Amsterdam in August – A Guide for Rabbits

“And so she strode down Damrak – the street an aging baroness forced into fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. The Queen of Sheba perched on the back of the Whore of Babylon.”

Amsterdam can be pretty overwhelming at first sight. Most visitors arrive at Central Station and are then drawn, almost magically or magnetically, along the bustling neon-lit extravaganza of Damrak to Dam Square, where the city opens up and leaves you to your own devices and choices. A bit like entering a funnel through the spout, I suppose.

I vividly recall my own arrival in Amsterdam and bequeathed the experience to Alma Nel, a character in my second novel, from which the above excerpt is taken. The reason I mention this – apart from cunningly plugging my own work – is that I’d like to point visitors in the right direction, with some tips and suggestions.

Amsterdam offers a mind-boggling array of events in August. I won’t link through to the full programme just yet, because you’ll feel like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of a hundred cars at a busy intersection. Instead, allow me to take you by your furry little paw and tell you what I’d see and do if I were visiting Amsterdam with various different travelling companions. Namely, my wife, my younger children, my eldest daughter, my mother, and my friends. I’ve selected three multi-day events in August for each party, and I’ve added a header to set the mood.

Romantic – My wife has travelled the world, but I can still take her almost anywhere and she’ll have a good time. She loves music, theatre, art and sightseeing in general. I’d take her to see the following:

Parade Theatre Festival – Check out the programme in advance. Choose two or three weird and wonderful shows. Have dinner at one of the stalls at the festival.

Magneet Festival – A wonderful, intimate little festival, with a laid-back atmosphere and small-scale, low-key events.

Vondelpark Open Air – The park is a backyard for most locals. The open-air theatre is one of Amsterdam’s jewels. All performances (music, dance, cabaret, stand-up) are free of charge. And if things get too hectic, simply find a warm spot on the grass and listen from a distance.

Playful – My two younger children (aged 14 and 12) are fun-loving and easy-going. Here’s where I’d take them:

Artis Zoomeravonden – The Amsterdam Artis Zoo is open until sundown every Saturday during the summer months.

Vondelpark Open Air – The park and the open-air theatre provide plenty of entertainment for kids. There are several playgrounds in the park for smaller children and there’s plenty of space to explore or just hang out.

Harbour Festival IJmuiden – Catch the fast ferry from Central Station along the North Sea Canal to IJmuiden (say: “hey-moden”) and visit the beach and the harbour.

Vibrant – My eldest daughter (24) loves music, film and theatre, so I’ve chosen several festivals that will be on for longer periods:

Magneet Festival – which is run almost entirely by people of her age.

Pluk de Nacht – An open-air film festival near Central Station. Take a jacket along for this free event.

Landjuweel Festival – A five-day cultural happening in the tiny village of Ruigoord on the fringe of Amsterdam’s harbour and industrial area.

Laidback – My mother (nearly 90) loves theatre and music, but her eyesight is poor and she needs a wheelchair for longer walking distances, so I’ve chosen some laid-back options that are on during the day.

Vondelpark Open Air – The atmosphere is most laidback on Sundays around noon, which are reserved for classical music.

Summer in De Tolhuistuin – Catch the free ferry across Het IJ (say: “hat hey”) behind Central Station to Amsterdam North. Have lunch or dinner at one of the little restaurants and catch a show or event in the secluded gardens just beyond.

Uitmarkt – The opening of the cultural season, with snippets and excerpts from upcoming shows that are accessible for free. The atmosphere is more laid back during the daytime, and the Museumplein is a great place to relax.

Unusual – If I were visiting Amsterdam with friends, any of the above events would certainly be an option, but they’re all middle-aged hippies now, so I’d probably take them on a magical mystery tour of the events I’m less familiar with: Landjuweel Festival, Pluk de Nacht and Summer in De Tolhuistuin.

Bear in mind that all these events are over and above the many other attractions and activities that Amsterdam has to offer. Whenever friends from abroad visit the city, I warn them not to try and see it all. Take your time to enjoy the atmosphere, otherwise you’ll be running around like a squirrel on speed. I also advise them to rent a bike, but only if they feel confident and comfortable cycling. Walking and public transport (trams are great for sightseeing) offer an equally pleasant alternative. And take a light raincoat with you, not only because the weather can be unpredictable, but also because you may unexpectedly find your programme extending far into the night.

Having said all that, here’s a link to the full programme for the summer. Open at your own risk, little rabbit.