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The Only Tourists at the Concertgebouw

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam |

I knew I was about to perform a potentially dangerous Google search as I typed “things to do in Amsterdam at night” into my search bar. I know, right? I mean, it’s Amsterdam. I kinda knew what the obvious search result would be, but we’d already done a quick wander around the red light district and had enough of that awkwardness. And chilling out with a piece of “space cake” wasn’t on the menu for this trip.

I did manage to stumble upon an interesting idea though. “See a concert in style at the Concertgebouw” one website suggested. Hmm…this has potential. The Royal Concertgebouw is an almost 130 year old concert hall in Amsterdam and home of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Its acoustics are so highly regarded that it’s considered one of the finest concert halls in the world. The next night they would be performing selections from Wagner, Mahler, and Berg. Tickets were still available and, at €25, were reasonably priced. The only ones in that range though were in row 3 or at the very back. We decided to go with row 3, even though we knew we’d be closer than we liked.

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Photo: Bernardo Franco |

The next night we (myself and my BFF travel buddy) got ourselves gussied up and left our hotel with lots of time for the walk. We walked everywhere in Amsterdam. The city is so flat and picturesque so it was a pleasure to hoof it. Lit up at night, the building was impressively royal looking. The crowds going inside appeared to be dressed to match. While I love fancy events, something about them always make me feel a bit like I’m playing dress up. I hoped I wouldn’t stand out as not fitting in.

We initially turned down the €2.50 program, which we figured would be all in Dutch anyway, and went in to find our seats. The main hall was beautiful. Soaring 56’ high ceilings, ornate details on the wall, towering organ, red plush seating… Hmm… it looked like the fixed seats started at row 4. We had tickets for row 3. Wait, what? We asked an usher and he said to us “Your seats are coming.” Umm…

Sure enough, a minute later a man walked in with some padded stacking chairs and started placing them in front of the people seated in the “front row”. We knew that we’d be close with row 3 seats but this was kind of ridiculous. Also, the stage itself was about 5’ tall so all we could see when we looked up was the first row of stage right first violins. We had a chuckle at our cluelessness and got as comfy as we could to enjoy the concert. It’s all about what you hear, not what you see, right?

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam |

The program started with selections from Wagner. Despite our proximity to the 1st violins, the acoustics really were so good that we didn’t find them overwhelming and were able to hear a good balance of the entire orchestra. I don’t often listen to classical music but I can really appreciate it now and then when it’s live.

What I can never really guess though, is how long a piece will last. The orchestra played for over a half hour before the music stopped. Everyone clapped. The orchestra took a bow. Everyone kept clapping. The conductor left the stage. Everyone kept clapping. Then he came back. We kept clapping. Then he left and came back once more before the clapping finally finished and people started streaming out of the main hall. Wait, was it over? Surely, they weren’t done so soon? Was it intermission? Without a program, we had no idea what was going on. We waited in our seats for a bit before we determined that it was intermission, but maybe we should get that program after all, even just so we’d know the number and names of the pieces.

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam | Suitcaseandheels.comWe pooled our change and forked over the €2.50 for the small program. I almost laughed when the lady behind the merch table handed it to me. It was the smallest program I’d ever seen. It was one sheet of heavy, high quality paper and one piece of regular paper, folded in half and stapled. That was it. There was a list of the pieces and descriptions of each, the reasoning behind their choice and a short bio of the conductor. No more. Well, it did include the time they expected to be finished. So I guess there was that.

The second half of the program was just as wonderful as the first and, though we risked getting a crick in our necks and couldn’t unsee the fact that one of the violinist’s pants and socks were both too short, we were happy with our choice of what to do in Amsterdam at night.

Despite a few laugh-at-ourselves moments and my internal concern that my tencel dress and ankle boots weren’t dressy enough, it was a wonderful night at the orchestra.

What do you tend to do for nightlife when you travel?


  1. Tish Trowbridge says:

    November 3rd, 2016 at 1:48 pm (#)

    Love your story Melissa, very interesting & well written. The concert hall looks huge & quite antique. You sure have been bitten hard by that travel bug. Come see us again soon.

    Love & (((hugs)))

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