Amsterdam’s 10 Worst Tourist Traps (And Some Alternatives)

From its historic canal belt to world-class museums, Amsterdam offers a plethora of memorable experiences. On the flip side, many popular venues can be expensive tourist traps. Keep this in mind before adding these oft-visited sights to your itinerary:

Arrive without a reservation and you’ll spend more time in line than the hour or so it takes to see the Anne Frank House.

1. The Anne Frank House. It’s the attraction that tops many bucket lists: the annex where the Holocaust’s most famous diarist hid with her family before the Nazis hauled them away. It’s also the one with the longest lines; arrive mid-day without a reservation and you’ll spend more time in line than the hour or so it takes to view a museum now shrouded by modern glass and steel. While the courageous teenager is undeniably inspiring, do you really want to pay €9 to view her ordeal amidst hordes of tourists?

Instead: See Anne, a new play that dramatizes the time Anne Frank spent with her family before going into hiding, the years in the Secret Annex, and the horrors that followed. For more Holocaust lore, visit the Dutch Resistance Museum, where you’ll find a thoughtful perspective of Holland during Hitler’s tyrannical reign without standing in line.

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Most canal boat tours subject you to an hour of trite commentary, crammed under a glass dome.

2. Canal Boat Tours. Sure, Amsterdam is stunning from the water. Gliding along scenic waterways, you look up at gabled mansions and historic monuments. Yet most canal tours cram guests under a glass dome and subject them to 60-minutes of trite commentary surrounded by foreigners blocking their views.

Instead: Opt for a cozier experience—a candlelit dinner on Jewel Cruises‘ 19th-century salon boat with up to 19 of your best friends. Better yet, be among the first to cruise Amsterdam’s canals in a Boom Chicago Hot Tug filled with 38°C/100°F water. The Dutch-designed contraptions hold up to seven, plus an on-board captain.

Even Amsterdam Marketing suggests you get drunk before visiting The Heineken Experience, an homage to a beer now produced by a multinational firm that "must have been arranged by people who had too much beer themselves."
Even Amsterdam Marketing suggests you get drunk before visiting The Heineken Experience, an homage to a beer now produced by a multinational firm that “must have been arranged by people who had too much beer themselves.”

3. The Heineken Experience. Since 1864, Amsterdam has been renowned for the pilsner that once permeated De Pijp with the fragrance of fermenting hops. Closed in 1988, the brewery transformed into a museum that offered tours for fans. After a 2008 renovation, ticket prices skyrocketed, bottomless tastings became two-beer samplings, and a brand promotion transformed into a tourist trap.

'tIjBrewery
Brouwerij ‘t Ij produces some of Amsterdam’s finest craft beers.

Instead: Heineken may be Holland’s most renowned export, but it pales in pizazz compared to beers made at local craft breweries like Brouwerij de Prael in Amsterdam’s Red Light District and Brouwerij ’t IJ, marked by a giant windmill in East Amsterdam. Both offer tours and tastings.

4. Madame Tussauds. This branch of London’s wax homage to celebrity is similar to attractions around the world. Enjoy the panoramic view of Dam Square from the giant top floor window—virtually the only redeeming feature of a tacky wax collection.

Instead: Recall one of Amsterdam’s most famous celebrities in Rembrandt’s Studio, filled with 17th-century curiosities and some of the artist’s best etchings.

5. Faux Museums. Throughout Amsterdam, shops masquerading as museums sell overpriced cheese, tulips and even vodka. Once inside, it’s clear you’ve paid to visit a commercial store disguised as a museum.

Enter the feline world at the Katten Kabinet.
Enter the feline world at the Katten Kabinet.

Instead: Visit some of Amsterdam’s authentic small museums: Museum van Loon, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of 17th-century Holland, or the award-winning Tassenmuseum, an homage to small bags and purses. On the Ij River, EYE salutes international cinema, while Katten Kabinet celebrates cats in a canal house replete with art by Picasso, Rembrandt and Toulouse-Lautrec, all with felines on center stage.

6. Tourist Coffeeshops. Want to be ripped off for inferior weed? Patronize The Bulldog coffeeshops, Barney’s or any of the dives around Warmoesstraat and Leidseplein. While some may be fine for a smoke, most offer sub-par product and a touristy environment.

George Clooney and Brad Pitt famously chilled at Dampkring in Oceans 12.
George Clooney and Brad Pitt famously chilled at Dampkring in Oceans 12.

Instead: Find local flavor and good product at Tweede Kamer, one of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshops, off Spuistraat, or at Dampkring, where George Clooney and Brad Pitt famously romped around in Hollywood’s Oceans 12. Better yet, chill out with residents in Vondelpark or any of the city’s other green spaces.

7. Damrak. Although it’s home to Beurs van Berlage (the former stock exchange) and posh department store The Bijenkorf, the artery leading from Central Station to Dam Square is an embarrassment to both locals and city government. While there’s a movement to transform it into Amsterdam’s Champs-Élysées, replacement of its tacky shops, cheap hotels, fast food joints and tourist restaurants with chic boutiques has a long way to go.

Once a tram depot, now a local meeting spot.
See and be seen at Food Hallen, an indoor food court in the Oud-West’s transformed tram depot.

Instead: Explore neighborhoods outside city center, from the picturesque Jordaan to De Pijp, home of the Albert Cuyp market. In the Oud-West, visit De Hallen, a transformed tram depot now housing an indoor food court, movie theaters, library, hotel and eclectic businesses.

8. Wooden Shoes. Countless tourists photograph themselves in the giant wooden clogs off Dam Square, on Reguliersbreestraat and elsewhere in town. Why?

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Amsterdam’s Canal Belt is a free outdoor museum, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage sight.

Instead: Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel (Canal Belt) was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2010, making it a free outdoor museum. With its Golden Age mansions, graceful bridges and historic monuments, it offers limitless photogenic vistas.

9. Live Sex at Casa Rosso. In Europe’s erotic capital, live sex performed on stage may surprise no one. See how seductive it is (or not) at De Wallen’s oldest live sex theater, where couples engage in sexual intercourse while thinking about paying bills. If you’re part of a bachelor party, it may be worth €37 (€47 with two drinks) to experience the iconic club marked by a neon pink elephant. If not, consider less expensive, more erotic options.

Instead: Be a voyeur in a Red Light District cabin for a mere €2. Have a stack of €2 coins ready to view more than a few minutes of sexual interaction. Gain deeper insight into the practice of sex for money at the Prostitute Information Center run by Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute.

These tourist traps aim to replicate a bygone era, but are filled with tourist shops proffering cheese, fish and trinkets priced especially for visitors.
Find cheese, fish and trinkets priced especially for visitors at touristy Zaanse Schans.

10: Day Trips to Volendam and Zaanse Schans. These tourist traps aim to replicate a bygone era, but are filled with tourist shops proffering cheese, fish and trinkets priced especially for visitors.

Kinderdijk would be under water were it not for Dutch ingenuity.
Kinderdijk features 19 spinning windmills in their natural habitat, just outside Amsterdam.

Instead: Skip the kitsch and visit Kinderdijk, 19 spinning windmills in a natural habitat east of Rotterdam that adds credibility to an old saying: “God made the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”


33 comments

  1. Nice advices, this was the info that I was looking for, very helpful, but I think there are places very cliché as the Heineken Museum that I really want to see as well I want to try a coffee shop. The advices are very helpful and for sure with this remarks I will fully enjoy such a amazing city like Amsterdam.

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  2. Great advice! I’m curious how you tell a tourist museum trap before you enter one? I agree with Manuel That the Heineken Museum still might be worth the hassle (although maybe that’s my inner American talking), but I will definitely take your advice on which coffee shops to frequent/avoid. Sounds like you know your way around the city…awesome!

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  3. These hints are great! I’ve been looking for alternatives to the more expensive crowded activities so many flock to the city for. I’ll be sure to check these places out! Thanks for the hints.

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  4. As a traveller, i can say that the thing i hate the most about visiting a city is the disappointment i live sometimes just because of following some popular “cliche”. At this point, the views of a local person become so valuable for me. Therefore i find this article really critial for those to visit Amsterdam! But most importantly, it not only gives an idea for touristic traps, but also offers options, which is great! 🙂 To be honest, when i visited Amsterdam for the first time, i was fooled by most of these but thnx to this article now, i’ll definitely enjoy this beautiful city much much more! 🙂

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  5. I loved this post! It is a real insight that all tourist should know to not spend so much money in so common and tourist attractions. Nothing better to have some tips of someone who really knows the city. What I liked most is that some attractions that I wanted to go (and are expensive) such as the Anne Frank museum and the Heineken experience have some alternatives! I would never know that! Awesome post 🙂

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  6. Thanks for this great list, I only stumbled over your blog thanks to couchsurfing, but it was already worth the look! After all, I can now have a real plan of what to see (and what not!), without having to buy an expensive guide which only shows you the tourist stuff anyway!
    – Annika

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  7. I’ve always hated the tourist traps in big cities and vow not to spend any money on them. But then as a tourist you’re always stuck for what to do! This is so useful to be able to get the insider knowledge. When you’re travelling you never want to go to the tourist places anyway – you want to get to know the history and the heart of the culture. Thanks so much for this 😀 it’s brilliant!!!

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  8. Great advice!!! I did fell into quite a few, if not all, traps… :s How could you possibly know so much?!!!! I’ll take your advice this time. And I think I’ll ask you about the new play of “Anne” when we meet!

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  9. Wow, what a perfect article. This was the best post to read as we are about to visit Amsterdam. I am sure we would have fallen into some of these traps, and feel good having someone looking out for us. We are going to write some of these down!

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  10. Thank you for helping us with this article, i felt like i’m setting with an old friend who had been to the city and advising me before i look like the village idiot , the article is really friendly and since i’ve been say i couldn’t agree more , especially with the canal boat , i’ve had the worst experience , well i can’t say worst as the canal itself was good but i got too much angry coz i had a seat beside a closed window which wasn’t clean and i couldn’t take any picture unless i’m tilted to use the other window beside the nice canadian couple and the funny thing is we were in august and the canadian girl (which lives in -30c) felt very cold that she had to close the window at the same time i was feeling hot where i work in saudi arabia with degree (50+C) and i had to offer her a jacket i had in my bag. at the same time i saw so many people riding a very nice boat and they were looking happy in a way that made me look at the roof of our boat that may be i see up POW prisoners of war or something. so by telling me about this boat names that mean in my next stay i could look happy and wave from there to the POW.
    also what you wrote about anne frank house , i’ve avoided the very long line , but i was planning to visit this year but i’ll have to follow the expert 🙂 , in general i would like to thank you very much for the effort and i wish you would give more reviews about the rich city with culture of Amsterdam.

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  11. That’s a great article! I found some places, that I wanted to go (for example Anne Frank house) but now will skip and choose some alternative. It’s great to read an article that helps divide gems that are really wotrth seeing from places that are just overpriced tourist attractions.

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  12. Very helpful article for me, I was going to read some good guide about Amsterdam, now I don’t have to :)! I heard a lot about this Anne Frank House and I’ve always wanted to see it, but now I know there are so many equal alternatives. And now of course I can avoid this standing in line for hours 🙂 . Maybe I will try to visit Kinderdijk? I have to choose wisely, I will be only for 2 days in this beatiful city. Thanks a lot for this article!

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  13. Many thanks for this articles. Undoubtedly, these small tips and tricks are hard to find and ofcourse they are a boon to every traveller.

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  14. Thank you so much for those usefull hints. Though lots of tourist guides and internet-top-25-things-to-visit-in-Amsterdam pages reccommend The Heineken Experience as a must-do we now understand that it’s just a smart commercial move for tourists to get trapped and spend some money. What is better I think to visit some local authentic breweries which will definetly leave a big imprint after the journey. Thanks!

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  15. This is the first post I read because I hate getting trapped into all the touristy things and Im about to visit Amsterdam for the first time. I love how you give alternative options and can’t wait to try them out!

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  16. Thank you very much for the useful insights! Coming to Amsterdam later this week, these tips are probably saving me quiet some frustration and disappointment. I have to admit that some of the things you mentioned were on my list indeed (Anne Frank’s house and canal boat tour)-but not anymore. I will for sure check out De Hallen and one of local breweries, to see how the beer competes with the Belgian ones 😉 And that Boom Chicago hot Tug sounds interesting, I will check that out too I think. Can’t wait to start exploring!

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  17. Thank you so much for the advice! I’m coming to Amsterdam later this week and you saved me from some serious frustrations and disappointment I think. I have to admit that some of the things, like Anne Frank’s house and a canal boat trip, were indeed on my list –not anymore! I will certainly check out de Hallen and one of the local breweries, to see whether the beer can compete with Belgian ones. And the Boom Chicago Hot Tug sounds intriguing, I will check that out too I think. Can’t wait to start exploring!

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  18. As a solo backpacker, I always wanted to stay away from the very touristy spots that are pricey and overcrowded. This blog post have great advice on which popular spots to avoid, and what’s more, provide alternatives so I can indulge in the same, if not better, Amsterdam culture and atmosphere. Really inspiring and useful for my upcoming journey!

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  19. Thank you for this post! As a traveler I appreciate the wonder and beauty of each city I visit but can sometimes feel as though the ‘recommended list’ of things to do are not fun or enjoyable at all! Especially when traveling solo. This article is honest, clear and gives so many great alternatives. Thanks!

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  20. Thanks for this post! Living in NYC, I always cringe when I see tourists wasting their money and getting stuck in tourist traps when there is so much more to the city. We (sadly) only have a weekend in Amsterdam, so it’s really good to know which spots to avoid wasting our time and money on. It’s also really helpful that you provided multiple alternatives. Catherine and I were planning on doing the Heineken Experience, but I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’d much rather check out a real craft brewery! Thank you! 🙂

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  21. I would of definitely visited most of the touristy sites if you hadn’t advised me against it. I always get stuck in lines that I’m not sure are worth it just because I don’t know where the genuine worth while sites are. Definitely going to want to check out some authentic small musuems and stay here for longer than planned! Thank you, your blog is most helpful!

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  22. Thank you for the advice! Some of these were definitely on my to-do list, but I think I might skip some of the more touristy spots to visit the alternative spots you suggested!

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  23. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! Although I think I still do want to see the Anne Frank house, I’ll probably skip it on my upcoming two-day-trip, and save it for when I maybe get the chance to come back with more time. Definitely agree with Firat and others that the alternatives are a great idea – so thanks again, I’m looking more and more forward to my trip!

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  24. I never would of thought to skip the bigger tourist attractions and go for the smaller ones. Compared to your other article discussing lower price attractions – these seem to go hand in hand! Great for experiencing Amsterdam in a more down to earth fashion.

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  25. Veryyy nice informative list. Especially the Anne Frank house, I was wondering how much it would be worth it to pay it a visit. I think I’ll go for the museum instead 🙂 Also the coffee shop info, very good to know 😉

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  26. De Hallen seems like a blast. A good unique dutch cultural activity, sounds like it beats wooden shoes. Anyways, some more good tips and i look forward to exploring this city later this summer!

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  27. Hi, I have been reading your blog the whole day. Thank you so much for all the information, it really helps me planning my trip to Amsterdam (Sept. 11-13, 2017).
    In regards to coffeshops, would you say that the BlueBird is a tourist trap?
    Thank you 🙂
    Geoffrey

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    • No, I love that coffeeshop. It’s on the other side of town from me so I rarely get there, but whenever I’ve visited it has a nice vibe and cool staff. I’m more familiar with coffeeshops in the Jordaan. Let me know when you’re here and maybe we can sample their wares together!

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