I’m honestly devastated that we aren’t able to travel anywhere this winter. As much as I love spring and summer trips there is a special place in my heart for winter city breaks, and the last few years I’m lucky to have been to quite a few. New York became a bit of a winter tradition, and that one is the hardest to miss out. But although we can’t go anywhere, there’s no harm in looking forward to next year, and future trips. I loved doing my instagram virtual travel series in the summer, so I’ve decided to share a few winter city guides as part of Blogmas. First up is my guide for visiting Amsterdam in winter. Save for next year fingers crossed!
I’m starting with Amsterdam as it’s a city I’ve been to so many times I feel like I know it like the back of my hand. Until last year I hadn’t ever been in December, but I will definitely be going back. For the Dutch, 5th December is an important day, as it’s when they celebrate Sinterklaas. Despite the resemblance to ‘Santa Claus’, Sinterklass is Saint Nicholas, and the day is celebrated similar to Christmas Day. There has been a lot of controversy in recent years around the day and the parade, due to one of the black characters in the tale.
I think they are taking steps to rectify this, but it’s your choice if you want to attend the parade. Feel free to look up more about Sinterklaas yourself.
That being said, Amsterdam is still a beautiful city to experience in winter time, and there is so much you can do whether you want to make it a Christmassy trip or just a winter break. If it’s your first time in Amsterdam I would just point out that there’s no way you’d be able to see and experience everything first time round. These suggestions aren’t aiming to cover everything, you could take a look at my itinerary for 3 days in Amsterdam which covers a lot, but this is specifically tailored to visiting Amsterdam in winter.
Where to stay in Amsterdam in winter
There are some great, and convenient hotels in Amsterdam around Amsterdam Centraal, the main station, but to experience most of the things I’m going to mention I’d probably say to stay much further into the city, where it’s slightly less touristy.
I’ve stayed at the W which is just behind Dam Square and the Palace, both of which are very touristy but the W is just on the verge of where it turns slightly less so. The W has a great rooftop bar and terrace, with fireplaces in winter and big glass windows overlooking the city. They also have a basement spa which is incredible if you need a day or half day to relax after a lot of walking around.
The Ambassade and the Pulitzer are both stunning hotels in a really good area of the city, close to everything you would want to see and do in winter in Amsterdam. The Ambassade is on the Herengracht canal, and the Pulitzer is on the Prinsengracht.
Both are two of the main famous canals that form the canal belt around the historical centre, and they’re absolutely beautiful. The hotels are built into the traditional canal houses along there, so they’re about as authentic as it gets. Here’s my review of the Ambassade, and one day I will get to stay at the Pulitzer too.
These hotels may seem located quite far into the city especially if you’re transferring from the airport or the train station, but once you’re there everything is within a short walking distance and it’s worth it. The two I’ve mentioned are quite pricey, but to be honest most hotels are in Amsterdam. I think in winter it’s worth the price you will pay for location, so any around this area is a good option.
Winter Weather in Amsterdam
It might not get much snow, but it rains a lot, and it can get absolutely freezing. You’ve probably seen that amazing Heineken advert with the frozen canals, but in the last ten years they’ve only frozen over twice. I was so lucky to be there one year when it was that cold in February and it was truly amazing. It’s unlikely though, but you should still be prepared for it to be very cold, and potentially very wet. Wrap up warm, and take a waterproof.
Indoor Activities in Amsterdam
If the weather is bad you might prefer to stick to things you can do indoors, but a lot of these things are worth doing regardless of the weather.
Amsterdam is known for it’s incredible museums, as they have so many and most can be found up at Museumplein. The famous Rijksmuseum is worth visiting even just for the outside and the gardens, but inside it tells hundreds of years of Dutch history through the Golden Age. It’s massive so you could spend hours here, book your tickets and get more information on the Rijksmuseum official website.
The Van Gough museum is also found here, and I’m sure what you’ll experience here is self explanatory, and also the Moco Museum. I loved it here as inside it has a huge Banksy display. You can read more about my visit to Moco Museum here.
Other museums in Amsterdam worth visiting include the Anne Frank House, although it’s worth noting the queue is outside before you get in. Make sure you book tickets as it’s probably the most popular place in Amsterdam. The Rembrandt museum can also be found next to Rembrandt’s house, the Tulip museum and NEMO museum.
Indoor Experiences For Amsterdam in Winter
These are quite touristy but some of the indoor experiences you can do in Amsterdam include the Heineken experience, involving a tour through the giant brewery, Amsterdam Ice Bar, Body Worlds exhibition on the Damrak, and any number of Sex museums if you’re so inclined.
Outdoor Activities in Amsterdam
If you’re anything like me you’ll much prefer outdoor activities. Aside from the odd thing I much prefer spending my time somewhere outside seeing it rather than stuck inside museums. Hopefully you’ll get cold but clear weather so being outside is perfect when it’s like that.
Do an Amsterdam canal cruise
They may be a bit cliche but I firmly believe they’re the best way to see most of the city if you’re there for a short time, and to get your bearings if you have a bit longer. A lot of them especially the Lovers Canal cruises have undercover options too, which are heated if it does rain. The Lovers ones are great (they’re not anything romantic or just for couples, that’s just the name of the company), and I also really like the Friendship cruises which are a bit more upscale.
On the Friendship canal cruises you get blankets to wrap up warm under, and they even serve alcohol for your sailing. I find them much more personal as the guides are always locals, and it’s cosy to get wrapped up while still sailing in the open air. Read more on the friendship canal cruises here.
Not specifically a canal cruise but the hop on hop off boats are so worth it, and they have the same effect of seeing the city by canal. It’s a big place, so it’s a much more relaxing way to get about and save your feet, as well as being the most scenic way. If you haven’t got the time though then the metro is efficient, clean and easy to use.
Go for a walk in Vondelpark
A beautiful big park not far from the Museum district, Vondelpark is the city’s green space, with a pavilion and cafe, big fountain and scenic walk or cycle paths to enjoy.
Ice skating at Rijksmuseum
The giant ice rink with the Rijksmuseum as the backdrop is one of the most festive and fun times I’ve ever had at any Christmas trip I’ve been on. We went last year with a group of friends for a 30th birthday and it was just amazing. There is a bar serving beers, spirits and hot chocolates, plenty of viewing spots along the sides of the rink, and the famous replica of the Magere Brug bridge over the top.
Ice* Amsterdam isn’t just the ice rink, it’s the full winter and Christmas experience in Amsterdam including the Christmas market that pops up in the same location for a couple of weeks in December.
There are other markets dotted about the city too, but locations can change each year so best to visit the tourist board website IAmsterdam nearer the time if you’re thinking of visiting.
Amsterdam Light Festival
This is something that only happens in Amsterdam in December and January, so it really is a winter activity. Every year artists take part in creating 30 different light installations that feature above and on the Amsterdam canals. They’re incredibly striking and beautiful especially in the dark, and it’s a free activity you can enjoy just wandering around to see them.
Of course the bridges of Amsterdam are lit up all year round, and they’re stunning just as it’s getting dark when they twinkle over the water. Some of the best ones to see are the arched bridges near the Nine Streets.
The floating flower market might not be in full bloom in winter, but you could pick up all kinds of bulbs ready for the spring. The buildings opposite are also filled with cheese shops, which are worth a visit in winter to get your Christmas cheese board ready.
Where to Eat & Drink When Visiting Amsterdam in Winter
The best kept secret in Amsterdam is the Foodhallen, it’s a bit of a walk outside the centre, or you could take an Uber but as the name suggests it’s a giant food hall with a lot of different vendors and bars to enjoy.
The Red Light District is absolutely packed full of places to pick up sugary treats like churros, donuts, Dutch mini pancakes, stroopwaffles with all sorts of toppings and crepes.
Winkel 43 in the Jordaan is somewhere you can get the most incredible apple pie and cream, and Pancake! should be your go to for crepes in all sorts of flavours – sweet and savoury.
Don’t miss Polaberry, located on the Prinsengracht opposite the Anne Frank house they do chocolate covered strawberries, and seasonal cake pops.
There are a lot of great little food and drink places all over Amsterdam, but Bar Moustache is one of my favourites for good pizza and gin cocktails.
You can’t visit Amsterdam in winter without having a drink in a traditional Dutch brown cafe. Be careful not to get them confused with Coffee Shops…. but there is little that can rival a beer or spiked hot chocolate in a Brown Cafe while watching the world go by outside.
Christmas Shopping in Amsterdam
De Bijenkorf is a high end designer department store chain in the Netherlands, and there is one right on Dam Square. It’s beautiful inside so a good place to do some Christmas shopping if your budget allows.
The Magna Plaza isn’t far away either, just behind the Palace and it’s quite ornate. For antiques and quirky shops Spiegelgracht is my favourite street in the whole city, straight down from the Rijksmuseum.
Another very popular place to shop in Amsterdam though is the Nine Streets. Little boutiques line the streets and they’re filled with everything you could imagine.
Finish your shopping with a visit to Pluk Amsterdam or Ree7 cafes. They’re cosy, traditional, and serve fabulous milkshakes!
Other posts you might like:
I have a whole section on Amsterdam here
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