As the nights grow shorter and the days get colder, most places wind down to welcome the winter months. But in the Amsterdam Area, winter doesn’t necessarily mean quieter. In fact, the villages, towns and cities surrounding Amsterdam are packed with different events, festivals and fairs to celebrate the holiday season. Cobbled streets are filled with decorations and illuminated with fairy lights, oliebollen vendors keep hungry shoppers in good spirits and there’s a wealth of delicacies to be found at market stalls or behind the steamed-up windows of cosy cafés. The only stress you will feel is deciding which place you want to visit first.
See the best things to do this winter in the Amsterdam Area:
Enjoy a cosy Christmas singalong on Christmas Eve together with beautiful music and a group of welcoming strangers. After a silent disco and a festive broadcast, the singalong begins, with a live band accompanying a mix of classic and Dutch carols and songs.
24 December // Grote Markt, Haarlem
Delicious Paintings of Tjalf Sparnaay
If you like your art hyper real and your eggs sunny side up, then you won’t want to miss Delicious Paintings, an exhibition by Tjalf Sparnaay. Hailing from Haarlem, and referencing masters such as Rembrandt, this Dutch artist paints everyday objects and food at a monumental scale. Think big bananas in plastic bags, hefty burgers, enormous eggs or super sandwiches, all of which pop from the canvas in a celebration of colour, form and detail.
Until 19 January // Museum Jan van der Togt
Fairy tale walk in Zandvoort
The perfect festive family day out, head in to the centre of Zandvoort and marvel as dozens of characters from your favourite fairy tales, including Snow White and her seven dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, spend time taking pictures and meeting the assembled crowds. Even Santa Claus will be there before his big night delivering presents to children around the world.
21 December // Zandvoort
If you’re need to do some last-minute Christmas shopping or you’re just looking for that perfect present, there are plenty of places in the Amsterdam Area to get your hands-on great gifts. Zandaam’s city centre offers a wealth of shopping options and Haarlem is regularly voted as one of the Netherlands’ best shopping discounts. Amstelveen is also known for its big brands and trendy boutiques, and the Stadshart Amstelveen shopping mall has won the ‘best shopping mall of the Netherlands’.
Concert at the Grote Kerk in Haarlem
The 16th century Gothic Grote Kerk dominates the Grote Markt in the centre of Haarlem, a treasure trove city brimming with historical and cultural gems. And there’s no better way to spend a winters day than by settling into a seat underneath the church’s magnificent interior to take in a concert. Some events even feature the church’s gigantic organ, constructed in 1738 and once played by a young Mozart.
Various dates // Haarlem
New Year Swim
On 1 January at 2 pm sharp outside Beachclub No5 in Zandvoort aan Zee, join a group of brave swimmers taking their first dip of the year. Every year, thousands of people from Amsterdam and the surrounding area meet to see the New Year in, North Sea-style. After the swim, reward yourself with a steaming mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream from one of the beach pavilions.
1 January 2020 // Zandvoort
Pure Zee has everything your need for a relaxing getaway. Located in an historic villa, this well-appointed hotel features romantic rooms and a restaurant offering a fresh, seasonal menu. Visit the Bar & Bistro to kickback with a glass of wine, delicious nibbles including a stunning selection of seafood, including home-smoked salmon, Zeeland mussels or Puur Zee’s famous fish and chips.
Winter beach walks
Do as the Dutch and take yourself on a winter walk in National Park Zuid-Kennemerland or the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen. Wander this unique Dutch landscape of vast, spectacular dunes and wildlife retreats where deer, rabbits and Highland cattle roam at will. You can explore this vast protected dune landscape via designated walking routes and cycle paths. There are also many other opportunities to enjoy unique experiences amidst this memorable landscape, including horse riding and swimming.
Founded in the 13th century as a small fishing village surrounded by lakes and located on the De Where river, nowadays Purmerend is a bustling city which you can wander around and usually find some street theatre, music or markets. A perfect winter day trip from Amsterdam, it’s easy to spend a day curling up in a café sampling some delicious food and drink, or visiting unique boutiques, stylish shops and its beautiful indoor mall. Make sure to visit the Koemarkt, the city’s ‘living room’ which hosts regular events and is lined with quaint restaurants and bars.
Verkade chocolate experience
Take a fascinating journey from the very first windmills and green wooden houses to modern factories, and admire traditional Dutch paintings, costumes and artefacts – all at the Zaans Museum in Zaanse Schans. At the heart of the museum is the Verkade Experience, a chocolate and biscuit factory. A treat for young and old alike, it takes you back to the early 20th century, where the original machines are still churning away. Want to get involved? Design your own wrapper for a customised Verkade chocolate bar or join in the games and become a chocolate expert.
Inspired by the building’s former purpose as a gunpowder factory, celebrity Chef Peter Lute opened a restaurant specialising in spices. De Kruidfabriek (spice factory) is a destination perfect for foodies looking for something fresh, with a menu stuffed full of largely vegetable-based dishes where herbs, spices and seasonings get to know each other in new and wonderful ways.
Waterland’s flat polder landscape throws up moments that feel lost in time, and in winter its expansive fields and old-style stolpboerderijen – farmhouses with unmistakable pyramid roofs – feel more magical than ever. It’s a place where endless panoramas are punctuated with places of real beauty: the UNESCO World Heritage Site De Beemster boasts scenic waterways, dykes, restored mills and charming, traditional farmhouses, as well as De Rijp, which has been dubbed ’Holland’s most beautiful village’.
Nationaal Park Nieuw Land
Adventurers hoping to catch a glimpse of the country’s diverse wildlife should venture out to nature reserve Nationaal Park Nieuw Land. Located just east of Amsterdam and featuring birds, deer, foxes and hares, its expansive fields and wetlands feel almost otherworldly in the winter, as the days grow darker and a stillness seeps into the landscape. And after you’ve been there why not take the time to pop to the nearby Nature Park Lelystad, home to otters, moose, bison and wild boar.
Whether you’re grabbing some festive gifts for friends and family or taking advantage of the sales, it’s hard to resist the urge to take some time out to shop during the winter season. Luckily the city of Lelystad’s Batavia Stad shopping centre offers bargain hunters the perfect place to seek out big brands and discounted goods. With more than 250 fashion brands, cafés and restaurants, look out for discount deals on everything from Ralph Lauren to Nike. Visitors from outside the EU can benefit from even more savings by shopping tax free.
There are five beach restaurants open throughout the winter along the Zandvoort aan Zee coastline. Try Tijn Akersloot for a beach-club atmosphere, Club Nautique for modern Mediterranean food, Beachclub No5 for a hearty steak dinner, Thalassa for excellent fish and seafood or atmospheric De Haven van Zandvoort.
For more great events in Amsterdam check out I amsterdam's Weekend Guide.