Orientation, Getting Around and the Canals
This is where is
all starts for many, Centraal Station.
Before we send you to the Red Light
District and off to the coffee houses and bars, here's what to expect
regarding attitudes, customs, transportation, weather and more in Amsterdam.
Myths and Legends of Amsterdam
Contrary to what is said on other web sites, in guidebooks, on travel
shows, and even by some people who have traveled to the city, there
is much more to Amsterdam than the town's sinful sides.
In fact, this comprises only a small part of this extraordinary place.
Amsterdam is one of the world's oldest cities, dating back to 1275.
Named after the dam built on the Amstel River, it has an intricate
system of canals that embrace the city, making it one of the most scenic
destinations in all of Europe.
The buildings are historic and the colorful trams are moving landmarks.
There is tremendous nightlife, further enriched by the fact that it's
possible to party with locals as well as other travelers.
To fully appreciate Amsterdam, move beyond the Red Light District
and coffee houses and reach out to discover the city.
We're Here Info For When You Arrive
Arrival into Amsterdam is via plane, train or ferry. The latter two
puts travelers at the base of the city at Centraal Station, while
the former is outside of town. A local train operates between the Centraal
Station and Schiphol Airport (travel time is about 30 minutes).
Don't worry about layovers at Schiphol; soon travelers will be rerouting
themselves to experience them here. There was talk of putting in a mini-Red
Light District right in the airport in what would have been the ultimate
"layover." Rather, the airport now features diversions such
as exhibitions from another of the city's famed landmarks, the Rijksmuseum.
In town, transportation is cheap and it efficiently whisks riders to
their destination. Trams numbers 4 and 9 go to the Rembrantsplein, while
numbers 1, 2 and 5 go to the Leidseplein. If you don't have a destination,
check with the tourist office (VVV) in either the airport or the train
station. There is an office both inside and outside the train station,
a main office across the street at 5 de ruyterkade and in the Leidseplein.
It also features wireless Internet service, ideal for checking PubClub's
other articles on where to go and what to do in Amsterdam.
Watch out for the
trams, or you will get smashed like a pankeoken
Metro, tram and bus services run until midnight and night buses
operate until morning. Taxis are a reasonable option, often the best
when the effects of Amsterdam's pleasures are in full effect.
Forget about attempting to drive. You will either get lost, cause an
accident, get your car booted because you parked illegally or, mostly
likely, all of the above will happen.
Upon arrival in Amsterdam, spring for a strippenkaart. This is not
a free pass to the Red Light District but a series of tickets for the
trams. A strippenkaart costs 7 euros and it takes anywhere between 2
and 3 stamps to get from one point to another A 24-hour travel pass
costs 6.60 euros and is good for 24 hours from first use on the trams
and the buses. They have attendants on the front and back of each tram
who stamp your travel passes and strippenkaarts.
Walking is another option. Amsterdam is pedestrian-friendly, safe and
surprisingly compact. It's not much more than a half-hour from one destination
to the next.
One of the best ways to get around town is on a bicycle. Rental
places abound (see Post
Party for more information), but be sure and lock the bike
wherever you go. Once again, lock the bike. There are 500,000 bicycles
in Amsterdam and 1 million reported thefts a year, so you do the math.
Rental agencies charge hefty replacement fines, up to fl700.
The scenery at the leisurely pace of walking or biking is riveting.
Historic three-story buildings hug peaceful canals, which are connected
to narrow cobblestone streets by small, arched bridges.
It's important to be observant of the street traffic. Mechanical objects
tend to whiz by without apparent regard to pedestrians, particularly
in the daytime. Trams do not slow down, so watch before you step and
use crosswalks whenever possible. Locals on bikes are especially indifferent
to pedestrians, making them more of a menace than the trams.
Now let's see. Are
we on the Herengracht or the Keizersgracht?
Where are We?
Visitors both love and loath the canals in Amsterdam.
The beauty of the canals makes them ideal photo locations, and there
are plenty of such opportunities, because to get anywhere, you have
to constantly crisscross the canals.
Unfortunately, they all pretty much look the same. The buildings are
all similar in design and some streets change names every few blocks.
This leads to a lot of confusing moments as you try to figure out on
which canal you are standing as you search for any recognizable landmark.
Stay cool, carry a map and don't be shy about asking locals for directions.
There are hundreds of canals, but only three main ones. Going outward
from Centraal Station, there is the Herengracht (Gentleman's Canal),
Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal) and Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal).
Adjacent streets are named for the appropriate canal (an example of
an address is Keizersgracht 25). These canals are framed by the Singel
(Sin-gail) on the inside and the Singlegracht on the outside.
The Dutch word for canals, by the way, is "gracht."
Another interesting characteristic of Amsterdam is the multitude of
narrow alleys. Too small for cars, they provide safe and fun walking
If there is a Main Street of Amsterdam, it would be Damrak.
This is the busiest road in town (with the possible exception of Leidsestraat),
is touristy and has the prices to prove it. They do serve beers in large,
German-style mugs here, as opposed to the "tiny Hineys" offered
in most of the pubs.
Headed south from the train station (away from the river), the popular
Grasshopper Coffeeshop is on the left. In addition to making
an excellent landmark, the Grasshopper serves as a gateway to the Red
Mid-city is "The Spui" (pron. Spow), an after-work hangout for
locals. The Leidsestraat is another big tourist street that leads
to the Leidseplein (Lights-a-pline). Many streets end in the
word "straat," which means street. The Leidsplein -- "plein" is Dutch
for town square -- and Rembrantsplein (proun. Rembrandt's plien)
are the prime party places in Amsterdam. Dozens of pubs and clubs, coffee
houses, cafes and cheap-eats comprise these areas.
Tourists and the younger crowd (20s) congregate primarily in the Leidseplein
while locals and the slightly more mature crowd (late 20s-early 40s)
frequent the Rembrantsplein which, by the way, was named after the famous
Dutch painter whose likeness looks out over the square.
buildings are a part of Amsterdam's landscape.
If this were the 1500s, we would be directing you to Dam Square
at the end of Damrak, where goods from the Far East were sold at
auction. Today, it's a good landmark and the heartbeat of the pigeon
social scene. As with any place you visit, it's a good idea to invest
a few sober daylight hours walking around and noting landmarks.
We also suggest a canal tour on a boat to help familiarize you
to, and educate you about, the city (see Post
Party for more information about the canal tours).
Pubs and Clubs Customs
Okay, there has to be a catch here somewhere. All the insane revelry
available here can't come without some kind of a price.
In Amsterdam, it's not the cost of the drinks or even the admission
to the clubs (both of which we noted earlier can empty a wallet quicker
than pickpocket in Centraal Station) that poses a problem, but the confounding
door policy at the pubs and clubs. It is not uncommon to approach a
place, be it empty or packed, and be turned away by the words "private
club" from an unconcerned doorman.
is a good landmark as well as a brown cafe.
This is Amsterdam's dirty little secret. Many of the pubs and clubs
have unposted "appearance" codes, some require you to be in the company
of a local and a few have a strict "no tourists" policy (particularly
if you are not of Northern European heritage).
Since we're tourists, this could present a problem. It's primarily
evident in the locals-heavy Rembrandtsplein but can apply anywhere.
As a countermeasure, look well groomed, presentable, and be pleasant.
This doesn't mean jeans are unacceptable but guys, shave the stubble
and leave the baseball cap at home. Well-dressed and attractive women
usually need not worry about such things but the rules can apply to
The best strategy is to become the doorman's buddy. This is accomplished
by arriving a bit early on your first night in town, say before 10 p.m.
Stop in for a drink or two and on your way out, tip your new best pal
1 or 2 euros. Do this at several places. It's a local's move and it
will gain you VIP treatment when you return later in the evening.
Clubs requires another trick. Start in a pub and ask a local about
current door policy at different clubs (it's also a good ice-breaker
with the regulars). Enforcement is spotty, often changing on different
nights of the week. Offer to buy a local a drink if they will escort
you into one of the clubs.
More information on an individual club's door policy is available in
Clubbing section. With this hurdle cleared, you now
are free to experience the wonderful world of PubClubbing, Dutch style.
The Dutch serve their brews in small 10-ounce glasses with a precisely-measured
ounce of foam (2-3 euros at pubs, more at clubs). Little more than a
shot glass to an Aussie or a Texan, these "tiny Heineys" would seem
to offer little resistance to heavy drinkers. Yet with so many bars
to visit, they make it easy to be mobile and the cumulative effect they
have over the course of an evening can indeed be quite intoxicating.
When those tiny Heineys start to overflow your system, nature will
call you to the WC (toilet). Many are staffed by a women who keeps the
WCs clean. To use the restroom it will cost between 0.2 and 0.5 euros.
In the pubs, drop change in the container by the door on the way out;
anything less or nothing at all will label you as cheap.
Most of the bars and pubs are small and narrow, yet each has a unique
personality and crowd all its own. They go strong until 3 a.m. The clubs
are massive, holding anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people. They don't open
until midnight but stay open until 6 a.m.. Most places deal in cash,
so have plenty of euros on hand. You're going to need them.
Not all words translate
the same from Dutch to English, as this hotel name shows.
There's a lot of grunting involved in speaking Dutch. It's a harsh Germanic
and contains a lot of letters and syllables, and the letter "j" sounds
like "y." Fortunately, the international language of PubClubbers is
well understood: Beer!
The word for cheers is: Prost! (Pronounced "Prozzzt!")
English is spoken freely. Amsterdamers will not object to speaking to
you in any language they speak and it's certainly not necessary to learn
Dutch in order to thrive here. As is always the case, it's polite to
at least make an effort to speak the local lingo.
Herre's a look at some other helpful terms:
Ja (Yaw): Yes
Nee (Nay): No
Dank u (Dank ya): Thank you
Goede dag, Hallo (Goad dag, hallo): Hello
ª Tot ziens: Goodbye
Goede morgen: Good morning
Goede middag: Good afternoon
Goedenavond: Good evening
Goede nacht: Good night
Hoe heet je?: What is your name?
Leuk je te ontmoeten: Nice to meet you
Currency The Euro
The Dutch have shelved the guilder (referred to as "fl") in
favor of the Euro.
The euro comes in 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces and 1 and 2 euro coins.
The bills start at 5 euros and they have 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and
500 euro bills. But, most places in the city do not take 200 and 500
euro bills so carry smaller bills. Also, it is primarily a cash oriented
society so do not be surprised if your card is not good for anything
but the ATM. Be aware that most U.S.-based banks charge a convergance
fee in addition to the normal ATM fee.
Pubs, most clubs and some restaurants do not accept plastic so even
if you are everywhere you want to be, your credit card may not be there
with you. There are plenty of machines for local banks but international
ATM access is limited; be sure and check the symbols before inserting
your card. American Express has an automated machine on the lower end
of Damrak that spills out euros on credit but watch for pickpockets
targeting you there. Money exchange offices are plentiful, especially
on Damrak, but we advise steering clear of these euro-munching tourist
March-May (Spring): 47 F
June-August (Summer): 62 F
September-November (Fall): 51 F
December-February (Winter): 38 F
Amsterdam is GMT +1.
When To Go
Most tourists visit Amsterdam in the summer (June thru September). Because
of the city is so compact, it also becomes very crowded. Don't be afraid
to go in the spring, fall or even winter. The weather is not all that
frightening outside of December and January and locals and a few European
tourists still fill the pubs and clubs.
stop on the Party Bus: The Bartender