Vondelpark — Amsterdam’s version of Central Park
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
- Vondelpark — Amsterdam’s version of Central Park
- Map: Vondelpark, Amsterdam
- Cyclists, skaters, horse riders, office workers, and hippies
- Amsterdam Vondelpark: The Rules
- Vondelpark: topless ok, but no nude sunbathing allowed
- One controversial exception
- A typical case of ‘Gedogen’ (Tolerate what you cannot regulate)
- Storm in a teacup
- Video: History of the Vondelpark
In 1864 the Vereniging tot Aanleg van een Rij- en Wandelpark (Association for the construction of a riding and walking park) was founded by wealthy businessmen associated with banker and art collector C.P. from Eeghen.
They bought a plot of land in the peat meadows outside the Singelgracht — at that time, Amsterdam’s outermost canal — in order to construct a public park.
Het Nieuwe Park (The New Park) opened to the public in 1865. After a statue of noted Dutch poet, writer, and playwright Joost van den Vondel was placed in 1867, the name was changed to Vondelpark.
In 1996 the park was declared a Rijksmonument (National Monument).
Vondelpark covers 470,000 square meters (47 hectares | 120 acres). This beautiful urban park consists of lawns, trees, rose bushes, various ponds, playgrounds and much more.
Map: Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Cyclists, skaters, horse riders, office workers, and hippies
Motorized traffic is not allowed in the park, so the wide bike paths are free for cyclists, skaters and skateboarders. [Tip: This popular 3-hour guided bike tour of historic Amsterdam takes a relaxing break in Vonderpark]
You’ll also see people riding horses, as the Hollandsche Manage – the oldest riding school in the Netherlands – is just a stone’s throw from the park.
In the seventies, Vondelpark was a popular meeting place for hippies. Many of them slept overnight here, a practice that was soon banned.
On sunny days, the park still exudes a bustling but relaxed atmosphere.
Housewives, office workers on their lunchbreak, tourists, teens, inline skaters, on so on — all appreciate the beautiful park just outside Amsterdam’s medieval center.
Amsterdam Vondelpark: The Rules
Despite Amsterdam’s “anything-goes” reputation (an outdated concept), use of the park is subject to a strict set of rules — with one controversial exception.
On its official website, the municipality of Amsterdam states that the park’s 10 million visitors per year equals 21 people per square meter. “In comparison, Central Park in New York is visited by about 5 people per square meter,” the city says.
Therefore, it is necessary to establish clear rules.
Allowed at Vondelpark:
- Picnics, but dispose of your rubbish properly (you would not believe how many people just leave their trash laying about anyway)
- Daytime recreation only
- Acoustic music only
- Cycling and skating, but only on asphalt paths (motors and scooters are strictly prohibited)
- Sunbathing everywhere
- Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash near and at playgrounds, and on meadows
- Selling food and drinks (licensed operators exempted)
- Leaving your dog’s mess behind
- Driving a scooter, moped or car
- Campfires or open flames
- Barbecues (As of March 1, 2017)
- Amplified music or percussion instruments
- Sunbathing in the nude
- Staying overnight or camping
Vondelpark: topless ok, but no nude sunbathing allowed
The ban on nude sunbathing in Vondelpark is somewhat strange, since it is allowed in many parks in other European cities. In fact, it is tolerated in many parks and natural areas throughout Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands.
Topless sunbathing is OK at Vondelpark, but you are more likely to see young women stripping down to bra and/or panties to catch some rays during their lunch break.
One controversial exception
The controversial exception to the rules? We’ll tell you in a moment.
But first, it helps to know this context: Until 1953 the park was owned by the foundation that developed it.1. When ownership of the park was transferred to the Municipality of Amsterdam, one of the stipulations was that dogs must be able to run loose in the park at all times.2
To-date that condition is still observed — for the most part.
But in March, 2008, city councilors managed to greatly upset dog owners:
Dog owners angry at public sex plan
Dog owners in Amsterdam are angry after the city legalized public sex in one of the city’s most famous parks.
Councilors agreed that heterosexual and gay couples could have sex in the Vondelpark which has ten million visitors a year.
But they promised to clamp down on dog owners who let their pets walk in the park without a lead.
One dog owner protested: “As long as the park has existed, we’ve been allowed to let our dogs run freely. It’s outrageous that we will be punished from now on but public sex won’t.”
A spokesman for the council which runs the southern part of Amsterdam said: “When the dogs are not kept on a leash they pee on whatever they see and they cause a lot of nuisance for other visitors.”
Alderman Paul Van Grieken defended the decision to allow public sex in the park from September.
“Why should we impose a rule on something you can’t impose a rule on. Moreover it isn’t a nuisance for the other visitors and gives a lot of pleasure to a certain group of people,” he said.
“There still are rules,” he added. “They must take their garbage with them afterwards and never have intercourse near the playground. The sex must be limited to the evening hours and night.”
A typical case of ‘Gedogen’ (Tolerate what you cannot regulate)
At the time, Vondelpark fell under the jurisdiction of Stadsdeel Oud-Zuid (borough Old- South). 3
Van Grieken’s comment about imposing rules on something that cannot really be regulated is best explained by a policy that the Dutch call gedogen — technically illegal, but actively tolerated as a matter of government policy.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Amsterdam police force assured the media that police will indeed take action against those who ‘cruise’ in a way that might cause offense.
That means: make sure that your encounter cannot be observed by others. Otherwise, you will likely cause offense, in which case the police will get involved. (No, not that way).
Storm in a teacup
All in all, the excitement turned out to be little more than a storm in a teacup. Frankly, if you visit Vondelpark expecting to be titillated, you will most likely be disappointed.
Simply enjoy the park — and the rest of Amsterdam — for its natural beauty and its unique features.
Note: many tourist combine a visit to the park with a tour of the nearby Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and/or Stedelijk Museum.
Video: History of the Vondelpark
Authors: This article, by the DutchAmsterdam team, was first published March 14, 2008. It has been updated from time to time. In the most recent update, Tuesday, January 10, 2023, some graphics and links were updated, and some paragraphs were reworded.
Yes, we regularly visit Vondelpark ourselves – but we limit our activities to walking, sunbathing, and eating ice cream.
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- Sold Out: Once in a Lifetime Vermeer Exhibition at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
- Van Gogh Museum — Plan Your Visit
- Amsterdam is One of the Most Multicultural Cities in the World
- Love Song to the Canals of Amsterdam
- Vereniging tot Aanleg van een Rij- en Wandelpark (Association for the construction of a riding and walking park) ↩
- The park was sold for the symbolic amount of just 1 guilder. The reason for the sale was that the Association was not able to finance the upkeep on the park. ↩
- The boroughs have since been renamed. Vondelpark is now part of Amsterdam Zuid. ↩
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