Let’s Tackle some common Misconceptions about Amsterdam

Everybody knows Amsterdam, but do they really KNOW Amsterdam? And does the image regarding people from Amsterdam align with the reality? In this blog, I’ll share some fascinating questions I have been asked about Amsterdam.


I will start with what I believe would be the biggest misconception about people from Amsterdam. Many people associate the city with continuous smoking due to our relaxed drug laws and numerous coffee shops. Surprisingly, though, many locals, including myself, rarely visit these places. In my case, I had never been to a coffee shop until a visiting friend expressed interest. I also recall a debate in high school about a nearby coffee shop. It was seen as unethical and risky for students, yet this debate now seems foolish, as anyone interested in smoking could easily find alternative sources. Smoking has always been a matter-of-fact aspect of life for Amsterdam residents, which may explain why many, including myself, choose not to partake.


“Amsterdam is such a small city, you can go everywhere by bike!”. Well, that really depends. I grew up in Amsterdam-IJburg, an ‘island’ on the IJ-lake in the most eastern part of the city. To bike from IJburg to the opposite corner of the city, it would easily take more than an hour. What may surprise many is that Amsterdam is twice the size of Paris. So, while this city may appear small on the surface, there can be a substantial distance between places that you want to reach within Amsterdam.


My explanation for why Amsterdam feels like a small and cozy city, more than Paris I would say, is because of the way the city is organised. In Amsterdam, the city is neatly divided into a defined city center, along with northern, southern, eastern, and western districts. Most visitors of Amsterdam often focus on exploring the charming city center with its picturesque canals or the southern part, home to renowned museums like the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. This localised exploration can, at times, lead to a somewhat limited perception of what Amsterdam truly represents. In contrast, Paris lacks a clear-cut “city center,” with its cultural and tourist attractions thoughtfully dispersed throughout the city.


This is an invisible part of the city, even for most inhabitants of Amsterdam. For me, my master’s internship was a truly eye-opening experience. Despite having lived in Amsterdam my entire life, I was oblivious to the extent of poverty that exists in the city. One particular moment during my research on children’s fruit and vegetable consumption at primary schools stands out. During an interview with a school board director, he opened his refrigerator to reveal a shocking reality – there are children in our city who come to school without having had breakfast. This revelation exposed a strong contrast in the socioeconomic conditions across Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods, emphasising the significant disparities that exist.


I believe that the beauty of Amsterdam lays in the unexpected and hidden aspects of the city. Wandering down a random side street, stumbling upon a hidden food haven, or simply following the whims of the night can lead to moments of unexpected wonder. Amsterdam’s charm often reveals itself when you least expect it, making every exploration a delightful journey of discovery. So, when the opportunity arises, embrace the beauty of unintentional strolls, and let the city’s secrets unravel before you. In these moments, you’ll uncover the true essence of Amsterdam, waiting to surprise and inspire.

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