The ‘Venice of the North’ they call it (only one devoid of the ubiquitous Murano glass shops, the recurring clink of colliding Aperol Spritz glasses, and the streamlined gondolas manned by muscled Italians in straw boaters). Instead, Amsterdam’s warren of sinuous canals topples with skinny 17th century merchant houses; echoes with the ‘ding, ding’ of cyclists’ bells as they gust over curving bridges; and bobs with hefty houseboats whose decks explode with a charming jumble of potted plants, collapsible chairs and faded lifebuoys.
Like its Italian counterpart, Amsterdam has always been hailed for its photogenic good looks, and having recently shrugged off its less-than-desirable status as one of the stag-do capitals of Europe, it has become all the more appealing. Camera-friendly scenery and a noticeable lack of rowdy, half-cut foreign males are appealing traits in a city, however neither sit top of Amsterdam’s credentials. Whilst Berlin’s sells promise of raucous nightlife, Paris a timeless romance, Rome the most ancient of histories, and Barcelona an enthralling architectural heritage, for the capital of the Netherlands it is a reputation for liberality that lures, excites and intrigues travellers.
Flying the flag for tolerance and diversity is a role Amsterdam assumes with an unhesitant pride. From its famed progressive approach to LGBT rights, its world-renowned lenience towards prostitution and marijuana, to a tourist board that markets itself under the inclusive name of ‘IAMSTERDAM’, the city’s uniquely fresh stance separates it from the crowd of convention.
LGBT travellers to Europe’s liberal heartland will encounter an eclectic mishmash of gay bars, cafés and clubs; one of the continent’s most prominent gay pride events; and a welcoming native population who have grown up in an environment of LGBT acceptance. Amstel with its sprinkling of quintessential ‘brown cafés’ and the only drag queen café in the Netherlands is one of the city’s most popular LGBT areas, however drop by Kerkstraat for gay-friendly hostels and large-scale nightclubs, or the Reguliersdwarsstraat for a colourful tapestry of bars and eateries.