10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to The Netherlands

The Netherlands

Stereotypes aside, The Netherlands isn’t all smoke and red lights. From winding canals to fields of blooming color, this tiny country holds a great amount of tradition, culture and unrivalled charm.

1. English Speakers Don’t Need to Worry About a Language Barrier

The Dutch have won bragging rights to speaking the best English (as a second language) in Europe. Knocking the Swedes and Danish off the top spot, Dutchie’s have a way with words when it comes to the English language.

Don’t be afraid to ask for directions, recommendations or just have a chat in English. Almost all locals, especially in Amsterdam, speak English and jump at the chance to practice and show off their skills.

In saying that, learning a few key phrases like Dankjewel (thank you) and Goedemorgen (good morning) doesn’t go astray and will help you break the ice with locals.

Besides, you may already know more than you think. Dutch has been labelled the easiest language for native English speakers to learn, thanks to a surprising amount of Dutch coming directly from English.

The Dutch Fishing Village, Volendam. Photo credit: iStock

2. Book in Advance

Booking in advance can save you a headache, especially if you’re traveling to Amsterdam during peak season (between June and August). Hostels inside the city centre usually get booked up in advance during Summer, and some attractions can see you spending hours in a queue if you don’t book online.

If you plan on visiting the Anne Frank House, ensure you buy a ticket online prior to making your way there. Keep in mind that there are a limited number of tickets available each day. If you forgo buying online, be prepared to wait hours in a line that usually stretches around the block.

When it comes to major museums, your best option is purchasing the I Amsterdam City Card. This offers free entrance to most of the city’s cultural delights, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and, of course, the Tulip Museum. It also includes unlimited use of public transport for the duration of your card.

3. Coffee Shops Are Different to Cafes

It’s no secret that w.e.e.d is legal in The Netherlands and tourists will flock to Amsterdam just to sample some of the local, uh, delicacies.

But, if an innocent cup of caffeine and slice of banana bread is all you’re after, steer clear of the coffee shops – those brownies aren’t the type you’re looking for. Instead, search for a cafe to get your hot chocolate fix.

4. Lock Your Bike… Twice

If you’re hiring a bike during your stay – which is one of the best ways to explore the cities – ensure you leave the rental shop with a sturdy lock.

Usually bikes will come with a fixed lock that wraps around the wheel, and also a separate lock that you can use to secure the frame to a pole or bike rack. Making the bike twice as hard to steal will deter thieves who are looking to make some easy cash.

On that note, if you hear “pssst, want to buy a bike?” while wandering the streets, ignore the cheap price they offer – it’s not worth the guilty conscience of knowing you’re getting around on a stolen ride.

5. The Red Light District is a Normal Street During the Day

As soon as the sun sets, red lights tint the area and the streets really come to life. Visit at night to see the district in all its glory.

During the day, it’s a lot less lively. Without the illuminated, neon lights and buzzing atmosphere, it’s easier to see the area’s unattractive traits. Even though the women still tap on their windows during daylight, the action of the district happens later on in the night.

The Red Light District During The Day. Photo credit:iStock

6. Don’t Take Pictures of the Ladies at The Red Light District

Drunken backpackers, consider this your warning. Not only is it incredibly rude to treat the ladies in the windows like zoo animals, but taking photos of their profession will most likely result in your phone going for a swim.

Trust us, if any of the girls catch you trying to take a sneaky snap, there’s a good chance they will come out from behind their window, grab your phone and drown it in the nearby canal to teach you a lesson.

7. Don’t Just Plan On Visiting Amsterdam

All too often travelers only plan enough time on their Netherlands itinerary to explore Amsterdam. But beyond the smoke and red lights there are a number of nearby cities filled to the brim with traditional Dutch charm.

Step away from the touristy Dam and take a trip to one of the nearby cities or villages, including Volendam, Utrecht, Maastricht or Giethoorn – to name a few. It’s in these lesser-known places that you’ll discover The Netherlands beyond its’ stereotypes.

8. The Dutch Aren’t Rude, They’re Just Direct

The Dutch are known for being extremely direct. Don’t take it personally, it’s in their culture to speak exactly what’s on their mind without biting their tongue.

From being brutally honest to extending a simple ‘no’ without explanation, you will always know where you stand with a Dutchie.

9. Buy an OV-ChipKaart (OV-Chip Card)

The OV-ChipKaart is the public transport ticket system in the Netherlands, and can be used on all forms of public transport.

You can buy a disposable card if you plan on only using it once, or an anonymous card if you plan on traveling via public transport more often. Simply check in and out of your journey using the card readers, and top up when necessary.

10. Watch Out for The Bike Lanes

The bike lanes can be unforgiving to tourists who are, more often than not, hazards to cyclists. Beware of the designated bike lanes (which are painted red and have a symbol of a bike marking them), as they can be easily stepped on if you’re not paying attention.

If you hear the ding of angry bells, quickly move off the lane – they’d rather hit you than stop.

By Nicola Donovan/ www.worldnomads.com