Easily one of the coolest cities in Europe, Amsterdam draws you in with its promise of sex, drugs, and pancakes. However, though the city’s Red Light District and coffee shops continue to attract visitors by the thousands, Amsterdam has been increasingly moving away from its seedy image. From its uniquely charming architecture to its wide range of museums, Amsterdam has cleaned up its act and is determined to be recognized for its cultural and historical offerings.
For the average visitor, this means you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. During the day, you are spoilt for choice: wander alongside the city’s beautiful canals, go shopping in bustling markets and independent design boutiques, or spend a day in one of the world’s top art museums. There’s enough to do, see, and eat in the city to occupy any holiday, and that’s not counting the hours spent in a coffee shop enjoying the benefits of Europe’s most progressive attitude to cannabis.
When evening comes, while straight tourists are ogling at the windows of the Red Light District, gay Amsterdam’s nightlife comes alive in several LGBT hubs around the city. Gay bars and clubs are evenly spread, meaning you are never too far away from a fun night out. The city only has one gay sauna on offer, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up in quality, with top-notch facilities and a regular stream of visitors that keep it busy all night.
Amsterdam has a unique city layout created by the city’s canals. Most gay visitors within the old city center, which contains the red light district, Dam square, Damrak and gay Amsterdam’s nightlife.
The sites of gay Amsterdam are more or less evenly spread out across the city center, with two main clusters of bars. One is located in the red light district which includes its fair share of gay fetish and cruising bars, as well as the only gay sauna in town. The other is still within easy walking distance but further south.
The Netherlands is an exceptionally progressive country in almost every way, and has been ahead of the curve in terms of sexuality and sex positivity for decades.
Its attitude to gay rights is no exception: homosexuality was decriminalized way back in 1811, and the country was the first in the world to legalize gay marriage and same-sex adoption in 2001.
Gay visitors are highly unlikely to encounter discrimination in the city. If they do, they are protected by the law through the country’s Equal Rights Act.
As one of Europe’s gay capitals, gay Amsterdam does not disappoint in terms of nightlife. Clubs and bars are clustered around key gay areas in the city (see Areas of Amsterdam below), so you can pick a gayborhood to explore on a given night and bar-hop to your heart’s content. The city has everything from laid-back watering holes where you can relax with a beer to huge cruising fetish parties, so it’s up to you to decide what the vibe of the night will be.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit some of the more historical gay bars in town. Amsterdam has a culture of “brown cafes”, old traditional bars with simple decor and long histories, and you can find gay institutions among them. Café ‘t Mandje was the first gay bar to open in the Netherlands in 1927 and still welcomes gay visitors from the world over, while Saarein was a women-focused gay bar for many years – it now welcomes and caters to all “queer minded people”.
The Queen’s Head is one of the city’s oldest and most popular gay bars, located on the edges of the Red Light District in the gay street of Zeedijk. It often hosts fun themed events, with resident DJs spinning music every weekend. PRIK is another good spot with delicious food and cocktails, transforming effortlessly from relaxed lounge bar in the day to all-out dance party at night.
In terms of clubbing, Church is the big name in town. This venue in Kerkstraat has you covered for cruising, drinking, dancing, fetish parties, and drag acts. Club NYX on Reguliersdwarsstraat is a large three-floor venue with a mix of vibes and music and also includes a more laid-back bar, Exit Après Chique. Nearby, SoHo is another good club with regular parties, go-go dancers, and Wednesday night €2 beer and shots.
Though there used to be a few more gay saunas, most of them have recently shut down leaving essentially one contender. Sauna Nieuwezijds is conveniently located near Amsterdam Centraal train station, and is top-of-the-range in terms of both cruising and sauna facilities. Though it is relatively small, everything is modern and impeccably clean, with a good variety of clients.
In terms of facilities, Nieuwezijds has a Turkish Bath, Finnish Sauna, whirlpool, massage services, steam room, private cabins, lounge, and a fully licensed bar selling alcohol. The price is relatively steep (€19,50 or €14,50 for under 26) but includes a drink token, and the sauna is open all night until the morning (6 am on weekdays and 10 am on weekends). There are special events on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. The sauna is openly welcoming of trans men.
Getting tested in Amsterdam is straightforward. There are several clinics in the city offering the service, so you should be able to get tested whenever suits you. The Public Health Service (GGD) has a dedicated STI clinic, for which you can book a consultation. AHF, a local Aids charity, also provides free and confidential walk-in HIV tests on Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 13:00 to 19:00.
There is also Amsterdam Tourist Doctors, a clinic dedicated entirely to tourists and international visitors. They offer HIV and STI testing services following a consultation, which is covered by the European Health Insurance card. If you are not European, the consultation costs €45 on a weekday and €90 on a weekend, with a surcharge for the testing, so you may be better off going for a free service (see AHF above). All of these clinics are located within the central canal ring, so are easy to reach for most tourists.
Many tourists to Amsterdam stay close to the central canal ring, which concentrates most of the highlights. There is of course plenty to see and explore in the neighborhoods beyond if you have more time in the city, but gay Amsterdam is mostly located in and around the city center.
There are a few gay points of interest which are not in a specific gayborhood of the city center, but are worth mentioning. The city’s only gay sauna, Sauna Nieuwezijds, is very centrally located near the train station, while Pink Point near Anne Frank Huis is an information kiosk for everything related to gay Amsterdam, including the best parties in town.
Red Light District – Amsterdam’s infamous sex district, filled with sex shops, peep shows, and brothels. It comes to life at night with a dizzying array of neon lights, and is worth a visit despite being very straight-oriented. You will have to look for more specific areas within the city center for the gay equivalent.
Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat – Two streets located around the Red Light District which concentrate the gay shops and bars, as well as making up a lot of the city’s Chinatown. The oldest gay bar in the country, Café ‘t Mandje, is still operational on Zeedijk, as are plenty of gay bars and cafes. Warmoesstraat is where you’ll find the city’s leather and fetish subculture, with dedicated sex shops and cruising bars.
Reguliersdwarsstraat – This street along the canal ring is probably gay Amsterdam’s most famous street: it even has its own website. It was the first gay Amsterdam hub, flourishing in the 70s before seeing many businesses shut down and now facing a revival. The first openly gay business in the city, Lunchroom Downtown, is a pleasant coffee shop (the coffee kind, not the cannabis kind) perfect for some breakfast, while several clubs like SoHo and NYX keep the party going until late.
Amstel – An area within the canal ring surrounding the Amstel river, particularly near Rembrandtplein. It is one of the hubs of gay Amsterdam, with plenty of long-standing gay bars such as Amstel 54 and Chez Rene as well as the city’s only drag queen cafe. It is one of the best places to be during Amsterdam Gay Pride, where the festivities spill over onto city boats for the world’s only Pride on water.
Kerkstraat – One of the long streets running parallel to the canals in the city center, which has become a focal point for gay Amsterdam life. It is home to Club Church, a large cruise-oriented club with a generous selection of themed and fetish nights, as well as some quieter gay bars such as Spijker Bar.
Oud-Zuid – A leafy and wealthy area containing beautiful architecture, high-end shops, and the Rijksmuseum. It is also where Vondelpark, the city’s largest and most popular public park, is located, making it a great place for unwinding and people watching on a sunny day.
De Pijp – A cool area popular with with hipsters and creatives, filled with bars, cafes, and boutiques. Here you can find the city’s most famous street market, Albert Cuyp market, as well as the Heineken brewery, with the Heineken Experience being a must-see for fans of Amsterdam’s most famous beer.
Westerpark – A lively area next to the city center, surrounding a popular park. Every year, Westerpark is home to Milkshake Festival, an LGBT music festival with a focus on tolerance, free love, and diversity.
The canal ring area of Amsterdam is easy and pleasant to walk around in, so you will rarely have to take public transport for travel within the city center. For longer trips across the city, there are several options.
From Schiphol International Airport – The airport is directly connected to the city center by a regular train service which arrives at Amsterdam Centraal (€5.20, 15 minutes). This is the most convenient option, unless you are staying on the other side of the canal ring, in which case the bus (€5, 25 minutes) will drop you off near Museumplein, Leidseplein, or Vondelpark. Taxis are available outside the airport, but will cost you significantly more (€35-40).
Bicycle – The most popular and common way of getting around in Amsterdam is on two wheels. This is a cycling city, as evidenced by the almost 850,000 bikes you will see around town. There are hundreds of places for you to get your own bike during your stay, with some hotels and hostels also offering the service. Make sure to always use the lock provided as bicycle theft is an issue, and bear in mind that the locals may not have too much patience for slow cycling.
Bus – Because the city center of Amsterdam is largely pedestrianized, buses cover mostly the areas outside the ring. You can buy unlimited ride passes for the number of days you will be in town if you think you might be using this often, but you are unlikely to need it unless you are staying far from the center.
Metro – Like the buses, the Metro mostly serves outside areas of Amsterdam, although there are a few stops in the center. It is a small network for a European capital, with only four lines.
Canal Bus – Operational from March to November, these canal boats can take you around key spots along the water, with 20 stops covering most of the tourist areas.
Car Rental – Renting a car would be completely redundant in Amsterdam. Even if you are planning on visiting other parts of the country, the Netherland’s excellent train system will get you anywhere you need to go. If you are traveling light, you could also take advantage of one of the world’s best cycle networks and travel between cities by bike. Amsterdam to Rotterdam, for instance, is under four hours on flat, smooth roads, so most people could easily do this.
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