Amsterdam is an amazing place to see live-music events, no matter if you prefer a large arena or a small venue. The city is a home of various kinds of music: blues, jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock and electronic music. There are around 300 festivals organised in Amsterdam each year and I can not count how many concerts you may attend each week. If you feel like catching up with your friends with a cool band playing in the background, or just spending some time gazing at the stage with a special atmosphere, I have prepared a list of 11 venues you should consider going to in order to listen to some live music. These are the most recommended spots for live music in Amsterdam – I am sure each of them can make your time unforgettable:
- Bourbon Street
- Café de Cotton
- De Nieuwe Anita
- Jazz Café Alto
- Maloe Melo
- Mulligans Irish Bar
- The Concertgebouw
- The Waterhole
Jazz has always been extremely popular in Amsterdam. The Bimhuis (also called the Bimhouse) is one of the biggest live music venues in the city. It usually hosts around 300 events each year. The building is a 21st century home (although its roots date back to early 70s), similar to an enormous black box of a structure that hangs off the side of the Muziekgebouw. The Bimhuis mainly hosts jazz events but there are also some kinds of improvised music there. The Bimhuis is called a home of Dutch jazz – the local improvised jazz scene in a former furniture salesroom will stay in your head long after you visit the venue. Many great names from the world of jazz have played there so far. Among the others those were: Charles Mingus, Bob Berg and Archie Shepp.
On top of amazing live music events, people who visit the Bimhuis are also rewarded with jaw-dropping views over the harbor and its skyline. Besides the concert hall, there are also several studios for musicians to experiment with new beats. Every year the VPRO/Boy Edgar Award for Dutch jazz music is presented there. What needs to be mentioned, the venue is equipped with top-notch technical and acoustical solutions which makes the sound there just perfect.
Where to find it: Piet Heinkade 3
Bitterzoet is a live stage (and a club) right next to the Amsterdam Central Station and close to Jordaan. The main hall can host almost 400 people and some locals say that Bitterzoet is a smaller Paradiso because it has amazing stained-glass windows which make the place church-like. The interior is cozy and romantic though. To me, Bitterzoet is like a stage for subculture and underground bands and DJs. Have you heard of Fun Lovin Criminals? They made their unofficial late-night gig here last time they visited the Netherlands.
At Bitterzoet every day is different – there is a different DJ line-up, different band or a theatre production. Anyone will listen to something they find interesting and amazing there. The program is a variety of music styles – they host rock, punk, ska, funk, hip hop and soul concerts (and everything between actually). Sometimes if you are lucky you can listen to an Afro-Cuban jazz fusion or watch a hip-hop battle or even a skateboarding performance. No matter what kind of music you are into, you will spend a great time in Bitterzoet. Besides the stage and dance floor there is also a chill-out bar and theatre podium on top. There is an entrance fee, but it is very modest. You can also rent the venue for a private party or event.
Where to find it: Spuistraat 2
For almost 20 years now, Bourbon Street has been one of the most famous live music venues in Amsterdam. It was created for those whose musical souls are moved by a cool blues band moves. Bourbon Street offers live music seven days a week. Besides blues, also jazz, soul and funk concerts are hosted here – usually the program consists of jam sessions and local talents on stage. Sunday sessions are led by a famous blues character of Amsterdam – Terry Mann. Through several years of existence Bourbon Street has welcome such stars as Sting, Joss Stone, Toto, Tower of Power and many more.
The atmosphere is very warm, and drinks are very cheap, however, the venue is usually visited by beer lovers. The stage is quite intimate but every night of the week the venue is crowded with international artists, cover bands and local musicians. There is no entrance fee on Mondays and Sundays. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday you will pay as little as 3 Euro and on Fridays and Saturdays – 5 Euro which is still very decent. The bar is open every day from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. at the latest.
Where to find it: Leidsekruisstraat 6-8
Café de Cotton
It is believed to be one of the oldest jazz cafes in Amsterdam. Café de Cotton was set up in 1940 as Café Smith, however, the name was changed after the owner – Annie Smit – fell in love with a trumpet player – Teddy ‘jazzcat’ Cotton. Nowadays, Café de Cotton is a perfect place to relax and listen to live jazz, swing and funk played by the best Dutch jazz musicians. Every time you are here, you feel like you are at one of the most famous Harlem nightclubs in New York.
Café de Cotton is just as a live jazz spot should be. The atmosphere is cozy and warm, the staff is amiable and jovial. Prices are more than reasonable. All nice and causal, you just want to keep going back. And there is also a pool table. To sum up, Café de Cotton is a great venue to listen to your favourite jazz music. Highly recommended if you want to feel like you are back in 40s.
Where to find it: Nieumarkt 5
De Nieuwe Anita
For those who miss some vintage, De Nieuwe Anita (the name literally translates to ‘The New Anita’) is a trip back in time. It has an amazing retro interior, e.g. unique perches. What is more in order to get in, you have to ring the doorbell. How cool is that? The place is divided in two parts – the first one is like a living room with some stylish furniture and retro lamps and the second one is a dance floor during various performances. In the first part there is also a bar. To me, De Nieuwe Anita feels like you ended in someone’s house for a private party. Besides live music which mainly includes intimate acoustic nights and lie entertainment, the venue also hosts parties, events, expositions film screenings and craft nights. There are also poetry readings and regular open-mic sessions.
De Nieuwe Anita is a quirky place to spend a long time in. It is a cultural center with affordable drink prices. In the bar menu you fill find a decent range of cocktails, as well as various beers, spirits and wines. If you like ‘60s French chansons and Prohibition-era jazz and classic cinema, you should not miss out on this venue. Sometimes, you can even listen to some experimental Finnish punk jazz or Siberian multi-instrumentalist twins here. A warm atmosphere, friendly staff and unique (and a bit kitschy at the same time) style make the venue a place you feel at home from the very beginning.
Where to find it: Frederik Hendrikstraat 111
Jazz Café Alto
If you like jazz and blues, this café in the center of the city will make your mind blow. This is one of the locals’ favourite music venues in Amsterdam. Café Jazz Alto is hidden in the middle of the tourist area, it is situated not even a minute walk from the Leidseplein. It is a small, brown, cozy café with live jazz and blues music. Café Jazz Alto is a place with history – many years ago this little style venue brought many jazz enthusiasts from all over the world to Amsterdam. Currently, each Wednesday Hans Dulfer performs here. Café Jazz Alto is always full of locals and tourists who came to share their love to jazz and blues.
They are opened every day, 7 days a week from 9 p.m. until very late. Sometimes even till the early morning. Make sure you arrive early as the space is small and sometimes it is difficult to find a seat near the stage. Definitely this is a place to sit back and relax. It doesn’t matter if you feel like some relax after work in the middle if the week, or go a bit crazy on Friday night, Café Jazz Alto always promises a good time.
Where to find it: Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 115
For those who love blues and rock. Maloe Melo is one of the most renowned music venues in the city. It already exists for 30 years. Here, a great mix of crowd gather all week long to listen live music performances. Among the others, the following stars reported to have graced the Maloe Melo stage: Joe Cocker, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith (she chose Maloe Melo for her unofficial late-night gig), Jeff Healey, the Sneatsniffers, Big Sandy and Barry Hay. The entire wall of the bar is filled with signed photos of artists and bands. However, most musicians who has performed here, fly under the radar. If you have a thing for the blues, you will love Maloe Melo.
Maloe Melo is considered to be a number-1 spot for blues lovers. The venue is very cozy but at the same time it is well-known among blues lovers and musicians from all over the world. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and very intimate. Some people call the venue a ‘home of the blues’. Besides blues and rock concerts, Maloe Melo also offers acoustic sessions. Tuesdays and Thursdays are famous for live jam sessions. Sometimes, soul and funk concerts take place here also. The venue is opened seven days a week. Entrance is only paid on the weekends (5 Euro).
Where to find it: Lijnbaansgracht 163
Mulligans Irish Bar
The most iconic ‘Irish’ bar in Amsterdam, mainly because it’s a legendary meeting spot for artists – musicians and writers, and a destination for foreign visitors. To me, no venue in Amsterdam hosts such amazing live music sessions on a regular basis. I especially recommend Back Room sessions with The Lasses on Wednesday evenings. Mulligans Irish Bar is also a meeting place for sports fans – there is a large TV where football matches are displayed. There is also a huge smoking room in back and Oscar Wilde’s Courtyard – an outdoor terrace for chilling afternoon hangouts in the summer.
The bar is nicely situated right out on the river Amstel. It has a warm, casual atmosphere, everyone feels at home there. On Sundays there are open sessions where any musicians are welcome to join in. There are also dancing sessions on the first Monday of each month. On top of Irish music, you can be sure you’ll have a chance to try some very good Irish beer (like Guinness) and whiskey here. The service is exquisite – friendly, jovial and helpful. All these makes you feel you want to keep coming back to Mulligans Irish Bar every week.
Where to find it: Amstel 100
It is commonly known as the pop temple in the Netherlands. If you are a fan of live music, you just cannot miss this spot while in Amsterdam. The venue was opened in 1968 and since then it has played a role of a premier cultural, event and music place. To me, it is a true Amsterdam landmark. Paradiso is a place for anyone. Literally. There are many concerts from international bands organised here, as well as smaller events. Sometimes, indie bands perform there, there are also many local artists on a regular basis. DJs host many different music nights here and the offer changes very often. Every year, a number of festivals take place in the Paradiso’s main hall.
What I appreciate at Paradiso is the magnificent interior. Paradiso is a former church and there are still enormous glass church windows and two balconies providing great views down onto the stage (the first balcony has unassigned seating). The venue is very well suited. The main hall can accommodate up to 1,500 – 2,000 people. The smaller one is a place for approximately 250 people. In the main hall such stars like the White Stripes have performed. Both halls also host regional musicians and special club nights. It is worth mentioning, that not only is the venue impressive, it also has a superior acoustics.
Where to find it: Weteringschans 6-8
Probably one of the most famous concert halls in the whole world. It was built in 1888 and since then it has been visited by thousands of tourists from any place in the world every year. The impressive institution is a home for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Dutch Chamber Orchestra and The Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra. The hall is famous for its amazing acoustics and top-quality programming. The venue has three performance spaces – the Grand Hall (for orchestral performances), the Small Hall (for chamber music and quartets) and the Choir Hall (for recitals). Besides regular concerts, the Concertgebouw also hosts series like the SummerConcerts and the Sunday Morning Concerts. Very often the concerts are broadcasted on the radio. Apart from classical music, the venue is also a stage to some jazz and pop events.
The concerts in the Concertgebouw are always sold out. This is why you should buy tickets in advance – the quickest option is just book them online. If you want to learn about the history of the building and sightsee this amazing place, you can join one of the tours (in Dutch and English) – they are organised every week at a price of 10 Euro.
Where to find it: Concertgebouwplein 10
The Waterhole is one of the most popular live music venues in Amsterdam. It was opened almost 30 years ago. Today, the venue is always crowded with locals and tourists as every day there is live music – The Waterhole hosts events 7 days a week. Besides, it is also a great hangout spot during the day – there are a terrace, pools and chess. There are jam sessions during the week Tuesday and Wednesday from 20:30 to 21:00) and concerts from Thursday to Sunday. The Waterhole mainly focuses on blues, rock’n roll, and funk.
What needs to be said – acoustics there is just perfect. This is because a high-tech sound system and full acoustic insulation installed for a great live music experience. The atmosphere is warm and very international (maybe because The Waterhole is one of the easiest venues to find Amsterdam). Locals, however, very often still visit the venue for a crazy night. The Waterhole is also famous for its bar – there is a variety of drinks in the menu, including some house specials and Dutch originals. There is also a ‘Tap and Dine’ restaurant with some hearty meals on the first floor. You can pour your own beer from a beer tap at the table there. The bar offers some tasty selection of snacks and finger food to be ordered from the kitchen. Every night between 12:00 – 21:00 the venue has ‘Happy Hour’.
Where to find it: Korte Leidsedwarsstrsaat 49
The final word
I believe Amsterdam is a real hotspot for live-music events. Anyone, no matter their music preferences, will find a venue to be absolutely lost in for the whole night. Classical music, rock, jazz, electro – the city is full of artists that show their musical talents for you to have a good night. I really hope that the list of my favourite live-music venues in Amsterdam will serve you as a guide while discovering live-music spots in the city, no matter if you are a local or a tourist. So, have you chosen your top pick for the best place yet?