Beyond the smoke and red-lighted windows, Amsterdam is a city teeming with music, dance, theater, and art, which has given it the epithet "nightlife capital of the world." Think outside the box—even outside the Grachtengordel—and you'll be amazed at what this city that (almost) never sleeps has to offer.

Many people know that The Night Watch is the name of Rembrandt’s most famous painting, but not everyone remembers that, back in the early 2000s, it was also the nickname of a bunch of "Night Mayors." This group of cultural leaders saw their role as fighters against the frumpiness that had cast a shadow over Amsterdam’s night scene since the city fathers cleared away the "squats"—the deserted buildings that were the settings for city’s wildest nighttime events and raves. Now, 15 years later, Amsterdam has happily reclaimed its reputation as a true nightlife capital. The city is a must-stop on the international DJ circuit, and new pop-up clubs and dance venues, plus a plethora of homegrown festivals, keep all walks of life shaking until the wee hours of the morning. The city is rich with inspired folk who are willing to organize a video-arts festival in a cruise-ship terminal, a gentle Bach recital on a canal, an arts festival in an abandoned factory, a house party in a football stadium, or some heart-stopping spectacle in a park. So get ready to savor Amsterdam’s giant cultural wallop through its numerous venues—from former churches and industrial monuments to the acoustical supremacy of the legendary hall of the Concertgebouw.

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  • 1. Café Tabac


    One of the best cafés in the Jordaan commands a charming corner between Brouwersgracht and Prinsengracht. The staff are friendly, have a funky taste in...Read More

  • 2. Hannekes Boom


    This hippie hot spot offers a waterfront terrace, boat access, and live music some nights....Read More

  • 3. Het Blauwe Theehuis

    Museum District

    The Vondelpark's quietly pulsating epicenter is a blue flying saucer–shape "teahouse" dating back to 1937. In step with the style of Nieuwe Bouwen (the Dutch...Read More

  • 4. Lokaal 't Loosje


    Artists, students, and businesspeople unite in this popular brown café installed in a building from 1900 that used to be a waiting room for the...Read More

  • 5. 'SKEK

    Red Light District

    Run by students, this artsy cultural café on the Zeedijk attracts a young, alternative crowd. They serve tasty, well-priced food, and three times a week...Read More

  • 6. 4'33


    Whether you have the musical motivation to visit the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, the building's bar-restaurant is alone worth the hike. Stop by for a...Read More

  • 7. Abraxas


    Down a small alley, just a stone's throw from the Dam, you'll come upon what would seem to be the multilevel home of a family...Read More

  • 8. Amnesia

    Western Canal Ring

    The dark interior is more than compensated for by the canalside view. Smoke indoors or step out to enjoy a joint while watching the canal...Read More

  • 9. Amstelhoeck


    Jutting out of the music theater Stopera, this grand café is the perfect point for a pre- or post-performance drink or bar snack with views...Read More

  • 10. Café Bloemers

    De Pijp

    This popular neighborhood café is warm and kitschy inside with a fabulous corner terrace outside. Tasty food and snacks and a welcoming staff complete the...Read More

  • 11. Café Brecht

    Museum District

    On a corner in between the Vijzelgracht and Leidseplein is this German bar with an infinitesimal number of improbable brews, including one that tastes of...Read More

  • 12. Cafe Cook


    Overlooking a beautiful square in the up-and-coming De Baarsjes neighborhood, this is a nice place for a drink or lunch or dinner, especially on the...Read More

  • 13. Café Cuba


    This always-lively Nieuwmarkt mainstay serves relatively cheap cocktails and with a jazzy electronic sound track. On sunny days you can enjoy your drink on the...Read More

  • 14. Café de Jaren


    This light and airy multilevel café offers reasonably priced food and a lovely terrace overlooking the Amstel. It is popular with a big cross section...Read More

  • 15. Café de Koe


    Hardly bovine in any sense, the Cow's Café is still a fine place to chew the cud or graze a little, and it's a special...Read More

  • 16. Cafe Kobalt


    Occupying a 17th-century canalside warehouse, this beam-ceilinged bar with a large terrace serves beers, cocktails, and meals from morning until the wee hours 365 days...Read More

  • 17. Canvas


    Housed in a former newspaper building rechristened the Volkshotel, or People's Hotel, Canvas offers splendid views over the city from its seventh-floor perch. The restaurant...Read More

  • 18. CREA Café


    Located within the University of Amsterdam's city campus, this hidden gem of a café housed in a former diamond-cutting factory has been converted into a...Read More

  • 19. De Balie


    Eyeglasses peek over books and tablets as a well-read and socially conscious crowd fills the café-bar of this center for art, culture, and politics. This...Read More

  • 20. De Buurvrouw

    Red Light District

    In this small sawdusted and kitsch-strewn haven, students and alternative types don't mind yelling over the latest in loud guitars and funky beats. They also...Read More

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