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Amsterdam Nightlife

By Paul Stephen Gettings

Posted: 26th February 2013 14:23

Amsterdam, the principal city of The Netherlands, is renowned as one of the party capitals of the world.  With relaxed drug laws, legal prostitution and a liberal, progressive atmosphere, it can be an ideal place for travellers to cut loose and enjoy the thrill of experiencing otherwise illicit pastimes.  However, there’s a lot more to Amsterdam’s nightlife than stag dos, ogling through windows and getting blazed in coffeeshops.

Music and Theatre

The cultural hub of The Netherlands, Amsterdam is home to a great deal of live music venues, theatres and cinemas, along with vibrant music, art and literature scenes.  The Stadsschouwburg, or City Theatre, is one of the grandest buildings in Amsterdam and is host to a busy programme of musicals and dance, although for the more dialogue-heavy productions a good knowledge of Dutch is probably useful.  The world-renowned Paradiso is a 19th century church in central Amsterdam which has been converted into live music venue and cultural centre.  High-profile national and international artists play there regularly, including familiar acts such as Foals, U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers in the past.  The Melkweg (Milky Way) is another famous music venue, hosting music of all genres: pop, rock, hip-hop, dub and techno all included.

Bars and Nightclubs

Amsterdam has a diverse and lively nightlife with a wide variety of venues to suit different moods.  Many of the city’s cafés (bars) are cosy, wood panelled pubs that serve locally brewed beers and provide a warm atmosphere called bruine, or brown bars.  These are the real gems of Amsterdam; the Dutch have a word for the attitude of these bars – gezellig – that is difficult to translate into English.  But you can expect friendly conversation, relaxed vibes and beer drinking into the early morning.  Some of the best known brown bars are Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Cafe Gollem and Caffe Hoppe.  If you’re looking for a later night, then Amsterdam is packed with discothéques (nightclubs) that cater for every taste in music.  The Sugar Factory is an intimate venue that hosts an eclectic range of club nights; from techno DJs to young local talent to R’n’B and Soul nights.  Many of the city’s nightclubs are based on or around Rembrantplein and Leidseplein squares in central Amsterdam.


In Amsterdam’s numerous coffeeshops, the laws surrounding the sale of marijuana and other soft drugs are waived and such substances can be enjoyed without fear of arrest.  One of the few places in the world where cannabis is effectively legal, this obviously makes Amsterdam a desirable destination for the more adventurous traveller.  If you are planning to indulge, make sure you’re buying in a licensed coffeeshop; buying drugs on the street is still illegal!  And don’t even entertain the thought of trying to take some of their wares back home with you; it really isn’t worth the risk.  Though not as widespread as they once were, these coffee shops have an understandably relaxing atmosphere, but recent regulation prohibits the sale of alcohol and the smoking of tobacco on these premises that perhaps make the city’s nightclubs, bruine and cafés more enjoyable nightlife destinations.

Red-Light District

Exploring De Wallen, the official Red Light District of Amsterdam can be an interesting - if gaudy - experience.  One of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city crammed with bars, restaurants and clubs, the obvious main attraction are the window brothels, sex cinemas and strip clubs that fill the streets and alleys.  The area also includes the Sex Museum and the Erotic Museum, collections of erotic art and culture which are not for the easily offended, but fit in well with the liberal attitude of the Red Light District.   Many travellers visit this unique district of the city out of sheer novelty, and it most certainly leaves a lasting impression.  Careful where you point your camera though; recording equipment is generally banned throughout the Red Light District, and even being seen with a camera could lead to you having your film or camera confiscated and having yourself ejected from the area by Security staff.


Although Amsterdam’s reputation as a liberal, relaxed city with a great culture, atmosphere and nightlife is well deserved, minds can instantly leap to the more excessive activities permitted in the city.  Although coffeeshops and De Wallen are all part of the fun here, don’t overlook some of the less touted gems of Amsterdam nightlife, and the great times that can be had in the city’s brown bars, cafes and nightclubs.

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