Amsterdam is the historic capital city of the Netherlands. With origins as a 12th century fishing village, it rose to become one of the world’s great ports. Its renowned canal ring was built in the 17th century during the Golden Age when Dutch art, science, military and trade flourished.
Today Amsterdam remains an important international economic and transport hub attracting millions of visitors annually.
Where is Amsterdam? The Netherlands is a flat northern European country bounded by Belgium (south), Germany (east) and the North Sea. Amsterdam is located in the north-west part of the country.
The lowest point in the country is Zuidplaspolder near Rotterdam at 7m below sea level. Amsterdam Schiphol airport is located 4m below sea level.
The highest point in the Netherlands is Vaalserberg in Limburg at 323m.
Is it Netherlands or Holland? This question brings up much confusion to some visitors. The Netherlands comprises of 12 provinces: Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North-Brabant, North-Holland, Overijssel, South-Holland, Utrecht and Zeeland.
Amsterdam (population 850,000) is located in North-Holland and makes up part of the Randstad ring of cities (Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht) which has 7 million inhabitants.
The Netherlands is part of the Schengen area agreement which allows open borders between European member states. See visa entry requirements into the Netherlands
The Netherlands uses Central European Time (CET) which is 1 hour ahead of UK time. Standard business hours in Amsterdam are 0900-1800 during the week although on Mondays some shops open at 1100 and a few smaller museums are closed.
Weekend shopping hours are generally 0900-1700 (Saturday) and 1200-1800 (Sunday). Late night shopping is on Thursday until 2100.
Note that Dutch people traditionally eat at around 1800 in the evening and some restaurant/cafè kitchens can close relatively early (say 2100) by international standards.
Dutch is the language spoken in the Netherlands – however many people can speak English reasonably well. Local cable TV will have CNN, BBC World, BBC1 and BBC2 available.
Public holidays for 2020 are 1 January (New Year’s Day), 12/13 April (Easter Sunday/Easter Monday), 27 April (King’s Day), 5 May (Liberation Day), 21 May (Ascension Day), 1 June (Whit Monday), 25/26 December (Christmas Day/Boxing Day).
Amsterdam Weather: Netherlands has a temperate, oceanic climate with cool winters and mild summers. Average daily high/low temperatures are 6°C/1°C (Jan), 14°C/5°C (Apr), 22°C/13°C (Jul), 15°C/8°C (Oct). With 133 days of precipitation per year always be prepared for rainy weather at any time.
Money: The Netherlands is part of the Eurozone which uses the Euro € currency. The most commonly used note denominations are €5, €10, €20 and €50, with the €100 note sometimes seen. The €200 and €500 notes are rarely used and are not accepted in many shops. The Dutch central bank issues euro notes signified by a letter “P” on the serial number.
Coins in use are the 5, 10, 20 and 50 euro cents plus the 1 and 2 euros. The country does not commonly use the 1 and 2 cents coins – prices are rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents – for example, you would pay 2 euros if the total price ranged between 1.98 and 2.02; you pay 2.05 for price totals between 2.03 and 2.07.
ATM machines for international cards are found all over the city – the main Dutch banks are ABN Amro, ING and Rabobank. Payments by debit card are popular and the use of contactless is widespread. Credit card payments are slowly becoming more accepted by many retailers.
Tipping in the Netherlands is not expected though rounding up a standard restaurant bill to the nearest 5 euros is generally appreciated.
In terms of electric power, the Netherlands uses the standard 230V 2 pin plugs. Many business hotels will also have international adapter sockets.
Telephone: The Netherlands country dialling code is +31. The Amsterdam city code is (0)20. Call 112 for emergency services.
Pre-paid SIM cards can be easily bought from telecom shops, supermarkets or HEMA.
Mandatory ID law: It is obligatory for all individuals over the age of 14 to carry a valid form of identification. Acceptable forms of ID are Dutch ID cards, Dutch residence permit, Dutch or European passports, Dutch or European photo driving license. Those from outside Europe need to show a passport with a valid entry permit. Copies of ID are apparently not valid, the original must be produced. Failure to do so carries a €60 fine.
In reality many visitors do not carry a valid ID, for example preferring to leave their passports in the hotel safe. Just be aware that police and public transport ticket inspectors could ask you to produce ID in some cases.
Strict no smoking laws are in effect at all work places and public buildings in the Netherlands – this includes cafès, bars and restaurants.
Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are permitted to sell up to 5 grams of cannabis to customers over the age of 18. Smoking tobacco is not permitted in coffeeshops.
Amsterdam is well known for its red-light district located in De Wallen area of the city centre.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and regulated by the local authorities. The minimum legal age for a prostitute in Amsterdam is 21. Be aware that you should not take photos of the prostitutes working in the windows.