The Netherlands, one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and a country I called home for the first 21 years of my life. The country of the Netherlands is not known for its country side, or for the food and culture, but mainly for the its capital: the city of Amsterdam. The beautiful canal filled city, with the iconic canal houses, filled with shops, cafes and of course the Amsterdam famous coffee shops. Young and old, there is something to do for everyone in this city. While Amsterdam, and as such the Netherlands, attracts millions of tourists every single year, it does help to prep your trip a bit, just so you can be sure you can make the most of your time in the Netherlands. For that reason we have gathered tips for those who are visiting Amsterdam (and beyond) for the first time! So without further ado here are 55 thing to know before you go to the Netherlands!
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General Info on the Netherlands
1. Holland vs. The Netherlands. While many foreigners will refer to this country as Holland, Holland actually refers to only two provinces: North and South Holland. These provinces, together with the ten other provinces are called the Netherlands. However, many of the famous Dutch sights and cities such as The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Keukenhof and Kinderdijk are in Holland, so the confusion is understandable!
2. While the Netherlands is a rather small country, it is actually home to over 17 million people with the provinces of North Holland, South Holland and Utrecht being the most dense populated of the 12 provinces.
3. Dutch people are quite direct, so while you may perceive it as rude or inconsiderate at first, it is simply the way we are raised, but something than can definitely take some getting used to.
4. Planning on buying cigarettes, alcohol, weed, or even go out for a drink or partying at a club? Be sure to bring your passport or drivers license as it is mandatory to ID everyone up until the age of 25, and for some clubs and bars, simply anyone who wishes to enter. Doesn’t mean it always happen, but the last thing you want is to have to run back to your hotel or hostel on a night out.
5. Shops in the Netherlands are often closed, or have limited opening hours, on Sundays and Monday mornings. Any other day of the week you will find shops outside of the bigger cities such as Utrecht, Rotterdam and Amsterdam closing around 6PM with supermarkets closing as late as 9PM.
6. You might want to leave your suitcase at home if you are planning on visiting multiple destinations in the Netherlands. As many of the roads consist of cobble stones, a backpack might be a much more convenient form of luggage, especially if you are planning on taking public transport!
7. Be careful of pickpocketing. As in any major European city pickpocketing is not unheard of, and the last thing you’ll need is your cards and passport stolen when traveling the Netherlands.
8. Book your hostels and hotels in advance. With Amsterdam being a major tourist destination all year round, you will find the best deals if you plan a little bit ahead. Expect prices to rise during the months of July and August, especially in the weekends, with dorm beds going for around €50 per bed per night. Check out all hostels available in Amsterdam on your preferred dates here on Hostelworld!
9. The Netherlands are part of the Schengen Countries, meaning that a large amount of nationalities can enter the Netherlands visa free. Find more info to see if you need a visa for the Netherlands, and the other Schengen countries here!
10. English is widely spoken in the Netherlands. Especially in the major cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam you will have no issue just speaking English.
11. While English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to learn a couple of Dutch sentences. Check out the 70 most useful Dutch sentences, including pronunciation, for traveling the Netherlands here.
12. Wifi is widely available, but to check out the train schedule or message your mom to let her know you are okay, it doesn’t hurt to get a sim card. Many providers will be selling prepaid sim cards in the city, you can expect to pay around €10 for a prepaid sim card with 1 – 2 GB of data.
Sightseeing in Amsterdam
13. Many of Amsterdam’s most famous sights are quite expensive. If you are on a backpackers budget you might want to be selective of your sights and stick to mainly roaming around the canals. If you are still keen on visiting the museums and many of the other sights on a budget perhaps you want to check out the I Amsterdam City Card here which allows you to visit multiple sights, and ride public transport in Amsterdam for a set price over a period of 24 to 120 hours!
14. Expect long lines at most of the sights in Amsterdam, for that reason it is sometimes easier to purchase tickets in advance so you can skip the line and go straight for exploring. Check out Get Your Guide here for all the Skip the Line tickets available (including reviews) in Amsterdam, and many more tours, a couple of options: The Rijksmuseum and the Moco Museum.
15. There are many, many things to see in Amsterdam, some requiring an entrance fee and some are simply free. It is good to plan out the see sights you want to see, but leave some time in your schedule for roaming around the neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, it is a great place to simply get lost.
16. Get up early to avoid the crowds, one of the motto’s we life by on the road on a daily basis. With Amsterdam being one of the most popular tourist destinations of Europe it is simply impossible to completely escape the crowds, but you can certainly give it a try by waking up early. Besides that, waking up early also means the best shots of the beautiful canals having that perfect golden glow right after sunrise.
17. There is more to see in the Netherlands than Amsterdam. While Amsterdam is, undeniably, my favourite city in the Netherlands, there is so much more to see in this small country. Think about going on a day trip from Amsterdam, and for example explore the nearby city of Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands. This city is often overlooked by tourist and travellers, which is a shame because there are actually so many things to do in Rotterdam! Rotterdam is filled with unique and modern architecture such as the cube houses and the markthal, a great city for those who are looking to explore a bit beyond Amsterdam. Or if you have a bit more time left on your itinerary perhaps even spent some time traveling around the Netherlands, staying in smaller cities in the South such as Den Bosch or Maastricht!
Money & Budget for the Netherlands
18. Many shops and stores in the Netherlands do not accept credit cards, and if they do, they will often require you to use a pin code instead of a signature. In more touristic cities, such as Amsterdam, it is becoming more popular for shops to accept credit card payments, however it is strongly advised to check at restaurants, before dining, to avoid awkward situations.
19. To make it even more difficult, many shops and supermarkets accept debit cards, however, this can be limited to the Maestro debit cards. For example, to this date one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands called Albert Heijn, which you will simply find in almost any city or town in the Netherlands, only accepts Maestro debit cards (and cash) meaning that your Mastercard and Visa debit card still do not work here.
20. For that reason, it is always a good idea to carry some cash with you, but be sure that the bills are not too large. While it is not common for ATMs in the Netherlands to give you bills higher than €50, exchange offices might. However, many supermarkets and shops will not accept bills of €200 and €500, for their own safety reasons, so it is best to stick to those €50 bills for your own convenience.
21. Keep the coins. While coins can be quite the nuisance to carry around, they are very convenient to pay for public toilets, as it is almost impossible to find a free public toilet. A use of a toilet, yes, even in a McDonald’s, costs around €0.50. Many restaurants do offer free toilet use to their diners, but that is as close as a free public toilet you will find in the Netherlands.
22. The Netherlands is not the most affordable destination in Europe and costs can add up quite quickly. For that reason alone it is a good idea to budget more than you think you need for your stay in the Netherlands. It would be a shame to travel all that way, but then to not be able to see all the sights you were planning on seeing because you are running out of money. Trying to stick to a budget? Be sure to check out our 22 money saving tips for traveling the Netherlands on a budget!
23. Budget tip: try to limit eating out. Take out and food delivery has became more popular in the Netherlands in the recent years, but is still quite expensive. Consuming breakfast at your accommodation, and preparing a simple sandwich (if the facilities are available at your accommodation), or buying a low cost snack at a supermarket are a great way to save some money.
24. Don’t have breakfast at your accommodation, but still on a budget? Find a HEMA to have a cheap and simple breakfast. In June 2019 HEMA take away offered a breakfast deal (until 10AM) for €2 that included a cheese sandwich, a small bottle of orange juice and 2 stroopwafels. HEMA’s that have restaurants offer pick & mix breakfasts until 10AM where you can pick 5 items for €2 with the items including coffee, boiled eggs, breads, croissant, spreads for your bread and more!
25. You don’t have to tip a certain percentage in the Netherlands. While tipping isn’t mandatory, it is common to round up to the nearest euro for small orders (such as coffee or a drink) and for a full dinner it is more common to round up by a couple (or more) euros (for example a dinner that was €22,- you can round up to €25). There is often no option for adding a tip if you pay by card, in that case the easiest option would be to leave a tip in cash at your table.
Transport in and beyond Amsterdam
26. There are bicycles everywhere. Vlogs, blogs, movies, they don’t exaggerate, there are in fact more bikes then people in the Netherlands. You will find that in many streets there is either a bike lane, or bikes simply share the road with cars, as such you got to be extra careful when crossing the street!
27. Don’t walk into the bike lanes. While this might sound obvious, as a tourist or traveler this will take some getting used to as bike lanes can look quite similar to footpaths. As Dutch people bike with quite the speed be sure to stay safe and to stay on the footpaths! When you have to cross a bike path to cross the street, be sure to look left and right to see if no one is coming your way.
28. Rent a bike to explore Amsterdam and the surroundings. You can rent bikes almost everywhere in Amsterdam, and while this might sound like a good idea, make sure you feel comfortable riding a bicycle in the hustle and bustle of the city of Amsterdam. But if you do feel comfortable, it is one of the best ways to explore Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods.
29. Set on riding a bike? Be sure to lock it! Bikes get stolen quite often in the Netherlands, especially at train stations, be sure to ask for an extra (chain) lock so you can tie your bike to something sturdy, like a bike rack! Bonus tip: be sure to make a mental note of where you parked your bike, as it can be quite the task of finding your bike back in Amsterdam.
30. No riding bikes for you? Don’t worry, the Netherlands has an extensive public transport network. Bus, train, metro, tram, ferry, have your pick! You will find all of these modes of public transport just in Amsterdam alone. The easiest way to get around in Amsterdam would be the tram, but I would definitely recommend trains over buses if you are planning to go to other cities.
31. Get an OV-chipkaart! An OV-chipkaart is a card that will allow you to pay for any form of public transport, no tickets needed. An OV-chipkaart is very useful if you are planning on taking a lot of public transport, as it is way more expensive to buy separate tickets in buses and metros. If you are only planning on taking one or two train rides, it might not be worth the money.
32. Where to get an OV-chipkaart? An anonymous OV-chipkaart can be bought at the yellow/blue machines at the train station, this is also where you can top up your card. The card costs €7.50 and you will need to have a minimum of €4 at all times to use any bus, trams or metros in Amsterdam. For (NS) trains to other cities this amount is €20. Don’t worry about any leftover credit (as long as it is below €30), you can get a credit refund at an operator counter, find more info on that here.
33. But don’t forget to check in and out with your OV-chipkaart. If you don’t check in you will be charged the boarding fare, which is often way more than your ride was supposed to cost. You will find OV-chipkaart readers at the entrances of buses and trams, and at train stations you will find gates where you have to check in before entering the station.
34. The train is the easiest way to explore other cities in the Netherlands. With a large and extensive train network, and main city train stations being centrally located, this is by far the easiest way to explore the Netherlands. Perhaps not the most affordable option, but definitely the most comfortable (as long as there is a place to sit). You might want to avoid rush hour in the Netherlands as trains can be packed (6.30AM to 9AM and 4PM to 6.30PM).
35. Don’t be surprised if a train is delayed. Train delays in the Netherlands are quite common, be sure to check the day before if there is any planned construction that would make your journey longer. Unplanned delays can be caused by a large number of reasons, sometimes resulting in delays that last hours, or trains simply not driving again for hours. Often alternative routes will be announced over the intercom, however, as these are frequently in Dutch your best bet is to find train personnel to help you out figure out where to go.
36. However, taking the train anywhere can get expensive. While widely available, I wouldn’t say that the Netherlands has the most affordable public transport system, but there certainly are ways to make it cheaper. If you are planning on seeing multiple cities in one day, and to all of them by train, it might be worth to see if there are any “day tickets” on sale. These day tickets are often valid during non peak hours (before 6.30 am, 9am – 4pm, after 6.30pm), or the whole day in the weekend, and allow you to pay a set price for all these trips together. However, getting them can get a bit more difficult as most of these websites are in Dutch. The website treinreiziger often sums op which store is selling which ticket, just simply ask for some help at your accommodation at buying them so you are sure you get the right ones. Prices often range between €14 to €19 per ticket and sometimes even include a free cup of coffee!
37. Plan your journey. While you can use the NS website to plan your train journey, if you want to see the quickest way, including busses and trams, check out 9292.nl. This website, which is available in English, will show you the quickest way from your doorstep to your destination, however, you will need an internet connection to plan your journey. This website, or app, updates when trains, trams or buses have been delayed or even have been cancelled so you are sure you always have the most up to date info right before starting your journey.
38. Continuing your journey through Europe, check out the smaller airports. While Schiphol might be the largest airport, and the most convenient airport for intercontinental travel, it is worth checking out smaller airports such as Eindhoven Airport if you are looking for budget flights within Europe. This is where many of the budget airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air are flying from.
39. Take the bus to Belgium, France or Germany as a budget alternative. While flights are great to cover larger distances within Europe, if you are looking to get to one of the countries close in proximity to the Netherlands it is worth checking out budget bus transport such as Flixbus. To compare transport modes and different bus companies try using Omio.com as this might help to find the best deal for you!
Food & Drinks in the Netherlands
40. While we are not known for our cuisine, there are enough tasty things to try. Sweet, savoury, salty, there is something to try for everyone in the Netherlands. From worldwide known Dutch classics such as cheese and liquorice to herring, go on a DIY food tour and find out which Dutch foods will make you come back to the Netherlands for more!
41. or the ones who have a sweet tooth, here are some foods you might want to add to your Dutch foodie bucket list:
- Poffertjes – tiny fluffy pancakes, traditionally eaten with powdered sugar and butter.
- Stroopwafel – two thin crispy wafers with a caramel syrup in between, best eaten fresh from the market.
- Dutch apple pie – because who doesn’t love a good cinnamony apple pie, best served hot out of the oven with some whipped cream up top!
- Tompouce – a Dutch variety of the napoleon, crispy glazed puff pastry with a delicious pastry cream in between.
- Drop – or liquorice in English, sweet or salty, it seems to be an acquired taste!
- Pannenkoek – a Dutch pancake, thinner then an American style pancake, but thicker then the French crepe. Can be eaten both sweet or savoury!
- Hagelslag – chocolate sprinkles, something we love to put on our bread in the morning.
42. But not everyone has a sweet tooth, for those who prefer the savoury treats, here are a couple you might want to add to your Dutch foodie bucket list:
- Kibbeling – battered pieces of whitefish, often served with a tartar sauce.
- Kroket – a breadcrumbed roll which filling often consists of a meat ragout, best served with some mustard. Crunchy on the outside, but soft and gooey on the inside.
- Patatje oorlog – meaning “war fries” are fries served with mayonnaise, a peanut satay sauce and diced onions.
- Cheese – have a taste of just any of the Dutch cheese in one of the many many cheese stores!
- Bitterballen – the same as a kroket, but this time ball shaped. Can come in a variety of flavours, best served with again, mustard.
- Haring – Lightly brined herring, served at one of the many fish stands you can find across the Netherlands. Often served with some diced up onion and pickles
43. However, the list doesn’t end there, as there are many seasonal foods that deserve a spot on your “things to eat in the Netherlands list”. Should you be visiting the Netherlands in winter months, than these snacks are definitely worth a try:
- Pepernoten – A treat eaten around St. Nicholas, which is celebrated on the 5th of December in the Netherlands.
- Oliebollen – Deep fried dough, often mixed with raisins. A traditional Dutch snack we eat for New Years Eve, but is often found served a couple of weeks in advanced. Best served with some powdered sugar.
- Stamppot – While this dish could technically be eaten year round, I prefer to eat stamppot during the cold winter months. Stamppot consists of potatoes mashed together with one or more vegetables. Some of the most popular options are boerenkool stamppot (kale), hutspot (carrots and onions), andijvie stamppot (endive) and zuurkool stamppot (sauerkraut). Best served with gravy and the next item on the list…
- Rookworst – A typical Dutch sausage, best served with stamppot during those cold winter months.
- Snert – A thick split pea soup, often mixed with other vegetables such as carrots, onions and potatoes and rookworst. Not my personal favourite, but some people might love it during these cold winter months!
44. Dinner time in the Netherlands is around 5 – 7pm, much earlier than some of the Southern countries of Europe. As the Dutch eat dinner quite early, you will find that restaurants close earlier as well, during the week it is common for restaurants to close around 10pm.
45. Expect to pay for your water. While tap water is perfectly fine to drink, if you order water in a restaurant you will almost always be served water from a bottle, with the choice being flat or carbonated water. These drinks often cost just as much as a soda, so if you are on a budget, you might want to clarify you are requesting a glass of tap water instead.
46. On another note, as the tap water is safe to drink, bring a water bottle. Safe yourself some money, and limit your plastic waste, by bringing a refillable water bottle!
47. We love our cafes, but don’t confuse them with coffeeshops. While you will find both cafes and coffeeshops everywhere in Amsterdam, they will have a totally different meaning. Cafes is where you go for a cup of coffee, coffeeshops is where you go to smoke a joint.
48. So enjoy the coffeeshops, but definitely don’t forget about the cafes. While many many young tourist come to Amsterdam to visit the coffeeshops, the cafes can definitely not be forgotten either. We love our coffee. You will find beautiful cafes all over Amsterdam, often serving the most delicious pastries. Perfect to take a break from all the sightseeing.
Photography Tips for the Netherlands
49. Show up early. While golden hour occurs twice a day, right after sunrise and right before sunset, you will find the streets and sights to be calmer and emptier at sunrise. Especially during the summer months the sun rises as early as 5.30am, meaning that the rest of the Netherlands will still be asleep while you are getting the most beautiful shots.
50. You can fly your drone in the Netherlands for recreational use, but almost nowhere. In many cities and areas in the Netherlands flying your drone is forbidden, either due to the presence of airports, or the presence of helicopters flying here (often used for medical purposes). The last thing you want is flying into forbidden airspace and risking a hefty fine. You can find more rules regarding drone flying in the Netherlands here.
51. Be creative. With the Netherlands attracting a millions of visitors every year, you will find a lot of competition as a photographer, not only from tourists but also from locals. While you can hunt down the most Instagrammable spots in Amsterdam, it is important to get creative with your photography and look for that unique shot to make sure your photo “stands out from the crowd”. Visit less visited cities in the Netherlands, get off the beaten path, or simply get lost in the cities to find unique locations!
52. Be prepared for bad weather when photographing in the Netherlands. Rain can happen at any moment, during summer, winter, fall and spring, and the last thing you want is to be caught of guard, soaking your camera in the rain. Bring a backpack that is waterproof or has a rain cover to make sure your gear is safe! Check out our current personal favourite camera bag right here.
53. Talking about seasons, do know that tulip season is not all year round. If you have seen those beautiful shots of endless tulip fields in the Netherlands and are planning on getting some of those shots, you should make sure there will actually be any tulip fields before you book those tickets. In general tulip season in the Netherlands runs from the end of March till mid May, with the tulips often being at their best mid April.
54. Be sure to respect people’s privacy. While some of the canal houses offer beautiful steps and make for great shots, do know that often people are living in these houses. Be sure to be respectful and not to invade anyone’s privacy.
55. That said, you should not take any photos or videos in the red light district. Not only is it disrespectful to take photos of the women working here, it can also get you in a lot of trouble. You will see “photography forbidden” signs almost everywhere, so best to leave your camera at home.
Traveling beyond Amsterdam
And there you have it, 55 tips for visiting the Netherlands, now you are fully prepared for your trip to, and beyond Amsterdam! Visited Amsterdam before? Got any other tips our readers should know about? Be sure to tell us in the comment section down below. And don’t forget to pin it for later!