The Canal Parade

Ever since we moved to Amsterdam, people have been telling us about the famous canal parade that happens every August in celebration of Pride week. This place loves an excuse for a party, and as city renowned for its tolerance and open-mindedness, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam celebrates Gay Pride with panache and gusto. There are all-night street parties and other events for days before and after, but the main attraction is the canal parade on Saturday afternoon.

Accordingly, we arrived a good hour and a half or so before the parade was to begin. The crowds were already packed along the parade route, but we managed to find a spot on a bridge (we’d been informed that bridges offered the best view), almost in the front. We settled the kids with their legs dangling off the bridge under one of the giant hanging flower baskets. Yes, I did give more than a passing thought to the idea that they might fall in the canal, but no, it didn’t prevent me from allowing it.


Apparently an even better way to watch the parade is from one of the many boats moored two deep along the edges of the canal. Note to self: make a friend with a boat before next year.

A lot of the people in the boats along the side were dressed as garishly as the people in the parade itself. There’s a drawing every year, and “only” eighty boats are allowed to participate, so I guess maybe if you didn’t get drawn you just park your boat alongside. In the photo below, only the boat in the foreground is actually in the parade. All the rest are moored along the canal and full of people drinking, dancing, and enjoying the parade. And occasionally falling into the canal and becoming part of the spectacle if they drink too much or dance to vigorously.


This boat was part of the entre act, which also included this cool guy riding a waterspout. Yes, that’s my thumb over the top half of the photo. I was excited.


It was an impressive parade; I guess the official color is pink, but of course there was an abundance of rainbows.


Most of the parade floats (I don’t know if they officially call them that, but it’s a more appropriate name here than in any other parade I’ve ever seen) were big barges that were either pulled or pushed by boats.


Because the canal is crossed by multiple low bridges like the one where we were sitting, the designers of the floats had to be creative in including decorations that could be pulled down to fit under the bridge and then quickly re-inflated after the bridge. Sometimes the people on the barge had to lie down too. Here’s that same float halfway re-inflated after passing under our bridge.

WP_20150801_14_44_53_ProAnd here you can see it off in the distance, finally fully inflated as a blue man with rainbow wings. You can also see all the people watching the parade from their boats, as well as the crowds behind them on the sides of the canal.


The crowds, as you can see in the photo above, were pretty crazy. There was a fair bit of jostling on our bridge. In fact, I was almost pushed into the canal by a sturdy Dutch granny. The family next to us had started out with two members on the front row, but were busily trying to expand their holding, and had sent granny out as a wrecking ball. The family on the other side were executing a similar maneuver, so I was taken by surprise from both directions. Eventually I sat down like the kids, below all the jostling, as Tony endeavored to stand firm and hold the bridge. There was general disapproval that I bowed out on all the elbowing, since apparently that was considered a female domain; the men were just sitting back and letting the women go at it.

There were some pretty dramatic costumes, including these 70’s inspired flower heads.

It was not possible to tell in all cases exactly what sort of story the floats were attempting to tell, but this must be a good one, since it involves castles and unicorns.


As might be expected, marriage was a popular theme, and several different floats included wedding cakes, brides and grooms (well, brides and brides and grooms and grooms), and other wedding accoutrements.


Quite a few local businesses were featured, as well as several large internationals with offices here in Amsterdam.


The Dutch military had its own float.

WP_20150801_15_23_26_ProAs did the Dutch postal service, although where they found the time to decorate it when they were so occupied with striking remains a mystery. Or maybe that’s what they did while they were busy not delivering the mail.


We only made it halfway through the parade (perhaps 2 1/2 hours) before we reluctantly decided to call it a day and take our tired children home, although I’m sure there were plenty more impressive boats to come.

We had a great time at Amsterdam Pride, despite the incredible masses of people. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to psyche up my introvert self to go again next year, but we’re definitely happy to have experienced this bit of Amsterdam color.

What do you think?