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Dutch Courage

Amsterdam’s love of all things sustainable and tolerance for LGBTQ travelers makes it a European essential.

by Georgina Wilson-Powell

There are only two facts that you need to know about Amsterdam. It has more than 225,000 parking spaces for bikes and it is home to the oldest gay bar in the world.

For me this speaks volumes about the canal-laced city, which emanates from Centraal station, its concentric canals appear on the map like static ripples. One of the most sustainable cities in the world, it is also one of the most tolerant. Common sense isn’t in short supply here in Holland. The Dutch have been a nation of open minds since the 17th century when the city was known for its freedom of speech and religious tolerance.

But how do you take advantage of Amsterdam’s free and easy approach to sex, without finding yourself embarrassed in the red light district, faced with working girls in every window or in some sleazy Euro-disco camp-fest next to men with Freddie Mercury facial hair?

While Amsterdam is well known for its love of the LGBTQ crowd (it legalized homosexuality in 1811 and gay marriage in 2001), it can be harder to work out what to do. With more modern mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ travelers perhaps having an all gay itinerary is old-fashioned, but for those who want an upmarket, gay friendly time and also care about the environment, follow my lead.

During the day…

Start off with a walk to the Westerkerk to visit the Homomonument, a gay memorial that commemorates anyone who has been persecuted for their sexual identity, especially during World War II. Designed by Karin Daan, the huge triangle is the largest such monument in the world. Right next door you’ll also find the Pink Point, an information desk created especially for LGBTQ visitors. They can help with everything from what’s on that evening to connecting you with local organizations.

Visit Westerkerk to see the Homomonument.

It might not look it from the main tourist streets full of chain restaurants in the centre of the city, but head out in pretty much any direction and you can’t help but trip over cool restaurants that live and breathe the slow food ethos. Café de Ceuvel takes it one step further. A collection of 17 dry boats on land have been connected by repurposed wooden walkways to create a cultural hotspot that offers everything from yoga to an all organic restaurant, with most of the food grown from a rooftop orchard. Nominated for a Dutch Design Award last year, this canal-side former boatyard (once deemed too polluted to develop) will blossom into a 100% sustainable community centre within the next 10 years.

The Cafe deCeuvel.

A visit to Amsterdam can’t be complete without popping into the world’s oldest LGBTQ bar. Café t’Mandje was opened in 1927 by Bet van Beeren, a formidable lesbian who had a habit of cutting off the ties of the men who went in there (replica ties still hang from the ceiling today). A real character, Bet hid Jewish families in the attic and guns in the cellar during World War II. Today her upstairs apartment remains just as it was back then and is open for you to visit. Her niece runs the bar and it still looks as though it is as welcoming as it was in the roaring 20s.

Stop into Blom en Blom for a different shopping experience.

Head north to De Noord over the water from the train station. A previously industrial area, it has seen massive investment and gentrification. You can shop guilt free at Blom en Blom. Forgotten furniture (mostly from East Germany factories) has been given a loving facelift to give it a new lease of life and each piece is accompanied by a passport detailing its history. Nearby De Lokatie sells second hand household goods and clothes while Neef Louis is a huge warehouse piled high with vintage and industrial pre-loved furnishings.

Neef Louis

Into the night…

Staying in De Noorde, make a reservation at Restaurant Stork, which takes advantage of the nearby North Sea and serves up sustainable and seasonal fish within a former machine factory. Settle down for a reasonably priced three-course meal before heading out on the town.

Restaurant Stork by the water. So romantic.

And of course you need to try out the nightlife. While the areas of Reguliersdwarsstraat and Halvemaansteeg are famous for their prevalence of gay bars, in 2015 there really isn’t anywhere that isn’t gay friendly. For lesbian bars try Café Saarein, a friendly pub that was started by a collective of 10 women in 1978 or locally famous Vivelavie. Gay men are spoilt for choice, but retro bar Prik (meaning bubbles in Dutch) has been voted the best and it has a pretty terrace for when the weather obliges.

Staying sustainable

Half of Amsterdam’s hotels (at least 50) are ranked sustainable and hold a Green Key certificate, the international standard for the tourism industry. The Albus is one such property. A four star design-lead (and very gay friendly) boutique hotel it uses LED lighting and rain showers and has gotten rid of their energy-draining mini bars, among other initiatives. Its staff are super friendly and know everything about the local area.

But it doesn’t just stop there. It’s incredibly safe to jump on a bike to explore this pedestrian-friendly, cycling haven. With 400kms of bike routes you can literally go anywhere under your own steam. Not convinced? You can still stay green. The city is used as a testing ground for international car brands’ latest electric vehicles. With 2,000 charging points for bikes, cars and boats – no matter how you choose to navigate, you’d be hard pushed to actually leave any emissions.


September 11, 2015

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