Dutch Quirk #53: Have giant music trucks infiltrate cities and demand money

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #53: Have giant music trucks infiltrate cities and demand money

I remember walking down an Amsterdam street, thinking I imagined music in my head until I finally ran into the source behind it: a big hunk of large parked machinery on the sidewalk.

Draaiorgels, or barrel organs, are huge triggers of culture shock in the Netherlands — at least, they were to me.

With fans (and foes) among tourists and locals alike, there’s a certain allure about barrel organs roaming the streets throughout Dutch cities and villages.

What is it?

A Draaiorgel (or pierement) is basically an old-fashioned yet colourful musical automaton on wheels with a culture and a history that’s unique to the Netherlands. 🥁

Think of them as one-of-a-kind Dutch jukeboxes: it’s a sight (and sound) not to be missed during your stay in the Netherlands. 🗺

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #89: Eat warm stroopwafels from the market

Often made of painted wood, or sometimes metal, entertainers move the barrel organs from corner to square either manually or by pushing them with a bike.


Once a spot is claimed by the musical beast, the street entertainer fires up the music.

This is soon followed by the sound of rattling coins in a tin can, inviting onlookers (phone in hand) to wander, wonder, and share a penny. 🤳

READ MORE | The Efteling: whimsical Dutchness

The mechanics alone are enchanting: ornate dolls in the organ window, a wheel for manual operation, and sometimes a visible organ book.

Why do they do it?

The tradition of barrel organs dates back to the 18th century as a form of entertainment through street music. 🎶

Although perhaps not as popular now as it was then, the tradition of roaming barrel organs is a part of the Netherlands’ cultural identity to this day.

One way the tradition has been brought into the 21st century is with a charming rendition of the Netherlands’ entry to the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest! 👇

Why is it quirky?

Are you a fan of circus-like music appearing randomly? Or just an unconditional admirer of Dutch culture?

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Whatever your interest in this quirky tradition, it’s certainly a unique experience. But there’s history at the heart of this art.

The Perlee family company, one of the most popular and oldest barrel organ families in the Netherlands, still exists today in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam.

Should you join in?

Look, you might not have a choice.

If you’ve spotted the giant music truck quietly rolling down a street, rest assured they’ll be stopping nearby to play their sweet tunes soon, so feel free to follow on foot (or run in the opposite direction). 🚶‍♀️

Noise pollution aside, while it’s most popular during summer’s warm months, pierement street entertainers can be spotted at various events and markets throughout the year.

READ MORE | The 18 best street markets in Amsterdam: the ultimate guide

If you’re in Amsterdam, barrel organs can often be heard around Dam Square or Klaverstraat.

If you’re not able to catch a live barrel organ performance in the street, no worries, as you can still see a draaiorgel display in a museum instead.

READ MORE | The museum town of the Netherlands: 14 great museums to visit in Leiden

Utrecht’s Museum Speelklok carries its own collection of restored barrel organs, and if you’re in Haarlem, make sure to check out their Draaiorgelmuseum — a place that’s fully dedicated to the lost art.

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below! 👇

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Farah Al Mazouni 🇸🇾 🇺🇸
Farah Al Mazouni 🇸🇾 🇺🇸
Farah believes she's been on many adventures during her millennial life, each for a different (sometimes invisible) purpose. The latest adventure whisked her away to Amsterdam for love, and what a magical surprise she found in this city. Armed with imaginary confetti in her pocket, and ready to celebrate all wins, big and small, Farah says "ahla w sahla" or “welcome” to her latest adventure in this wonderland.


  1. you know this is such a stupid article.. when one comes to live in another country .. accept how things are and stop wineing. I grew up with the organs on the street and nobody even thinks of them as noise polution.. what is it with people always critizing things or dutch ways.. If you don’t like it.. go and live somewhere else. nobody asks you to come and live in Nederland.!!

  2. Infiltrate and demand money? Seriously? What a rude headline for a cultural phenomenon. It’s not hurting anyone.


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