If there were ever a city designed for the perfect gay vacation, Amsterdam would be it. Well known for its legal red-light district and ?coffeeshops,? where hash brownies are sold as casually as hot browns, it?s also the cultural, artistic and gay nightlife capital of the Netherlands.
Charming Amsterdam is a compact city, laid out along radiating canals that were built during the 17th century, and very easy to explore by foot.
Today?s Amsterdam is progressive, tolerant and particularly welcoming to gays and lesbians, who will find affirmation everywhere, from the pink granite triangles of the Homomonument (HomoMonument.com) to the gay-specific tourist information booth called Pink Point.
With unique and unusual shopping, vibrant cultural offerings and exciting nightlife, Amsterdam has something for everyone. And finding it all is easy. You can?t stand on a corner looking at a map for more than a few moments without a friendly local offering assistance? in English, which is so widely spoken the only Dutch word you?ll need to learn is bedankt (or thanks!)
If you?re on an expense account, check into the stately Amstel, the ?Grand Dame? of Dutch hotels and the first choice of royalty, nobles, and rock stars since it opened in 1867.
The daring and dramatic style of the Dylan, a boutique hotel built in a traditional canal house, will appeal to those in the style-and-design crowd. It?s smack in the middle of the ?9 streets,? a charming neighborhood of trendy boutiques, restaurants and traditional canal architecture.
Even in a city where gay people are welcomed everywhere, it may come a surprise that the local leather gay B&B -- Black Tulip -- has a sizeable straight following. Another value choice is the Amistad (Kerkstraat 42; +31 20 624 8074), a gay-American-run B&B and apartment rental, convenient to the train station.
Trendy, modern dining has finally arrived in Amsterdam courtesy of restaurateur Bert van der Leden. His restaurants Envy and Nevy and wine bar Vyne serve gourmet fare and are busy with a see-and-be-seen crowd.
The fashionable Hotel Okura is home to two restaurants with three Michelin stars between them. Yamazato serves seasonally Japanese cuisine. For more traditional French-inspired cuisine, head upstairs to Ciel Bleu, and enjoy spectacular views of the city.
Across town dine at La Rive with romantic views of the Amstel river. For filling, tasty and affordable fare, you can?t beat New King (Zeedijk 115-117; +31 20 6252180) for excellent Asian food at down-to-earth prices.
Work off those Dutch treats by walking east toward the Rembrandt House Museum, former residence of the Dutch master, now home to hundreds of his drawings and paintings. Just south is the Waterlooplein, site of a vast daily flea market.
Nearby, on the banks of the Amstel River, is the Stadhuis/Muziektheater. Check for opera and dance performances here.
Explore the Hermitage Amsterdam, an ambitious satellite of the famous Russian museum, which reopened June 2009 after a $53 million upgrade.
Of course, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without stopping in at the world-famous Anne Frank Huis. It draws more tourists than all the other museums in Amsterdam combined.
Just around the corner is the pink triangle Homomonument (Westermarkt Square), a tribute to homosexuals persecuted everywhere -- it's equally moving because it?s the only monument of its kind in the world.
Spend a surprisingly rewarding hour at the Museum of Bags and Purses, where purse collectors will find a justification for their obsession and a museum store to fuel it.
Amsterdam?s becoming a rising star of design and style. To get a taste, bike through the string of new man-made islands in the Eastern Harbour, browse Marcel Wanders's witty housewares at Droog, or prowl the art studios of the revitalized NDSM shipping yard.
A night out in Amsterdam could begin any number of adventures.
For cocktails head to Soho, which draws trendy young gays with its posh surroundings and two-for-one drinks. Across the street, April packs in men of all ages with its popular happy hours.
Feel like more serious nightlife? Head right on over to Warmoesstraat, the city?s ?leather? street, home to many rainbow-flag waiving businesses, including the Cockring, the city?s most dependably busy gay club any night of the week.
For the best shopping, you've got to hit up the famous day markets. Among the best and most renowned is Albert Cuyp Market (Albert-Cuypstraat), where you'll find everything from fish to fabrics.
For a more mainstream, high-end shopping experience, stroll along the P.C. Hooftstraat, home to plenty of big, familiar retail names and a few you might be happy to discover.
Save an afternoon for strolling around the 9 streets, with numerous boutiques and caf?s. Be sure to check out the affordable homoerotic wood-block prints and pottery at Eddy Varekamp.
Amsterdam is a treasure to behold, with its famed canals, its nearby flower fields; and, of course, its thriving and ever-resilient gay culture. The Netherlands was the first country, in 2001, to grant full same-sex marriage rights to its citizens. So, go Dutch and support one of the most progressively pro-gay countries in the world.