9 things that will surprise you when you move to Amsterdam

You’ve made the decision to move to Amsterdam and have read everything you could on the internet — so there’s nothing that can possibly surprise you, right? 

Wrong! From quirky to mind-blowing, to cute, here are nine things that will surprise you when you move to Amsterdam. 

1.     There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved 

Moving to a new country or city is always an adventure. Even when it’s a very well-organised country such as the Netherlands, the move involves a lot of preparation and paperwork. 

There are a couple of hurdles you have to get over when starting your journey in Amsterdam, and you really have to get over the first in order to get to the second. 

Ever heard of a BSN number? Well, this eight, or nine-digit number will prove essential and is the first step in sorting out your new life in Amsterdam. You are allocated this number when you register with the municipality.

You need your BSN number to set up your bank account, and you need a bank account so you can set up your insurance and mobile contract, and of course, so that you can be paid for all your hard work. But in order to be able to register you need to have a rental contract, and we all know how tricky finding an apartment in Amsterdam can be. 😅

2. Amsterdam has the most culture per capita in the world

Amsterdam is one of the most cultured cities in the world. That’s right, thanks to the city’s small size and countless museums, theatres, concert venues, and fine dining restaurants, the city is recognised as having the highest amount of culture per capita

So, whether you want to feel fancy with an evening of highbrow orchestral music at the Concertgebouw, or you prefer some dirty techno beats, Amsterdam has you covered. If you’re a museum fiend, you can marvel at the works of the Grand Masters in the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum or get that all-round Amsterdam experience by visiting the Sex Museum. This city truly has something for everyone! 

3. Curtains are not really a thing…

Beautiful curtainless houses in Amsterdam. Image: Neirfys/Depositphotos

It may come as a huge surprise to you when you arrive in Amsterdam to find that the majority of Dutchies don’t have curtains. Or if they do have them, they just don’t use them. 😅

There are a multitude of theories about why Dutchies don’t like drawing their curtains — ranging from the country’s Calvinist tradition of being transparent, to showing that they’re decent, normal people who aren’t plotting anything sinister. The most practical reason for this is probably that most houses in Amsterdam are on the smaller side and closing the curtains makes them feel more claustrophobic, especially on those long summer evenings.

Strange as this may seem at first, you may — like us — grow to love being able to take a little peek at people’s quirky interior decorating styles. Just remember to draw your own blinds when you do your little happy dance after you shower.

4. …and neither are credit cards

Many internationals have been caught out over the years when their credit card has been declined in the local supermarket. Embarrassing… and a little traumatic. The reason for this? Dutchies don’t do debt, which means that credit cards are generally off the table.

Debit cards are far more commonly used in the Netherlands. For this reason, it’s pretty essential to get a Dutch bank account if you’re going to be staying in Amsterdam for any length of time.

To avoid credit card payments online, the Dutch also have their own online payment system: iDeal. It’s a secure web platform where you can transfer money directly from your bank account to the business you’re purchasing from — no credit card needed.

5. Amsterdam actually stands on millions of wooden poles

We all know the Netherlands is rainy, but did you know that Amsterdam was built on a swamp? As a result of this, the city was erected on about 11 million wooden poles which stretch 11 metres deep into the ground to support the buildings and prevent them from sinking. 

It’s not just buildings either! There are even some trees in the Vondelpark that are supported by wooden poles to stop them from slipping into the soggy ground. 🌳 Alright, it won’t affect your daily life so much after moving — but it is a fun fact to surprise your new neighbours with!

6. Amsterdammers know a healthy work-life balance

Nothing like Amsterdam on a warm summer’s day. Image: 12019/Pixabay

The Dutch work hard but they also play hard. As a result, the Netherlands is known as one of the best countries in the world for having a healthy work-life balance. An important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. The OECD Better Life Index found that only 0.4% of Dutch employees work very long hours, whilst the average for other countries is 11%.

Need some proof? If you ask us, the best thing about summer is cruising down Amsterdam’s sunny canals on a late afternoon and seeing them lined with people enjoying a biertje or a bottle of wine with their friends after work — geen lange uren (no long hours) here! 💁‍♀️

7. Amsterdam is one of the most multicultural cities in the world

With people of 180 different nationalities calling the Dutch capital home, Amsterdam’s population is one of the most diverse in Europe. For centuries immigrants have been attracted to Amsterdam by its prosperity and tolerance.

So, if you’re an Australian missing Tim Tams or a South African missing biltong, or you’re just a little homesick and want to talk to someone with the same accent as you, you’re bound to find all of these pieces of home in Amsterdam.

8. Amsterdam has more than 2,500 houseboats

Experience life on the water firsthand. Image: fokkebok/Depositphotos

And more than 5,000 people live in them. There’s even a houseboat for cats — purrrfect! 🐈

Originally, living on a houseboat was considered a sign of poverty. Nowadays, however, houseboats are some of the trendiest accommodations in the city and are in high demand. Many of these unique homes are over 100 years old.

The houseboats in Amsterdam are all anchored at a permanent address — so no, you can’t just sail away down the canal if you want to move to a different neighbourhood. But you can book an overnight stay on a houseboat if you’d like to see for yourself what living on the water is like. Ahoy!

9. Amsterdam’s canal houses are extremely narrow  

Amsterdam’s quirky canal houses. Image: Roman Kraft /Unsplash

Amsterdam’s canal houses are extremely narrow, tilted, and a treat for the eyes. So, why are they so quirky, you ask? There are a couple of theories about this, so let’s dive in. 

Everyone wants to live in Amsterdam, right? Well, it was no different back in the 17th century when the city’s famous canal belt was planned. The plots of land that were sold along the waterfront were initially pretty small, to ensure that the maximum number of houses could have an entrance on the canal.

Another much-loved myth in Amsterdam is that the reason the canal houses are so narrow is that in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s residents were taxed based on the width of the facade of their property — so they built their houses narrow in the front, but deep and tall. Even back then the Dutch were cheap. 😉 

What surprised you when you moved to Amsterdam? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Liam Gant/Pexels

Jen Lorimer 🇿🇼
Jen Lorimer 🇿🇼
An avid tea drinker, Jen was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She moved to Utrecht in 2017 to pursue her history degree. She loves people-watching, canoeing the Utrecht canals, and observing how the Dutch come alive in summer. Having been traumatised by a Dutch circle party, Jen wants to help equip other internationals with tips and tricks to survive and thrive in this wonderful flat country.

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