Picturesque canals, expensive beer: A short guide to Amsterdam

  • Food and drinks are expensive
  • There are many tourist traps
  • Boating on the canal is great fun

Last weekend, I visited Amsterdam, capital city of the Netherlands and a popular tourist destination, especially for young adults. Here is a guide of what you can and should do, and what you cannot and should not.

Weed is not technically legal

Despite popular belief, cannabis is not actually legal in the Netherlands. It is decriminalised and not prosecuted, so has the appearance of being legal. What this means is where you can buy and consume the drug is heavily regulated. Consider it to be like cycling on the pavement in the UK – technically against the law, but the police won’t stop you from doing it unless specifically causing people harm.

The amount of tourism the ability to purchase cannabis brings in, as well as the benefit to keeping its sale largely within the state’s control prevents the authorities from wanting to crack down on it, but don’t assume you can smoke weed just anywhere, and you certainly cannot sell it without a premises license, which is very difficult to get.

If you are intending to smoke or consume cannabis in some form, make yourself aware of its strength. I’ve seen too many people munch on space cakes because they feel peckish and lose their minds later on. Depending on your metabolism, edibles will take between 1 and 2 hours to take effect, so don’t eat a whole one in one go and make sure to wait a while before eating any more.

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Netherlands, not Holland

Referring to the country as Holland is a common misnomer, and although unlikely to really annoy anyone, may make you look a bit silly. North and South Holland are the most populous Dutch provinces and most of the country’s well-known tourist attractions are there, but large cities like Utrecht and Eindhoven lie outside the Holland area. It would be like referring to England as Yorkshire.

Amsterdam by night
Sun sets over Amsterdam

Everything is expensive

In Amsterdam city centre, the pricing is a lot like central London. The normal cost of a pint of beer in a bar is €6 (about £5.25) and a simple breakfast for one will cost you upwards of €10 (£8.80). There are some bargains to be had across the city, but unless you have a good local knowledge of where to go, make sure you take care of your Euros, or you could easily blow your funds in a single day.

Some places are designed to rip you off. For example, the Ice Bar is quite a popular attraction; you essentially stand in a freezer for a little while and drink from glasses made out of ice. The novelty wears off pretty quickly though and the 15 minute experience will set you back €20 (£17.60), which, given you get three drinks for this money, costs you nearly £6 per drink.

Amsterdam's Ice Bar
The Ice Bar is overrated

Boat hire is good fun

If you are travelling in a group of 5-10 people, hiring a boat is a recommended activity. You can hire a simple motor boat for €50 for an hour and see the city from the canals. The boats are fairly easy to steer and don’t go too fast and it’s a great opportunity to get some decent pictures. There are a number of picturesque parks for the same reason, including Vondelpark.

Boat on the Amsterdam canal
Boating on the canals makes for good photo opportunities

Only hire a bike if you go outside the centre

The streets in Amsterdam centre are far too busy to adequately ride a bike through. Cycling is a big part of Dutch culture, and there are decent cycle routes across the city, but in the centre you will find it no quicker than walking due to the foot traffic.

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