Amsterdam is considered to be Paradise for a lot of forbidden habits. Drinking doesn’t seem to be one of them. For countries where the legal age is 21 years old, the whole of Europe is an amusement park, but Amsterdam’s alcohol regulations are properly updated and controlled.
In the Netherlands, the laws regarding alcohol have changed during the years. Back in the day the legal age to drink beer and wine at a bar was 16 years old. Nowadays, since 2015, in order to consume any type of alcohol you have to prove to be at least 18 years old.
What is and isn’t legal in the Netherlands? That is the big question. Normally it is regarding other substances but depending on where you come from even alcohol habits could surprise you. Do you want to know more about drinking in Amsterdam as well as does and don’ts? Then keep reading!
Who Can Drink Alcohol in Amsterdam?
Minors, anyone under the age of 18 years, are allowed by law to consume alcohol-free and non-alcoholic (alcohol content between 0.1 – 0.5%) beverages. This is the maximum content of alcohol an underage person can consume. Alcohol regulations are very updated in the Netherlands. Trust me, if you go to a supermarket and buy anything alcoholic, you better have your ID ready because otherwise, you are not getting out of there with not even a drop of alcohol.
In all Dutch supermarkets, bars and restaurants, you will see posters and brochures hanging around saying that selling alcohol to minors or someone who is under 25 who is in no possession of any type of document, is not allowed to be sold alcohol of any sort. Therefore, for your own good, you should look older.
So, how does it work?
How do they control it? Where do you need to show your ID?… well, everybody has a different experience, but here is what I have lived:
Is it as strict as it sounds? Well, in my humble experience buying some sider and some cans of beer at a supermarket, YES they are. I remember a couple of times when we had to convince the cashier to allow us to buy 2 cans of beer for my flatmate. I was standing next to her and even though she was the one buying it, she wasn’t allowed to buy them because I didn’t have any ID with me and I was clearly talking to her. I was 21 years old back then. Of course, it may be that I look underage and that some people have never been asked for an ID, but it may be a random sampling.
Where are the most strict when it comes to selling alcohol? Supermarkets. They don’t even have more than beer and wine, but it is very easy for anyone to try to buy alcohol while buying anything else. There are specialised stores where you can buy any kinds of spirits but no underage person would dare to enter there to actually buy some bottles.
Are they so strict in bars? Not so much, or that is what I can say according to my experience. I have never seen anyone being asked for there IDs at a bar or restaurant, but, of course, I wouldn’t dare to forget my ID when going out.
Alcohol in Amsterdam
So, to make it clear, if you are 18 or older you are more than allowed to buy alcohol anywhere you want in Amsterdam, as long as you can show your ID. Be careful if you are accompanied by a minor because consuming alcohol next to them or buying it can end up being a little bit of a problem. No problem if it is clear that it is for you, but if it is not clear you won’t be allowed to buy it.
Where Can you Buy it?
I would say that you can find some sort of alcohol almost everywhere you go in the city and no matter what time of the day, but here are some of the most common places where to find it:
- Supermarkets: in any supermarket or even at any AH to go you will find drinks with lower alcohol content: beer, wine and cider. You will need to show your ID because their system doesn’t allow them to continue with the payment if they don’t see a valid document.
- Bars and Restaurants: where you will be able to find any type of beer, maybe some cocktails, wine, cider and other spirits.
- Cocktail Bars
- 7ELEVEN: or the Dutch version of them, mostly open during the night and where you will be able to find mostly beer and sometimes some wine bottles.
- Gall and Gall: any spirit or liquor store, where you can find any type of drink you are looking for. The biggest and most famous Dutch chain is Gall and Gall, stores that tend to be close to AH to do your alcohol shopping after doing groceries.
If you want to know the prices for some of these drinks and some other products in Amsterdam, here is the last article I wrote about the cost of food and drinks in Amsterdam!
Where Can You Drink Alcohol?
So, since consumption at home is not controlled, you are allowed to drink whatever you want in the privacy of your home. It is also important to know that drinking while doing a picnic at a park or public space is also allowed as long as it doesn’t imply drinking in the middle of the street.
If there is a festival, market, public activity or public holiday such as Koningsdag, people are, however, allowed to drink in the middle of the street. Nobody would stop you from doing it. Drinking in the middle of the street during any other day can end up on a 50 euros fine.
Amsterdamers have to live with the idea of sharing their beautiful city with tourists, which brings some positive things and some negative ones. On the downside, we have the scandalous life that some tourist live while on holidays at certain areas of Amsterdam. These areas are specially controlled so that residents don’t suffer from waves of tourists who have drunk too much or smoked too many joints. This is where the special signs and other rules take place, in order to create a more shareable environment.
Curiosities about Alcohol in Amsterdam
- Heineken Experience: obviously going to the Heineken Experience implies drinking some beer. But if you bring a child along there are a lot of interactive activities and games that don’t imply drinking where they will be able to play and have fun. Kids friendly!
- Coffeeshops: any shop right next to a coffeeshop or a coffeeshop itself it is not allowed to sell any type of alcohol. This is because the Government doesn’t recommend and even less encourages the mix of substances. However, if bars claim themselves as smoking friendly, they won’t control what it is that you are smoking.
- Non-Alcohol Sign: for a year now a lot of non-alcohol consumption signs around Amsterdam. One of the main areas that have suffered changes has been the Red Light District. Consuming alcohol in that area or any other indicated area with a non-alcohol sign will end up on a fine, up to almost 100 euros. There will be enforcement officers every night doing their job and controlling that this doesn’t happen.
- Dutch can get paid with beer: De Regenboog Groep is a company that supports people who want to get reintegrated in the Dutch Society after having any type of issues. Apparently, there are some cases of alcoholics who end up working helping to keep the streets of Amsterdam clean and who are given and allow to drink beer all day long while they are working. Part of their salary is beer.
- Recycle Alcohol Bottles: if you buy alcohol at the supermarket you can recycle the bottles at the supermarket. The recycling machines that every supermarket in the Netherlands has is not only for plastic but it also has a special space where you can bring and recycle big kegs or big packs of 24 beers. All the bottles that have a recycling sign or the cost of the deposit written next to the barcode mean that you will get your money back.
- Kids-friendly Breweries: believe it or not, breweries are not only destined to entertain adults but also children. Of course, nobody under the age of 18 is allowed to consume alcohol there anyway but if you go you will find children. Certain breweries such as Brouwerij ‘t IJ are beautiful and historical places. Some of these places are located in family-friendly spaces and I have seen some of them become amazing birthday-parties settings, of course, leaving the alcohol aside during the celebration.
- Morning beer: you can order a beer no matter what time is it. In Amsterdam, there is a little bit of everything and everybody expect the extraordinary. If you feel like drinking at an early hour, don’t worry, ask for a beer. And, of course, don’t be alarmed if you see people ordering alcohol at 9 am.