Amsterdam, the gay capital of Europe

Amsterdam is called the gay capital of the world for good reasons. Ever since the city started to flourish in the 17th century, it has been a safe haven for everybody who’s been considered “different.” Whatever your religion, political affiliation, nationality or sexuality, Amsterdam has built a reputation for welcoming pretty much everybody. And since 2002, gays can marry legally. Looking to plan a honeymoon?

Situated close to the North Sea coast in Europe’s Low Lands, Amsterdam is one of the smaller European capitals in size, but one of the continent’s most favorite gay hotspots. Its proximity to London and Paris makes it an ideal city to include in your European travel itinerary. Just hop on a high-speed train and you will be in Paris and London in just a few hours. The busy Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a major gateway for many U.S. airlines, which makes it a great city to start your European adventure.

Most people forget that Amsterdam is located several feet under sea level. But no worries. The Dutch have become experts at water management and have been able to engineer solid dikes and other precautions to prevent the city from flooding.

Amsterdam has become a beacon of tolerance and diversity over the past few decades. The Dutch were one of the first countries in the world to pass equal civil rights laws for gays and lesbians, including same-sex marriage. What you might find unusual when you visit Amsterdam is that the city has no distinct gay neighborhood. Bars are scattered all over the city, which shows how gay culture can successfully become part of the mainstream.

And yes, if you want to “smoke” you can do that here, too. The locals may mostly abstain, considering the puffing of a joint to be a thoroughly “tourist” activity, but you’re welcome to light up, if that’s your thing. Avoid the rowdy “coffeeshops” (where marijuana is sold; you order from a menu, even) crammed with eager U.S. college kids, and choose a more low-key option away from the major town squares. It’s just more pleasant, that way.

When you go to Amsterdam, there are a few must-see sights. If you’re interested in the arts and culture, make sure to head over to Museumplein to see the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum for historic art collections. If you are interested in Amsterdam’s history, go to the Anne Frank Huis and the Homo Monument, which is a memorial for gays and lesbians prosecuted in World War II by Nazi Germany. If you are looking to let loose a little, go to the famous Red Light district and surrounding streets for a taste of the city after midnight.

A note on hotels… Pretty much any hotel you consider in Amsterdam will be gay friendly, which leaves the rest of the decision up to you! Do you want high-end luxe, or budget and buzzworthy? Do you want a quaint canal house hotel, or a slick boutique option. Either way, there’s plenty on offer. It’s a compact city with compact buildings, so rooms can be small and steps can be steep. And if you can, ask for a room with a canal view. You won’t regret it.