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If there's one European city which has achieved almost legendary status amongst British gay men, it has to be Amsterdam. It seems to be a city where just about anything goes and it probably does. The Dutch laws are amongst the most relaxed in the world when it comes to personal freedom. And there aren't many cities round the world with a monument which celebrates the struggle for homosexual equality and those in the past who've been persecuted for their sexuality.

Amsterdam is a city where you can legally purchase soft drugs such as marijuana and hash for your own consumption in one of the numerous "coffee shops" in major streets around the city. There are however harsh penalties for anyone caught illegally dealing. Prostitution both male and female is legal and is a bigger tourist attraction than the wonderful Van Gogh museum. Gay couples are everywhere and 15 years ago in 2002 the Dutch became the first nation to make gay marriage legal. So is it a gay paradise?

Well yes and no. The canals give the city are wonderfully relaxed air, and with more museums per square foot than any other country in the world, there are plenty of higher pleasures once the gay scene begins to take it's toll. However accomodation particularly in Amsterdam's many gay hotels is expensive and standards can be quite basic. Even the official Dutch tourist board admit that the Damrak, the street which leads from the Central Station to the Dam Square and the Royal Palace, is one of the tawdriest in Europe. Outside the Spring and Summer the weather can be cold and wet.

But whatever it's problems Amsterdam is a great place to go if you're gay, and is a refreshing answer to conservative countries who believe that publicly recognising the rights of gay people is likely to lead complete moral decay and the breakdown of all law and order. Actually Amsterdam is just as safe and law abiding as any other major european city, but it's a good deal more fun!

BARS AND CLUBBING

The Amsterdam gay scene is divided into three areas. Around the Reguliersdwarsstraat you'll find trendier bars who are continually opening and closing for even trendier refurbishment. This a great place to go before going out clubbing and has the same feel as bars in Old Compton or Canal Street. The Soho Bar is one of the best - it has a relaxed and inviting atmosphere which really could have come straight out of Manchester's gay village. Just down the street is Exit a busy club which is gay everynight. It boasts a large pub on the ground floor, a smallish dancefloor and a very busy backroom. There are quite a few restaurants in the street popular with a large gay clientele.

If you need some company for the evening you will find at number 21 in the Spuistraat, Boys Club 21. In the pleasant bar which has four TV screens you can enjoy a drink and make your choice of boy in a relaxed atmosphere. The friendly, multilingual and discreet boys are there for your enjoyment and provide lots of it. You can rent a variety of rooms in which to relax. Every room is equipped with clean towels and sheets, a shower and/or bath, soap, shampoo, condoms and lubricant. All rooms have a colour television, video and music. It's good value for money, clean and well run. Further down the Spuistraat there's Prik a cosy pink bar where you can experience their "Lovely Liquids, Sexy Snacks & Twisted Tunes". This is one of Amsterdam's best gay bars - it's relaxed and fun, very popular and extremely pink. It's not to be missed.

There's a far more traditional scene round the Amstel and the Rembrandtsplein. One of our favourite bars on the square is the Opera Cafe. It's not gay exactly, although does have really good quality food and drink served by some stunningly gorgeous servers - we don't know how they manage to hire so many lovely guys! Just around the corner Amstel Fifty Four is one of the oldest gay pubs in Holland and has a completely disarming naffness, while Montmartre de Paris round the corner is a place where even Dame Edna would feel at home. Probably best avoided unless you enjoy a sing-a-long down at your local British Legion.

If you want to spend time in a man's bar, you can't go wrong visiting Spijker Bar Amsterdam which you'll find in the Kerkstraat. Spijker Bar claims that it's the oldest, most friendliest and attitude free gay bar in Amsterdam. It's been serving the gay community since 1978 and certainly is a cosy bar, popular with a mix of local residents and visitors to Amsterdam. Alternative music, pool table, traditional pinball, fireplace, fresh flowers on the bar and two TV's, one showing cartoons and the other showing gay action movies :-)

There's a much heavier leather scene around the Warmoesstraat which can be found just off the Dam Square down the street from the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. The bars are all around the start of the Red Light District so be prepared to be the subject of stares from hordes of American and Japanese tourists being herded through the streets of sex shops and prostitutes in windows. Most of the bars boast busy backrooms and a leather dress code and look out in particular for Web, Dirty Dicks and Eagle.

Amsterdam is not a big city and the scene tends to reflect this. There are few mega gay clubs, but plenty of special nights, jack-off parties and backrooms. If you like Manchester where generally everything gay is within walking distance, you'll love Amsterdam.

HOTELS

As you'd expect for one of the world's premier gay destinations, Amsterdam boasts a large number of gay hotels catering for a wide variety of tastes. Prices aren't cheap and facilities are often basic, though there are some exceptions we've come across (literally). Hotel Seven Bridges though not exclusively gay has some stunning rooms. Amsterdam Hostel Orfeo is a friendly low cost option and has a number of apartments in an annexe which though clean could do with refurbishment. Worth investigating if you're into leather and S&M is the Hotel Anco. They are known as the hotel "Where only men check in" and are in the heart of the red light district in the Warmoesstraat. Amistad Hotel is also gay and uses the motto "Sleep with us" - you'll find it in the Kerkstraat.

There are the usual selection of international chains and particularly recommended for those where money is no object are the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on Dam Square and the Hotel Pulitzer which is found on the very beutiful Prinsengracht canal. Our hotel partners Bookings are based in Amsterdam and have an outstanding selection of hotels at special online rates.

DON'T MISS

The Van Gogh Museum has a world-beating collection of Van Gogh originals in a stunning building. The pictures are displayed without glass so you can really appreciate the texture of his work. It's extremely popular so be prepared to queue unless you get there early. The Anne Frank House has a moving collection of photographs from the Nazi era and you can see exactly how Anne and her family hid during the Occupation before being discovered and being murdered in a concentration camp.

Right next to the house in Westermarkt, the market square, is the church mentioned by Anne Frank in her diaries. It's called Westerkerk and opens to the public several mornings a week. It's a stunning building and is noted for it's inclusivity, following the calvinist tradition - a mixture of catholic, protestant and jewish religions. It's a great church for a gay wedding.

Outside is Homomonument, a beautiful modern memorial which commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. Opened on 5 September 1987, it takes the form of three large pink triangles made of granite, set into the ground so as to form a larger triangle, on the bank of the Keizersgracht canal.
The Homomonument was designed to "inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination." It was the first monument in the world to commemorate gays and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis. The design is by Karin Daan, based on the pink triangle sign used by the Nazi's to signify the sexuality of gays in the death camps. As well as the triangle on the canal, which has a set of steps leading to the water where floral wreaths are frequently laid, there is a triangle on land 60 cm high and a memorial triangle at street level. The three triangles each measuring 10 meters (30 ft) on each side together form a larger triangle connected on each side by a thin row of pink granite bricks. The alignments of the three points of the larger triangle are symbolic. One points towards the National War Memorial on Dam Square. One points towards the house of Anne Frank, and the third points towards the headquarters of COC Nederland, the Dutch gay rights group founded in 1946, making it the oldest continuously operating gay and lesbian organisation in the world.

Gay Sauna NZ at the Nieuwezijds Armsteeg 95 is a new stylish and cruisy sauna in the centre of the city that's open every day. It offers a fully licensed bar with lounge, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, private cabins, smoker's lounge and ample relaxing and cruising space. They have a no towel night on Tuesdays and a Bears night on the last Saturday of the month for bears, daddies, chasers, chubs and their admirers. It's worth noting that both of Amsterdam's well known Thermos Saunas - the Day Sauna and Night Sauna, have been closed down.

Finally, definitely worth a mention is the Gay & Lesbian bookstore Vrolijk. It's one of the biggest and best known gay/lesbian bookshops in Europe, with 2 floors of books, movies and gifts. The shop is located just behind the Queen's Palace on Dam Square.

DON'T

This advice comes from the Dutch Tourist Office and others -
Don't stand in a bike lane. You'll only get mown down.
Don't bring a car into the centre. Not only is parking difficult and expensive, the clampers don't distinguish between foreign or Dutch cars.
Don't ride a tram without a ticket. For most tourists, day or multiple day tickets are the best deal. They entitle you to unlimited travel through Amsterdam, day and night by GVB-operated tram, bus and metro. Whilst you can buy tickets on some trams you are better off buying in advance from newsagents, train stations, post-offices and other outlets. Getting caught by the (admittedly infrequent) spot checks will set you hefty fine and ruin your trip.
Don't buy drugs in the street. Don't ever buy hard drugs on the streets which you'll be probably be offered frequently. What's sold as coke is usually washing powder or caffeine,and what they sell as ecstasy might be anything.
Don't stand in a bike lane. It's worth saying again! You really will get mown down by cyclists who stop for nothing.
A good Amsterdam website is GayAmsterdam Online. Also checkout the Amsteram lifestyle e-zine Absolutely Amsterdam for an insiders guide to bars, restaurants and shopping.

Revised January 2017.

 

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