An Insider’s Guide to LGBTQ Amsterdam
Amsterdam is Henk’s city. It’s where he’s built his community, it’s where he began, in his words, his “gay life,” and it’s where he started Special Amsterdam Tours, his own tour company specializing in LGBTQ history tours of Amsterdam.
“What I try to do is give the LGBT community its history back, and make sure gay icons are not forgotten. We are from different backgrounds and generations but we are all one gay family—that’s [my] motto,” Henk says.
For the past five years, Henk’s led his tour groups from the world’s first known LGBTQ monument, the Homomonument, to the world’s oldest still-operating gay bar, Café 't Mandje. The walk spans four canals, two neighborhoods, numerous notable sites, and 400 years of LGBTQ history—from the 17th century to 2001, when the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. Plus, as a gay man who experienced first-hand the city’s golden years as the “gay capital of the world” (as Henk puts it), he’s got his fair share of stories.
So, whether you want to know which Pride parties to bookmark, or you’re looking to learn about Dutch LGBTQ pioneers like Bet Van Beeren and Willem Arondeus, Henk is the person to ask.
Hero photo (top center) by Pauline Arkesteijn
Your guide to LGBTQ Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s LGBTQ neighborhoods
“The downtown Canal District is of course a good area to stay, if not for the bars and clubs then for the canals and history,” Henk says. If you’re looking to splurge on a hotel, Henk recommends booking in at the Hotel Mercier. “It's in the old COC building, our LGBT emancipation organization, and it’s holy LGBT ground—I’ve gone to many parties there.”
Where to learn about Amsterdam’s LGBTQ+ history
There’s a reason Henk’s tour starts at the Homomonument, the memorial dedicated not just to the gay men and women who lost their lives during World War II, but to all LGBTQ people persecuted by government regimes. It’s Amsterdam’s obvious jumping off for an LGBTQ education. Next to the Homomonument, there’s Pink Point, an LGBTQ info kiosk, where you can find information about local LGBTQ organizations and chat with in-the-know volunteers.
The best places to get a drink and meet others
During Pride, Henk never misses the Bear-Necessity party: “My best friend, Sjag, organizes this one and besides the music I go for the very attitude-free atmosphere.”
All about Pride Amsterdam
A brief history of Amsterdam Pride
The first Gay Liberation and Solidarity Day, or Gay Pride Day, was celebrated in Amsterdam on June 25, 1977. Later rebranded as Pink Saturday, the annual event commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising and is hosted in a different Netherlands city each year. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Pride Amsterdam, the week-long festival that’s centered around the rainbow-colored Canal Parade, first took place.
“Although I am biased as an Amsterdammer, I truly believe it’s one of the most gorgeous Pride in the world,” Henk says. “In the first Pride 25 years ago there was a boat with this enormous inflatable leather man that had to be deflated every time a bridge came in sight. This was so much fun.”
The importance of Pride
“Pride for me is not just about looking at extravagant people in boats and being entertained,” Henk says. “It reminds me of how the fringes of the gay community stood on the barricades so many decades ago. How grateful I am for all the gay icons who came before me [and fought for] the rights I now enjoy. And it also tells me that the struggle is not done as new generations have new challenges.”