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Top Summer Festivals in Amsterdam

Amsterdam's Best Music and Cultural Festivals of the Summer

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1) Grachtenfestival

Annual; third week in August (2010 dates: August 14-22)

A much-anticipated and one-of-a-kind summer event in Amsterdam, started in 1998 as a classical musical celebration around the city's grachten (canals). Performances on boats and in canal-side buildings still make up a large part of the program, which now also includes venues in Amsterdam's modern IJ harbor. Be sure to see my full profile of the Grachtenfestival.

2) Uitmarkt

Annual; last weekend in August (2010 dates: August 27-29)

One of Amsterdam's favorite and most vibrant summer festivals, Uitmarkt (literally "out market," as in "let's go out to the theater") signals the end of summer in Amsterdam and the beginning of the upcoming cultural and performing arts calendar (officially September to June). The weekend-long buffet of previews of the imminent season turns the city center into one big stage, with venues ranging from parks to temporary outdoor theaters on historic squares around the city. And almost all the performances are free!

To say there's something for everyone at Uitmarkt is an understatement. A grandmother and a teenager will both find their favorite music, whether it's big-band, a string quartet, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, world, DJ, classical, funk or opera. Do you prefer ballet or modern dance? Uitmarkt has both -- and just about everything in between. Theater performances range from monologues to musicals. There's even "Uitmarkt Junior" just for kids and many museums and churches participate by cutting admission prices in half.

3) Open Garden Days (Open Tuinen Dagen)

Annual; third weekend in June (2010 dates: June 18-20)

Not so much a festival as a weekend-long open-house event, this highlight of summer offers the general public a peek into some of the most impressive private gardens of nearly 30 homes and institutions in Amsterdam. Courtesy of the Canal Museums organization, Open Garden Days wows garden enthusiasts and "brown thumbs" alike with artistic and innovative designs in the green spaces hidden behind Amsterdam's stately canal buildings. A ticket (usually around € 12) will get you a three-day pass to the secret gardens and a special canal boat takes visitors around the city to the many venues.

4) Amsterdam Roots Festival

Annual; one week in mid-June (2010 date: June 20)

This favorite festival of world music fell victim to funding cuts in 2009, shaving the once week-long event down to just the one-day Roots Open Air event. The line-up of world music and dance performed in the open air still promises to please with an all-day ethnic celebration...and it's still FREE! Join the 50,000 fans who flock to the Oosterpark to find -- and support -- acts from Africa, South and Central America, Eastern Europe and many more hubs of the genre.

5) Gay Pride Amsterdam

Annual; first week(end) in August (2010 dates: August 5-8)

While Gay Pride Amsterdam (also known as Amsterdam Pride) is one of the most popular gay pride celebrations in the world (the weekend's organized street parties and club events draw more than 350,000 participants and visitors each year), the highlight of the festival -- the world's only Gay Pride Canal Parade -- attracts thousands of onlookers of all sexual orientations.

Gay and straight locals and visitors flock to the city center to witness what is truly an unforgettable sight on the first Saturday in August. Dozens of elaborately decorated boats filled with extravagantly costumed revelers float along the entire length of the Prinsengracht canal, then along the Amstel River. The most popular spots for parade watchers include the bridges over the Prinsengracht -- especially in the western canal ring (Jordaan) and central canal ring areas -- and the quays along the Amstel near the Stopera complex. Get to a viewing spot early!
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