Visiting Amsterdam is a life-changing experience no matter what time of year you go. However, the city dials it up a notch over the festive season and New Years. It’s not known as one of Europe’s merrymaking capitals for nothing! Join Expat Explore on a tour of Europe and spend NYE in Amsterdam…
Get kitted out for the cold
First things first, be aware that Amsterdam gets quite cold over December. The average high sits at 6°C (42°F), and overnight lows dip to 2.5°C (33° F). In January it can get even cooler due to wind chill. Despite the cold, a winter New Years in Amsterdam is unlikely to feature snow. Due to its location, the city experiences humid weather that turns snow to slush.
Be sure to pack a pair of waterproof boots and a heavy coat or padded jacket. A pair of mittens and a scarf won’t go amiss either. Dress in layers – there is central heating indoors, so you’ll want to be able to take off heavier items.
Adapt your itinerary to the weather
This time of year there are less queues and more locals. It’s the best time of year to soak up the true Amsterdam atmosphere.
Top Tip! Be sure to include flexible plans in your day as you won’t be guaranteed clear skies! The good news is, there is plenty to do under cover on cold and rainy days in Amsterdam.
Fun things to do indoors on cold days:
Visit the museums.
From the vast collection of Dutch masters at the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, to the renowned Rembrandt House Museum, there is a lot of historic art to peruse. If you like modern art better, try the Stedelijk Museum – here you’ll find contemporary design and art. Or you could stop at the historic Anne Frank House. There are many museums to choose from – here’s a list to choose from.
Explore café culture.
Coffee culture is alive and kicking in Amsterdam. Their famous coffee houses are a wonderful place to keep warm and enjoy the bustle. It also makes for great people-watching. Please note: The Dutch draw an important distinction between a coffee house or ‘koffiehuis’ and a café. The latter also serves marijuana products. If you’re a tourist, cafés outside of Amsterdam might refuse you entry due to a new initiative to stave off ‘cannabis tourism’.
Go on a cruise in a closed canal boat.
Most canal cruises take around an hour. This is a great way to explore Amsterdam’s UNESCO protected canal ring and discover interesting facts about the city. You can also opt for a hop-on, hop-off cruise to take you through the city.
If you do strike it lucky, and encounter a pleasant winter’s day in Amsterdam during your stay, there is also a lot to do outdoors.
Things to do outdoors on warmer days:
There are many lovely outdoor ice skating rinks in Amsterdam over the festive season. Skate on the beautiful square surrounded by the Rijksmuseum, the Concertgebouw and the Van Gogh Museum. You can rent ice skates and even take a skating lesson if you like. Afterwards, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa on the pleasant terrace. Alternatively, head to the Leidseplein, Vrijthof Maastricht or De Markt in Eindhoven.
Rent a bicycle!
Everyone in Amsterdam cycles. It’s the best way to see the city. Get on a bike and explore like a true Dutchie.
Winter markets in Amsterdam are a thing of beauty. Christmas may be over, but the festive spirit is still alive and kicking come NYE.
If the weather is nice, you have to visit a few Amsterdam park. The city knows landscaping! Our top picks include the 47-acre Vondelpark, the cultural hub of Westerpark, Sarphatipark in De Pijp and Rembrandtpark in the West. The latter is home to the oldest petting zoo in the city.
The Festival of Lights after dark
Amsterdam’s canals are lit up artistically from the end of November to the middle of January. There are two main installation routes. One can be enjoyed on foot. the other by boat. Visitors can look forward to awe-inspiring projection work on historic buildings and trees. Mesmerising!
Top Tip! You can save a bundle by getting an Amsterdam City Card. This visitor pass gives you free entry to many museums & attractions. Not to mention free public transport! Check it out here.
Get ready to party Amsterdam-style!
That said, there is nothing more lively than the streets of Amsterdam at New Years. Fireworks are only on sale for a few days a year, so the Dutch really go for it on NYE. You can expect impromptu displays from most bridges and open spaces. Official fireworks take place in the Oosterdok close to the central station. Unofficial street parties also abound along the city’s main squares. This includes Nieuwmarkt and Leidseplein. Dam Square and Rembrandtplein are also normally filled with beer tents and live music.
Alternatively, you could partake in an organised event, of which there are many to choose from. If you know you’ll be spending NYE in Amsterdam, book tickets for the parties you want to attend. You can choose from a wide range that includes everything from black-tie gala dinners to raves in warehouses. The choice is yours.
Amsterdam is one of the world’s foremost NYE destinations, so the city is packed. Go with the flow, keep track of your belongings and remember that a smile goes a long way. You are likely to encounter some rather boisterous crowds, so move with a group if possible.
Pre-party snacks you must try
If you’re going to see in the New Year in Amsterdam, you’ll need to fuel your adventure. This is a great excuse to enjoy some Dutch street food. Our top on-the-go, pre-party snack goods include:
Olliebollen – These oily dough balls are a traditional NYE snack that has roots in Germanic tradition. Apparently, it was believed that it wards off evil spirits. These days most people believe it actually wards off a hangover.
Patatjie oorlog – Chips with a mix of mayo, sate sauce and onions which translates to ‘war chips’.
Poffertjes – Basically baby pancakes covered in butter and powdered sugar – what’s not to love?
Stamppot – Mashed potato with veg and a juicy sausage.
Stroopwafels – Crispy waffle made from two thin wafers with syrup in between. Great with a steaming cup of coffee.
Bitterballen – Deep-fried meatballs, often beef or veal, with a cheesy centre.