Unique performing arts venues in Amsterdam
Deep in the woods, under the tree canopies, at a historic church or in a shipping container, performance spectacles in Amsterdam tend to unfold on all manner of unexpected stages. Here’s our round-up of one-of-a-kind performing arts venues and festivals for theatre lovers looking for something a bit different.
Whether you’re a die-hard theatre devotee or just along for the ride, there’s always something new and surprising to look out for at the De Parade performing arts festival in August. Once on the festival terrain in Martin Luther King Park, you’ll find yourself enticed by artists giving outdoor performances in full regalia with a variety of short and full-length performances, open-air shows and events at secret locations.
One of the cultural highlights of the summer is the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival), held annually in August on and around Amsterdam’s historic waterways. This UNESCO World Heritage site hosts a ten-day festival of classical music, spoken word and poetry at some marvellous locations which form the perfect backdrop. Concerts are performed on stages by or even on the water, as the musicians play on pontoons and the audience listens from the canal-side or their own boats.
Het Landjuweel op Ruigoord
The oldest festival in Amsterdam once started as the Kite Festival but has since developed into a multi-day open-air spectacle that takes place in the artists' village of Ruigoord. Landjuweel is a family-friendly gathering of artists and performers which takes place annually for four days in mid-August. The nocturnal sculpture route on Saturday winds its way through the grounds and is as eclectic as the colourful people who attend from all over the country.
Vondelpark Open-Air Theatre
Since the 1970s, Vondelpark has been the epicentre for culture and social life in the city with many theatre shows, gigs and parties organised there. Every summer the open-air theatre in the middle of the park loads up its programme with a range of children’s performances, theatre workshops, comedy, dance, opera, classical and pop concerts. A lot is going on every Saturday and Sunday from May until early September creating a fun atmosphere for the whole family to enjoy.
Tuck into a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. Scala operates with a pick 'n mix format, allowing guests to design their own programme of up to three 20-minute performances lined up every night. These affordable short-duration shows might range from theatre and music to cabaret or spoken word. The concept makes it easy to try out different things that suit the mood - in whichever order you fancy!
Amsterdam Fringe Festival
This off-shoot performing arts festival is all about bringing avant-garde theatre to light. Created by unorthodox theatre-makers keen to impress with their vision, some 70 productions and eclectic performances unfold in the most unexpected of venues. Each September, Fringe turns the entire city into a stage and promises a wide selection of events that are suitable for non-Dutch speakers – at least half are in English or LNP, language no problem.
This enormous indoor space hidden in the heart of the city was first opened in 1934 as the main trading centre for fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. The building at Markt Centraal has stood empty for the last 20 years, but is now being repurposed into a lively meeting place for foodies, local entrepreneurs and creatives working in culture, fashion, music and theatre. There’s even a mini-train that will transfer you to and from the entrance gate. Check out the agenda for live music and cultural events.
Located in the former Pniël Church in Bos en Lommer, Podium Mozaïek embraces the cultural diversity of Amsterdam and provides a stage and meeting place for a range of cultural and artistic initiatives in the city. Their programme offers music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and spoken word, with a focus on language no problem performances. The spectacular sun-soaked terrace of the cafe-restaurant is open seven days a week and is the perfect spot to indulge in the Mediterranean-inspired seasonal menu, craft beers or a glass of wine.
De Kleine Komedie
With its broad range of comedy, music, dance and theatre, De Kleine Komedie is one of the city’s oldest and most unique venues. Its long history can even count King Willem I and Napoleon as regulars but is now frequented by more contemporary guests staging quality theatre, cabaret, comedy and music shows. Check the agenda for English-language performances.
Meervaart Theatre is the beating heart of Nieuw West’s cultural scene, as both a platform for the performing arts and an important social space. This modern venue hosts around 280 cultural performances per year, including shows by big international touring companies, homegrown multicultural cabaret acts and a special children’s talent development programme.
Situated in the middle of Nelson Mandela Park, the Bijlmer Parktheater is the cultural meeting point for the neighbourhood. Check the schedule for dance and theatre performances, as well as workshops and special events for children and teens. Many production companies also put on their try-out shows here - probably because the audience is so warm and welcoming!
OCCII is a not-for-profit venue that, like several of Amsterdam’s independent cultural centres, credits its development to the squatting movement of the late 80s and 90s. The colourful Russian folk designs on the tall front doors hint at the building’s original purpose as a stable and tram depot. You’ll find a diverse range of alternative musical genres catered to on the agenda as well as a special theatre programme for children and a vegan café.
The Hemeltjelief family festival transforms the NDSM Wharf into one large puppet theatre for four days in May with a whole range of funny performances, special shows and colourful children's activities taking place. During the day, in the evening and at night there is plenty to see and experience for young and old.
Over 't IJ Festival
Every July, Over ‘t IJ Festival brings a summery blend of location-specific theatre, one-off performances and fabulous food to a range of shipping container stages and pop-up venues spread across NDSM Wharf. New and established makers present works ranging from short presentations, performances and art installations to experiential theatre and audiovisual installations that crossover with the industrial architecture of the festival grounds.