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Bike parked on the bridge at Reguliersgracht in Winter
Image from Thomas van Galen

Reasons to visit Amsterdam in winter

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.

Amsterdam looks like a fairy tale in the snow

Begijnhof Square In Snow
Image from Marie Charlotte Pezé

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.

The city becomes a spectacle of light

Lights in the winter at Christmas in the PC Hooftstraat shopping street
Image from Koen Smilde

Transforming Amsterdam into a vast outdoor art gallery during the darkest winter months, the annual Amsterdam Light Festival sees magical light installations adorn canals, streets and landmarks from December to January. And, of course, you can always rely on a grand department store to bring the festive atmosphere and theatrical window displays. De Bijenkorf on Dam Square hosts a special ceremony in mid-November every year to switch on the thousands of (energy-efficient) twinkling lights that decorate its building. Crowds gather to admire the spectacle, which includes performances, a fireworks display and a late-night shopping event. Here's a roundup of the best places to see the holiday lights.

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

Ice* child ice skating at Museumplein
Image from Koen Smilde

It doesn’t happen often, but if conditions are correct (and generally, the temperature needs to dip below four 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 spectacular Winterparadijs ice fair and the Jaap Eden ice rink.

Everything is gezellig

Brown bar Cafe Papeneiland in the Jordaan by night.
Image from Patrick Schneider

Dark nights, twinkling fairy lights, playing board games in cosy pubs… everything about winter in Amsterdam is genuinely 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. Check out these roundups of brown bars, board game cafes and cosy neighbourhood bars for your gezelligheid induction.

Amsterdam’s winter markets are amazing

Westergas Christmas market in Westerpark.
Image from Koen Smilde

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. They’re the perfect place to find art, jewellery, artisanal food products, locally designed homeware and handcrafted decorations. Shopping is usually accompanied by a soundtrack of carol singers and festive entertainment. Find out more about Amsterdam’s Christmas markets.

It's a perfect Valentine's retreat

A couple visits OSCAM - Open Space Contemporary Art Museum.
Image from Jan de Ridder

Amsterdam is consistently voted amongst the most romantic cities in the world, so what better destination for a loved-up Valentine's break? From romantic candle-lit restaurants and spectacular concerts to old-school cinema or remarkable cultural itineraries, find out more about what to do with your partner in Amsterdam on Valentine's Day.

You can eat to your heart’s content

Rustic cuisine with “Boerenkool spamppot” or smoked sausage cabbage, traditional Dutch food. With a typical Dutch plate. stamppot boerenkool .
Typically Dutch foods

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. Get inspired with these cosy winter restaurants or check out one of the best restaurants for traditionally Dutch cuisine in Amsterdam.

It's oliebollen season

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 you must 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. Need inspiration? Check out our article on the best places for oliebollen.

The museums are less crowded

Rijksmuseum exterior at night with the I amsterdam sign
Image from John Lewis Marshall

Amsterdam is less crowded in winter, meaning shorter queues at the major museums. Save the winter months for exploring the Rembrandt House Museum, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, where you can shelter from the cold and then pile into a cosy brown bar afterwards. For a glimpse into Amsterdam’s past winters, look no further than the 17th-century masterpieces on display in the Rijks. Dutch landscape artists such as Hendrick Avercamp, Adam van Breen and Jan van Goyen painted emotive scenes of entire communities wrapped up warm and enjoying ice-skating, sledging, socialising and even ice fishing.  

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Sinterklaas arrival
Image from Amie Galbraith

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. The annual Sinterklaas parade takes place in mid-November, with the feast of St Nicholas itself falling on December 5.