Amsterdam's cultural life is enlivened by more than 300 international festivals. Don't miss the King's Festival, the Festival of Lights and the IBC Amsterdam fair.
Amsterdam has a very broad cultural life and hosts numerous international events and more than 300 festivals throughout the year. Practically every week in Amsterdam there is a cultural event or festival. The most important events of the year are the King’s Day, the Festival of Lights and Gay Pride, but the Christmas markets and New Year’s Eve also attract particular interest.
Many events are celebrations of historical traditions: the Dutch are very attached to their customs and love to celebrate them.
Each season of the year offers significant events. Below is a calendar of the most important events organised by season.
The most important event each spring is the King’s Festival (celebrated on 27 April, on the occasion of the sovereign’s birthday). It consists of a street party and free market, which usually takes up two days of festivities, involving not only Amsterdam but the whole of the Netherlands. Many young people come to Amsterdam for this party and usually the entire city centre is closed to traffic to facilitate the influx of participants.
At the end of May, on the other hand, the Holland Festival starts, a major art event that aims to combine popular culture with a more sophisticated artistic sphere usually only known to a niche audience. Presentations of many new works in the fields of music, theatre, opera, ballet and visual arts are offered in the city.
5 Days Off Amsterdam: this internationally renowned electronic music festival is held at the beginning of March. Evenings are organised at the Melkweg, Paradiso and the Heineken Music Hall.
National Restaurant Week: During one week in March, restaurants in the Netherlands offer diners a full 3-course dinner for only EUR 25. This gives you the chance to eat in the best restaurants in the city while spending very little.
King’s Day: Europe’s biggest street party is celebrated on 27 April in honour of the king’s birthday.
Imagine Film Festival: screenings of all film genres characterise the Film Institute EYE, a 10-day international event.
World Press Photo: the Oude Kerk hosts one of the world’s most important photojournalism exhibitions.
Kunst RAI: a major modern art event held in the Amsterdam Rai – Congress Centre.
National Windmill Day: the doors of Holland’s 600 windmills are opened to visitors.
At this time of year, the city teems with festivals, theatre performances and open-air concerts. The highlight is undoubtedly the Grachtenfestival, which offers a series of classical concerts along the city’s canals, some 80 of them.
How can we not mention, the Amsterdam Gay Pride, one of the most important events dedicated to the LGBT community in the world. The festival and the parade along the Singel are organised every year during the first weekend in August.
The Utimarkt, at the end of August, is the event that officially opens the cultural season; concerts, shows, live performances and so on are offered during the festival.
Taste of Amsterdam: an exceptional culinary festival.
Openluchttheater: the open-air theatre in the Vondelpark from June to September stages dance performances, cabaret and classical music concerts.
Nuit Blanche Amsterdam: art, music and entertainment fill the night from 7pm to 7am. Events are held in different districts of Amsterdam.
Open Tuin Dagen: every year on the third weekend in June, the doors of some 30 private gardens in Amsterdam are opened to visitors.
Amsterdam Roots Festival: performances, master classes and special projects on global music and non-Western culture are organised at different venues around the city.
Amsterdam Gay Pride: at the turn of July and August, the rainbow flag flies through the streets of Amsterdam. The 1 August parade is held along the canals.
Grachtenfestival: the canal festival includes more than 80 classical and jazz concerts. The Prinsengracht Concert is held on a floating stage on the waters of the canal.
Uitmarkt: on the last weekend of August, what is considered the biggest cultural event in Amsterdam takes place and offers performances, concerts, exhibitions, theatre, workshops and a book market. Admission is free.
Events in the autumn
Even at the end of summer, Amsterdam does not stop offering cultural events. There are usually book and antique markets, film festivals and museum events during this season. Probably the most important festival of the autumn is the IDFA, the international film festival, held in mid-November.
As far as cultural attractions are concerned, also in November, the city offers the ‘Night of the Museums‘; on the first Saturday of the month, more than 50 museums stay open until 2am.
Finally, a celebration dedicated to children is The Arrival of St Nicholas, a traditional city festival consisting of a joyous parade where sweets and thoughts are given to the young participants. This event marks the beginning of the Christmas festivities in Amsterdam.
Jordaan Festival: folk songs resound through the streets of the district for an entire weekend.
Open Monuments: every year on the second weekend in September as many as 4,000 monumental buildings in the Netherlands, even those usually inaccessible, can be visited for free. You can visit luxurious canal houses, castles and factories.
Amsterdam Dance Event: 4 days dedicated to a gigantic gathering for electronic music fans featuring more than 700 internationally renowned artists.
TCS Amsterdam Marathon: one of the oldest marathons in the Netherlands.
Museum Night – Museumnacht: On the first Saturday in November, Amsterdam’s museums stay open until 2am.
PAN Amsterdam: The largest antiques fair in the Netherlands.
IDFA: The international documentary film festival is held at the end of November and lasts for 10 days.
Sinterklaas Intocht: the arrival of St Nicholas is celebrated with a procession through the city and tons of sweets.
Cannabis Cup: various events take place over four days at the end of November.
Events in Winter
During this period, events in Amsterdam are concentrated around the Christmas and New Year festivities. The areas of the city where the festivities are concentrated are the Leidesplein and Rembrandtplein squares, the ice rink on Museumplein and of course Dam Square, where the traditional Christmas market is set up.
Winter is also the season where Fashion Week is held. Then, how can one miss National Tulip Day in January, where tulips are distributed free of charge throughout the city as a sign of good luck for the upcoming flowering season.
Finally, the Festival of Lights takes place between December and January and is acclaimed by all visitors, who are amazed by the light installations along the city’s canals.
The lights and scents of the Christmas markets light up the city and attract many tourists in December. Amsterdam’s largest Christmas market is set up on Museumplein, but there are many smaller markets scattered around the centre, such as those on Rembrandtplein and Koningsplein.
New Year’s Eve: spectacular fireworks and countless street parties enliven New Year’s Eve.
Amsterdam Fashion Week: Dutch Fashion Week is held twice a year, in January and June, and includes events for fashion insiders and various events open to the public.
Festival of Lights: from the beginning of December until mid-January, Amsterdam’s canals are illuminated with numerous light installations designed by international artists.
Realisme Art Fair: from 15 to 18 January, a fair dedicated to fine art is staged near Central Station.
Chinese New Year: the official celebrations with the dragon parade take place on Dam Square, but you will not be hard-pressed to find numerous events in the Chinese quarter.
Public holidays in the Netherlands
Schools, town halls, post offices and banks are closed all day on public holidays. King’s Day is a big celebration in Amsterdam while Sinterklaas, celebrated on 5 December, is a traditional holiday that families often celebrate at home.
1 January: New Year’s Eve
Changes every year: Easter Sunday
Changes every year: Easter Monday
27 April: King’s Day
4 May: Remembrance Day (not an official public holiday)
5 May: Liberation Day (public holiday every 5 years)
Change every year: Ascension Day
Change every year: Whit Sunday
Change every year: Whit Monday
5 December: Sinterklaas (not a public holiday)
25 December: Christmas Day
26 December: Boxing Day
31 December: New Year’s Day (not a public holiday)