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Orchestra of Santa's at Chrismas Market Haarlem 2016
Image from Koen Smilde

Winter day trips from Amsterdam

Winter is the perfect time to take a day trip from Amsterdam and immerse yourself in the Netherlands’ rich cultural offerings, including its traditional villages and towns, beautiful nature parks and festive events. Unlike many countries, the Netherlands never seems more alive than it does in winter. Whether you want to get lost spotting wildlife while walking through misty woods, spend some time perched on a pier by the sea watching rare seabirds, explore snow-capped castles or see one of the many magical Christmas markets – there’s almost too much to see and do.

See a concert at the Grote Kerk in Haarlem

Plafond details van de Grote Kerk in Haarlem.
Image from John Maschak

The 16th-century Gothic Grote Kerk dominates the Grote Markt in the centre of Haarlem, a city that, despite its manageable size, is a treasure trove of historical and cultural gems. And there’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than by sitting 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.

Grote Kerk, Grote Markt 22, Haarlem

Connect with nature at Nationaal Park Nieuw Land

High plants alongside the brook.
Image from koen smilde

Adventurers hoping to catch a glimpse of the country’s diverse wildlife should venture out to Nationaal Park Nieuw Land. Located just east of Amsterdam and featuring birds, deer, foxes and hares, the expansive fields and wetlands at this nature reserve 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 over to the nearby Nature Park Lelystad, home to otters, moose, bison and wild boar? During winter, a brilliant Christmas market also sets up in the nature park.

Go winter windmill spotting at Zaanse Schans

A couple is walking on a sunny day in the winter at the Zaanse Schans.
Image from Pauline Arkesteijn

The perfect place to go windmill spotting in the winter, Zaanse Schans offers a perfectly preserved glimpse into the Netherlands' industrial past. Among the vast fields and traditional houses, windmills, warehouses and workshops, the historical village of Zaanse Schans looks prettier than ever on a winter’s day, proving exactly why it’s one of the Netherlands' best loved attractions (it lures more than a million visitors each year).  Of course, you can warm up afterwards by popping over to the traditional towns of Volendam or Marken for a bowl of ‘snert’ – or Dutch pea soup.

See the bleak and beautiful Schokland

Kids playing with exhibit at Museum Schokland
Image from Michel Klooster

Schokland offers a unique combination of cultural history and nature. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, in winter it’s especially beautiful and bleak, as icy mists rise over the land throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Venture around the area and you’ll see a wealth of archaeological treasures and evidence of human habitation from more than 10,000 years ago. Some of these artefacts remain almost completely intact. While there, you can also see fascinating monuments including a historic church and lighthouse keeper’s residence, and you might even spot some of the hares, rabbits, roe deer, pine martens, swallows and harriers which have made the area their home.

Explore the Teylers Museum in Haarlem

Image from Teylers museum Haarlem

Like venturing through the back of a cupboard and into a strange new land, a trip to the Teylers Museum in Haarlem is certain to throw up moments of wonder and awe. The perfect place to shelter from the cold of a winter’s day, this museum invites visitors to delve into art and science. It is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands and displays an extensive collection of paintings and drawings (many of which come from the Hague School and the Dutch Romantics), fossils, minerals, instruments and books. Don't forget that this museum is free to visit with a City Card!

Teylers Museum, Spaarn 16, Haarlem

Discover a winter paradise fit for a princess, with a castle to boot

The Muiderslot is a medieval castle in the North Holland town of Muiden, built around 1285, restored to its former glory from 1370 and a national museum since 1878.
Image from Koen Dijkstra

As far as awe-inspiring sights go, snow-capped castles rising into view out of wintery mists must surely be up there with the best of them. And if you’re looking for a place that looks like it’s fresh from the pages of a fairy tale, Muiden is it. Featuring a medieval castle, a quayside lined with cosy cafes and situated on the banks of the river IJmeer, the city is the perfect place for a winter adventure.

Get up close and personal with the seabirds at IJmuiden piers

Ijmuiden aan zee
Image from Beeldbank Gemeente Velsen / Ko van Leeuwen

The beach might not seem like the perfect place to spend a winter’s day, but IJmuiden, which has vast sand dunes and a three-kilometre-long pier stretching out into the North Sea, makes braving a bit of cold weather absolutely worth the effort. That’s because it’s one of the best places in the Netherlands to spot seabirds. From purple sandpipers to rock pipits and turnstones, there’s always an array of magnificent creatures gliding through the air and nestling down. And after you’ve had your fill of avian delights? Take shelter in one of the area’s cosy cafes and grab some fresh stroopwafels and a warm chocolademelk (hot chocolate) to dunk them in.

Go back in time in Waterland

Image from Mirte Vreemann

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 traditional farmhouses, as well as De Rijp, which has been dubbed ’Holland’s most beautiful village’. Another highlight is Land van Leeghwater, a 1,000-year-old area which features an array of polders – stretches of land that sit below sea level and were once marshes, dunes or even bodies of water – and scenic canals, pastures and locks. It also features on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Grab a bargain at Batavia Stad shopping centre

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 is 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. And if you fancy a culture fix after all that shopping, it’s only a short walk to see Antony Gormley’s massive Exposure, a 26-metre steel figure crouching on the Strekdam, gazing out over the Markermeer lake.

Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet, Bataviaplein 60, Lelystad

Discover a unique winter wonderland at Haarlem’s Christmas Market

Christmas market in Haarlem. With a close-up of a pine branch covered in Christmas lights with a market and church tower in the background.
Image from Koen Smilde

For a real winter adventure, Haarlem’s historic canals and old-world charm bring something extra special to the festive season. Take the short journey from Amsterdam and explore its beguiling grandeur during the winter season, and if you can, visit the city’s vast Christmas Market. Offering a traditional take on festive fun, it boasts more than 300 stalls which pop up in and around Haarlem’s main square - Grote Markt – and its various shopping streets. Make sure you indulge in festive sweets, stock up on handmade goodies and shop to the soundtrack of a live choir. Also taking place during the Christmas Market is Kerstkorenlint, several choir performances at various locations around the city, including the Gravenzaal (Counts’ Hall) at the town hall in Grote Markt.