When you say you’re going to Amsterdam, a lot of people raise their eyebrows, smile knowingly, and say “oh Amsterdam huh?”
It’s a city known for its legal prostitution, “coffee shops” selling more popular plants than just coffee beans (marijuana, for those who need it spelled out), and its wild nightlife. With an annual tourist population larger than its actual population, Amsterdam can be subject to misrepresentation by the weekend-trip frat bros, the nearly adulterous bachelorette parties, and the “I’ve never done it, but it’s Amsterdam!” crowd. Amongst the madness, though, is a city with much more real character than first meets the eye. In terms of culture, practicality and efficiency meet relaxed social attitudes and an unmatched ability for leisure and fun. Scenic canals flanked by narrow buildings and a constant stream of bikes make up the cityscape. Cafés, tons of electronic music festivals, and a surprising number of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants join the ranks of the “coffee shops” as gathering places. World-renowned art museums are tucked next to shops selling Dutch snacks out of cubbies in the wall, like frikandel and kroketten (find these at the Febo chain). Amsterdam is perhaps best described by the non-translatable Dutch word which describes something cozy and easy to relax into, a warm feeling, a nice day with friends or a date gone well: It’s gezellig.
Arriving at Centraal Station, you’ll be on the northern side of the city. A ferry across the harbor to the north will bring you to Amsterdam Noord, an upcoming neighborhood featuring the new Eye Film Institute and a multitude of cafés overlooking the harbor. South of the station are some of the more touristy parts of town: the Red Light District is a center for nightlife, popular among tourists for its more debaucherous reputation (“red light” comes from the red lights that indicate the windows of prostitutes). In the city center, you’ll find Leidseplein, the site of many clubs and restaurants frequented by tourists and locals alike, and the first location of the Bulldog, Amsterdam’s oldest coffee shop. Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein’s even more touristy counterpart, is also close by. The city center is also where you’ll find many quaint canals and terraces on narrow houses, the classic Amsterdam views. East of the city center are the “nine streets,” full of cute shops and small restaurants. Southwest in Oud-Zuid lies Vondelpark, the city’s largest park, as well as Museumplein, a large grassy area with a stunning view of the Rijksmuseum as well as two of the city’s other most famous museums. Oud-Zuid is also home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents, leafy streets, restaurants, and boutiques. Jordaan is the home of cool traditional bars frequented by longtime Amsterdammers, and in De Pijp you’ll find upscale young hipster places along with evening and early-night locations like restaurants and chatty bars, as well as one of the city’s most famous markets. Amsterdam Oost in the east is spacious and green. Finally, visit Amsterdam West for an up and coming nightlife scene, trendy design stores, excellent restaurants, and hip hangouts.
Buses, taxis, and trains are all available from the international airport, Schiphol. The Schiphol Airport train station is just below the airport and buses leave from directly outside the arrivals area. On the train, you’ll arrive at Central Station, the main stop of the metro system. It lies on the harbor and it’s easy to walk into the city center.
Amsterdam has excellent public transport, from buses to trams to a metro system to ferries. All public transportation in Amsterdam can be accessed with an OV-Chipkaart or temporary travel card, which can be purchased at vending machines in the main stations. A variety of options are available, from personalized rechargeable chip cards to single-use or 24hr tickets. You can also consider purchasing the “i amsterdam” City Card, which provides free entry to the top attractions, a canal cruise, and free public transport. It can be purchased for 24hr, 48hr, 72hr, and 96hr durations on www.iamsterdam.com. Bikes are also a popular way to get around Amsterdam. Bike rental shops are all over the city, the most popular being MacBike (red bikes) and Yellow Bike (obviously yellow bikes).
Tourist Offices: Stationsplein 10; 020 702 6000; open M-Sa 9am-5pm.
Banks/ATMs/Currency Exchange: Damrak 86; 020 624 6682; open M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su 11am-6pm.
Post Offices: PostNL (Overtoom 8; 900 0990).
Internet: There are internet cafés and Wi-Fi hotspots available to the public throughout Amsterdam.
BGLTQ+ Resources: A complete list of Amsterdam’s BLGTQ+ resources can be found here: www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/gayamsterdam/resources.
Emergency Number: 112
Police: Politiebureau Centrum-Jordaan (Lijnbaansgracht 219; 0900 8844).
US Embassy: US Consulate General (Museumplein 19; 020 575 5309; open M-F 8:30am-4:30pm).
- OLVG, location Spuistraat (Spuistraat 239; 020 599 4100; M-W, F 8:30am-4:30pm, Th 8am-7:30pm).
- Amsterdam Tourist Doctors (Nieuwe Passeerdersstraat 8; 020 237 3654; open daily 24hr).
- Leidsestraat Pharmacy (020 422 0210; open M-F 8:30am-8pm, Sa 9am-8pm, Su 11am-8pm).
- Amsterdam Central Pharmacy (020 235 7822; M-W, F 7:30am-9pm, Th 7:30am-10pm, Sa-Su 10am-8pm).