For being a relatively small, compact city, Amsterdam doesn’t disappoint when it comes to nightlife. The city punches well above its weight in terms of eating, drinking, and culture, with each district having it’s own distinctive style and atmosphere. As home to large communities of ex-pats and people from all around the world, it really is a diverse melting pot, and Amsterdam is fully deserving of its reputation as a global city. And whether you want world-class food, cute cocktail bars, traditional taverns, or a few hours doing something out of the ordinary, there truly is something for everyone – and probably just a short bike ride away! Here then is the essential Amsterdam nightlife guide, from the highlights to the hidden secrets.
Live music fan? There’s a concert going on almost every night of the week in Amsterdam, from intimate back rooms to modern enormo-domes. Most rock, pop, and alternative acts can be found at either Paradiso – a stunning, balconied former Church – or Melkweg, both of which have multiple rooms and are situated just a few minutes walk apart in Leidseplein. Smaller artists might play Bitterzoet, a cute, club-like space close to Centraal Station, or Tolhuistuin Paradiso Noord, a bar and restaurant complex just a short ferry ride across the water. For hidden gems, the intrepid should head west to De Nieuwe Anita, a cocktail-bar-come-music-venue that’s full of retro 1970’s furniture and has a tiny basement stage in the back. It’s the place to catch super hip local acts and cult artists, as is OT301, a legal squat that also houses a bookstore, gallery, various studio spaces and a vegan restaurant.
If dancing is more your thing, Amsterdam is a world leader in club culture; the prestigious and highly influential Amsterdam Dance Event every October has really put the city on the map. Both Radion and De School have 24-hour licenses and host international superstars and cutting-edge electronic artists and DJs. De Marktkantine has a more laid-back vibe – especially when it comes to the dress code – and its balconies and booths make it a cozier space than many similar sized clubs. Shelter, housed in the basement of the former Shell tower in Noord, is a huge, dark concrete room that prides itself on its eclectic program – and can also open 24-hours – while those in search of a maximalist clubbing experience should head to AIR, a 1,300 capacity space that boasts a state-of-the-art design, LED walls, five cool bars, and plenty of side rooms to explore.
Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket
If you’re here for a few days and want to experience a variety of nightlife options and activities, then the Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket is for you. Available for two or seven days, it offers a huge variety of discounts and special offers to some of the city’s best nightlife – free entrance to over 20 nightclubs, a welcome shot at nine of them, free casino admission, various 2 for 1 cocktail offers, and entry discounts to a whole range of top attractions such as Powerzone, The Amsterdam Dungeon, and the Hard Rock café. If you want to soak up as much nocturnal culture as possible and save a few euros, the Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket is a must!
Many visitors to Amsterdam consider a trip to the Heineken Experience to be obligatory, and with good reason. The beer has been brewed here since 1864, and their original brewery has been transformed into a two-hour interactive extravaganza complete with tastings. A similar experience is on offer at the House of Bols, where visitors can explore the world of genever, the spirit that conquered the world during the Golden Age and led to the creation of modern-day gin. Tastings are part of the fun, and there’s even the chance to mix your own cocktail under the supervisions of a professional mixologist in their stunning Mirror Bar.
A different kind of thrill is available in the famous Red Light District, whether you want to partake yourself or simply explore its narrow streets. If you do want to catch a sex show, Casa Rosso, the famous exotic theatre, has been titillating audiences since 1968 (just look for the famous neon pink elephant) and is rightly regarded as the Grand Dame of sex clubs.
Genever is Dutch traditional liquor from which gin evolved, learn more and taste cocktails at the Genever experience.
For those in need of a laugh, there’s BOOM Chicago, an improv club that also hosts international comedians, and Comedy Café Amsterdam, the place to see up and coming Dutch acts and watch open-mic nights.
A little competitive sport can be a great way to start a night out, and Amsterdam has no shortage of options. Powerzone, right next to Centraal Station, is the best place for a spot of bowling, but it’s not just ten-pin action that’s available here – you can also partake in some laserquest, or glow-in-the-dark crazy golf. If pool is more your thing, Pool Lokaal De Gracht, next door to the University of Amsterdam, has over 15 tables for 9-ball, 10-ball, and any number of variations on the classic bar game. Indulging your inner child is the aim at Ton Ton Club, a retro arcade and boardgame bar that now has three branches spread across the city. Space invaders, giant Jenga, ping pong, and yes, a full-sized adult ball pit are just a few of the delights that’ll have you giggling with your mates and reminiscing about carefree teenage days.
The best nightlife in Amsterdam can often be found off the beaten track, away from the tourist hordes exploring the centre. The city is famous for its “brown cafes”, traditional taverns that are low on refinement but high on character, the sort of place where the characters sat at the bar are as much of a draw as the beer list. One Amsterdam nightlife area worth checking out is the grid of streets that spread out south-east from Leidseplein. Café De Spuyt is a haven for beer lovers, with over 100 Dutch and Belgian beers available, while the nearby Café De Wetering is one of the loveliest, coziest little bars anywhere in the city; grab a table upstairs next to the real fireplace if the weather’s a little grey and wet.
For true authenticity, it’s hard to beat Café ‘t Mandje, a place that’s been serving simple snacks and cold beer since 1927. The décor hasn’t changed much over the year, but that’s just the way everyone likes it here, and you’ll find some proper, old school locals mixing with clued-up tourists and those simply seeking a fun, relaxing place for a few drinks. And talking of historic, if you want to sample some of that famous genever, head to Proeflokaal de Ooievaar. This tiny little room – there isn’t really “a bar” as such, just shelves upon shelves of different flavours – dates from 1782, and is as authentic as it gets and an absolute must for curious drinkers.
A more modern take on booze is available at Hiding In Plain Sight, a seductive, twenties-style lounge bar that serves some of the city’s best cocktails. There’s no name or number above the door – finding it is half the fun – and to ensure quality and a relaxed atmosphere, patrons can only sit at tables, meaning booking is essential.
There are no such worries at Bar Oldenhof, a classy, dimly lit space full of classic leather banquettes, velvet, and old-school charm. Whisky is big here, with their cocktails leaning to the heavy side of the flavour spectrum, and an emphasis on quality spirits. At the opposite end of the spectrum sits one of the city’s newest – and chicest – watering holes; Ma’dam, at the top of A’DAM Toren. Amsterdam’s highest skybar, from 10pm to late you can sip on delicious cocktails and long drinks 100 metres up in the air, enjoying an unrivalled 360 degree view over this great city through the floor to ceiling windows – it doesn’t get much better than that.