5 Essential Tips for Visiting Amsterdam

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Do you need to know English? What's the best tram for sightseeing? We've got Amsterdam in a nutshell.

If your future travel plans include visiting Amsterdam, you’re not alone. The Dutch city ranked 8th most visited European city in 2016, according to Euromonitor International. It’s a classic northern European city: long, low boats cruise along picturesque canals; high-gabled buildings decorated with every cornice and frill imaginable; bicycles on sidewalks and flowerpots overflowing on wrought-iron bridges. And its gorgeous canal houses have a signature lean which has puzzled tourists for centuries (hint-we know why they tilt).

Gliding towards sunset in Amsterdam. Photo: Shutterstock

Gliding towards sunset in Amsterdam. Photo: Shutterstock

You might decide visiting Amsterdam is your next vacation based solely on one of these picture-postcard scenes, and that’s totally okay. Amsterdam isn’t just a pretty face–amongst all this beauty you’ll find plenty of culture and history to explore. Here are five tips for visiting Amsterdam.

Drink Local When Visiting Amsterdam

Amsterdam canal, Photo: Pixabay/foerstemann

A residential street-er, canal-in Amsterdam. Photo: Pixabay/foerstemann

If you sample one spirit in Amsterdam’s cozy bars, make it a genever. Drunk straight in a tiny glass, it’s 35-40 percent by law. Centuries ago the Dutch used to export it to England until the two countries went to war. The English tried to make their own version with inferior ingredients and ended up with a poor substitute called gin. With a malt wine base instead of gin’s neutral liquor base, genever is more similar to whiskey than gin, and blends well in cocktails or goes nicely straight. Either way, a glass of genever can reinforce that old-town Amsterdam feeling of traveling back in time. Not into botanicals? The craft beer scene is strong, with dozens of taprooms and brewpubs peppering the center city.

Clogs: More a Country Thing, Really

Gone clogging. Photo: Pixabay/nhong

Gone clogging. Photo: Pixabay/nhong

When is a clog not a clog? Simple – when it fails to withstand temperatures as extreme as 300˚F and –5˚F, or the impact of a 20kg blunt axe falling from a height of 50cm. So says the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research which has imposed strict safety regulations upon manufacture. Three million pairs are sold annually, we’ll have you know. But you probably won’t see many urban Amsterdam residents clogging around the city. They’re still a thing in the country, where mud struggles are real. You can see wooden clogs made by hand in Zaanse Schans, an old-fashioned Dutch village about twenty minutes from Amsterdam.

Take the Tram

An Amsterdam tram ride doubles as convenient transit and a sightseeing ride. Photo: Pixabay/gerarddm

An Amsterdam tram ride doubles as convenient transit and a sightseeing ride. Photo: Pixabay/gerarddm

Do get on a tram at the back and a bus at the front. Don’t get on a bus at the back and a tram at the front. Or is it the other way round? (It’s not.) Either way, Amsterdam’s public transit options, including buses, trams, and ferries, are a fantastic way to get around the city center. Grab a smart card called the OV-chipkaart and load it with a one- to seven-day ticket for unlimited rides. You’ll use the card to check in and check out of the tram, bus or metro station. Once you’re ready to board, try the #2 tram line for a ride past the Royal Palace, the Van Gogh Museum, the flower market and more gorgeous Amsterdam attractions.

Amsterdam: Multilingual, even if you’re not

Amsterdam: bicycle and English-friendly. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

Amsterdam: bicycle and English-friendly. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

Dutch is a distinctively guttural-sounding language. Close your eyes in a crowded Amsterdam café and for a moment you’ll think you’re on the bridge of a slightly camp Klingon Bird of Prey. Of course it never hurts to have a crack at the local lingo. Try this one for starters: “Mijn fietsband zit vast in de tramrails.” Roughly: “It appears that my bicycle wheel is stuck in the tramline.” Failing that particular emergency, you can always just speak English. Most people in Amsterdam do.

Take 5 in a Jazz Club

City streets: visiting Amsterdam's clubs, galleries and shops. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

City streets: visiting Amsterdam’s clubs, galleries and shops. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

Jazz is hot in Amsterdam. You’ll find everything from cafes with jazz sessions (Cafe de Engelwaarder) to old school venues like Cotton Club. Show up at Bourbon Street for a Monday late night jam session and start your week off right… you’re on vacation! Jazz club tips? Do say: “I dig the way that saxophonist fuses free-form idioms with third-stream atonality.” Don’t say: “What a bloody hoo-ha ­– if Van Gogh was still alive he’d cut his other ear off.”

Got all that? Now, how do you start planning?

Amsterdam City Vacations

If you’re looking for a long weekend or a week getaway in Amsterdam, Virgin Vacations’ custom-designed Vacation Builder is for you. Or, combine Amsterdam with Paris (and maybe London, too) with our Independent Vacation packages.

Amsterdam Escorted Tours

The Dutch city stars alongside equally alluring Bruges, Paris and London in your choice of multi-city escorted tours from seven to 16 days.

Happy loving couple in Paris, kissing by the Eiffel TowerThe sightseeing is done in modern air-conditioned motor coaches, and you’ll have the services of an English-speaking tour manager throughout your trip, along with local guides in Paris and London. Among the stand-out special features: a morning canal cruise in Amsterdam followed by an afternoon tour of traditional Holland*; guided city tours of Bruges, Paris and London; and a trip upon the 31-mile long Eurostar Chunnel.

There are optional extras, too, such as magical night-time tours of Amsterdam and Paris with dinner, and in the UK full days at either Stonehenge and Bath or Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon. Book before you go to see more and save money. Either way you’re in for an out-of-this-world vacation at down-to-earth prices.

* Random fact #6: strictly speaking ‘Holland’ is just a small region of the actual country comprising the western provinces of North and South Holland. ‘Netherlands’ is more correct – it means literally ‘all the lands’ from Groningen to Zeeland. Finicky, us?

Explore Virgin Vacations Independent and Escorted Tours of Amsterdam