Leidseplein is one of Europe’s busiest party squares, and nearby streets continue the action. Okay, let's pull up a chair, get a beer and drop anchor at the most popular central gathering place in the city, lively at all hours, but especially in the evening.
For more information about Amsterdam, see the Official Tourist Information website.
You could have dinner outdoors on the square, but there are better places in town to eat, so just focus on the drinking and people-watching. These streets are alive with music, buzzing with trams, bicycles, and people everywhere.
Leidseplein is a especially busy in the evening with nearby cinemas, discos, theaters and a casino. Leidseplein is surrounded by many other fine buildings, most prominently the International Theater, a fine example of Dutch architecture.
It is a special place with all of these outdoor tables surrounded by bars and restaurants, with a tramline running right through it. You will see some little sidewalk stands selling all kinds of stuff, creating an atmosphere of a street festival.
Because Leidseplein is such a powerful magnet attracting locals and visitors, the streets nearby all benefit providing even more restaurants and activities, with endless shopping adventures, such as cheese piled high, probably the best food product of the country.
If you're looking to have dinner, it might be best to step away from the Leidseplein and go over a few blocks to the side streets. They've got a tremendous variety of choices on Korte Leidsedwarsstraat and Lange Leidsedwarsstraat, with good prices and quality. These streets around the square keep going for several blocks, extending that festive atmosphere with more bars and restaurants.
Leidsestraat is the main street running alongside Leidseplein and extends further into the heart of the city. It's called Leidsestraat because this street originally was the route to the town of Leiden. About one kilometer away, that main street of Leidsestraat becomes Heiligeweg, which ends up at Kalverstraat, the city's most important shopping street, especially lovely in the twilight of early evening.
The shops are still open and it's not very crowded, unlike during the daytime when this becomes the most packed street of the city. Early evening you'll find locals out for a stroll. But during the day, locals avoid this place at all costs.
There are several fascinating sights to explore all around Leidseplein. You'll find two very famous rock 'n' roll nightclubs the Milky Way and Paradiso, and the city's biggest park 400 meters to the southwest, and the most upscale shopping street, PC Hoffstraat, adjacent to the park.
One block north of Leidseplein is Melkweg (Milky Way), a pop culture venue presenting concerts, club nights, films, theater performances, exhibitions and multidisciplinary events. The Melkweg has been open as a cultural center since 1973 supporting a variety of subcultures, from hippies to punk, and from grunge to hip-hop.
The diversity in programming and audience, in combination with the different spaces and the special location, attracts about a half-million annual visitors.
The Melkweg is located in the only remaining factory building on Amsterdam's canal belt: a former sugar and, later, milk factory. In the historic building there are two concert halls, a cinema, a multidisciplinary hall and an exhibition space.
Paradiso is another music club on the south side of Leidseplein at de Weteringschans. In recent years the venue has settled into an eclectic range of programming with rock, plays, classical music, lectures, and crossover artists. Previously it was one of the first locations in which the use and sale of soft drugs was tolerated.
From the mid-1970s, Paradiso became increasingly associated with punk and new wave music. Many major rock stars have performed here including the Rolling Stones, The Police, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Lady Gaga.
Nearby, Max Euweplein is a hub of chess activity with wonderful facilities, in the memory of Max Euwe, world chess champion from 1935-37. There are various restaurants around the split-level plaza including Hard Rock and Wagamama, and the space also functions as a major bike route leading into Vondelpark across the street, a green express route for bicyclists.
There is a large green area just two blocks away, a park called Vondelpark, so you can easily walk over here in a couple of minutes, and yet many visitors don't even know it's there because they're so busy at Leidseplein and all of those other fascinating streets.
Vondelpark opened in 1865, named after the 17th-century playwright and poet Joost van den Vondel. There are many statues and benches where you can sit and enjoy the place, and do some more people-watching.
This is the big park of Amsterdam, about 1 1/2 kilometers long, but there are six or seven other main parks, but this is the greatest one. While most visitors come to Amsterdam for the excitement of the city, it's nice to get away into a more peaceful and relaxing atmosphere for a change of pace.
The park is also major route for bicycle traffic. It connects two different parts of town nicely with peaceful bicycle lanes, and no cars to get in the way. Of course, Amsterdam is world-famous for its bicycle culture, with nearly 60 percent of the local population over the age of 12 riding a bicycle every day.
The streets are designed to give priority to bicycles, with nearly 800 kilometers of cycle paths and bike lanes in the city. With 900,000 bicycles a city of one million, nearly everybody rides a bike. The residents feel that it's quicker and certainly cheaper to get around on two wheels instead of four.
Another block south of the park brings you to the most luxurious shopping street in Amsterdam, the PC Hooftstraat, is a phenomenon in and outside the Netherlands. The street is known for its chic and stylish ambiance with international allure. The world's most beautiful brands are located here, making PC Hooftstraat the perfect location for viewing and buying exclusive, unique and high-quality clothing, accessories and other products.
The PC Hooftstraat was created at the end of the 19th century at the time of the construction of the Vondelpark. Initially, the PC Hooftstraat was an ordinary residential street, with houses based on designs by the famous architect Pierre Cuypers. Cuypers also designed the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central Station.
In the early days of the PC Hooftstraat there were hardly any luxury shops. There were only a few neighborhood shops. In 1876 the street was given the name of the historian, poet and playwright: Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. The 1970s had now arrived and the call for a luxury shopping street was growing louder, partly due to the impoverishment of the Kalverstraat.
Many luxury shops left the Kalverstraat for the PC Hooftstraat. Slowly but surely, the street transformed from an ordinary neighborhood street to a chic shopping street. Butcher shops and bookshops had to make way for luxury, international, fashion brands. As a result, rents rose enormously, with the result that the last self-employed people left the street in the early 1980s.
Today, the 300-metre-long PC Hooftstraat is a fashionable shopping street in Amsterdam's Oud-Zuid district. The street is close to famous museums such as the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Moreover, the street is in the top ten of the most chic shopping streets in the world.
When done with the park and shopping, why not head back over to Leidseplein and have another beer.
May I tell you a dramatic personal story about Leidseplein now? In 1987 I had a disaster getting to Amsterdam on my first tour as leader from my home in Honolulu. My first-ever group departure flight from Hawaii was cancelled! Next morning after uncomfortable overnighting at the airport, we take off with broken connections, but somehow managed to get to Amsterdam, the starting point of the bus tour, a day late. At our evening check-in at our out-of-the-way hotel, I tell my exhausted group “let’s go to Leidselplein!”
I knew about this place from an earlier solo visit. We took taxis, got there, and those big mugs of Dutch beer rescued the fiasco. Next morning our bus tour, which we almost missed, left town with us on board, and I was on my way to a 32-year career as tour leader -- my tour guide life in a nutshell for you. Leidseplein is forever special to me.