Amsterdam has a thriving cafe bar society with thousands of outlets right across the city, many with pleasant outside terraces or pavement tables.
In Amsterdam, a cafe and bar are virtually indistinguishable. Both sell food, snacks and alcohol as well as coffee, tea and soft drinks.
But there are also Amsterdam cafes where cannabis and other soft drugs are openly sold and smoked. These are euphemistically called coffee shops.
Amsterdam cafes sell beer, wine and spirits along with coffee, soft drinks and snacks. The coffee is usually espresso or cappuccino and is often served with evaporated milk.
There is also a hot milk latte called verkeerd. In tourist hotspots you can get instant coffee sold at ground coffee prices.
A relatively recent trend in Amsterdam cafes is the grand cafe, in the tradition of Rome and Paris. Expect them to lay on the style with ornate decor, large balconies and outdoor terraces.
Amsterdam’s brown cafes
Brown cafes (Bruin Cafe) are traditional Amsterdam pubs. They get their name from the dark, often dimly lit, smoke stained ceilings and interiors. They open for breakfast and close around 2am.
Some, such as the famous 350-year-old Hoppe, on Spuistraat, have a more upmarket clientele but only one bar, no seats and the floor is strewn daily with fresh sand.
Other noted Brown Cafes are Reijnders in Leidseplein with its elegant high ceilings and cafes in the Jordaan area, such as De Reiger and Cafe Tabac, with a young, lively clientele. Each brown cafe has its own character, but all have a friendly atmosphere and a wide range of beers.
Amsterdam is beer drinkers’ heaven with many fine beers and ales on sale. The Dutch favourite is white beer or witbier, often served with a lemon slice. You can drink beer or wine from 16 years in Amsterdam and spirits at age 18.
Some Amsterdam cafes are known as proeflokaal or ‘tasting places’ where there is an enormous range of beers. Many tourists opt for the Heineken Experience, a tour of the original brewery building.
The Cafe Golem gets top rating in just about every beer guide to Amsterdam. It’s a small, friendly pub in an alley at 4 Raamsteeg with a first class selection of beers served fresh and cool. You get free samples on request. It’s small though. with seating for only about 25. Get there early.
Amsterdam snack bars
Typically Dutch are the Amsterdam city snack bars that serve chipped potatoes and mayonnaise, vlaamse frites, or the noted Dutch croquets, vleeskroketten.
There is also a wide choice of late-night cafes and takeaways as well as scores of Middle Eastern bars called ‘falafel’ that serve well past midnight.
Amsterdam visitors are often surprised by the hugely popular Amsterdam FEBO, where self-serve snacks of burgers and sandwiches are dished out from coin-operated glass compartments.
Amsterdam coffee shops
More than 300 Amsterdam coffee shops are licensed to sell small quantities of cannabis to adults over 18. They are easily distinguished from normal Amsterdam cafes. The names are often suggestive, with words like ‘happy’ and ‘high’, and menus display drug prices.
Amsterdam has a long tradition of tolerance towards soft drug users. However, coffee shop owners cannot advertise, may not stock more than 500 grams of cannabis and cannot sell more than five grams per person.
As well as coffee shops there are Amsterdam ‘headshops’ selling smoking paraphernalia, ‘growshops’ that sell cannabis seed and ‘smartshops’ selling herbal drugs and hallucinogenic mushrooms although there is now a campaign to have these closed down across Amsterdam.