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Amsterdam at night is a very magical place

Amsterdam at night is a very magical place
Photo: Michael Jensen

Last fall, Brent and I made our first trip to Amsterdam.

But it was November, and it turned out to be much colder, wetter, windier, and — despite the cold, rain, and wind — much more crowded than we expected.

Still, there was one thing we absolutely loved: Amsterdam at night, which is when the city literally glows.

Six pictures of Amsterdam at night, including the Zeedijk neighborhood, the hotel Port van Cleeve lit up, a building with turrets, and a passageway lit up with chandeliers.

To be fair, most cities look better at night, when the warm shine of windows can make any building seem inviting.

A Dutch department store with huge windows lit up with golden lights at night.

Or when it’s been raining, and the street lamps and neon signs cast reflections on the slick streets like something out of a movie.

The Old Sailor bar at night with a group of people standing outside, the wet pavement reflecting the lights of the bar.

But when it comes to lights at night, Amsterdam has something most other cities don’t — something that reflects those lights in ways that are truly magical.

Of course, I mean the canals.

An Amsterdam canal at night with houseboats on the left, several tour boats cruising, all of it illuminated by bright white lights.

You’d think the canals would all look the same. They’re channels of water lined with buildings, right?

But somehow they all seem completely different.

Five pictures of Amstedam's canals at light and lined with tall thin buildings, their lights reflected off of the water.

Of course, Amsterdam’s nighttime beauty isn’t only about the canals.

The city’s waterfront — the part that faces an open river/bay area — is known as the IJ, and it’s also quite lovely. I loved how it reflected the lights of Amsterdam Centraal, the main rail station…

Amsterdam's central train station at night. A brick building with several towers and lots of windows, the yellow light reflected in the water.

…as well as the Basilica of Saint Nicolas.

Amsterdam's waterfront at night, including the central train station, the rippled water reflecting the light.

Then there is the famous — or infamous — Red Light District, which only comes to life once the sun has set.

As with thoughts about the sex work that happens in the district, opinions of the area’s attractiveness can vary. I found parts of it garish…

One of Amsterdam's sex clubs called the Sex Palace with lots of red neon and risque photos of women.

But in a certain light, from a certain angle, I found other parts quite beautiful…

A canal at night in the Red Light District, with lots of red light reflected off of the water.

Whatever your take, there’s definitely always something — or someone — trying to get your attention as you walk through these narrow streets.

Eight photos showing the Red Light District at night, including Red Light Secrets and a variety of sex clubs with lots of colorful neon signs.

I found the best way to see Amsterdam at night was on the water of those aforementioned canals — on a canal cruise.

There’s nothing like seeing the city from down there or sailing under some of the city’s 1,200 bridges.

Amsterdam's drunken sisters, six tilted houses leaning against each other.

If you want my advice, forget the many large glass tour boats you’ll see zooming through the canals. They move too fast to get a sense of anything, and they can’t go places the smaller boats can.

A variety of pictures showing Amsterdam's bridges at night as well as an old-fashioned trading ship, all light up at night.

The tour I chose — and highly recommend — is Those Dam Boat Guys, who use much smaller boats, and give a much more personalized tour.

The night I went was freezing cold — especially when we were out on the canals — but it was worth it to get such an intimate look at this remarkable city reclaimed from the sea.

A picture from inside the tour boat I took. The top is covered with plastic, four people seated in the front.

Amsterdam is a great city, and I truly hope you get to go.

But remember that however wonderful you find it during the day, you’ll probably find it even more magical at night.

Michael Jensen is an author, editor, and one half of Brent and Michael Are Going Places, a couple of traveling gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their free travel newsletter here.

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