Language? – Dutch, which resembles German in its written form, but the good news is literally everyone you encounter in Amsterdam speaks nearly flawless English. In nearly every European country south of the Netherlands it’s considered polite to ask the locals if they speak English first, but in Amsterdam that can be considered a bit insulting. The Dutch, and particularly the ones under the age of 50, are proud that they speak English as well as you do.
Name wars: The Netherlands vs. Holland – Amsterdam is the capital city of The Netherlands, although most of the administrative work is done in the nearby city of The Hague. The country is officially called The Netherlands although many people call it Holland. The reality is that The Netherlands has 12 provinces, and North Holland and South Holland are the two provinces that have the greatest concentration of big cities and population, so Holland is not a technically correct name for the country. Interestingly, the Dutch people realize Holland is more widely known than the real country name, so many of them tell people they live in Holland. In other words, you are unlikely to be corrected or misunderstood if you call it Holland yourself.
City flag and coat of arms – Amsterdam uses an XXX flag to represent the city and you’ll see this symbol all over town. It dates back to 1505 when Amsterdam was a fishing village and the X stands for St. Andrew, who was a fisherman and was crucified on a diagonal cross. The XXX symbol can also be taken to deal with the city’s famous sex industries.
>> More information on Amsterdam XXX with both meanings explained in great detail
>> Learn about the Netherlands flag and why it doesn’t contain the country’s national color of orange
Time Zone? – The Netherlands is on Central European Time, which is GMT plus one hour (two in the summer). The Netherlands observes Daylight Savings Time – which begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October.
Counting and Numbers – Dates in The Netherlands and all of Europe are written with the day first, then the month, then the year – so 03/05/07 is the 3rd of May in the year 2007, not the 5th day of March.
With written numbers, commas and decimal points are swapped from what you might be used to. So, five Euro and thirty cents is written €5,30 and two thousand four hundred Euro is written €2.400.
The Netherlands uses the Metric system for measurements (conversion tool here) and Celsius for temperatures (conversion tool here).
Electricity and Plugs? – The Netherlands operates on a 220V/50Hz electrical system, and the electrical outlets you will find will require European plugs with two narrow cylindrical prongs (sort of like a pig’s snout, only smaller). If your electrical appliances are not 220V/50Hz, you will need a converter (to convert the electricity) and adapter (to make your appliances fit into the wall plugs) set so you do not start fires or blow things up. Most newer computers, iPods and digital camera chargers come ready for both 110V and 220V so all you’ll need is the cheap plug adapter, which can be found in Amsterdam with little problem. Needless to say, check your equipment carefully before plugging anything in.
Currency? – The Netherlands uses the Euro (€). Look for the coins to be nationalistic – each country stamps its own distinctive designs on the coins, but the bills are the same throughout the Euro-zone, and all the money is worth the same amount in every EU country. Get the most updated currency conversion rates before you go.
Banks and ATM Machines – You should be fine anyway, but you might want to notify your bank that you’ll be withdrawing money in The Netherlands before you go. It’s rare, but in some cases banks will disable your card for withdrawals until they are sure it’s not been stolen.
ATMs in The Netherlands are called GeldAutomaats, even though most people will know what you are looking for if you ask where the nearest ATM is. There are a few located conveniently at Schipol Airport and a few more at Centraal Station. There are Bank Automaats throughout central Amsterdam, but there aren’t as many as there should be. Most of the public squares have at least one bank on them and they always have a machine, but often it’s just one, so long lines are not uncommon. With this in mind, it’s best to withdraw money when you see one rather than waiting until you absolutely need one. The machines don’t have letters on the keypads so be sure you know your code in numbers.
>>more information on ATMs in Amsterdam
Credit cards are widely accepted in Amsterdam’s hotels and restaurants, but many bars, coffeeshops and the like won’t accept them. Make sure you’ve got cash on hand for these smaller items.
Tipping – Just as in most of Europe, tipping for restaurants, taxi rides, and other services is much more limited than in North America. All prices include a service fee already so locals typically only add a small percentage to the bill or fare for a tip.
>>more information on tipping in Amsterdam
Using the Telephone – The country code for The Netherlands is 31. To call The Netherlands from the U.S., you will first need to dial out of the U.S. and then into The Netherlands – so that is 011 + 31 and then the phone number itself. To call The Netherlands from another European country, you will dial 00 + 31 and then the local number. To call a Dutch number from within The Netherlands, simply dial the local number as you have it. To call the U.S. from within The Netherlands, dial 00 + 1 and then the area code and telephone number.
Public telephones in The Netherlands usually do not accept coins, so to use one you will need to purchase a phone card. They are sold at most news-dealers, post offices, and at the VVV tourist offices in Centraal Station and near Leidseplein. There are two common forms – one which you insert into a slot on the phone and which deducts time/money as you use it, and one which you dial a toll-free number and then enter a PIN number (printed on the card) to use. The former requires a phone which has a card slot, and the latter can be used with basically any phone – public or otherwise.
More and more travelers are using mobile phones when they travel, which is easy if you have an unlockable GSM phone or one where you can swap out the existing SIM card for a Dutch or European one. You can also rent or purchase a phone which works in The Netherlands to use just for one trip or every time you travel to that region. Most of these kinds of phones work by loading them up with prepaid minutes (on a prepaid SIM card) or by using them with prepaid calling cards.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Medical Emergency: 0900 8844
Directory Assistance – Numbers inside the Netherlands:?0900 8008 (EUR 1.15 per call)?- Numbers outside the Netherlands:?0900 8418 (EUR 1.15 per call)
Visa Information – ?For visits of up to 90 days, nationals from EU countries and passport holders from the following countries do not need to have a visa to visit The Netherlands: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, U.S.A., Uruguay, Venezuela.
If your country is not listed above or is not part of the European Union, you will need to have a visa to visit The Netherlands.