Is this your first time to Amsterdam?
If you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time, you’re in the right place. In this article, I review 35 common mistakes first-time visitors make during their first time in the city.
I’m a Dutch local and tour guide, and I see tourists make the same mistakes repeatedly on their trip to Amsterdam.
Every year, 20 million tourists visit Amsterdam and the rest of this tiny country. Amsterdam, for first-time visitors, can be overwhelming.
It’s way more busy than people anticipate. After all, the photos show this village-like feel, with the beautiful tranquil canals of Amsterdam, right? And it’s there, but many people don’t know where to find it.
I want you to have a fantastic experience in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands and avoid these pitfalls.
Therefore, I created this list of essential travel tips. The things to know before your first trip and mistakes to avoid for your days in Amsterdam.
PS: Did you know I created a guide to the best Amsterdam Itinerary full of Amsterdam travel tips? Making it easy to plan your Amsterdam trip. Get the best tips for visiting Amsterdam.
Here are the things to know before visiting Amsterdam:
Table of Contents
1. Not Reserving Tickets Ahead Of Their Visit
Famous museums and sights like the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum book up fast.
In peak season (spring and summer), this is especially the case. But as a top destination in the world, it is busy year-round. This is a fact that people don’t realize yet when it’s their first trip to Amsterdam.
I just heard from an American visitor she was unable to get tickets for any of the prominent museums, and that was in October (supposedly off-season.)
Visiting the Anne Frank House, I would say, is on most people’s list of things to do in Amsterdam. A visit to the Anne Frank House is visiting a residential home. It’s small. Tickets for this museum will be the hardest to get.
PS: Don’t expect too much from Skip-the-line tickets. It sounds catchy, but today, everybody has a skip-the-line ticket. There will still be lines at busy peaks.
Planning to visit the big attractions is essential. Here are links for tickets to the most famous museums and attractions:
- Rijksmuseum (also in “I amsterdam Card” and “Go City Pass”)
- Van Gogh Museum (NOT in any city card)
- Anne Frank House (NOT in any city card)
- Moco Museum (also in the Go City)
- Canal Tour Classic (also in “I amsterdam Card” and Go City)
- Wine And Cheese Canal Tour (NOT in any city card)
- Heineken Experience (also in Go City)
- Zaanse Schans Half Day Tour (also in Go City)
More about the I amsterdam City Card and the Go City Amsterdam Pass can be found at #6 in this article.
Eight Popular Attractions in Amsterdam
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2. Not Going Outside of Amsterdam For A Day Trip
Most first-time visitors to Amsterdam stay within the city. And they miss out. A lot of these exciting places are right around Amsterdam.
Here are some of the best day trips from Amsterdam:
- Alkmaar is known for its cheese market, the cheese museum, and its cozy city center.
- Amersfoort is a city where time has stood still. It’s a medieval postcard book where you can’t stop taking pictures.
- Haarlem is home to the oldest museum in the country and a fantastic church.
- Rotterdam is the modern city of the country. Filled with striking modern architecture that is very Un-Dutch.
- The Hague is the home parliament, embassies, and the royal working palace. It’s stately and a city on the beach.
- Utrecht is known for its typical canal warehouses below street level and the highest tower in the country, the Domtoren.
- Volendam is a former fishing village not far from Amsterdam. Come here for a traditional photo shoot, try some Kibbeling, and go on a boat ride.
- Zaanse Schans is the best-known open-air museum near Amsterdam to spot Dutch windmills. Go on a tour, or travel by yourself to Zaanse Schans.
These places are all near Amsterdam, being less than an hour from Amsterdam by train.
3. Never Leaving the Red Light District
Did you know many tourists only stay in the Red Light District? Even while many don’t even come for the services ;-).
There seems to be an idea out there that this is Amsterdam. Maybe because this is the area where the city started, it’s the oldest part. But many of these people are disappointed after their visit.
One, the red light district can be seedy and rowdy, especially at night and on weekends. And the truth is that many of the most beautiful Amsterdam locations are in different parts of town.
Locals tip: If you want some sleep, don’t book a hotel in this area. I understand you want to stay in the heart of Amsterdam. But many staying in the Red Light District come to Amsterdam to party.
4. Photographing Sex Workers In The Red Light District
Do not take pictures of the sex workers in windows, as it is strictly forbidden and highly disrespectful. Keep phones and cameras away in this area.
It’s not just disrespectful. It’s also illegal.
If you’re on a tour (like this one), your tour guide can have their license removed if you take an improper photo.
You can also be fined if the police catch you. That would be the luckier outcome. A pimp can also catch and might violently take your phone or camera.
It’s seriously not something you want to do.
TIP: Visit the red-light district area early in the day when it’s still relatively quiet. At night, it can be crowded and rowdy.
5. Visiting Too Early (Or Late) In Spring For Tulip Season
Many first-timers aiming to see the tulips often book for March or May (hoping for better weather), but that’s too early and too late and the number one mistake people make.
The tulip season is short, spanning three weeks, from mid-April to early May.
While Keukenhof Flower Gardens opens in March, that is because they have indoor displays and various other flowers and tricks to make it work, but their outside tulips also peak during the same three-week period.
TIP: Starting in 2024, Keukenhof will require pre-booked time slots; I suggest a combo ticket for ease.
Tulip blooms can be unpredictable. Visiting Amsterdam in April is your safest bet (Mid-April to late April, to be exact). It’s best to book your tickets for the 2nd half of April.
For a unique local experience away from the crowds, I offer nine private tours annually through the vast production fields of Flevoland. These tours are exclusive and fill up fast. For details, please visit my Private Tour Page.
6. Not Taking Advantage of an Amsterdam Pass To Save Time And Money
Amsterdam is expensive, with popular attractions costing €20-€25. A visit to Amsterdam can become quite expensive. But, there’s good news: Amsterdam offers two excellent city passes that provide big savings:
Each pass has its benefits. The I Amsterdam Card is perfect for museum lovers, offering access to nearly all museums, a free canal cruise, the This is Holland ride, and a city transport pass for example.
On the other hand, the Go City Pass includes fewer museums but includes high-value top Amsterdam attractions like the Heineken Experience (three free beers), House of Bols Experience (complimentary cocktail), ADAM Lookout, and Madame Tussauds. Plus, it comes with complimentary tours, such as to Zaanse Schans and Keukenhof Gardens during spring.
I’ve tried the Zaanse Schans tour, and it’s genuinely a lot of fun!
So, which to choose? If museums are your thing, the I Amsterdam Card is your best choice. Prefer a mix of high-value attractions? Then go for the Go City Pass.
For the best of both worlds, consider a 2-day Amsterdam pass from each if you plan to visit many attractions.
To purchase the I Amsterdam City card or the Go City pass, or read my detailed reviews on both (yes, I’ve used them!), check out the links below:
PS: be aware that neither the Van Gogh Museum nor Anne Frank is included in either of these two passes.
The Two Best City Passes in Amsterdam
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7. Not Looking For Bundle Deals
If an entire city pass is too much, you can save money by looking for bundle tickets.
The largest ticket operators all have them, and they save time and money. Even if not money, it saves time compared to getting them individually.
Here is my list of ticket providers:
You might also enjoy my article: Save money in Amsterdam.
8. Visiting Two Large Museums on The Same Day
Sure, the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum are next to each other, so why not combine them?
For a few reasons:
- The Rijksmuseum is massive, and the Van Gogh isn’t tiny either.
- The climate is set to protect the paintings, but it makes us humans extra tired.
- You’ll walk more than you think.
- You’ll deal with a large number of people inside.
All these reasons make you tired alone, but now all four are happening simultaneously in each museum.
If you want to enjoy the museum well and not feel rushed, visiting once daily should be the maximum. Plan your time wisely, and take your time while at the museum.
9. Visiting the Large Museums in the Afternoon
The best time to visit the large museums in Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh, and Anne Frank are just as they open. For Anne Frank, the evenings are also relatively quiet.
Any time after noon and the crowds swell, mainly due to groups, but also people that enjoy sleeping in. If possible, get your ticket for the earliest slot you can.
The Four Most Popular Museums in Amsterdam
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10. Not Knowing Attractions Do NOT Hold Large Luggage
Most attractions and museums will NOT accept large luggage. They will send you away, and your ticket will expire without a refund. No exceptions. They’ve heard every excuse before. Just don’t take it with you.
Good solutions are:
- If your hotel is conveniently located, ask them to store it for you for the day.
- Use the luggage lockers at Amsterdam Central Station.
- If you fly KLM/Delta/Air France (who offer all-day check-in), you can also check in at the airport and return to the city.
11. Thinking Uber or Taxi is Ideal for Getting Around Amsterdam
There is no quicker way to be sorry (apart from taking too much luggage with you) than taking an Uber (or Taxi) within Amsterdam.
I can understand why for airport transfers to avoid the queues or a packed train after your flight. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend booking an Airport Transfer beforehand.
It costs similarly to a Taxi but with the added benefit that it’s prepaid and a driver meets you with a sign.
Book Your Airport Transfer Ahead of Time
Why get in line at the taxi queue at the airport, when you can also book a private driver?
Your driver will be waiting for you in the terminal building with a sign, at the price of a regular taxi.
Get Transfer offers the best-priced personal driver transfers from airports worldwide, including Amsterdam.
TIP: Download the App.
Inside the city, though? Skip it. The narrow, one-way streets aren’t car-friendly. A single truck in your path can mean endless waiting and no alternative routes. Walking or public transit is the way to go in Amsterdam. Bikes are dangerous.
12. Considering To Rent A Car in Amsterdam
For the same reason, you don’t want to rent a car in Amsterdam.
And besides that, parking is expensive in Amsterdam.
If you need a vehicle for your day trip or the continuation of your trip, rent it on the day you leave Amsterdam.
Find the lowest price for Car rental in the Netherlands
For the best car rental rates, I suggest checking both Rental Cars and Discover Cars. I often go with Rental Cars, but it’s worth comparing both.
13. Not Using Public Transport To See Amsterdam
So, if using an Uber or taxi is not a great idea in Amsterdam, what is? Walking might sound like a good idea. Amsterdam is compact. Well… Kind of…
Your feet get sore quickly.
A great way to skip the longer sections is to hop on a tram or metro and cross the city fast.
TIP: I like Metro Line 52 to move around the city strategically. It has just a few stops, but these stops are near large tourist areas.
Like Vijzelgracht for Heineken, Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum. Or Rokin for Dam Square, Rembrandtsplein, the Flower Market. De Pijp station is the stop for visiting this trendy district of amsterdam. And RAI for the convention center.
To find routes and departure times, you don’t need an extra app on your phone. Most likely, you’ll have Google Maps or Apple Maps or both already, and they have excellent public transportation functionality built right in.
The Lowest Priced And Most Flexible eSIM cards (incl. tethering)
Just make sure to have affordable data plans for your phone to use them.
14. Buying One-Way Tickets
I always gasp when tourists buy single tram tickets for nearly €4 after boarding.
They don’t realize there’s a cheaper way—use a contactless debit or credit card to tap in and out at the entrance, as the locals do, and save up to 70% depending on your trip length.
Many visitors don’t know this because the tram personnel isn’t going to tell them. It’s extra revenue.
To save even more than tapping in and out, buy a day pass for Amsterdam public transport for less than €10.
Or the Amsterdam & Region Travel Card. Including travel to the airport and attractions like Zaanse Schans and Volendam.
PS: public transportation within the city is included with the I Amsterdam Card.
The Three Best Public Transportation Passes
Transportation within Amsterdam by bus, tram, and metro. (Not valid to the airport and on regional transport. From €9.
All public transport in Amsterdam plus region is included, like traveling to Zaanse Schans, Volendam, and the Airport. From €21.
Your pass to free entry at over 70 museums, and attractions, and unlimited public transport within the city. on GVB. From €60
Find more tickets with your favorite provider:
15. Not Carrying Cash And Coins
It might surprise you, but many Dutch places, including the largest supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, don’t take credit cards.
It’s good to know that cash (and coins) are essential for small buys, using pay toilets, and grabbing quick bites from street vendors.
My tip: consider getting a Wise Debit Card. It offers excellent exchange rates, and you can use it as a debit card while you’re here and pay in euros. Plus, it comes with free ATM withdrawals (a few a month)—handy for those cash-only moments!
The Lowest Priced Debit Card For Travelers
16. Not Knowing the Difference Between “Coffee Shops” And Cafés
This is something not many people know, but marijuana is illegal in Amsterdam.
Does that surprise you?
It’s true. It is tolerated. But it’s not legalized.
This means shops can’t advertise they’re selling these drugs. To get around that, they cleverly started calling them “Coffee Shops” collectively.
Coffee shops in Amsterdam sell marijuana, while regular cafés sell actual coffee. Don’t accidentally walk into a marijuana shop if you want a hot drink.
Thankfully, the smell will also give these shops away.
Amsterdam is full of beautiful cafes. Just remember, Cafes in Amsterdam are not Coffee Shops! They are for weed 🙂. Simple right?
17. Thinking Dutch Food is Bland or Tasteless
We have a reputation for bland food. I know. And to some extent, there is truth in it. We are pretty Calvinistic, like eating just a sandwich with a slice of cheese, and a typical meal is veggies, potatoes, and meat, with little spices.
We also have unique foods like Bitterballen, Stroopwafels, Kibbeling, Beautiful Cheeses, Vla, and Poffertjes…
And yes, the infamous Dutch salted licorice and Raw Herring, too.
The Netherlands is also home to many Indonesian restaurants since it was a former colony. The flavors are amazing.
I mean, Pizza can be bought everywhere, but Rendang?
Here is my list of 50 Dutch Foods to try. There is more than you think!
18. Explore Amsterdam During Summer
Visiting the Netherlands in summer seems like a safe bet for better weather, but be warned—July and August can bring sweltering heat, sky-high prices, and massive crowds when Amsterdam becomes a magnet for Southern Europeans on holiday.
Without widespread air conditioning, it can get quite uncomfortable. For a more pleasant experience, September offers fine weather with fewer tourists.
The weather in Amsterdam is more unpredictable, but it’s the best time for relatively crowd-free museums.
19. Not Paying Attention To Bike Lanes And Yielding To Bicyclists
Remember, Red is dead! Bike lanes are colored red, and if you dare to step even a toe into one without carefully checking, bikes will run you over in the blink of an eye.
And they won’t feel sorry for you. Most likely, you can expect proper swearing with every horrible illness wish imaginable.
The Dutch are relaxed, right? Hmm… not so much when they’re on a bike and having places to go.
There is no empathy for the fact this is your first time here.
If you want to stay alive, avoid the red/pink bike lanes! And always, always check at least two times in each direction before you cross anywhere.
20. Renting a Bike to Explore the City
Almost worse than stepping in a bike lane is trying to ride a bike yourself if you’re not an expert in doing so.
Please, don’t rent a bicycle in the city, thinking it’s fun or a great way to get around. It will be a stressor. Besides the risk of physical harm you’re taking.
Only ride a bike when leaving the city. There, you’ll find perfect bike lanes separated from motorized traffic.
Read more in my article on why not to rent a bike in Amsterdam.
21. Book Accommodations Without Accessibility In Mind
Many modern hotel chains and luxury hotels in Amsterdam have elevators, and you will be fine.
But people also enjoy booking an Airbnb (or I recommend using VRBO; they’re cheaper than Airbnb) or a boutique hotel. That is wonderful, but many are inside old Dutch buildings.
And these have very steep, narrow staircases. If you have mobility issues, book accessible hotels or apartments.
22. Expect Deals on Hotels in Amsterdam on Weekends
Staying in Amsterdam is ALWAYS expensive. Period. During the weekend, even more so than during the week.
Each one of them is 30 minutes or less by train from Amsterdam. Prices will be lower, and you have a 2-1 deal regarding seeing more than one place.
23. Be Cautious of Steep, Narrow Staircases
At Amsterdam Airport, the arrival of a US flight is evident from the sea of oversized bags. Americans, especially, bring too much luggage.
Travel is different in America.
Usually, a car is waiting at the airport or an Uber, the hotel rooms are large, and you barely have to use the sidewalk.
How different is it in Amsterdam? Most likely, you’ll have to walk the last part over old streets, and using public transportation is almost unavoidable.
Amsterdam is a pack-light destination.
You can find everything you need here, so skip the wardrobe haul.
Ignore the urge to pack extra—most people find it a burden upon arrival, especially when facing Amsterdam’s infamous steep stairs without an elevator.
Use caution when going up and down, and consider leaving heavy luggage downstairs. Yes, in that tiny, tiny hallway. I told you you would regret taking everything you might need.
24. Not Being Prepared For Direct Communication Styles
The Dutch value honesty and directness. Don’t be offended if someone gives you a blunt opinion or response.
Never think a question is just a courtesy (like asking: “How are you?”). A Dutch person will tell you how they are. If you ask: “Do you like this dress?” be prepared for an unfiltered answer or facial expression.
If you’re invited to a Dutch home or party, and you say, I’ll think about it, a Dutch person will interpret this as you’re coming. If you don’t want to go, tell them you cannot be there. There is no way around it.
It’s difficult for first-time visitors to Amsterdam, but once you’re okay with it, it’s also refreshing. You know what someone means. No guesswork.
My Favorite Travel Books
Click here for more Netherlands book recommendations.
(travel books, art books, language books, and maps)
25. Not Saying “No, Thank You” Clearly
Dutch people interpret “I’m good” literally, like they interpret everything at face value.
If you don’t want something, leave politeness at home. Just say “no, thank you” clearly if you wish to decline something (you can still smile to be nicer).
26. Not Making Reservations For Restaurants
Dutch people book tables weeks or months out. We’re not a spontaneous bunch.
We also like to eat early. The most popular time to reserve a table is 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.
Don’t assume you can walk into a popular restaurant without a reservation around that time.
27. Not Returning Bottles and Cans for Refunds
The Dutch love to recycle. We have many bins in our homes.
We also recycle plastic bottles and cans separately because they have “Statiegeld,” a deposit.
You pay a surcharge of €0.15 to €0.25 for each when you buy the item, and that money is returned to you in cash when you bring it back.
When you’re in Amsterdam, this is so easy to do. Every supermarket and railway station has return machines, drop them in and get a voucher to use at the till.
Return bottles and cans are marked “Statiegeld.”
28. Assuming The Dutch Speak English
The Dutch are known for speaking foreign languages, including English, very well. But don’t assume every Dutch person speaks perfect English automatically.
If not only because it’s just polite, ask first if you can continue in English.
Especially people 50 and up can struggle with English.
A big no-no is starting the conversation automatically in German, French, or another language without asking first if that is okay.
The Dutch are human, too. We don’t have superhuman powers to speak any language in the world.
29. Not Learning Some Basic Dutch Phrases
This is not a mistake since many people speak enough English usually. But knowing a few words like greetings and “thank you” in Dutch shows respect.
Hello = Hallo
Goodbye = Tot Ziens
Thank you = Bedankt
More Dutch phrases can be found in my article “How To Say Hello In Dutch And Other Essential Phrases.“
30. Not Knowing The Difference Between “Holland” And “the Netherlands”
You will be forgiven for using either one. But officially, the correct way to address this country is the Netherlands.
Holland refers to just two regions, North and South Holland, while the Netherlands is the name of the entire country.
Many people use “Holland” as the name for the country, but it is technically incorrect.
I use it too on this website, just because Holland is better known, and there is a more nostalgic ring to it. It’s not a problem, especially if you’re a foreigner.
But if you want to do it 100% correctly, use the name the Netherlands for the country.
31. Thinking Amsterdam is a Country
You might laugh at reading this. But yes, quite a few people think Amsterdam is a country.
Amsterdam is a city in the Netherlands. It’s not a country.
Once, at a New York hotel, the check-in clerk said: “Oh, cool, you’re from Amsterdam. My friend visited there, or was it Holland? I Can’t recall.”
32. Tipping Too Much
If you’re traveling to Amsterdam, it’s good to know tipping is less customary than in the USA.
Locals don’t tip as much compared to other countries. This is a significant adjustment, especially for those from the USA.
The downside is because the waiting staff doesn’t get tipped as much, they also don’t care as much.
One annoying typical Dutch thing is that there can be long periods without checking if you’re doing okay.
Don’t be too polite, grab their attention, or walk up to the counter. If you need to do that, you give no tip (or less).
Here is my Tipping in Amsterdam article to learn all the nuances of tipping in the Netherlands.
33. Thinking Amsterdam is A Very Liberal City
Amsterdam may be more conservative than in the past, with a noticeable shift in attitudes among youths and impacts from immigration.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Amsterdam is a great city today. Amsterdam is pretty liberal compared to many other places in the world.
But it’s good to know, if it’s your first time in Amsterdam, to be aware that Amsterdam’s liberal reputation has its limits.
There’s also, unfortunately, an increase in incidents against LGBTIQ+ individuals, making public displays of affection riskier.
It’s important to know that not everything goes. There are fines for drinking on the streets or smoking weed, and guys, hold your urge if you need to go. Peeing in the canal doesn’t come cheap.
The city of Amsterdam enforces these fines quite strictly.
It also means smoking weed might be tolerated but frowned upon by many locals in Amsterdam.
34. Thinking Amsterdam is Dangerous
I want to put the above into perspective. I love Amsterdam. Just regard it as a big city, like any other city.
Certain areas like the Bijlmer or the Red Light District at night may feel less secure, but overall, Amsterdam is relatively safe.
Don’t let the Red Light District or the drug scene mislead you; they exist, but they’re regulated, which makes them safer than in most places.
You can bypass the Red Light District entirely; it’s a small, isolated part to the left of Central Station.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city, which is overall trendy and affluent. There’s no need for concern when wandering Amsterdam—also for solo travel, thanks to the Dutch culture of gender equality.
35. Thinking Cafe Papeneiland Has the Best Apple Pie
I saved the most hotly debated topic for last.
The great Apple Pie debate in Amsterdam. It’s between Cafe Papeneiland and Winkel 43. So, which is the better spot in Amsterdam?
While tourists and one-time visitors (maybe they visited Amsterdam twice) rave about Cafe Papeneiland—perhaps influenced by its famous patron, Bill Clinton, as one of the best places in Amsterdam for Apple Pie—locals swear by Winkel 43.
I’m a local, and I’ll tell you, Winkel 43 is one of the best eateries in Amsterdam for me (yes, they serve more than Apple Pie).
Even though we locals grumble about sharing this spot with tourists, it’s a gem I can’t help but share with you!
With these insider tips under your belt for your first time in Amsterdam, you are well-prepared for a perfect Amsterdam trip.
Amsterdam is famous for its museums, canals, and all of the beauty Amsterdam offers (and the rest of the country). Enjoy the tulips when you’re here in season, and enjoy a real stroopwafel.
I hope this guide helped you see Amsterdam with different eyes, and hopefully, with these travel tips for Amsterdam, you’ll get the best of Amsterdam without effort.
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