Amsterdam: best nightlife city in the world?

For a multi-sensual blizzard of all-night music, in some of the best venues on earth, nothing beats the ‘Dam right now

Dave Clarke pres. 7675, Melkweg at ADE. Photo: Mark Richter
London’s long-beleaguered nightlife is showing distinct signs of improvement, and for that it owes a huge debt to the Dutch capital. For it was Amsterdam that pioneered the deliciously titled ‘nachtburgemeester’ or Night Mayor, a role being copied in cities everywhere, including our very own Night Czar, Amy Lamé.

It demonstrated that when authorities stop viewing their night-time scene as seedy, anti-social and in need of shutting down, the financial and cultural benefits can be transformative.

Last month’s Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) saw some 395,000 visitors hit town for five days of parties across a staggering 500+ venues. That makes it the biggest music festival in the world, without so much as a mud-spattered welly in sight. But on any weekend of the year you’ll find hundreds of late night events catering to all musical persuasions, particularly for those of an electronic bent.

The city’s famously progressive attitude towards drugs means there’s pill-testing for those going full gurn, and licensed smart and coffee shops make it easy for those seeking more horizontal highs. But far from being just for zonked clubbers, many of the party venues operate as restaurants, theatre spaces and art galleries too, so worthy of investigation on less music-focused cultural breaks as well.

Into the Woods. Photo: Mark Richter
We started ADE with a visit to the mighty – and, er, brilliantly named – Gashouder (Klönneplein 1), a 3,500 capacity cylindrical rave-dome (like a bigger Camden Roundhouse, without the pillars), home to the regular Awakenings techno parties.

Much like Holland’s huge outdoor festivals, events here see the DJ surrounded by bamboozling visuals, including fearsome pyrotechnics and hydraulic lighting rigs. It’s a feast for the senses, inside the 1902 gas storage chamber that’s the centrepiece of the Westergasfabriek. This conveniently-located industrial wasteland has been redeveloped much like our own King’s Cross, but with the creation, rather than removal, of iconic nightlife venues.

The area is also home to Westerunie (Klönneplein 4-6), an industrial nightclub space hosting a wider cultural calendar alongside the regular late-night bashes. For a different angle, try A’dam Toren (Overhoeksplein 1), the waterfront 70s skyscraper and former Royal Dutch Shell offices, now featuring a cool hotel and numerous nightlife options, from club Shelter or Ibiza and Berlin-based party burger joint The Butcher on ground level, to panoramic dancefloors up top including skybar/restaurant M’Adam and lux events space The Loft, where we found the likes of Seth Troxler DJing to the city’s beautiful people in front of vast windows. By day, you can also head up to the lookout and ride Europe’s highest swing, right out over the edge.

If you’re a fan of the enormo-raves that the Dutch have made their own, Amsterdam has its fair share of suitably sized arenas. Join 17,000 others at the Ziggo Dome (De Passage 100) for parties like the hotshot Don’t Let Daddy Know, or look out for national DJ heroes at the Ajax football stadium (ArenA Boulevard 1), where Armin Van Buuren drew 80,000 across two nights earlier this year.

Fan of the enormo-raves that the Dutch have made their own? Photo: Mark Richter
Over in the heart of the canal system, Melkweg (Lijnbaansgracht 234a) is an absolute institution, blazing the trail for multi-disciplinary community arts venues worldwide since the early 1970s. This labyrinth of performance spaces, clubs, galleries, cinema, and restaurants, housed in the city’s last remaining canalside factory complex, ensures there’s always something of interest on.

If you’re staying during the week, regular free party Techno Tuesday offers a bargainous taste of uncompromising machine music, while the big global names dominate the weekends. For a more intimate vibe, try Sugar Factory just over the road (Lijnbaansgracht 238). On our ADE visit, veteran US spinners Todd Terry and Roger Sanchez were showing the next generation how it’s done, working classic after classic inside the mix with relentless skill. The centrally located DJ booth is ideal if you enjoy watching the masters doing their dexterous thing at the controls.

Paradiso (Weteringschans 6-8) is another grand old club and concert spot with a cauldron-like atmosphere, courtesy of the high balconies and ornate stonework that reveal its history as an 18th century church. We loved De Markthantine (Jan van Galenstraat 6), the former market traders’ canteen now operating as yet another uber-cool arts space, with daytime food events and debates alongside an enviable line-up of DJs and live shows by night.

Photo: Outsider
Alternatively, visit De School (Jan van Breemenstraat 1), the latest venture from the team behind sadly-missed printworks-turned-nightclub, Trouw. ADE saw a non-stop 62-hour rave here, alongside all the usual arts and food gubbins, and you can even take a workout at the retro 60s gym, inside this repurposed school building.

Thuishaven (Contactweg 68) sees a free state utopia rising in the old port area, based around a big top tent with circus acts roaming in and outside. Their WinterSeason has just kicked off, so expect sideshow freaks and wild crowds throughout the darker months ahead.

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Getting (and staying) there

The city is stuffed full of designer hotels, and characterful short stay venues, where you can live on a houseboat, or stay in a central loft apartment (you know the app for that). It can get very busy around the big events, so best to prepare well in advance.

There are masses of daily flights from London, with prices from as little as £25 each way if you book early enough. By far the easiest route (and the greenest, saving over 51kg of CO2 on a return trip), is via Eurostar from St Pancras.

A direct train has long been on the cards, and is due finally start in early 2018, but for now it involves changing at Brussels, onto the swish Thalys. At a little over four hours – including the change – and with decent free wifi the whole way, you can sit back and relax virtually door-to-door. Prices on the current route start from around £75 each way. More details here.

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