Every year, the first weekend in August sees Amsterdam’s second biggest street party (after King’s Day) take place: Gay Pride. Now in its 19th year, Gay Pride brings together open-minded people, young and old, of every sexual orientation. And while the focus may be on celebrating pride in being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), straight people are always welcome to join the party! We interview Zena, a bisexual half German-half Portuguese Amsterdammer, about her experiences of Gay Pride during the three-and-a-half years she’s lived here…

How does Amsterdam’s Gay Pride festival compare to Pride parties in other cities?

I’ve been to Amsterdam Gay Pride three times before, and I still love it! I’ve also been to Pride festivals all over Europe: in Brighton and London in the UK (where I lived before moving to Amsterdam), Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, and Berlin in Germany. While there are good things about all of them (and especially London Pride a few years back), Amsterdam is such an open-minded, tolerant place anyway it means that there’s not much you can do to shock an Amsterdammer – so the party atmosphere is huge! But that aside, what makes Amsterdam Pride so unique is the boat parade on the canals…

That sounds very Dutch! Tell us more…

On the Saturday (which falls this year on August 2), there’s always a huge canal parade that starts at the top of the Prinsengracht at around 2 pm and carries on through the Amstel river until 6 pm onwards. You can rent a boat and join the party on the water, or you can stand on one of the bridges and watch the parade go by. Every boat generally has a theme, so there’s some very flamboyant dressing-up going on!

Gay Pride Amsterdam parade
Amsterdam Pride’s famous boat parade – get your pink on!

What else is going on besides the canal parade?

The entire festival goes on for about a week, and there are generally gay-themed shows and movies being shown at the more alternative cinemas and theaters (like the EYE Film Museum, Rialto Cinema and the Bellevue Theater), plus many museums and galleries organize special exhibitions with LGBT themes.

But most of the actual events are concentrated on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday (this year, August 1-3) in various parts of the city – the Rembrandtplein, Zeedijk, Reguliersdwarsstraat, and so on. There’s also always a fantastic opening ceremony at the Homomonument on the Westermarkt – it generally involves a lot of drag queens and DJs! For other drag shows, there’s the House of Galore and several other venues in the Zeedijk/Nieuwmarkt area.

Gay Pride Amsterdam streamers
Streamers fall in front of the Westermarkt…

What are some of the events you like going to?

Well, I can only really speak for the girls! But I generally head to an event called Girlesque on the Friday night – this year it’s at the Paradiso (a great venue near the Leidseplein that’s a converted church) and it features all kinds of sexy shows, modern burlesque dancing and MCs.

After the canal parade on the Saturday, I generally join a street party – either Vive la Vie on the Rembrandtplein or Saarein in the Jordaan. The bars and clubs on the Reguliersdwarsstraat are a great option too: NYX and Escape are both very mixed clubs where everyone’s welcome. To soothe the hangover the next day with a hair-of-the-dog drink, there’s always a huge Pride closing party that takes place at the Rembrandtplein on the Sunday.

Any tips for visitors coming over to Amsterdam during Gay Pride weekend this year?

Make sure you watch the canal parade – the boats are really great to see, especially if it’s your first Pride here. But be aware that it can also get a little full-on: you can expect a massive street party! If you want to join the fun, buy some drinks at a shop beforehand – the drinks being sold along the canals during the parade are very over-priced. And above all, bring an open mind and the most flamboyant party gear you own!

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