• 7 February 2020

Amsterdam is one of the most beloved and culturally rich cities in all of Europe, ever-popular as a summer city for tourists from all around the globe. But it’s also a gem of a destination when it comes to a winter option. Why not consider an Amsterdam winter for your next European visit?

What to pack for Amsterdam winter weather

Despite what many may think, Amsterdam isn’t the coldest of European cities. You will still benefit from some thermal underwear, boots and a coat, but it very rarely snows. That said, it gets windy, and there’s a good chance of rain in the Amsterdam December. So pack a scarf, a cap and an umbrella, and be prepared to feel a slight chill at 5 to 10℃.

It also gets dark around 16:30pm in the Netherlands winter, which will subtract a few degrees from the daytime temperature. 

Pro winter packing for your Amsterdam trip
Pro winter packing for your Amsterdam trip

What to do during winter in Amsterdam

So, properly packed and prepared, let’s look at 8 awesome things that should be fully enjoyed in the wonderful city of Amsterdam in the winter:

1. Visit the usual tourist attractions

It doesn’t sound very dramatic, but there’s a great advantage to doing the usual touristy Amsterdam activities in winter. For one thing, the city is far less crowded, and you’ll be able to visit the museums and monuments with far less hassle and avoid the usual hustle and bustle. 

Tourist hotspots like the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are all still open.  

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam museum area with the words IAMSTERDAM
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam museum area with the words IAMSTERDAM
2. Experience the Amsterdam Light Festival

Much of the city is bathed in light from the dozens of light sculptures that pop up from late November to January. Many of the sculptures are placed along the canals. So the festival is a wonderful excuse to explore the city at night. 

Many choose to do so via boat rides on the canals. In fact, a lot of the sculptures are designed specifically for viewing from the canals. This is also an ideal opportunity to plan a romantic date night. The boat ride may be cold, but many offer blankets and warm drinks to take the bite off the chill. What better way to marvel at the wonderful colours of the season?  

Other installations are better seen on land. Fortunately, the brave can still rent bicycles to drift around the city to enjoy them. It is Amsterdam after all. Just be careful! The streets are often wet and can be scary on two wheels.

If the outdoors is too much for you, you can always settle for the wonderful Christmas lights at the Bijenkorf department store. The Christmas tree just outside the store in Dam Square is a highlight.

It’s a throwback in a way to when the major New York department stores would decorate their shops and windows for the season. It’s still awesome, though, if only to lure you in for a quick purchase or nine. 

Light installations on night canals of Amsterdam within Light Festival
Light installations on night canals of Amsterdam within Light Festival
3. Shop at the Christmas markets

Like in most major cities, there are several Christmas markets. They offer delicacies to eat and fun things to do in Amsterdam in December. Try the Funky Xmas Market at the Westeregas every Sunday, which focuses on fashion, design and crafts. 

For something special, try the Ice Village in Museumplein. Besides shopping at the various stalls and shops, you can enjoy Christmas games and live entertainment in a somewhat surreal setting.

There are seemingly dozens of smaller pop-up markets throughout the city too. It’s part of the charm of the city, to walk along and discover them randomly. The Pure Wintermarkt is one example of a market that moves through the city from week to week. Find it and enjoy street food, live music, and a general fun atmosphere. 

Like the light festival, there’s an indoor option for market lovers as well. Het Amsterdams Winterparadijs at RAI gets rid of the cold factor, takes you indoors and lets you enjoy rides, ice skating, food, and more. 

Christmas market on Rembrandt square in Amsterdam
Christmas market on Rembrandt square in Amsterdam
4. Celebrate Tulip Day

Tulips are as much a part of Dutch culture as windmills. Every third Saturday in January, the country celebrates National Tulip Day. 

Head to Dam Square, where a massive display of tulips is designed and curated. Visitors can actually pick a few and go home with a bouquet, and it’s all absolutely free! And you thought that there weren’t amazing things to do in Amsterdam in January?

National Tulip Day in Amsterdam
National Tulip Day in Amsterdam
5. Try the Oliebollen

Speaking of food, you will have to try the famous Dutch treat Oliebollen. It’s a deep-fried dough ball – much like a tennis-ball-sized doughnut, dusted with sugar. A delicious, tasty, and welcome addition to a cup of hot chocolate. 

Traditional Dutch oliebollen in Amsterdam
Traditional Dutch oliebollen in Amsterdam
6. Look into the Christmas Exhibition Museum

A special museum pops up at this time of year, offering a glimpse into how the famously upper-class Willet-Holthuysens celebrated their Christmas. The house at The Museum Willet-Holthuysen is decked out in Christmas decor. 

Together with its preserved architecture, furniture and history, it creates a fascinating window into a past that few others will have experienced. 

Old retro car near the entrance of a restaurant
Old retro car near the entrance of a restaurant
7. Count down the New Year

Many of the main squares in Amsterdam celebrate the countdown to the New Year. So try Dam Square or Leidseplein to join a crowd of revellers keen on celebrating. At midnight, fireworks light up the night sky. Try to find the Magere Brug for a great view. 

Festive salute of fireworks on New Year's night
Festive salute of fireworks on New Year’s night
8. Stay for Valentine’s Day

At the tail-end of winter, there’s time for one more celebration – Valentine’s Day. Amsterdam being the romantic city that it is on any day of the year, is especially atmospheric on February 14. 

You can cycle the city throughout the year, but it’s kind of special to do it together today. Everyone seems to be a little friendlier, and there are cheery expressions of romance to be found all over the city. 

You might check into one of Amsterdam’s many boutique hotels (it’s still low tourist season). You may even try an evening of cocktails on a rooftop bar. Why not go on that sunset cruise on the canal? 

Whatever you choose you won’t be short of romance in Amsterdam in February.  

Colourful heart shaped display of macarons in a bakery shop window
Colourful heart shaped display of macarons in a bakery shop window

The Light Festival beautifies the city. The Oliebollen warms the tummy and the travelling markets, boat rides and bicycles add a charm that’s emphatically ‘the Netherlands’. 

Amsterdam isn’t as packed with shoppers and tourists as some other European cities in winter, or over the Christmas season. In fact, it’s got a slightly laid-back atmosphere, perfect for a getaway to literally write home about.

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