Tourists with cars, be careful!

I lived for 4 months and a half in one of Amsterdam suburbs: the Bijlmer. Former highly criminal (drugs, murders and other joyful stuff) part of the city, it is now way calmer. Anyway, that's just to say that I think I'm legitimate to talk about upsetting stuffs that can happen since, during All Saints' day holidays, someone broke my car window to break into it and check if it had any valuable in it. Of course, it hadn't.

So, being a tourist or an expat, especially during national holidays, if you have a car with a foreign license plate, follow the next advices:

  • avoid "angle parking" or "parallel parking" your car. If you have no other choice, chose a place where there is little chance cars will park near yours.
  • do not let anything in your car (well that seems like good sense). You should hide your GPS or phone support and wipe its mark on the windshield.
  • if you've low esteem for your car, feel it with garbage like McDonalds wrappings or pizza boxes, that might help.
  • put down the luggage cover (that induces nothing else in the trunk). That let the thieves know you've nothing in your trunk.
  • Amsterdam town hall freely offers stickers to put on your car to specify your car does not keep anything valuable. Personally, I think that indicates the opposite: who will have the idea to put that sticker? Those who have something valuable inside to avoid someone breaking into their car.
  • paying parking does not mean safe parking!

And voilà, that's if you still don't want to follow my advice to not take your car to go to Amsterdam. If even with these constraints you want to go with your car, be sure your insurance cover damages in foreign countries!

Driving a car in Amsterdam

I legitimately can talk about driving a car in the Netherlands since I went to Amsterdam by car and I still have it. First thing to know: Amsterdam (like any big Dutch city (Haarlem, Utrecht, ...)) hates cars and does anything in its power to limit them.

They see me rollin', they hatin'

Parking

There are very few free parking lots (technically, only very far from the center) and if they are (free), most of the time you can stay only for a limited time.

To pay is the only solution (do not even think about getting a place with a garage or a private parking). At the parking meter, you will be asked to enter your license plate. Don't be fooled, if you can't see it, it is NOT free, you should look better before assuming it is a free space. Count between 1.30€ and 5€ per hour (if you can find a place where to park) for an outdoor parking and between 3€ and 5€ for an indoor parking. Well, in their greatness, they fixed the maximum rate per day to 50€, how generous!

Some tips:

  • Leave your car outside of the city in a P+R which "offers" for 8€, a parking for the day and a round trip in public transport for each one of your (up to 4) carpoolers.
  • If you can't tell if a parking is free or not, it is not. If after a 5 or 10min lookup, you can't find any parking meter, it's because you are not allowed to park here (and that happens a lot in the very center).
  • There a reasonable number of free parking places near the Kraaiennest metro station. The neighbourhood is not really comforting but I got no problem for the moment (parking 24/7 for 2 months now).
  • Avoid like the plague the free parking near the camping and park of Gaasperplas, there are a lot of thieves attracted by this place.
  • Fines are expensive: from 50€ to 100€. Don't forget to pay them quickly, the fines increase a lot with time!

If ever, by any chance, you find a place to live in the center but you're too stubborn to live without your precious car, you can ask for a residential permit to the town hall but it can (and will) take several months. Here is a link to explain a bit all the process (in French).

Some tips:

Gasoline

When I tell you the Dutch government does all it can to limit cars, here is an example (end of 2014): Diesel costs 1€40/L and the SP95 1€70/L (0€30/L more than the French rates), you can even find the Diesel at 1€70/L and the SP95 at 1€90/L on the highway. Therefore, don't forget to fill your tank before passing the Dutch border!

Traffic

The traffic in the center is a real nightmare. Pedestrians, bikes, scooters, tramways, buses and taxis everywhere. Everything's is slow-paced, red lights every 10 meters (due to the canals). You can also find yourself driving on tramway's rails or on pedestrians roads. In other words, that's complete anarchy. But, you have to be careful and aware of everything around you. Leave a considerable space between your care and the sidewalks on each side of the road to let scooters and bikes go: they don't stop and drive fast. A small moment of inattention and you'll run over someone. At each pedestrian crossing or when you cross a cycling lane, even if the lights are green, slow down and check incoming cyclists from both side of the road. Twice.

We often say to follow a car licensed locally when you're lost. Don't do that in Amsterdam if the car is a taxi or any car with a blue license plate. Indeed, these blue license plates allow vehicles to drive on cycling roads, pedestrian-only roads or bus and tramway lanes, which you are not allowed to take.

Let's talk about speed bumps now. Well, slow down! They're not joking here. Some are so tiny you can't almost see them while others will make your bumper touch the ground at 10km/h. It's in the residential areas where they are the steepest.

Highway exits are worthy of German highway exits: short with a quick 45 to 90° turn. I'll not repeat myself enough: slow down!

Good luck with your car, you'll need it :D

Oh, I almost forgot! If someone's tailgating you or honking at the very first second the lights turn green, do not take it personally, it's not an insult, nor a sign of impatience. That's just how it's done in the Netherlands. Well, someone might also cut in front of you, you could too, nobody will swear at you for that. Be careful, that's all!