November is the start of the Festive Season in The Netherlands with the arrival of the Father Christmas-like Sinterklaas who sails into the country from Spain with his (somewhat controversial) army of assistants known as Zwarte Pieten. The Intocht is when festivities kick off as the big man sails down the canals lined by hundreds of excited children singing seasonal songs. It’s a huge spectacle that involves more than a kilometre of floats and boats, 400 colourful assistants and nearly half a million spectators. The parade starts with the departure of the steamboat down the Amstel River as it heads towards the Scheepvaartmuseum where Sint is greeted by the Mayor before riding off through the streets on his horse Amerigo ready for musical fun in Dam Square. It’s a truly unforgettable experience but you’ll need to arrive early for a good spot.
PepernotenThe primary role of Sinterklaas’ helpers, the infamous Zwarte Pieten, seems to be to throw pepernoten into the crowds. These small spiced biscuits along with their chocolate covered bretheren kruidnoten are beloved by little kids and big kids alike and you’ll find them for sale all over the city at this time of year.
Chocolate lettersOne of the most anticipated goodies that Sinterklaas pulls from his sack for children who have been especially good are chocolate letters. Available in dark, milk and white chocolate these delicious initials can be bought throughout Amsterdam at shops like Dutch-favourites HEMA and Jamin and are a wonderful (if short-lived!) memento of a wintery visit to the city.
OliebollenWinter also sees the arrival of Oliebollen trucks which seem to pop up overnight and fill the crisp air with the smell of cinnamon. Serving up a type of warm and heavy spiced doughnut, these treats are packed with currants and raisins; candied fruit or apple and are dusted with icing sugar. There’s no delicate way to eat one but they are just the thing to warm you inside and out on a cold winter’s day.
Warme ChocomelKids just can’t resist a hot chocolate, and ours make us stop frequently in winter for a “warme Chocomel met slagroom” (a Dutch hot chocolate with cream). This wonderful drink is always served warm rather than hot with lashings of squirty cream which means its guaranteed to disappear in seconds at this time of year (head to our favourite spot, Winkel 43 where you can grab one alongside the world's greatest apple pie).
Restaurants with fireplacesAlthough we love Amsterdam’s terraces even when we have to snuggle under blankets or heaters, there’s something incredibly alluring about Dutch restaurant interiors at this time of year. Whilst not all of the brown cafés or pubs are ideal for little ones there are numerous larger cafés and restaurants with roaring fires which are the perfect spot to stop off when the weather outside is frightful. Why not sink into an armchair by the fire at the back of De Ysbreeker one of the city’s most historic grand cafés; or have tea at the incredibly cosy College Hotel. And don’t forget about the pancake restaurants which offer year-round appeal to hungry youngsters.
When it comes to activities, nothing is more Dutch than an energetic skate. Although canal skating is only possible about once a decade, ice skating rinks pop up across town in winter and none are more wonderful than the iconic ICE*Amsterdam which opens in front of the Rijksmuseum each year. Surrounded by a winter market and framed by the museum and I amsterdam letters, it’s a wonderfully seasonal spot for old and young alike.