Before heading out to Amsterdam, you may want to review just what is legal and what is not. Known for its liberal laws, Amsterdam still has rules you will want to be aware of.
Perhaps the largest misconception is that marijuana is legal. It might surprise you to learn that in fact, it is not. Amsterdam instead shows tolerance in this area. In 1976, the government decided to decriminalize possessing less than five grams of marijuana. Many feel this is what led to the emergence of coffee shops, which feature full menus of this drug.
Several countries outlawed smoking cannabis in public, but the coffee shops in Amsterdam feared this would put them out of business. In true Dutch fashion, a deal was struck allowing marijuana smoking in the coffee shops but not other public areas. The smell is unmistakable when strolling past the coffee shops, but everyone has come to expect (and accept) that in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, more smoking is done by tourists than actual citizens. By the way, you can have a great time smoking cannabis, but don’t light up that cigarette in public. That is illegal! If you are going to partake in the drug life of Amsterdam, remember that the marijuana is very potent. Also, buy your selections at a coffee shop and not an individual on the street. Street vendors target tourists and will often over charge.
What about the Red Light District with its beautiful prostitutes? Is this practice legal or simply tolerated? Both prostitution and brothels are legal. Women making their profession this way even enjoy protections of the country’s labor laws. Since prostitution is considered a legal trade, the women are provided medical care just like other working women. They also pay taxes on their earnings. The Red Light District is actually very safe with many policemen and bodyguards watching out for the ladies. While prostitution is legal, taking pictures of the women is not so leave the camera behind.
When enjoying the pleasures of the Red Light District, be on the lookout for pickpockets. This area is know as a popular destination for tourists, so pickpockets often frequent the streets and alleys.
The most popular form of transportation in Amsterdam is bike riding. If you’re not careful, you can easily be run over by a speeding bike. Riders do not have to don a helmet, but they must have a bell and light. It’s important to stay off the bike paths if you are walking. This is for your safety as well as the bikers!
Amsterdam is definitely an interesting place and one that will allow you to do things other countries will not. Just be smart when traveling there, and make sure you follow the local laws.