Amsterdam coffee shops – the inside scoop

Amsterdam is an exciting cultural center, full of houseboats and bicycles, trains, museums, a legendary red light district with legal drugs and the one thing which seems to come to many minds first: coffee shops where you can buy and smoke pot.

Cannabis is decriminalized and cheap in Amsterdam, and you can buy seeds at shops like the Sensi Seed Bank all over town. You can also buy a lot of other things (see the gallery for goods like magic mushrooms, herbal opium and liquid coke). That doesn’t mean there are no rules; for one thing, you can’t smoke marijuana in the street — though that’s even less well-enforced that it is in NYC; not very well — and you can’t smoke it in bars, either. There is no alcohol permitted in coffee shops, and no pot where you can buy alcohol. In other words, in Amsterdam, you have to pick your poison.
You also have to be 18 or older to purchase cannabis (prices are in the gallery), and coffee shops are only permitted to sell 5 grams to a person at a time. There is a tobacco ban in Amsterdam, so if you want to smoke regular cigarettes or marijuana blended with tobacco, you must find a shop with a sealed area designated for tobacco smoking.Like in American coffee shops, when you enter a coffee shop in Amsterdam like The Bushdocter Coffeeshop, above, you walk up to the counter to place your order, then take your selections to your seat. You’ll find there is a menu of coffee and tea, but the first thing you’ll be presented with at the counter is their list of marijuana wares. Choices range from bags for take-away to brownies and cakes with strange names and daring ingredients and, of course, pre-rolled joints for smoking at your table, including the infamously strong Ice-o-lator hash.

The coffee shops are smoky. Even if you just sat down for a cup of tea, you’d probably get a little second-hand high. Most shops are brightly, psychedelically colored, if you will, with eclectic art and other features which seem to exist solely for the purpose of starting conversations, trains of thought, and for something to stare at for like half an hour without realizing it. At Bushdocter, there was also a vending machine with chips and candy bars for your munching pleasure.

One thing that’s rare to see is someone sitting alone — the coffee shop is definitely a social place in Amsterdam. If one were going to smoke on his or her own, they’d buy a joint or bag and return home. This is not for tourists, though; most hotels have a strict policy about smoking in the rooms. Be sure and ask before smoking (anything) in your hotel or you could be saddled with a hefty fine.

If you’re heading to Amsterdam and would like to visit a coffee shop, check out this interactive map and reviews and more information here.

This trip was paid for by the Netherlands Board of Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own. Also, at no point did the NTB escort me into a coffee shop.