Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination, usually for those on a weekend away, although many people who visit may not be aware of the wide array of festivals held annually in the city. The ones listed below are just a sample of the many that take place each year.
An event that is unique to Amsterdam is the Silent Procession. Amsterdam was once a Catholic city and the Procession commemorates a miracle that is said to have taken place in 1345. Ever since then, local Catholics have traversed the city silently at night once a year beginning and ending at Spui. A haunting sight, it takes place the weekend after the 10th of March.
Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, is an extremely popular event in Amsterdam. It celebrates the birthday of the late Queen Juliana on April 30th. However, it really starts the night before with drinking into the small hours at cafés and street parties. There is a large open-air market as well as singing and dancing. Both adults and children enjoy the celebration.
The Amsterdam Roots Festival takes place from the 5th to the 8th of July and celebrates international music from outside of Western Europe. There are not only performances, but also master classes and unique projects in various locations. Some events cost money, but there is a free open-air event as well.
For something a little more risqué, there is Hartjesdag. Also known as ‘Hearts Day’, this is a celebration dating back to the Middle Ages that takes place on the last Monday of August and involves cross-dressing, firecrackers and, not surprisingly, alcohol.
It was banned by the Germans in 1943 but was revived in 1997 by local shopkeepers. Held on a street called Zeedijk in the Old Side, it focuses once more on drinking and dressing up, but also features music and theatre.
For a barrel of laughs from July to August there is the Comedytrain International Festival that the Toomler Comedy Café organises. It features hilarious stand-up comedians from countries all around the world. It is an English-language festival so everyone can get the joke. It takes place Wednesday to Friday from 8.30pm until 11.30pm.
Amsterdam may not be a focus point of fashion in the same league as Paris, London and New York but it still has its own Fashion Week for those with an interest in style. The event runs twice a year, in January and July.
It’s about art as much as fashion. As well as the showing of new collections, there are exhibitions for things such as fashion photography, clothing exhibits in museums and, of course, fabulous parties. Everything for those not in the industry happens Downtown. You can find information on the Amsterdam Fashion Week website.
The Grachtenfestival takes place in August from the 10th to the 19th for fans of classical music. Its humble beginnings were as a single free concert with the musicians floating on a pontoon on the canal in front of the Hotel Pulitzer. It has since grown to feature nearly 100 concerts, all taking place on or near the water in various locations around Amsterdam.
And for more culture, the Uitmarkt signals the start of each new cultural season every year. Taking place in the last weekend of August, there are all kinds of entertainment, including theatre, music and film.
There is also a book market and a wide range of events, performances and stalls for adults and children to enjoy. This free festival features classical and modern performances in many genres and is one of the most popular events in the country.
Open Monument Days, or Heritage Days, are weekends every year that allow the general public a rare look into some of Amsterdam’s historic buildings. Every year boasts a different theme and various buildings that are normally closed can be viewed. These include not just those from the Golden Age but more everyday ones such as schools or farms. It happens in the second weekend of September and is free of charge, with various activities at many of the locations.
Finally, an event which could only take place in Amsterdam: the High Times Cannabis Cup. It runs for a week near the end of November in coffee shops throughout the city but focuses on the Melkweg at night.
As its name implies, the festival is a celebration of the popular soft drug, with hundreds of varieties available for judging. There are also seminars, bands and – most importantly – banquets for when the food cravings inevitably hit.
From high culture to more popular offerings and everything in between, it is clear that Amsterdam has something for everyone to enjoy. And there are many more events happening throughout the city during the year. More information can be found online or in the Ticketshop on the Leidseplein in Amsterdam itself.