With almost 16 million people flocking to the city each year, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular destinations. It’s incredibly fun and lively but with lots of visitors, of course, comes lost of tourist traps … If you’re planning a trip, make sure you read our handy guide so you know which ones to avoid (and what you could do instead!)
1. Jam Packed Canal Boat Tours
Amsterdam’s canals are iconic. They don’t call this city ‘The Venice of the North’ for nothing! A trip around the scenic waterways can be a fantastic way to experience the beauty and history of this amazing city built on water. If you know what’s what, however, you’ll steer clear of the canal boat companies that pack tourists onto big boats under a glass roof and deliver the same 60 minute commentary each time. This kind of ‘one-size-fits-all’ canal-boat tour can leave you feeling a bit disenchanted with what should be a magical and memorable experience.
What do to instead: Jump aboard a more relaxed and personal boat tour with one of our favourite companies like Friendship. With a chilled out captain who will be happy to chat and answer your questions and a selection of drinks and snacks available – many from local suppliers – this is the right way to cruise around the canals! Gather a bunch of mates and book out a whole boat or book on solo and meet some new friends. Alternatively, you can even rent a boat yourself and take charge of your own trip!
Damrak is one of the main thoroughfares leading from Centraal Station to Dam Square. Lots of tourists end up on this street, most probably because they’ve unwittingly stumbled upon it whilst trying to find their way into the city centre. Aside from one high end department store Damrak is mainly full of tacky souvenir shops, cheap hotels and fast food joints. If you’re looking for an authentic Amsterdam experience then it’s best to avoid this street.
What to do instead: Amsterdam is full of interesting neighbourhoods just waiting to be explored. For a more local experience, a world away from the touristy centre, head to areas like trendy De Pijp, home to Albert Cuyp Market, or picturesque Jordan. Clink’s neighbourhood of Amsterdam Noord is definitely worth a visit too – not that we’re biased! ;)
3. Fake Museums
The streets of central Amsterdam are dotted with what look like small museums, purporting to share the artisan history of cheese, tulips (and even vodka!) in Amsterdam. These quaint looking establishments are actually just shops trying their best to sell some fairly average produce to unwitting tourists! Make sure you’re not lured into one of these faux museums. You (and the city!) deserve much better.
What to do instead: If you’re in the market for cheese (the real deal!) then head to Fromagerie Abraham Kef. This fromagerie has been around for over sixty years, offering a personal service from people who really know their stuff about cheese (our kinda people!) If you’re on the hunt for quirky or different museums why not check out Katten Kabinet – a canal-house museum that celebrates, ahem … cats. Or how about heading across the river to the EYE Film museum to explore the world of independent and international cinema?
4. The Red Light District
Amsterdam, of course, is well known for its Red Light District. Tourists fill the streets here in De Wallen, wanting to catch a glimpse of scantily clad women in the windows of the city’s regulated brothels. They might also be heading to one of the city’s famous sex shows, paying over €40 to see live sex performed on stage … Whilst The Red Light District is a real draw for many tourists, we reckon this city has so much more to offer the discerning traveller!
What to do instead: If you’re interested in gaining some real insight into the practice of sex for money then head to the Prostitute Information Centre, founded by Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute. The De Wallen district is also historically meaningful. At its heart is Amsterdam’s oldest building the Oude Kerk (Old Church) which now has an eclectic programme of contemporary art exhibitions worth checking out.
5. Clogs / The I AMSTERDAM sign
If you’ve seen photos of friends in Amsterdam, chances are they’ve crouched inside a giant wooden clog or thrown some shapes in front of the huge I AMSTERDAM sign – all in the name of an Amsterdam photo opportunity … This is all good fun, but you’re going to have to battle hoards of other tourists to get these snaps and, to be honest, there’s so many other amazing photo opportunities in Amsterdam, it’s not really worth it!
What to do instead: Visit NDSM Wherf in Amsterdam Noord. A former industrial shipyard turned cool, creative hangout, you’ll find giant murals which make for the perfect instagram backdrop!
6. Amsterdam Squares
Amsterdam can feel like a pretty hectic place. Especially if you gravitate to the cities’ popular squares like Rembrandtplein, Leidsesplein or the Dam. If you’re keen to see them for yourself, we’d suggest heading there early in the morning before the crowds build up. That golden light of the morning is great for pictures too, so get out of bed, grab your camera and go!
What to do instead: If you’re looking for a more local experience then why not visit Hugo de Grootplein or Beukenplein in the East of the city. These squares have a cool and buzzy vibe with plenty of places to grab a drink or a bite to eat. For shopping, check out Noordermarkt which has a great local market on a Monday or Nieuwmarkt which has a daily market and an organic market on Saturdays.
7. Beer Bikes
If you’ve visited Amsterdam before, you’ll have no doubt seen tourists wizzing round the city on so-called ‘beer bikes.’ Essentially, a group of friends pedal around the city on a giant bike, drinking a lot of beers along the way … Locals don’t really have much good to say about these giant bikes! For the Dutch, who are passionate about their beer, there are much better ways to enjoy a glass of the cold stuff.
What to do instead: To experience the best of Amsterdam’s beer culture, then you should head to one of the local breweries. One of our favourites is Oedipus Brewery in Amsterdam Noord whose selection of locally brewed beers are a real treat for the tastebuds. These guys are also known for their epic burgers and ‘kamikaze fries!’ Also on the list are local brewers Brouwerij’t IJ. Here you can sip your beer under an original Dutch windmill!