A popular article just appeared on the web – The 12 Worst Things to Do in Paris. I’m pleased to report that I’ve only made French travel mistakes numbers 1, 3, 11 and 12 – having visited the Champs Elysees, the Mona Lisa, Gare du Nord and the Forum des Halles.
The article inspired Mevrouw T and me to consider the dozen worst things to do in the city we love, and to pass our warnings on to potential visitors.
1. Take a taxi from Schiphol Airport.
Many visitors make their first mistake within minutes of arriving. A taxi from Schiphol to the centre of Amsterdam may cost upwards of 40 euros, especially if your driver takes the scenic route or gets stuck in peak hour traffic. Trains leave from the middle of the Arrivals Hall every few minutes, and reach Amsterdam Centraal Station in 17 minutes. From there, you can almost certainly walk or catch a tram to your hotel. The train ride costs a mere EUR4.00.
2. Queue for Anne Frank or Van Gogh.
Particularly in the mornings, and at weekend and holiday times, queues outside the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum are long. They’re places of pilgrimage for many and popular for good reason, but if time is limited, you won’t want to spend an hour or more standing in a line. You can pre-book tickets online, or wait until after 2pm when the school groups have climbed back on their buses.
Alternative ways to get at least part of the story of Jewish Amsterdam are to visit the City Archives (free and wonderful!), the Amsterdam Jewish Museum or the Verzets (‘Resistance’) Museum.
There are a few Van Goghs in the Rijksmuseum too, and a couple in the Stedelijk Museum, right next door to the Van Gogh Museum and with no queue at all.
3. Walk on the bike path
Crossing roads in Amsterdam is not the same as in most other cities. There are more bikes than cars in the town. So look left and right and step gingerly across the red asphalt that designates a bike path. Then look left and right to cross the road, bearing in mind that not only trams but also taxis zip along the centre lanes. Then look left and right again before you step onto another bike path. If you hesitate on that red asphalt I might even run you down myself.
4. Visit certain museums
It’s a matter of taste and interest of course, but I’ve never really seen the need to spend time and money on the Sex Museum, the Museum of Torture and the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum. Maybe someone will tell me they offer terrific social history experiences but, to be honest, the idea of them doesn’t appeal to me. Neither does the Heineken Experience brewery tour which many seem to find an essential part of any Amsterdam visit.
If you want quirky social history, go to the Museum of Bags and Purses instead.
5. Go for a bike ride without a rain jacket.
6. Stay in the Wallen
The ‘Wallen’, the old docklands area on the east side of the canal belt is popular with British football clubs on post-season trips, with boys’ stag parties and with those who like bars, brothels and smoking substances less readily available elsewhere. A good reason to stay away, we feel.
7. Buy an IAmsterdam card
It’s the all-in-one card giving entrance to museums, use of public transport and some discounts. However, if you’re able to walk or ride a bike you may not need public transport very often and if you’re planning to visit a few museums or go elsewhere in the Netherlands a EUR50 Museum Card is better value. It’s good for a year and you can use it anywhere in the Netherlands.
The IAmsterdam Card has a 24-72-hour limit and costs EUR47-67.
8. Buy Delft Blue pottery
If it’s just a tourist souvenir you’re after, any little white and blue windmill or clog will do. It was probably made in China. If you really want a genuine Delft Blue article, it’s worth checking its provenance. Same goes for diamonds.
9. Order coffee in a ‘coffeeshop’.
‘Coffeeshops’ are the places that serve substances not normally available over the counter in other countries. If you’re looking for hash, marijuana or magic mushrooms they’ll probably be able to see you right. If you prefer real ‘cafe’, try a cafe.
10. Try to speak Dutch.
A few basics, maybe ‘Dank u wel’ (thank you), ‘Goede morgen’ (good morning) and ‘Sorry’ (sorry) are all you need. Attempting anything else will only damage your vocal chords.
A conversation with a foreigner is a welcome chance for the Dutch person to show off their language skills. They travel outside the country several times a year, and have no trouble with English/French/German/Italian/Portuguese/Thai…
You only insult them if you think they only understand Nederlands and they won’t understand your phrasebook Dutch anyway.
11. Book organised tours out of town.
At tourist centres companies offer bus tours out of Amsterdam to the villages such as Marken, Volendam and the Zaanse Schans. All of these places are easy to reach on regular train and bus services from Centraal Station, unsurprisingly for considerably less money.
12. Leave too soon.
Amsterdam is small; you can walk around the canal belt and museums in a day. Then you’ll want to do other things. Those two nights you booked are not nearly enough. Make it a week next time.
Okay, over to you. What else should visitors avoid in Amsterdam? What is the worst local food and what is the most disappointing tourist attraction? What are the other traps for young players, either in Amsterdam or in travel generally?