Amsterdam is one of those cities that everyone wants to experience for themselves. Of course, experiencing Amsterdam like a local is the dream. A destination known for being the capital city of the most liberal and tolerant country in the world, it’s no surprise that people here have a sense of feeling free and unconstrained by the norms of society found in other western parts of the world.
The red light district is one of the most well-known tourist attractions globally. With prostitution, recreational drugs and same sex marriage all being legal, it’s no wonder that so many people are fascinated with this breathtaking city.
But Amsterdam is not just about the freedom. It’s a city of 1500 bridges, endless canals and even more bikes, and a nation committed to fighting climate change. Amsterdam is all about the water and some of the best views can be seen from the canals. In fact, it’s often referred to as “The Venice of the North” because it is home to so many canals. A canal boat tour is a great way to visit many of them and will also give you some of the most spectacular city views.
But apart from all of the well known tourist attractions, there is of course the way the locals live and how they go about their day to day life. If you want an authentic experience to this beautiful city, you can read more below for some of the best ways to experiene Amsterdam like a local.
Tip: If you visit in summer you have to add the Amsterdam Tulips to your itinerary.
5 Ways of experiencing Amsterdam like a local
1. Get on your bike
It’s a well known fact that cyclists own Amsterdam. This is a city with more bicycles than residents, with 70% of all journeys in Amsterdam made by bike. Bicycles are literally everywhere and it could even be hazardous walking. In some cases you even have to cross the street in stages to get through the car and bicycle traffic. Locals use bicycles as a mode of transport and not for exercise purposes. You will find everyone from police officers and bank staff to couriers cycling to and from work.
The number 1 way of experiencing Amsterdam like a local, is hiring a bike for the duration of your stay. You would be surprised at just how much you can explore in the city by bike, with cycling being a big part of the culture. There is an extensive cycle structure in place making it easy to explore the city by bike. The canals, the old city and you can even cycle out to the flower fields in the surrounding countryside.
2. Get your Dutch on
Of course when visiting any country that has its own lingo, it’s always exciting to try talk with the locals in their native tongue. But this one was extra fun for us. Apparently if you can speak Afrikaans, you should be able to understand Dutch and vice versa. Dutch and Afrikaans have many similarities according to history. Since we are South African, we couldn’t wait to finally show off our foreign language skills. French, Italian, Spanish, we couldn’t grasp any of that when we visited those places but Dutch was an easy way of experiencing Amsterdam like a local for us.
It goes without saying that if you are not South African, you will most likely not be familiar with Afrikaans. Nevertheless, learning a few key phrases before your trip can really help make you feel like part of the community. English is widely spoken throughout The Netherlands so you won’t have any problem communicating but it’s great to become familiar with at least a few basic expressions in Dutch.
3. Coffeeshop experience
As I’m sure most people are aware, the Dutch coffeeshops are not your typical cafes. Cannabis is served on the menu as just another product. It’s legal to carry up to 5 grams of Cannabis products and to smoke in private or inside coffeeshops. It is probably important to note that there is a difference between a coffee shop and a coffeeshop (no space). A coffee shop sells coffee whereas a coffeeshop also sells marijuana. So don’t be that person that goes into a coffee shop and asks for weed. But whether you are a cannabis smoker or not, the coffeeshops play a big part in the Amsterdam culture.
It’s an inevitable question; your friends and family are bound to ask if you plan to smoke weed in Amsterdam. Let’s face it, everyone, including your parents are likely to let curiosity take over and light up a sneaky joint when they find themselves in this amazing city. Even the most avid of non-smokers are likely to indulge in a little ‘Mary-Jane’. It’s all part of experiencing Amsterdam like a local. You can read more on the Things You Need to Know Before Smoking Pot in Amsterdam to ensure that you are well prepared.
4. The red-light district
The red light district is well known as a night time zone for those looking for a party and a ‘good time’’. What many people don’t know is that this area is also the oldest part of the city. During the day this is one of the most gorgeous parts of the city, with grand architecture and green trees swaying over the canal. However as the sun goes down, the red fluorescent lights become more apparent and there is a distinct change in atmosphere.
If curiosity gets the best of you, definitely visit the area at night when the district really comes to life. But if you are a little more skeptical,, the day time would be best, when you can really take in the beauty of the long winding cobbled streets and 14th century architecture.
5. Venture outside the city centre
Most of the tourist attractions are located in the city centre but if you are really serious about experiencing Amsterdam like a local, you should explore the surrounding neighbourhoods that give Amsterdam its character. Any visitor to this big city can lose themselves in what it has to offer. But those that live there know a break from its bright lights is just as fulfilling. The Dutch countryside offers wonderfully attractive windmills dotted over the flat horizon, surrounded by the famous tulips. At times the busy city can become overwhelming