Top 5 Amsterdam Coffeeshops
Sure, coffeeshops in Amsterdam serve coffee but their primary function is to sell cannabis, either grass or hash, both loose and in pre-rolled joints. If you’re looking for a shop that sells fancy coffees but not soft drugs then you should rather look for a place advertising itself as a “cafe”.
A Bit of History
The 1960s and 70s were a very free time in Amsterdam and the city was awash with drugs. Particularly problematic was heroin which reached epidemic proportions in the 1970s. Cannabis was also popular at the time and both were illegal and the police would arrest users for either or both of those drugs. It became clear that cannabis was a soft drug and didn’t shred the fabric of society like herion did. Slowly the coffeeshop system developed. There were 3 early tea or coffeeshops, Mellow Yellow, Rusland, and The Bulldog. The owners of those places sold grass and hash on the side. The most famous is The Bulldog which was run for decades by Henk de Vries. Henk would be arrested and released and arrested and released and so on and then the authorities embarked on this system of tolerating things, in Dutch this is known as ‘gedogen’. They tolerated these shops selling a bit of weed or hash with certain rules attached. It was still against the law but the authorities looked the other way.
Current Licencing – Locals Only?
Nowadays, there is a licence system and a coffeeshop needs a licence to break the law for a 3 years period after which the licence must be renewed. The rules attached are: no under 18s, no alcohol on the premises, no hint of weapons or hard drugs, no advertising.
There was a locals-only system implemented in Maastricht which some cities have followed but all the major cities in the country still allow tourists to enter the coffeeshops.
A previous government wanted to roll the tourist ban out nationwide and our late Mayor, Eberhardt van der Laan went on the meida and said something like: “Visitors to Amsterdam, you are welcome in our coffeeshops now and forever.” The government pointed out that he couldn’t say that and he then pointed out that he had. The government backtracked and allowed cities to decide whether to adopt the ban or not. Amsterdam has not.
The Christian parties of the government are now (Novermber 2019) lobbying for the nationwide implementation of a tourist ban but the other parties are not keen on it. The obvious effect would be that dealing is pushed onto the streets as tourists will still want the stuff. The general view in the central government and certainly in Amsterdam is, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.
Smoke it or Eat it?
When you smoke cannabis, or vape it for that matter, the effect is immediate and it wears off reasonably soon. If you buy a pre-rolled joint from a coffeeshop the general advice is to buy one without tobacco, particularly if you don’t smoke cigarettes. Don’t smoke a whole one or even share a whole one. Just have a few puffs, like 2 or 3 and then let it go out and wait 10 minutes or so and do it again. Go slow.
The traditional edible form of cannabis here in Amsterdam is called ‘space cake’ and often comes as chocolate brownie. As far as eating the stuff goes, it takes a long time to work, 60 to 90 minutes before you feel anything. Then it can last for a long time, 4 hours, perhaps more. The dose and effect is difficult to predict. Amsterdam doesn’t have an advanced ‘edibles’ culture like the US does. If you eat just the right amount, I am told the effect is lovely. If you eat too much, not so much. My advice is that if you’ve never eaten it before, then don’t do it here. Particularly if you have other plans in the city, like museum, sightseeing etc. Try it in the comfort of your own home. Cannabis and recipes are easy to come by nowadays.
Souvenir Shops Selling Cannabis Products
The illegal element of cannabis is THC. This is what makes you high and can only be bought in licenced coffeshops. You will see countless souvenir shops and mini-supermarkets, particularly in the red light area selling space cake and other products. They even have a strength rating on the space cake. This will not make you high, even if you eat everything in the shop. They contain cannabis, but not the part of the plant that will make you high. They contain a bit of CBD, another element of the cannabis plant.
The Cannabis College
I’m not a smoker anymore. I was in my distant youth so I don’t have current first hand knowledge of coffeeshops but I do get my info from a very reliable source, the Cannabis College.
The Cannabis College – for your higher education – is a free advice and information centre about cannabis and all its uses. There are displays of cannabis products from health supplements to clothing and house and car building materials. There is a grow room in the basement with plants at different stages of the growing process and for €5 they will show you around and explain it all to you. They will advise you on how to use the stuff recreationally or medically and, on a practical level, will teach you how to roll joints or show you how to use one of their vaporizers. The don’t sell cannabis so take your own.
If you ask, they will let you know which coffee shops are selling the best quality weed or hash at the moment. Amsterdam has many good coffee shops but, unfortunately, many bad ones too. Happily, the Cannabis College monitors what is going on and can tell you which are which to go to and which to avoid, handy huh!
They advice me every year or so which coffeeshops are the best for quality and here is the list they gave me in November 2019. I couple their advice with suggestions from friends and colleagues.
Top 5 Amsterdam Coffeeshops
Dampkring means ‘smoke ring’ as well as ‘atmosphere’. The staff is friendly and helpful and the decor is great.
The Dampkring is the coffee shop used in Oceans 12, a movie I haven’t seen but still, it’s been cool for decades. They had a famous and quite sleepy cat named Bowie that you could stroke until you get bored. Some sad news, Bowie has joined David and is at the Dampkring no more.
What’s really great about the place is that you can buy 5€ euros worth of hash or grass, they don’t make you buy a whole gram so you can try a few different kinds without having left over bits. Also, they have a large selection of grass strains and greatly varying strengths of both types. Their pre-rolled joints are good quality and strong.
There are two branches of Dampkring, one in the Haarlemmerstraat and one at Handboogstraat 29. The one at Handboogstraat 29 is the best one. It has really cool swirly decorations, perfect if you are a bit off your head! (opening hours 10am to 1am)
1e Hulp is slightly out of the centre on the western side of town and a very popular place with locals. They have a lovely cat, named Rizla who is always up for a photo. Their weed is impressive, check out the link to their Facebook page with current photos of THC packed puds. (incredibly long opening hours of 7am to 1am)
Bagheera has super weed and is also the place recommended by the Cannabis College for the quality of their edibles (open 9am to 1am)
Green Place is right on the Nieuwmarkt Square and has a reputation for good quality weed for years. It’s not going to win any interior design awards but it is comfortable enough to sit inside and smoke a joint. This is where I would pick up the occasional joint in my smoking days. I would take it outside to the benches on the southern end of the Nieuwmarkt, the slighlty Gaudi-inspired tile benches and consume it there. (open 8am to 1am)
Other coffeeshops in no particular order that are also recommended are: Bluebird, Boernejongens, Barneys & Grey Area.
Magic Mushrooms are illegal. But… Magic Truffles are legal. The psycho active ingredients are the same. It’s really weird that this stuff is legal, it’’s like taking LSD. Not for the faint hearted and not on a whim! It can lead to 8 hours of craziness. Magic Truffles are sold by the dose in the sort of shops that sell the fake space cake that won’t make you high. The magic truffles will. Proceed with caution and get good advice before you indulge. The reputable shop for info and buying these types of legal highs is called Elements of Nature and you can find this in the Warmoesstraat.
Hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, extacy etc are illegal and you will be arrested for possession. There are many fake drug sellers on the streets in the red light area. Seriously, ignore them, they are nothing but trouble.
As the rest of the world catches up with Amsterdam’s tolerant view on soft drugs, the city is not as much as a magnet for this as it was before. Still it’s in the lead with convenient places to use the stuff, like the many nice and comfortable cofeeshops. Whilst possession and use is technically illegal you can get away with smoking it on a quiet bench somewhere, in a park. If you want to use cannabis here, I strongly recommend that you pop into the Cannabis College first for an update of what is good and where to get it. And particularly if it is your first time, get their advice and follow it!
If you want to learn more about coffeeshops and drug policy then come on one of our tours. We can cover this item and how it fits into the liberal tradidion of the country in 3 of our tours. There’s the small group Amsterdam Walking Tour, daily at 10:30am. I also speak about coffeesshops on request during the small group Amsterdam Red Light District Tour daily at 8:30pm. The third option is to book a 2 hour Alternative Amsterdam Private Tour that covers many areasof liberal tradition, of what made Amsterdam the cool city it is.