What NOT to do as a tourist in Amsterdam

Tourist information tends to be concerned with the do’s: ‘Do visit the Stedelijk’, ‘do drink Heineken’, ‘do get on the bus and visit the Keukenhof garden’. This type of information is useful for everybody, from the crazy cats who think holidaying is about relentless, organised fun to the casuals who want some handy ideas for when sitting in a park on truffles isn’t as pleasant as they’d hoped. Being a shy British gentleman, however, who values good manners over any form of fun or adventure, the information that I most craved when reading about Amsterdam was what is unacceptable for tourists to do.

You know, the rude or just plain stupid stuff that makes Dutch people shake their fists and shout things we can’t understand. These are things you might call ‘tourism don’ts’. To my disappointment, this type of information was not commonplace and so I learned little from the web or from books. Thankfully however, through numerous visits to the fair city and conversations with veteran idiocy-spotters, I have been able to compile my own short and highly opinionated list of no-nos for the courteous and the curious. You’ve been warned.

What NOT to do as a tourist in Amsterdam: Don’t be silly on your bike

When picking up your shiny blue, yellow or red bicycle from the various rent-a-fiets shops across the city, you assume a great deal of responsibility. You have a responsibility to yourself not to get killed, and you have a responsibility to not maim or kill anyone else. But most important of all you have a responsibility to… not piss off the locals. Two main ways you can rile up the Dutchies are (a) cutting through busy shopping streets like it’s totally legal (it isn’t) and (b) riding three abreast on the cycling lane like you’re the front row of a rugby scrummage. By all means, do this if it’s late or no one’s around, but don’t do it down Stadhouderskade on a Saturday afternoon. Beeping, ringing and swearing will intensify.

Don’t try such tricks if you’re a tourist in Amsterdam and a newbie to the Dutch roads. Image: João Pimentel Ferreira [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t be silly when you’ve got the munchies. Eat properly!

You’re drunk, stoned, tired and hungry. What do you do? If your answer is to go and get twenty chicken nuggets, you’re doing it wrong. There is a pretty high chance that you live in a country where Mcdonalds is on every street corner; it makes your kids obese, your dopamine flow and your guilt swell. We all have that one kind of food that we crave when we just can’t be bothered to try and prolong our lives with some micro-nutrients. I have no issue with this. However, if you’ve taken the time to leave the ordinary behind and take a trip to Andrew Marvell’s ‘…undigested vomit of the sea’, don’t feast on the same old battered sludge. Instead, I suggest getting your grease with a pinch of authenticity.

The 'cultured' Dutch way to go
The ‘cultured’ Dutch way to go when you’re a tourist in Amsterdam. Image: Alix Guillard/Wikipedia

Look no further than the glowing, food-bearing walls of Febo. They’re everywhere, the food is delicious and it’ll clog your arteries as fast as any American business. Sure, you can still get burgers and chips easily enough. Personally, I’d recommend sampling the kroketten and the frikandel [that’s chicken, pork and beef sausage. It’s good I promise…] before you even think about the rest.

 Don’t mix your recreations

A great stoner once said, ‘Pass the Dutchie on the left-hand side’. No problems with this as far as it goes, although I would offer a short caveat to this rule which would be, ‘…unless you’re seated in the outside area of an alcoholic establishment’. Beware the bars of Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein! The waiting staff don’t like you smoking the reefer there, you’re not really supposed to and you can always have a cigarette if you really can’t last a half hour without carcinogens.

What NOT to do as a tourist in Amsterdam: Don’t try that hip Dutch phrase your friend taught you

No amount of shouting ‘Neuken in de keuken!’ at people is going to get your laid, so stop it. And even if it could, ‘No-ken in dee coke-en!’ is not how you say it anyway.

Don’t mix your Dutch and your Deutsch

No matter what Hollywood movies like The Fault in our Stars and Hostel, the Pennsylvania Dutch or foreign Haribo wrappers tell you, Dutch people do not speak German. I don’t know whether it’s the sound of the Dutch language to the untrained ear that triggers high school German PTSD or something, but it’s not the same. At all. Whatever the reason for this myth’s circulation, it’s very common indeed. Needless to say, Dutch folk don’t take too kindly to shoddy cultural geography, so you’d do well to avoid it like an oncoming bakfiets. It helps to remember your stereotypes: clogs, windmills and tall women on the one hand; efficiency, sausage and lederhosen on the other.

Alles Klaar? Auf wiedersehen.

If you’re going to the Red Light district, there are some things you should NOT do there too. Any other stuff you should not do as a tourist in Amsterdam? Feel free to comment!

Feature Image: na4ev on Pixabay


  1. It is mostly the older generations who speak good German, the younger ones speak better English (and have also an trauma of High-school German) According to my mom the Dutch Television in her time didn’t had any fun shows for kids, but the German had so she watched German Television with no subtitles available.

  2. Amsterdam truly is a history and art lover’s paradise. And its reputation as a raunchy / crazy place is totally wrong – it is a very civilized, cultured and controlled place. The whole idea is to be who you are and enjoy everything as long as no one’s rights are infringed upon. The Dutch know tolerance as other people could only dream of. A lovely place and one full of beautiful memories.

  3. Don’t smoke weed on the street or public places. It stinks!
    At home or in the coffee shop.

    Don’t bother me with the smell when I’m walkin or waiting for the tram.

    Don’t get so drunk that you can’t walk properly and start talking nonsense. And don’t be a hooligan like those football fans..

    Don’t take pictures of the ladies in the red light district and make fun of them. They are to be respected.

  4. This was a fun read! Thanks for that.

    Mostly importantly, tourists (and locals alike!) should behave like civilised humans as opposed to noise/shit/profanity/vomit machines.
    I am a native and lived in Amsterdam for many years. I am so happy I escaped before the current tourism-boom because after the quadrupling of annual visitors I can only image the hell residents must live in on a daily basis.
    The issue is the low-rent tourism that has spiraled out of control combined with an ‘anything-goes’ attitude that many visitors seem to have (and think is what Amsterdam is all about). Yes, the Netherlands is fairly tolerant and ‘free’. However, that does not mean you can treat the city and its residents and shops like garbage.
    – It is NOT OK to take part in traffic without regard for the laws/rules/others. If you can barely cycle on your own drive, don’t think you’ll be able to successfully navigate the extremely busy city centre of Amsterdam. You will NOT benefit from cycling and you will be a danger and nuisance to others. Others that are on their way to lectures, their job, running errands. The city centre is small enough to walk and if you are tired/on limited time, take a tram!
    – It is NOT OK to vomit, urinate, or shit in public. Yes, this happens frequently in the touristy areas. You shouldn’t even put yourself in a position where you have to vomit in the first place, let alone do it on someone’s doorstep, in their plant pot, in a restaurant (yes, I have seen this myself!), on someone’s bicycle etc. Don’t drink so much, don’t eat garbage, don’t stay away for 3 days straight.
    – It is NOT OK to use illegal drugs or to mix your drugs. Most drugs are illegal in the Netherlands and criminals take advantage of the ignorant tourists. They will sell you laundry detergent or crushed paracetamol as coke, for instance. Even if you do manage to get something that is at least in-part the drug you are looking for, you have no idea about the dose or quality. It is incredibly stupid to use anything that came out of someone else’s ass or was cooked up in some basement somewhere, let alone mixing unknown substances. You may die, you will for sure make life hard for your liver, and you may end up acting in a way that is harmful to yourself and/or others. Why ruin a perfectly-good weekend away by taking illegal drugs?
    – Don’t be loud! Yes, people in the city centre now they live in the city centre, but show some respect and keep the noise levels to a minimum after 11 PM. People want to sleep because they have to go to work the next day (because not everyone is on your holiday with you!).
    – Don’t go into shops if you don’t intend to buy or at least be respectful to the shop and its customers. Mr. B (a famous gay leather and rubber shop) has just announced it will move away from its current (very central) location because tourists ruined the shopping experience of their customers. Why would you even go into a gay leather shop if you don’t intend to be respectful and/or buy something?
    – Don’t join guided tours that are in groups of more than about 15. These large groups are unfit to navigate the narrow alleys and streets and it is impossible for the guide to address the entire group without being loud.
    – AirBnB and the like are NOT OK. AirBnB (and the like) is facilitating people to run illegal hotels and it is destroying neighbourhoods. There is currently a 60-day limit for holiday lets in Amsterdam and from 2019 on, this will be max. 30 days a year. AirBnB is not paying any taxes, refuses to give relevant data to the council/local government and is thus facilitating tax avoidance/evasion. Moreover, you have no idea whom you’re staying with and a large part of the AirBnB lets in Amsterdam are run by professional businesses. These homes are never lived in by the owner, they are solely bought for the purpose of creating illegal hotels. This takes homes away from locals who are struggling more and more to pay their rent or even find a place to live at all (because buying anything is totally unaffordable to many people who work in Amsterdam and waiting lists for rent-controlled/council homes are easily 15 years or longer (and you can’t sign up until you are 18 years old)).
    – It is NOT OK to take photos of the people working in the windows in the Red-Light District. They are there to make a living, not to be in your holiday snaps. Also, if you visit a prostitute and you suspect she is younger than the legal age (which I think is 18 years at the moment), don’t use their services but report this to the police.
    – It is NOT OK to litter. Just like you wouldn’t want to see your local park covered in litter, people who live in Amsterdam want the city to be clean and tidy. If the bin is full, at least put your rubbish right next to the bin, don’t throw it in the canal, on the street, in someone’s bicycle basket.
    – Just be a decent person. Yes, do enjoy yourself but not at the expense of the city, the locals, or your own health.

  5. Don’t block the sidewalks by walking 4 across or by stopping in the middle of the walkway. Also, when you walk through an outdoor market, don’t block the aisles and don’t zig zag from side to side. And look before you walk backwards, throw your arms around or toss out your cigarette—-there are other people around you!


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