Winter in Amsterdam

Winter is coming - which is great news for anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam. The colder months are a magical time to visit the Dutch capital, when nights are cosy, food is hearty, and everything twinkles in fairy lights. Here are just a few reasons why Amsterdam is the perfect winter destination.

1) Amsterdam looks like a fairy tale in the snow

There are no two ways about it; Amsterdam is stunning in white. Impossibly pretty at the worst of times, the city looks like a Christmas card when it’s dusted in snowflakes -  making for a wildly romantic backdrop to any visit. For optimum snowman conditions, head to one of the larger parks like Vondelpark or Westerpark where you’ll find vast expanses of uninterrupted white stuff just waiting to be packed into snowballs.

Amsterdam Begijnhof winter snow Edwin van Eis

The Begijnhof in the snow

2) The city becomes a spectacle of light

Transforming Amsterdam into a huge outdoor art gallery during the darkest winter months, the annual Amsterdam Light Festival sees magical light installations adorn canals, streets and landmarks from November to January. The best way to see the entire spectacle is via a special Amsterdam Light Festival boat tour.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2013 Janus van den Eijnden

Amsterdam Light Festival

3) You can (sometimes) ice-skate on the frozen canals

It doesn’t happen often, but if conditions are right (and generally the temperature needs to dip below 4 degrees for four consecutive nights) then canals are blocked off to allow enough ice to form. Et voila; the world’s most beautiful ice rink. Even if the canals don’t freeze over this year, there are plenty of other opportunities for outdoor ice skating in Amsterdam – including  the vast ICE*Amsterdam outside the Rijksmuseum, and the Jaap Eden ice rink.

Winter ice skating canal Edwin van Eis

Ice skating on the frozen canals in Amsterdam

4) Everything is ‘gezellig’

Dark nights, Twinkling fairy lights, cosy pubseverything about winter in Amsterdam is truly ‘gezellig’. Pronounced ‘he-zell-ick’,  this word with no literal English translation is at the heart of Dutch culture, encompassing everything from ‘cosy’ and ‘quaint’ to ‘friendly’ and ‘relaxing’. It can be applied to any situation or thing that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and you’ll be hearing it a lot if you visit Amsterdam in winter.

Amsterdam canal ring houses night lights

5) Amsterdam’s winter markets are amazing

Amsterdam does an excellent line in festive fairs; taking a more independent, unique approach than many other European cities. Every weekend in the lead-up to Christmas you’ll find a different market popping up somewhere in or around the city, ranging from the traditional to the trendy, and selling beautiful produce and lovingly prepared food and drink in unique locations. Find out more about Amsterdam’s Christmas markets.

Christmas at Castle Keukenhof

Christmas at Castle Keukenhof

6) It's a perfect Valentine's retreat 

Amsterdam is consistently voted amongst the most romantic cities in the world, so what better destination for a loved up Valentines break? Find out more about what there is to do in Amsterdam on Valentine's Day.

 Romantic Amsterdam

7) You can eat to your heart’s content

Hearty, substantial and satisfying; Dutch cuisine was made for cold days and nights. From stamppot (traditional Dutch mash)  to snert  (thick pea and ham soup) and everything in between, Dutch food is designed to warm you up from the inside out. Check out our guide to the top Dutch winter foods to try in Amsterdam on the MyAmsterdam blog, or have a look at these cosy winter restaurants.

Stamppot Amsterdam Tavallai

Tuck into some delicious stamppot at a traditional Dutch restaurant in Amsterdam

8) Oliebollen

If there’s one reason to visit Amsterdam in the winter, then Oliebollen is it. These delicious balls of doughnutty goodness come out once a year, so it’s important that you eat as many as possible while you have the chance. Get them steaming hot and dusted in sugar from a street vendor, and then get some more.

Amsterdam oliebollen CC BY-SA 3.0 Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons

9) The streets are yours

Amsterdam is less crowded in winter time, meaning shorter queues at the major museums and more chance of getting a table at your favourite bar or restaurant. Save the winter months for exploring the Anne Frank House, Rijksmusuem and Van Gogh Museum, where you can shelter from the cold and then pile into a cosy brown bar afterwards.

Amsterdam street houses

10) Sinterklaas is coming to town

Unlike in other parts  of the world where Father Christmas only appears after children have gone to bed, the Dutch Father Christmas is not shy of the limelight. In fact he likes to make quite the spectacular entrance, sailing into town every winter on a kilometre-long parade of floats and boats, welcomed by upwards of 400,000 spectators. This year’s Sinterklaas parade takes place on Sunday 13 November, with the feast of St Nicholas itself falling on December 5. Wondering what the difference is between the two big men in red? Read our spotters guide to Father Christmas v Sinterklaas.

Amsterdam Saint Nicholas Sinterklaas, Ada Nieuwendijk

Sinterklaas: likes to make an entrance