The surprising challenges of using a sidewalk in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is an amazing place to live, with so many places to see and discover. But, getting to those places? That’s harder than it looks. Apparently, the knowledge of how to use a sidewalk in the Netherlands is a learned skill. 

I am a people person. In general, I love to meet new people: I’ll endeavour to get your name right and remember it next time (no guarantees), and if you speak another language I will insist that you teach me how to say “hello, how are you” in your mother-tongue.

You’ll probably compliment me on my pronunciation *nonchalant hair toss*, but sadly, I probably won’t remember this for our next interaction. I guess you can’t have everything — but at least the intention is there. Point being, I love people.

However, be that as it may, I cannot in good faith tell you that people don’t also annoy me to no end. In particular, people who don’t know how to use a sidewalk.

Getting sidewalk savvy

The “sidewalk” is a space where humans (usually — I’ll ignore the audacity of some bikes) walk beside the road to avoid cars and the dangers of being a pedestrian in the road. The traffic on a sidewalk runs in both directions, so in fact, the word also means that we as humans then have to walk beside each other.

Given the popularity of the Netherlands with tourists, I’ll go ahead and assume that you understand the relevance of being able to walk on a sidewalk in an efficient and effective manner. Which makes some people’s inability to do so all the more frustrating.

You’re cute, but…

Aw, you’re a couple, walking along, hand in hand? That is so adorable and I’m so happy for you — but can you let go of one another for like 0.5 seconds in a concise and orderly manner and walk in a single file?

Ideally, I’d like to pass by without any awkward instance of having to split you up, but so help me I will. I’ve done it before — unintentionally, but I’ll do it again. I was walking and looking at my phone and realised a second too late … but, in my defence, they had four eyeballs between them and they still hadn’t moved.

The couple ended up having to break their hand-holding and I mumbled an apology that today I would like to take back. Let’s just be adults about this and give each other some space. Don’t make an arch for me and don’t make me walk in the road; I shouldn’t have to risk my life for your love.

It’s not only couples

Ah, the joy of group travel is something that I fully support too. What I’m less supportive of is your group taking their own sweet time, stopping and starting and just generally having no regard for the busy 20-something-year-old navigating behind the 10th group for the day whilst trying to move about Amsterdam.

Worse still if we’re heading in opposite directions. You see me coming, but the crew is deep in discussion: John is telling a hilarious story and the punchline is about to drop. No one seems to want to move, all seven of you are within ideal earshot and are intent on maintaining that proximity and inclusion … so I’m involuntarily drawn into a game of “Sidewalk Chicken.” That’s my least favourite game.

We’re all tempted to just walk on the road sometimes. Image: Jose Llamas/Unsplash

Or, there’s the mini-group of 2-4 people that are walking along, chatting … then suddenly stop to check a map or admire a building with no regard to anyone behind or in front of them.

Another lovely instance is when people are walking towards me and not looking ahead — I swear sometimes this happens on purpose. They’re facing forward but they refuse to make eye contact or move. Should I just call on my inner Neo and pull out some Matrix worthy swerving of these human-bullets?

A magical solution

I would like to think using a sidewalk is quite simple. It’s not called a sidestop, so unless there is a physical obstacle in the way, we should both be able to keep walking with no qualms. I grew up using the British word “footpath” so if I can understand the “side” part of “sidewalk” I think other people should be able to as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good tourist, but I’m also a huge advocate for people being just a little bit more aware, considerate, and accommodating.

When I was younger walking with my mom past people she would always bark out “keep to the right!” It’s like magic: if I’m going one way and keep to the right, and you’re coming in the opposite direction and keep to your right, then we don’t collide at all!

I think navigating basic directional interactions is a life skill really, so I hope this article is a source of insight and knowledge for you — or a place to convene with others who feel your pain!

Can you relate? Do you also sigh and shake your head at people who don’t know how to use a sidewalk? Have a maddening tale of sidewalk traffic woe? Share it with us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Jacek Dylag/Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019, and was fully updated in October 2020 for your reading pleasure. 

Shaakira Vania
20-something year old traveller, coconut lover (Seriously-anything coconut), and Libran. I recently made the cross-continent move to Amsterdam and spend my weekends exploring the country, meeting new people and telling myself I will finish a book every month (a promise I'm yet to keep). If I had to sum myself up in three words they would be: quirky, curious, and meme-lover.


  1. > Walk on the right!

    Been there, done that. I wish others did as well, but whether it’s the oblivious tourists gawking at the rooftops and blocking streets and bridges, or the “ayyy-sociaal” locals who clot corners and block blocks in conversation, expecting the world to revolve around them…well, it’s almost a lost cause to expect awareness from a country populated by people without peripheral vision (Wait – does that sound like slander? Ever tried to get the waiter at a café here? The prosecution rests, your honour). Anyway, I now barrel along the sidewalks at ramming-speed, and good luck to the person, group, car or bike that gets in my way. Next level city-living, perhaps, but the next level after this will involve an electric cattle prod…

  2. Ah you nailed some great examples. Sidewalk-chicken I need to remember that one. Anyhow as a Dutch native who visits Amsterdam on a regular basis, I’ve got to point out that those days even with way more sidewalk traffic then in my hometown are actually less frustrating. In Amsterdam I find that people are actually more considerate to each other. Now I do walk at a much faster pace then avarage so I need to pass and dodge alot and that goes much easier there then at home. Here people on the sidewalk are the master of the sidewalk and everything must get out of their way, they just refuse to move an inch to either side, fully aware of your inability to move out of their path your in the process of overtaking a slow group. What nearly always leads to the same outcome, some form of anger. Whether they need to move, graze you, collision or even sometimes when by a miracle you narrowly avoided the previous ones. And those are the locals. Now for tourists the most annoying are (we call them “Pruuse”) The German army of shoppers who are oblivious to any other person but themselves and their group, they unexpectedly decide change direction or stop. The groups that block the entire width by leaving just enough space between each other you can not pass through. But still I love the dance of sidewalks since it always changes.

  3. This is literally all true. I don’t think it’s limited to The Netherlands but the fact remains that people have no idea what they’re doing.

    Where’s the article about supermarkets?

    Better yet, how about an article on consistent short breaks to observe and consider the more relevant systems at

  4. Your picture shows a man in a road, the sidewalk is at the side of the road (as you mentioned the clue is in the name).

    It’s an easy one to remember

    Pedestrians – sidewalk

    Cars and bikes – road

  5. I can’t agree more, sad isn’t it? How many names do we have to describe this thing on the road? Pavement, trottoir, footpath, sidewalk? The funny thing is that we all know how to walk on it properly during our childhood but now we are just confused. Are we turning to a bunch inconsiderate, less accommodating and careless folks? I hope not, especially as tourists. I live in Eindhoven and I cycle, like any others, it’s slightly disturbing when you have people walking on the bicycle path, which is clearly marked with the colour red in NL. Trust me, I love to help people and yes, I do understand that standing and waiting on the traffic light could be confusing at times when you clearly can’t choose where to stand (two different paths, one with the zebra cross in front of it and one has lots of bicycles on it). I hear and live to this day by day. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to be a bit aware of our surrounding and respect the right of others while using public facilities?

    Next topic idea, headphones ? or earphones – why are they here for? Everyone could just take their speaker with them if they want to play their music loudly on busses, trains, planes and even on their bicycle (so they couldn’t hear the traffic) let’s make a better place for all of us

  6. I am from California. I was watching go pro footage of people driving in other cities and a cool video of Amsterdam came on. I couldn’t believe all the people just casually standing in the street or walking as a huge mass together in the street. I literally had to look up if that’s real because here we get in trouble for jaywalking if we even walk near the side walk instead of actually using it. Thanks for the explanation!


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