10 Things a Foreigner Sees in Amsterdam – Beyond the Tulips and Canals

Amsterdam Drone View

Amsterdam, with its dynamic energy, deep-rooted history, and distinctive attractions, never fails to enchant its visitors. The city’s picturesque canals, age-old structures, and forward-thinking spirit rank it among Europe’s premier destinations.

During my visit to the Netherlands, I had the privilege of delving deep into its rich culture. Notably, it’s hailed as one of the most recommended destinations for solo female travelers. Here are ten intriguing aspects I discovered:

1. The Unique World of Dutch Fast Food

For someone who has explored the streets of many cities, the Dutch fast-food scene is quite an eye-opener. Unlike regular burgers and fries, Amsterdam offers a special treat to its visitors.

While wandering around, I stumbled upon these wall-mounted vending machines, which look eerily similar to chocolate dispensers. But guess what? Instead of chocolates, they have sausages, burgers, and other deep-fried delicacies ready for instant grab. Just pop in some coins, and you can enjoy a warm snack without waiting.

Chinese restaurants here follow a unique tradition. Instead of asking for dishes by their name, you order by numbers. So, if you’re ever craving some delicious babipangang, just ask for a “number 62”!

2. The Tale of Café Cats and Bar Dogs

Op z'n Kop Cat Café _ Groningen _ Netherlands

Amsterdam’s cafes and bars are not just places for humans to relax; they are also home to some furry friends. It’s not every day you’d find animals freely roaming in such establishments, but Amsterdam breaks the mold.

Sipping on a cup of coffee while a cat purrs beside you is a common sight in many Amsterdam cafes. These ‘cafe cats’ are like mascots or resident pets, lounging around, and offering a unique and cozy experience for visitors.

One evening, I was at a bar when a random dog strolled in, nonchalantly moving amongst the patrons. What surprised me was that no one paid any heed, making it clear that this was the norm here. Comparatively, such an occurrence would be rare in places like Sydney.

3. Payment Woes and Musical Carts

From unique payment systems to musical carts roaming the streets, Amsterdam has its quirks. These aspects, though might seem trivial, add to the city’s distinct charm.

When visiting local or even some big chain stores, don’t be surprised if they don’t accept your regular credit card. Maestro seems to be the dominant card here, especially in non-touristy areas.

So, if you don’t own a Maestro, it’s wise to carry some cash. While strolling through the city, you might hear music in the distance.

No, it’s not a street musician, but a musical cart, often accompanied by people collecting donations. Its purpose remains a mystery to me, but the local’s willingness to donate indicates its noble cause.

4. The Bicycle Capital of the World

Amsterdam Bicycle Paradise

Amsterdam and bicycles go hand in hand. As soon as you set foot in this city, you’ll realize that bikes rule the roads.

If you thought bicycles were just for commuting, Amsterdam will prove you wrong. It’s common to see locals carrying everything from groceries to furniture on their two-wheelers.

Their impeccable balance and the art of carrying multiple items on bikes is truly commendable and is something I’d only heard of before seeing it firsthand. Even with its biking prowess, accidents do happen.

On average, a car ends up in the canal once a week. While there are low barricades to prevent such incidents, distractions, including the city’s beauty, might just be too much for some.

5. The Intriguing Architecture of Amsterdam Homes

Traditional Amsterdam houses are not just pretty to look at; they also serve practical purposes that are deeply rooted in the city’s history.

Ever noticed hooks on top of Amsterdam houses? They aren’t just for show. Due to the city’s narrow staircases, these hooks are utilized to hoist furniture in and out of the houses. It’s an ingenious solution to a logistical problem, and it’s fascinating to see in action.

Another architectural quirk you might spot is the tilted houses, leaning forward or sideways. Some say it’s because of the wooden foundations while others believe it’s intentional to help with hoisting items. Whatever the reason, it adds to the city’s charm.

6. A Culture of Helpfulness and Kindness

The Science of Kindness Visual

While the beautiful buildings and canals are a treat, it’s the people of Amsterdam that truly make the city special.

It wasn’t just me, a tourist, who was frequently stopped for directions; even locals asked me. This goes against what I was used to, especially coming from a place where bothering someone with a question is almost taboo. Yet, here in Amsterdam, it’s the norm.

What struck me was not just the frequency of questions but the genuine warmth of the people. Whether you’re asking for directions or just striking up a conversation, the Dutch are incredibly friendly and welcoming.

7. The Intriguing Red Light District

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is famous worldwide, not just for its liberal stance on sex work but also for the way it’s integrated into the city’s culture.

Wandering through the district, you’ll see women in lingerie displayed in windows, a sight that might be confronting for some. But in Amsterdam, it’s just another part of the city’s open-minded nature.

While the Red Light District is known for its window displays, it’s essential to remember it’s more than just a tourist attraction. With strict regulations, the area ensures the safety and rights of the workers. Moreover, hidden among the district’s alleys are numerous bars, shops, and even historic buildings waiting to be explored.

8. The Symphony of Sounds and Streets

Amsterdam’s Street

Amsterdam’s streets are alive, not just with the hustle and bustle of people but with a cacophony of sounds that become its signature.

As you walk along the canals, you might encounter talented street musicians playing everything from violins to accordions. These melodies, combined with the city’s ambiance, make for a truly magical experience, making even a simple stroll memorable.

Earlier, I mentioned the musical carts that roam the streets. Beyond collecting donations, they serve as a reminder of the city’s unique soundscape, from church bells ringing in the distance to the laughter of children playing by the canals.

9. Water, Canals, and Floating Wonders

Amsterdam’s intricate network of canals is one of its most defining features. But there’s more to these waters than meets the eye.

The Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Moored up on the city’s southern canal belt, this market boasts a wide array of flowers, plants, and souvenirs. The vivid colors and fragrant aromas make it a must-visit.

As you navigate the canals, you’ll spot numerous houseboats. These floating homes offer a unique living experience. Once serving as a solution to the housing shortage, today, they are a blend of tradition and modern living, some even available for tourists to rent and experience canal life firsthand.

10. The Spirit of Festivals and Celebrations

Music Festival in Amsterdam

Amsterdam isn’t just buildings and canals; it’s a city that knows how to celebrate, and each event brings out a different shade of its vibrant culture.

April 27th marks King’s Day, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. The city turns into an orange sea, with locals and tourists alike donning the national color. The festivities, flea markets, boat parties, and live music make it a spectacle you don’t want to miss.

Winter in Amsterdam is illuminated by the Amsterdam Light Festival. Artists from around the world showcase their installations, turning the city into a wonderland of light. The best way to experience it is by a canal cruise, where the reflections off the water add another dimension to the art.


Do I need to rent a bike in Amsterdam?

While not mandatory, renting a bike lets you experience the city like a local. Plus, it’s a convenient way to cover more ground in less time.

Is Amsterdam safe at night?

Generally, Amsterdam is considered safe. However, like any major city, it’s essential to stay alert and stick to well-lit areas, especially if traveling alone.

What language do the locals speak?

Dutch is the official language, but most Amsterdammers are fluent in English, especially in service sectors.

Are there other districts like the Red Light District?

While the Red Light District is the most famous, there are other smaller areas in the city where window prostitution is practiced, albeit on a much lesser scale.

What’s the deal with coffee shops in Amsterdam?

In Amsterdam, “coffee shops” usually refer to places where cannabis is sold and consumed. If you’re looking for a caffeine fix, you might want to head to a “café” instead.

Is tap water safe to drink?

Yes, tap water in Amsterdam is of high quality and safe to drink.

What should I wear in Amsterdam?

The weather can be quite changeable, so layers are recommended. Also, comfortable walking shoes are a must, given the city’s cobbled streets.

Final Words

Amsterdam is more than just a tourist destination; it’s a melting pot of cultures, histories, and modern-day wonders. Whether you’re gazing at its intricate architecture, navigating its bustling streets, or unwinding by the canals, there’s a piece of Amsterdam waiting to captivate your heart.

So, pack your bags and set forth on an adventure that promises memories for a lifetime.