They’ll Leave the Red Light on for You


Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is one city that should be on your “must visit” list. As a key player in the Golden Age of the 17th century when capitalism was born, Amsterdam through the years has transformed from a small medieval city to current status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2010). As one of the most forward-thinking countries, the Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2001. Amsterdam’s liberal policies on cannabis and prostitution, along with its acceptance of the LGBTQ community, make it a destination unlike any other.

The city of Amsterdam is made up of different neighborhoods that showcase different styles and traditions of its culture. The best way to get a good feel of the city is to use the preferred method of transportation, a bicycle, and visit the different neighborhoods:

Old Centre

  • Dam Square is the heart of Amsterdam and the meeting point of the city, where you can find the oldest buildings (Old Church and the Waag), the smallest buildings, and the best of 14th century architecture. The cobbled streets of Dam Square will guide you past restaurants, museums, shopping, and the famous coffee shops (look for the Jamaican flag in the window for your own 420 tour).
  • The name Red Light District pretty much speaks for itself. Named after the red neon lights that shine in the windows of the prostitutes who are working, Amsterdam’s liberal and tolerant attitude honors the honesty that we are only human and enjoy different things. Contrary to popular belief, this neighborhood is one of the safest in Amsterdam due to the clusters of policemen patrolling the area. However, the city’s government has announced that it will end guided tours of the Red Light District beginning January 1, 2020, citing concerns about people (sex workers) being treated as a tourist attraction.

Canal Ring (Unesco Heritage Site)

This whole district, which surrounds the Old Centre of Amsterdam, is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and historical value. The canals were built to drain the swampland in the area and provide space in between them to expand the urban area of the city. In fact, each building in Amsterdam is built on stilts— stakes driven into the ground to provide a stable foundation. Amsterdam holds the title of the most “watery” cities in Europe and contains more canals (165) and bridges (1281) than Venice, Italy and Pittsburgh!

Jordaan (Cool Side of Town)

For a real Amsterdam experience, Jordaan is a great place to start. Jordaan started as the working-class neighborhood, though now it’s one of Amsterdam’s upscale neighborhoods. Amsterdam’s Jordaan can be compared with Paris’ Montmartre. In this neighborhood, you can find independent art galleries, antique shops, courtyard gardens, amazing restaurants, intellectuals, liberals, and the creative persons of the city. No wonder—its picturesque view, narrow streets, and quaint buildings make Jordaan postcard-perfect.

The Museum Quarter

This neighborhood was originally built for the wealthy in the early 1900s, housing many mansions and large squares. There are over 50 museums in Amsterdam, and some of the favorites can be found in Museumplein, the cultural center of the city. Here you can find the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art along with Vondelpark, the famous urban park.

Things to See

  • The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings. vangomuseum.nl/en
  • Rijksmuseum is considered to be one of the great hotels of the worlds and houses more than 8000 works of art. rijksmuseum.nl/en
  • The Anne Frank House, the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family, has been well preserved and one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam. Annefrank.org/en
  • Vonndelpark is Amsterdam’s public urban park and offers a chance to relax and experience what it’s like to be a local.

One of Amsterdam’s biggest attractions are its canals and cruising the canals is like a right of passage and one of the best opportunities for selfies. Floating down Amsterdam’s canals is one of the most memorable ways to discover the city’s sights and attractions. Most canal cruises take around an hour, in which you’ll explore Amsterdam’s canal ring and discover plenty of interesting facts about the city along the way. A few of the best-known operators include Stromma, Blue Boat, and Lovers.

The Amsterdam Flower Market is your opportunity to stop and smell the tulips. The Bloemenmarkt is a “must see” in the spring when the tulips, daffodils, and roses are in full bloom. The Flower Market is the only floating flower market in the world, and one of the most fragrant places of interest of Amsterdam no matter the season. Since 1862, the flower stalls stand on the houseboats and evoke the old days when the market was supplied daily by boat.

You will find at the market all sorts of tulips, narcissus, geraniums, and many other types of flowers. You can buy bouquets, single flowers, or bulbs. The bulbs are ready for export, so you can enjoy them at home too. Another great photo-op!


Albus Hotel

The Albus is a 74-room upscale boutique hotel located in Amsterdam’s Canal Ring, near many popular sights including the Flower Market, Rembrandt Square, and walking distance to Amsterdam’s original gayborhood, Reguliersdwarsstraat. albushotel.com/en

Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht

Located in the heart the canal belt, lifestyle hotel Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht is a concept by Hyatt and offers elegantly designed rooms with free Wi-Fi. The Jordaan area and Reguliersdwarsstraat are within a 15-minute walk. This hotel has a Spa & Wellness center where guests can enjoy a massage. The Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House are both within ½ mile from the hotel. The Vondelpark is a 10-minute walk away. Hyatt.com

Amistad Hotel

The Amistad is probably one of the most famous gay hotels in Amsterdam. It is gay-owned and managed with a homey feel to it. Staying here feels more like you’re with a group of friends rather than in a big name hotel. Amistad is located near Club Church and is a short walking distance to the gay bars and clubs on Reguliersdwarsstraat. amistad.nl

Bars & Clubs

Though it’s one of the most inclusive cities in the world, the glory days of gay Amsterdam peaked in the 70s and 80s. You won’t find the same type of gay clubbing scene in Amsterdam that you expect in other big European cities like London or Berlin. However, Amsterdam still hosts monthly circuit parties, like the Rapido Events at Paradiso, an old church converted into a theater. clubrapido.com

There are still a handful of gay bars in Amsterdam’s original gayborhood, Reguliersdwarsstraat including:

  • SoHo is a local favorite and offers a cozy space for after-work drinks or a night out. SoHo also has DJs spinning on the weekends for special events. With a cute staff and fun crowd, Soho is an authentic gay Amsterdam experience.
  • Taboo is another fun bar has fabulous drag shows in an intimate space. Local drag queens host live shows every Wednesday. Regulars come to Taboo for happy hour to socialize and jump start a night of fun. Taboobar.nl
  • NYX is Amsterdam’s main gay dance club (formerly called Exit) and is one of the few venues still hosting dance parties. In a four-story building, NYX hosts different themed events with local and international DJs playing a variety of music. clubnyx.nl

The other popular gayborhood is between Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat. This is where you can find fetish shops, cruising bars like Eagle, leather bars like Cuckoo’s Nest or lose your inhibition at Dirty Trick. No wonder it’s right by the famous Red Light District!

Amsterdam is a city of tolerance and diversity. The first weekend in August is dedicated to Gay Pride and the city celebrates with parties and performances. It’s an unusual as the actual parade takes place on the water, with spectators watching from the banks of Amsterdam’s famous canals. Huge boats full of sexy dancers and leather clad bears float along the waterways of the city. amsterdamgaypride.nl

Another event worth checking out is the Milkshake Festival, a relatively new LGBTQ-focused, outdoor music festival held in July. The Milkshake Festival is an inclusive party celebrating diversity with a fun crowd. This welcoming party has great live entertainment for everyone. milkshakefestival.com

Amsterdam, like Pittsburgh, brings people of all colors, genders, religions, and cultures together to say: “We Are One.”

So grab those wooden clogs and get ready to experience Amsterdam!!

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This article is preserved here as part of the QArchives. Help us preserve Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ history, like this article, by contributing to our GoFundMe.

Rick Sicilio is the owner of Travel and Tours in Pittsburgh. He is an avid, worldwide traveler and has visited 68 countries to date. For over 21 years, Rick and his staff have been assisting clients to embrace their wanderlust and travel the world.