What to Know Before You Visit Amsterdam

Updated August 15, 2020.

It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! If you’ve been following along on Instagram and Facebook, you know my sweet husband just whisked me away to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to fulfill a lifelong dream: a trip to the Tulip Festival! I’m not sure how to describe how I feel about tulips. I remember drawing them in Kindergarten and dreaming of red and yellow tulips for my wedding bouquet. My engagement ring even has little tulip details in the setting! So when he suggested we visit this year, I was beyond thrilled! Here are a few things that might be handy to know before you make your own trip to Amsterdam.

Fun Facts

  • It’s is actually a kingdom! Its official name is the “Kingdom of the Netherlands.”
  • “Holland” refers to two provinces in the north of the Netherlands, appropriately named Noord-Holland (North Holland) and Zuid-Holland (South Holland). These two provinces, along with 10 more, make up the Netherlands. Sometimes people say “Holland” when they mean “the Netherlands,” but this is not correct. So, when in doubt, call it the Netherlands!
  • Amsterdam is in the province of North Holland, so when someone plans to visit Amsterdam and claims to be going to Holland, they are correct!
  • Amsterdam has more bridges and canals than Venice, Italy–I was surprised to learn that!
Canals are lined with townhomes, houseboats, and bikes!
More here: 10 Reasons to Visit Amsterdam

Useful Information

  • The language is Dutch, but English, French, and German are widely spoken as well.
  • Prostitution is legal, as is marijuana; remember you’re a visitor, so no inappropriate comments, actions, or jokes, and judgements, please. If you don’t like it, steer clear of the Red Light District (though it is an historic area), and stay away from anything labeled “coffeeshop.”
  • Conversely, drinking in the streets is illegal.
  • Want to take some tulips bulbs home? You can do it! Just make sure they are certified, with a phytosanitary certification. You can find them at the markets in Amsterdam.
  • Ready to order in a restaurant? Close your menus! As long as someone’s menu is open, the waiter will think they are still deciding what they want and will not know that you’re ready to order.
  • It rains kind of a lot. Bring an umbrella and/or light raincoat!
Create your own “Tulip Mania” and buy some certified bulbs to take home with you!
Keep reading: How to Spend 3 Days in Amsterdam

Money Matters

  • Currency: Euro; cash preferred over cards
  • Credit and Debit Cards: Only accepted with chip and pin; other credit cards rarely accepted.
  • Tipping: Service charges (or tips) are often already included in the price you pay, so extra tipping is not expected; rounding up to the next dollar or leaving your change at a restaurant is common, but also not expected.
  • City Passes: There are four Amsterdam City Passes to choose from, but for us, none of them would have been cost-effective. To find out whether one of them will be worth your while, make a list of the museums you want to visit, consider how often you’ll be taking public transportation (Amsterdam is quite walkable), and compare the passes to help you make up your mind:
  • Paying for Train Tickets: OK, so this is probably common knowledge for millions of people, but neither Steve nor I had ever done this before. The best way to pay for train tickets at the ticket kiosks is to tap your card against the reader. Our first day we tried paying with 5 (five!) different credit cards, but none of them worked, so we gave up and paid a live person at the ticket counter because the machines do not accept bills and we did not have enough for the fare in coins. No big deal, but we felt like the machines should just work! So the next time we bought train tickets, we noticed the tap pad on the machine and decided we had nothing to lose by trying it. It worked!

Train Ticket Kiosk
Credit Card Tap Pad below the regular card reader
No bills accepted!
Helpful info: The Ultimate Gude to Travel and Your Money


Most everyone speaks English in Amsterdam, so that was very helpful! There are a few things you might benefit from knowing, though:

  • Coffeeshop: Do not expect just a cup of coffee here! A “coffeeshop” in Amsterdam is a legal dispensary of marijuana.
  • Koffeehuis or Cafe: coffee house, or cafe, is a shop where you can buy coffee without getting stoned upon entry!
  • Huis: House, as in, the Anne Frank Huis is the Anne Frank House.
  • Dank je” or “dank: Thank you, or thanks.
  • Dutch: What you call someone from the Netherlands.
Read on: What to Eat in Amsterdam

Getting Around

  • Amsterdam is larger than you think. We were a bit surprised while walking around the city of Amsterdam and realizing that we had not gone as far as we thought! Bring your walking shoes or rent a bike so you can make it to all the sites (and museum appointment times) you want!
  • Do not walk in the bike lanes! There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam, and they take their cycling very seriously. Look both ways and watch out for bikes as much as you would for cars.
  • Be careful on the sidewalk! We found that many of the sidewalks were filled with parked bikes, moving bikes, plants, tables and chairs outside cafes, motorbikes, and even a delivery truck. Be on the alert when walking and always look both ways, even on sidewalks!
Tight squeeze! To one side, a canal home; to the other side, cars, bikes, mopeds, etc. Yes, the truck is parked on the sidewalk!
More here: How to Savor Your Travels


  • Get your tickets early! You can get tickets online for the museums you want to visit, which I definitely recommend for the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, two of the most popular (with the longest lines).
  • Speaking of the Van Gogh Museum, you must purchase tickets online now. You may not buy tickets upon arrival because no one is there to sell them to you!
  • No backpacks, large or small, at the Van Gogh Museum. I got a bit scolded when I tried to enter the first exhibit and was told to leave my backpack (a purse that I happened to be wearing as a one-shoulder backpack at that moment) with the coat check. Luckily, it was FREE! You may not enter with luggage of any kind. The woman in front of us was turned away due to her very small roll-aboard carry-on luggage.
  • Speaking of the Anne Frank House, you may bring a small to medium size backpack (not a backpackers’ backpack) into the house and museum, but you must wear it in front. No big deal.
  • The Anne Frank House is currently under construction on the facade and in the more modern museum portion, but it should be completed in May 2018.
  • The Anne Frank House rooms are very small and get extremely crowded, so if you have claustrophobic moments, be prepared to be in some close quarters.
  • The Amsterdam Tulip Museum was a delightful surprise! It was only 5 Euro per person, and they have some interesting maps and information about how the tulips arrived. They also had the best, most concise explanation of “Tulip Mania” and its ensuing crash in the 1670s. And you can see all manner of tulip types up close and personal!
  • Love historic homes? Visit the Van Loon Museum! The Van Loon family co-founded the Dutch East India Trading Company, and descendants still live in the house upstairs. The home has been restored and decorated as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is quite the grand home!
Dining room at the Van Loon Mansion
More here: The Ultimate Guide to the Keukenhof Gardens

Are you ready for your trip to Amsterdam? I hope this post is helpful! You can always find more on my Netherlands Page!

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6 responses to “What to Know Before You Visit Amsterdam”

  1. We had the same experience trying to buy train tix at the kiosks. We tried 3 cards and then went and bought them from the agent. So funny! Glad you solved that mystery!

    1. I’m SO GLAD it’s not just us! We are definitely keeping that trick in mind because this was not the first time we had trouble using our cards at a train ticket kiosk in Europe. Now we all know! 🙌

  2. […] I love a good sweet! And there is no shortage of sweets in Amsterdam. Just be careful to get it from a real bakery and not a “coffeeshop” bakery! Not sure what I mean by that? Check out yesterday’s post: What to Know Before You Visit Amsterdam. […]

  3. […] When you’ve stashed your stuff, get back out there! Again, staying outside that first day is very important! Grab a Deco Waffle or Stroopwaffle to go, or stop into a coffeehouse for a little caffeination if needed; just make sure you don’t accidentally go into a coffeeshop because that’s where they sell marijuana! Take your time admiring the canal homes, but watch out for bikes–they have the right-of-way, not pedestrians! For all my Amsterdam tips, check out What to Know Before You Visit Amsterdam. […]

  4. Super helpful! Ready to go!

    1. I’m so glad! We hope you have a wonderful time!

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