What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps in Amsterdam

What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps in Amsterdam

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Avoid hassle and discover the non-touristic side of Amsterdam with these top 10 tips on tourist traps in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a lovely city to visit. But just like any other famous city, you have to be wary of those tourist traps: streets you should avoid, museums you shouldn’t visit, places you shouldn’t go. Here is a top 10 list to help you escape Amsterdam's tourist traps.

1. Central Station & Damrak

Like any other international railway station, Amsterdam Central Station is the place where you should be aware. That means: watch your luggage, keep you wallet out of sight and be cautious about any seemingly friendly people offering you help and assistance.

If you look like you don’t know where to go and what to do, that makes you a target.

At Amsterdam Central Station you will be hassled with people offering you help finding accommodation and other ‘spectacular offers’ for tourist attractions. If you don’t need any help, be blunt. Tell that person to go away and if you are feeling unsafe, you should notify the police.

If you need a hotel or any other information, go to the tourist information desk located outside, across from the station. They can find you hotels and the information you need.

Damrak

Damrak is the street that leads you from Amsterdam Central Station to Dam Square. If you arrive to Amsterdam via the station, you will need to walk this street when you come and when you leave. Outside of these two instances, do not go to Damrak or Central Station, because: Damrak is one big tourist trap.


Damrak is a weird street with an international feel to it, because it caters only to tourists. I don’t think anyone I know living in Amsterdam has ever walked in Damrak (we bike).

What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps
Souvenirshop along the Damrak in central Amsterdam.


Damrak is lined with souvenir shops, selling coffee mugs, t-shirts and a bunch of other useless stuff decorated with large penises (after all: this is Amsterdam!). You’ll find some of the worst restaurants in town here. Outlets of well-known international and national (Febo!) fast food chains next to dodgy looking currency exchange offices give it that really international tourist look we call shady.

Many times, you will be tempted to walk into the ‘tours and tickets’ agencies –  appearing like magic mushrooms in autumn – trying to sell you entrances to all of the Amsterdam attractions listed in this article.

And when you leave Damrak – trying to get away by turning into one of those small urine-smelling back alleys that lead you to the part of Haarlemmerstraat that is actually one of the most tacky shopping streets of the city – you will understand that you should have followed my advice when I told you: Do not go to Damrak.

2. Amsterdam bus tour

Hop on, hop off, a trip in an ‘original American school bus’, an open-top bus tour – they are all the same.

Bus tours are a waste of time and money in a small city.

The thing is, Amsterdam is too small to see by bus. The most interesting parts of the city you can not visit by large transport.

What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps
A boat ride in the Amsterdam canals is much better than a bus ride.

The Red Light District (old centre) and Nieuwmarkt, which are the oldest parts of the city, can only be visited walking. Then there is the 17th-century canal belt, which you can’t visit by any bus, tram or metro, but only by foot and by bike.

The best thing to do in Amsterdam is to stroll around the small, quiet streets lined with flowers, crossing its romantic bridges, taking pictures of left-over bikes locked to them and the reflection of the canal houses in the water, all while listening to the cheerful sound of the 18th-century bell tower.

A bus follows the tracks of the tram, just outside the historic centre. You’ll just be in traffic.

Instead, if you don’t want to walk, try the hop on hop off cruise by boat. You will definitely see more and actually enjoy the ride.

3. Heineken Experience

The same way the word ‘Amsterdam’ just shouts sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, the Heineken Experience still enjoys its reputation of ‘the museum where you get drunk for free’.

Time has turned both facts into myths, however.

Visiting the Heineken factory once was one of the most appreciated tourist attractions of Amsterdam because it meant you would pay around EUR 1 to enter, endure a guided tour through the factory, and finally make your way towards the bar where you could drink as much Heineken beer as you wanted.

Those days are gone.

The Heineken Experience is still housed in the former brewery of Heineken. But that’s about all that’s interesting about the current Heineken Experience.

The Heineken Experience is not a museum or an ‘experience’, but more so an advertisement of one of the biggest players in the international brewery scene.

Though the rise of Amsterdam brewer Heineken comes with some very interesting stories, Heineken prefers to leave out these important background facts (read more in 10 Facts about Dutch beer) and instead stages one big show-off of four floors of multimedia presentations.

Sure, there is interactive stuff. You can fabricate your own personalised label on your Heineken bottle. You can star in your own music video. You see how it feels to be a beer bottle.

In the end you get two free half pints of Heineken beer and you’ve spent almost 1.5 hours digesting Heineken public relations.

If you really are interested in Dutch beer, visit a local Amsterdam brewery. Most of them have free tours and the beer is always better.

You look like you don’t know where to go and what to do. That makes you a target.  At Amsterdam Central Station you will be hassled with people offering you help finding accommodation and other ‘spectacular offers’ for tourist attractions. If you don’t need any help, be blunt. Tell that person to go away and if you are feeling unsafe, you should notify the police.  If you need a hotel or any other information, go to the tourist information desk located outside, across from the station. They can find you hotels and the information you need.  Damrak Damrak is the street that leads you from Amsterdam Central Station to Dam Square. If you arrive to Amsterdam via the station, you will need to walk this street when you come and when you leave. Outside of these two instances, do not go to Damrak or Central Station, because:  Damrak is one big tourist trap.  Damrak is a weird street with an international feel to it, because it caters only to tourists. I don’t think anyone I know living in Amsterdam has ever walked on Damrak (we bike).  What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps Chocolate con churros Damrak is lined with souvenir shops, selling coffee mugs, t-shirts and a bunch of other useless stuff decorated with large penises (after all: this is Amsterdam!). You’ll find some of the worst restaurants in town here. Outlets of well-known international and national (Febo!) fast food chains next to dodgy looking currency exchange offices give it that really international tourist look we call shady.  Many times, you will be tempted to walk into the ‘tours and tickets’ agencies –  appearing like magic mushrooms in autumn – trying to sell you entrances to all of the Amsterdam attractions listed in this article.  And when you leave Damrak – trying to get away by turning into one of those small urine-smelling back alleys that lead you to the part of Haarlemmerstraat that is actually one of the most tacky shopping streets of the city – you will understand that you should have followed my advice when I told you: Do not go to Damrak.  2. Amsterdam bus tour Hop on, hop off, a trip in an ‘original American school bus’, an open-top bus tour, the Amsterdam Tourist Bus – they are all the same:  Amsterdam bus tours are a waste of time and a waste of money.  The thing is, Amsterdam is too small to see by bus. The most interesting parts of the city you can not visit by large transport.   What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps Chocolate con churros The Red Light District (old centre) and Nieuwmarkt, which are the oldest parts of the city, can only be visited walking. Then there is the 17th-century canal belt, which you can’t visit by any bus, tram or metro, but only by foot and by bike.  The best thing to do in Amsterdam is to stroll around the small, quiet streets lined with flowers, crossing its romantic bridges, taking pictures of left-over bikes locked to them and the reflection of the canal houses in the water, all while listening to the cheerful sound of the 18th-century bell tower.  A bus follows the tracks of the tram, just outside the historic centre. You’ll just be in traffic.  Instead, if you don’t want to walk, try the hop on hop off cruise by boat. You will definitely see more and actually enjoy the ride.  3. Heineken Experience The same way the word ‘Amsterdam’ just shouts sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, the Heineken Experience still enjoys its reputation of ‘the museum where you get drunk for free’.  Time has turned both facts into myths, however.  Visiting the Heineken factory once was one of the most appreciated tourist attractions of Amsterdam because it meant you would pay around €1 to enter, endure a guided tour through the factory, and finally make your way towards the bar where you could drink as much Heineken beer as you wanted.  Those days are gone.  The Heineken Experience is still housed in the former brewery of Heineken. But that’s about all that’s interesting about the current Heineken Experience.  The Heineken Experience is not a museum or an ‘experience’, but more so a tedious advertisement of one of the biggest players in the international brewery scene.  Though the rise of Amsterdam brewer Heineken comes with some very interesting stories, Heineken prefers to leave out these important background facts (read more in 10 Facts about Dutch beer) and instead stages one big show-off of 4 floors of multimedia presentations.  Sure, there is interactive stuff. You can fabricate your own personalised label on your Heineken bottle. You can star in your own music video. You see how it feels to be a beer bottle. Or something.  In the end you get two free half pints of Heineken beer and you’ve spent almost 1.5 hours digesting Heineken public relations.  If you really are interested in Dutch beer, visit a local Amsterdam brewery. Most of them have free tours and the beer is always better.
Walking along the canals of Amsterdam and stopping at a terrace for a beer. Cheaper and more fun and more authentic than the Heineken Experience.

 

4. Pastry shops in the Red Light District

Around the Amsterdam Red Light District, there are many pastry shops. The chocolate croissants, doughnuts and cream-filled cookies certainly look attractive – to some.

Take a closer look.

Many of these sugary delicacies have been laying around the window for quite some time, just waiting for those hungry, sugar-longing victims which have just rocked out of a coffee shop.

5. Ice Bar

Do you want to pay EUR 19.50 to have two drinks in a freezer? Ice Bars have been popping up all around the world and funnily, they're always for tourists. Locals just don’t go there. That at least should give you hint.

The Amsterdam XtraCold Ice Bar is basically a place with lots of ice – blocks of it – and sculptures.

It takes a lot of air cooling to keep the temperature low, and with recent climate change problems, you really ought to wonder about the necessities of this type of ‘fun’ place.

For the price, you get two small drinks and a maximum of 30 minutes inside. You get gloves, but still, most people only last 15 minutes.

If you just pop round to Amsterdam in winter and open a bottle of beer at night, you get the same idea, but cheaper.

6. Flower Market

The Flower Market in Amsterdam is not something you should be too enthusiastic about. First of all: it’s supposed to be located on boats. It’s true some are located on barges that float, but you won’t notice that.

Websites still write this is ‘typical local market’, but that’s not true.

Dutch people don’t buy flowers from the Amsterdam Flower Market. This market is for tourists.

There is a only a small selection of flowers and they are not very fresh, nor cheap.

The Flower Market has a long history, but as with many things in this list, that doesn’t automatically make it a must see. It’s just a line of some 15 shops selling mostly souvenirs along with flower pots, seeds and gardening accessories.

 

What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps
Amsterdam Flower Market is a tourist trap

A majority of the shops sell mostly flower bulbs to tourists. I advise you to only buy souvenirs at the Amsterdam Flower Market and not buy bulbs.

Due to restrictions, many tourist will find at the airport they are not allowed to take the bulbs home with them. This is especially true for Americans and, of course, Australians.

The bulbs from the Amsterdam Flower Market are not the best quality. Often the bulbs have been laying around for a while.

I advise you to go home and order flower bulbs from Holland online. The quality is better and they are delivered to your door.

If you want to buy a big bunch of fresh Dutch flowers, go to a neighbourhood market like Albert Cuyp (everyday except Sunday), or Lindengracht (Saturdays), or look at a list of Amsterdam markets.

7. Amsterdam Dungeon

The Amsterdam Dungeon is supposed to be a ‘scary theatre show’ that plays out some of the darker chapters in Amsterdam history, such as torture during the Spanish inquisition or when the city was infested by the Plague. The same ‘dungeon’ format is known in other European cities (like London and Edinburgh).

The Amsterdam Dungeon consists of small dark rooms, lit by black light, strobe and other special effects, where you will be entertained and/or scared by actors dressed up as corpses and ghosts and such.

I suppose it could scare a child. At the end there is a one-minute roller coaster ride.

On top of all that, the Amsterdam Dungeon has extremely confusing prices. It depends when you buy, where you buy and when you go and how many people.

Don’t be tempted to buy the ‘extra cheap deal’ combination ticket with Madame Tussaud, unless 'fakeness' and large crowds of teenagers is your thing.

A ticket to the Amsterdam Dungeon is around EUR 10. At least buy your ticket online to save money if you still plan on going there.

8. Erotic Museum and Sex Museum

Amsterdam needs to have its sex museums. Because it just does. It doesn’t mean you have to go there.

The Erotic Museum – and Sex Museum too – is mostly funny and sometimes interesting but nothing special. It's just a couple of floors with sex related object and pictures wanting to shock you.

The objects presented consist of photographs, drawings, sculptures and other artefacts, as well as film and instruments, all related to the sex theme. This means: body parts and pictures of men, women and, yes, animals engaging in sexual intercourse in very, very varied ways. Some can be quite hardcore, so be prepared.

The Erotic Museum is very funny when you are a teenager.

According to visitors, the Sex Museum is the better one. The Erotic Museum seems to be more like a large shop, with the artefacts placed randomly in the different room.

But who needs the Sex Museum, when there is internet.

9. Leidseplein

I have heard people say their favourite place in Amsterdam was Leidseplein. And that to me is unbelievable.

Apart from a tourist office, there is really nothing to see there besides tourists walking around like zombies trying to find out where to go next.

The Leidseplein serves well as a point of reference. It connects the canal belt to the Vondelpark and the Museum Square. The Melkweg concert place is here, the theatre, the cultural centre Balie for your free WiFi and Paradiso is around the corner.

But the terraces and bars are touristy and expensive and don’t carry any charm.

Unless the jugglers and acrobats trying to attract a crowd to cheer them on is your idea of entertainment, the Leidseplein should be avoided as much as possible.

The side streets are lined with cheap pizza places. In the weekend the streets and bars around Leidseplein fill up with young (Dutch) people, popping in and out of bars that play loud Dutch music, while riot police look on from the Square.

What's up with Amsterdam: Top 10 tourist traps
Street artists selling your portrait at Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam
 
10. Discount ticket packages
Discount ticket packages are to be avoided at all times. Most ticket packages include free tickets to the things to do in Amsterdam already named on this list.

If you don’t want to spend your weekend in Amsterdam looking at plastic fabricated ‘shows’, fake museums and lousy bus rides, and don’t really know what the package is for, do not buy. You will find yourself obligated to go to all these attractions, just because you already bought the  ‘free’ entrance. This is not free, of course – you have already paid.


I Amsterdam City Card

The I Amsterdam City Card is Amsterdam’s ‘official’ discount card. The card includes free public transport for one, two or three days, which you do not need because Amsterdam public transport is only necessary for when you leave the city centre.

You don’t need a free transport card in Amsterdam because everything is walking distance.

Almost all of the things to see in Amsterdam can be visited by foot. If you want to see a part outside the centre, you can buy a normal tram ticket or bus ticket from the conductor.

Besides, the Amsterdam City Card gives you free entrance to many museums except the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, two of Amsterdam’s most visited museums.

This card is only interesting if you want to take a cruise and visit more than 3 museums, all in one day.

The I Amsterdam Card does not come cheap:

  • I Amsterdam City Card for 24 hours: EUR 40.00
  • I Amsterdam City Card for 48 hours: EUR 50.00
  • I Amsterdam City Card for 72 hours: EUR 60.00


Museum Card

Visitors who love museums – and want to visit more than three of them in Amsterdam – can look at the Museum Card. This is a Dutch card which gives you free access to (almost) all of the museums in the Netherlands during a period of one year. You can skip the line at big attractions like the Van Gogh museum as well!

The Museum Year Card is even interchangeable, there is no identification needed nor does the card have a photo of the holder, so you can give it to the next person visiting Amsterdam.

The Museum Card (Museum Jaarkaart) costs EUR 45 and can be bought at the Tourist Information Desk.



Reprinted with permission of What's up with Amsterdam.

What's up with AmsterdamWhat's up with Amsterdam guides tourists and expats towards the hidden gems of Amsterdam. Find budget friendly things to do and see, check up on upcoming events or get closer to the underground scene of Amsterdam: What's up with Amsterdam keeps you posted.

 
 
 
 
 


Photo credit: Michael_Swan (thumbnail), Berkh (clogs)

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8 Comments To This Article

  • cat posted:

    on 18th January 2015, 21:44:10 - Reply

    I do agree with everything. The Damrak is full of fast food and terrible restaurants. Moreover, the Damrak is full of useless souvenirs shops which by the way they have crazy prices of the items, if we look at the quality. As for the Heineken experience, this is also right. There's not a museum or whatsoever.. so another trap!
  • Magdalen posted:

    on 7th May 2014, 23:34:46 - Reply

    I agree with most of the article except the not walking in Damrak. Why are you trying to terrify tourists? I have lived here 10 years in total. I do not own a bike! I prefer to walk wherever possible. I have walked the length of Damrak on many occasions. Whilst it is not to be recommended if you are in a hurry, I find it pleasant to stroll there of a summer's evening and take in the sights and sounds. As for restaurants, I rarely eat out. I would like to know who wrote this article as it has a very negative feel to it.
  • carrico posted:

    on 9th April 2014, 16:28:08 - Reply

    Good points, Charles. Central Amsterdam has lots of history to trace. We have a map indicating the haunts of Max Beckman, and it's interesting to compare then and now. Many Dutch seem to enjoy this, too. After a few days, however, it's off to the Museumplein.
  • yolande posted:

    on 6th April 2014, 00:17:01 - Reply

    nice article and mostly tue, only the museum jaarkaart is on name and definitely not interchangeable
  • Alexandr posted:

    on 3rd April 2014, 10:17:58 - Reply

    Last year the Museum Card was with the name of the holder and a photo. Although, I must admit that the staff at museums almost never check the conformity. You have probably reprinted the obsolete information in this case.
  • longlong time ago posted:

    on 2nd April 2014, 22:26:10 - Reply

    It's very exciting to walk into the presentation of Amsterdam the Disney of Europe especially for newbies and 20 something visitors, and everything has gotten way more pricey since the Euro, you could buy a heck of alot more prior to the euro, but side trips are a must if you don't want to just go there and smoke pot. And the restaurants are completely a rip off all over Amsterdam unless you go for a Pannekoek or a noodle dish in Chinatown. Waterlooplein Market used to be soo cheap now it's outrageously pricey. Better restaurant experience try Antwerp and a unique sauna spa experience outside the city such as Thermae Bussloo
  • Charles posted:

    on 2nd April 2014, 19:53:18 - Reply

    Well, you did away with most of central Amsterdam. I beg to differ with your opinion. Older, more sedentary visitors can get quite a bit of use out of the city pass. Many of them do want Amsterdam souvenirs (except tulip bulbs) and fast food. I found some of the cafes and food shops to be handy and tasty. The "coffee" shops held no interest for us, but the soup place and the English breakfast restaurant, the Argentine steak place, the fresh juices at vegetable shops are all better than at home. Don't give yourself such a bad reputation.
  • Wayne Massie posted:

    on 2nd April 2014, 18:45:11 - Reply

    Youre article was written very truly. I've lived in the "Sloterdijk Area", and was very happy to be away from all the cheap tourist stuff!!
    Although I must confess; I Love THe Jordan District,even if the touris happen to show up more now a days.