Everyone is high in Amsterdam – and 5 other myths about the city debunked


Amsterdam Clog
You are more likely to see a tourist inside a clog then on a Dutch person's foot. Photo: Arnold Fang

Parisians are rude, London is expensive and everyone in Barcelona washes down a huge paella with a liter of sangria. While European stereotypes live off of exaggeration, there’s always a hint of truth to them somewhere.

As a global city with a long tradition of liberal policies, the Dutch capital is no exception. Travelers arrive in this open city armed with a host of stereotypes that don’t always ring true. We’ll now try to shed some light on those popular (and often funny) misconceptions.

Cannabis College

Did you know only 10 percent of Dutch citizens smoke marijuana? Cannabis College has all the details. Photo: Sally Payne

1. Everyone in Amsterdam is high

It’s true we have hundreds of marijuana coffeeshops, it’s legal to grow plants at home, there’s an annual Cannabis Cup and, don’t forget, the city has a marijuana museum. There’s even a Cannabis College where you can enroll in classes about weed…

Just kidding about the classes, but visit the Cannabis College because it’s a free information center all about the soft drug industry in The Netherlands. Videos, books and documents report on everything you want to know about cannabis culture worldwide.

One fact you’ll find is that less than 10% of the Dutch smoke weed, and the coffeeshop culture in Amsterdam runs strong on the tourism industry. Dabble in the green goods all you want, no one here is judging (nor are we completely innocent). But don’t forget that most of the locals find other ways to relax in our spare time.

Related: What’s the difference between a coffeeshop and cafe?

Red Light District

The Red Light District is looking a lot spiffier than it used to. Photo: Audrey Sykes

2. The Red Light District is dirty

In the 1970s and 1980s the Red Light District was not a safe place to be. There were junkies taking up street corners selling hard drugs. The Hells Angels ran brothels and windows like pimps. And the safety level of the neighborhood more closely resembled anarchy than protection.

But things have cleaned up in the past 30 to 40 years, big time. The government has pushed the junkies and hard drugs out of the district. The number of prostitute windows has dropped, pimping is illegal, police are around and security cameras are everywhere. While unethical situations still breed in these conditions, the Red Light District is safe to visit.

Tip: Don’t take pictures of the prostitutes, don’t pick fights with hooligans, and don’t buy anything from random strangers—not even a bicycle. (Here are some more scams to avoid.)

Related: Affordable hotels in the Red Light District

Heineken truck

Sure, Heineken is popular in Amsterdam, but it’s not the only beer in town. Photo: facemepls

3. Heineken is the best (and only) beer in town

I’ll admit that the green bottles and smiling “e” letters reign over Amsterdam like Budweiser in the US. And their marketing is impeccably creative and cool.

On the flip side, there are plenty of domestic and craft beers in the Netherlands to indulge in. You can easily find classic pilsners like Grolsch, Brand, Hertog Jan, Lindeboom and Amstel beers on tap in many bars around the city.

I’m personally a sucker for the Netherlands microbrewery culture. In Amsterdam, Brouwerij ‘t Ij and De Prael are staples in craft beer. (Here are some of my other favorite beer bars in Amsterdam).

Haarlem has the Jopenkerk, a craft brewery in a church. Some brewers have taken their knowledge of USA craft “beerology” and applied it to their home turf, like Ramses and Emelisse. Check out the Netherlands Beer Week website (in Dutch) for a list of every brewery in the country. You’ll quickly see that Heineken has some healthy competition.

Dutch milkmaid

Sorry to disappoint, but this is not a typical Dutch outfit. Photo: Michael Coghlan

4. Everyone wears wooden clogs

The story of the wooden clogs comes from the farmland. Dutch farmers wore wooden clogs for orthopedic purposes, and I don’t mean for foot comfort. The curved clogs aimed to keep their feet in good shape when walking on marshy land. In fact many cheese farms that open their door for visitors have a clog-making room. Cheese farm tours usually include a live clog-carving demonstration, with wood chips flying in the air and rows of painted podiatry product to purchase.

While farmers still rock the clogs now and then, the only wooden shoes you’ll find in Amsterdam are the giant ones you can sit in for a photo op at Dam square. There are cheesy souvenir shops that sell clog-shaped slippers, which can make kitschy, fun white elephant gifts for home.

Otherwise that’s it, and we don’t have a secret pair hiding in the closet.

5. Manneken Pis is here

It’s in Brussels. Yes, I’m sure.

Tall ship

Tall people on tall ships in Amsterdam. Photo: Bert Kaufmann

6. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world

Actually, that stereotype is true.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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