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Tips for Visiting Amsterdam in Winter

Updated: October 27, 2023
 By Justin

Although it can get pretty cold in Amsterdam during the winter, there are still quite a few good reasons to visit this historic city from November - February.

With over 1 million tours served, our guides are very knowledgeable about the best reasons to make a trip to Amsterdam during this time of year. 

This post will cover some of the excellent suggestions they have made regarding fun things to do, places to visit, what kind of weather to expect, the best foods to eat, and other important details to consider.


Fun and Festive Amsterdam Winter Activities

If you’re looking for interesting activities and attractions you can visit throughout the winter, this section will cover some of the best options. 

Since the weather is likely to include a lot of rain and even some snow, many of the best locations to visit are indoors, and we’ll make sure to add plenty of fun ways to get out of the cold and warm up.


1. Go to a Christmas Market

Like many other European cities, you can expect to find a plethora of great Christmas markets popping up in Amsterdam from the end of November to the beginning of January.

One of the biggest and most popular examples is the Ice Village, which is located in Museumplein, right next to some of the best museums in the city.

Unfortunately, this market will not be held in 2023, but there are still plenty of others that you might want to visit.

One of our favorite options is the Funky Xmas Market, because it takes place in the same location as the monthly Sunday market. This is a great spot to pick up unique handmade gifts, trinkets, and baubles.

Other spots like Pure Markt Wintermarkt are better for festive foods, but they also usually have at least a few stands that sell handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items that will make excellent mementos.

Here are a few other Amsterdam Christmas markets you might want to check out:

  • Amsterdam Winter Paradise | RAI Amsterdam
  • Winter Village | Stadshart Amstelveen
  • Haarlem Christmas Market | Grote Markt
  • Sustainable Christmas Market | De Ceuvel

Tips From Tourists:

A member from our Facebook Group suggests that you make sure to bring cash, as some market stalls will accept credit cards, but many do not. Thanks for the tip, Heather!


2. Attend the Amsterdam Light Festival

Every winter, the city of Amsterdam celebrates the holidays with a festival of lights. This event takes place from November 30th, 2023 - January 21st, 2024.

The light installations are hung alongside the walls of the Amsterdam canals, and as you might expect, there are a lot of Amsterdam Light Festival cruises available during this time of year.

Alternatively, you can just walk alongside the canals and see these lighting displays and Christmas decorations for free!

The entire route is 7.5 km long, so it might be difficult for some visitors to walk the entire distance.

One of the best spots to start this trek is at Stoperaplein, which is where they will provide information about the event and how to use their app.

There is also another information center at Hoftuin, so you can begin your trip there as well.


3. Take a Walking Tour

Even though it’s the dead of winter, there are still companies just like ours offering free walking tours in Amsterdam

It might be cold out, but one of the advantages to taking a tour during the holiday season is that you can enjoy all the various lighting displays and decorations that are usually hung around the city from late November - early January.

If you manage to visit on a snowy day, taking a free walking tour will allow you to see some of the most historic sites in the city as they are blanketed in snow.

Most pay-what-you-wish walking tours operate rain or shine, meaning that you can literally enjoy this activity just about anytime throughout the year.


4. Attend the Christmas Tree Lighting

On December 8th, a giant Christmas Tree is erected in Dam Square. Standing at approximately 20 metres, it takes around 40,000 LED lights to decorate this beautiful and festive tree. 

The tree lighting event takes place between 17:00 - 18:00, and you can expect carol singers to lead a chorus of beloved Christmas carols for the occasion.

Even if you miss the lighting ceremony, you can always visit throughout the rest of the month to see this traditional holiday decoration in front of the Royal Palace.

Since this is a major landmark that you’ll also see on most free Amsterdam walking tours, you’ll probably end up seeing the tree at some point simply by touring the city.


5. Go Ice Skating

A lot of ice skating rinks will open up in Amsterdam during the winter, most running from late November - early January. 

Although it does get cold enough sometimes to ice-skate directly on the frozen canals, this is something of a rare occurrence, and it’s far more likely that you’ll find this activity at or near many of the Christmas markets throughout the city.

One of the most beautiful ice rink locations is actually at the Winter Paradise market (Amsterdam RAI).

That said, this location is only open from December 14th - 30th, so you’ll need to visit within that time frame in order to experience their ice skating.

Another popular option is Ice Amsterdam, which operates on Museumplein during most winters. Unfortunately, their ice rink is also open for just a short few weeks leading up to Christmas.

If you’re looking for a longer running option, Rembrandtplein is one of the best spots for ice skating in Amsterdam during the winter.

Not only are they more affordable than other locations (just €3.50), but they are also open from November 18th, 2023 - January 7th, 2024.


6. Visit a Museum

There are a lot of fantastic museums in Amsterdam that are open year round, but the winter might actually be one of the best times to visit these attractions.

For one thing, the crowds aren’t as big during the colder months of the year, so you can usually experience these massive repositories of art and culture all by yourself without interruption.

Another great advantage to a museum trip during the winter is that you can avoid all of the bad weather, as they are all indoors establishments.

Even better, you’ll actually find some of the best Christmas markets in the city near some of these museums, with the most prominent one being Ice Amsterdam at Museumplein.

If you’re curious about which locations to visit, we actually have a post covering almost every major museum in Amsterdam. Here are a few of our favorite examples:


7. Attend the Sinterklaas Parade

Santa Claus comes in many forms, and in Amsterdam he takes the role of Sinterklaas for an annual parade through the canals along the Amstel River on a steamboat.

This event will take place on November 19th, 2-23, and for many it marks the beginning of the Dutch holiday season.

The Sinterklaas Parade begins at 10:00 am and runs until 15:30 (3:30 pm), giving viewers ample opportunity to see the fabled mythical figure.

There are a lot of great spots along the parade route to get a good view of Sinterklaas as he passes by, including the following options:

  • Maritime Museum
  • Entrepotdok Bridge
  • Waterlooplein
  • Rembrandtplein
  • Dam Square
  • Leidseplein

One of the major moments during this parade takes place at the Maritime Museum, where Sinterklaas is welcomed by the mayor of Amsterdam and then mounts a white horse and begins riding him toward Dam Square.


8. Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Like many European cities, Amsterdam rings in the new year with a massive fireworks show.

There are a lot of great spots to see this show, but some of the best locations are Dam Square, Museumplein, Rembrandplein, Nieuwmarkt, and Leidseplein.

Amsterdam Concert in Dam Square on New Year's Eve

Alternatively, there will be plenty of New Year’s Eve parties in Amsterdam as well, and you might want to head to one of these events to celebrate.

If all else fails, you can always enjoy a pub crawl and hop from one bar to the next to see what the atmosphere is like among locals on this festive holiday and look for the best spot to grab a drink.

Even the Chinese locals get into the spirit with an annual Lion Dance in the Chinatown district. 

You might also want to hop onto one of the many Amsterdam Light Festival canal cruises that will likely be running, offering another way to experience the fireworks show.


9. Go to a Christmas Concert

Every holiday season, local churches, venues, and even museums begin hosting Christmas concerts all over Amsterdam.

The Royal Concertgebouw will host multiple concerts this winter, including a classical Christmas Concert on December 24th.

There is also a candlelight Christmas concert at the Maritime Museum on December 1st which will include music from popular holiday films including Home Alone and Love Actually.

In addition to these options, there are also going to be a lot of great traditional concerts in Amsterdam this month, including the following popular musicians:


10. Celebrate National Tulip Day

Although most flowers will begin to bloom in spring, the tulip tends to grow a lot earlier in the year, and Amsterdam celebrates this beautiful flower starting in late winter and running through late spring.

The tulip is actually the unofficial flower of the Netherlands, making it an important part of the culture in Amsterdam and surrounding areas.

One of the most popular events during this time of year is National Tulip Day, which takes place annually on the third Saturday in January. 

In celebration of the event, they fill Dam Square with more than 200,000 tulips. If you’re walking by the square on that day, feel free to pick a flower or two while you’re there, as it’s entirely free!

Nearby Keukenhof Gardens opens up a bit later in spring, usually around the start of March.

This is usually around the same time that the Tulip Festival begins each year, and you can expect to see a variety of tulips all over the city from late January - May.

If all else fails, they even have a floating flower market where you can get beautiful bouquets and floral arrangements pretty much year round!


Amsterdam Winter Weather

If you’re wondering what kind of weather to expect in Amsterdam throughout the winter, we actually have a series of posts covering that subject in detail for each month of the season:

As we mentioned earlier, it can get cold enough during this time of year that the canals of Amsterdam will actually freeze over, making it possible to go ice skating right on a UNESCO World Heritage site!

That said, it has to get pretty chilly for that to be possible, and the coldest months of the year are typically January and February, frequently seeing lows of under 1 C.

Since it will likely be very cold and rainy during the winter, we recommend wearing layers and bringing plenty of clothes to bundle up, including a waterproof jacket, scarf, gloves, comfortable non-slip boots, and perhaps an umbrella as well.


Winter Dishes in Amsterdam

Whether you’re interested in trying some local festive treats during the holidays, or you want to know some of the best meals and dishes to warm you up throughout the winter months in Amsterdam, there are a lot of great options to consider.

Here are a few of our favorite things to eat in Amsterdam during the winter:

  • Chocomel (hot chocolate)
  • Oliebollen (donut holes)
  • Stamppot (Dutch mash)
  • Fondue (Dutch cheese)
  • Snert (pea soup)
  • Stroopwafels

For even more ideas, consider taking a free Amsterdam food tour led by local guides who know all the best foods to eat when it gets cold outside.


Should You Visit Amsterdam in Winter?

Although a lot of people would probably avoid visiting Amsterdam in winter, there are some genuinely good reasons to consider a trip during this time of year.

Our list of winter activities provides 10 good reasons, but aside from those examples, it’s also worth noting that both airfare and hotel accommodations tend to be much less expensive during the winter.

Most of the popular landmarks in this city will also be fairly empty at this time of year, which means you won’t have to worry about crowds or waiting in long lines for tickets.

Even some members of our Facebook Group suggest that this is actually an excellent time to visit, recommending several fun activities that travelers can enjoy in the winter.


About The Author

Justin

Justin is a travel content writer and editor with over a decade of experience in the field. He graduated from Portland State University in 2012. He has lived in the Pacific Northwest his whole life and knows the American West Coast very well. Justin has been part of the Free Tours By Foot content team since 2017.
Updated: October 27th, 2023
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