LGBTQ Travel Guide: Amsterdam

Amsterdam Canal During Gay Pride
Kai D. Wright / Getty Images

Famously progressive, the Netherlands legalized same-sex relations over two centuries ago (in 1811, specifically!) and went on to become the first country to legalize both same-sex marriage and adoption in 2001. As of 2014, trans people could correct the gender listed on their birth certificates. And Amsterdam, its largest city and home to the world's first gay monument, Homomonument, remains as LGBTQ friendly as ever: there's even a dedicated LGBTQ information kiosk just adjacent to the monument, while 2020 saw the debut of an official Dutch edition of RuPaul's Drag Race, Drag Race Holland. Be sure to try and catch a performance by first season winner and major local superstar, Envy Peru.

Iconic for its canals and bicycles (learning to ride from early childhood seems to imbue the Dutch with almost supernatural, next level biking skills: don't be shocked to see someone riding along, reading casually from an iPad, with a baby in the back), cultural attractions like the Anne Frank House, and a cannabis culture that includes "coffee shops" where one can buy and smoke marijuana while enjoying a book (or whatever!).

Since the 1970s, Amsterdam has also boasted a hopping LGBTQ nightlife scene, largely concentrated along Reguliersdwarsstraat, although clubs, bars and parties have spread through more neighborhoods during recent years, with a vibrant mixed hipster culture distinguishing several districts. Since the city's so compact, it's easy to traverse the lot via bicycle, metro, tram and bus public transit systems.

Amsterdam's tourism office, I amsterdam, features an LGBTQ landing page with links to information and resources including a constantly updated events calendar, neighborhoods of note, nightlife, pride, history, and more. Time Out Amsterdam also features some LGBTQ content, and be sure to stop at the Pink Point LGBTQ Information kiosk for hot tips and even some swag/merch.

Amsterdam Canal Pride Parade

George Pachantouris / Getty Images

LGBTQ Events

One of the worlds most unique pride celebrations of its kind, Amsterdam Gay Pride transforms the city's central canal belt into a parade route, with boats serving as floats. The 25th edition's Pride line-up, scheduled for July 31st to August 8th 2021, includes an opening day Pride Walk and festival for international LGBTQ equality on July 31st, three days of beach fun at Zandvoort, street parties, the Canal Parade on August 7th, and more. For a full rundown of all things pride and updates, plus music and video content, download the Pride app for iOS or Android.

Held on April 27th, the annual King's Day—formerly known as Queen's Day until 2014, when Holland's Queen Beatrix was succeeded by her son Willem-Alexander, becoming the country's first King—is also quite the queer brouhaha with street parties along the Westermarkt and canals.

Taking place in early spring, Amsterdam's annual LGBTQ film festival, Roze Filmdagen, a.k.a. Pink Film Days, will see its 24th edition in March 2022, while March also sees bears, cubs, daddies, chubs and chasers converge for events and parties during Amsterdam Bear Weekend. Other big parties that pepper the LGBTQ calendar include fellow bear dance party Bear-Necessity (August 7, 2021 is the next scheduled), FunHouse circuit parties by Rapido, the 35+ year running weekly De Trut Sundays (which benefits charities), and Backdoor, described as "circuit meets leather meets hipster meets girls, nerds and muscle Marys" (the latter's 2021 edition is scheduled for August 6th). And although it takes place a bit outside Amsterdam, to the West on Haarlem's Beach of Bloemendaal, summertime's annual Flirtation on the Beach is a fabulous, sunkissed women's only dance party. The 2021 edition will take place on Saturday July 3rd.

The Best Things To Do

Amsterdam's streets (and canals) are rich with LGBTQ history and places of importance, including the world's first monument dedicated to LGBTQ people, Homomonument. The monument was designed in 1979 by artist Karin Daan as a trio of interconnected pink triangles, and took eight years to be fully realized and unveiled on a canal bank, in 1987, just across from the Anne Frank House.

Openly gay, professional tour guide Henk de Vries leads information-rich LGBTQ-themed walking tours, both group and private, of these sites through his company Special Amsterdam Tours. De Vries also created a free self-guided LGBTQ history walking route for I amsterdam, which you can access on their website. The Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) is a stop on De Vries' tours, and features information on some of the openly gay Dutch freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives to stop the Nazis. Queer history buffs should also take a deep dive into the IHLIA - LGBTI Heritage Collection, an archive of materials—from books to buttons to DVDs—from approximately 150 countries. Housed at Amsterdam's Central Library, OBA Oosterdok, there are guided tours available from Mondays-Thursdays between noon and 5pm. There are also several themed gay tours including a nightlife crawl of Reguliersdwarsstraat, known as Amsterdam's most famous gay streeet, from Gaily Tour—a free drink is included.

2016 saw the addition of French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel's striking abacus-style HIV/AIDS Monument to Amsterdam's cityscape along the River IJ waterfront, but was removed in 2020 due to the construction of a new ferry connection, and will be reinstalled in a different location circa late 2021 (specific date TBA).

Amsterdam also celebrates contemporary queer culture, of course, including loads of artwork. Two museums are dedicated to photography, FOAM and Huis Marseilles, while Amsterdam-based gay photographer Erwin Olaf was the subject of a solo exhibition during 2021 at the 22-year-old Galerie Ron Mandos. The Stedelijk Museum regularly features LGBTQ-interest artists and work, as does the Moco. Art lovers can also take advantage of a 90-minute guided LGBTQ-themed tour of the Rijkmuseum called The Pink Tour, led by guide Arnout van Krimpen.

As of early 2021, there's talk of Amsterdam making its famed cannabis "coffee shops" off limits to tourists as a way to improve locals' quality of life and stem the flow of rowdy marijuana-centric tourism, so do keep that in mind. Meanwhile, those seeking a little relaxation, hot tub soak, and gay frisky fun in a bathhouse should check out Nieuwezijds Gay Sauna, which offers some full-service spa services including massage, plus a monthly afternoon/night dedicated to bears, daddies, cubs, chubs, and their admirers (every last Saturday) and all gender identities and sexual orientations (every second Saturday at an event dubbed "Gender Fluids"). For a hodgepodge of all things sexual throughout history, Amsterdam's Sexmuseum-the first and oldest of its kind in the world-is a well-trodden tourist magnet.

And don't forget to spend some retail therapy time, starting with a visit to LGBTQ lifestyle store Gays & Gadgets, fetish wear and gear shop Black Body, and the (in)famous Drake's, which doubles as a high end fashion and home concept store and men-only cruising club!

The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

From old school, historic Amsterdam institutions to new spots to catch sassy Holland Drag Race finalists and winners to lesbian bars (yes, plural, which is all too rare these days!), there's a watering hole/club for pretty much everyone in this queer capital.

Making its intended audience clear from the "#wheregirlsmeet" slogan and signs, the De Pijp neighborhood's Bar Buka (its name comes from the Indonesian word for "open") is all about girl power, great beer and cocktails, and camaraderie (which includes a warm welcome to Sapphic tourists!). There's also artwork by women on display, and merch. The Jordaan district's lesbian pub Cafe Saarien enforced a strict "women only" policy from 1978 to 1999, but now officially welcomes all "queer minded" people, though it remains a females' fave and by day serves as a laptop-friendly cafe (bonus: October 2020 saw the launch of a livestream "Saarien TV"). Meanwhile, queer women should also keep an eye out for the monthly, changing venue Garbo For Women party.

Dating back to 1927, Amsterdam's first and oldest LGBTQ bar Cafe 't Mandje was opened by a lesbian, Bet van Beeren, a.k.a. "Auntie Bet," who kept it going for decades. Revamped and reopened in 2008, the venue (and its multimedia-rich bilingual website!) remains chock full of history, artifacts, and of course, queers in search of a drink and kiki. Another long-running gay bar, the 2-story yet compact Spijker Bar opened in 1978 just off the canals and keeps things fun with alternative tunes, a pool table and games, and a darkroom (hello, gloryhole!).

Also with a naughty, sleazy side, thoroughly modern cruise club/bar Church mixes things up with fetish-themed nights running the gamut from totally naked ("shoes only") to sportswear/sneakers to bears, leather, and even a "slave auction." There's also some drag thrown in! Do check the calendar and know what you're getting into, as it were (and have fun!). Having undergone a major renovation in the past few years, three-floor dance club Eagle Amsterdam maintains a strict "men only" policy for its dancing and cruising action (there's a darkroom).

Beloved for its annual Pride street parties and celebrating its 15th year in 2021, pink-drenched cocktail spot PRIK—the provocative sounding name actually translates to "bubbles" or "fizz", which refers to their prosecco tap!—keeps things even fizzier with Drag Race viewing parties, quizzes, and more. For drag queen action, check out The Queen's Head, Lellebel, Amstel 54, Taboo, and the four-floor, sizable mixed crowd disco Club NYX (pronounced "nix" as in "nothing"), where you're likely to find some of Drag Race Holland's stars—including bearded, avant-garde queen Madame Madness—turning it out.

Other LGBTQ (and mixed) bars worth mentioning include Bar Reality (which bills itself "the hottest black & white gay bar in town!" and draws a refreshingly diverse ethnic mix), Club YOLO, Cafe Montmartre, and old school, unpretentious neighborhood bar Cafe Mankind.

The Best Places to Eat

Some of the most popular spots for LGBTQ locals and tourists to eat include bars also serve food and see-and-be-seen brunches, including Taboo Bar's sister venue Taboo Canteen, PRIK, and Café 't Mandje.

Where to Stay

With an enviable location just off bustling Dam Square, the 238-room W Amsterdam is uniquely housed within two separate buildings with distinctive histories—a former bank and historic telephone exchange—and adopts very different yet utterly edgy-modern themes and design motifs for each. There's a sliver-thin yet cool "wet deck" pool on the former's roof, adjacent to modern steakhouse Mr. Porter (its glass-enclosed views are delicious to boot), plus a fantastic spa and other excellent food and beverage spots.

For a fabulous, contemporary stay right along the canals - and, conveniently, Canal Pride Parade route—the 122-room Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht is unbeatable. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-born, super LGBTQ-friendly Kimpton brand's first European property opened here in 2017, the 274-room Kimpton DeWitt.

Like some smaller (and more budget-friendly) Amsterdam properties, the Amistad Hotel used to posit itself as explicitly "gay friendly," and is close to many bars, but switched ownership in recent years and currently casts a wider net while still making sure LGBTQs feel welcome (the free daily breakfast helps!). And the 48-room Hotel Mercier happens to be former home to LGBTQ advocacy group COC.

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