Amsterdam Entertainment Guide:
The City Of Culture And Concerts.
Amsterdam, like many major tourist cities, has masses of entertainment on offer. But this city seems to have a unique mix of highbrow culture and lowbrow fun, with a very liberal attitude to sex. Each year there are concerts and theatrical events of every possible kind.
The city is now one of the leading cultural centers of Europe and paintings by some of the world’s greatest masters of art can be seen in the city museums. There is also an incredibly exciting modern art scene with more than 40 galleries showing work by contemporary artists.
The city offers entertainment from across the cultural spectrum, from exhibitions, concerts and plays to dance spectacles. Amsterdam is packed with theatrical events, most of them in English. The big municipal and prestigious private theatres are interwoven with small stage sets in many of the city side streets – about 65 theatres and concert halls can be found across the city. And while enjoying a drink in a street cafe there is always the daily chance of live street performance to enjoy. At the opposite end of the scale are the sex museums with exhibitions devoted to the Amsterdam sex trade.
The city’s music scene ranges from classical music and opera to rock and jazz. The Concertgebouw has an international reputation for classical music and opera lovers are well catered for too. At the other end of the scale, the city has a lively club scene while city cafes often playing host to live pop and rock bands and impromptu jazz jam sessions. Lovers of the cinema can see anything from the latest mainstream blockbuster to the newest art house releases with cinemas such as Tuschinski worth a visit just to wonder at the awesome architecture
There is plenty for other visitor tastes too. Those hooked on science can visit the modern NEMO science museum with many hands-on exhibits to appeal to youngsters, while the Museum of Navigation gives historical insight into Amsterdam’s nautical past.
And for those who prefer the outdoors, Amsterdam has some very beautiful Gardens-Parks with the Vondelpark probably the best known. But Amstel Park is also popular with visitors who flock to its famous rose gardens and greenhouses.
Rome has the sun but Amsterdam has the restaurants, a tourist advert for the city once boasted. It’s true – Amsterdam has more than 1,000 restaurants and nearly twice that number of cafes and bars.
And Amsterdam restaurant cuisine is not all cheese and carrots. While traditional favorites like stamppot, kroketten and witbier are never out of favor, Amsterdam offers an astonishing choice of cuisine, with virtually every nationality catered for. There are stylish, top quality restaurants alongside traditional Amsterdam cafes, Dutch pancake houses, ethnic eateries, and good value snack bars . . . the variety is enormous.
What To Eat?
This is the least of your problems. The city is packed with restaurants of every description and the hardest part is choosing which one. Dutch cuisine has enjoyed a major resurgence recently and there are plenty of Amsterdam restaurants with local dishes on the menu. A Dutch specialty is the pancake-restaurant pannenkoekhuiz with its endless varieties of pizza-sized pancakes and omelets. Seafood is also extremely popular, particularly herring, mussels, sole, shrimps and oysters.
As a major trading port for hundreds of years, Amsterdam has imported culinary flavors from far and wide and venues vary from elegant 17th-century dining rooms to canalside bistros or exotic Eastern eateries. Scores of nationalities are catered for, from Indonesian, French, and Surinamese to Turkish, Spanish and Ethiopian.
Where To Eat:
Leidseplein, just off Dam Square, is the area most tourists head for first and prices reflect its popularity. Restaurants, bars, outdoor cafes and coffee shops have a lively and exciting atmosphere and it’s a great place for people watching. Try not to notice the Burger King and English-style pubs. Try restaurants dotted along the nearby Korte Leidsedwarsstraat and Lange Leidsedwarsstraat to avoid the main tourist strip.
De Pijp is popular with students, young professionals and foreigners. The mix makes for a colorful neighborhood packed with small ethnic restaurants. On and around the Albert Cuyp are restaurants serving dishes from all over the world: Indian, Kurdish, Turkish, Cambodian, Surinam, Assyrian and many more.
The Nine Streets of the Jordaan area linking the canal ring between Leidsegracht and Reguliersdwarsstraat has a wide variety of upmarket restaurants and cafes. It retains its artistic roots and is full of small, cozy venues.
Chinatown has more restaurants than you can shake a stick at. The Indonesian rice table, invented by Dutch colonists, consists of rice and as many as 20 hot and cold side dishes of meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, pickles, nuts, etc.
Regularaarsdwarstraat, a side street off the Rembrandtsplein, is the place for finer dining. It is Amsterdam’s restaurant row, where top-notch international restaurants are sprinkled among exclusive gay bars.
Spuistraat, parallel to Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal – also has a good selection of upmarket restaurants.
Getting A Table:
Eating out in Amsterdam is a very laid-back affair. The Dutch tend to eat early and many restaurants close before 11 pm. Reservations are recommended at top restaurants and even smaller restaurants get crowded. Restaurants with outside terraces are always in demand on summer evenings and fill up fast.
Smoking is allowed in restaurants and non-smoking rooms are rare but many have an outdoor terrace or put tables on the street in the summer. Amsterdam waiters are known for the friendliness and most speak English. All Amsterdam restaurant bills include 19% tax and a 15% service charge, but it’s customary to leave a tip of 5-10% for good service.
Amsterdam Restaurant prices:
Prices have risen sharply since the introduction of the euro but there are still many restaurants offering good value meals. If you are on a budget choose dagschotel (dish of the day). A snack will cost €4 – €7, a light lunch €6 – €12 and an evening meal anything from €20.
Imported wines are expensive in Amsterdam and even a modest French vine de table can add €12 – €20 to the bill and wine is at least €3 a glass.
Amsterdam Café Bars:
Amsterdam has a thriving cafe bar society. There are simply thousands of cafe and bars right across the city, many with pleasant outside terraces or pavement tables. In Amsterdam, the cafes and bars are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Both sell food, snacks, and alcohol as well as coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Amsterdam also has cafes where cannabis and other soft drugs are openly sold and smoked. These are euphemistically called coffee shops or coffee shops as you can usually buy coffee and snacks as well as cannabis.
In Amsterdam’s street cafes, beer, wine, and spirits are sold alongside coffee, soft drinks, and snacks. The coffee is usually espresso and cappuccino and is often served with evaporated milk. There is also a Dutch hot milk latte called verkeerd. In tourist hotspots, you tend to get instant coffee, generally of poor quality and high price. If you prefer decent coffee, check that the cafe has a decent coffee machine before you order.
A relatively recent trend in Amsterdam is the grand cafe, in the tradition of the grand cafes of Rome and Paris. Here they can lay on the style with high ceilings, ornate decor, large balconies, and impressive outdoor terraces. Some are very grand, others less so.
Brown cafes (bruin) are traditional Dutch pubs. They get their collective name from the dark, dimly lit, smoke-stained interiors and can be compared the old traditional British local. The main difference is that they open for breakfast and close around 2 am. They have not been started up as tourist attractions, but have a thriving Dutch customer base. Some, such as the famous 350-year-old Hoppe, on Spuistraat, have a more upmarket clientele but even here one bar has no seats and the floor is strewn daily with fresh sand.
The more noted Brown Cafes are Reijnders in the Leidseplein area with its elegant high ceilings and waiters dressed in black and white and there are several brown cafes in the Jordaan area, with a young, lively clientele. Each brown cafe has its own character, but all will offer a friendly atmosphere and a wide range of draught and bottled beers.
Amsterdam is beer drinkers’ heaven with many fine beers and ales on sale. Beer is served up in extra large glasses and the Dutch favorite is white beer witbier often served with a lemon slice. There are now several microbreweries in Amsterdam with cafes and bars attached and these have become very popular. You can drink beer or wine from 16 years in Amsterdam and spirits at age 18.
Some cafes are known as proeflokaal or ‘tasting places’ where there is an enormous range of beers from many countries. It is common to pay for drinks by running up a tab when the Dutch word for settling the bill – afrekenen – can come in useful. Most tourists opt for the ‘Heineken Experience’ at the Heineken Brewery. The tour includes a spin down the conveyor belt. Lager drinkers will think the admission of €10 a bargain; they get three beers and a free glass.
Amsterdam Snack Bars:
Typically Dutch are the city snack bars that serve chipped potatoes and mayonnaise Vlaamse frites or the noted Dutch croquet vleeskroketten. There is also a wide choice of late-night cafes and takeaways as well as scores of Middle-Eastern bars called falafel that serve well past midnight.
Visitors are often surprised by FEBO, Holland’s answer to McDonald’s, where self serve snacks of burgers and sandwiches are dished out in coin-operated glass compartments. They are hugely popular with the Dutch.
Amsterdam Coffee Shops And Cannabis:
More than 300 Amsterdam coffeeshops are licensed to sell small quantities of cannabis to adults over 18. They are easily distinguished from normal coffee shops. The names are often suggestive with words like ‘happy’ and ‘high’, menus have the price of drugs, and they have a characteristic marihuana smell.
Selling drugs is technically illegal and unlicensed sellers face prosecution, but Amsterdam has a long tradition of tolerance towards soft drug users. But coffee shop owners cannot advertise, must stock under 500 grams of cannabis and must not sell more than five grams per person.
There are many different kinds of coffee shops in Amsterdam. Some a dark, quiet and relaxed, others colorful with loud music. Only a few coffee shops sell alcohol. A huge variety of weed and hash is sold and prices vary with quality and coffee shop location.
Locally grown varieties are very strong and it is usual for customers to ask staff for advice. As well as coffee shops there are ‘Head shops’ selling all kinds of smoking paraphernalia, ‘Grow shops’ that sell cannabis seeds and growing equipment and ‘Smart shops’ selling herbal drugs, soft drugs, and magic mushrooms.
Things To Do:
Amsterdam, like any other major tourist city, has tons of entertainment for holiday visitors. Amsterdam is one of the leading cultural centers of Europe with its own world-renowned orchestra and some impressive theatres.
There is also plenty of low-cost entertainment in theatres, cafes and other venues while street entertainers of course only get want you to want to pay. For music lovers, the city is crammed with live bands performing in many of the cafes and bars and the city parks often host live entertainment events.
Amsterdam theatre is alive and well throughout the year. Visitors can find quality English language theatre almost every night. The area around Leidseplein is the main theatre quarter and theatres are close together so it’s easy to browse box offices to see what’s on.
The recently revamped Stadsschouwburg at Eidenhoven is the city’s best-known theatre but there are at least 65 other theatres spread across the city. The annual August Parade in Martin Luther King Park is the prelude to Amsterdam’s theatre season where players mingle with the crowds in performances of plays, music, dance, animation, magic and other spectacles.
Cinemas are not too thick on the ground but they show a wide range of films from Holywood blockbusters (in English with Dutch subtitles) to the latest art-house releases. Some cinemas are worth a visit just to wonder at the awesome decor. One such is the Tuschinski Theater, built in 1921, and famous for its fabulous Art Deco style and luxurious foyer.
The city had a very lively music scene featuring every type of music from classical to rock. The Amsterdam Concertgebouw has an international reputation for classical music while opera lovers can head for the Stopera at Waterlooplein or the Carr. The club scene includes famous clubs like Paradiso, and De Melkweg which offer a varied music programme: rock, pop, dance, rap and world music, including big-name bands.
Amsterdam cafes meanwhile often host live bands and late-night jam sessions. Many tourists wander to the Museumplein during the day to listen to free concert rehearsals and many musical concerts are held in city parks over the summer.
The big theatres are complemented by a lively dance and theatre scene offering everything from cutting edge drama to puppet shows. There are two world-class ballet companies in the Netherlands. The Dutch National Ballet is resident in the Muziektheater in Amsterdam but the Hague-based Dans Theater regularly performs in the city. Each July Leidseplein theatres host Julldans – a month-long festival of international dance.
Visitors interested in science and nature must not miss out on things to do at the new Metropolis NEMO, the biggest science center in the Netherlands, with many hands-on exhibits on science and technology. It also has a great view of the city from the roof terrace. The Museum of Navigation housed in a 17th-century navy storage depot has displays on Amsterdam’s nautical past in more than 25 rooms while nature lovers can visit the Hortus Botanicus in the Plantage and its 6,000 varieties of plants in three climates – tropical, subtropical, and desert.
Gardens And Parks:
The city has some very beautiful gardens and parks with the Vondelpark the best known. The Amstel Park is also a big hit with visitors with its rose gardens and greenhouses and the Amsterdam Bos is the place for swimming and boating.
Amsterdam Sex Museums:
At the opposite end of the scale are the Amsterdam sex museums. They pull in the crowds with sex exhibitions devoted to the Amsterdam sex trade and with titillating, sometimes tawdry displays of sex trade paraphernalia. The displays are explicit and not for those easily offended. Sex Museum, in Damrak, has an extensive collection of erotic art while the Erotic Museum has five floors all about the Red Light District.
Amsterdam Stag Weekends And Hen Weekends:
Amsterdam has great appeal too for stag and hen weekends. For the boys there are lots beside the Red Light District – Ajax football tickets and stadium tours, canal boat rides with strippers, brewery tours, quad-bikes, bar crawls, nightclub entry, magnum shooting, pole-dancing clubs and much more. Hen weekends are popular too with so many funky shops, boutiques as well as paintball, karting, quad-biking, bars, restaurants, and top nightclubs.
Amsterdam Red Light District:
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is not quite as sleazy as it sounds, but if you are likely to be offended at the exploitation of women and the sight of penis-shaped fountains in the street then you had better steer clear.
That said, wandering the narrow streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, you are far more likely to bump into young couples than dirty old men in raincoats. The unfettered, in-your-face openness may be shocking at first, but it makes quite a change from the back street curb crawling that typifies the sex trade in most UK cities.
Amsterdam Red Light District is not far from the center, just off Dam Square, and mostly traffic free. The main entry point is past the Grasshopper pub and leads to what is obviously the main street, packed with sex shops of every kind.
Apart from prostitution, there is plenty of peripheral trade to tap into the tourist trade. Amsterdam sex shops have splendid displays of the latest sex toys and sexy underwear as if promoting a new summer range at Harrods. They offer everything from electric blow-up sex dolls to hand-painted condoms.
There are live sex shows, peep shows and scores of porn video booths showing every type of sex. The biggest queues are outside Casa Rosso, with its notorious marble penis fountain outside the front door, and the Banana Bar – we’ll leave that to your imagination.
Touts parade the streets extolling the delights of the live sex within. An erotic museum boasts five floors of ‘enjoyment and arts’ which consists of displays of Victorian pornography, sex toys, and other sex paraphernalia.
The center of the Red Light District proper is over the canal at Oude Zijds Acterburtwal. Here the scantily clad prostitutes sit in their windows or take up erotic poses for passers-by.
Each window is bathed in red light, hence the name, and some windows even have flashing neon surrounds as though selling happy hour cocktails. It takes window dressing to a new level.
Customers interested in sex approach the window and either it or a door nearby, is opened and a price agreed. The customer steps through and the window curtain is closed.
The prostitutes are licensed, undergo an annual Aids test and insist customers wear a condom. Almost every side street has window displays, some on two floors. In the narrow alley at Tromm Pett Straat people turn sideways to squeeze past.
Taking photographs of the women are not allowed and those who risk it can lose their cameras, either to police or too aggressive doormen.
But Amsterdam’s Red Light District is not all porno shops and call girls. There are several coffee shops, cafes, and bars within the area. There are also some notable drinking houses such as The Old Sailor and Cafe Zeevaart, though the customers are almost exclusively male.
The Red Light District that features on the main tourist circuit is also not the only one in Amsterdam. Not far away, near the corner of Oude Nieuwstraat and Korte Korsjespoort are more windows where the prostitutes cater mainly for Dutch businessmen. And there are more still southeast of the Rijksmuseum at the corner of Ruysdaelkade and Govert Flinckstraat.
The essence of Amsterdam shopping is a variety. The city packed with every kind of store, from multi-floored department stores to trendy one-room designer boutiques. Add to the mix antique shops, bookstores, diamond dealers and curio shops, throw in a handful of street markets into a compact, traffic free center and you have shopping to die for. Amsterdam also has several ‘shopping corridors’ each with its own style.
Traditionally, shops and markets close on Sunday and Monday mornings. Normal shopping hours are 09 am to 6 pm but every year more shops stay open in the evening and the main shopping streets will have about half open on Sunday. Late-night shopping is on Thursday until 9 pm.
Amsterdam’s Main Shopping Strip:
Generally speaking, the shopping strip from Nieuwedijk to Kalverstraat through Dam Square in Amsterdam’s main ‘shopping mile’. Here you will find the mainstream department stores and high fashion outlets. Avoid the area at the weekend though as the streets can be heaving with shoppers.
Nearby are the other favorite shopping streets of Leidsestraat and Koningsplien, home to a wide variety of designer shoe and clothes shops. There are also several large stores near both the Munt Tower and Dam Square and you will find a large supermarket behind the Palace at Dam Square which opens daily until 11 pm.
Small shops selling designer goods can be found everywhere in Amsterdam, but some areas are noted for their quality. The Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) area between Princes Gracht and the Singel, a few minutes from Dam Square, is packed with boutiques, galleries, antique shops, and small designer outlets.
It’s a great place for browsing but doesn’t expect a bargain – you pay city center tourist prices here. A more likely bargain is to have to the west in the Jordaan, with its myriad quirky studios, galleries and specialty shops selling everything from logs to dogs.
Amsterdam Department Stores:
By and large, the department stores and shopping malls are uninspiring, though good Dutch design in much in evidence. It’s hard to see the attraction when there are so many good boutiques and small craft shops.
The small streets of Amsterdam lend themselves to antique shops of every description. The area around Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, near the Rijksmuseum, has an international reputation for fine art, though prices will be steep. You’re much more likely to pick up a bargain at De Looiers Antiques Market which has more than 80 stalls selling antiques, and paintings in the Elandsgracht district. And every Sunday from May to September is the Nieuwmarkt Antique Market.
On the Singel, between Leidsestraat and Munt Tower, is Amsterdam’s Flower market. It’s the only floating flower market in the world with flower stalls set up on the houseboats. There you will find a huge variety of tulips and other bulbs and flowers. Although there seem to be fewer flower stalls each year this is still a popular tourist spot.
Amsterdam is a book lover’s dream come true. Bookshops are centered on Spuiplein, a small square behind Kalverstraat that is crawling with bookshops and literary cafés. As well as three large bookshops there is a branch of Waterstones nearby and in neighboring Koningsplein you will find Scheltema, the city’s biggest bookshop. In every street are popular literary cafes and small restaurants and every Friday the square hosts a huge outdoor book market. Bargains are rare though as books in English are expensive.
In the Oud Zuid district of Amsterdam, near the Rijksmuseum, is a street called PC Hooftstraat. This is the place to make a serious dent in your credit card – the land of haute couture with Cartier, Gucci, Edgar Vos, Tommy Hilfiger, and Oger all in residence.
Amsterdam has been a major diamond center since the 16th century. There are about a dozen diamond factories in the city, some of which have free guided tours. Diamonds don’t come any cheaper in Amsterdam but the quality is assured. Factories offering free daily guided tours include Costers on Paulus Potterstraat; Gassan Diamonds on Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat; Stoeltie Diamonds near Rembrandt Square and Van Moppes Diamonds on Albert Cuypstraat. Apart from that, there are scores of high-class jewelers in Amsterdam selling diamonds.
Bargain hunters will head for the daily Waterlooplein flea market. The huge, busy outdoor bazaar has about 300 stalls selling clothes and bric-a-brac. It’s a 15-minute walk from Dam Square behind the Red Light District. There is also a busy food and clothes market in the Albert Cuypstraat daily 9 am – 6 pm, except Sunday, and on Monday morning there is an antique flea market on the Noordermarkt in the Jordaan with a farmers’ market at the same venue on Saturday.