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Amsterdam basic facts you should know before you go

(Last Updated On: May 9, 2018)

We all know that preparing is half the fun, so get ready with these basic Amsterdam facts, including the Best Amsterdam Expressions to blend in smoothly (you won’t find those in Google Translate).

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1. Amsterdam basic facts: how we walk, talk, pay & eat

First, the very simple basic Amsterdam facts that you probably already know. If not, memorise them and you’ll score points at the bar. Amsterdam is located in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a monarchy. Our king is Willem Alexander and our queen is the Argentinian-born Máxima. Queen Willem-Alexander took over from his mother, our former queen Beatrix, in 2013.

How we walk

  • We drive and cycle on the right side of the road.
  • Amsterdam pedestrians and cyclists have developed the habit of going through red lights.
  • As a tourist, always stop for red lights. There’s too much traffic so just wait the extra seconds. You’re worth it.


How we talk

  • The official language in the Netherlands is Dutch. However, in Amsterdam it’s easy to get around speaking English.
  • Dutch is not the same as German. The two languages may sound alike for some, especially to people from latin countries, yet they’re very different. German has its own grammar, its own vocabulary.
  • Dutch and Flemish are similar. Both languages are based on ‘Standaard Nederlands’, standard Dutch. Yet, Flemish and Dutch languages have different words and grammar.


How we pay

Dutch currency is the euro. We love to pay electronically. Banks and the government promote it; so you may pay small amounts (and tips) electronically. See more about PIN and credit cards under #5.


How we eat

  • We eat three times a day, and preferable not after 8pm.
  • Breakfast is anywhere between 6:30 and 9:00. It basically consists of bread, muesli or cornflakes, with a type of dairy product. Other Dutch breakfast classics: slices of bread, topped with cheese, meat products, chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), jam or peanut butter (pindakaas). Soy yoghurt, raw juices and vegan pancakes are gaining ground in the last five years and  available at vegan and vegetarian breakfast restaurants.
  • Lunch is mostly between 12:30 and 14:00. A standard Dutch lunch looks a lot like breakfast. It consists mostly of bread, topped with cheese, meat products, peanut butter or chocolate sprinkles. Maybe a little soup and some fruit on the side.
  • Dinner time for most families is around 6pm, could be half an hour earlier or later. It is not common for the typical Dutch to have dinner after 8pm. In Amsterdam, dinner times are pretty flexible. However, most Amsterdam restaurants have pretty early closing times for the kitchen, after 21:00 or 22:00 it’s hard to get a freshly prepared meal.

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Typical dutch breakfast amsterdam travel tips

2. What the f***? 

The best Amsterdam expressions for blending in smoothly
It’s fun to discover a culture via its specific language. There are things you can’t explain or express properly in other languages because they’re culturally related.
Use these Amsterdam expressions casually in bars, restaurants and cafés, and you’ll make quite an impression (and friends for life).

ammehoela – no way (on my hoela)
bakkie troost – cup of coffee (cup of solace)
dat zit wel snor – no worries (it sits like a moustache)
dijenkletser – good joke (thigh slapper)
flappentapper – cash dispenser (bill pump)
gabber – pal, mate
gemeentepils – tap water (community beer)
habbekrats – bargain
hoteldebotel – madly in love (hotel the botel)
kopstoot – beer with a Dutch gin (bump in the head)
krentenkakker – tightwad (poops raisins)
appeltje, eitje – piece of cake (apple, egg)
nachtapotheker – drugdealer (night pharmacy)
mazzelpik – lucky devil (lucky di*k)
ladderzat – intoxicated (as sick as a ladder)
mafketel – jerk (crazy kettle)

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Gemeentepils what language do they speak in amsterdam3. Love fancy shoes? Amsterdam architecture isn’t made for it

  • Amsterdam history comes with wooden floors, small wobbly stones called ‘kinderkopjes’ and houses with steep stairs.
    Historical Amsterdam houses are narrow yet tall. They have steep stairs to move up and down. Big feet, high heels and carrying bags of groceries? Impossible. Even the best restaurants and cafes in Amsterdam may require a several-story climb up an historic staircase, just to use the bathroom facilities.
  • Next, the pavements along the canals. With their wobbly stones, they’re no fun for people wearing fancy footwear. You’ll understand why Amsterdammers love Birkenstocks and UGG’s, whether they’re ‘in’ or ‘out’.

Steep stairs one of the things you know in Amsterdam

Bring sturdy footwear for your Amsterdam trip. Function over fashion is key.

  • Finally, one of the most famous Amsterdam attractions: Dam Square. It’s a square with a national function and the location for events of all kinds. Every year on May 4th we celebrate Remembrance Day. An event that’s joined by the royal family. And they’re certainly not the type to wear sneakers to such an occasion.
  • Ironically, wobbly Dam Square is also the entrance to the luxury department store Bijenkorf, where one can buy fancy footwear by Saint Laurent, Chloë, Gucci, Balenciaga.

Get customised tips for Amsterdam shopping, fully based on your style
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Bijenkorf Amsterdam travel tips

4. Holland and the Netherlands are not the same thing

The Dutch live in Holland or in the Netherlands, or both? Well, all the Dutch live in the Netherlands and some of them live in Holland, too. Here’s the thing: the country’s official name is the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Holland actually refers to the two provinces of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland.

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and of the province Noord-Holland. FYI, The Hague is the capital of Zuid-Holland, yet the biggest city in Zuid-Holland is Rotterdam. It’s quite common to hear (Amsterdam) people refer to the entire country as Holland, but that’s not correct.

5. Bring cash and be prepared to use the ATM

The Netherlands is one of the least friendly countries when it comes to non-European issued credit cards. Maestro cards work fine, but non-chipped credit cards without a PIN are often incompatible with the machines used in stores and restaurants. Now that more US credit card companies are issuing cards with chips, it may become easier as time goes on. On the other hand, there are sufficient ATMs and banks in town if you do need to replenish your Euros.

For European issued debit and credit cards, the best thing is to pay electronically wherever you go. The Dutch love paying electronically and it’s heavily stimulated by banks and the Dutch government. Even for small amounts, PIN is the way to go. Paying with PIN cards is safe and fast. There are hardly any places in Amsterdam where European PIN cards are not accepted. Some smaller shops may even give you a hard time when you want to pay cash – even though they’re obliged to accept it.

Read more >> 10 unexpected free things to do in Amsterdam

ATM traveling to amsterdam

6. The dos and dont’s of Amsterdam traffic

Whether you’re by bike or by foot, never day-dream when you’re in Amsterdam traffic. You risk being hit by one of more than 800.000 bicycles or scooters. We have more bicycles than residents. And with the rise of the e-bike, don’t even think about crossing the street before it does! You’ll be sorry. And you’ll be called all kinds of names by the cyclist. See basic fact #2.

Golden rules for Amsterdam traffic:

Read more >> Unusual guided tours in Amsterdam 

Amsterdam traffic travel to amsterdam

7. Skip the umbrella, wear a rain coat or poncho

Living in The Netherlands guarantees (almost) full happiness. Except for one little thing: the weather. It’s raining all year round. Amsterdam is no exception to this law of nature. Our rain never comes alone; it’s joined by the wind. Therefore, a cheap umbrella is a bad investment. Just look around on a rainy day and you’ll see why.

Our tip: buy hooded rainwear or a poncho to throw over your outfit. Or hide in a cafe, which is 100% waterproof protection.
Check out this hilarious video ‘How to survive the Dutch weather’ and be prepared for soggy feet:

8. Amsterdam coffeeshops, coffee shops and coffee cafés: they’re all different

Amsterdam has the best places for your fix. Any fix. Whether you need coffee, tea, chocolate or marijuana, just make sure to pick the best Amsterdam cafes, coffee shops and coffeeshops.

  • For a cup of coffee in a nice coffee place without the smell of weed, go to a barista-run coffee café (some, like Back to Black, come with a house cat) or any regular Amsterdam café.
  • If you want to buy quality coffee beans for home brewing and maybe some bean-to-bar chocolate, go to a specialised coffee retail shop like Simon Levelt.
  • The coffeeshop is the place to go to for marijuana – with a coffee, tea and hash brownie on the side.

Read more >>  Our insiders’ list of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam

Coffeeshop cafe amsterdam travel tips

9. Draught beer lingo: biertje, fluitje, vaasje

For draught beer Amsterdam locals either order a fluitje (200 ml), a vaasje (300-330 ml) for specific sizes, or just a ‘biertje’, which will mostly be the vaasje size.

Half-litre glasses are not a Dutch standard. Yet they’re available everywhere. A famous beer ‘cocktail’ is known as a kopstoot (bump in the head), which is beer served with Dutch gin on the side.

Find the best bars in Amsterdam, based on your personal taste
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Beers traveling to amsterdam beers

10. Dutch pancakes are not for Dutch breakfast

Dutch people usually don’t eat pancakes for breakfast. It’s not a Dutch tradition. Influenced by the English, American and Australian breakfast styles, pancakes are gaining ground in the Amsterdam breakfast culture.

Original Dutch pancakes are thinner and larger than American style pancakes and they may have ingredients like bacon, apple or cheese incorporated in the pancake itself. Traditional Dutch pancakes are popular at kids’ birthday parties. We love pancakes for dessert too.

Read more >> Active and exciting things to do with kids in Amsterdam

Dutch pancakes where to eat in Amsterdam

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(Photo credit main image: Adrian Alarcon)