Back in 2012, I wrote a post with travel advice for Amsterdam. We just got back from another trip there, and I thought I’d revise my advice – most of it still applies, but there have been a few changes. So here’s my 2019 Amsterdam DO’s and DON’Ts. Come back in 2026 for another revision!
Amsterdam Dos and Don’ts – 2019 revised edition
We recently spent a week in Amsterdam before and after taking a river cruise through the Netherlands and Belgium; I might eventually post photos from the trip, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some possibly-useful tips for others travelling to Amsterdam and environs.
- DO tell your credit/debit card companies that you will be using your card in the Netherlands and when you’ll be there.
- DO get money from ATMs rather than buying it before you leave the US; there are ATMs at the airport and all over town and you’ll get a much better rate. (2019 note: Use bank ATMs if at all possible to get the best exchange rate and lowest fees; avoid Travelex and the like.)
- DO expect to find some shops which only accept cards and will not accept cash. (2019 note: I saw quite a few shops which were card-only, and a few which were cash-only. I ran into a couple of shops which would not accept Visa or Mastercard credit cards but would accept debit cards.)
- DON’T get the Travelex “Cash Passport” Chip and PIN card – the exchange rate is hideous and they demand your Social Security number.
- DO expect to be able to use your US credit card when you are dealing with people – even though the Dutch all have Chip and PIN cards, every credit card machine I saw in a shop could also accept a US magstripe card. (2019 note: Of course, all the machines accepted US chip cards, too; sometimes the shop wanted a signature, but often they didn’t.)
- (New for 2019) DO expect to use your US credit card to be able to buy train tickets and transport cards from automated machines.
- DON’T take the option of paying in US Dollars using your credit card. The rate is probably not as good as your card company will give, and if your card has a surcharge for international transactions, you’ll have to pay that surcharge even if the transaction is in US Dollars.
- DO carry a few Euros in change with you at all times for small purchases and toilets – many public toilets charge between 20–50 cents for access.
Getting into town from the airport
- DO take the train unless you’re staying far from the city center.
- 2019 advice: DO expect to be able to use your US credit card at the machines at the train station to buy your ticket.
- DO buy your train ticket in advance from Belgian Rail; print it at home and bring it with you.
- DO buy Second Class tickets for this trip unless you have a lot of luggage or can’t manage four steps up or down stairs.
- DO know that the trains to Centraal Station leave from Schiphol platforms 1 and 2.
- DON’T get on a “FYRA” train at Schiphol – it will cost you! You want to get on an “IC” train. The trains are marked on the sides of the cars; both use the same platforms.
Getting around town
- DO walk if you can – the touristy part of Amsterdam is small, and everything of interest is within a 45-minute walk (mostly less). Take public transport only when you’re in a hurry.
- DO watch out for bicycles and motorbikes, especially when crossing a bike path (and every street has bike paths). Treat them as you would any other fast-moving dangerous vehicle.
- DON’T be surprised by motorbikes (or bicycles) on the sidewalk, either, though they are usually going slowly there.
- (2019 changes) DON’T plan on using cash to buy a ticket on a tram, train, or bus. Either buy your ticket (or pass) in advance or use your card to make the purchase.
- DO buy the iAmsterdam card.
- DON’T buy it at the VVV office at Centraal Station – there are long lines. 2019 advice: Buy it at the iAmsterdam shop at Centraal Station (on the IJ side of the station); you can even use your US credit card to buy it from their vending machine!
- DON’T pre-purchase the card over the Internet, which means picking up the card in person at the VVV office – in that same long line, of course.
- DO be strategic about the time of day that you activate the pass. It is valid for 24/48/72 hours, not 1/2/3 days. If you activate a 24-hour pass at 11am on Wednesday, you can use it all the rest of that day and then enter a museum before 11am on Thursday and stay there the whole day. This works best for major museums, like the Maritime Museum or the Van Gogh, of course. If you’re really hardcore, you could go to the Maritime Museum at 10am on the last day of your pass and get a ticket, immediately go to another nearby museum and see it, then return to the Maritime Museum because your ticket is good for the entire day.
- DO realize that the museum pass and the travel pass are completely separate after you buy them; you need not activate them at the same time (or even on the same day).
- DO realize that the discount offers in the booklet are valid even after your card expires (I think they go to the end of the year); you just need to bring the card and the booklet.
- DON’T plan to go to the Anne Frank House on the iAmsterdam card. 2019: You have to buy your tickets online in advance (they go on sale exactly 2 months in advance).
- 2019: DO get your timeslots for the van Gogh Museum as soon as you have your iAmsterdam card numbers.
Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll
- DON’T be afraid of walking through the Red Light District (of course, be aware of your surroundings, just as you would anywhere else).
- DON’T take photos of “red rooms” or the women working in them.
- DON’T go to a coffeeshop for coffee.
Eating and drinking
- DO expect the inside of restaurants to be non-smoking (both kinds of smoke).
- DO expect a lot of [tobacco] smokers just outside of a restaurant.
- DON’T expect free refills on coffee.
- DO expect free tap water but you have to ask for it.
- DO expect service charges to be included in your bill; round up to the next Euro or two if you’re especially pleased. I ran into one restaurant where service was marked as “Not Included” on the bill and tipped about 10% – I have no idea if that was right or not.
- DO arrange for an international package from your cell carrier (if it’s not already included, as it is with T-Mobile or Google Fi). DON’T use your phone if you don’t have a package – the prices are ridiculous.
- DO consider getting a local SIM if you want to use a LOT of data.
- DO look for “Free Wi-Fi” hotspots; many small restaurants offer free Wi-Fi. One near our hotel gave us the password when we stopped to look at their menu and told us the service was available 24/7. We wound up having breakfast there four times!
- DO look for free Wi-Fi from free-hotspot.com if you’re near a fast-food chain like McDonalds, Burger King, or Subway.
- DON’T expect to need to know much (if any) Dutch. All tourist-oriented businesses are completely English-friendly, and almost everyone in the Netherlands seems to speak and understand English.
- DO try to sound-out written Dutch if you need to figure out a sign; it looks unlike English, but I found it fairly easy.
- DO say “Dank U Well” (“thank you”).