Guide to Amsterdam Dance Event: Tips on Surviving Your First ADE Experience

Image of canal in Amsterdam, during Amsterdam Dance Event
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Wednesday 21 – Sunday 26 October 2020
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Official Website

With 2500 artists, over 100 venues, and 400000+ music fans, ADE is a music event like no other. 

Amsterdam Dance Event is a huge electronic dance music conference that takes place in Amsterdam each October. It’s not so much a music festival, but rather a collection of parties, events, workshops, talks, and festivals spread out over five days.

During ADE, the entire city of Amsterdam is completely overtaken by the conference. You will see the yellow ADE squares and flags everywhere you go. While ADE is an incredible experience, there are some things you should know your first time around.

This Amsterdam Dance Event guide is full of tips and tricks that will help maximize your time and ensure you have the best conference experience you can.

Rent A Bike

ADE has hundreds of parties held at over one hundred venues spread across the entire city of Amsterdam. The parties are not all in one central location. You will need to get from your hotel to different venues, restaurants, landmarks, or maybe your friends’ hotels too.

Renting a bike will be the easiest and most cost-effective way to get where you need to go.

Ubers will be on surge pricing for the majority of the week, and taxis are also quite expensive. There can be heavy traffic since Amsterdam is not a car-friendly city which is push prices even higher. Transit is an option, but you will always have to walk a bit to the tram or metro stations. Transit routes can also be inconvenient and out of the way from where you need to go. You will likely still end up having to walk a bit to get to the parties. Also, since the trams and metro run on a set schedule, you will need to keep track of the time while you are getting ready.

Most of the time, we checked Google Maps and the fastest route to the venue was on a bike. Therefore, I highly suggest renting a bike to get where you need to go during ADE.

Biking is cheap and so easy in Amsterdam. Traveling through the streets is safe and efficient since there are bike lanes throughout the entire city. All the big party venues have designated bike racks to lock up your bike too. Biking is also a great way to see the city! It’s quite fun and a nice way to unwind after a night out. 

We’ve rented from Starbike Rentals for the past two years and have had a great experience both times. You can reserve the bikes you need online, which will cost less and allows you to pay in advance. You can also add insurance in case anything happens to the bike. 

Amsterdam Dance Event Full Conference Pass

The ADE pass may be the better option for you if you plan to attend multiple shows per night and want to attend talks and workshops throughout the day. The full conference pass is aimed at people in the industry, but anyone is able to buy one.

You will get some free gear, a lanyard with your name and role, and a wristband to wear for the week. We received a really nice backpack, an umbrella, and a book on the history of electronic music with our pass. Buying the full pass grants you access to any event, party, talk, or workshop happening throughout the week. Some venues, like Gashouder, even have a separate entrance for pass holders so you don’t have to wait in line.

That said, if a show is completely sold out, there are only a certain number of spots held for ADE pass holders. This means that if you show up to a venue that is at capacity, you may not be allowed in (this seems to be an issue at the really popular shows). While I read accounts of this happening to people online, we were never denied access to any shows we went to the first year.

Individual Tickets and Ticket Swap

If you only plan on doing a few parties, or even one party per day, you likely don’t need to invest in the full conference pass. Every single party will be listed on the ADE website, and you can buy tickets for individual events. The parties begin to get announced in the summertime, and tickets usually start to go on sale around that time too. If you see a party you want to go to, you may as well buy tickets as soon as you can. Not only to some events have tiered pricing, some of the bigger parties completely sell out months in advance. 

So what happens if a party you really want to attend is sold out? Or if you buy tickets for one party, but another one gets announced that you would rather go to? This is where Ticket Swap comes in.

Ticket Swap is a third-party app you can download to your phone and is very heavily used by ADE attendees. Essentially, it allows you to securely buy and sell tickets to parties and events to and from other conference-goers. They have a great policy that does not allow tickets to be sold for more than 120% of their face value. 

They also have guarantees in place that will refund your money if the tickets do not work for some reason. Some of the big parties are officially partnered with Ticket Swap too. In this case, when you buy a ticket using the service, a completely new ticket and barcode is issued to you. This alleviates the risk that the ticket may be a duplicate or fake.

Finally, there is a great feature that allows you to create ticket alerts. This will notify you when someone posts a ticket to a party you are interested in. While you have to be quick to grab the tickets if the party is really popular, we were able to get tickets for every sold-out show we wanted to attend using Ticket Swap.

Protect Your Ears 

While most of the big venues have amazing sound systems with a crisp sound, that doesn’t mean your ears won’t get damaged. Five straight days of loud music is not good for your ears, no matter how good the sound system is. Do the smart thing and invest in a good pair of music earplugs. They help filter out the harmful frequencies without compromising sound quality. I personally use Ear Peace, but I’ve heard the custom-fitted ones are really good too. Your future hearing thanks you! 

What to Wear

In Europe, people dress very differently at shows then in North America. The fashion is much more toned down, so you won’t see too many pasties and thongs and flashy outfits.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express yourself and wear the outfits you want. To be honest, I found ADE to be almost boring in terms of fashion, so don’t be afraid to wear something a little more edgy. The night my friends and I wore more interesting outfits we were getting complimented non-stop by complete strangers, telling us how great we looked. I’m a firm believer that fashion is a way to express yourself, just know that the European market is very different so you may want to plan accordingly.

Besides the fact that most people will be wearing pretty basic outfits, you also want to consider the weather when planning your outfits. Amsterdam in October is not warm, so you will need a good coat when you venture out to explore and on your way to the venues. Also, keep in mind that some venues like Gashouder get extremely hot, while others like NDSM Loods stay pretty cold. I wore jeans to Gashouder and ended up changing into shorts, and wore shorts to NDSM and was kind of chilly.

The good thing is that most of the big venues have lockers to rent, which brings me to my next point:

Split A Locker With Your Friends

The nice thing about the bigger venues at ADE is that they all have electronic lockers available to rent. This way, you don’t have to worry about waiting in line for coat check, and you can wear layers over your outfit and store them in the locker. We normally rent one locker between four or five of us, and shove everything into one. You can pre-book lockers for some of the venues, but we have never had any issues paying for them onsite. 

Once you rent a locker, you will get a slip of paper with the number and code to open it. Make sure everyone in your group takes a photo of the code on their phone. That way everyone can get their belongings if you split up or lose the paper. 

Buying Drinks + Token System

If you go to a party at a smaller venue, then chances are you can pay for your drinks with cash or card at the bar. This is not the case for bigger venues like Gashouder and Westerunie. Most of the bigger venues use a token system. They will have booths or vending machines set up where you can buy a certain amount of tokens. You can then exchange your tokens for drinks at the bar. This keeps the bar lines moving so people don’t need to fumble with cash trying to pay.

Tokens cost around 3euro each, and a regular beer or water will be 1-1.5 tokens. Maybe we are lucky, but we usually find a few tokens on the ground of every venue as well. Also, keep in mind that the tap water in Amsterdam is completely safe to drink. You can refill your bottle or cup with cold water from the sinks in the washrooms to save tokens (and plastic!). Some venues, like Gashouder, have designated water refill stations too. 

Where to Stay

Accommodation in Amsterdam is notoriously expensive and is even more so when 300,000 people descend upon the city for ADE. Hotels will fill very early and prices skyrocket, especially in the central parts of Amsterdam. As soon as you know you want to attend ADE, start looking for and book your hotel.

This is the best way to secure the best price. Hotel booking services like Expedia will often let you book almost a year in advance, and many hotels offer free cancellation as well. You may as well secure a hotel for a good price, and cancel later if need be. Hotels further from the core will be cheaper, but you miss the experience of staying in central Amsterdam where all the action is, and will probably end up spending just as much on transit and Ubers.

Book Extra Time to do Sight-Seeing

If you plan on doing sightseeing or touristy things in Amsterdam, book an extra day or two. You will have five action-packed days of partying and events during ADE. Keep in mind that there are day parties and night parties every day. Our schedule is usually full of parties, getting food, biking to workshops, and maybe a bit of sleep thrown in. Amsterdam is an amazing city with so much to see outside of the conference, so make sure you give yourself ample time to do so.

Additional Quick Tips:

  • Buy a bottle of alcohol at the duty-free shop when you arrive at Schipol airport. We were totally caught off guard the first year with how expensive liquor was at the bottle shops in the main city centre. We saved a lot of money in our second year by buying a bottle each at the duty-free shop.

  • In our experience, we’ve never had to use cash to pay for anything in the city. Pretty much everywhere you go will allow you to pay with your credit card. 

  • Pack an umbrella! Autumn in Amsterdam is very gloomy, and it will most likely rain for some portion of the trip.

  • If you end up renting a bike, ask to rent a cell-phone holder as well. This makes it so much easier to bike around the city and navigate to where you need to go. 

  • Join the ADE Facebook group. There’s a ton of great information from fellow conference-goers, and it’s a great way to learn about what’s going on, get updates, and connect with others. 

  • Don’t worry about the language barrier in Amsterdam. Most people will also speak English, and you will always be able to communicate what you need.

Final Thoughts

Amsterdam Dance Event is one of my favourite events to attend. It’s such a great gathering of electronic music artists and fans from around the world, in such an amazing city. It differs from most other events in that it is more of a conference and collection of parties, rather than a central festival. I hope that with this Amsterdam Dance Event guide, you are empowered to have the best experience possible and truly maximize your time. See you on the dance floor!

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