nomadic life guide

A First timers guide to Amsterdam

Tulips, clogs, windmills, canals, bikes, museums, architecture, clubbing, diamonds, markets, cannabis culture and prostitution. From the high brow to the low, there’s enough culture of all kinds in this city no matter who you are. This guide is intended for the newbie, the virgin to make sense of this complex city and avoid the pitfalls.

Canal trips There are SOOO many of these around and they are usually pricey. For this reason we haven’t been on one. We are big fans of walking and you see so many of them on foot that we think time and money is better spent doing something else. However if this is your thing you are well catered for.

Bike hire There is a truly staggering number of bikes in Amsterdam and how anyone keeps track of who’s is who’s is anyone’s guess. Bikes can be hired at many locations across the city but be warned its not an easy place to navigate on two wheels, and can be quite dangerous with all the trams and vehicles. We think the best way round this city is to jump on a tram or our favourite, walk.

Mr Chips Mr chips is a chain of chip shops and they serve the second best chips in the world. The best being the ones that my gran makes, and unfortunately for you, its not likely that she’s going to make you any. So you MUST try these while your there. They are cheap as, well, chips and there’s a variety of sauce’s to choose from. Most people seem to go for mayo, and that is highly recommended but the repeat user may wish to try the slightly more unusual choices on offer. So grab yourself a cone each and sit in Dam square enjoying the great people watching while you tuck in.

The Torture museum A dark look through history at some of the methods of punishment bequeathed upon those unfortunate enough to be accused of one minor crime or another. The museum takes you on a walk through dark corridors discovering on the way some of these delightful gems from the past. There’s no shortage of appliances but information is a bit scant with just one small information board about each one. We were never able to establish whether or not the exhibits are reproductions or the genuine article.

Cannabis Chong, dope, ganja, grass, green, marijuana, mary jane, reefer, skunk, smoke. Im quite sure you have at least thought about dancing with the green goddess while your there, and you should because it DOES NOT carry any of the health risks you think it does. You may not believe me right now but THE HEALTH BENEFITS ARE ASTONISHING. It is totally non addictive. For neurological conditions there really is nothing better. Rick Simpson in Canada has been treating cancer VERY successfully with this herb also. The fact that is not legal in most countries is a crime against humanity and shows that it is the law of ignorance that rules. See this excellent article for the facts

Before you go to a café, we recommend getting high on information and going to the cannabis college situated in the red light district, where the excellent staff there will give you the low-down and answer any questions you might have. For 1 Euro you can become a life long member and go downstairs to see their grow room where they cultivate the magic herb.

Neither of us like smoking and luckily for people like us, some clever soul invented the vaporiser. Rather than burn the herb, a vaporiser just heats it to release all the good stuff, the THC, the CBD and the hundreds of different canabinoids that heal the body and mind. It also makes your herbs go a lot further, when smoked you lose 80% of the good stuff to the air, while vaping delivers 90% to your body.

Not all cafés have vaporisers so ask in the college where they recommend, or ask to use the ones they have there. Some cafés also like to rip off tourists with expensive weed and expensive drinks so its definitely worth asking rather than just following the crowd to bulldog or grasshopper. We like Anyday’s café near the station, where they have good herb at a good price, good advice, vaporisers and good value drinks. Be sure to take care on their staircase of doom though, after a chong its truly terrifying!


Amsterdam is a sinking city. The pilings that were put in 300 years ago are rotting and the buildings slowly and quietly sinking onto the ooze upon which the city is built. This leads to some of the renaissance gabled façades leaning at crazy angles, giving a most charming effect. After a bit of dope you sometimes wonder what is leaning – you or the entire street!! Often and rather surprisingly, it is the actually the street. There are few city’s in the world that display such a remarkable consistency in the style of architecture both traditional and contemporary, its lovely to simply wander and enjoy it.

Sex Museum Not somewhere you would want your mum to know that you had been to, but jolly good fun all the same. There’s many laughs to be had, ridiculous photos to be taken and you might even learn something along the way. Just promise us one thing, that if you do decide to go there, you must have been to a café beforehand, do this and they will hear you laughing in Belgium.

Dam Square Just a five-minute walk down the Damrak from central station takes you into this jam-packed square, jostling with locals and tourists day and night. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built around the river Amstel to prevent the Zuiderzee sea from flooding the city. During the sixties, the square was renowned for its Dam Square hippies, today the laid back and relaxed character of this densely pigeon populated square lives on.

Vondelpark Amsterdams equivalent of New York’s central park or London Hyde park, Vondelpark is a haven of peace and green when you need a break from the city. Every year the trees, lakes and manicured lawns play host to tens of millions of visitors. We like to take sandwiches at lunch time if the weather allows, as Amsterdam is expensive to eat in restaurants.

Sex shows Again, probably not one to tell the family about but if you have never been to one then here’s your chance. There’s quite a few to choose from and I suppose it depends what your looking for, but if your keen to not be sat next to a seedy, thigh rubbing, lonely, pocket masturbator then we have been told, on good authority that Moulin Rouge in the red light district is the one to go for. This place apparently has a much more entertaining side to the show, although extremely graphic it is also quite funny and attended by many couples. The front seats are only for the brave and naive, as a bit of audience participation is called upon at times!

Shopping Shoppers are well catered for with the big brand chains all present but maybe not so correct and the more interesting independent stores and boutiques. The Magna Plaza is a big draw to the fashion conscious, but for us its the markets. Markets are a big thing in this city and it should be quite easy to find one taking place during your visit. They sell all sorts, the old, the new, the unusual, the mundane, the specialist and down right weird. There a great place to get some interesting street food and to meet the locals.

Flower market

Museums Too many to mention. Rijks museum, Van Goch, Rembrandt, tulips, Heineken, hemp and the eye wateringly expensive Anne Frank house. Im sure you could walk hundreds of miles in an attempt to see them all, and spend a lot of money in the process as they are cheap to get into either. The only advise that we can give is to prioritise and work out the costs beforehand.

Starry night – Van Goch

The red light district We have no interest in the ladies available for hire but we still enjoy a trip to the red light district. Its quite a unique place as far as we have seen and the people watching is simply tremendous! Its nice of an evening to get a beer in one of the pubs, and just sit and watch as there’s always something amusing going on. In the day it has a slightly more seedy feel, and in the windows you will see some things that will make you want to poke your eyes out with giant dildos as they don’t exactly field there ‘A’ squad at this quieter time of day. A word of caution, blue lights denote a man in drag. You probably wouldn’t be the first to make this mistake but now, you have been warned!! The shops here stock merchandise ranging from the mundane to the rather alarming and window displays contain things I never thought I would see. Don’t take the kids.

I Amsterdam Sign

I’m not really sure why this is such a big draw but people seem to like it so I will mention it here. Basically a massive sign that says I Amsterdam. Good for a photo maybe? Dunno, up to you.

The Language

Dutch simply has to be the most bizarre language in the Western world, but what a pleasure it is to listen to it being spoken. Reading a map is brilliant fun, names like Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht make for an interesting and confusing experience. The Dutch are very friendly people and generally are a pleasure to talk to.

Dangers and annoyances The most important thing to be aware of in Amsterdam is that there are a lot of Eastern European pick pockets around and they operate in all the major tourist areas. The next thing will be quite obvious as soon as you arrive, crossing the street is a total nightmare. Cars, buses, trams and cyclists career around with wreck-less abandon and not even the sanctuary of a pedestrian crossing will help to much as they are often ignored by cyclists and trams. Take care especially after a good chong in a coffee shop! In the shadier areas of town drug dealers will hiss at you from doorways. These guys aren’t going to sell you sacred herb but something rather more sinister and life destroying. Ignore them. Tourist shops battle to rip you off, saying that the chocolate they sell will get you high. It wont, its chocolate with hemp seeds in and is little more than a vitamin bar. Legal highs are available for sale in a lot of shops, they have all kinds of intriguing and exiting names but what they come down to is untested, synthesised chemicals and poisons made by F knows who, F knows where. One things for certain, there interested in your money, not your health. AVOID.