“Amsterdam looks like a fairy tale during the winter, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Christmas markets and eat the typical foods.”
Reasons to visit Amsterdam in Winter
If you ask me when you should come to Amsterdam, I will be in doubt about what to answer. The reality is that I love all of the seasons for different reasons and I believe this is a very personal decision. Looking forward to minimizing your questions, I decided to share my favorite particularities of each season so you can decide yourself. In this blog post, you will find the main five reasons why I believe you should visit the Amsterdam in winter.
Before sharing the particularities of the coldest season, I would like to highlight that, despite the winter officially starting on December 21st and ending on the 20th of March, the temperatures in Amsterdam normally start dropping in middle November and rising at the end of March. Though the average temperature in Amsterdam in winter rarely drops below 0 degrees celsius, the chilly Amsterdam wind can make it feel colder. So, this blog post considers the weather and the atmosphere of the city more important than just the official winter dates.
Once the temperature drops, the city becomes quieter and cheaper
Amsterdam in winter is less crowded due to the lower tourism season, but also due to the considerable amount of internationals going back home for the Holidays. Amsterdam is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with 180 different nationalities. The share of residents with a migration background in Amsterdam was 55.6 percent in November 2020 (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2020). a city with fewer tourists and locals means shorter queues at the major museums and more chances of getting a table at your favorite bar or restaurant.
Furthermore, it is cheaper to visit Amsterdam between November and March due to the lower season – but you should not forget that Amsterdam is not a cheap city at all. This includes sleeping, as the city’s hotel rates drop noticeably during the winter. And, airfares are at their absolute lowest in November and February, because the weather is dismal and dreary. This does not apply for Christmas and New Year’s Eve due to the high demand for the holiday celebrations. Furthermore, if you like great deals, during this season there are many sales such as Black Friday (end of November), Cyber Monday (1st Monday after Black Friday), Boxing Day (December 26th), and the whole month of January with really good prices in many stores around the city.
For holiday’s lovers, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
First of all, Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year, and moving to Europe gave me a different experience compared with my tropical home country. Being raised and living most of my life in cities that the Christmas holiday is in the summer, the dream of witnessing the white Christmas has always been in my mind. Amsterdam looks like a fairy tale in the snow, we have to agree the city is stunning in white. The city looks like a Christmas card when it’s dusted in snowflakes – making for a wildly romantic backdrop to any visit. In my first year in Amsterdam during winter 2017/2018, I was lucky enough to witness a harsh winter and see the city covered with snow and frozen canals. However, in the following years, the temperatures were barely above zero and the snow days were extremely punctual. Let’s hope for the next winter…
Furthermore, during this season there are many Christmas markets, light decorations, and traditions all around the city. Beginning in late November, markets are held almost every weekend in neighborhoods across the city. They’re the perfect place to find art, jewelry, artisanal food products, locally designed homeware, and handcrafted decorations. Shopping is usually accompanied by a soundtrack of carol singers and festive entertainment. Near Amsterdam, Haarlem’s Christmas market is another seasonal favorite of mine, and, if you have a car or the possibility of renting one, I definitely recommend visiting the Kasteel De Haar near Utrecht.
If you love department store decoration, this is the season to visit the city center of Amsterdam. Of course, there is no shortage of traditional seasonal displays either. You can always rely on a grand department store to bring the festive atmosphere and theatrical window displays, and Amsterdam’s De Bijenkorf is no exception. The store on Dam Square hosts a special ceremony in mid-November every year to switch on the thousands of (energy-efficient) twinkling lights that decorate its building. Crowds gather to admire the spectacle, which includes performances, a fireworks show, and a late-night shopping event. A few steps from Dam Square, at Magna Plaza, you can also find one of the most beautiful indoor Christmas tree decorations.
Besides that, the main streets of the city get lighted up by many Christmas decorations, some of my favorites are Haarlemmerstraat/Haarlemmerdijk and P.C. Hooftstraat. The lights in addition to decorating the city, illuminate the days that darken earlier every day. A great strategy to cheer and comfort residents and visitors at this time of year. Another traditional season decoration is the beautiful Christmas tree located at Dam Square. The 20-meter high tree is so large that to cover it in lights, it requires 40.000 energy-efficient LED bulbs – that’s a four-kilometer string of lights! Usually located in front of the Royal Palace, the festive lighting ceremony kicks off the Christmas spirit in Amsterdam on December 6th every year – just after the Sinterklaas celebration.
Amsterdam glows with festive attractions during the winter months
Even if frozen canals are not on the forecast for this year, you can still practice your pirouettes on one of the temporary ice rinks that pop up around the city during the winter months. The popular rink Ice*Amsterdam can usually be found on Museumplein, with smaller rinks enticing crowds on Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. Skates are available to hire (if you don’t happen to have your own on hand). However, if you’re after more of a pro-athlete experience, the Jaap Eden ice skating rink, home to the Amstel Tijgers ice hockey team, is open to the public several days a week and even offers disco skating on Saturday nights.
While Christmas lights in many cities largely feature grinning Santas and flickering Frosty the Snowmen, Amsterdam (as usual) takes a more artistic approach. Since 2012, the Amsterdam Light Festival is a yearly outdoor exhibition that showcases light installations by local and international artists on and by the water. The works can be viewed by walking or cycling through the canals, or, for the most immersive experience, from a boat (ride lasts around 90 minutes). This festival is also a smart strategy to light up and contrast the dark winter months.
During the exhibition, Amsterdam is transformed into a beautiful open-light museum where modern artists from all over the world exhibit spectacular light artworks. Every year has a different theme. The artworks are all based on it. In 2018 and 2019, the theme was “The Medium is the Message” and “Disrupt!, respectively. In 2020, the organizers canceled the festival realize a walking route, there will be walking route nor boat tour. However, the 9th edition comes with the theme of “When Nature calls” and is different from previous editions – every week they will highlight a new light artwork.
It is cold outside, get yourself a “gezellig” place
Once it is cold during the winter, the Dutchies decided to create a cozy environment to make the most out of it. Despite the word “gezellig” does not have an English equivalent word, it literally means cozy, quaint, or nice. It is considered the Dutch version of the Danish and Norwegian equivalent Hygge. This “gezellig” lifestyle includes candles, a fur blanket, a cup of tea, a pair of fuzzy socks on your feet, and plants decorating the living room. This style you can see at homes and also hotels that adapt the interior design to bring all the gezellig together in an indoor environment.
Beyond that, when the winds are blowing from the North Sea, the Dutch capital can get awfully chilly during the winter season but fear not — the Dutch have the perfect cozy sanctuaries where you can warm your cockles in the form of old-fashioned brown cafes. These traditional bars are at their best during the winter months and invite you in from the cold with their warm yellow glow. Inside you’ll often find an inviting jovial atmosphere, wood paneling aplenty, candles, and copious amounts of beer. The cafes are scattered throughout every corner of the city, with some of the oldest located in Jordaan.Warm-up with the most typical Dutch winter food and drinks
Dutch cuisine was made for cold days and nights, most of the plates are hearty, substantial, and satisfying to help support surviving the winter temperatures with carbohydrates and fat. From Stamppot (traditional Dutch mash potato) to Snert (thick pea and ham soup) and everything in between, Dutch food is designed to warm you up from the inside out. If you are looking for a drink to warm yourself up, at the Christmas market, you should definitely grab a warm cup of gluhwein and/or hot chocolate (yes, you are allowed to drink both!).
Whether you are a sweet tooth or not, there are also plenty of delicious treat options to choose from. My favorites are the Oliebollen and Kruidnoten. Kruidnoten are small, rounded, cookie-like confectioneries with a crispy texture and are made with the same ingredients as Speculaas. It’s a delight and an addiction, you can easily find it in specialized stores or supermarkets during November and December every year. Oliebollen, well known as the Dutch donut, is a deep-fried fluffy bread in the shape of little balls, filled (or not) with raisins and topped with powdered sugar. Normally, they are sold at cute and traditional oliebollenkraamen, or oliebollen stalls, around the city. If you see a new batch coming up, it is worth a try!
Wrapping up, I hope this blog post clarifies at least some of your questions and makes you feel more comfortable about your trip planning to Amsterdam. As I wrote in the beginning, this city has a unique charm all around the year. If you decide to come during the winter, you are not going to regret it. However, it is very important to dress up properly to avoid inconvenience during your visit. The secret behind the low-temperature cities is three layers and the quality of the winter clothes. If you wanna know more about what to do in winter, check my post about ice skating in Amsterdam. Also, you can read about Amsterdam in Spring here.