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Coronavirus (COVID-19) stops Amsterdam overtourism in its tracks

Deserted Amsterdam City Center Exposes Impact of Overtourism

Dam square, normally one of Amsterdam's busiest squares, seen during the Coronavirus lockdown
Normally busy Dam square during the ‘intelligent lockdown’ due to the Coronavirus crisis. While not mandatory, people are strongly encouraged to stay at home at all times. (Image: screenshot from the Amsterdam Dam webcam)

What a difference a virus makes. Just like other popular cities around the world, Amsterdam went from struggling with overtourism to deserted canals, streets, and squares virtually overnight.

Updated: Amsterdam Coronavirus Travel FAQ

Read about the current coronavirus situation in the Netherlands in the Amsterdam Coronavirus Travel FAQ

When the pandemic broke out, the Netherlands went into ‘Intelligent Lockdown.’

What is an intelligent lockdown?

The Netherlands did not have a mandatory lockdown. Instead, the Dutch government issued an ‘intelligent lockdown.’

An ‘intelligent lockdown’ means people should act wisely: stay home as much as possible. Work from home if at all possible.

You can take necessary trips outside the home — for instance to shop for necessities, or to visit a medical facility — but only if you are free from coronavirus infection symptoms.

Avoid public transports. It operates at reduced capacity and is meant for use by essential workers.

It’s OK to go for a walk around your neighborhood, as long as you avoid crowds (initially: gatherings of more than 3 people).

In addition, keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) from non-family members.

In other words, use your brains.

If you violated certain rules, by not observing proper distance, or gathering with more than 3 people, you risked a €390 fine.

Note: While the intelligent lockdown measures are gradually eased, some rules remain in place.

Effect of the Lockdown

In most Amsterdam neighborhoods the streets were, of course, a lot more quiet than usual. But to a certain extend, life continued.

The big exception was downtown Amsterdam. Where the city’s medieval center is normally teeming with people, the streets and squares were virtually deserted.

Damrak with and without tourists

For years many Amsterdammers complained about overtourism. But few realized how much of an impact the tourism industry had made — particularly in the center of town.

Video: Amsterdam’s empty streets during the March, 2020 lockdown.

Airbnb and Nutella-smearing ‘Bakeries’

Years ago Amsterdam’s medieval center had a healthy mix of shops, offices, tourist attractions, and family housing. But as more and more tourists arrived the makeup of the neighborhood began to change.

Tourists shops differently than locals. Where locals frequent grocery stores and specialty shops, most tourists head for McDonald’s and hole-in-the-wall ‘bakeries’ that smear Nutella on everything in sight.

While Amsterdammers buy cheese at the supermarket, a street market stall, or a specialty store, tourists are seduced into spending a lot more money in cheese shops the locals avoid.

Most Amsterdammers wouldn’t be caught dead in an ‘ice cream bakery,’ and would check themselves into a mental hospital if they ever bought an oversized, overpriced stroopwafel.

Unfortunately, tourists all too easily overspend in such tourist-oriented stores and eateries. So, when the lease for a haberdashery or a shoe cobbler’s store comes up for renewal, landlords figure they can get a lot more money for their properties.

When lots of unique, community-oriented shops are replaced by ordinary fast food and tourist tat stores, the character of a neighborhood changes for the worse.

Airbnb destroys communities

Meanwhile, erstwhile affordable housing has largely disappeared off the market due to the popularity of city-destroyer Airbnb and its clones. (You can tell we’re not fans, right? If you use Airbnb, you help rob and destroy communities and cities, including Amsterdam.)

This has priced many families and singles out of the market. There is a multi-year trend of families moving out of the center of Amsterdam — often to other cities.

They’re escaping not just the higher rents or real estate costs, but also the lower quality of life brought on by the barrage of tourists.

General coronavirus measures in Amsterdam

The following basic rules continue to apply to everyone:

  • Avoid crowds
  • Work from home if possible
  • Stay at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from non-family members
  • Always stay at home if have coronavirus symptoms. If you develop shortness of breath and / or fever, family members must also stay at home
  • Wash hands frequently. Cough and sneeze into your elbow, or use tissue paper and throw it out immediately
  • If you are 70 years or older, or if you are in a frail health, take extra care

One and a half meter society

We better get used to the one and a half meter society as soon as possible, says Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

He was referring to the basic rule that people keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from non-family members.

The Dutch term is anderhalvemetersamenleving.

Damrak, the main street between Amsterdam Central Station and Dam square is nearly empty a result of the Coronavirus lockdown.
Normally teeming with locals and tourists alike, Damrak — the main thoroughfare between Amsterdam Central Station and Dam square — is nearly deserted during the ‘intelligent lockdown.’ Public transport still operates, but on a greatly reduced schedule. Those yellow spots? Planters with tulips.
Here’s Dam Square on a normal day, as filmed by Amsterdam city chronicler Thomas Schlijper

Coronavirus impact on Amsterdam’s tourism industry

In 2019 Amsterdam, a city of 1.1 million people, saw nearly 20 million tourists. Nearly 45% of them come from the Netherlands, by the way.

But now tourism has screeched to a halt — with the hordes stopped in their tracks by the Coronavirus.

What city officials and local activists were unable to accomplish, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) managed to do: stem the overflow of tourists visiting Amsterdam.

Sure, it’s only a temporary reprieve, and the circumstances are far from ideal. But many Amsterdammers — particularly those who live in the city center — are breathing a sigh of relief.

Hotels, B&B, and Airbnb

During the height of the pandemic most hotels (about 75%) and B&B’s were closed. That included the fast majority of accommodations normally available

Video: Amsterdam’s quiet streets

Amsterdam as few people — locals and tourists alike — have ever seen it: empty streets.
Video by Taxi1108

This article was first published on April 25, 2020. It was last updated Friday, July 9, 2021.

Currently this article is no longer updated. It is archived here for its historical value.

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