Out of Town
72 Hours in Amsterdam
Andrew Collins | August 07, 2006
There aren't many cities in Europe that have more to offer lesbian and gay travelers than the remarkably forward-thinking and tolerant city of Amsterdam. Even better, a combination of consistently reasonable airfares, direct flights from myriad North American cities, and palatable prices for most goods and services makes this compact, scenic city of about 750,000 residents a perfect option for a three-day weekend.
Tree-shaded canals and picturesque houseboats lend charm to one of the world's gay-friendliest cities, Amsterdam
The Little Black Book
Amstel Taveerne (Amstel 54, 20-623-4254)
April (Reguliersdwarsstraat 37, 20-625-9572)
ARC (Reguliersdwarsstraat 44, 20-689-7070)
ARC (Reguliersdwarsstraat 44, 20-689-7070)
Black Tulip (Gelderskade 16, 20-427-0933)
Cockring (Warmoesstraat 96, 20-623-9604)
Dylan Amsterdam (Keizergracht 384, 20-530-2010)
Exit (Reguliersdwarsstraat 42, 20-625-8788)
Gary's Muffins (Reguliersdwarsstraat 53, 20-420-2406)
Getto (Warmoesstraat 51, 20-421-5151)
Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (Dam 9, 20-554-9111)
Havana (Reguliersdwarsstraat 17, 20-620-6788)
Hotel Orfeo (Leidsekruisstraat 14, 20-623-1347)
IT (Amstelstraat 24, 20-625-0111)
Lloyd Hotele (Oostelijke Handelskade 34, 20-561-3636)
Le Montmartre (Halvemaansteeg 17, 20-620-7622)
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions
Nomads (Rozengracht 133, 20-344-6401)
Saarein (Elandsstraat 119, 20-623-4901)
Soho (Reguliersdwarsstraat 36, 20-330-4400)
De Spijker (Kerkstraat 4, 20-620-5919)
De Trut (Bilderdijkstraat 165, 20-612-3524)
Vive-La-Vie (Amstelstraat 7, 20-624-0114)
Werck (Prinsengracht 277, 20-627-4079)
Your first order of business is choosing an appropriate lodging. Amsterdam's lodging landscape consists of simple and cheap gay-oriented guest houses, luxe grande dames, and a growing crop of trendy boutique hotels with avant-garde design themes. Among gay places, the well-established Hotel Orfeo offers centrally located, clean, affordable accommodations; with 20 rooms, it's the largest gay and lesbian property in the city. Amsterdam is a popular destination for leather aficionados, who should consider staying at the Black Tulip, a luxury inn catering to guys who seek rooms with both cushy amenities (VCRs and minibars) and kinky accoutrements (whipping benches, bondage slings).
One of the more cosmopolitan hostelries in the city, the Dylan Amsterdam occupies a stunning 17th-century building on the prestigious Keizergracht, one of the most picturesque of the city's 165 canals. The 41 rooms and suites, however, feel distinctly modern, with bold color schemes and sleek furnishings. The hotel's Dylan Restaurant serves top-notch East-meets-West cuisine. A 10-minute tram ride outside the city center, the hip Lloyd Hotel opened in January 2005 catering to an artsy crowd and offering quirky, stylish rooms for every budget, from simple shared-bath units for 60 euros to lavish loft suites with hot tubs for upwards of 300 euros. This former immigrant-processing center (circa 1920) is in the supercool Oostelijk Havengebied (Eastern Harbor) neighborhood, which is fast becoming famous for its striking contemporary architecture and swish design shops, such as World of Wonders and Pol's Potten. If you're seeking a sumptuous old-world experience, check into the vaunted Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, a stately Belle Epoque property overlooking the central Dam Square.
Now that you've decided where to stay, here's a recipe for a perfect three-day weekend, beginning with your arrival. Plan to arrive Friday morning at one of the world's truly stunning and wonderfully efficient airports, Schiphol. There's a branch of the Holland Tourist Information office at the airport, in Arrival Hall 2, where you can pick up brochures and purchase an "I Amsterdam Card." This versatile visitor pass provides free use of public municipal transportation, 25 percent off train fare from the airport to Amsterdam's main rail terminal (an easy 20-minute ride), and a complimentary canal boat trip. Additionally, you'll receive free admission to virtually every museum in the city and discounts at many restaurants and other attractions. A 72-hour I Amsterdam Card costs 53 euros and can also be purchased at the train station and many hotels.
It's best to take it slow that first day, perhaps with an easy stroll through the city. Start at Dam Square and work your way around the city center, passing through some of the other main squares, such as the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. There are plenty of places throughout the city to grab a light lunch, but keep Gary's Muffins in mind. It's right on the main gay drag – Reguliersdwarsstraat – with several additional locations around Amsterdam, and it serves delicious bagels (with unusual toppings), muffins, sandwiches, and the like. You'll also find several excellent Indonesian, Thai, and other Asian restaurants on the streets just off the Leidseplein, perfect for a simple dinner your first night. If you absolutely must visit a gay bar your first evening, consider dropping by one of the more quiet locals hangouts, such as Amstel Taveerne and Le Montmartre. Both of these places draw a friendly, all-ages, mixed-gender crowd. Another laid-back but somewhat more cruisy option is De Spijker.
On Saturday, kick off your day with visits to the city's most esteemed repositories of art, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Although the enormous main section of the latter is closed through mid-2008 for renovations, a significant chunk of the collection is on exhibit in the museum's Philips wing, including some of the most important works. You can enjoy lunch nearby in the Joordan neighborhood, a former working-class district that's now abuzz with inviting cafes and distinctive boutiques.
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a tour of the poignant Anne Frank House, which you might check out in the afternoon, as it's a short walk from the Joordan. Close by also is the Homomonument, a memorial consisting of three pink granite triangles remembering the lives of lesbians and gays persecuted throughout history, and especially during World War II. It overlooks Keizergracht.
In the evening have dinner at the ultratrendy Middle Eastern-style restaurant Nomads, where you might sample lamb couscous with dried prunes, pumpkin, and almonds. The sexy staff clad in Arabian attire makes for a festive experience. Just around the corner from Homomonument, the restaurant Werck is another stellar option, set in a charming coach house and serving globally inspired haute cuisine, such as tuna sashimi with ginger-soy glaze, and smoked duck salad with mango-raspberry vinaigrette.
Saturday is a great night to sample Amsterdam's more fabulous gay bars and clubs, most of which are set along Reguliersdwarsstraat. These include such trendy bars as April, Soho, and Havana, and the more pulsing discos, such as Exit and the sometimes obnoxiously pretentious IT. Fans of leather bars should stroll along Warmoesstraat, just north of Dam Square, and check out the Argos and the supercruisy late-night favorite, the Cockring. Alas, the lesbian nightlife scene in Amsterdam leaves something to be desired, although women are quite welcome – if in the minority – at virtually all of the bars mentioned above, except for the leather haunts along Warmoesstraat. Two lesbian bars of note are the long-running Saarein and the art deco-style Vive-La-Vie.
On Sunday morning, you may want to sleep in, if you truly partook of the city's top night spots the previous evening. By afternoon, most of the city's shops will have opened (hours generally run from about noon to 5 or 6 on Sundays), making this a nice time to take what money you've got left and buy yourself some goodies. Walk along Kalverstraat to find most of the leading department stores, and hit Leidsestraat and P.C. Hooftstraat to find dozens of slick boutiques and fashion shops showing the styles of some of Europe's leading designers. For one-stop shopping, don't miss the trendy De Bijenkorf department store, which carries a whole slew of top labels.
If you want to break up the shopping with another brush with culture, the Rembrandt House offers one of the more fascinating museum experiences in Amsterdam. Keep in mind that 2006 marks the 400th birthday of Rembrandt, and both Amsterdam and his nearby birthplace of Leiden will be hosting a variety of special exhibitions and events throughout the year.
Your final night in town, enjoy dinner at one of the city's definitive gay-trendy restaurants, such as campy Getto or snazzy ARC, a mod space serving innovative food. Nightlife is decidedly calmer on Sunday nights. You can always hit some of the same places suggested for Saturday night, but also consider the legendary and rather idiosyncratic De Trut. This rocking Sunday night party draws a fun-loving mix of lesbians, gay men, and their friends. What better way to finish off a three-day Amsterdam weekend than by hanging out where the gay locals go, and perhaps making some new friends to visit on your next excursion to this delightful city.
Andrew Collins is the author of 10 travel guides, including Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA.