Amsterdam for Amateurs: How to Stay Safe
When you think about cities where “anything goes,” chances are Amsterdam is among the first that comes to mind. Amsterdam tends to be far more lax when it comes to drug use, prostitution and other activities compared to other cities, either turning a blind eye or allowing things that would lead to certain arrest elsewhere.
Just because Amsterdam is laid-back, though, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want – and the potential for things to go wrong are greater than some other places. If you aren’t careful, you could end up getting arrested, robbed or even worse.
If you’re planning to visit this beautiful Dutch city, you can have a good time, but it’s important to be aware of some of the biggest dangers and how you can stay safe. Nothing will ruin a good time more than having your money stolen or being attacked in a rough neighborhood, so keep these tips in mind before you go.
No Pot in Public!
The popular conception might be that you can just light of a joint anywhere in the city, but that’s not the case. While laws regarding marijuana use in Amsterdam are more relaxed than say, in the U.S., there are still restrictions. If you’re going to light up, keep it to the coffee shops, bars and other establishments that allow such things. If you’re caught walking the streets with cannabis, you can be hit with a fine, although depending on the severity of the offense, you’re more likely to get a warning the first time. And never, ever try to leave the country with any kind of drugs or drug paraphernalia – that’s usually good for a one-way ticket to a prison sentence.
Avoid Street Sellers
You’ll find them in almost any city: people who come up to you uninvited and try to sell you everything from watches to drugs. In Amsterdam, interacting with one of these “vendors” is usually a good way to invite trouble. Buying drugs is illegal, and in most cases, other merchandise, such as bicycles, is stolen. It’s also common for one person to engage an unsuspecting tourist in a transaction while another person robs you. If someone approaches you, firmly tell them that you’re not interested and keep moving. If they insist, or follow you, step into a shop and get help, or find a police officer for assistance.
Visit the Red Light District – With Caution
While many tourists visit Amsterdam and never set foot in this notorious prostitution center, others feel that a trip to the Netherlands isn’t complete without at least seeing the legendary neighborhood. While the activities in this area are legal, there are some important safety points to keep in mind. Never take pictures of the windows, marked by the red lights. You might see interesting activities taking place on the other side, but snapping photos invades the privacy of both the prostitutes and their customers, and if you’re spotted, you could end up in trouble. If you’re in the area at night, avoid the dark alleys (good advice for any city) and keep a close handle on your possessions, as pickpockets are common in the area. And again, never buy drugs or merchandise off the street.
If you’re really curious about the district, and want to stay safe, sign up for one of the guided tours of the area, which is generally safer than exploring on your own.
Avoid Bicycle Injury
Bicycles are the most common forms of transportation in Amsterdam, but they present dangers all their own. Throughout the city you’ll find bike lanes; don’t walk in them, stop to look at maps or, if you’re riding a bike, stop in them at all. Not only does this irritate locals, it can cause injury. And while the locals might ignore red lights, chat on phones or fail to use lights at night, don’t do the same. Follow the same safety rules you would at home and you can avoid injury during your Amsterdam vacation.
Of course, many of the same principles of safety that you would follow in other cities hold true in Amsterdam, such as locking up your valuables, not carrying large amounts of cash and keeping a close watch on your belongings at all times. However, Amsterdam is generally a very safe city, and if you pay attention to these ideas, you can have a fabulous – and safe – visit there.
About the Author: Writer Keith Pittman blogs about Europe for a number of online publications. He spent a semester in Amsterdam during college, where he learned the rules of the bike lanes the hard way.
Photo Credit – Flickr:Moyan_Brenn