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Amsterdam Coffeeshop Dos and Don'ts

Amsterdam Coffeeshop Tips and Etiquette

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Keep these tips in mind when visiting Amsterdam coffeeshops. Some of them might surprise you! Once you're comfortable with these dos and don'ts, make sure to check out our picks for Amsterdam's best coffeeshops too.

DON'T: Confuse 'Coffeeshop' with 'Koffiehuis' or 'Café'

License in an Amsterdam coffeeshop window
Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
First-time visitors to Amsterdam or its coffeeshops may be confused by the terms used for different establishments. A licensed seller of cannabis products is always referred to as a coffeeshop. A koffiehuis (coffee house) sells coffee and light meals. A café is a casual restaurant and/or bar. If you're still confused, look for a green and white sticker in the window (pictured at left), a license which designates the establishment a coffeeshop.

All this said, visitors should know that coffeeshops do not sell alcohol. While they were never really known for being pub-like, some did used to sell beer. But in 2007, the Dutch laws changed and dictated that a shop may either sell alcohol or cannabis products.

DO: Ask Questions About the Menu

Marijuana and hash selections on an Amsterdam coffeeshop menu
Photo © 2008 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
Every coffeeshop has a menu, either on tables, behind the bar or in a manned stall usually in a corner. Selections are typically divided into weed, hash, pre-rolled joints and sometimes "spacecakes" (sweet cakes baked with marijuana in them). Prices vary by quantity (grams, bags, individual joints) and quality.

But don't just point to a funny-sounding name like "White Widow" or "Bubblegum" and hope for the best. Ask the staff what they recommend and what effects each type has. They often ask something like "Well do you want to be high, or do you want to be stoned?" If you're intimidated, don't be -- coffeeshop employees are friendly, knowledgeable and very accustomed to tourists who don't know exactly how to go about the whole process.

DON'T: Buy Too Much

A small bag of weed goes a long way in Amsterdam (coins to show relative size)
Photo © 2008 Shannon McAllister, licensed to About.com
One of the biggest mistakes coffeeshop visitors make is buying too much of whatever they've chosen. A little goes a long way. Buy small quantities. For example, if you're with a group of three, you don't need to buy three bags and three joints all in one place. These cannabis products are likely much more intense than others you've tried; and if you've never tried them before, you should certainly start off slowly! People who over-buy end up wasting money, dumping leftovers in a trash can on the way to the airport.

DO: Buy Something

It's perfectly fine to visit a coffeeshop and smoke weed, hash or a joint that you've already purchased somewhere else (which is another reason you shouldn't feel compelled to buy at every shop). But it is considered rude not to at least buy a drink or snack if you do this. You'll want to anyway, as coffeeshops are known for having some of the best coffee (go figure) and fresh juices in the city. Some nicer ones have delectable desserts and typical Dutch hapjes, or little bites popular at happy hour.

DON'T: Underestimate the Effects

Even if you've tried cannabis products in the past, you should still be warned that selections in Amsterdam coffeeshops are quite strong. If you're brand-new to it all, educate yourself by asking the staff about effects and just ease in slowly.

Pre-rolled joints are often rolled with tobacco to cut the strength of the weed or hash a bit; pure weed joints are sometimes available, but these aren't the kind you smoke solo! A final word of warning: beware of the spacecake! Many people don't understand that the effects of cannabis when eaten are much stronger than when smoked. The results -- which many people describe as more of a "trip" -- can be overwhelming if you don't know what you're in for.
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