What can you avoid in the capital of the Netherlands? These experiences are probably ones you’d never miss.

By Jane Szita
November 27, 2015
Amsterdam red light
Credit: Getty Images

This Dutch city may conjure images of bucolic canal side row houses, Technicolor tulips, and leisurely bike rides, but make no mistake about it: it’s one of the world’s most popular destinations, and faces crowds all year long that flock there as a result. Many of them come to experience what they think are typical local traditions or practices, but there are several popular spots with nary a local in sight. Want to experience the city authentically? Read on for this list of tourist traps you can pass on.

1. Shopping on Kalverstraat

Amsterdam’s main shopping street is always crowded, mainly it seems with day-trippers from out of town, and the stores consist primarily of bland global chains. For browsing, it’s hopeless, so give it a miss and go to the Nine Streets instead.

2. Drinking on the Leidseplein

Why drink in one of the most crowded, noisy, touristy (and slightly overpriced) bars on the Leidseplein, when you can visit one of the city’s fine brown cafes and drink with the locals instead?

3. Hanging Out in Dam Square

With its fire-eating buskers, costume wearing human “statues” and droves of tourists, Dam Square could be anywhere—there’s nothing really Dutch about it. Head to the Nieuwmarkt instead for a more atmospheric city square.

4. The Red Light District

You may feel you have to see it, and though there is evidence that it’s coming around, the Red Light District is charmless as a whole—unless you find drunken stag parties, the smell of beer, fries and urine, and constant streams of gawping tourists appealing.

5. Heineken Beer

It’s Dutch, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s certainly a global marketing phenomenon, but there are much better tasting native beers to drink when you’re in town. Try anything from Brouwerij ’t IJ, for starters.

6. Driving

It’s never worth hiring a car in Amsterdam. The roads are narrow, bicycles are legion and own the road, traffic jams are endemic, and parking is impossible—and ruinously expensive if you do manage it.

7. Drinking Tea

If you order a cup of tea in Amsterdam, you are going to be disappointed. The water is seldom hot enough to extract any flavor from the teabag (teapots are the rarest of rarities in Amsterdam), and most eateries will rarely be able to produce fresh milk or lemon to go with it. Stick to coffee.

8. The Metro

Banish all visions of the London Underground and Paris Metro from your mind. Amsterdam’s version is old-fashioned, uncomfortable, and not even particularly fast. Take the tram.

Jane Szita is on the Netherlands beat for Travel + Leisure. She lives in Amsterdam.