With its parks, markets and canals, and population of avid cyclists (the city is home to more bikes than people), Amsterdam really comes alive in the summer. There are literally hundreds of festivals and events throughout June, July and August. So to help you get the most of summer in the city, here’s our guide to the best events and things to do in 2017.
Have a long weekend at Amsterdam Open Air
In 2017, the national Whit Sunday and Monday holidays fall on 4th and 5th June. And the good news is that same weekend coincides with one of the summer’s biggest music festivals. The Amsterdam Open Air Weekender takes place in Gaasperpark in the south-west of the city. The festival features stages curated by clubs from around Amsterdam, so you can experience the best of the city’s electronic music scene – from techno to dubstep – all in one place.
Say it with flowers at the Aalsmeer Flower Festival
Amsterdam’s famous tulips are at their best in late winter and early spring. However in summer, there’s plenty of flower power to be found just outside the city at the Aalsmeer Flower Festival (17th-18th June). The festival takes place in the town of Aalsmeer, known as the flower capital of the world, thanks to its famous flower market. Now in its fourth year, the festival features all sorts of floral things to see and do around the historic town centre.
Experience the biggest techno festival in town
The Awakenings Festival (24th-25th June) is one of the world’s biggest techno music gatherings, with more than 70,000 people expected to attend. It takes place in the the countryside around Spaarnwoude, easily reached from Amsterdam via a shuttle bus from Sloterdijk station. The festival will have more than 100 acts playing in 8 impressively-designed arenas. Tickets to the festival often sell out, but if you don’t manage to get one you can still experience the festival’s vibe. The massive De Gashoulder club, in West Amsterdam‘s Westergasfabriek park is Awakenings’ permanent home in the city.
…or if world music’s more your thing…
During the same weekend, another massive party takes place in the area around the city’s Oosterpark. The Amsterdam Roots Festival has been bringing the best world music artists to the city for 35 years, and has grown to become one of its biggest summer events. In 2017, the festival has added a circus tent to its line-up, presenting the best acrobats and physical performers from Morocco, Ethiopia and the Netherlands.
See a film-star at the Holland Festival
The city’s answer to the Edinburgh Festival, the Holland Festival (3rd-25th June) presents some of the best art, music and theatre from around the world. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, local superstar theatre director Ivo Van Hove (fresh from working on David Bowie’s Lazarus musical) has two new shows in the festival, including an adaptation of the classic Italian film Obsession, starring Jude Law. Double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett also stars in a series of short films, Manifesto, created by artist Julian Rosefeldt. You’ll find world-leading dance, classical and contemporary music performances happening every day and site-specific artworks too.
Get lost in the woods
At the edge of the city, the Amsterdamse Bos is roughly three times larger than New York’s Central Park. It might have the feel of an ancient woodland, but it was actually only created in 1937. So you’ll find all sorts of modern conveniences around its grounds. It’s home to several cafes, a camping ground, outdoor sports facilities – including kayaking and paddle-boarding and even a spa hotel.
Visit an enchanted forest at Mystic Garden
There’s a real touch of magic to the Mystic Garden festival (17th June). This characterful one-day dance music event completely transforms the city’s Sloterpark. Now in its sixth year, the festival is known for its stunning setting, and fantastically costumed dancers.
Try the city’s best food at Taste of Amsterdam…
Amsterdam has some pretty amazing restaurants, with 16 holding one or two Michelin Stars. You can taste some of the best of their dishes, without having to worry about reservations at the Taste of Amsterdam festival. Taking place over the Whitsun weekend (2nd-5th June), the festival’s bite-sized portions are the perfect way to get a full taste of what the city has to offer.
…and Amsterdam Kookt
If street food’s more your flavour, the Amsterdam Kookt festival pops up in the city’s Oosterpark during the same weekend. More relaxed than the Taste of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Kookt also offers live music, karaoke and vintage fashion stalls to enjoy in between meals. Several Amsterdam Kookt festivals happen around the city each year. There’s also one scheduled for the NDSM Wharf over the weekend of 4th-6th August.
Go wild at ARTIS Zoomeravonden
Every Saturday in June, July and August, the ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo stays open until sunset for its Summer Nights (Zoomeravonden) events. Each late opening offers food, music, art and talks from some of the zoo’s experts.
Club and camp at Gaasperpark
Another great place to get close to nature is at the Gaasper Pleasure festival (July 29th). Taking place beside the Gaasperplas lake on July 29th, it offers a day of house, techno and hip-hop music. And, when you need to chill out for a bit, you can wander through the pretty Gaasperpark or feed the ducks on the lake.
You can book into the park’s campsite. Just 15 minutes from the city centre by the underground, this is camping with a difference – with free wi-fi, museum discount cards and bike rental all available on-site.
Set sail for a secret island
Fancy taking a boat trip out to a private island, and tucking into a five course gourmet meal while you’re there? Vuurtoreneiland (lighthouse island) is a small island in the river IJ, formerly a military base and now a UNESCO world heritage site. From May to September a pop-up restaurant opens in a large greenhouse on the island – the glass walls making it the perfect spot for admiring the scenery. Tickets for the boat trip and meal go on sale at the start of each month, and sell out quickly. So it’s worth keeping an eye on the official website for the next batch, or returns.
Or stay on dry land at NEMO
You can find your sea-legs without leaving dry land at the NEMO Science Museum. Immediately recognisable for its ship-shaped building, the museum is full of fascinating scientific facts. But why not save those for a rainy day? When the sun’s out, take the staircase leading directly from the street up to the museum’s Roofsquare terrace. The highest square in the city, you’ll find a restaurant, sculptures, and panoramic views of the harbour. Plus a few educational displays, if you want to learn a bit about science while you’re up there.
Watch a movie on the beach
When it’s really sunny, many locals take a short trip from the city to the nearby coast for seafood, nightlife, beach clubs and the water sports of Bloomendaal and Zandvoort. However, you don’t even have to leave the city to find a beach. Instead just catch a boat to the north bank of the IJ to PLLEK. One of the city’s coolest bars, PLLEK is found in an old shipping container, and sits by its own artificial beach. During the summer months, it hosts all sorts of cultural events, including live music and open-air film screenings.
Learn more about movies at EYE Filmmuseum
Another movie hotspot by the IJ is the EYE Filmmuseum. Quite possibly one of the world’s best film museums, the distinctively designed riverside-building houses several exhibition spaces and a cinema. As well as a chic restaurant with views of the harbour. In 2017, the museum will be hosting an exhibition devoted to the works of Martin Scorsese. There’s more than 400 items from his personal collection on display, and a programme of his classic films planned for the cinema.
Watch a show by the river at Over Het IJ…
From 14th-23rd July, the riverside NDSM wharf will offer a packed programme of art, theatre and dance performances for the Over Het IJ festival. The site-specific performances are inspired by the stories of the city and take place in converted shipping containers, and even an old Russian submarine.
…dine by it at Hanneke’s Boom…
The banks of the IJ are home to some of the city’s best places to eat and drink. Hanneke’s Boom is a charmingly ramshackle waterfront cafe, in the up-and-coming Eastern Docklands. Conveniently found by the Central Station, it hosts live music and DJ sets each weekend. Or you can catch a free boat from the station across to Tolhuistuin, an open-air events space which also serves great tapas. And Noorderlicht is a greenhouse-style cafe which specialises in local and seasonal produce.
…or swing over it at A’DAM Tower
A new arrival on the city’s skyline, the A’DAM Tower is a riverside hub for Amsterdam’s creative industries. In the 22-storey building you’ll find The Butcher Social Club bar and restaurant and Sir Adam – a boutique hotel with its own recording studio. The real highlight though is on its top floors. You can enjoy a drink or meal with a view at the M’ADAM bar and restaurant, or experience Europe’s highest swing on the Lookout sky deck. At 100 metres above the ground, you’ll see the IJ from a whole new angle as you swing over the side of the building.
See classical music at a stately home at Wonderfeel
Found 25km to the south of the city, Schaep en Burgh is home to a 17th century mansion. As well as what might be one of the most scenic music festivals around. Wonderfeel (21st-23rd July), is devoted to classical music, with more than 100 concerts taking place around the estate’s landscaped grounds.
…or in an historic concert hall
The city’s own centre of classical music – the Concertgebouw hosts the Robeco SummerNight concert series during July and August. There’s a different concert each night, ranging from traditional recitals to jazz and contemporary music. You’ll also find some intriguing one-offs, this year including a yoga-inspired concert (15th July). The Concertgebouw’s elegant Mirror Hall is also turned into a summer restaurant. You can book dinner there as a package with your concert tickets.
Take the kids to WESTwaARTS
Looking to keep the kids entertained? Take them to the Erasmus Park for the WESTwaARTS Festival (1st-2nd and 8th-9th July). The line-up hasn’t been announced yet, but expect to find family-friendly live music, food, theatre and craft workshops for the kids.
Be fabulous at Milkshake Festival
Devoted to diversity, Milkshake (29th-30th July) is the most open-minded dance festival in town. Co-founded by nightspots AIR and Paradiso (the heart of the Leidseplein clubbing scene), Milkshake celebrates Amsterdam’s famously inclusive nature. Both LGBTQ and straight (and everyone in between) partygoers are encouraged to spend the weekend being whoever they want to be. The festival expanded from one to two days in 2016. And, with its extensive DJ line-up, drag performers and anything goes dress code, 2017’s is sure to be another wild weekend.
Experience one of the world’s biggest Prides
Running from the end of July to the start of August, Amsterdam’s Pride Festival is one of the world’s biggest. Among the highlights are street parties (4th-5th August), an open air cinema (2nd-3rd August) and a big closing party in the historic city centre, Dam Square (6th August). However, what makes Amsterdam’s pride particularly unique is its Canal Parade (5th August), where fabulously colourful boats take to the city’s waterways.
See culture on the canals during Grachtenfestival
Another big show hits the canals later on in August for the Grachtenfestival (11th-20th August). The 10-day long festival is largely focused on classical music, with free open-air performances taking place around the historic canals. In some cases the show actually takes to the water, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra staging performances on a barge.
Pick up a bargain at the market
Amsterdam’s markets are world-famous. There are 12 daily markets around the city, each with their own feel and specialties.
On a sunny day, the Bloemenmarkt is an absolute must-see. It’s the only floating flower market in the world, with stalls set on houseboats along the Singel canal. The Waterlooplein Flea Market is conveniently just by the Rembrandt House, and is the only market in town where haggling is encouraged. And if you’re looking for a bit of street food to munch on, head to the Albert Cuyp Market. The biggest market in the city, the selection of dishes perfectly reflects Amsterdam’s multicultural, cosmopolitan nature.
Hang out with the Hippies at Ruigoord
Sitting just outside the city, the village of Ruigoord was a thriving community until being cleared in the 1960s for a planned extension to the harbour. However, the work never happened, and so the village lay abandoned for a decade. Until a group of squatters moved in and turned it into an artistic commune.
There are regular full moon parties at the historic church, but it really comes alive during the Landjuweel Festival (2nd-6th August). A fiercely independent arts festival, you’ll find theatre, poetry, music and plenty more besides, everywhere you look.
Explore the Rijksmuseum’s summer exhibitions
The Rijksmuseum is a must-see at any time of year. But during the summer the museum offers tours of its beautifully landscaped gardens. Meanwhile, several major exhibitions take place inside the museum’s galleries this season (17th June-17th September). You can explore the best of 19th century photography in New Realities. While Small Wonders highlights some of the finest works in the museum’s famous collection of miniature sculptures.
See free theatre in the Vondelpark…
Found in the heart of the city, the Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s most famous park. And if you visit during the summer, you can catch the opening of the Openluchttheater. Every weekend between May and September, the large open-air theatre hosts dance performances, concerts, exhibitions and club nights, including shows from some of the country’s biggest stars. All for free.
…and all around the city during De Parade
De Parade is a touring festival of free theatre and music, which travels throughout the Netherlands during the summer, ending up in Amsterdam’s Martin Luther King Park in mid-August. From August 11th-27th, the festival features 80 different shows. And even if you don’t speak Dutch, the website includes a list of shows with no language barrier.
Send the summer out with a bang at Mysteryland
Taking place during the last weekend in August, Mysteryland (26th-27th August) is a truly memorable way to see out the summer. One of the oldest, and biggest dance events in the world, the festival now includes all sorts of electronic music. Expect big international names, mind-blowing art exhibitions, film screenings and some truly incredible stage sets.
For more information on Amsterdam’s music scene, check out our #MusicMakesYouTravel guide for playlists and maps.
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