Amsterdam isn’t just famous for its beautiful canals, gabled roof buildings that resemble gingerbread houses and Heineken beer. Amsterdam also has that unshakable reputation for its Red Light District and its “anything goes” attitude surrounding sex and drugs, which may make tourists think that there are no rules to abide by while visiting this great city. Well, dear friends, you guessed wrong. Like any place, there are still rules to remember and if you follow them, you’ll be sure to have the locals embracing your presence, rather than wishing you’d go back to where you came from.
Most blogs, including mine, have a list of must do things while visiting Amsterdam, well, I’ve also produced a short list of what NOT to do in Amsterdam. Check it out!
Do Not Take Photos of The Girls in The Red Light District
It’s no secret that prostitution is alive and thriving within the streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Every year, the De Wallen area brings in billions of dollars of revenue in sex tourism to The Netherlands. As one of the oldest and most historic areas of Amsterdam, hoards of tourists visit the area daily and nightly to catch a glimpse of the neon glowing windows with scantily clad women dancing and enticing onlookers on the streets. One of the things you must know NOT to do within the RLD is take any photos of the girls in the windows. You may faced with a very angry and confrontational person that watches tourists within the crowds that tend to break this rule. If they see you taking photos, they will be savage towards you, so unless you want to be involved in a fight, just keep the camera away and take mental photographs instead.
Don’t Get Coffee Shops and Cafés Mixed Up
Knowing the difference between a coffee shop and a café in Amsterdam will surely save you an embarrassing moment. A lot of red-faced travellers will head into a coffee shop expecting to walk into a shop that sells just that…coffee. Little do they know, they’ve walked into an establishment that sells weed, edible pot snacks and cakes. The easiest way to distinguish whether or not a shop sells coffee, or weed is to look for the green and white licensing sticker on the outside windows. That being said, most coffee shops DO sell coffee, tea and water for their patrons partaking in the green stuff.
Don’t Light Up a Cigarette Within a Coffee Shop
Like most places in North America, smoking tobacco within a public establishment is no longer legal. With Europe jumping on the bandwagon now, more and more places are not allowing tobacco smokers to light up within their buildings, or even on their patios. Coffee shops all around Amsterdam may allow you to smoke weed legally inside, but light up a cigarette and be prepared to get kicked out, or sternly warned about NOT lighting up within the shop.
Don’t Only Drink Heineken
Yes, the Heineken tastes better in Amsterdam, but don’t only stick to drinking the one beer you know from The Netherlands. With such close proximity to Belgium, The Netherlands has quite a few great beer choices to choose from. Amsterdam is also home to many micro breweries and with the craft beer scene kicking into high gear there as well, you won’t be short on choices. That being said, you still have to drink a Heineken while in Amsterdam. 😉
Don’t Think Drugs Are Legal
Just because you can smoke weed legally within an authorized coffee shop and buy it in small amounts, does NOT mean drugs are legal in Amsterdam. The Netherlands decriminalized the possession of pot within a five gram quantity back in the late 70’s. As a tourist, if you’re caught smoking weed on the streets, police may just tell you to put it out and tell you where to smoke it legally. Every year, there are many overdoses and in some cases, even deaths due to drug use in Amsterdam. Get caught with weed, there won’t be any legal penalties, but get caught with harder drugs such as cocaine and you may be in some trouble.
Don’t Ever Buy Street Drugs
To elaborate on the point above, buying drugs off street dealers can only mean bad news. Amsterdam may have a reputation as a drug filled, party town with no rules, but I can assure you that buying drugs off the street is a terrible idea. For one, you don’t know what you are getting and two, if something were to happen to you, you wouldn’t even know who it is you dealt with. A few years ago, three tourists’ vacations ended fatally when they were sold a bad batch of cocaine and died. One of my hotels actually had a warning sign posted within its doorway to warn of the dangers.
Read more: How to stay safe as a solo traveller
Guys, Do NOT Pee in the Canals
Ok, everyday there are groups of rowdy and intoxicated people waltzing around the streets of Amsterdam and chances are after a few drinks, they’ll need to uhh, relieve themselves. Now, I know as women, we have to seek an actual toilet to pee in, but luckily for the fellas, there are public urinals all throughout the streets of Amsterdam, so no need to use the beautiful canals as your personal toilet. Keep it clean for everyone, ok?
Don’t Rent a Car
Amsterdam is a compact and very walkable city and there is absolutely no need to rent a car. With its narrow roads, tons of pedestrians, whizzing bikes, tight spaces and stress inducing parallel parking along the canals, save your money and sanity and just use public transit, or your own two feet while in The Dam. Once you stroll around the canal ring on foot, you will see exactly why it was a good idea not to get a car.
Read more: Getting Around The Netherlands by Train
Read more: How to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
Read more: Tips for travelling within Europe
Don’t Walk in the Bike Lanes
Walking along the streets of Amsterdam and along the canals are some of the must do activities while visiting the city, BUT be aware of the local Dutch cyclists. It’s all fun and dandy as you’re strolling along and looking at the beautiful city, but do yourself a favour and stay OUT of the bikes lanes. Bikes reign supreme over in Amsterdam and the locals are very stealthy on two wheels, but if you get in their way, they will hit you. While I was in Amsterdam, I saw two people get hit and then sworn at for getting in the way. Just remember this saying I kept telling myself: Red means dead, which means stay out of the red bikes lanes. Oh, and always look ALL ways while crossing any street, bridge, lane-way etc.
If you plan to head to Amsterdam, please remember the don’t do lists as much as the to do lists. You’ll not only enjoy your vacation more by not pissing off the locals, but you will stay safe and respectable and that’s all everyone really wants visitors of their city to do. Are any of you guys from Amsterdam, or The Netherlands? Do any of you have any other suggestions to add to this list? Feel free to share with readers below in the comments! xo