Amsterdam is Europe’s eighth most popular tourist destination, and it is not hard to see why. Between the beautiful sites, the long history, and the canals, Amsterdam has remained in the top 100 tourist sites even as other equally popular sites drop from the list due to overcrowding. And while most tourists will be walking around or taking the public transport route, some choose to drive.
Driving in Amsterdam is its own experience. And while you may have already guessed that everyone keeps right, there are many more road signs to learn and different unspoken rules to know. If you’re planning on driving during your next trip to Amsterdam, read on for a list of tips to keep in mind before you hit the road.
Get an International Driver’s Permit
This, in combination with your valid state driver’s license, is what the Netherlands prefers tourists on roadways to have, though it is not required like in other countries. An international driver’s permit (IDP) is valid in 150 countries, contains all of your identifying info from your driver’s license, and translates into ten languages.
Because an IDP functions as an official ID, it’s recommended you get one even if you do not plan to drive in Amsterdam. Travelers can apply for an official IDP through any AAA office. All you need to do to get started is complete the application and provide the following:
- Submit two passport pictures (pictures can be taken from a local participating USPS or a retail photo center)
- Valid US driver’s license
- $20 permit fee
Note: The IDP you apply for must be from the country you are a citizen of. So, if you are a US citizen wanting to travel to Amsterdam, you will need to apply for an IDP in the US only.
IDPs usually last for an entire year, so if you’re covered if you plan on driving in other countries as well.
Never Drive Without a Passport
This is especially important if you do not have an active IDP on hand as a form of ID. Your passport is essential for traveling to and from Amsterdam, but you should also keep it with you at all times if you plan on driving as well.
This is because if you happen to be pulled over by police officers, ticket inspectors, or special enforcement offers like forest wardens, you’ll be able to provide suitable identification. Otherwise, you may be detained so officials can confirm your identity and travel plans and then fined for being without an ID.
Make Sure You Have Insurance
Check with your current car insurance company to see if you’re covered when traveling, and do the same with your health insurance in case of an accident. If either of your insurances does not cover you abroad, you will need to purchase both emergency health insurance and, at minimum, third-party driver’s insurance in the Netherlands.
If you plan on renting a vehicle to drive in Amsterdam, you will want to check with the rental company to see if rental insurance will cover you. You also have the option of enrolling in travel insurance as well, which, depending on the policy, may or may not cover your rental—although some comprehensive plans offer an add-on option so you can have your vehicle covered.
Keep Information About Your Rental Car Agency
Keep all of the paperwork you received from your rental car agency, either on your person or in a compartment in your vehicle; it should have information such as your rental insurance, an emergency phone number if you have an accident, and other critical information.
This would also be an excellent place to write down a list of emergency contacts as well as info about where you are lodging in case of an accident or other emergency.
Learn to Recognize Different Road Signs
Dutch roads are very monitored, and there is a litany of signs that tell the drivers different things about the road ahead and include signs for when things end. Ensure that you’re familiar with these road signs before you hit the road, especially if you’re new to driving in a European country.
Warning signs in Amsterdam will be red or yellow, while blue signs will either provide information or directions you must follow.
Understand Dutch Roadway Laws
To be a well-informed driver—and avoid getting into trouble with local police—it is also recommended that you become familiar with roadway laws in the Netherlands. The following are some key rules and laws you should remember as you travel:
- Speed limits – In Amsterdam, the speed limit is generally 30 km/hr for residential areas, 50 km/hr in the city, and 100-120 km/hr on highways.
- Do not speed – Speeding fines can be up to £600, or $823.70. You can be arrested if you are far enough over the limit.
- Do not drive too slowly – Driving too slowly can create a dangerous traffic situation. It’s better to stick with the flow of traffic, despite the fact that bicycles are hugely popular and foreign drivers may be uncomfortable and drive slower because of them.
- Keep right while driving – Much like America, the Dutch drive and cruise on the right, which is taken very seriously. Never stay in the left lane for longer than it takes to pass a car, even if you are traveling at the speed limit.
- Never pass on the right unless the markings on the road indicate otherwise – This is seen typically by exit ramps, where cars will be slowing down in the left lane to get off the freeway and speeding up in the right to get on.
- Do not assume right-of-way – There are many pedestrians and bikers in Amsterdam, and stop signs are typically only used when a smaller road intersects a larger one, and often the sign is a yield.
- Mind the cyclists – Netherlands law states that cyclists should use the main roadways in the absence of bike or motorcycle lanes. Because of that, you might get stuck behind a few cyclists, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Trikes or bikes with a load wider than .75 meters can decide to use the roadway instead of the bike lanes as well.
- Mind the pedestrians – According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, “Pedestrians may use the public carriageway if they form a column or if they are taking part in a march or a funeral procession.”
- Stay off your phone – It is illegal to use a phone while driving in the Netherlands, and the driver caught can face fines up to £250.
- Do not drive aggressively – Traffic laws are heavily enforced in Amsterdam, and “it is an offence for any road user to act in such manner as to cause a hazard…on the public highway or to obstruct road users in any way” (Source: Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment).
Amsterdam is a great place to be, and while the city does not necessarily lend itself to vehicular travel, it does an excellent job of making sure those in cars are protected and fair to others around them. So, call your insurance agency, make an appointment with AAA, and get ready to visit Amsterdam!