A city as famous for its flowers and museums as it is for its liberal attitudes to sex and drugs, Amsterdam is one of the top urban travel destinations in Europe:
Amsterdam is full of old-world charm, with houseboats, canals, cobbled streets and distinctive Dutch architecture that belong to another age. The city is said to have more museums per capita than any other in the world, providing a treasury of historical information and world-class art for culture vultures. Museums dedicated to icons like Rembrandt, Anne Frank and Van Gogh are perennially popular and the famous Rijksmuseum is reason enough for some people to visit the city. Visitors will find quirky options like the Amsterdam Sex Museum as well, hinting at the modern, liberal character of this exciting place.
Travellers head to Amsterdam for a lively nightlife, awesome art galleries, great shopping, the enticing Red Light District, the picturesque canals, coffeeshops that sell more than coffee, and to liberally sample the indigenous Heineken beer. The city's restaurant scene will delight foodies, and its calendar is bursting with exciting and creative events and festivals.
Best time to visit Amsterdam
Summer (June to August) is the most popular tourist season in Amsterdam, though spring (March to May) is arguably the best time to vacation in the city. The weather may be unsettled but this is when Holland's great flower shows are in full bloom, providing a bonus for tourists. The King's Birthday in April is also a major event, when street parties abound in Amsterdam.
GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin round European-style plugs are used.
Dutch is the official language. English is widely spoken. Frisian (as well as Dutch) is spoken by the people of Friesland Province.
There are no health risks associated with travel to the Netherlands and no vaccinations are required for entry into the country. The water is safe to drink. The standard of health care is very high, but the necessary health insurance provisions must be made before travelling. A reciprocal agreement exists with other EU countries, which entitles nationals to low-cost emergency medical treatment. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is necessary for this purpose. Although medication is widely available in the Netherlands, it is always best to take along any prescribed medication, in its original packaging, and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Service charges are included in hotel rates, restaurant bills and taxi fares, usually at about 15 percent. Tipping for good service is always appreciated but not necessary. It is customary to tip taxi drivers and waiters about 10 percent.
Travel in the Netherlands is fairly safe and the vast majority of trips are trouble-free. Travellers should, however, always exercise caution in empty streets at night and be aware of pickpockets, particularly in central Amsterdam and at Central Station. There have been several incidents on trains from Schiphol Airport where heavily laden passengers have been targeted by thieves. As in all Western countries, there is a risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks.
Travellers should also watch out for a scam whereby tourists will be approached by 'plain clothes policemen' who claim to be investigating credit card fraud and counterfeit currency. Tourists are shown fake identification in the form of badges, and asked to hand over credit cards and money. If approached, travellers are advised to ask for proper identification or to accompany them to the nearest police station.
In the Netherlands, the use of cannabis is tolerated in designated 'coffeeshops' in major cities. This policy exists to prevent the marginalisation of soft drug users, thereby exposing them to more harmful drugs. However, the trafficking in hard or soft drugs outside licensed premises is illegal and the possession of soft drugs in public places will incur a prison sentence. Travellers should note that the rules are somewhat different for foreigners, with the Netherlands tightening up drug laws in recent years: Amsterdam is the only city still fighting for the right of tourists to smoke cannabis in 'coffeeshops' and this has become a bit of a grey area with laws not always enforced on the ground. Everybody from the age of 14 is required to show a valid identity document to law enforcement officers on request. Tobacco smoking in cafés, bars and restaurants is prohibited.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, and one of the most historic cities in Europe. Flat and blessed with a clear, crisp atmosphere, most of its attractions lie within easy walking distance. The city is perfectly navigable by foot or bicycle.
Visitors will find that a culture of art appreciation pervades Amsterdam. Indeed, two of the city's museums are dedicated to world-famous Dutch painters, namely the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt House. The Rijksmuseum holds a collection of 17th-century Dutch artists, including Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer. These museums, along with the Diamond Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, are located around Museum Square (Museumplein) - which is also home to the US Consulate and the famous Concertgebouw symphonic hall.
In keeping with the city's rich history, the very home in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during the 1942 occupation is open to visitors. Her famous diary is preserved and on display. Other popular sites include the Hermitage Amsterdam, The Jewish Historical Museum, The Resistance Museum, and the Museum of the Tropics.
Amsterdam's reputation as a liberal party city attracts many tourists as well. Visitors tend to explore the Red Light District (De Wallen), where legalised prostitution and the sale of marijuana draw revellers from across the globe. The Amsterdam Sex Museum is not for the squeamish or easily offended.
Travellers can make the most of their time in Amsterdam by purchasing an I Amsterdam card, which will give them free access to public transport, as well as discounts on museums, attractions and restaurants. The card is available at several tourist offices in the city, at some museums and online.
Amsterdam is home to a huge variety of restaurants, with options ranging from French cuisine to Indonesian take-away. Naturally, visitors will find plenty of authentic Dutch dishes, which characteristically use smaller meats such as sausage, and a lot of vegetables. The city also has a very strong tradition of cafeteria dining, including 'brown cafes', so named because of their dark, nicotine-stained walls and wooden fittings. Travellers can sample local beers and staples such as steak and salads in these cosy places. The city's pricey fine-dining establishments contrast sharply with these budget-friendly options.
Visitors should certainly try some local snacks while they're in town, such as savoury pancakes (or pannekoek), pickled herring, frikadel (a snack sausage served with mayonnaise, ketchup and onions), and small windmill-shaped cookies called speculaas.
While breakfast will traditionally be served up until 10am, lunch between 12pm and 2pm, and dinner from around 5pm, the Dutch are flexible in both tastes and preferred eating hours. Indeed, several cafes and restaurants operate into the wee hours of the morning, especially on the city's vibrant Leidseplein and Rembrandtsplein squares, which are dedicated to late night entertainment.
Service is notoriously poor in Amsterdam, as a gratuity is usually included in the bill and waiting staff do not rely on tips. It's polite to round the bill up to the nearest Euro if the service is good, and to leave tips in cash rather than including them on a credit-card payment.
Famed for its wild nightlife, Amsterdam offers visitors something quite unique when the sun goes down. Pubs, clubs, soft drugs and the sex trade feature among the options.
The Red Light District is a major drawcard, with many tourists choosing to simply wander through and see women posing in shop windows, and hear insistent touts push sex shows. Safety is not an issue, though visitors should be wary of pickpockets and other petty criminals. Travellers should also understand that De Wallen (as locals call the Red Light District) is a nightlife hub aside from the sex trade.
Amsterdam is famously tolerant of marijuana use. Visitors can purchase a variety of strains in some coffeeshops, and smoke at these establishments. Tourists should note that while marijuana use is tolerated, it's not strictly speaking legal. Some caution is necessary.
The city's mainstream nightlife centres around Leidseplein, where visitors will find the most popular bars, clubs and restaurants. Amsterdam also has a fondness for live music, particularly jazz, as many of the world's jazz legends have settled here. Music lovers can enjoy performances at fun jazz clubs, or catch world-class rock and pop acts at many venues. Bigger concerts take place at the Koninklijk Theater Carré, Heineken Music Hall, and the huge Amsterdam Arena.
For a more cultured night out, visitors can purchase tickets to a number of highly-regarded orchestras. Or, they can watch the National Ballet and Netherlands Opera. Many theatres produce shows in both Dutch and English, including De Balie, Felix Meritis, Theater Frascati, and the Vondelpark Open-Air Theater.
The oceanic climate of Amsterdam is temperate, generally mild and damp. Winters (December to February) are fairly mild, though frost can occur, while summers (June to August) are warm but seldom hot. Temperatures average between 68°F (20°C) and 71°F (22°C) in summer, and around 32°F (0°C) in winter. Cloudy, rainy days can be expected at any time of year, and light rainfall is common.
On the whole, the weather in Amsterdam is very changeable, and even mid-summer visitors should be prepared for sudden drops in temperature. Spring and autumn are particularly unpredictable.
Spring (March to May) is the best time to visit, when the beautiful gardens are in bloom. Summer is the peak tourist season. Amsterdam is considered a year-round destination, though, with some travellers preferring to visit in autumn or winter, when the city is at its cheapest and least crowded.
Don’t carry or use drugs. The Netherlands has a reputation for being tolerant on the use of so-called ‘soft drugs’. In reality drugs are prohibited and this tolerance exists only for designated premises in the major cities. Possession of prohibited substances or buying them outside these designated areas can carry a prison sentence. Buying or smoking soft drugs in public places is an offence. There are specifically designated cafés where the use of cannabis is tolerated. Although popular, the sale of both dry and fresh psychoactive mushrooms is forbidden by law. Be extremely careful as combinations of alcohol, cannabis and wild mushrooms are a fatal cocktail and have resulted in several deaths.
Details of vaccination recommendations and requirements are provided below.
Travellers should be up to date with routine vaccination courses and boosters as recommended in the UK. These vaccinations include for example measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and diphtheria-tetanus-polio vaccine.
Country specific diphtheria recommendations are not provided here. Diphtheria tetanus and polio are combined in a single vaccine in the UK. Therefore, when a tetanus booster is recommended for travellers, diphtheria vaccine is also given. Should there be an outbreak of diphtheria in a country, diphtheria vaccination guidance will be provided.
Those who may be at increased risk of an infectious disease due to their work, lifestyle choice, or certain underlying health problems should be up to date with additional recommended vaccines. See the individual chapters of the ‘Green Book’ Immunisation against infectious disease for further details.
There are no certificate requirements under International Health Regulations.
The vaccines in this section are recommended for most travellers visiting this country. Information on these vaccines can be found by clicking on the blue arrow. Vaccines are listed alphabetically.
The vaccines in this section are recommended for some travellers visiting this country. Information on when these vaccines should be considered can be found by clicking on the arrow. Vaccines are listed alphabetically.