Amsterdam is kind of like its own little world. It’s a city of canals surrounded by suburbs and farm land much like a lot of other cities, but Amsterdam is certainly unique in its own right. Having recently been there along with the other 20,000,000 people who visit Amsterdam each year, let me share a few interesting facts about the place that you may not already know.
1. Bakfiets are Everywhere (Work Cycles)
A Bakfiet is a traditional Dutch bicycle that has a large cart on the front that is used to carry things like children, the groceries and other items you may need to transport. It’s easier to get around your neighborhood in Amsterdam by bike than by any other means so the bakfiet is perfect for the locals. You’ll see a wide variety of bakfiets in Amsterdam but they all serve pretty much the same purpose – to haul things.
2. “Coffee Shop” Means Marijuana Shop
A cafe is where you would get coffee. A “coffee shop” is where you would go to buy weed in a wide variety of types, using many possible methods of consumption. I personally don’t indulge in marijuana but I am pretty certain I recall feeling the effects of it as it was being smoked by tourists from around the globe while I explored the city. The Amsterdam Coffee Shop Guide can help you better understand the whole concept and its regulations if you have any interest at all.
3. The City is Built on Canals
165 canals in fact. These canals have been around since the 17th century and are still used by locals to get around in low speed boats that take them from place to place. The bridges going over the canals are seemingly endless in number (a little over 1,200 actually), they’re everywhere! The canal system ring is really interesting and makes exploring Amsterdam really unique. There are about 2,500 little house boats docked all over the canal system and I assume people live on most of them. The buildings in Amsterdam are built on approximately 11 million (yea 11,000,000) poles that go about 15-20 meters into the ground through all the mud and unstable stuff into the harder soil beneath. These poles help stabilize the buildings as the soil shifts and sinks due to the city being built on the water. Many buildings in Amsterdam are leaning uncomfortably far out toward the street as you walk down it. They were designed to have a slight forward lean so that large appliances being hoisted up from the outside into the large windows on the upper floors would not smash against the building. But some of these old buildings are now more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than anything else. I can remember actually walking to the other side of many streets just because some of the beautiful old houses were leaning so far forward over my head. Kinda freaky!
4. Over 1,500 Bars and Cafes Are Here
Amsterdam is not a large city. The population in Amsterdam is about 800,000 so it’s certainly a major European city, but it is by no means large. If it reminds me of any American city it would have to be like a big New Orleans. The cultures are different, of course, but the overall vibe and tolerance you feel when liberally doing as you please (to an extent) are very similar between the two cities. There is no question that tourism is a big deal in Amsterdam and the city plays perfectly into the reputation it has created as a place to go, relax, do as you please and party as much as you like. 1,500 bars and cafes – that’s a lot!
5. More Bikes than People
There are over 850,000 bikes in Amsterdam. The biking community is pretty awesome really. Everywhere I went I would find myself trying to cross an intersection and suddenly realize that I was about to get t-boned by a bike because the biking lanes are so large and prevalent. Unless you work or live outside of the city, there is absolutely zero need for a car in Amsterdam. The biking community being so massive has a great deal of the road allotted to it so moving from place to place within the city of Amsterdam is quite simple and safe on a bike. There are over 400 km (248 miles) of bike paths in Amsterdam. Bike theft is super common though so people often make their bikes really colorful and uniquely decorated as thieves prefer bikes that blend right in with every other bike.
6. Prostitutes of Hotness Level 10-of-10 are Common
Wow! I’m a traveler so I don’t really plan all the details of my experiences, but it is very common that I stumble on a really interesting place or thing in a city that really surprises me. Such a thing occurred when I first encountered the Red Light District in Amsterdam. By the way, this area is one of the safest areas in Amsterdam. There are sections of real estate in the Red Light District that will provide access to women and it seemed to me that they are possibly grouped by physical appearance. For example in one section, the attractiveness of the women was absolutely mind blowing (meaning you have never seen women this attractive in your dirty magazines, EVER!) and in other sections, the women were more average looking. This type of business transaction really doesn’t interest me, and the whole system of legalized prostitution is really pretty foreign to most Americans, like me, so I found it interesting to observe as least. The ladies are in the windows of small rooms with red lights buzzing above the door. If they’re “busy” with a guest, they turn the light off and pull the curtains – simple enough. It is quite literally window shopping for sex. I can tell you that I spoke to one of the women because she came out and tried to make me a deal for her services. Aside from being a strange situation, she was really cool and after telling her that I wasn’t there for that, but that I was just exploring, she stayed and talked with me for a few minutes. She told me that the girls come from all over the world to make a living as prostitutes in Amsterdam and can charge pretty much whatever they want and the better looking the guy, the more likely a woman may be to lower the price. I did not apply much thought to it, but that seemed to make reasonable business sense. I mean if someone is really ugly and you have to interact with them intimately, I guess I could see a rationale for having them pay more. I mean if you’re charging an ugly dude more for a beer than a hot guy, that’s not cool at all, but since you’re physically interacting I guess it makes sense that a woman would charge what she wanted. But whatever! Regardless, the Red Light District in Amsterdam is definitely worth walking through if nothing else, than just to see the social aspects of it.
7. One of The World’s Most Culturally Diverse Cities
People representing 178 different nationalities live as permanent residents in Amsterdam. Crazy and awesome all at the same time! The diversity is thick and obvious and it seems to work really well for this grand old city. The whole vibe of Amsterdam is one of tolerance so I can see why it’s massive level of cultural diversity is so strong.
8. XXX are the Crosses of St. Andrews, not Porn
You’ll see the official coat of arms for the City of Amsterdam all over the place including in engravings on really old buildings. At first, given its international reputation, you may think, “wow this city has been a den of porn for centuries,” but in fact the XXX symbol is that of the crosses of St. Andrews put onto a shield in the coat of arms. This is very much like the symbol “SPQR” you see all over the place in Rome, Italy that means “The Senate and People of Rome,” the coat of arms of the City of Amsterdam is literally plastered all over the place. This little bit of trivia could serve you well one day so store it somewhere in your mind and use it the next time you need to know something interesting about Amsterdam.
9. Narrow Houses Meant Lower Taxes
Much like New Orleans style “shotgun” houses, the houses in Amsterdam while very tall and beautiful, as also very narrow. This was done because people were taxed on the amount of space their house took up on the street. This gives it more commonalities to New Orleans than I initially thought about. You’ll notice the homes and buildings are quite beautiful and well maintained and that they are quite narrow, deep and very tall, often reaching four or five stories.
10. Polyglots Abound! People Who Speak 2+ Languages
They’re everywhere! If you want to feel like an under-educated, under-exposed moron, just go to Amsterdam. Here I am finishing my Ph.D. thinking I’m all cool until I strike up a conversation with the barista pouring my espresso who just so happens to be 22 and also happens to speak six, yes 6 languages! Fluently! Come to find out, this isn’t all that unusual. After some digging, I found that about 86% of the people in Amsterdam are polyglots and while Dutch is the main language with English coming next, the cultural diversity exposes people in Amsterdam to so many languages at such an early age that the children just pick it up from their friends and neighbors. Besides, The Netherlands is really small and it’s a short train ride to reach Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and a number of other countries all with their own unique languages so having two or more fluent languages under your belt isn’t all that big of a deal to people from this area of the world.
There are my 10 most interesting facts about Amsterdam! I hope you found them interesting as well and hopefully learned a little something in the process. I highly recommend you take time to visit Amsterdam because no matter what type of traveling experience you enjoy, there is something there for you.
Doei doei OR doe-doei means Bye Bye in Dutch.
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