Sweet spot for Amsterdam Vacation
February 6, 2016 11:06 AM   Subscribe

Looking to visit Amsterdam and hitting the best two-week period before the largest tourist crowds descend. Basically, what are the latest two weeks before the big crowd surges?

My husband and I, retired, aged 60, decent level of fitness, are planning a two-week trip to Amsterdam with side trips within six hours or so. I'm sure we will have several other questions, and we're mining the previous questions for the good stuff.

But first, we want to fine-tune our dates, balancing the warmest weather we can get before the biggest tourist season starts. If you could visit Amsterdam any time in April, May, or the first two weeks of June, when would you go?
posted by raisingsand to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would recommend any time in April or early May. June and July are high tourist season. I live in the NL and my American friends and family typically visit during the second or third week of April. The weather will probably be fine; not super warm (you'll need a rain-resistant jacket), but certainly warm enough for outdoor activities.

Note that if you want to visit Keukenhof, you need to come before May 16.
posted by neushoorn at 11:41 AM on February 6, 2016

Keep in mind that April 27 is King's Day. The number of people in Amsterdam more or less doubles. Not that I'd recommend avoiding it myself.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:45 PM on February 6, 2016

I would pick mid-late April so you can be there for the tulips at Keukenhof and everywhere else.
posted by Flamingo at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2016

Keukenhof in season is lovely. However, with winter 2016 being what it is in western Europe (i.e. non-existent) I seriously doubt they can keep it going until May. We had daffodils blooming around here between Christmas and New Years ... I know they have pro gardeners and greenhouses and stuff, but still.

Anyway, I would go for early May rather than April. Significantly better shot at decent weather. Note that 27 April plus 5, 15 and 16 May are public holidays which may have consequences for your options for day trips, museum visits etc.

Plan some good day trips; I would have a hard time not killing anyone after two weeks in A'dam.
posted by brokkr at 3:11 PM on February 6, 2016

May, or early June. If you get there in June before the European school vacations start, it isn't that bad. April can still be nasty filthy cold-- May you get more chance of some lovely sun.
posted by frumiousb at 7:37 PM on February 6, 2016

Best answer: My last trip to Amsterdam was in late May 2014. I was there for an academic conference, but I did visit the Rijksmuseum twice and went to Haarlem to see Teylers Museum. It was not that crowded. But Amsterdam has never seemed crowded to me, compared with London and Paris. Its vibe is more like Berlin. Once you get outside of Amsterdam, things are even more relaxed.

I think if you're there before school vacations start, in the middle of June (for US-American visitors) and later (for most European countries), you'll be fine. Dutch, British, and French schools don't have their summer break until July. Some German Länder have summer holidays beginning the last week of June, but most of them start in July also.

What follows doesn't answer your immediate question, but just to give you some thoughts on what to do:

If you like cycling, consider doing some of your side trips by bicycle. You could easily do a day trip from Amsterdam to Haarlem or Leiden (or both). The hotel I stayed in the last time had bikes that they lent to guests. Or cycle from Amsterdam to Marken, then up to Monnikendam, and back, perhaps 3 hours of cycling at a leisurely speed. (My wife and I did a bike tour around the IJsselmeer a few years ago—here are the details if cycling interests you.)

I'd definitely recommend a visit to Leiden, home to the first Dutch university and the Museum Boerhaave on the history of science. Amersfoort is also lovely. I was intrigued by my time in Hoorn and would love to go back there too. The Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuisen is also worth a trip if you're interested in how people lived before the inland sea was cut off from the Atlantic by the Afsluitdijk and then partially turned into the new province of Flevoland.

In Amsterdam itself, beyond the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, I think the Tropenmuseum would be my top recommendation. I enjoyed my solo meal at Elkaar, Alexanderplein 6, near the Artis zoo, and my wife and I had an excellent contemporary Indonesian dinner at Blue Pepper, Nassaukade 366, on a previous visit.

The train system is easy to use, but there is a small but annoying surcharge to buy tickets from a human being, and not every station is fully staffed. To buy tickets from a machine, you need a chip+PIN credit card. The chip + signature cards that American banks are rolling out won't cut it. They were also a hassle to use in retail outlets, because the standard in Europe is chip+PIN, and the signature thing sometimes confuses clerks, though that may be less of an issue now. Finally, most grocery stores and many other businesses do not accept foreign credit or debit cards, even within the EU. My wife and I took our host out to dinner one night at a small restaurant that would not accept my wife's French debit card, let alone my American cards. Plan to have enough Euros in your pocket to cover any expenses.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:20 PM on February 7, 2016

I use my chip and sig card in the NS and GVB machines all the time. You do have to enter a PIN, so be sure to assign one with your bank.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:00 PM on February 7, 2016

I use my chip and sig card in the NS and GVB machines all the time. You do have to enter a PIN, so be sure to assign one with your bank.
Many US banks don't let you do that. They now use a chip to verify that the card is physically present, but there is no associated PIN. My Chase card was explicit about that. You can assign a PIN for ATM withdrawals, but it won't work with chip+PIN point-of-sale (POS) machines.

US bank cards that are true chip+PIN generally default to chip+signature at attended POS machines, and fall back to chip+PIN if a signature is not an option. That's the case with my PenFed VISA card, which lets me use a PIN at automated machines but forces a signature if it can.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:13 PM on February 7, 2016

I think you're confusing and missing a few details. A true chip and PIN will NOT default to sig. That's the behavior of a chip and sig card. A true chip and PIN will ask for your PIN (I finally have one of these).

The ATM cash advance PIN and the unmanned POS PIN are the same. My Andrews FCU chip and sig card behaves as you describe for your PenFed card. I would assume your Chase would behave the same. No it won't let you use the pin at manned POS, it will spit out two receipts, one that you will sign. I didn't mean to imply that a chip and sig card would use the PIN anywhere other than an unmanned POS, like a ticket machine.

I am a U.S. resident, but I live in Amsterdam for three months a year. I use my card when I can and cash when I can't. My sample size on this is pretty large. Even swipe cards still work in some places, particularly No Cash places like Marqt grocery stores.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:14 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

A bit of a derail, but since there hasn't been any other activity: a card that is only chip + signature does not have a POS pin—my Chase VISA and American Express cards are both explicit about that. The EMV chip is there to verify that the card was physically present during a transaction, but there's no PIN to verify that I authorized the purchase. The signature does that.

American banks that offer chip + PIN can still make the card default to signature verification if it is attended. It is stupid, but that's how it works. If Andrews FCU defaults to PIN verification at an attended POS, it is unusual for the US. Good for them. Even PenFed (the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which at any given moment has tens of thousands of members stationed overseas) defaults to signature verification when possible.

In any case, the original poster should be aware that a chip card won't necessarily work at unattended kiosks in the Netherlands, and that even some Dutch merchants who claim to take credit cards won't take foreign ones.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:20 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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