Our round up of the best things to do in Amsterdam in December with the best spots to visit and the best food to try in Amsterdam in winter.
The first time I visited Amsterdam I thought ‘wow, this city must look magical at Christmas’. And indeed, it does.
Its architecture seems made for the festive season: the elaborate facades of its houses acquire a distinctive gingerbread feel and the calm waters of its canals reflect the many light displays creating a cheerful yet romantic atmosphere.
The city gets cold in winter, make no mistake: you need to wrap up and you want to watch your step when Amsterdam’s cobbled streets get enveloped by winter humidity, but magic is in the air.
Cheerful shoppers, fairy lights and Christmas foods tickle your senses and the city has so many cultural events you can move here for the whole month of December and never run out of things to do.
Awesome things to do in Amsterdam in December for all ages
Only have a short time in Amsterdam? See also: all you can see and do in Amsterdam in one day
Scout out the works of art of the Amsterdam lights festival
The first event I heard of, when looking at the best things to do in Amsterdam in December, was the city lights festival. This is a recurring event taking place each year during the month of December and part of January and is a public display of light art in several locations around Amsterdam city centre.
The light displays are created by artists from all over the world and are scattered along Amsterdam’s canals.
You can see the main structures during the day but the lights are just put on in the evening, after dark. Some of the artwork can be easily enjoyed on foot but since some of the artists make use of the many Amsterdam bridges and canals to reflect and interact with their creation, the real vantage point is from the water.
Several companies offer canal cruises specific to the lights festival and we had a lovely night our aboard one the boats of ‘The blue boat company‘, with offered a cozy experience in a nice boat and low prices.
This is a gorgeous way to visit Amsterdam in winter since it allows you to make the most of hours of darkness that would otherwise likely go to waste.
Go ice skating in Amsterdam city centre
Amsterdam doesn’t see much snow in the winter but the city compensates with beautiful ice rinks across the city.
The most scenic one is probably on museum plein, just in front to the Reijks museum: the ice rink is open day and evening and welcomes skaters of all levels of ability.
Music and lights attract adults and kids alike and inexperienced skaters have chairs they can use to help them get more stable on their feet.
Another gorgeous ice rink is in Rembrandt plein, which is also a lovely square to visit (albeit touristy) because of the statue of Rembrandt in its centre and the many cafes and restaurants.
These two ice rinks are right in the centre of town and are a fun thing to do in Amsterdam in December and can be enjoyed by adults and kids alike
Explore Amsterdam Christmas markets
Amsterdam’s peculiar architecture means the city acquires the unmistakable air of a fairy village, at Christmas. However, if you want an even more full on Christmas experience, you can have your fix at the square on Musem plein.
The Christmas market here is in the same location as the ice rink mentioned above and it is fun to explore. The stalls have from food to design items and can be a nice change of pace in between museum visits. The market is held on special dates so the best way to get hold of it is following its official website here.
In 2017, a large Christmas market is also hosted in RAI, a convention centre in the South of the city. The market is described as an outdoor and indoor experience and promised to be fabulous: being short of time, I didn’t get to go but it it well connected to the central Station by tram n.4 so had I known about it in advance, it would have been easy to go.
Go shopping and window shopping
Amsterdam is fabulous for shopping in all seasons but the shops in December are something special: big departments stores decorate their fronts with lights and bows while smaller, independent shops light up with decorations and light displays.
My favourite area in Amsterdam for shopping is the famous ‘9 streets’, full of smaller shops and boutiques but Amsterdam also has well stocked high street shops and good markets. One I visited recently was the Albert Cuyp one which has many stalls selling anything from traditional herring to Christmas trees and clothes.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas shops in Amsterdam tend to have longer opening hours, often until 9pm. The big departments stores are your best option for out of hour shopping but they tend to close on Christmas day to then reopen, with some exceptions, on the 26th.
If you are visiting Amsterdam in December you absolutely have to try the sweet treat called ‘Olienbollen’. An ‘olienbol’ is a sweet ball of dough, fried: I tasted it recently and while pretty heavy on the stomach, they are delicious.
While I am not familiar with the specific recipe, they reminded me of Italian panettone (sweet, raised dough with sultanas and candied fruit) but with a crispy, fried crust. You can find them in bakeries and markets and they are a specialty of this type of the year as well as one of the foods I highly recommend you try in the city
See the tree of Dam square
Christmas trees are in several locations around the city and all it takes is to step out of the central station to see beautifully lit one. The tree to see,however, is in Dam square. The tree is tall and beautiful and the ceremony to light is up is accompanied by the singing of Christmas carols. The day of the lighting of the tree in 2017 was the 8 December but the tree stays lit over the holidays for everyone to admire.
This year, I was personally quite fond of another Christmas tree too: this is not a real one but a hologram,projected in the entrance hall of the Rijks museum.
if you are lucky enough to be in Amsterdam in early December you may arrange to meet Sinterklaas, the man with the red suit and the white beard that brings presents to the children who have been good. Non Dutch people tend to think of Sinterklaas as the local equivalent to Father Christmas but he is not.
St Nicholas is said to have ties with Amsterdam since 343 AD: he goes around with his faithful travel companion Amerigo (a horse) and he is said to be from Turkey. Legend tells us that from his original Turkish home St Nicholas moved to Spain and makes his way to Amsterdam every ear on the 5th of December, on St Nickolas’ eve. The city welcomes him with festivities and you can try follow his appearances here
While not season specific I couldn’t publish recommendations of things to do in Amsterdam in December without mentioning the city’s stunning museums. Amsterdam has an incredible concentration of museums catering for pretty much all interests from classical art (Rijks museum), to history (Anne Frank house) to fashion (Bags and Purses museum) to cats (Katten Kabinet)!
While I advocate visiting museums in all seasons, in December I find them exceptionally pleasant since their cozy interiors will also hep you defrost after your city wanderings.
I hope you enjoyed our tips on the best things to do in Amsterdam in December! Are you going to Amsterdam soon?
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