Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Despite the assumptions of a good many people who know me (and, frankly, should know better), the fact that I live in the Netherlands does not actually mean I live in Amsterdam.

I don’t. In fact, I live on the other side of the country from the Dutch capital city. How do you like that?

Of course, if you want to get nitpicky (which, around here, we highly encourage), the “other side of the country” is only an hour and a half away by car — inevitable traffic notwithstanding. So while I’m not exactly a local, I do travel to Amsterdam fairly regularly; and as a sympathetic fellow tourist, I’ve decided to share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learned about this fair city.

(I think this is the small-town influence kicking in. Enjoy it while it lasts!)

Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Wear good walking shoes, regardless of how much you plan on walking.

Amsterdam may be one of the flattest cities on earth, but it’s also full of uneven stone streets and hole-ridden pathways. Not to mention, you frequently have to make a bit of a run for it between bicycles, trams, and carts full of Heineken. Think carefully before you throw on your paper-thin flip flops or attempt to break in your new heels.

Granted, I may be out of my league here. I grew up in a city where the streets are not only flat and level, but lined up in a neat and orderly fashion. Evaluate your own feet yourself — but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Look out for the bicycles, but don’t let them boss you around.

Look, I get it. Cyclists in Amsterdam have it rough. They’re just trying to get from A to B and live their lives, but they constantly have to worry about hitting people who’ve got their heads stuck in a map, or their phones, or a camera. I implore my fellow tourists to pay attention — most streets in Amsterdam have a designated bicycle path in between the pedestrian walkway and the street, and it’s almost never a good idea to stand in the middle of it.

That being said, cyclists in Amsterdam can have some seriously unnecessary attitudes. There are times when it’s perfectly reasonable for you to cross in front of them, and their eye-rolling ass can deal with it.

It’s probably not a great idea to play chicken with the bicycles, but don’t just stand there all day waiting for someone to let you cross — they won’t. If you’re know you’ve got the right of way, go. They’ll get over it. (One day.)

Westerpark neighborhood of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

When it comes to museums, hope for the best but expect the worst.

I thought maybe going to museums on a weekday, or first thing in the morning, would keep wait times short. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s a crapshoot. There is no strategy I can offer besides crossed fingers and great deal of patience.

On the upside, if you go with someone(s) else, it’s a great time to run errands. I once left my sister in line at the Anne Frank House* and went to Hema to buy socks.

Of course, you’re probably never going to completely avoid all lines and crowds while visiting a city like Amsterdam — what fun would that be? If you are vehemently against such nonsense, there are other options.

* Speaking of the Anne Frank House, pre-purchased tickets are currently required for all visitors (through January 2018). Most up-to-date info can be found here.

Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Try out your Dutch, even if people speak to you in English.

I don’t want to freak you out or anything: everyone you encounter in Amsterdam cafes or shops will almost certainly speak near-fluent English. But if you ask me, that’s no reason not to learn a few Dutch language basics and give it a go. Like basically everyone on the planet, the Dutch appreciate when you make an effort with their language, even if it’s just “dankjewel” (thank you) or “tot ziens” (good-bye).

Of course, they’ll probably switch back to English, anyway, just to make everything easier (and/or put you out of your misery). Also, I should note that not everyone you encounter will be necessarily be or speak Dutch. There are lots of foreigners working in Amsterdam and Dutch is not always a requirement, depending on the business.

Strategic Bicycle Dodging, and Other Tips for Exploring Amsterdam

Make sure to distinguish between a “cafe” and a “coffee shop.”

A coffee shop is where you buy weed; a cafe is where you have coffee — or tea, or lunch, or a glass of wine. Dutch cafes are generally pretty all-purpose…except for weed, which you’ll have to buy at a — pop quiz! — coffee shop.

Coffee shops don’t make a secret of their designated purpose, so it’s pretty easy to tell them apart from cafes on sight. That said, make sure you’re clear about which one you’re looking for if you ask a local for directions or a recommendation. In Amsterdam, there are just as many tourists looking for drugs as there are tourists looking for cappuccinos; it might not be immediately clear which one you’re after.

*

If you’re still planning on going to Amsterdam after reading this, I commend you and wish you a safe, happy, and bicycle-hit-and-run-less trip.

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Slightly snarky, but (hopefully) still useful advice for exploring Amsterdam -- brought to you by an expat in the Netherlands and frequent visitor to the city. | #Amsterdam #Netherlands

Slightly snarky, but (hopefully) still useful advice for exploring Amsterdam -- brought to you by an expat in the Netherlands and frequent visitor to the city. | #Amsterdam #Netherlands

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