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WXO Experience Safari: Amsterdam Edition

Welcome to the WXO Experience Safari: your guided tour through the best experiences around the world, tailored for experience designers.

Put together using recommendations from WXO Members, each Safari covers our favourite experiences in each destination – plus, why they’re interesting to experience designers, and what they might teach us about creating even better experiences.

The Amsterdam Edition was compiled with contributions from the WXO community. If you’d like to submit your own recommendations – for Amsterdam, or for another destination – fill in our Experience Safari form here.

While a trip to Amsterdam conjures images of cycling along the city’s maze of canals, being beguiled by the old Dutch masters paintings at the Rijksmuseum, frequenting one of the city’s 200 coffee shops, then cruising the Red Light District, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than tulips and clogs.

The city is pulsing with cutting-edge immersive experiences, from one of the most terrifying escape rooms imaginable to a temple to street art and a museum offering influencers enough photo opps to fill their Instagram feeds for a year. We’ve rounded up some of the most exciting hotspots in Amsterdam for the experiential tourist, and there’s not a Van Gogh sunflower in sight…

Hotel Wonderland

Photo courtesy of Mineral Productions

Experience type: Immersive, interactive, installations, food and drink

What it is: Hotel Wonderland is a multisensory experience from Cinereal Productions combining immersive theatre with live music, food, cocktails and interactive light and sound artworks that respond to movement and touch. Guests interact with a dozen hotel residents in 4,000 square metres of converted factory space.

Photo courtesy of Mineral Productions

Allowing visitors to influence their own experiences, the residents share their stories during the journey, and the decisions they make determine how the evening unfolds. As the narratives intertwine, guests are served dinner and Prohibition era cocktails to the sounds of a live jazz band. There’s no right or wrong path, only the one you choose.

NXT Museum

Photo courtesy of NXT Museum

Experience type: Installations, interactive, art, installations

What it is: NXT is Amsterdam’s first museum dedicated to new media art. Specialising in large scale, multi-sensory exhibitions, the museum seeks to challenge the meaning and purpose of art in the 21st century. Its current show, Shifting Proximities, explores human experience and interaction in the face of social and technological change.

Photo courtesy of NXT Museum

Featuring an octet of immersive installations created by artists, designers, scientists and musicians, the works fuse creative ideas with academic research and technological innovation. Among the artists featured in the exhibition are: Roelof Knol; Thijs Biersteker; Heleen Blanken; and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The show also includes installations from United Visual Artists and The Algorithmic Justice League.

The Vault At Sherlocked

Experience type: Escape room, immersive, interactive

What it is: Experiential design company Sherlocked is behind some of Amsterdam’s most sophisticated and challenging escape rooms. (Read our case study to hear how they partnered with hotel brand Zoku Amsterdam to create a pandemic-proof escape hotel room experience.) Taking place deep inside the cellars of the Beurs van Berlage, The Vault experience asks players to channel their inner kleptomaniac and embark on a mission to steal a valuable object from a heavily protected safe.

Working in teams of four, The Vault requires you to think on your feet, bluff your way past guards and think outside the box to retrieve the object, which remains shrouded in mystery until its unveiling. The chances of getting caught are high, which only adds to the adrenaline-fuelled thrill of the 90-minute experience.

The Architect At Sherlocked

Photo courtesy of Sherlocked

Experience type: Escape room, immersive, interactive

What it is: The second escape room experience on offer from Sherlocked is The Architect, a mystery game that can be played in groups of two to six. At the start of the experience you’re led to a secret room. The challenge is to ‘Sherlock’ your way out of it by relying on your intelligence and creativity. Only would-be Houdinis need apply – the escape room has been made deliberately difficult, and thus far only half of those that attempt it have made it out in time. The stunning location, clever design and attention to detail make it well worth a visit.

Amsterdam Catacombs

Experience type: Escape room, immersive theatre, horror  

What it is: Escape room meets immersive theatre in this bone-chilling experience. Billed as “a real-life horror experience”, participants become the protagonist in this thriller and are thrust into Amsterdam’s underbelly to investigate the evil forces that lurk within the catacombs.

The spine-tingling 90-minute adventure, created by acclaimed experience design studio Logic Locks, isn’t for the faint hearted ­– the event organisers warn that only those physically fit and mentally stable enough to cope with the stress of the unexpected should take part, with some of the experience taking place in complete darkness, and much of it only with the glow of flickering lights.

Amaze

Photo courtesy of Amaze ID&T

Experience type: Immersive, interactive, installations, multi-sensory

What it is: 30 years in the making, Amaze is the brainchild of Dutch entertainment enterprise ID&T and takes participants on a trippy, hour-long journey down the rabbit hole across seven bespoke rooms spanning 3,000 square metres in an old industrial space in Amsterdam’s West Port district that once played hosted to illegal raves.

Aiming to recreate the pure escapism of a nightclub or festival, the immersive labyrinth features cutting edge audio-visual technology, lasers, lights, smoke, sound effects and new media art, allowing visitors to switch off from the worries of the real world and reconnect with themselves in this dreamscape. The seven rooms within the audio-visual playground have different tempos, moving from relaxed and serene to intense.

The Upside Down

Photo @Instagram/Anna Nooshin

Experience type: Interactive, immersive, art

What it is: Influencer heaven, The Upside Down, created by Dutch-Iranian fashion blogger Anna Nooshin, bills itself as “the largest interactive Instagram museum in Europe”. Featuring photo opps aplenty, the venue is part museum, part playground and part nightclub, only with perfect lighting and eye-poppingly bright, Insta-friendly, over-saturated interiors. Smartphones in hand, visitors are free to wander through a series of themed rooms and snap away to their heart’s content.

Challenging guests to push the boundaries of their own creativity, among the themed rooms within the museum are the Mondarian Room, inspired by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian’s geometric works; The Pool, featuring a colour-changing ball pit; and the Alice in Wonderland-esque Dutch Design Room, where you can walk on the ceiling.

STRAAT

Experience type: Art, museum, interactive

What it is: STRAAT is a temple to street art elevating the medium to a gallery experience. With the likes of Banksy and Keith Haring having blazed a trail, helping to cement street art’s cultural influence on everything from fashion to advertising, STRAAT showcases some of the biggest names and upcoming talent working in the street art and graffiti sphere from all over the world.

Shining a light on this radical art movement, the gallery’s latest exhibition features over 150 works created on-site, offering the viewer epic interactive visual experiences across  8,000 square metres of former warehouse space on the NDSM wharf. Helping to put the works in context and tell the artists’ stories, the museum offers guided tours for graffiti enthusiasts. Though it does beg the question, can street art created inside a gallery be called street art? The exhibition aims to answer this conundrum.

Doloris

Photo courtesy of Doloris

Experience type: Art, immersive, interactive

What it is: A must for thrill-seekers, this journey into the unknown offers visitors a trippy, sense-sharpening experience without the need for hallucinogens. Designed and built by Berlin-based art collective Karmanoia, Doloris is a Meta Maze experience that sees participants travel alone through 40 rooms decked out with surreal artworks that amplify the multi-sensory element of the experience.

As you follow oblique pathways, slip through hidden loopholes and walk through walls you encounter mysterious objects as time becomes fluid. On entry a slide thrusts you down the rabbit hole into a psychedelic alternate universe where you decide which fantasy realms you delve into along the way.

GLOW

The Netherlands, Eindhoven, November 2018. Light art festival GLOW Eindhoven is a walking route through the center of the city along objects by international light artists and attracts more than half a million visitors. Here with: Tower of Light (on Philips Lichttoren) by Jan Fabel / Dirk van Poppel / Erwin Steijlen, with the collaboration of Signify. photo: Signify / Bart van Overbeeke

Experience type: Immersive, interactive, art, light

What it is: Founded by lighting leader Signify, GLOW is a light art festival held every November in the Dutch city of Eindhoven that attracts thousands of visitors. Artists and designers from around the globe present innovative new light art installations that make use of computers, sensors, animations and projection techniques.

An atmospheric spectacle that sees the city transformed, the festival gives Eindhoven’s city centre a shiny new face, with light displays flooding across façades and public spaces. Each year GLOW explores a new theme – the 2021 event challenged 35 artists to create works under the ‘moved by light’ theme across six areas in the city.

Is there a city or destination that you know well? The WXO is building the world’s first experiential travel guides, created by and for experience designers. To add your city, fill out our WXO Experience Safari form here.

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