Although from 2005, this guide was written by a local, and as you can read has some good info to avoid being ripped off.....
"In recent years, with the advent of Sleazy Jet and their taxi-fare-home-priced tickets to mainland Europe, Amsterdam has become a venue that many forum members and friends have probably considered as being the ideal location for that naughty romantic week-end getaway or the pissed-up bravado of a boy’s own stagger.
Amsterdam IS, very much, a fun city, but like any tourist capital it has it’s own share of perils and pitfalls. I have been asked on TA (TalkAudio) from a few members to give advice and suggestions, so I’ve taken the opportunity to sit down and post a thread that may give a few pointers to the “Do’s and Don’t”, “What’s Hot and What’s Not” of Amsterdam. Don’t expect a guide around the Anna Frank house or the Rijksmuseum (last visited in 1978, so my memories are a wee bit vague!), nor a bar-by-bar, street-by-street review; however, I hope that some of the pointers I may make will ensure that your “experience” of this fair city a bit more enjoyable.
I will assume that you will have the foresight to get a city map for your visit, so I will refer to streets and places that are easily navigated by the assistance of a street map.
First thing to mention is book your accommodation in advance, as Amsterdam may be hosting the “Annual Gay Leather and Rubber Lovers Convention”(!) or whatever during the time you intend coming to Amsterdam and hotels may well be fully-booked. As I’m not really in a position to make too many recommendations of hotels, perhaps check out http://www.hotels.nl/ . I have heard good reports regarding the Botel (i.e. clean and reasonably priced), a floating hotel five minutes walk from Centraal Station, but I've also heard that it’s often fully booked http://www.amstelbotel.com/ . For the extremely money-conscious there are also a few hostels around town, but again I’m hardly in a position to make comment or give recommendations.
Packing your bags for your visit bear in mind that the weather in Amsterdam is fairly unpredictable. We are on roughly the same latitude (or is it longitude?) as London, however, as we're situated several metres below sea level, the weather tends to veer towards a slightly damper climate in general, so perhaps packing a jumper and a shower-proof jacket would be advisable. Unless a major climatic disaster befalls the Netherlands, ski jackets will probably be unnecessary
After landing at Schiphol Airport on the southwest of the city, by far the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get into the city is by train from the platforms located under the airport. Trains run regularly, are surprisingly cheap and the journey to Amsterdam Centraal Station takes around 15 minutes. From your arrival at the Station BE ON YOUR GUARD! Amsterdam Centrum (City Centre) is a magnet for both junkies and pickpockets and the main railway station is a focal point for the human detritus that will open-the-eyes of even the most hardened of tourists. Just ensure that your arrival doesn’t lend itself to you being relieved of your wallet! There is, of course, the other option of taking your car on the ferry to Amsterdam, however, unless you intend to spend your vacation traveling out with Amsterdam, that option is probably best forgotten, as Amsterdam is not the most car-friendly city in the World, with extremely expensive parking charges (running 7 days a week from 07.00 – 23.00 hours), the constant danger of hitting cyclists, pedestrians or being mowed down by a tram.
So, you’ve arrived! What do you do next? How do you get to your hotel? Amsterdam is well served by public transport, with the infamous trams and city wide bus services running from dawn ‘til just after midnight (thereafter, a patchy night bus service). A taxi to your hotel may be the obvious answer to get there quickly, however, beware. Many taxi’s, particularly since deregulation three years ago, are seemingly intent in fleecing you of as much cash as possible. The start meter reading should be €2.90 (any more and I’d suggest that you get out and get another taxi, or risk getting an involuntary tour of the outskirts of Amsterdam at your expense before you reach your final destination.) The ‘old’ regulated and well-respected taxi company of Amsterdam is called the TCA (020-6777777) and their operators speak perfect English.
Okay, let’s take it as read you’ve checked in to your hotel, showered and changed and are “chomping-at-the-bit” to get out there and party. Don’t however fall into the most common thing that WILL spoil your first day, i.e. walking into the first coffee shop that you come to and ordering “The strongest weed that you’ve got”. As the Cannabis capital of the World, Dutch growers have refined their hydroponic weed to levels that will make a single Dutch joint the equivalent in strength, to even regular smokers, over your 'normal', as drinking a bottle of whisky is compared to having a pint of beer to a drinker! If in doubt don’t be too proud or too stupid to take advice from the dealer. Otherwise expect to be found slouched in an alleyway somewhere turning various shades of green, yellow and white whilst some junkies relieve you of your wallet and mobile phone. If you do take a "whitey" however, a Mars Bar and an isotonic drink (Try the Dutch version of Lucozade called AA) ought to sort things out within about an hour, as that will raise your blood-sugar level. Also, if the temptation of Space Cake takes your ‘fancy’ also be VERY careful. Two reasons, one being that you NEVER know the strength or quantity of the weed within, and two, Space Cake can take up to a couple of hours to ‘come on’, therefore if after an hour nothing’s happened DO NOT be tempted to try another slice. Amsterdam’s streets are littered at the weekends with “I can smoke you under the table, John-types” that think that they can handle serious amounts of weed. Think again. Or think more carefully.
For grass, with the exception of some real low-rent, no mark coffeeshops, what you score in one place is pretty much the same standard as another, the difference is the price. A very good and easy to find coffeeshop is the Speakeasy in Oudebrugsteeg, about four doors down from the main Grasshopper. Scoring there and smoking it elsewhere WILL save cash. And by the way, if you go into a coffeeshop and buy a drink and the guy behind the bar comes up and says that you can only smoke weed bought there, get up and tell him to "**** Off"! You bought a drink!
If you prefer hasj (Dutch for hash) and want to be really "educated" and pore over the subtleties of Manali Cream and Super Polm to impress friends back home, check out Centraal Coffeeshop on Prins Hendrikkade, adjacent to Centraal Station. They have a VERY good reputation for quality and fair deals. Also the Dampkring at Handboogstraat 29 has a worldwide reputation for quality. On my last visit, Woody Harrelson was in! The “famous” Bulldog and afore-mentioned Grasshopper are probably best avoided, as their prices are leaning VERY much to the tourist rip-off levels, unless of course you want to score the “T-shirt”.
If however your ‘taste’ is for drugs of stronger varieties. One extreme word of caution!!! DO NOT buy coke, e or whatever off the black guys in the streets of the red-light district; at best you'll get ripped off with complete sh!t, at worst, you or someone in your party will experience the comatose comfort of an Amsterdam intensive care bed or, indeed, the chilled out confines of the mortuary fridge ... this is NOT an exaggeration! If you or any of your party want to partake, a few subtle and discrete inquiries over a beer with ‘likely looking’ locals in a red-light bar may point you in the right direction.
Now, let’s move onto bars. If you’re over for the weekend with the missus, in Amsterdam, the skies the limit. However, avoid bars with a rainbow flag displayed outside, as they are gay bars. Similarily, bars with black and blue striped flags outside (bearing names like Dirty Dicks, The Eagle, The Cuckoo's Nest, The C0ck Ring, etc.) are probably best avoided, unless you have a penchant for wearing leather trousers, sporting a gringo moustache and spending your time up-to-the-elbow in ... well, just don't go there! Pick something that you like the look of and enjoy the experience. As for places, out with the red-light district to eat and drink, there are a few popular locations that I'd certainly recommend. There are a couple of really nice Grand Cafes on Rembrandtplein to sit, drink and watch the Amsterdam world go by. Cafe De Kroon is situated 2 floors above the Plein (Square) and has an enclosed gallery where you can sit in comfort and spectate with reasonable priced drinks (by capital city standards) and well presented food. Likewise Cafe L'Opera just a wee bit further down the Plein is also a worthwhile stop. At street level you can sit on their terrace and embrace the passing sights of Amsterdammers on the move.
There are a few good bars also at Spui, at the end of Spuistraat that also lend themselves to a visit; Harry’s Bar has a huge cocktail menu, De Beiaard across the street has a great selection of Belgian beers and every bar around this particular area seems to be a wee bit classier than you'd find in the Red Light district (not too difficult!).
To the west of the city centre is the Jordaan, an area that was originally built in the 1800's as accommodation for the city's artisans, but more recently has been chosen as the base for the upward mobile and affluent younger population of the town. On a nice day, well worth a saunter round, between the interspersed canal sides, away from the constant interjections of "Can you spare me a Euro" or "Psst! Cocaine! Ecstasy!". Most bars/cafes in this area are worth a stop at.
If however you’re on a boy’s own weekend, then that makes it a wee bit more difficult, as many of the more 'local-type' bars don't really encourage large amounts of guys coming in. And, unfortunately, due to the ease and cheapness of getting Sleazy Jet here, it's sad to say, particularly NOT English guys. A small element of troublemakers always spoils the party for the rest.
That means that if you’re with a party of guys you probably WILL end-up spending most of your time in or around the red-light district, unless your party are art lovers and want to peruse the museums and art galleries ... I'd guess not! And this is where the red-light district scores points, as there are loads of coffeeshops and bars that WILL happily open their doors and welcome you in ... at a price.
Food in the red-light district revolves around street-side pizza shops that will serve you a slice of unpalatable ****, but hey, half of you'll have the munchies, so you'll never know! , shoarma (Read Doner Kebabs) that would turn the stomach of a Bombay Sh!te Hawk and not too much else. If you go to the Zeedijk, on the edge of the red-light district, you'll find Amsterdam's china town area, with loads of Chinese restaurants, some good, most bad. For honest (Sometimes too honest) fast, unfussy Chinese food, the best is found in the Nam Kee on the Zeedijk as well as their restaurant on the Nieuwemarkt (at the edge of the Red light district). These are two of the top Chinese restaurants, and what they perhaps lacks in decoration, they certainly makes up for in the quality of the food, there will be lots of stuff that your familiar with, but read the menu CAREFULLY or you'll be delivered a plate with Fried Beef Bowel (!!!) in a black bean sauce or something else that you may not be too keen to try!!! Also on the Zeedijk is one of the best Thai restaurants in town “The Bird” not only is the food tasty, check out the waitresses!
Just off the Zeedijk, on a small canal, called Oudezijds Kolk is Molly Malones. To quote directly a review "Great looking Irish pub that looks like a cavern and probably has the best food of all the Irish pubs in Amsterdam. Here, you can get a full Irish breakfast or a tasty roast dinner. Its slogan is: "If you're thirsty, hungry or need to relax with friends, some of which you haven't met yet, where would you go? Molly's"—and it lives up to its advertising. The atmosphere, like in most Irish pubs, is friendly and there is a nice community feeling here."
I go there 2-3 times a week for a Guinness and it IS very reasonably priced and friendly.
One place that's well worth visiting to chill out and relax away from the insanity of the Red Light district is the Nieuwmarkt. Situated at the end of the Zeedijk this large mediaeval square is a focus of non-touristy bars. One of the best is Cafe Cuba, real tasty Dutch girls go there (but don't even try ... Amsterdam girls are the hardest work in the World to try and pull!!!), you can smoke (bear in mind VERY few bars will let you, if in doubt, ask!) and if it's sunny, a great place to sit on the terrace and the Caphirinha's (Rum, Mint, 7-up and the “secret mix”) are a REAL must have. Prices aren’t too bad either!
There is an Irish bar on the Nieuwmarkt also, I think it's called Temple Bar. My advice torch the place, the unfriendliest bar in town ... without doubt. The owner's a complete dickhead and, lucky for you, they don't let groups of guys in!
If your taste in food is a bit more refined I can make a few suggestions. In my view, one of the best (and most romantic) Italian restaurants in town is Casa Di David on Singel. Here you can watch the dishes being hoisted on a pulley to the upper level, or watch the pizzas being baked in their wood-fired oven. They also have their own vineyard and olive grove in Italy, so you can sample their wine whilst you dip your fresh baked bread in their olive oil - sublime! As for price, I'd suggest that a 3-course A la Carte meal for two, with water, coffees and (a must have!) bottle of their Chianti Reserve would tip the scales around €100 (perhaps around 70 GBP) at most. Elsewhere, for a really nice atmosphere, great service and international French-inspired cuisine (think Seared Sea Bass with a black truffle vinaigrette and rosti), Summum on Binnen Dommerstraat, on the edge of the Jordaan, REALLY hits the spot. Expect to pay a similar amount for this experience, and let the wine waiter make the recommendations.
A good website for Amsterdam restaurants (written in English) is http://www.specialbite.com/
Sex is obviously a famous Amsterdam attraction. With legalised prostitution split between the "windows" of the Red Light district (and a couple of other areas outwith the centre) and sex clubs, you'll find that Amsterdam IS Very much a 24-hour adult playground catering for ALL tastes. You want a 6-foot stunning blonde model-type with Double D breasts and legs up to her armpits ... you got it! A 25-stone BIG black mama that will smother you in lovin' ... you got it! Get chained, manacled, whipped and beaten ... if it floats your boat, you'll find it here! However, bear in mind a few pointers. Condoms are not an option, they are a pre-requisite. Don't even attempt to debate the issue, it's NOT debateable. At "window" level, a suck-and-a-**** will cost between €25 to €50, dependent on the time of the day, the "windows" location and the quality of the 'goods'. Don't mess around with the girls either, if you see one that strikes-the-chord or get's your loins stirring, go up to them, explain what you're looking for and she'll agree or disagree and give you a price. DO NOT be tempted to take photographs of them in the "windows", even the "discrete" use of a camera phone may find you floating to the surface of one of the canals VERY quickly indeed, as the girls and their pimps are extremely camera-shy to say the least. Likewise, causing any sort of bother with the girl when you go into through "window" is likely to lead you to experiencing intimate knowledge of how ferocious the Dutch Hell's Angels can be, as they are unofficially charged with policing the girls!
One SERIOUS word of warning regarding the red-light district. Although it is probably one of the safest and well-policed areas in the centre, with uniformed and plain-clothed cops operating morning, noon and night, don't get so ****ed up that you start stumbling into people and being a nuisance, as this area probably has more guns per square kilometre than Bosnia during the war! If you're in a party and one of the guys has got so sh!tfaced that he can't act normally, look after him, or take him back to the hotel. I am NOT joking! That aside, if you're 'caught short" avoid p!ssing in an alleyway or in the canal, as, despite the Dutch police turning a blind-eye to the crack-dealers in the Red Light District, getting caught p!ssing (or in Dutch "Wilde Plassen" - literally Wild P!ssing) WILL lead to an on-the-spot fine!
Amsterdam has a renowned club scene, however it is also notoriously difficult to get into clubs. For what’s on in town, pop into a record shop in town and check out the flyers. Be prepared for a wee bit of rejection along the way however. An unfortunate fact-of-life is that English/British people can be spotted a mile away, and the Amsterdam doormen aren't renowned for their friendliness or helpful nature! They tend to be EXTREMELY discriminatory on who they let in ... "Spreek je Nederlandse", "No", "Sorry, you're not getting in! But eye contact and a smile CAN make a difference. Some of the more up market bars and clubs have door policies that are based on how much of a hard-core 'party animal' you look, rather than how casual, but smart you are, so again, tread carefully. One club that probably will allow a group of guys in is “Escape” in Rembrandtplein. Doors open at around midnight, but be careful who you chat-up, as there is a degree of ‘edginess’ with some of the people who frequent the club.
In the daytime, if you wish to take the "missus" shopping or window-shopping, try PC Hoofdstraat, Amsterdam's equivalent of Bond Street, so you can window-shop in Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier or such-like, or relax in the Hoofdstraat Cafe (surprisingly reasonably priced) and watch the Dutch glitterati strut their stuff between expensive buys. A more down-to-earth, i.e. real world shopping trip can be found on the Kalverstraat and the Nieuwendijk (the equivalent of Oxford Street), however, like the latter, a trip down on a Saturday is probably something best avoided! Just off the Dam, behind the royal palace, the former Amsterdam head post office has been converted into a nice, quality shopping centre, named the Magna Plaza. For a few nice trinkets to take home, or as an escape from a down pour a good place to go.
Finally, a few places I’d suggest NOT worth visiting! The Damrak, the street that leads from the Dam to Centraal Station. Every bar and restaurant on this half-mile stretch, without exception, screams out “TOURIST TRAP”. No self-respecting Dutch person would be seen dead in any of these tacky, overpriced dumps. My advice? DON'T GO NEAR THE PLACE. Likewise, the Leidseplein is regarded very much as a Tourist area, and as such, probably best avoided unless your intention is to spend far more money than you wish to.
As far as NO GO areas, obviously dark alleyways that seperate the Damrak from the Nieuwendijk and around the red light district are not entirely sensible to venture up alone at night. That aside, apart from the "notorious" Bijlmer housing estate - an area where gun injuries are the main cause of death with males between 18 - 35(!), way out of the city centre in the Zuid Oost (South-east), which, fortunately, you're VERY unlikely to end up in, Amsterdam is a VERY safe city, with pickpocketing probably the most common threat to tourists and city-dwellers alike.
Okay, so although I haven’t made an exhaustive guide to Amsterdam, I would hope that the information above gives some pointers to you. If there is anything more specific that you want to ask/know, by all means PM me or MSN me at dancelikeanangel at hotmail dot com. Always glad to help!
Murray de Schot"