Frequently Asked Questions About Amsterdam
At DutchAmsterdam we get many questions about our fine city. We are not affiliated with any official Amsterdam Tourist Information or city marketing entity. But we love Amsterdam, and we love to share what we know about Mokum.
Where is Amsterdam? How many canals does the city have? What is a Mokumer? What is the IJ — and how do you pronounce it? Why do many houses in Amsterdam tilt forward?
Find the answers to these and many other Frequently Asked Questions here.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. The city is in the southeastern part of the province of Noord-Holland (North Holland). The province is in the northwestern corner of the country.
By the way, many people refer to the Netherlands as Holland, but doing so is not correct.
The Netherlands lies in the Northwestern part of Western Europe. Germany is to the east, Belgium to the south, and the Dutch coast borders the North Sea. [More information, plus maps]
That depends on who ‘they’ are. The official, native language is Dutch. But most people in Amsterdam also speak quite a bit of English. In most recent EF English Proficiency Index (2020) the Netherlands ranks number 1 for English proficiency.
That said, Amsterdam is a multicultural city that is home to people from 187 nationalities. So you will hear a lot more than just Dutch and English.
You will not need to know any Dutch in order to enjoy your visit to Amsterdam.
Last time we checked, 873 338 in Amsterdam proper, and altogether about 2.5 million in the metropolitan area. At the current rate of growth, in 2034 some 1 million people will call the city home.
“There is one bicycle for everyone of Amsterdam’s 837,000 citizens.” That figure comes from the 2017 publication, Cycling Matters, published by the City of Amsterdam.
It’s safe to say that number was a guesstimate, as are all the statistics you’ll find on this subject.
Currently, the city’s marketing department still touts a number first published in 2015: 881.000 bikes. That number was arrived at using the so-called ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ methodology. See this footnote to our article, Amsterdam, City of Bikes.
That same year, Statistics Netherlands said the 442.693 households (850.000 residents) in Amsterdam together owned 847.000 bicycles — 1.91 bicycle per household. 78% of people 12 years and older owns at least one bike.
Currently there are no more recent statistics. We suggest you keep using the 881.000 number.
Bonus fact: each year between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes are fished up from the city’s canals.
The name Amsterdam is derived from the city’s origins: it grew around a dam in the river Amstel. However, the city may actually have been named after a dike built years earlier.
Dam square — in Dutch simply, de Dam — is Amsterdam’s best-known square. It is a handy central location from which to explore the medieval city centre. This is the site of the dam mentioned in the previous answer, though nowadays the erstwhile dam is no longer visible.
Featuring the Royal Palace, Dam square often is the focus of events of national importance — as in the annual Remembrance Day (May 4) ceremonies which take place at the National Monument, commemorating those who died during the Second World War.
By the way: do not refer to Amsterdam as “The Dam.”
Mokum is a popular nickname for Amsterdam. It is the Yiddish word for “place” or “safe haven”. It is derived from the Hebrew makom (place).
Linguists say Mokum was used in Bargoens. This 17th century Dutch street language was used by criminals, tramps and travelling salesmen. They referred to cities with the Yiddish word for place, followed by the first letter of the city transliterated from the Hebrew alphabet. For instance:
Amsterdam = Mokum Alef
Delft = Mokum Dollet
Rotterdam = Mokum Resh
Later, Amsterdam was also called Godel Mokum (‘large city’).
Mokumer as a nickname for ‘Amsterdammer’ was recorded in 1906, in a Bargoens dictionary by Amsterdam police commissioner W.L.H. Koster Henke.
Then, in the 1940s, Mokum was popularly used in cabaret, radio shows, and popular literature.
But Mokum truly became a term of endearment in 1955, when Amsterdam singer Johnny Jordaan scored a hit with “Geef Mij Maar Amsterdam” (Give Me Amsterdam). Just about any Mokumer will sing along with the refrain:
Geef mij maar Amsterdam, dat is mooier dan Parijs
Geef mij maar Amsterdam, mijn Mokums paradijs
Geef mij maar Amsterdam, met zijn Amstel en het IJ
Want in Mokum ben ik rijk en gelukkig tegelijk
Geef mij maar Amsterdam!
Just give me Amsterdam, that’s more beautiful than Paris
Just give me Amsterdam, my Mokum paradise
Just give me Amsterdam, with its Amstel and the IJ
Because in Mokum I am rich and happy at the same time
Just give me Amsterdam!
Before the Second World War Amsterdam had such a large Jewish population that the city was referred to as the “Jerusalem of the North.” Mokum is just one of many Hebrew and Yiddish words that have become part of the language.
Travel writers dubbed Amsterdam as “Venice of the North” due to its many canals.
Many Rotterdammers refer to Amsterdam as ‘020’ — and many Amsterdammers call Rotterdam ‘010’. By using the area codes you won’t have to use the proper city names.
Some folks think it’s cool to refer to Amsterdam as “The Dam”or “De Dam.” It’s not. It just makes them sound dumb. The Dam is Dam square.
“Damsko” is a street language nickname for Amsterdam, but I bet you and I will rarely hear or use it.
Lucky! Actually: “Amsterdammer.” But if you want to surprise your Dutch friends, use the colloquial ‘Mokumer’ instead. (Mind you, many would say that one has to have been born and/or raised in Amsterdam — Mokum — to be considered a ‘real’ Mokumer).
We’re not sure why you’d want to, but here goes: A’dam (which you can pronounce as ‘Adam’).
The IATA Code for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is AMS. The ICAO Code is EHAM.
Amsterdam has 165 canals — with a combined length of 100 KM (60 Miles)
The City of Amsterdam has at least 1.957 so-called “numbered bridges.” In addition there are least 98 “P-number bridges,” which are owned and managed by private persons, Rijkswaterstaat, and the Water Board “Hollands Noorderkwartier“.
80 of Amsterdam’s bridges are within the famous grachtengordel (“belt of canals“), in the center of the city.
These numbers come from the website “Alle Bruggen van Amsterdam,” founded and operated by bridge enthusiasts. Site operator Peter Korrel states that Amsterdam has “at least 6.519 bridges.” Mind you, that includes culverts, gate bridges, jetty bridges, and more. All are carefully documented with photos on the website. There’s even a list of bridges that no longer exist.
We see no reason not to accept Korrel’s statistics as authoritative. Meanwhile, the City of Amsterdam says it is “responsible for 1800 bridges and 600 kilometers of quays.” That includes 200 kilometers of brickwork quays lining the canals. Plus the quays along the river IJ, and throughout the Port of Amsterdam. Then there are river banks (such as those of the Amstel).
We think it’s nice of the city to say it’s “responsible.” After all, successive city councils have ignored necessary upkeep of the bridges and quays for so long that many are now actually crumbling. In 2019 the city finally embarked on an emergency repair and maintenance program.
On a lighter note: many of the bridges can open to let ships pass. “The bridge was open” is a popular excuse for arriving late at school or work (regardless of whether your route actually includes a bridge.
Amsterdam has 3.050+ houseboats — anything from small, simple structures to custom-built, multi-story floating homes, as well as converted commercial vessels. If you take into account Metropolitan Amsterdam as well (which the Amsterdam Tourist Board would really like for you to do), there are some 3.600 houseboats.
The IJ is the river behind Central Station. Along with the river Amstel, the IJ has played an important role in the founding and history of the city, and continues to do so.
The river IJ connects the Port of Amsterdam, via the North Sea Canal, with the North Sea to the West. It also connects the port to the rest of the Netherlands, along with most of Europe, to the east. This is is one of Europe’s busiest marine corridors.
The name ‘IJ’ consists of a digraph — two letters that are pronounced like a single letter. In Dutch both letters are capitalized. Pronounce IJ like ‘ay’ or ‘eye’. You’ll hear locals refer to “Het IJ.” So use that phrase when asking for directions: something like ‘hat eye’ will work fine.
That depends on what you are looking for. The summer season is very popular, of course. But Amsterdam is a fun and fascinating city any time of the year.
The main tourist season is July and August, with the best chance of good, sunny weather.
The cultural season runs from September to May.
The bulb fields — with tulips and other flowers — near Amsterdam are in bloom from mid-April through mid-May.
Winters are relatively mild but can be cold and wet nevertheless. Some years, ice skating on the canals and some lakes is possible.
Learn more about Amsterdam’s climate, and check our month-by-month weather forecasts.
The Netherlands is part of the European Union and uses the euro (Symbol: €. Code: EUR). Until 2002 the Dutch Guilder was used.
The most convenient places are money change offices at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and at Central Station. But these are not the best places to change your cash.
Many travelers prefer to use ATMs (cash dispensing machines), but there are many disadvantages and pitfalls to take into account. Some ATMs are charge a lot of commission and/or give you a terrible exchange rate.
If you want to bring cash, make sure you know where to exchange your currency.
Amsterdam has 6,800 16th, 17th and 18th century buildings. National Geographic says the old town is “one of Europe’s best preserved, photogenic, and intact historic city centers.”
Many of these homes are converted warehouses where goods would be hoisted to different floors. The warehouses were built with a slight tilt to prevent the goods from damaging the building’s facade on the way up or down. That approach was copied in other buildings as well.
One theory is that a leaning building prevented rain water from soaking and damaging the wood or masonry.
Another reason has been proposed as well. During the Golden Age, gables became a status symbol. The more elaborate the gable, the richer the homeowner could be assumed to be. A building that slightly leans allowed passersby to more easily see the display of wealth.
That said, some buildings tilt — whichever way — because the foundation has been damaged. Often such damage is due to fluctuating groundwater levels.
The 36-story office tower Rembrandttoren, named after the painter, is 135 meters tall — 150 if you count the spire. Not tall by international standards, but tall enough when you take into account that the average building height in Amsterdam is just 30 meters — and only 15 meters in the medieval center. The Rembrandttoren is located in the south of Amsterdam.
Mind you, in recent years more high-rise buildings have been built in Amsterdam. And many more are planned, as the city is trying to address a severe housing shortage.
The proximity of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol does present the city with some limitations on where tall buildings may be built.
A brown café is a pub with a dark wood interior, nicotine-stained ceiling and low-wattage lighting. You can find brown cafés throughout Holland, but Amsterdam features more of them than any other city in the Netherlands.
Yes, founded in 1838, Artis is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands, the sixth oldest zoo in Europe, and the sixth oldest zoo in the world.
1490, and counting. Some are pretty, some are ugly, and many modern ones appear to us to be a terrible waste of money and space. Your mileage may differ.
There’s a handy map with locations and descriptions. In Dutch only, but you can give Google Translate a workout.
In the Safe Cities Index 2021, Amsterdam ranks 6th in the world. Published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the report ranks 60 cities across 76 indicators covering digital, health, infrastructure, personal and environmental security.
When it comes to Personal Security, Amsterdam is in 2nd place, just behind Copenhagen.
Amsterdam is a safe city for women of all ages traveling alone or together. Journeywoman.com, ‘The Premier Travel Resource For Women,’ calls Amsterdam ‘female-friendly’ and recommends it as a city where women travelling alone can feel comfortable and safe.
Like most countries in the world the Netherlands uses the GSM cellular phone system. The GSM system is compatible with mobile phones sold in Australia, the UK, and most of Asia. It is not compatible with phones sold in Japan, or with many of the phones sold in North America. Check your Amsterdam cell/mobile phone options.
Historical reason: Amsterdam is a city where trade has always been more important than ideology or religion – overly strong views would only hamper relations. Too, Amsterdam is traditionally a city of immigrants. Jews from Spain and French protestants found a safe haven, centuries ago. When it comes to prostitution or the use of drugs the Dutch feel that if it’s going to happen anyway it is better to legalize and control it than to let it fester underground. [More about Amsterdam’s tolerance]
In Mercer’s most recent quality of living ranking (2019) Amsterdam is in 11th place out 450 cities surveyed worldwide. The ranking indicates differences in quality of living factors affecting expatriates in popular assignment destinations.
In 2019, more than 20 million daytrippers and overnight visitors came to Amsterdam. That’s up 4 million from 2016. Nowadays the city is flooded with tourists even in the off-season. That’s way too much for a city of fewer than 1 million citizens.
If no measures are taken to combat overtourism, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema expects the city to see 29 million visitors by 2025.
While tipping is common, by law all prices in the Netherlands include tax and tips. However, leaving a tip (fooi — sounds like ‘foy’ with a drawn-out ‘o’) is customary in restaurants, bars, and pubs. [Tipping guidelines]
With 10 million visitors a year, Vondelpark is the most popular park not just in Amsterdam, but in all of the Netherlands.
According to the City, Amsterdam has some 50 parks. But given that the city folks include small green patches virtually nobody would consider a ‘park,’ that figure is a bit on the high side.
A coffeeshop is a place where you can legally buy soft drugs (marijuana or hash), space cakes, coffee, tea, and sometimes freshly-squeezed juices and sandwiches.
A koffiehuis (coffee house) is the same thing, minus the soft drugs and space cake.
Traditionally a koffiehuis was a place where the working man could get a cheap cup of coffee as well as something to eat. The term has a more old-fashioned connotation than koffiebar (coffee bar) or koffietent (coffee tent). ‘Tent’ is an informal way to refer to a café, bar, restaurant, or other public catering facility.
At DutchAmsterdam we’re not so much into making ‘Best of’ or ‘Top 10’ lists. If you fancy a satisfying cup of coffee you’re not going to travel halfway across town to visit someone’s #1, right? Just ask a nearby local for a recommendation.
A 2007(!) report by Amsterdam’s Department for Research and Statistics shows that of the “4.5 million tourists” who spend the night in Amsterdam during a given year, 26% visit a coffeeshop. According to what was then called the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board, 10% of tourists even mention this as a primary reason to visit the city.
Nowadays the City wants to curtail the number of coffeeshops. It is also looking for ways to legally bar tourists from these establishments. That’s an effort both to limit nuisance, as well to discourage “low quality tourism.”
Mind you, that’s part of Amsterdam’s fight against overtourism. In 2019, more than 20 million daytrippers and overnight visitors came to Amsterdam. The government expects that the number of visitors will increase to “perhaps 24.6 million by 2030.”
The previous Dutch government planned to introduce a pass card/membership system for coffeeshops, available only to legal residents of the Netherlands — effectively barring tourists. Amsterdam’s leaders opposed those plans. While the so-called “Wietpas” (yes, Weed Pass) was nixed by a subsequent government, the stipulation that only legal residents may visit coffeeshops was retained. In typical Dutch fashion the final decisions to apply that rule was left up to each city.
Amsterdam always opposed the pass idea. It claimed that it would hurt tourism, and increase illegal drugs trading on the streets. Former Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said the pass would be “unworkable”. On November 1, 2012 he declared that all 220 in Amsterdam will remain open to tourists. A few hours later, a spokesman for the justice minister said ‘not so fast…’, but in the end Amsterdam won out.
That was then. This is now. Tourists are still able to visit Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, but perhaps not for long anymore.
There are 166 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, representing almost 30% of all coffeeshops in the Netherlands.
There are plans (proposed in January, 2021) to reduce the influence of criminals and create a more balanced relationship between residents and visitors.
One approach would be to ban international visitors from cannabis coffeeshops, a policy already in place in cities in the south of the Netherlands.
The city figures that If only the needs of local consumers are considered, Amsterdam needs just 68 coffeeshops.
Queen’s Day was the annual Dutch national holiday in honor of the late Queen Juliana’s birthday — and later of the birthday of Queen Beatrix. It was held annually on April 30. Queen Beatrix, who succeeded her mother Juliana in 1980, decided to keep the holiday on April 30 as the weather on her own birthday, January 31, tended to prohibit outdoor festivities.
Queen’s Day has been replaced by King’s Day. On April 30, 2013, Holland’s Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son, then Prince Willem-Alexander. King Willem-Alexander’s birthday in on April 27. King’s Day — which pretty much resembles Queen’s Day — is therefore celebrated on that day.
On King’s Day there are celebrations throughout the Netherlands. However, the most popular destination remains Amsterdam. In the past up to one million visitors joined the 850.000 locals in the world’s largest street party.
In an effort to discourage such huge numbers of visitors, the city has in recent years moved large-scale King’s Day events to the city’s outskirts.
‘I amsterdam’ is the advertising slogan with which the City of Amsterdam brands itself. Located in back of the Rijksmusem, the I AMSTERDAM logo — 2 meters (6.5 feet) high and 24 meters (26 yards) long — became one of the most photographed sights in Amsterdam.
However, in December 2018 the letters were removed. A smaller copy of the motto is moved around the city. The motto, designed in 2004 by advertising agency KesselsKramer, is meant to convey Amsterdam’s inclusiveness: everyone should be able to say, “I Am Amsterdam.” It was designed to serve as part of the city’s tourist and business promotion activities. (Those activities were a little too successful, by the way).
The slogan also conveys to the city’s hugely diverse population that we’re all one — and should be proud of it.
‘IAmsterdam’ is a registered trademark owned by Amsterdam Partners — a public private cooperation between the business community, the City of Amsterdam, regional local governments and regional promotional organisations.
The first three letters of the logo, I AM are red, while the rest of the letters — STERDAM — are white. When the logo was revealed there was speculation that the design was plagiarized from one made two years earlier by designer Vanessa van Dam. Her ‘IAmsterdammer’ — with a similar accent on the first three letters — had been printed on 120.000 postcards. The City eventually settled with her by buying the rights to the logo for a mere €20.000.
The good news: the old joke about Amsterdam having four seasons a day is just not true. The bad news: at times it seems like it could be true anyway.
Overall Amsterdam has the same mild climate as the rest of the Netherlands, but the weather in Amsterdam remains somewhat unpredictable.
Huh? We don’t. Well, actually, we do — but only on certain occasions. Orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family, which hails from the House of Orange. But you probably want a more extensive explanation.
Unfortunately, nobody knows. There are some educated guesses, though. And trust us, all of them are family-friendly, safe-for-work interpretations.
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