
- Hard drugs are treated as a serious crime.
- Never buy drugs of any kind on the street; deaths can and do occur.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. The industry is protected by law, and sex workers pay tax. Much of this open policy stems from a desire to undermine the role of pimps and the underworld in the sex industry.
In Amsterdam's Red Light District the streets are well-policed, but the back alleys are more dubious.
- Dutch newspapers De Telegraaf, the Netherlands' biggest seller; and Het Parool, Amsterdam's paper, with the scoop on what's happening around town.
- English newspapers The New York Times International Edition and the Guardian, and weeklies such as the Economist and Time, are widely available on newsstands.
- Listings magazines Uitkrant and NL20 are free and you can pick them up around town.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels but not all restaurants. Non-European credit cards are sometimes rejected.
Automatic teller machines can be found outside most banks, at the airport and at Centraal Station. Most accept credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, as well as cash cards that access the Cirrus and Plus networks. Check with your home bank for service charges before leaving.
ATMs are not hard to find, but in the city centre and at the airport they often have queues or run out of cash on weekends.
A surprising number of businesses do not accept credit cards, so it's wise to have cash on hand. (Conversely, many places only accept cards.)
All the major international credit cards are recognised, and most hotels and large stores accept them. But a fair number of shops, restaurants and other businesses (including supermarket chain Albert Heijn) do not accept credit cards, or only accept debit cards with chip-and-PIN technology. Be aware that foreign-issued cards (even chip-and-PIN-enabled foreign credit or debit cards) aren't always accepted, so ask first.
Some establishments levy a 5% surcharge (or more) on credit cards to offset the commissions charged by card providers. Always check first.
Consider getting a pre-loaded chip-and-pin debit card. Many banks provide such cards.
The Netherlands uses the euro (€). Denominations of the currency are €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes, and €0.05, €0.10, €0.20, €0.50, €1 and €2 coins (amounts under €1 are called cents).
- Bars Not expected.
- Hotels Tip €1 to €2 per bag for porters; not typical for cleaning staff.
- Restaurants Leave 5% to 10% for a cafe snack (if your bill comes to €9.50, you might round up to €10), 10% or so for a restaurant meal.
- Taxis Tip 5% to 10%, or round up to the nearest euro.
Travellers cheques are rare – you'll be hard-pressed to find a bank that will change them for you.
Opening hours often decrease during off-peak months (October to Easter).
Cafés (pubs), bars & coffeeshops Open noon (exact hours vary); most close 1am Sunday to Thursday, 3am Friday and Saturday
General office hours 8.30am–5pm Monday to Friday
Museums 10am–5pm, though some close Monday
Restaurants 11am–2.30pm and 6–10pm
Shops 9am/10am–6pm Monday to Saturday, noon-6pm Sunday. Smaller shops may keep shorter hours and/or close Monday. Many shops stay open late (to 9pm) Thursday.
Supermarkets 8am–8pm; in the city centre some stay open until 9pm or 10pm.
The national post office in the Netherlands is privatised and has gone through various name changes. The current operator is PostNL (www.postnl.nl). It has closed most city post offices and to mail a letter or package you'll need to go to a postal service shop which may be a supermarket or tobacco shop or something else. Use the website (available in English) to find a location near you.
Most museums adopt Sunday hours on public holidays (except Christmas and New Year, when they close), even if they fall on a day when the place would otherwise be closed, such as Monday.
Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year's Day) 1 January
Goede Vrijdag (Good Friday) March/April
Eerste Paasdag (Easter Sunday) March/April
Tweede Paasdag (Easter Monday) March/April
Koningsdag (King's Day) 27 April
Dodenherdenking (Remembrance Day) 4 May (unofficial)
Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) 5 May (unofficially celebrated annually; officially every five years, next in 2020)
Hemelvaartsdag (Ascension Day) 40th day after Easter Sunday
Eerste Pinksterdag (Whit Sunday; Pentecost) 50th day after Easter Sunday
Tweede Pinksterdag (Whit Monday) 50th day after Easter Monday
Eerste Kerstdag (Christmas Day) 25 December
Tweede Kerstdag (Second Christmas; Boxing Day) 26 December
- Smoking Forbidden inside all bars and restaurants, but permitted outdoors on venues' terraces.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (BTW in Dutch) is levied on most goods and services at 6% for restaurants, hotels, books, transport, medicines and museum admissions, and 21% for most other items. It should already be included in stated prices.
Non-EU residents may be able to claim a refund on a minimum €50 spent per shop per day. The website www.belastingdienst.nl has details.
The Dutch phone network, KPN (www.kpn.com), is efficient, and prices are reasonable by European standards. It's free to make a collect call (collect gesprek; domestic 0800 01 01, international 0800 04 10).
Ask your home provider about an international plan. Alternatively, local prepaid SIM cards are widely available and can be used in most unlocked phones. The EU has abolished international roaming costs, but beware of high roaming charges from other countries.
Drop the leading 0 on numbers if you're calling from outside the Netherlands.
Netherlands country code 31
Amsterdam city code 020
Free calls 0800
Mobile numbers 06
Paid information calls 0900, cost varies
Amsterdam is in the Central European time zone (GMT/UTC plus one hour), but also observes daylight saving hours: clocks go forward one hour at 2am on the last Sunday in March and back again at 3am on the last Sunday in October.
Be aware that the Dutch use 'half' to indicate 'half before' the hour. If you say 'half eight' (8.30pm in many forms of English), a Dutch person will take this to mean 7.30pm.
- Public toilets are not a widespread facility on Dutch streets, apart from the free-standing public urinals for men in places such as the Red Light District.
- Many people duck into a café (pub) or department store.
- The standard fee for toilet attendants is €0.50.
- The app HogeNood (High Need; www.hogenood.nu) maps the nearest toilets based on your location.
Travel With Children
Breathe easy: you've landed in one of Europe's most kid-friendly cities. The famous Dutch tolerance extends to children and Amsterdammers are cheerfully accommodating to them. You'll find that virtually all quarters of the city – except the Red Light District, of course – are fair game for the younger set.
Green spaces, parks and canals galore provide plenty of fresh-air fun for the little (and not so little) ones.
- Parks & Playgrounds
A hot favourite with kids of all ages is the vast play space of the Vondelpark, with leafy picnic spots and duck ponds, as well as cool space-age slides at its western end and a playground in the middle of the park. Westerpark also has a terrific playground, while Sarphatipark and Oosterpark shouldn't be overlooked as great open spaces to let the kids run free. Canoeing, a tree-climbing park, paddle boats and a goat farm are among the fun activities in the huge, forested Amsterdamse Bos.
- Winter Magic
Kids will love the skating rinks that spring up in public spaces such as the Museumplein. Don't miss uniquely Dutch festive season treats such as poffertjes (small pancakes) and gingery-cinnamon speculaas (cookies), traditionally eaten around Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas' Eve; 5 December), which are served up at rustic market stalls.
Take to the canals on a unique pedal-powered ride with Canal Bike.
- Artis Royal Zoo
The extrovert monkeys, big cats, shimmying fish and dazzling planetarium will keep young eyes shining for hours at Artis Royal Zoo, while teenagers and adults will love the beautifully landscaped grounds. You can also peek inside Micropia, a building on the premises that is a 'zoo' for microbes. It's way more entertaining than you think, with exhibits that show how bacteria exchange when you kiss and what microbes live in the poop of anteaters, lions and other animals.
Amsterdam has plenty of museums that are accessible, educational and, above all, fun.
- NEMO Science Museum
A tailor-made, hands-on experience, NEMO Science Museum is useful for answering all those 'how' and 'why' questions.
- Het Scheepvaartmuseum
The children's section devoted to exotic locations at the Tropenmuseum is a winner in any language.
- Joods Historisch Museum
There is a great kids' display on Jewish life in Amsterdam at the Joods Historisch Museum.
A section at the Verzetsmuseum known as the Verzetsmuseum Junior puts the Dutch Resistance into context for kids through the experiences of four children: Eva, Jan, Nelly and Henk.
- Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum provides a free treasure hunt for kids to search for items in the paintings and displays. A small prize awaits those who complete the hunt.
Beaches & Castles
- City Beaches
Urban beaches pop up on Amsterdam's outskirts each summer around the U. While most cater to adults (complete with cocktails and DJs), some are more family-friendly – check with the tourist office for locations. The only one you can swim at is Blijburg, which also has a water-sports centre.
- Muiden Castle
Just outside Amsterdam, the Muiderslot is a 700-year-old castle straight out of a fairy tale, with a drawbridge, moat, hulking towers and battlements. It offers special activities (like falconry) for kids on certain days. Combine it with a visit to the atmospheric fort on the nearby island of Pampus.
It's prudent to have a rainy-day plan in your back pocket. In fact, it might be so much fun that kids will hope the sun doesn't come back out all day.
Set 'em loose for a romp in the underground, all-round pleasure centre TunFun.
- Indoor Pools & Saunas
The recreational Zuiderbad is a good place to take the kids swimming on a rainy day. Adults will enjoy the palatial vintage interior.
- Centrale Bibliotheek Amsterdam
The city's stunning, contemporary OBA: Centrale Bibliotheek Amsterdam has a whole floor dedicated to children's activities, including comfy reading lounges and the amazing Mouse Mansion, with 100 incredibly beautifully detailed rooms, designed by artist Karina Content. Check out the weekly story times (some in English) for younger visitors.
While Amsterdam's foodie scene continues to explode with adventurous and sophisticated offerings, you can still find plenty of fare that junior diners will enjoy.
- Sandwich Shops
A broodje (filled bread roll) or tosti (toasted sandwich) always hits the spot. Scores of shops throughout the city specialise in these staples; try Broodje Bert.
For true pancake aficionados, a trip aboard De Pannenkoekenboot, is definitely in order. Brunch and evening cruises depart from the NDSM-werf in Amsterdam Noord, reached by a free ferry.
Fries slathered in mayonnaise or other sauces are favourites with all ages. Local institutions include Vleminckx near the Spui and Wil Graanstra Friteshuis by the Anne Frank Huis. Frites uit Zuyd fires up crispy beauties in De Pijp.
- Ice Cream
- Cafes & Restaurants
Kids love browsing the markets for both familiar and exotic treats. Try the Albert Cuypmarkt for stroopwafels (syrup-filled waffles), smoothies, sweets and fresh fruit. Or pick up ingredients here and take a picnic to the nearby Sarphatipark.
Dozens upon dozens of shops cater for children, who will adore deliberating over toys and sweet treats.
Check out Knuffels for stuffed-animal toys, Joe's Vliegerwinkel for kites, Mechanisch Speelgoed for nostalgic wind-up toys, and De Winkel van Nijntje for merchandise related to Dutch illustrator Dick Bruna's most famous character – the cute rabbit Miffy (Nijntje in Dutch).
Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje has jar after jar of Dutch penny sweets.
Need to Know
- Admission prices 'Child' is defined as under 18 years. But at many tourist sites, the cut-off age for free or reduced rates is 12. Some sights may only provide free entry to children under six.
- Bike seats Most bike-rental shops rent bikes with baby or child seats.
- Babysitting Many higher-end hotels arrange babysitting services for a fee.
Travellers with Disabilities
- Travellers with reduced mobility will find Amsterdam moderately equipped to meet their needs.
- Most offices and museums have lifts and/or ramps and toilets for visitors with disabilities.
- A large number of budget and midrange hotels have limited accessibility, as they occupy old buildings with steep stairs and no lifts.
- Restaurants tend to be on ground floors, though 'ground' sometimes includes a few steps.
- Most buses are wheelchair accessible, as are metro stations. Trams are becoming more accessible as new equipment is added. Many lines have elevated stops for wheelchair users. The GVB website (www.gvb.nl) denotes which stops are wheelchair accessible.
- Accessible Travel Netherlands publishes a downloadable guide (www.accessibletravelnl.com/blogs/new-city-guide-for-Amsterdam) to restaurants, sights, transport and routes in Amsterdam for those with limited mobility.
- Check the accessibility guide at Accessible Amsterdam (www.toegankelijkamsterdam.nl).
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel Online Resources guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- Check first with the Dutch embassy or consulate in your home country to find out whether volunteering affects your visa status.
- I Amsterdam (www.iamsterdam.com) lists volunteering organisations.
- Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) occasionally has volunteering opportunities in Amsterdam.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
In terms of safety, Amsterdam is probably as secure as it gets in Europe's major cities. There's little street harassment, even in the Red Light District, although it's best to walk with a friend to minimise unwelcome attention.