3 min

City Guide: Amsterdam

They do things differently in the Netherlands

Amsterdam Gay Pride takes place each July/August, with events and street parties over a weekend. The main event, Canal Parade, is on the Saturday afternoon.  Credit: Photo courtesy Amsterdam Gay Pride

They do things differently in the Netherlands. Historically this is a live-and-let-live society, which explains why it was the first country to allow same-sex marriage. People here don’t look kindly on an institution, whether political party or religious denomination, telling people what they can’t do.

What does this refreshing attitude mean for gay people? You won’t find police roughing up guys in the cruising spots; in fact, one local park, De Oeverlanden, actually has signs provided by the city, pointing to the cruisiest section.

As for nightlife, there are plenty of cozy cafés, lounges and dance clubs for every taste, and as English is almost universally spoken there’s no difficulty in meeting people.

Near Centraal Station, where Warmoesstraat meets the Zeedijk, the picturesque gay pubs on narrow streets on the canals draw mixed but mainly male crowds, from the maturely sophisticated to the young and artsy. 

On streets around Rembrandtplein and the Amstel canal, you’ll find a cluster of gay bars. A block south of the flower market, Reguliersdwarsstraat is famous for summer nights when this pedestrian street is packed wall-to-wall with young gay people moving between clubs.

Sex, that other big North American taboo, is less of a legal issue here, with live shows, and plenty of busy backrooms and regularly scheduled naked party nights. Sex-work is legal and regulated, but for health reasons rather than moral concerns. Big circuit parties regularly roll into town throughout the year, but especially during the gay holidays, and for leather events in the fall.

For leather and sex bars, look first to the heart of the leather scene under the black-and-blue flags in Warmoesstraat, a world center for leather clothing and equipment, with top-notch stores and services. Amsterdam is also a center for gay sex shops and cinemas with wide selections, on-site screenings, cruising and DVD rentals.
Hash and pot smokers over 18 may still enjoy the freedom to buy and light up at one of about 200 Amsterdam coffeeshops. The Amsterdam’s City Council, through an agreement with the coffeeshop union Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten (BCD), allows coffee shops to operate with licences, shown by the display of an official, green and white sticker in the window. Magic mushrooms were banned in 2012, but the milder “Truffles” (aka “philosopher’s stones”) have since been sold at “smart shops.”

Or you can enjoy peaceful canal-side cafe relaxation or reading, seeing the works of the city’s renowned artists at the many museums and galleries, browsing the stores in car-free pedestrian shopping streets and squares, or ambling the bike paths along tree-shaded waterways.

Every sort of international cuisine can be sampled at the many restaurants, but fresh sandwiches, quiche or pastries from bakeries, taken to eat at Dam Square on a sunny day — perhaps while watching the street performers there — can taste special. Avoid those nasty pizza slices around Warmoesstraat (Reguliersdwarsstraat has better) — but the Vlaamse frites (fries to go, with mayonaise, ketchup or viinegar) are fresh, cheap and satisfying, wherever you see them.

Big annual events here include King’s Day, the commemoration of Dutch King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, an occasion for the whole country to party, April 26. On Koninginnenacht, the night before, the streets surge with celebrants, dressed in orange, and full of national pride and high spirits; and of course the bars are packed and circuit parties throb. Queen Beatrice abdicated in favor of her son, the former Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, in 2013.

Amsterdam Gay Pride takes place each July/August, with events and street parties over a weekend. The main event, Canal Parade, is on the Saturday afternoon. Watched by tens of thousands from canal-side perches along the Prinzengracht, and on the Amstel River, the parade is one of floating barges decorated in over-the-top gay glory, unique to this city and a treat to behold.

The bicycle is the favoured mode of transportation, with designated lanes along many streets. Watch them whiz past, or join them; bikes can easily be rented. Try Black BikesBike City or Star Bikes. Public trams and trains are frequent and convenient, see their website at GVB. They don’t run all night, but few nightspots will be far from your hotel room. A discount strip card, sold at stations and convenience stores, is inexpensive and valid throughout the Netherlands.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Amsterdam, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.