Amsterdam Today

Amsterdam is built on a latticework of concentric canals like an aquatic rainbow, and although the city may evoke many images even before you arrive—the tulips, the gabled roofs of its mansions, the Rembrandts hypnotizing viewers in the Rijksmuseum, the splendor of its 17th-century Golden Age—time does not stand still in this city. Indeed, there’s an undercurrent of significant change happening here that might not be immediately apparent. Talk to the savvy locals and you'll hear plenty about what's going on in Amsterdam today. These are some of the topics on their minds.

New corona rules

As everywhere else in the world, Amsterdam was affected by the coronavirus shutdowns, and as of this writing, new procedures have been put in place for getting back to normal life. As of June 2020, everyone age 13 and over is required to wear face masks on all public transportation, and reservations are needed to visit museums and restaurants. Coffeeshops and nightclubs are closed until September 2020, and sex work is banned until then as well. The rules are constantly changing, so be sure to check on the latest before you visit.

A shift toward more responsible tourism

Though Amsterdam is home to less than 1 million people, it currently sees around 17 million visitors a year, a substantial number of whom come for the coffeeshops and Red Light tourism. Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, former leader of the national Green party, is leading a number of proposals aimed at attracting visitors less interested in partying and more interested in culture and history. So far, organized tours have been banned from streets with sex workers’ windows in both the Red Light District and throughout the city starting April 1, 2020. Other options on the table include closing the curtains in licensed brothels in the district (though prostitution, which is legal, could still happen behind the scenes) and/or concentrating the sex trade in a less-central “prostitution hotel.” To further decrease tourist congestion, no new tourist shops (such as tour companies and bike rental stores) have been permitted to open in the city center since 2017, and group tours anywhere in the city have been capped at 15 people and are not allowed to stop at high-traffic areas including on narrow bridges and in front of shops, restaurants, and private homes.

You can still smoke pot—for now

As of summer 2020, Halsema is also looking into how to reduce the appeal of coffeeshops to tourists, including potential measures to lower their number or to ban foreign visitors from using them. Though it’s still legal for coffeeshops to sell marijuana, the growing and processing of pot is not legal, which often results in dealings with organized crime gangs to obtain their supply. There are already only about 170 coffeeshops left in the city today, down from a high of 350 in the 1990s, after a government-backed project in 2017 closed coffeeshops within 250 meters (820 feet) of a school.

Vacation rental rules have been tightened

Though Airbnb continues to be a popular choice for Amsterdam vacation stays, some of the strictest government rules in Europe on short-term holiday rentals have lessened the number of stays from their previous highs. Starting in January 2019, Airbnbs can only be rented out for a maximum of 30 days a year and to no more than four people at a time. As of July 1, 2020, vacation rentals have been banned altogether in Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde (from Bloemenmarkt to Centraal Station, between Singel and Damrak), Burgwallen-Oude Zijde (which includes the medieval center of De Wallen, aka the Red Light District), and in Grachtengordel-Zuid (the Canal Ring between Leidesgracht and the Amstel), plus owners of vacation rentals in the rest of the city are required to obtain a special permit to be allowed to operate.

Hotels are still opening, but pace has slowed

Despite a ban on new hotel developments in Amsterdam’s central areas that came into effect in 2017 in an attempt to reduce overcrowding, some hotel projects already approved before that date were grandfathered in, resulting in an increase in Amsterdam hotel rooms to 36,860 by 2019. In January 2020, Amsterdam’s largest hotel to date, the nhow, with 650 rooms, opened at the Amsterdam RAI convention center.

The food has gotten better

Up until a few years ago, besides the pretheater brasserie deal or a few Indonesian and Surinamese establishments, if you were looking for a good meal, your best bet was a traditional "brown café" (similar to a pub; named for the nicotine-stained walls from a time when you could still smoke everywhere). But there the meal would be formulaic: meat or fish, salad, and fries. Today, the quality of the food, the variety of venues, and even the historically lax customer service get an "A" for effort. There are dedicated vegan, BBQ, and ramen eateries dotting the city's landscape, and a twice-yearly restaurant week to entice diners. Not unrelatedly, gym culture has also grown here.

Property is still booming

Besides the weather, Amsterdammers' current favorite topic is real estate. Housing prices have been rising steadily since 2013, with an increase of 23% in 2016. Though the pace has slowed somewhat, they continue to get more expensive year after year, rising 6% in 2019, though are expected to possibly start dropping by 2021 as a result of the corona crisis. For now, there’s a definite shortage of inventory in the city—so visitors who fall in love with that cozy canalside home may need to take a rain check.

E-bikes are big

In 2018, more than 1 million bikes were bought in the Netherlands, and about 40 percent of those were e-bikes. As rents and housing prices in Amsterdam’s city center have become more unaffordable, more Dutch have moved outside the city, increasing the length of their commutes and making electric bikes a useful option, especially since about 30 percent of Dutch commuters cycle to work. New tax laws as of Jan. 1, 2020 allow the Dutch to get interest-free loans to buy e-bikes, as well as to lease e-bikes from their employers and to be reimbursed for business mileage traveled by bike.

It's easier to get around

The metro’s long-delayed Noord-Zuidlijn (North-South) addition—which was more than €1 billion over budget—was finally completed in July 2018. Now you can make the 10-km (6-mile) jump between the hip borough of Noord and the Zuidas business hub in south Amsterdam—poof!—in 16 minutes. Centraal Station has also undergone a much-needed revamp, with more restaurants and shops added to the back section overlooking the IJ River. The station's entrance will also be spruced up by 2023, with widened canals and more underground bike parking.

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