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If there's one European city which has achieved almost legendary status amongst British gay men,it has to be Amsterdam. It seems to be a city where just about anything goes and it probably does. The Dutch laws are amongst the most relaxed in the world when it comes to personal freedom. And there aren't many cities round the world with a monument which celebrates the struggle for homosexual equality and those in the past who've been persecuted for their sexuality.

Amsterdam is a city where you can legally purchase soft drugs such as marijuana and hash for your own consumption in one of the numerous "coffee shops" in major streets around the city and even if you're caught with hard drugs such as cocaine, speed, ecstasy and LSD, which are illegal, you're normally only like to get them confiscated and have to pay a small fine provided you're not dealing. Prostitution both male and female is legal and is a bigger tourist attraction than the wonderful Van Gogh museum. Gay couples are everywhere and in 2002 the Dutch made gay marriage legal in the eyes of the state. So is it a gay paradise?

Well yes and no. The canals give the city are wonderfully relaxed air, and with more museums per square foot than any other country in the world, there are plenty of higher pleasures once the gay scene begins to take it's toll. However accomodation particularly in Amsterdam's many gay hotels is expensive and standards can be quite basic. Even the official Dutch tourist board admit that the Damrak, the street which leads from the Central Station to the Dam Square and the Royal Palace, is one of the tawdriest in Europe. Outside the Spring and Summer the weather can be cold and wet.

But whatever it's problems Amsterdam is a great place to go if you're gay, and is a refreshing answer to conservative countries who believe that publicly recognising the rights of gay people is likely to lead complete moral decay and sex in the streets. Mind you in parts of the Red Light district they could be right.

BARS AND CLUBBING

The Amsterdam gay scene is divided into three areas. Around the Reguliersdwarsstraat you'll find trendier bars who are continually opening and closing for even trendier refurbishment. This a great place to go before going out clubbing and has the same feel as a bar in Old Compton or Canal Street. It's virtually next door to Downtown which is great for a coffee, breakfast or lunch. Just down the street is Exit a busy club which has been recently refurbished. Gay everynight it boasts a large pub on the ground floor, a smallish dancefloor and a very busy backroom. There are quite a few restaurants in the street popular with a large gay clientele as well as Amsterdam's busiest gay bar Soho which could have come straight out of Manchester's gay village.

There's a far more traditional scene round the Amstel and the Rembrandtsplein. The Amstel Taveerne is one of the oldest gay pubs in Holland and has a completely disarming naffness, while Montmartre de Paris round the corner is a place where even Dame Edna would feel at home. Probably best avoided unless you enjoy a sing-a-long down at your local British Legion.

There's a much heavier leather scene around the Warmoesstraat which can be found just off the Dam Square down the street from the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. The bars are all around the start of the Red Light District so be prepared to be the subject of stares from hordes of American and Japanese tourists being herded through the streets of sex shops and prostitutes in windows. Most of the bars boast busy backrooms and a leather dress code and look out for the Web, Argos and Eagle. An excellent club which is not exclusively leather is the Cockring which opens at 11pm. The other bars usually open around 2pm. For the latest info you should check out www.nighttours.nl which is a brilliant flash guide to Amsterdam's gay nightlife even down to club floorplans.

Amsterdam is not a big city and the scene tends to reflect this. There are few mega gay clubs, but plenty of special nights, jack-off parties and backrooms. If you like Manchester were generally everything gay is within walking diatance, you'll love Amsterdam. It's also home to the Out Europe offices where we create OutUK and operate the ShopGay online store.

HOTELS

As you'd expect for one of the world's premier gay destinations, Amsterdam boasts a large number of gay hotels catering for a wide variety of tastes. Prices aren't cheap and facilities are often basic, though there are some exceptions we've come across (literally). Hotel New York is a modernised canal-house on the Herengracht whilst the Hotel Seven Bridges though not exclusively gay has some stunning rooms. Hotel Orfeo is friendly and has a number of apartments in an annexe which though clean could do with refurbishment. Worth investigating if you're into leather and s&m is the Black Tulip Hotel. Rooms come equipped with bondage hooks, slings & hygenically sealed douche hoses and some have cages. There is extra sound insulation between rooms in case of whipping. Many Amsterdam habitues say you can save a room night by going to the Thermos Night Sauna the overnight equivalent of the Thermos Day Sauna which has an excellent swimming-pool. There are the usual selection of international chains and particularly recommended for those where money is no object are the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky and the Hotel Pulitzer. Our hotel partners Bookings are based in Amsterdam and have an outstanding selection of hotels at special online rates. It is illegal in Holland for hotels to discriminate against gay clientele.

DON'T MISS

The Van Gogh Museum has a world-beating collection of Van Gogh originals in a stunning building. The pictures are displayed without glass so you can really appreciate the texture of his work. It's extremely popular so be prepared to queue unless you get there early. The Anne Frank House has a moving collection of photographs from the Nazi era and you can see exactly how Anne and her family hid during the Occupation before being discovered and being murdered in a concentration camp.

DON'T

This advice comes from the Dutch Tourist Office and others -
Don't bring a car into the centre. Not only is parking difficult and expensive, the clampers enjoy their work and don't distinguish between foreign or Dutch cars.
Don't ride a tram without a ticket. A strip of tickets, or strippenkaart, that you self-stamp on board can be bought in advance from newsagents, train stations, post-offices and other outlets. Single tickets from the driver or conductor at the back as you get on will cost you more. Getting caught by the (admittedly infrequent) spot checks will set you back 29,40.
Don't stand in a bike lane. You'll only get mown down.
Don't buy drugs in the street. Don't ever buy hard drugs on the streets which you'll be probably be offered frequently. What's sold as coke is usually washing powder or caffeine,and what they sell as ecstasy might be anything.
A good Amsterdam website is GayAmsterdam Online. Also checkout the Amsteram lifestyle e-zine Absolutely Amsterdam for an insiders guide to bars, restaurants and shopping.

 

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