Float Your Boat: Amsterdam Gay Pride

Festival Essentials

Where: Amsterdam, capital of Netherlands
When: August
What’s it about: 
Celebration of all things queer with canal floats, sports and nighttime decadent partying 
Remember to Bring: 
Revealing outfit – sailor boys and rubber fetishists always welcome – and always play safely

Where It’s At

There is no other city in the world that takes a more tolerant or liberal attitude towards homosexuality and individual freedom than Amsterdam, the ‘gay capital of Europe’. This is fitting, because every year in early August more than 250,000 people descend on the capital to witnessGay Pride – a wild celebration of street parties, sporting events, extravagant club nights, and the showpiece Canal Parade.

Of all the major events in Amsterdam, only the cultural Uitmarkt and April’s Queen’s Daycelebrations draw bigger crowds. Amsterdam Gay Pride has been the largest gay event in the Netherlands since 1996 and has gradually attracted more people annually since the city played host to the 1998 Gay Games.

What Happens at Gay Pride?

Anchors ahoy: a festival parader

Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, floats play an important part in the festival – quite literally! The highlight of the weekend is Saturday’s Canal Parade, in which boats sponsored by the city’s Gay Business Amsterdam pass down theCentrum of Canals in the centre of the city from around 2pm.

Hear you can see an assortment of leathermen, thongs, divas, dancing boys and drag queens, partying on the float boats, while it seems every Amsterdammer has come out to witness the occasion. For the best viewing spots, try The Prinsengracht or the Amstel, although it is advised to get a spot early.

Colourful flotillas and leather-clad dancers are not the only sight you can view. With the Netherlands openly recruiting gays and lesbians to the military, Dutch soldiers and sailors also cruise the waters during the event. In recent years, the military has relaxed laws which allow participants to wear full uniform while parading on a float shaped like a warship.

Sporting competitions also play a part in the three-day event, with diverse activities such as wrestling, bridge, water polo and swimming. For those that can handle the plethora of partying and athletics, your stamina can be further tested by taking part in the mini-marathon.

Where To Party

On Friday night, street parties herald the start of the celebrations along the city’s gay thoroughfares, a playground for sexual activity. Here you will find anything you are looking for in the mass of dark club rooms, parks, saunas and bookstores and bars. If its leather, theWarmoestraat area is thick with bars and shops suit to taste, while it also home to the famous The Cockring disco. The Amstel and Reguliersdwarsstraat areas are considered the trendy gay hang-outs, while the Kerkstraat area features all the best gay hotels.

Club nights take place on all three days. The parties start earlier on Saturday after the Canal Parade, while on Sunday the Stopera hosts the closing party, with a number of unofficial parties taking place around the gay centre.

For a more relaxed pace, try the Open Air Film Festival on the Nieuwmarkt, which shows gay-themed films, or The Club Beautiful in the Theater COC Amsterdam.

A Queer Old History

– Homosexuality in Amsterdam was first decriminalised in 1811.

– The first gay bar The Amstel is thought to have opened in 1927, while The DOK, the largest gay dance hall in the world at its inception in 1952, brought Amsterdam world fame and an influx of gay travellers from Britain and France.

– Amsterdam was the first city in the world to get its own gay monument, “Homomonument“, which is made of pink granite. It features prose from a gay Dutch novelist, Jacob De Haan, from the early 20th century: “such a measureless yearning for friendship”.

– The first same-sex marriage recognized by any country took place in April 2001 when four gay couples exchanged rings and vows at Amsterdam’s City Hall in front of the Mayor. It ended a 15-year campaign to award gay couples equal rights under civil law.

More Information

Gay Amsterdam Tourist Guide
Tourist information for the gay traveller to Amsterdam, with events, listings, venues and maps.

Amsterdam Gay Pride
Official site for the festival

Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 68-70,
Tel: (+31) 020 623 4596

Gay and Lesbian Switchboard
Tel: (+31) 020 623 6565
text phone (+31) 020 422 6565
fax 020 638 0407
Postbox 11573
1001GN Amsterdam

By Rod Gilmour