1. Plan ahead. Book your accommodations well before your departure. I have never been to Amsterdam when it wasn’t busy and filled with tourists – it seems to always be that way. AND I have been left out in the ‘cold’ without a place to sleep on two separate occasions (Amsterdam: Planning Required!). If you do not book ahead, you may actually not have a place to sleep!
2. Drop your frugal nature, bring extra money – or be willing to spend a little on the card. Sure you bring money everywhere you travel, but Amsterdam is quite expensive and almost nothing is free. If you are like me, you will spend much of your time in central Amsterdam and spend more money than ‘necessary’ for convenience sake.
3. Don’t buy street drugs. Though Amsterdam has a relaxed feel, it does have strict laws, and you don’t want to be on the other side of them. Not only that but like everywhere else, street drug sellers are operating within a shady scene – and as such, they tend to be shady themselves. You don’t want to get in trouble on your tour, and you don’t want to consume something you can’t handle (like we did – and lived to regret! Remember this one?). New laws restrict the ‘legal’ sale of soft drugs to tourists – after a number of recent deaths.
4. Walk, rent a bike or take public transit instead of hailing a taxi. Taxis are not only expensive, but also infamous for circling a few extra canals at great cost to you. It can even be difficult to convince a driver to turn the meter on. Amsterdam also has Thai style Tuk-Tuks, and these are cheaper than cabs if you are looking for someone else to ‘pull your weight’.
5. You have heard this one before, but do NOT take photos in the red light district. Though it is quite safe in the region with its police presence, you really don’t know what could happen to you, if you dare photograph against the long standing law dictating otherwise. At the very least you will be yelled at, certainly you could lose your camera (without notice!), and you could even be assaulted or arrested (remember this post?).
6. Protect your belongings. Amsterdam, though a very friendly city, does have an ‘underworld’ element. There are enough tourists year round that pickpocketing them has long provided a decent living. Keep your personal items of value limited and hidden. I don’t carry much cash when I travel, but when I do in a pickpocket-y area, I carry the bulk of my cash in my bra or an inside pocket. I have had my belongings swiped right off of my person before, and like to do what I can to avoid that circumstance. I don’t even wear my fancy engagement ring (just my wedding band). I put my engagement ring on a (strong) string necklace that I wear under my shirt. Back and front pant pockets, and purses are main targets. That doesn’t mean you are in ‘danger’ in Amsterdam. It is quite a safe city, if you behave yourself. Just don’t leave your valuables up for grabs.
7. You will inevitably pay extra for tourist convenience. Know that if you are not going to seek out services outside the centre of Amsterdam, you are going to be paying tourist prices. Whether that be with food, shelter or necessities. If you are worried about saving money, get on that bike or get walking and get out of the ‘Centrum’.
8. Don’t walk on the bike paths! There is no easier way to piss off the Dutch cyclists than to be blocking their bike lanes – and it’s dangerous – you could end up a bleeding heap on the asphalt.
If you are looking to get wrecked in Amsterdam, know that your time may have passed. New laws make it technically illegal for foreigners to purchase drugs in shops, and it really is not a good idea to do so on the street. Would you go to New York or Paris or even Toronto to look for street drugs? I would hope not – and you shouldn’t go to Amsterdam specifically to do so either. Believe it or not, soft (and hard) drugs ARE technically illegal in Amsterdam – even marijuana – though its private use has long been accepted.
*A local UPDATE (thank you Lia in Brussels!)*
‘It is true that according to new laws drugs in coffeeshops are not available to non residents… but the Dutch being ever so ‘flexible’ left enforcement up to municipal authorities! Of course the mayor of Amsterdam hurried to confirm that foreigners are ‘still very welcome’ to try all coffeeshop products, obviously fearing the huge loss of income otherwise… Good mayor!’
Though I am a big fan of Hostels, Amsterdam central is not the best place for that experience – unless you are 20, have strong lungs and a stomach to match. The hostels downtown are WELL USED, generally un air-conditioned, claustrophobic, costly and often full of choking smoke. Though the hotels are expensive, you are better off to spend the money here – and don’t forget to book ahead!