Expect The Unexpected in Amsterdam

Basically any major city in Europe is going to be well known for at least ONE thing. It makes sense – EVERY place does some things better than others do. Regardless of what your next destination is, it’s always good to have a sense of the culture around a location before you travel. Here are 6 things you might not expect about the things Amsterdam is known for…

The Well-Known: Cycle Culture
The Unexpected: The extent of cycle culture


The Netherlands (and particularly Amsterdam) are fairly well known for the sheer amount of people who cycle as their main form of transportation. There are bike lanes everywhere (although, the streets prioritise bikes first and technically cyclists always have right of way) and the traffic lights even have a symbol for the bike lanes. But, no matter how much you prepare yourself for the abundance of cycles and cyclists… it’s NOTHING until you get there in person.


Can you find even a single photo in this blog post without a bicycle? No? That’s because it’s impossible to go anywhere and NOT see a bike. There were piles of bikes, just thrown along the canals. There were bikes locked to every available post. The bicycle parking at Central Station (the main transit hub) holds 7,000 bikes – and that’s STILL not enough. Almost 10,000 people travel to this station every day via bike. It is said that the canals are 1 metre of water / 1 metre of dirt / 1 metre of bicycles. It’s probably true.


The WK: Canals
The U: How many roads are canals


When you look at a map of Amsterdam, it’s obvious that it is a city of canals. So maybe, this topic will also seem obvious to you (in which case, good on you for doing your research!) The thing that absolutely blew my mind was how everything is in relation to the canals. You don’t know street names; you don’t even usually know canal names. If you’re getting directions someplace, it sounds something like this…

“Go outside, turn right at the next canal, take it 2 canals down, go left at that canal and backtrack about halfway on the canal you were just on.”

It’s confusing for about two days, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. If not – well, there’s WiFi basically everywhere, and you can get a little help from your friend, Google Maps.


The WK: Coffee Shop Culture
The U: It’s really not that omnipresent.


Stop me if this conversation sounds familiar to you:

“Hey! I’m travelling to Amsterdam!”
“OMG cool. Are you going to go to the coffee shops??? You should do it. You have to!”

The fact is, the presence of marijuana in Amsterdam is about the same as many other western cities, especially those with a younger population. It’s a common misconception that it’s legal to smoke/buy/possess it all over The Netherlands; it’s actually only legal in Amsterdam, and I wouldn’t even say “legal” is the right word (if you want to read some legalese about the status of marijuana in Amsterdam, check out this link). In any case, if you want to try it, you won’t have a hard time finding a place to do so; if you don’t, you won’t have a hard time avoiding it.


The WK: It’s all about the stroopwafels & frites (or patats)
The U: It’s all about the CHEESE.


Dairy in North America does not compare to dairy in the Netherlands, to be honest. It’s fresher, fattier, and oh so much tastier. Edam and gouda are the most well known, but if you’re lucky enough to find graskaas, TRY IT (only available in the early summer). Even the Dutch versions of French standards like camembert taste that much better than the North American versions. But stay away from Dutch versions of North American food – they don’t quite seem to understand how a fried egg on toast works. Also, if you’re heading to a bar, make sure you pick up a plate of bitterballen. They’re delicious, deep fried, and go perfectly with beer. The taste is very similar to a deep-fried shepherd’s pie ball, if you can imagine that.

The WK: Beautiful scenery
The U: Beautiful PEOPLE.


In case you haven’t gathered from this blog post, I have a particular fondness for Europe. I might be a born & bred Torontonian, but there’s something magical about old buildings, cobblestone roads, and a distinct lack of cars in the year 2016. Amsterdam is a beautiful city in any season, even if certain times of the year lead to fickle weather. The thing I didn’t expect? How gorgeous the people would be! There must be something in the water.


The WK: Red Light District
The U:
I’m going to be blunt about this one… Yes, if you travel through the Red Light District at night, you will see sex workers in the windows of their establishments. You are going to see a higher concentration of sex shops and coffeeshops. And, if you’re not expecting this, it will take you off guard. But if you know only a little bit about the area, I actually think you may find it to be tamer than expected. The area is a popular tourist destination; while racy, the area still has to maintain a palatability. I wouldn’t recommend going through the area on your own, but this is more due to the presence of pickpockets than anything else (just like the downtown areas of any major city at night, really). Your mileage may vary and you should never force yourself to visit an area you’re uncomfortable with when you’re travelling. One thing is (and will likely always be) true, when visiting Amsterdam’s Red Light District: PUT YOUR CAMERA AWAY. There is absolutely NO photography in the area, and you can get in some serious trouble if you take photos. Even if you aren’t taking any, I’d strongly recommend putting your camera away and not wearing it around your neck.

Now that you’re prepared to expect the unexpected – it’s time to get yourself to Amsterdam. Chat with a travelcuts expert and start planning your next vacation.

Written by Deanna Gregorio, Brand Specialist at travelcuts.

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