The coffeeshops in Amsterdam are tourist attractions of their own. Not to be confused with the American version that serves up hot java and baked goods, coffeeshops act as legal dispensaries for marijuana in this European country. There are more than a hundred of them dotted around the city, mostly concentrated in the famous Red Light District.
While it might seem like the sort of territory where anything goes, there are official and unofficial guidelines to follow when it comes to getting high in Amsterdam. To delve even deeper into proper cannabis etiquette, you can visit the Cannabis College, which teaches all about using marijuana lawfully in the Netherlands.
DON'T: Confuse Coffeeshop with Koffiehuis or Cafe
If you're looking for a dose of a.m. caffeine and a croissant, it's a koffiehuis you're looking for, not a coffeeshop. The distinction: Coffeeshops are for smoking cannabis while coffeehouses are for sipping hot beverages and indulging in delicious pastries. It's a mistake that many first-time visitors make.
To confuse tourists even further, a cafe—different from a coffeehouse and coffeeshop—is the term used for a casual restaurant or bar. The green and white stickers in storefront windows indicate a license to sell marijuana, which is an easier way to identify coffeeshops. Note that these cannabis retailers do not sell alcohol per Dutch laws that forbid selling both in the same establishment.
DO: Ask Questions About the Menu
Like any old cafe, the coffeeshops in Amsterdam have menus on the tables or pinned to the walls. They're often divided into weed, hash, pre-rolled joints, and sometimes "space cakes," which are sweet cakes baked with marijuana in them. Prices are based on quantity (grams, bags, or individual joints) and quality. Rather than pointing to the funniest-sounding name on the menu and hoping for the best, ask the staff what they recommend and the effects of said products. If you're intimidated, don't be—coffeeshop employees are generally friendly, knowledgeable, and accustomed to handling tourists.
DON'T: Buy Too Much
It is, in this case, possible to have too much of a good thing. You can't take cannabis products with you to the airport, so opt for small quantities and remember: Marijuana is meant for sharing. No need to buy a bag per person, especially because the products here are likely stronger than any you might have tried elsewhere. Start slowly and purchase small quantities.
DO: Buy Something
It's perfectly normal and acceptable to smoke a joint that you've purchased from somewhere else in a coffeeshop, but you should always buy something, even if it isn't a cannabis product. If you've brought your own supplies, then make it a drink or a snack instead. Don't forget to sample the delectable desserts or hapjes, the little bites some coffeeshops serve up during happy hour.
DON'T: Underestimate the Effects
As previously noted, the strength of marijuana products in Amsterdam is not to be underestimated. Be especially cautious with space cakes, as eating cannabis can actually be much stronger than smoking it.
DO: Check Out a Few
Amsterdam has more than a hundred coffeeshops to choose from, each with its own unique vibe, atmosphere, and style. Some offer arcade and board games, some sell coffee and snacks, and others are pretty much just a service desk for quick purchase of an edible or a joint.
DON'T: Buy More Than 5 Grams Per Day
While you may stay at a coffeeshop for as long as you'd like, you are limited in how much you can buy from each establishment within a given day and how much product you can have on you legally. Amsterdam coffeeshops limit purchases to 5 grams per day, per shop.