Don’t get stuck in one neighbourhoodWith all the museums, attractions and staggeringly gorgeous architecture, most first time visitors to the city are so taken by the city centre that they don’t leave the canal ring. When you’ve had enough of all those incessantly ringing church bells, do as the locals do and hop around the many different corners of Amsterdam. These neighbourhood guides are packed full of recommendations for cultural hotspots, walking tours, family-friendly things to do, hidden coffee spots or even just where to find the best sandwich.
Amsterdammers love a good party, and you’ll find plenty of live music venues and clubs to dance your troubles away in. Some of the best underground music happens in the city’s lesser-known venues or as part of major festivals like Amsterdam Dance Event. When it comes to other cultural events, you’ll find so much to explore beyond the mainstream. The city boasts a wealth of independent boutique cinemas and unusual museums, whilst the Weekend Guide will keep you in the know of the best off-grid happenings.
Chase the sunshineGood weather isn’t an everyday occurrence in Amsterdam so locals will flock to the city’s terraces, parks, nature areas and outdoor swimming spots when there’s only the slightest bit of sunshine. These rare warm days make for a great atmosphere with the aromas of barbecues filling the air and people using every piece of a free patch of grass to picnic.
Only eat fried snacks for dinner
The vrijmibo (Friday afternoon drinking session) is a well-loved pastime in Amsterdam and involves heading to a bruin cafe (brown bar) with friends or colleagues to indulge in beers and snacks - the more deep-fried, the better. Delicacies like bitterballen (crispy meatballs served with mustard) or borrelnootjes (deep-fried nuts - yes, you read that correctly) are designed to hold off hunger just enough to keep the conversation going until closing time. If you’re still peckish, you can always stop by a FEBO vending machine for a nutritious frikandel (fried sausage) to eat on the walk home - lekker!
This list of Dutch foods to try in Amsterdam offers some further explanation of the fried food phenomenon.
Try not to get distracted by dogs on bicycles
If you’re feeling confident enough to brave the cycle paths, a bike rental is a superb way to get across the city. You’ll witness some exceptionally cute things: dogs feeling the wind in their fur or five toddlers piled into a bakfiets. Try not to get distracted, as these are extremely normal occurrences. Other eyebrow-raising sights include Amsterdammers peddling with no hands, singing as they cycle or balancing absurdly bulky objects - a standing lamp, a surfboard, a flatscreen TV - on their handlebars. We don’t recommend attempting any of the above (except maybe the singing thing, because the world needs more of that).
Give the language a goWith those tough g’s and haunting vowel sounds, Dutch has a bad rep for being one of the harder languages to get your tongue around. In reality, there are many aspects of learning Dutch that make it surprisingly easy for English-speakers. Many words are very recognisable: koffie, bier, museum, appeltaart, hotel - to name a few. Not to mention that Dutch speakers tend to use leuk (nice), lekker (tasty) and gezellig (cosy) to describe almost every situation. Honestly, if you can manage those three adjectives, combined with super (really) or niet (not), then you’re halfway fluent.
Strive to achieve gezelligheid
So there’s this word, gezellig, which is a fundamental part of Dutch national identity - perhaps even more so than stroopwafels. Loosely translated it means ‘a warm atmosphere’, ‘cosy’, ‘pleasant’ or ‘togetherness’ and can be used to describe either a setting or a person. Amsterdammers take a lot of pride in gezelligheid and to truly experience the city like a local, you’ll need to plan your activities with this concept in mind. Keep everything relaxed and sociable and surround yourself with people that make you feel good. You might while away the afternoon people watching from an authentic brown bar or take the time to catch up with an old friend over brunch. Ask yourself at all times: how can I make this situation more pleasant and comfortable? That picnic in the park can always be improved by extra cushions or additional snacks, for instance.
Take holidays seriously as the Dutch do
If you’re lucky enough to visit Amsterdam on a national holiday, getting into the festive mood will be a requirement. On April 27, every street, park, balcony and canal will be awash with orange-clad revellers for King’s Day and participation will be near impossible to avoid. On New Year’s Eve, many locals will call upon their nearest friend with a terrace to watch the fireworks whilst gorging on oliebollen and champagne. And it’s always worth remembering that Sinterklaas on December 5 is not simply ‘Dutch Christmas’. Sint’s annual arrival in the city is a hotly anticipated event with a unique set of customs surrounding it, not to mention excessive gift-giving that is taken very seriously. Read up on all these major events and celebrations before your trip and get swept up into the party spirit.
Congratulate everyone at a birthday party
Birthdays are equally important in the Netherlands. Many Dutch homes feature a calendar of upcoming birthdays in the toilet to ensure that none slide past uncelebrated (don’t even try it, you won’t get away with it). For the uninitiated, birthday parties themselves can be slightly odd affairs. Rather than saying ‘happy birthday’, the traditional greeting is gefeliciteerd (congratulations) which you must say to everybody in attendance - not just to the birthday boy or girl. The birthday cake tradition still stands, but you will have to buy your own if it’s your special day. This guide to the best cake shops in Amsterdam has got you covered.
Arrive at a bar, on a boat
You’ve probably already noticed that Amsterdam has quite a few canals. But did you know that in many places, you can rock up to a waterfront bar, on a boat. Whilst many locals have their own or share one between friends, there are plenty of locations across the city where you can rent a boat yourself. At some bars you might not even have to disembark to order your food and drinks - how convenient is that?