The Paradiso makes the list because it's a classic, a true Amsterdam landmark. The former church near Leidseplein has two spaces for live shows, the grote zaal ("big hall") and the kleine zaal ("small hall"). The larger space (still only about 2,000 in capacity) draws big-name pop/rock bands like Black Crowes and Dave Matthews; plenty of legends in world music and reggae have also played here since its reopening in 1968. Both halls also host local/regional musicians and special club nights.
Amsterdam has long had a strong jazz scene, so it's no surprise that it has one of the best venues for live jazz and improvisational music in Europe, if not the world. The Bimhuis (pronouced "BIM house") has been around since the 1970s, hosting greats like Charles Mingus and Chet Baker. Its 21st-century home is a huge black box of a structure that hangs off the side of the Muziekgebouw, almost as if the architect improvised -- how fitting. Audiences are rewarded not only with musical performances from world-class names and up-and-coming talent, but also with fantastic views over the harbor and its skyline.
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ
The line-up at the Muziekgebouw ranges from opera to non-western, vocal to classical. There's even a children's "Sound Playground." But the spectrum of unique musical performances isn't the only reason why both grandma and a group of girlfriends might all enjoy the same show. The building itself is a beautiful piece of modern architecture; the journey out to its location on the IJ harbor will get visitors out of the old-Amsterdam comfort zone; and the view from the adjacent Star Ferry restaurant dining room and terrace is spectacular.
The Melkweg is kind of like the Paradiso's little sister. Also a mid-sized venue, it had a previous life as a dairy (the name means "Milky Way"). Now it's home to Jam in the Dam, a three-day festival that packs the building to the gills with jam-band fans. On other nights the line-up might include Latin, hip-hop, reggae and even theatrical and dance performances.