The Dutch know how to make the most of the Advent season. Amsterdam at Christmas is a fairytale mix of twinkling lights, majestic trees adorned with brightly coloured baubles and crackling fireplaces that warm hands and hearts.
Christmas Day is celebrated with good food and family fun; and in between, the city sparkles with twinkling lights, fun markets, big parties and snowy landscapes, plus the festive cheer typical of the season. If you’re planning to visit Amsterdam for Christmas and are looking for information on how to make the most of the experience, read on to find out what to do in Amsterdam during the Christmas season.
What to see and do in Amsterdam at Christmas?
1. Ice skating
We know that if you’re a winter sports lover, being in Amsterdam at Christmas you’ll miss a snowy slope to ski on, but don’t worry, the city has its attractions for you too. Two beautiful ice-skating rinks are set up every Christmas at two specific beautiful locations in the city: Leidseplein and Museumplein.
Each location has its own charm; while the former is surrounded by Christmas stalls, the latter is surrounded by famous museums, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. You can ice skate surrounded by a charming Christmas atmosphere and then visit these famous Amsterdam museums, which remain open even during the holidays.
2. Visit the Amsterdam Light Festival
- Location: Amsterdam Canals
- Dates: 30 November to 21 January
- Hours: Every day from 16:30 to 22:00.
The Amsterdam Light Festival is an annual event that takes place during the winter holidays. Dutch and international artists transform the city into a light show every year. It is worth mentioning that new techniques are introduced every year, making the festival one of Amsterdam’s must-see Christmas shows.
Exhibitions of light artworks attract everyone’s attention, as they offer a contemporary twist to the traditional landscape of the Dutch capital. The Festival of Light starts at the end of November and lasts until mid-January each year.
3. Christmas tree in Dam Square
- Lighting of tree: 8 December, from 17:00 to 18:00
In Dam Square, just in front of the Royal Palace, mounted every year the most important Christmas tree in Amsterdam. It measures about 20 meters high, and is decorated with thousands of LED lights. On the day of the lighting there is a spectacular ceremony, carols are sung, there are musical performances and typical food stalls.
Also during the same ceremony is the official lighting of the windows of the De Bijenkorf shopping arcade which is located right in front of Dam Square and we talk about it in the next point.
4. Windows and lighting of the De Bijenkorf department store
One of the most iconic buildings in the center of Amsterdam houses the De Bijenkorf department store. It reminds us of other historic department stores in Europe that go to great lengths at this time of year to make their shop windows beautiful, such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris at Christmas or Harrod’s in London at Christmas.
Both the decorations and the shop windows can be seen from the outside of the building, do not forget to stop by for a walk on your trip to Amsterdam at Christmas.
5. Christmas tree in the Magna Plaza shopping center
- Location: Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182, 1012SJ Amsterdam
Another very nice Christmas tree you will find inside the Magna Plaza shopping center, near Dam Square. This historic building over 100 years old was the former post office of Amsterdam and is now considered a national monument.
In addition to the tree, the facade is beautifully illuminated and the entire interior of the mall is decorated with Christmas motifs.
It can be a good plan if it is very cold on the street, also on the second floor they have a food hall with many food stalls.
6. Amsterdam street lighting at Christmas time
Spending some time strolling through the best-lit streets is a must if you visit Amsterdam at Christmas time. Highlights include the illuminations of the Kalverstraat and Negen Straatjes (the 9 streets).
The Kalverstraat street is pedestrian and is full of stores, connects Dam Square with the Flower Market in about 700 meters, in the heart of Amsterdam, both this street and the surrounding ones are very well lit.
Negen Straatjes, the area of the 9 streets is a very cool area to visit in Amsterdam but at Christmas time still have more charm.
In these streets you can find craft stores, charming cafes and fashion galleries. It is close to the Anne Frank House Museum.
7. Try some typical dishes and drinks at Christmas markets
The holidays cannot be experienced without tasty food. Since Amsterdam is full of Christmas markets, you should definitely try Dutch hapjes, such as Olieballen and Appelbeignets. Both are traditional sweets fried in hot oil. They are easy to find at this time of year at Christmas stalls all over Amsterdam.
Other dishes to try at the Christmas markets in Amsterdam:
- Dutch sausages.
- Dutch cheeses such as Edam or Gouda.
- Stamppot, a kind of mashed potatoes and vegetables served as an accompaniment to meat or sausages.
- Raw herrings, another typical dish of Dutch cuisine, eaten raw with chopped onion and pickles, you will see them around a lot of Christmas stalls!
- French fries, just like in Belgium, French fries stalls are also very common everywhere here.
- Poffertjes, a typical local sweet similar to pancakes.
- Stroopwafels, the typical sweet par excellence, very good!
There is no Christmas market in Amsterdam that does not have a good selection of drinks, some hot and some rather cold. The most typical drinks you will find at all Christmas markets:
- Beer, if you are beer lovers, you can also consider visiting the Heineken Experience.
- Gin, it is originally from Holland and is the typical drink par excellence of the country.
- Anijsmelk, hot milk with aniseed.
- Mulled wine, as in many other European Christmas markets here also drink mulled wine and a little spicy.
- Hot chocolate.
8. See The Sinterklaas parade
- Date: November 19
- Hours: from 10:00 to 17:00.
Sinterklaas (or St. Nicholas in English) is a character similar to Santa Claus, both dressed in red and have a white beard. He is a Dutch character beloved by children who usually arrives in Holland in mid-November and brings gifts to children. The legend of Sinterklass says that he arrives from Spain, just as Santa Claus comes from Lapland, the truth is that the story is somewhat curious.
The parade begins with Sinterklass on a boat traveling through the canals and then continues with his white horse through some of the most important streets of Amsterdam, usually passing through Rembrandtplein and ends at Leidseplein.
If your trip does not coincide with the day of the parade do not worry, Sinterklaas makes appearances in the center every day until December 5.
9. Listen to the Christmas carols in Amsterdam churchs
Carols are a tradition of the festive period. Amsterdam has a number of churches that are architecturally stunning and during the Christmas holidays they invite people to sing carols, or simply attend to listen to them. It is a wonderful experience to attend these events in churches such as the Sint Nicolaaskerk and Vondelkerk, which will offer you the opportunity to be part of a unique experience.
10. Escape to Bruges and see the Christmas markets
Christmas in Bruges is lived very intensely (I would say more than in Amsterdam) and is less than 3 hours by train. The Christmas markets of Grote Markt, Burg Square and Simon Stevinplein Square, are located in the city center and are the main Christmas markets to see in Bruges.
But you can take advantage of the visit to see other parts of the historic center, such as the Rosary Dock or the Boniface Bridge.
11. The shop windows of the most exclusive street
The P.C. Hooftstraat – the most luxurious street in Amsterdam dresses up at Christmas time, the most exclusive brands in the world like Versace, Dior, Hermes or Cartier strive to have the most beautiful window.
We recommend a stroll down this street, plus the lighting is also usually one of the most beautiful in the city.
In the map below you can see at a glance where are located all the things to see in Amsterdam at Christmas.
Christmas markets in Amsterdam
Next to the Rijksmuseum is one of the most popular Amsterdam Christmas markets, the Ice Village Christmas market in Museumplein Park.
And on the outskirts of Amsterdam is the Amsterdam Winterparadijs – much more than a Christmas market!
It is the biggest Christmas market in Amsterdam with a huge Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, food stalls and everything you need for an amazing Christmas afternoon in Amsterdam.
1. Ice Village Christmas Market
- Location: Museumplein Park, 1079 RA Amsterdam
- Dates: December 13 to December 26
- Hours: 11am – 8pm. On December 24 and 25 they close at 17:00.
The Ice Village Christmas Market is the largest Christmas market you can visit in Amsterdam, with many food stalls, great to try some Dutch specialties such as the typical Dutch poffertjes or oliebollen.
It has many craft stalls, with gift ideas and decorations for the tree, among other things.
Also in Museumplein Park, every year they set up the huge ice rink Ice Amsterdam of which we have already spoken in point 1 of the list of things to see and do in Amsterdam at Christmas.
2. Amsterdam Winterparadijs
- Location: Amsterdam RAI, Europaplein 24, 1078 GZ Amsterdam
- Dates: December 14 to 30
- Hours: from 09 am to 01 am
Every Christmas, the RAI Amsterdam convention center transforms and hosts Amsterdam’s biggest Christmas event, similar to the Winter Wonderland at Christmas in London. It has a typical Christmas market with wooden houses with food stalls, drinks and all the Christmas souvenirs you can imagine, also a huge ice skating rink, slides, activities for all ages and a giant Ferris wheel.
Undoubtedly, it is the most atmospheric place you can find in Amsterdam at Christmas.
It is located a little away from the center of Amsterdam, next to the metro station Zuid which can be easily reached by metro line 52 that crosses the center of Amsterdam from Central Station through the Flower Market and the Museumplein.
Access is not free, there are different types of tickets, we recommend that you look at the official website of Amsterdam Winterparadijs to find more information.
3. Sunday Market Westergas
- Location: Haarlemmerweg 8E, 1014 BE Amsterdam
- Dates: December 3 (Sinterklaas Market) and December 17 (Funky Xmas Market).
- Hours: Every day from 09:00 to 01:00.
This is a regular market held on the first Sunday of each month inside the Westergas Market, admission is free. During the Christmas season they celebrate two special markets:
- Sinterklaas Market on the first Sunday of December.
- Funky Xmas Market, the third Sunday of December.
These markets are different from the typical Christmas markets in Amsterdam, it has a lot of stalls that house handcrafted pieces of clothing, art and jewelry designers. It has a very local atmosphere, there is usually live music, and there are many food and drink stalls.
4. Other Christmas markets in and around Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Christmas Market (Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt)
- Winter Village Stadshart Amstelveen
- Vreeland Christmas Market
- Castle Christmas Fair
- Haarlem Christmas Market
- Royal Christmas Fair
- Alkmaar Christmas Market
- Floating Christmas Market
End, Marvel at fireworks on New Year’s Eve
If you decide to visit Amsterdam for Christmas, then the New Year’s Eve Party is not to be missed. The whole city turns into a wonderland when the Dutch sky is covered with amazing fireworks, a spectacle that is definitely not to be missed!
You can celebrate the New Year in the city’s main square – Dam Square, where every year concerts are held and locals and tourists alike come together to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
Now all that’s left is to wrap up warm and enjoy all the activities that take place in Amsterdam at Christmas time. If you found it useful, and you think it might be useful to someone else, be sure to share it.
Have you ever been to Amsterdam at Christmas, what did you think of it, would you recommend doing anything else, leave us a comment below and tell us about your experience!