Amsterdam insider tips

Amsterdam - Andre Ancion/sxc.hu

By Fred Mawer, your Amsterdam expert

I write for The Daily Telegraph, The .... Read more

How to save money plus other advice on Amsterdam

Amsterdam is not a cheap city to visit, particularly of late for British tourists, who have been hit by the poor pound-to-euro exchange rate. Here are some suggestions on how to keep costs down.

Eating, drinking and smoking

  • Big tips are not expected in cafés and restaurants (or taxis for that matter). It's acceptable to add nothing to a bill. Otherwise, leave small change if you've had just a coffee or beer, and for a meal, round up a modest bill by one or two euros, or by 5 euros tops if you've had a pricey dinner.
  • Convenient places to put together a cheap picnic: the subterranean Albert Heijn supermarket on the north-west corner of Museumplein (eat out on the lawns of the Museumplein, or wander over to the Vondelpark); and the fantastic deli/bakery of the V&D department store's La Place, on Kalverstraat just along from Muntplein.
  • With time to kill at the Centraal Station, head up to Platform 2B (no ticket required to reach it), where you'll find 1e Klas. One of Amsterdam's most atmospheric grand cafes, it was once the station's first-class waiting rooms.
  • Amsterdam's finest chips, best eaten with a traditional dollop of mayonnaise, are served from a hole-in-the-wall outlet called Vleminckx, at Voetboogsteeg 33. It's open Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun noon-5.30pm.
  • Want to smoke cannabis? Search out what's rather misleadingly termed a coffeeshop - though such an establishment is likely to sell coffees too. The Dutch government has plans to bar foreigners from coffeeshops, but nothing has changed yet. See my Amsterdam nightlife page for more information.
  • In 2008, the Netherlands introduced a tobacco-smoking ban in public buildings, including restaurants, cafés, bars and even coffeeshops. Some places have designated areas where smoking is allowed, though service in those areas is not provided.

Getting around

  • Don't fancy flying to Amsterdam? Stena Line (www.stenaline.co.uk) has good-value rail-and-sail fares, including ferry travel from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, and train travel on to Amsterdam.
  • The cheapest way to travel between Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam city centre is by train to/from Centraal Station. See more here - Amsterdam flights.
  • Try to avoid taking taxis if you can, as fares are exorbitant. Find out more on my How to get around Amsterdam page.
  • Single fares on trams are expensive. Tickets valid for unlimited travel for a longer set period of time usually work out much better value. See more here - How to get around Amsterdam.
  • You'll understand the layout of Amsterdam more easily by grasping a few frequently used Dutch suffixes. -gracht means canal, -straat street, -plein square, -markt market, -dijk dike, -laan avenue. (So saying the Herengracht canal is a tautology).
  • Just strolling along the canals is one of the greatest pleasures the city offers. You'll be able to take in much more on two feet than if you're whizzing around on a bike, or under glass in a boat.
  • The 24/48/72/96-hour tickets for travel on the trams, buses and Metro are purchased most speedily from the vending machines outside Metro stations, such as the Centraal Station's Metro. There's often a wait to buy the tickets from the main GVB transport office outside Centraal Station. For advice, and excellent, free maps of the various transport networks, visit the GVB office outside the Centraal Station's Metro, which is usually less busy. It's open weekdays only, 7am-6pm.
  • Free, if brief, boat rides are on offer, by taking one of the ferries that ply frequently across the IJ waterway from the dock behind the Centraal Station to North Amsterdam. Find out more here - How to get around Amsterdam.

Sights and attractions

  • If you're reckoning on packing in several of the major museums and doing a canal boat ride, and you want unlimited public transport, then the tourist board's I amsterdam Card (www.iamsterdamcard.com) will save you money. But if you're going to just potter around and visit a couple of museums, the card is not worth having. See more by clicking on Amsterdam attractions, then reading "My advice for things to do in Amsterdam". 
  • The Museumkaart (Museum Card) is little publicised to foreign visitors, but a good deal for culture vultures planning on visiting lots of museums, as it provides free admission for a whole year to many of the city's museums. See more by clicking on Amsterdam attractions, then reading "My advice for things to do in Amsterdam". Also look at www.museumkaart.nl - though the website is in Dutch only.
  • From Mon-Fri noon-7.30pm, Sat-Sun noon-6pm, the Last Minute Ticket Shop in the Stadsschouwburg (the Municipal Theatre) on the Leidseplein sells day-of-performance tickets at half price, for anything from opera and dance to jazz and films. Performances suitable for non-Dutch speakers are marked LNP - language no problem. See what's available on www.lastminuteticketshop.nl - though you can only buy the tickets in person at the office.
  • The Concertgebouw (www.concertgebouw.nl) lays on free classical concerts Wednesday lunchtimes at 12.30pm from September to June. They are popular, so get there a little early to be sure of getting a seat.
  • By buying tickets online in advance for the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank Huis, you can skip the often-long queues to enter.
  • Free-to-view art is on display in the Civic Guards Gallery, a covered arcade lined with imposing 17th-century paintings that forms part of the Amsterdam Historisch Museum.
  • For a free, panoramic view of the city, head up to the sloping roof terrace of the copper-clad NEMO science centre. There's a cafe attached, and in the summer months, a party atmosphere often prevails.
  • Wondering what the construction work around the Centraal Station is all about? Visit the large-scale exhibition centre Stationsplein 7, on the eastern side of the station, to learn about the "Station Island" revamp, and the controversial North/South Line metro that is being built. Most of the displays are in Dutch, but there are detailed leaflets in English (www.stationsplein7.amsterdam.nl).
  • An underground viewing point of work on the North/South Line metro has recently been created, towards the southern end of Rokin - look for the metallic orange structure over the entrance. It's open Wed-Sun 1pm-6pm. You get to see a lot of enormous pipes and mud.
  • ARCAM (Architecture Centrum Amsterdam), at Prins Hendrikkade 600, has lots of maps and literature to help explore Amsterdam's fascinating old and modern architecture. It also lays on exhibitions. Open Tue-Sat 1-5pm; www.arcam.nl.

Other useful tips

  • Note that Amsterdam's tourist offices give out very little literature for free. The main tourist office in the chalet building right outside the Centraal Station is often frustratingly busy. 
  • Amsterdam is one of the safest cities you can visit. Nonetheless, be vigilant in the alleys of the Red Light District, where lots of dodgy-looking characters lurk around, and watch out for pickpockets in Centraal Station.
  • One of the most likely ways to have an accident in Amsterdam is colliding with a cyclist. Try not to walk in bike lanes; look in every direction before crossing any thoroughfare - cyclists do not respect one-way systems; and get out the way if you hear a bicycle bell behind you.
  • Despite Amsterdam's northerly location, mosquitoes can be a problem in summer. Take electronic zappers and repellent.
  • If you've got a few minutes to kill at Schiphol before catching your flight, rather than aimlessly browse the duty-free shops, take in the Rijksmuseum's latest free mini exhibition. A dozen or so carefully chosen works from the Rijksmuseum's vast collections are instructively displayed in a golden pod located after passport control, between piers E and F (just follow the signs for "museum"). The exhibition space is open daily 7am-8pm. See www.rijksmuseum.nl for more information.

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