All you need to know about Amsterdam's coffee shops
When people tell stories about Amsterdam’s coffee shops with great glee, it’s not because the coffee was good, but because they probably got blazed. Yes, what Amsterdam calls ‘coffee shops’ we call ‘cafes where you can legally smoke weed.’ Considering the strict laws found pretty much everywhere else, it’s hard to image that marijuana is not only legal in Amsterdam but openly enjoyed alongside coffee and cake like its NBD. As such, these types of establishments can’t help but attract curious tourists looking to legally inhale. But before you take a drag, there are a few things you should know about first.
What to know
In Amsterdam, there are coffee shops, coffee houses and cafes. Confusing much? To break it down for you, cafes are mainly for meals, coffee houses are mainly for coffee and coffee shops are mainly for getting high. Granted, some coffee shops might not look like the smoke-filled, stoner-friendly high house you imagine so a good way to be sure that you’re in a coffee shop is to look for a green and white sticker in the shop’s window which signifies they’re licensed and legit. Also keep in mind that the legal age to enter a coffee shop is 18.
Where to go
The list of coffee shops runs long in Amsterdam. Much like any establishment, it really depends on what you’re after. Some are discreet and as chic as a fancy cocktail bar while other’s give the gist away with clichéd stoner décor, haze of smoke and crowds of tourists. If you’re humoured by the later then the psychedelic interior found at Dampkring and the Bulldog will put you on a good trip. If you’re low on funds, Siberie has a varied menu with good prices while the iconic and more expensive Greenhouse in the Red Light district is where you can sample some of the city’s top-notch ganja.
What to expect
Firstly, don’t expect to be able to get both stoned and drunk. In Amsterdam it is illegal to sell both so you’re going to have to choose between one or the other to get your kicks. Depending on what coffee shop you choose to visit, some establishments allow patrons to smoke inside while others prefer patrons to smoke in the designated outdoor areas. Also be prepared for the crowds in coffee shops to greatly vary, with some establishments attracting the typical stoner hippies you’d expect, while other shops specialise in the up market and corporate crowd. For the most part though, locals have kind of gotten over the whole coffee shop thing and you’ll find that at most places the tourists outnumber the locals.
What to buy
When you first arrive, it is common practice to purchase a beverage or snack first. Some coffee shops sometimes even require you to do so if you wish to sit down. While it’s polite to purchase a beverage, you don’t have to purchase any weed. Conversely, you can purchase weed at one shop and then smoke it at another. Once you’ve ordered a drink, take a look at the shop’s menu, which will usually include a range of hash, marijuana (sold by the gram usually), sleep-inducing drugs and soft sedatives. Most shops will list on the menu the effects of each one and who it is suited to (pro-smokers etc). If you’re not sure on what to try, just ask the staff and they’ll happily make recommendations.
While there are plenty of smoking paraphernalia on offer, if you’re keen to just blend into the scene, most locals just smoke joints. With shops providing free rolling paper, you’re welcome to roll one yourself otherwise pre-rolled joints are also available and served in little plastic tubes. If you’re not keen on inhaling but don’t want to be left out of the fun, most coffee shops will also sell smoke-free alternatives like hash brownies, mushrooms and spacecakes.
What to avoid
Obviously, it goes without saying - avoid over doing it. Know your limits and don’t think you’re cool by trying stuff you can’t handle. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being that tourist that greens out and throws up in public. Also, only visit the coffeeshops you’ve heard good things about. While most of them are quite safe and tourist friendly, there are some dodgy ones. When visiting, keep in mind that even though the Dutch like to add tobacco to joints to make them last longer, smoking cigarettes in coffee shops tends to be frowned upon. And lastly, don’t get snap happy when visiting a coffee shop. It may be perfectly acceptable in Amsterdam but if you ever run for prime minster that photo on Facebook may come back to haunt you.