All your questions answered about the popular Dutch city
Amsterdam's diverse museums, quirky festivals, relaxed bars and delectable dining are just some of the qualities that put Amsterdam high on the list of places to visit.
With so much to do and see in the Dutch city, you've probably got a few questions before you commit to visit.
Luckily, we’re right here to answer those burning queries that are preventing you from booking that flight.
What to know before you go
Is Amsterdam a country?
No, Amsterdam is a city. It is the capital and most populated municipality of the Netherlands. Also known as Holland, the Netherlands is a heavily populated country in Western Europe. Three island territories in the Caribbean are also incorporated.
Is Amsterdam part of the EU?
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, and the Netherlands has been a European Union member since the EEC became the EU on 1 November 1993. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the EEC, or the EU as it is known today.
Is Amsterdam below sea level?
Amsterdam is approximately two metres below sea level. Thanks to one of the most sophisticated anti-flood systems in the world, the entire country of the Netherlands is kept safe.
How was Amsterdam built?
Following the floods of 1170 and 1173, locals close to the river Amstel built a bridge over the river and a dam across it, giving the village its name "Aemstelredamme".
By 1327, the name had developed into Amsterdam. Amsterdam was initially founded as a fishing village around the thirteenth century. Throughout the Middle Ages houses were generally constructed from wood, a vulnerable type of construction material.
As a result, most of the medieval buildings have perished. 1585 to 1672 is regarded as the Golden Age for Amsterdam thanks to its commercial success. During this period, Amsterdam was the most prominent market worldwide. As such, at this time the characteristic Amsterdam cityscape developed and some of the most significant historic buildings date back to its Golden Age.
What is Amsterdam known for?
Amsterdam is famed for its sophisticated and substantial canal system, its red light district and, of course, its marijuana-dispensing coffee shops.
The city is famous for being tolerant and dynamic and offering a diverse culture and a vibrant nightlife.
Is Amsterdam expensive?
While certain aspects of Amsterdam are expensive, even by European standards, you can live within your means while you’re there.
Hotels vary in price dramatically so to get the best deal, you should shop around and compare prices before you book.
Then there’s eating. A meal in a basic restaurant will cost approximately EUR20, or approximately $30. On the opposite end of the scale, there is the option for fine dining, which you’d struggle to get for less than EUR50, or $75.
When it comes to drinks, a pint will range anywhere between EUR5 ($7.50) and EUR8 ($12).
How much spending money do I need for Amsterdam?
We would say that EUR100 ($150) per person per day, providing you've already paid for your flights and hotel, would cover an average well-rounded experience of Amsterdam.
How many days should I spend in Amsterdam?
The general consensus seems to be that you can fully appreciate and experience the city within 3–5 days. Some say longer, some say less.
We’d recommend doing your research and finding out exactly what you’d like to see and do whilst there, and then make an educated guess as to how many things you could, or would want to get done each day.
Which Amsterdam airport is closest to the city?
The closest airport to Amsterdam is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). The distance from the airport to the city is approximately 11.2km. There’s an airport train connecting the city’s central station to the airport that departs every 10 minutes.
Questions about health and safety
Is Amsterdam safe?
Although the rumours are true and you can buy marijuana freely in coffee shops, smart drugs in smart shops and prostitution is legal, Amsterdam is still considered a safe city – so much so that it achieved the place of fifth safest city worldwide in 2015.
Whilst Amsterdam is not dangerous, we would always advise to take precautions to protect your personal safety and belongings as you would in any city.
Does Amsterdam have a drug problem?
The Netherlands (Amsterdam included) has a tolerance towards drugs that is intended to prevent drug abuse through educational processes.
The Dutch have divided drugs into two groups, depending on their influence on human health – soft drugs and hard drugs. Hard drugs like cocaine, LSD, morphine and heroin are forbidden in the Netherlands just as they are in any other country. Soft drugs like cannabis are legal under the condition of controlled personal use.
In short, we’d say that they have no more of a drug problem than anywhere else in the world, they just have a drug tolerance, which may seem an alien concept.
Getting around and things to do
How do I buy tram tickets in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam has an OV-chip smart card system that is in use on all public transport modes including the airport train/bus journey. Amsterdam travel tickets are available as below:
- 1-day card EUR16 ($24)
- 2-day card EUR21 ($31.50)
- 3-day card EUR26 ($39)
They are valid on a day-to-day basis, not a 24-hour period.
There is also the option to buy a one-hour travel ticket for EUR2.90 ($4.50) which is available to purchase onboard any of the transportation modes.
The day tickets can be purchased at GVB ticket and info offices, or from GVB ticket vending machines.
How do I get around Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is relatively small with its attractions close together in the city centre. It’s easy to walk from one place to another and it’s a great way to discover the city charms on offer.
Another option is to cycle. There are bicycles everywhere in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands. Bikes can be rented at various locations, and locks are provided as well.
There is also the option of public transportation, and Amsterdam’s system is very good with frequent trams, buses and trains.
Taxis in Amsterdam can be of great convenience if you have an honest driver.
Which Amsterdam pass is best?
With a huge variety of Amsterdam attractions cards on offer, the question remains – which should I choose?
There is one that is consistently considered the best on offer: the Amsterdam City Pass.
This card allows you to skip-the-line to either the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum. It also gives you tickets for a 1-hour canal cruise, and a 20% discount on attractions, museums, excursions and bike tours available throughout the city.
The added bonus of this pass is that, unlike the others on offer that have to be used within 24 or 48 hours, there is no time limit which leaves you free to take in the city sites at your own pace.
Does Amsterdam have Uber?
Yes, and there are three types available in Amsterdam: UberBLACK, UberLUX (more up-market than UberBLACK) and UberPOP, which is most similar to what we call UberX in Australia. UberPOP isn’t legal in Amsterdam, but still exists, so use it at your own risk.
What to buy in Amsterdam?
If you’re thinking about what souvenirs and trinkets to purchase for your friends, family or for your personal travel collection, take a peek at our suggestions below:
- Ajax memorabilia – Ajax football souvenirs can be found at shops throughout the city.
- Birthday calendar – If you want to adopt Dutch custom you can buy a limitless variety of calendars in almost every tourist shop near the Dam.
- Cheese – Like cheese, or have a friend who does? Go for Oude Amsterdam Kas (Old Amsterdam Cheese) sold at all local cheese shops.
- Clogs and wooden shoes – Buy a pair of traditional wooden shoes as a reminiscent token of your stay in Amsterdam.
Keep in mind if you’re buying wooden products or cheese whether you can bring it back into Australia due to customs restrictions.
Does Amsterdam have a Christmas market?
There aren’t any Christmas markets in Amsterdam per se. However, during the latter half of December, Amsterdam’s Museum Square (Museumplein) becomes the heart of Christmas in Amsterdam.
The large square turns into the Amsterdam Christmas Village and the pond turns into a spectacular ice rink. You can rent ice skates and try out the most popular local winter sport for yourself. Or just indulge in some hot wine, hot chocolate and other traditional Dutch food and drinks.