Travelers that show other travelers around. The phenomenon of free tours in Europe is in Amsterdam to stay. The ones showing you the ins and outs of the city are tour guides that have just graduated, or students of tourism –motivated by their love of the trade. Fancy a walk around the city’s canals? How about a tour of Amsterdam’s most popular coffeeshops? A stroll through the red-light district? Or perhaps you’d rather see the Jewish Quarter and visit the house where Anne Frank lived with her family? The tours are free, and guides rely solely on tips. And though tipping is not mandatory, it’s a good way to reward their efforts.
Tour of the Red-Light District
Its reputation precedes it. But at the red-light district, not everything is what it seems. Prostitution is regulated. The girls pay taxes for standing there. Parlors have licenses and working girls undergo regular health checks. They have the protection of the police and the respect of their neighbors. They have all of that backing them. But unfortunately, a first unguided visit to the red-light district may give a different impression. My advice is to sign up for one of the free tours organized by companies such as Sandemans, where they’ll tell you all about this legendary Dutch neighborhood. The walk is fun and constructive. And best of all, it’s a great way to first make contact with a phenomenon pretty much unseen in the rest of Europe.
Bike Tour around the Canals
Amsterdam is a semicircle formed by several rings of water. It boasts over 100 kilometers of canals and around 1500 bridges. Now you know why they call it the Venice of the North, right? The Singelgracht can be a good starting point. This canal delimits the city’s circumference, and as a curiosity, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. If you keep traveling outwards on the ring, you’ll come across the Herengracht (Lords’ Canal), the Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), and the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), where the Anne Frank House stands. Be warned that you’ll feel compelled to stop at each and every one of these to take dozens of pictures. And for your own peace of mind, all tours include a pit stop at some point so you can refuel after so much pedaling.
Think of this as a reconnaissance trip. Before delving deeper into the world of coffeeshops, it could be a good idea to take a guided tour through some of these legendary establishments in the “City of Tolerance”. There are over 200 coffeeshops on the Amsterdam map, and logically, it can be hard to choose, and to choose well. Any of the guided tours will inform you about what you can and cannot do in a coffeeshop. Perhaps you should know, for instance, that you are allowed to smoke marijuana but not tobacco. Or that, most of them don’t allow alcohol consumption. As I was saying, there are so many coffeeshops that choosing can be overwhelming. These are my recommendations, if it helps: the Bulldog at the Leidseplein (an old police station turned into a coffeeshop), the Dampkring (perfect for newbies), the famous Mellow Yellow, and others that are not as well known, like St. Blues, Hunter’s, Dolphins, the Greenhouse Effect or Grey Area.