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Is Amsterdam Safe? Warnings and Dangers Travelers Need to Know

SmarterTravel

Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most visited cities for good reason. The Netherlands’ postcard-perfect metropolis, lined with canals, tulips, and bicycling lanes, is almost impossibly rich in art, culture, and history. It’s also as welcoming as it is beautiful. And those wondering “Is Amsterdam safe?” can be pointed to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 report, which ranks Amsterdam as the world’s fourth safest city—and Europe’s number-one safest city.

But that’s not to say that Amsterdam travel warnings don’t exist, or that the Amsterdam crime rate doesn’t register. The Dutch city still has its problems. Indeed, much of the concern is due to the chance of terror attacks, which has ballooned throughout Europe in recent years; more on that below.

It’s also worth mentioning that Amsterdam’s violent crime rate has seen a recent sharp spike, mostly linked to drug trafficking, though commonplace muggings and robberies in Amsterdam have increased somewhat as well. According to recent figures, Amsterdam’s property crimes, including pickpocketing and thefts out of cars, are on the decline, and sex crimes are slightly down, too.

Regardless of when you’re planning to visit Amsterdam, here’s a rundown of the Amsterdam dangers you need to be most aware of, and what you need to know and do in order to maintain your safety in Amsterdam.

Tips for Safety in Amsterdam

  • Is Amsterdam dangerous? Not if you know where to go. There aren’t too many areas to avoid in Amsterdam, although sightseeing the Red Light District after dark can be risky. Steer clear of southeast Amsterdam’s Bijlmer area as well. Instead, spent time in the safest places to stay in Amsterdam—they include the Old Centre, the Jordaan, Grachtengordel South, the Old Jewish Quarter, and the Museum Quarter.
  • Pickpockets are active in Amsterdam, and the most likely people to fall victim are tourists who look distracted or insecure, or who are prominently exhibiting valuables. Criminals also try to scam tourists by selling them used transit tickets, stolen bikes, and fake gold rings. Planning on buying drugs in Amsterdam? Stick to the legal marijuana sold in licensed coffee shops. Every other type of drug is still illegal in the Netherlands, and it’s definitely against the law to be procuring any form of narcotics from dealers on the street.
  • Amsterdam’s Red Light District is mostly safe for travelers who come to see it by day. But nighttime in De Wallen is a different story, with intoxicated crowds, scammers galore, and an industry that depends in large part on exploiting foreign-born women who are victims of sex trafficking.

Areas to Avoid—and the Safest Places to Stay—in Amsterdam

How safe is Amsterdam? As with most destinations, that depends on where you go—and don’t go—within the city. There are definitely areas to avoid staying in Amsterdam, and it’s certainly worth knowing which are the safest places to stay in Amsterdam.

If you were to look at an Amsterdam safety map, you’d see that the vast majority of Amsterdam neighborhoods are safe for walking around in—even alone—with a few key exceptions. One of the areas to avoid in Amsterdam after dark is the city’s infamous Red Light District. While it’s filled with all types of people during the day, the area attracts a much seedier population at night, including pickpockets and drug dealers.

Another area that negatively affects the Amsterdam crime rate is called Southeast (Zuidoost), or the Bijlmer, which, thankfully, is a distance from any of Amsterdam’s tourist mainstays. Full of impoverished migrants from around the world, the Bijlmer’s crime rate is higher than elsewhere in Amsterdam; best to stay away.

Those looking for the safest places to stay in Amsterdam might book a hotel in the Old Centre, which is near Amsterdam’s main tourist attractions (but also not far from the Red Light District, which might not appeal to everyone). Other attractive, safe areas in Amsterdam include the Jordaan (far from attractions, but gorgeous canals), Grachtengordel South (good for nightlife), the Old Jewish Quarter and Plantage, the Eastern Docklands and Amsterdam Noord, as well as the culture-rich Museum Quarter.

Is Amsterdam’s Red Light District Safe?

Amsterdam is famous, of course, for its sexy Red Light District. But is Amsterdam’s Red Light District safe for travelers to visit? When the sun is shining, the answer is yes. But when dusk rolls in, so do the criminals and other shady types. Crowds of intoxicated people converge in De Wallen to sell and do drugs, pick tourists’ pockets, and objectify the women in the windows—whatever you do, don’t take pictures of the sex workers.

While Amsterdam’s Red Light District is mostly safe for tourists, it’s less so for many of its sex workers, many of whom are victims of trafficking. While some of the women who work as prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District do so willingly, others—especially the foreign-born ones—were bought and sold as slaves, brought to the Netherlands against their will, and were forced to have plastic surgery and abortions. It’s this chilling fact that’s forcing the government to consider what to do with the Red Light District and its problems. Meanwhile, as a traveler, it’s your choice whether to patronize a district whose key source of income and fame is the brazen commodification of women.

How to Get Around Safely in Amsterdam

Pickpockets in Amsterdam should be chief among travelers’ concerns while visiting the city: As in any tourist-heavy destination, Amsterdam pickpockets prey most on those who look distracted or insecure, or who are prominently exhibiting valuables. So walk confidently and keep all of your possessions out of sight (at home or in your hotel safe, preferably) to protect yourself from becoming a victim of theft in Amsterdam. Children as young as age nine often work in groups, at the behest of adult criminals, to steal travelers’ valuables. Be particularly alert for thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, as well as in Centraal Station and at the Bloemenmarkt.

Other matters to consider when thinking through Amsterdam safety: None of the canals have fences or barriers, so watch children closely and be cautious if you’re cycling. Speaking of bicycles, they’re stolen quite frequently here, and they hit people sometimes too, so never walk in a bicycle lane, and look both ways before crossing one, just as you would do with a street full of cars.

In Amsterdam, public transportation and taxis are safe. The Canadian government notes that road conditions and transit safety are “excellent throughout the country.” Taxis are required to use meters; make sure your driver turns on the meter so that you don’t get price-gouged. There are also more than 2,000 illegal taxis operating in Amsterdam; to make sure yours is legit, check to see that it displays the proper licensing.

Ride-sharing apps including Lyft and Uber are available in Amsterdam, though it’s important to take the usual precautions. When waiting for your ride, choose a busy, well-lit area, and when the vehicle arrives, confirm that the driver’s face and license plate match what comes up on your phone. Don’t tell the driver your name when you arrive; ask for the name on the booking instead. Then sit in the back seat, never the front. During the drive, share your progress with a friend or family member.

There are certain scams in Amsterdam that travelers should be aware of. Common Amsterdam scams include crooks trying to sell used public transit tickets, stolen bikes, and fake gold rings to tourists.

Amsterdam has historically been known for its liberal stance on marijuana, but if you’re planning on buying drugs in Amsterdam, keep in mind that it’s still illegal—and imprudent—to buy cannabis anywhere except from Amsterdam’s licensed coffee shops. All other drugs, including cocaine, remain illegal throughout the Netherlands, and collaborating with street dealers in Amsterdam can lead you into lots of trouble: Fun-seeking travelers who follow street dealers into dark alleyways to get drugs in Amsterdam often find themselves with a gram of something faux—and robbed of their cash and phone.

A different kind of problem involving drugs in Amsterdam happens when an unsuspecting reveler leaves a cocktail unattended, or accepts a drink from a stranger, only to fall victim to drink spiking. The Canadian government urges travelers to Amsterdam to “never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.” In addition, never become so intoxicated in Amsterdam that you can’t keep your wits about you to minimize your risk of being mugged, drugged, or worse.

Though Amsterdam’s risk of natural disasters is very low—save for the occasional strong windstorm, during which you should take cover—the same can’t be said for Amsterdam’s risk of terrorism, unfortunately. According to the U.K. government, “Terrorists are likely to carry out attacks in the Netherlands.” Be on high alert in crowded tourist spots, report any suspicious packages, follow local authorities’ instructions in the event of an attack, and enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to make it easier to locate you, should an attack occur.

Finally, plenty of would-be travelers wonder: Is it safe to travel to Amsterdam alone? Thankfully, that answer is yes, even if you’re female; Amsterdam is a remarkably safe city for solo women to visit. That said, if you’re alone in Amsterdam, it’s still important to take the normal precautions that you would anywhere—don’t get incapacitated, don’t buy anything illegal, steer clear of remote areas, and always appear confident and keep your wits about you.

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—original reporting by Avital Andrews

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