History of Amsterdam: Car-free Sundays

History of Amsterdam: Car-free Sundays

Imagine you are taking a stroll down Amsterdam’s famous canals. With every step you take, the sound of cars and the bustling city streets slowly melt away and the years roll back. When you stop walking and look up, the year is 1973, it’s a cold Sunday morning in November, and you notice that there is not a single car driving on the roads.

Amsterdam’s Sunday car ban

Back in November 1973, the Dutch government instituted a ban on Sunday driving for three months, as a way to limit oil consumption during the Opec energy crisis. Aside from public transport, the only vehicles allowed on the street were those that were deemed essential to society and businesses such as fire engines and ambulances, as well as vehicles for doctors, dentists, vets, foreign tourists and tradesmen who had to transport their produce from farms to markets and restaurants.

The government had re-enacted the emergency 1939 Distribution Law, under which fines of up to around 250.000 euros and a maximum of six years in prison could be issued to anyone who broke the driving ban. However, in 1973, perpetrators were only fined around 200 euros.

The government's 1973 driving ban was largely welcomed by the Dutch population, who had grown tired of the vast levels of congestion and the noise and pollution that came with it. Residents of Amsterdam enjoyed quieter Sundays while the ban was in force and it was not uncommon for people to enjoy picnics on the motorways, as well as using bikes or horses to go about their daily business.

Exceptions to those who really needed it

While the law made it so that on Sundays only essential workers were allowed to drive their personal vehicle, exceptions were made by the police for those who really needed it. For example, it was reported that officers allowed a driver to take a group of foreign hippies on a tour of the city in his psychedelic bus. “It’s very nice, after all,” the police officer in question is reported to have said.

Others were not so lucky. A cabaret group leader was allowed to drive his car to transport his equipment to a nearby town for a show; however, the rest of his group were made to travel by public transport. Similarly, a French couple who hired a car were told they had to either walk or use public transport, as only cars with foreign plates were permitted to drive.

Living through history

Did you ever experience Amsterdam's Sunday driving ban? Maybe you have some stories to tell us! Whether it was a picnic on the motorway or taking your horse out on Sundays instead of the car, tell us all your stories in the comments below.

Thumb via Standsarchief Amsterdam.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

Read more



Leave a comment