When someone says Amsterdam, you probably think of two things: Cheese and street-side urinals. Or if you’re a disgusting heathen who is doomed to rot in the fiery depths of hell for all of eternity, you might think of marijuana and prostitution. Whichever the case may be, I aim here to explain a little bit about what goes on in the city of a thousand legal-ish vices.
Here are nine things you should know about Amsterdam:
1) This is the most crowded city imaginable outside of southeast Asia, and it’s all tourism’s fault. European tourist season generally starts in late May. In Amsterdam, however, you need to book hotels at least two months in advance year-round. This obviously means that hotels are obscenely expensive if they’re anywhere inside the city. The city’s center is shoulder-to-shoulder at seemingly any hour of any day. It’s so crowded that you can barely even appreciate the countless donut/pastry/hot dog/fry shops that pepper every single (very healthy) street. Speaking of…
2) The food! Amsterdam has fry stands that encourage you to douse your food in various sauces like BBQ, “burger sauce,” and the greatest thing in the world, Andalouse. Dutch waffles/pancakes, Dutch meatballs and Dutch cheese are also huge hits. They’re probably the perfect complement to the coffee shops. Which reminds me…
3) Marijuana is actually still illegal. I don’t care if you’ve memorized the scene from Pulp Fiction where Vincent explains what is and is not legal in Amsterdam; the truth is that the police just flat-out don’t care as long as you’re selling and smoking in designated areas, aka coffee shops. Several block-long stretches of the city smell funny.
4) Prostitution is definitely legal and exceedingly uncomfortable. Ever lean against a window and then suddenly realize there’s someone right on the other side of the window? If you have, it’s terrifying and awkward because you’re only about 18 inches from each other. Now imagine that the other person is wearing a total of 12 square inches of fabric, has huge fake boobs, equally fake eyelashes, and is licking her lips at you. Now imagine that being the case for several blocks. The only thing weirder is watching lonely older, ugly men poke their heads into the doorways and be invited in for what I’m assuming is awful sex. This happens hundreds (thousands?) of times every day in Amsterdam.
5) Amsterdam has museums, though. Really good museums. In addition to the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution (which is near the live sex shows), Van Gogh’s museum is in Amsterdam and it’s right near the Rijksmuseum, which is one of the world’s most popular/biggest. It’s got stuff from all the Dutch/Flemish guys you’ve kinda-maybe heard of. Curiously, some of them are from Flanders but none are Ned Flanders.
6) Dutch people are smarter than you. I firmly talked with three strangers in non-transaction settings. Two of them spoke six languages, one spoke four. I speak one, although I can partly kind of half-read two others if you give me lots of time.
7) The canals are pretty, but they’re all the same. Venice is known for all of its canals being weird and wonderful, which is true. Amsterdam tries to piggyback that, but there are two key differences. First, Amsterdam’s canals follow a design whereas Venice’s look like a shattered windshield. Second, outside of the very center of the city, most of Amsterdam’s look the same. They’re tree-lined and lovely with lots of simple arching bridges and old, tall, thin gabled houses.
8) Tulips are legit. Maybe this is why it’s so hard to visit there in the spring, but tulip season is basically March through May. There’s a place called the Keukenhof garden outside of the city. Go there if you can. Holy crap. Never seen anything like it.
9) Bikes are everywhere. Amsterdam has more bikes than people. They have multiple parking garages that hold 10,000+ bikes. They are chained to every post and lots of trees. There are bike lanes galore. It’s delightful. No snarky jokes about this.
10) Bonus! Assisted suicide is legal in Amsterdam. This won’t help you much as a traveler, but it’s kind of cool, right?
So there you go. There’s plenty to learn from your standard guidebooks and plenty more to learn from reading 40,000 words on Wikitravel.com about Amsterdam, but wouldn’t you rather just take it from me? I went there once! I know everything there is to know!
Advice: Book your hotel super early, rent a bike when you get there (city bike-shares are all the rage in Europe, though the concept of a bicycle never should have been introduced to the people of Milan), visit a museum or two, watch someone proposition a hooker and be accepted, question reality, eat chips/fries, eat meatballs, and sit near canals that are in parks. Amsterdam is pretty expensive, so have fun and make it count.
Also, if you see my host from Airbnb, tell her that I didn’t take kindly to her telling me I “look terrible and have huge ugly bags under my eyes.”
She really said that.