Welcome to Winter in Amsterdam!
Amsterdam in winter is a funny old time. It's cold. It's quiet compared with other months. It's festive... but not too festive. As in when I return to London in December, I am always struck with how much more festive and Christmassy the city feels in comparison, and yet, there is something about the understated festive spirit of Amsterdam in December that is appealing to me. I also don't hate how it's a longer lasting subtle festive atmosphere, in that unlike London and other places, it also quite successfully spills into January and February, which everyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere will know is a good thing, because these are the HARDEST months of winter.
The good news for visitors is that Amsterdam in January and February are actually a really good time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds (and aren't afraid of cold weather!) because this is the time you will have your pick of hotels, you will have much shorter (or no!) queues for the most popular museums, and there will be plenty of room in Amsterdam's wonderfully cosy bars, cafes and restaurants. Christmas is also a fantastic time to come to Amsterdam, and I go into more detail why as well as share a few extra festive fun things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas.
Below I've listed some of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam in winter, including what to eat and drink, where to go, what to see and do. Under this list you'll also find information about fun events and festivals happening in Amsterdam in December, January and February, and then you will find some details about what the weather is like in winter in Amsterdam, and therefore what you should pack or wear while here. (Oh, and if this puts you off coming to Amsterdam in winter, panic not! You can find out things to do in Amsterdam in autumn, or reasons to visit Amsterdam in summer too!)
DISCLOSURE: Please note that this post includes affiliate links.
Things to Know About Amsterdam in Winter 2020
UPDATE FOR 2020: Before you plan your trip to Amsterdam this winter make sure you read about the most up to date details about what's open to tourists and what restrictions there may be.These currently include distancing and limited capacities on tours and in museums, restaurants, bars, as well as on public transport. You must also wear a mask in shops and on streets and markets in busy areas of Amsterdam (e.g. in the Red Light District and on Albert Cuyp Market) as well as on public transport in Amsterdam.
You will also need to book ALL museum and attraction visits in advance so be sure to check websites and the latest details before planning a trip to Amsterdam this summer. Even if you have an Iamsterdam City Card (which I highly recommend) you will need to book a date and time slot for each museum or attraction (you can do this without paying any extra charge).
And if you're still at the planning stage of your trip, bookmark these posts so you can make your Amsterdam winter holiday the very best: Where to Stay in Amsterdam - Neighbourhood Guide, Tips for Travelling to Amsterdam on a Budget, The Best Hotels in Amsterdam for All Budgets, Tips for Staying in Self-Catering Accommodation in Amsterdam, 100+ Free Things to do in Amsterdam, The Best Photo Spots in Amsterdam, and Tips for Cycling in Amsterdam.
FURTHER READING: And if you are taking an extended trip across Europe in the winter, check out this post on the most unique things to do in Europe during the winter season.
Things to do in Amsterdam in Winter
You may be surprised to know that there are some things to do in Amsterdam that can only be done in the winter. The most special and famous of these is arguably Amsterdam Light Festival (see below), but there are also several festivals that only take place in winter months. More than this, there are local Dutch traditions - and foods! - that are best tried in winter months (or are only really available then).
Below you can find a long list of general things to do in winter in Amsterdam based on my personal recommendations and the activities I enjoy doing most in winter months in Amsterdam. Following this list you will find a month-by-month breakdown of some of Amsterdam's best winter events and festivals, and at the end I offer up some advice about what the weather is really like and what you should pack or wear when in Amsterdam in winter.
Take your pick of Amsterdam's hotels
As I wrote in this post about choosing your perfect time to visit Amsterdam, the winter months are the quietest in Amsterdam in terms of tourist numbers so you can enjoy some pretty special deals and enough hotel availability to choose from the most popular hotels and hostels.
I've listed all of my favourite hotels and hostels in Amsterdam for all budgets and tastes here, but the following are hotels I think would be love and cosy for a winter's stay in Amsterdam: Waldorf Astoria, Pullitzer Hotel, Hotel Ambassade, The Dylan Hotel, and Banks Mansion, for a little luxury. There's also Consicous Hotels in Westerpark and Vondelpark, The Hoxton Hotel, The College Hotel, The Tire Station, the very new Sir Adam, and the Volks Hotel for a little affordable style, and Citizen M, Meininger Hotel, The Student Hotel, Cocomama, and Generator Hostel for some very decent budget accommodation that is also cosy to hang around in when you need to warm up or grab some downtime between sightseeing.
Christmas Lights at Bijenkorf
Amsterdam's answers to London's Oxford Street lights going on in the run up to Christmas, the Christmas lights and decorations inside and outside Bijenkorf are where locals and visitors alike go to soak up some sparkly sights and festive atmosphere. The Bijenkorf is Amsterdam's premier department store so it's also where you go to spend some serious money - you have been warned! The Christmas tree in Dam Square outside Bijenkorf is considered Amsterdam's main Christmas tree so definitely worth seeing.
Let's get the most obvious thing you can do in Amsterdam in winter out the way shall we? It may be cheesy but it's also a whole lot of fun and a sure way to get in the festive spirit or have a little fun on a cold day...or break your ankle.
The most famous place to go ice skating in Amsterdam is on the temporary rink set up in front of the Rijksmuseum, called Ice*Amsterdam, and indeed it's a pretty special place to glide around, or shuffle awkwardly from one side of the rink to the other.
Kids and adults in need of some support (literal!) they will give you chairs, and of course you can hire skates. It's strongly advised that you book a time to go ice-skating in advance. You can also find some other places to go ice skating in Amsterdam here.
After you've slipped and slided your way around the rink for a little while you'll be feeling peckish. The good news is you don't have to stray too far from Museumplein to find the most classic of all wintery Dutch snacks. Oliebollen are effectively fried balls of doughy goodness, normally with apples and raisins in them, but they can also come with other yummy fillings.
You'll find stands all over the city but there is nearly always one on the edge of Museumplein opposite Concertgebouw in the run up to Christmas and shortly after too.
Other winter treats to look out for are pepernoten (small round spiced biscuits that you (okay, I) eat by the handful at this time of year), speculaas cookies and Kerststol (a fruit Christmas bread loaf).
Go cheese tasting
If hot sweet treats aren't up your street, then I think winter is the perfect time to go cheese tasting in Amsterdam. There are several places you can do this from the touristy Amsterdam Cheese Museum to more specialist shops that have been dealing in cheese for generations.
My favourite place is Abraham Kef Fromagerie which hosts cheese and wine tasting sessions for individuals and groups, and with a menu that features both Dutch and international cheeses, it's a very yummy way to spend an afternoon.
Alternatively, if you want to do some cheese (and wine!) tasting while also going on a cruise of Amsterdam's most famous canals that is absolutely possible (because of course it is!). This two hour cheese- and wine-tasting canal tour should sort you out!
Not as famous as its German or even Belgian neighbours but there are some very decent Christmas markets to be found in the Netherlands. In my honest opinion, Amsterdam isn't necessarily home to them as they tend to be quite a touristy, over-priced affair, however, they still have the potential to charm if you don't mind paying twice as much as usual for a small cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate.
You can find out where all the Christmas markets are this year on this page, which will get updated for the coming year shortly before December.
Go see a beautiful Christmas Tree
If markets and Christmas lights don't make you feel Christmassy, then this should. Go find one of the most beautiful Christmas trees in Amsterdam.
In addition to the one just outside Bijenkorf as mentioned above, you will find the most impressive Christmas trees in the most luxurious hotels in Amsterdam (the Amstel Hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, the Conservatorium to name a few) and in other shopping centres and public spaces like Magna Plaza and inside Bijenkorf too.
Amsterdam Light Festival
As mentioned briefly above, Amsterdam Light Festival is reason enough to visit Amsterdam in the winter months, and it's a highlight of our year certainly.
The best way to see the lights is by walking the route one evening, while wrapped up warm, taking your time to read about each installation and of course, popping into bars and cafes along the way to stay warm and errr, lubricated.
You can also cycle it like we did, or you can get on one of the special evening canal tour cruises, though personally, I don't really think you can enjoy all the light installations the same way, and it's definitely not advisable if you want to take decent photos as you won't always be in the best position.
Warm up in a cosy Dutch "brown bar"
Speaking of popping into a bar, the Dutch call their oldest, most traditional pubs 'brown bars', typically because they were (or are) made of wood. Dotted all over Amsterdam, these brown bars are where you'll find local (and international) beers on tap, the famous Dutch genever on offer (a distant cousin of gin), and a choice of borrel snacks, i.e. bar snacks to accompany your drink.
My favourites are the very unhealthy bitterballen (literal translation is bitter balls but they are effectively small deep-fried balls of creamy-potatoey-beef stew covered in breadcrumbs).
Amsterdam's most famous brown bars are In 't Aepjen in the Red Light District (considered one of the oldest bars in the city) and Cafe Papegaai because it's apple pie is one of only a few that will rival what I think is the best Dutch apple tart in Amsterdam from Winkel 43.
Visit a spa
You probably weren't expecting to read about going to a spa in this post about winter in Amsterdam, but what better time to spend an afternoon warming up in a sauna, steam room, swimming pool, or all three.
Treat yourself to a massage or other treatment to detox a little (before or after your brown bar crawl!) or just get spa access and enjoy soaking in some warm water or simply lying in a plush white robe. Bliss! My favourite hotel spas for all the above are are the spas in Waldorf Astoria, the Conservatorium and the Amstel Hotel.
Get romantic for Valentine's Day
Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is a much-needed break from the winter blues for many people and while Paris and Venice often get all the praise for being Europe's most romantic cities, I don't think you can get much more romantic than Amsterdam on Valentine's Day.
Again it's a good time of year to visit with tourist numbers being lower than other times of the year and the city is full of plenty of romantic hotels, many of which will be offering special Valentine's Day offers. (My choice would be a lavish boutique hotel like The Toren, The Dylan, Breitner House, or Hotel Estherea, or I would go for something really memorable and quirky, like the hotel room in a crane or the city's smallest hotel.)
The city is also full of great date ideas, like having a drink or seven in a rooftop bar or an ice bar, enjoying a games night at arcade themed bar TonTon Club, the A'Dam Tower lookout or swing, a drink in Amsterdam's Ice Bar (very wintery!), or simply hiring a tandem bicycle to go on a tour of the city's beautiful streets and green parks, which may also have some tulips already if you're lucky.
There are also lots of fabulous romantic restaurants to choose from, my favourites being the Brasserie at Hotel Ambassade (book well in advance to get a canal-view table by the window), Gartine which does brilliant vegetarian lunches, dinners and afternoon teas, or Rijks Restaurant which is just next door to the city's most famous museum and offers some of the best food, cocktails and service in the city. Man, I hope my partner is reading this in time for next Valentine's Day in Amsterdam!
Eat heart- and stomach-warming Dutch food
Winter is the time when I suddenly forget to count calories and I fill my cold body with heart- and stomach-warming stodgy food. Lucky for me living in Amsterdam, Dutch specialities are among the stodgiest of the stodgy and winter is when you can really appreciate these dishes the best way.
Keep your eyes and ears open for stammpot (mashed potato and veggies served with sausage), hutspot (boiled and mashed carrots, onions and potatoes traditionally served with meat and gravy), or erwtensoep (pea soup) which is a much heartier dish than it sounds as it's served with chunks of veggies and sausage.
Other dishes that will warm you up include those borrowed (or ahem stolen) from former colonies; the rijsttaffel is a tapas of Indonesian dishes served with rice, roti kip translates as chicken roti and is a delicious Surinamese curried dish of an unsettling green colour served with beans and possibly rice, and most Dutch people have the spiced rice dish nasi goreng and kip sate (chicken satay) as regularly cooked meals at home.
Hit up ALL the museums
Again because of lower visitor numbers, winter is really the time to come to Amsterdam if you're hoping to squeeze in as many museums as possible during your visit. While it's now necessary to book all museums in advance, including the most popular ones like Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House, I have long recommended it as best practice to avoid queues and make the most of your time in Amsterdam. With lower visitor numbers in Amsterdam in winter, you can also enjoy fewer crowds inside the museum as well as no queues to get in!
Museums are a great way to warm up when you're walking around on a cold day. My favourite museums in Amsterdam are Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum (for contemporary art and design), Tassenmuseum (Museum of Handbags and Purses), Versetzmuseum (The Resistance Museum) and FOAM (Photography Museum of Amsterdam).
If you are going to go on a serious museum crawl, and the cold temperatures put you off cycling or walking too much, then I highly recommend getting an I amsterdam City Card so you can get free museum entry and free public transport. You can read more about the I amsterdam City Card and find out which one is the best one for you here.
Find some tropical warmth in Hortus Botanicus
Admittedly this is not the best time to visit Amsterdam's botanical gardens because there won't be many colourful blooms but I quite enjoyed my late winter visit to Hortus Botanicus, not least because it was virtually empty, and it was warm inside the huge greenhouses which are home to plants, trees and cacti from all over the world. I was also surprised to see some butterflies had already hatched inside the butterfly house and those that hadn't were very impressive chrysalises to have a look at.
Christmas and Sales Shopping
While Amsterdam is certainly not the shopping mecca that perhaps London is - and I personally prefer it that way, I think it's fair to say that the shopping in Amsterdam is still pretty good and while it's definitely busy in the weeks preceding Christmas it won't be anything like the crowds you find on Oxford Street in London, for example.
The main shopping street in Amsterdam for high street shops is Kalverstraat (which I honestly try to avoid at any time) but if Christmas or sales shopping is your thing (and all respect to you if it is - you're made of sturdier stuff than me!) then this is where you need to go to find both Dutch and international high street stores.
For quirkier, more unique and independent boutiques and a prettier area to wander around, head to the 9 Streets (9 Straatjes) or take a stroll down Utrechtsestraat, Haarlemmerstraat or Rozengracht to name but a few streets lined with more unusual shops and stores.
Again, like Christmas shopping, the January sales aren't as huge a deal as maybe they are in UK and USA but most shops will definitely have some reductions and special offers so come armed with a credit card... or not depending on your budget!
Go to a classical music concert at Concertgebouw
With special Christmas-themed concerts lined up in the run up to the main event, throughout winter there is an impressive line-up of performers and performances at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's most famous classical music venue which sits looking out over Museumplein.
But don't think you have to go before Christmas, there are always shows to choose from throughout the year but I just happen to think that it's a really lovely, cosy way to spend an evening in winter, and they don't just have concerts in the evening. The Sunday morning concert is a very popular and lovely way to start a great day in Amsterdam.
Go to a jazz show
Alternatively, cosy up one evening with some jazz. While Rotterdam is more famous for its jazz music venues, concerts and festivals (the brilliant North Sea Jazz Festival), Amsterdam still has its fair share of good jazz cafes and venues including the most famous concert hall-sized Bimhuis, the much more intimate Jazz Cafe Alto, and the packed full of music memorabilia Bourbon Street.
Pure Winter Markt
I make no secret about being a huge fan of Pure Markt's outdoor markets which rotate each Sunday through a number of Amsterdam's parks. While they do officially stop for the cooler months, there are a few special editions of Pure Markt Winter that are held in December.
Go to eat freshly-cooked street food inspired by all over the world and check out a wide range of handmade and artisan goods. Also there will be a bar and live music! Find out when the winter editions of Pure Markt will be on.
Go to a comedy show (in English!)
While I believe good comedy can be enjoyed at any time of the year, if there's ever a time we need warming up from the inside out through laughter it's possibly in winter, especially in the traditionally quite dreary month of January. Amsterdam is home to a number of English-speaking comedy nights and the most famous of which is the nights at Boom Chicago and the Comedy Cafe.
Watch out for fireworks!
My last suggested thing to do in Amsterdam in winter is less an activity and more a thing to do in order to stay safe. One of the few times I wish I didn't live in Amsterdam happens on New Year's Eve, and it's because the whole city turns into a huge, disorganised, chaotic, highly flammable (and of course fairly drunken!) fireworks display.
This sounds amazing (and is if you love pyrotechnics and don't have sensitive ears or mind risking life or limb for a few "oohs" and "aahs"!) but for me, it feels and sounds and looks a bit like living in a war zone. The reason this happens is that the country relaxes fireworks laws especially for New Year and most take full advantage setting off the first rockets once the sun goes down at around 4 or 5pm and then this continues all the way through until midnight when of course it goes up a notch. I consider it a quiet New Year's Eve if the sky is quiet and dark enough for me to sleep around 2 or 3 in the morning.
Fireworks are let off from outside front doors on the street, off of small balconies and from roof terraces - basically anywhere! Miraculously, my son has (mostly) slept through this night for the last three years, but I still dread the noise and subsequent disruption and mess on the streets the morning after, which has without fail included a burnt out car somewhere in our neighbourhood (I wish I was joking). Also this year, we'll have a newborn so who knows what they will be like!
So if you're heading to Amsterdam for New Year, I encourage you to be very cautious and careful about moving around the city, and to pack ear plugs if you want to get more than a few hour's kip!
Amsterdam in winter, month by month
Now let's get down to some finer detail about what winter is like in the Dutch capital, specifically month by month, highlighting a few events, festivals and traditions that you should know about for Amsterdam in December, January and February.
I've not included specific dates for each listing as they will change year by year, so you should go to the links I've included for more information and/or do a quick Google search to confirm the finer details! And remember in our current times, it's very likely that many of these events are either cancelled, scaled back (restricted numbers) or moved to online, so please do keep this and all social distancing rules in Amsterdam in mind.
Amsterdam in December
December in Amsterdam is the busiest of all the winter months with people wanting to soak up some festive spirit which is sprinkled everywhere thanks to the Dutchies starting Christmas early with the arrival of Sinterklaas (their distant relative of Father Christmas/Santa Claus) on 5th December. I also happen to think Amsterdam at Christmas - even Christmas week - is a great time to visit because the festive season starts so early.
So yes, in Amsterdam in December you can expect lots of Christmassy events, some of which are listed below or above, but just in general December is a great time to wonder the streets of Amsterdam and spot Christmas trees and fairy light in- and outside peoples' houses. And if you want a good reason to come to Amsterdam in December, below are some very fun and festive events.
The parade or Parade (pronounced Pah-rah-duh) comes to Amsterdam twice a year, and both are highlights of many locals' calendars. Part-circus, part-theatre, part-eat, drink and be merry, this festival is very popular and so if you're curious about what it's got in store you should get tickets early!
International Queer and Migrant Film Festival
I mentioned in my Amsterdam in autumn post that autumn is really the season of film festivals in Amsterdam (as I believe it is the world over) however this one is hardly an afterthought as it is a film festival that celebrates two minority groups with some of the world's best cinema. Find out more here.
If you missed ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) in October, don't worry, Valhalla Festival should scratch your dance music itch during this tw0-day carnival- and circus-inspired dance festival held at the RAI convention centre just before Christmas.
If you like your music a little less electronic and a lot more Latin-influenced, time your visit to Amsterdam in December with the Tango Train festival. This celebration of tango music is certainly a niche affair but is a much treasured event among those - locals and internationals - who adore this classic dance.
If you happen to have a thing for design AND food and are especially interested in the place where they meet, then Meesterlijk is the December festival for you. Meesterlijk is the Dutch word for "masterfully" so that hints at the standard of crafts, design, applied art and food creativity that will be on show.
Hosted in the fun Westergasfabriek venue (an old gas depot in Westerpark on the western outskirts of central Amsterdam) come hungry, come curious, come ready to be inspired! You can find out more here.
Amsterdam in January
When I used to live in London, I was always very aware of how hard January is. Nobody has any money left from Christmas, everyone has to go back to work after a short break, and the weather is still flipping freezing. For some reason, I'm not as aware of this low mood in Amsterdam in January.
Maybe it's because I'm more active (I'm proud to say I cycle all year round and find cycling a great way to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)) or maybe it's because now I'm a parent I find the Christmas and New Year period quite intense (and hard work!) so it's actually quite nice to get back to the old routine... Or maybe it's because Amsterdam in January is when a few fun things happen, as listed below...
National Tulip Day
It's hard to believe that January is the time when the tulip mania arrives in Amsterdam but it is. As the official launch day of tulip season, Nationale Tulpendag turns Dam Square into a make-shift garden centre and there is a tulip for every registered resident of Amsterdam.
Traditionally Amsterdammers are then invited to come and pick up their own tulip to plant in their garden (or a window box on their balcony!) though sadly we've not yet done this... Maybe next January! Either way, the carpet of tulips in Dam Square is a lovely scene to witness in the centre of Amsterdam.
L&B Whisky Weekend
Who knew that Amsterdam has a whisky festival? Certainly not me until I started doing some research for this article, most likely because I'm not a huge fan of whisky, however, I did know that Amsterdam has a few whisky bars, the most famous of which is Whisky Cafe L&B who are the proud organisers of this festival.
Held over three evenings in the middle of January, L&B Whisky Weekend is where you can try whisky and whisky products by both long-standing makers and new kids on the block, and it's definitely one way to warm up during winter in Amsterdam! Find out more and buy tickets here.
If you thought a whisky weekend in Amsterdam was a bit unusual, then wait until you hear about IMPRO Amsterdam a festival dedicated to the art of improvisational theatre. While it may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, this event really does seem to have something for everyone because performances (including both Dutch and international actors) literally have no script so they can go any which way, and of course, no two shows will ever be the same. If you're tempted to check out IMPRO Amsterdam, you can find out more here.
Amsterdam Hotel Night
The sibling to the very popular Museumnacht (Museum Night) Amsterdam Hotel Night is where several of Amsterdam's hotels open up to host parties and events one night, inviting non-guests to explore the premises without risking being escorted out by security. Many of Amsterdam's hotels are among the most beautiful buildings in the city so this is not a night to be missed if you like partying in swanky locations you may otherwise not be able to afford to stay in!
Go watch the Christmas tree bonfire
So what happens to all the Christmas trees once January rolls around? Well, they normally left on the street by their once festive owners to then be collected by neighbourhood children who can take them to council collection points and get paid (50 cents a tree I believe is the going rate), or they get picked up by the free council collection service. Alternatively, you can load up your Christmas tree on your bike and take it to Museumplein one dedicated evening in January where there is a huge bonfire to get rid of them. De kerstboomverbranding, as it's called in Dutch, is possibly not the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of Christmas trees but it's quite a fun tradition in the city and is definitely worth witnessing if you're visiting at the right time.
Amsterdam in February
For some I can see how Amsterdam in February is actually worse than Amsterdam in January. It's still cold and there's no end to winter in sight. The month is short but yet it drags on and on, and then there's all the pressure of celebrating Valentine's Day and those new year's resolutions are getting harder and harder to keep.
In reality, February is a great time to visit Amsterdam because the crowds are still missing from key tourist spots and sights, the daylight is lasting a little longer each evening, and there are some great hotel deals and offers to take advantage of and there are a number of fun and happening events worth being in Amsterdam for. February is also my birthday month so I personally try to always get out and do as much as I can in Amsterdam. And these are some of the things happening in February in Amsterdam.
Chinese New Year
Many visitors are surprised to find out that Amsterdam has a China Town (especially as it's slap bang in the middle of the Red Light District) but it's a very real and thriving community and well worth exploring if you find yourself there.
A great time to do so is during Chinese New Year (the dates of which vary year on year so be mindful of this!) as the streets will be lit up with lanterns and parties will spill out of restaurants and shops too. China Town is also where you can find some of the city's best Asian food restaurants so let that be a tip you remember!
Little Italy Taste & Travel
Celebrating the tastes and traditions and landscape of Italy, this three-day festival is where you will find a slice of la dolce vita (or pizza) in central Amsterdam. Hosted again at Westergasfabriek, here you'll find Italophiles gathering to try regional foods, wines and produce, while also inspiring your next Italian holiday.
You may not think you wanted to come to Amsterdam to get a fix of Italian life but if the weather is terrible and you're partial to pasta or Italian wine, you could do a lot worse than spending a day here.
Sonic Acts Festival
Because I can't think of a better or more succinct way to describe the Sonic Acts Festival event in Amsterdam in February, here is what their website says about the event, "a thematic festival with a strong focus on contemporary and historical developments at the intersections of art, technology, music and science".
To my mind that means the festival which is held across a number of venues in the city will feature music and art inspired by art and science, but almost certainly isn't limited to that. I guess the only way to find out what it's really about is to go to the festival itself!
This one welcomes all stakeholders in the chocolate industry from cocoa farmers and producers to chocolate connoisseurs to share their love of this confectionery that will also tempt passing visitors to have a little nosey (and of course a sample!) of the chocolates on offer at Beurs van Berlage, one of Amsterdam's most famous buildings. Find out more here.
Weather in Amsterdam in Winter
Let's not sugarcoat it. The weather in Amsterdam in winter is cold, sometimes VERY cold. This is western Europe after all and Amsterdam is not a million miles (or even 100 miles!) away from the North Sea.
So when travelling to Amsterdam in winter, come prepared for cold temperatures - below freezing at night is not uncommon in the peak of winter - chilly winds, and changeable weather, i.e. think layers, and have a warm coat that ideally is also waterproof.
Hats, gloves and scarves are essential (especially if you're cycling as that can add to the windchill) and I highly recommend warm, and practical shoes for walking around. Amsterdam doesn't get as much rain as other European cities but it can certainly get some so packing an umbrella is not a bad idea.
One thing worth mentioning is that the days are very short in Amsterdam in winter. Admittedly, not as short as those in the Nordic countries, but I still notice a small difference between Amsterdam and London in terms of when the sun comes up and goes down, i.e. in middle of December it's dark by 4pm or shortly after, and you can expect it to still seem quite dark at 8 o'clock in the morning.
The big question people often ask me about winter in Amsterdam is whether it will snow, and/or will the canals freeze over? I have lived in Amsterdam for several winters now and it's only snowed in Amsterdam three times, and the canals have only ever frozen over once during our many years living here, which was early in 2018. That was only thanks to the so-called Beast from the East, which brought temperatures of below freezing - day and night - for over a week.
What I mean to say by this is that it's highly unusual for the canals to freeze completely allowing you to go ice skating on them (and even this year it was only for a limited time - about 48 hours) so please don't book your winter trip to Amsterdam expecting for that to be a reality!
What to pack and wear in Amsterdam in Winter
As mentioned above, having a waterproof, warm coat and shoes, and all the necessary accessories like gloves, a scarf and a warm hat is really essential if you want to ensure your visit to Amsterdam in the winter months is a success... or at least doesn't result in frostbite.
Depending on how much you feel the cold, I really wouldn't blame you if you packed a few thermal layers for under your clothes, and maybe also throwing in a pair of woolly socks. Most houses and accommodation in Amsterdam will be plenty warm enough so it's really only when you're out and about you have to think about what to wear to keep warm.
The good thing about Amsterdam is that there isn't really a very swanky dress code in terms of what people wear when they go out. Unlike some places in the UK I can think of, young people going out on a Friday or Saturday evening in winter will always dress appropriately - i.e. jeans, tights, long sleeves - and they'll always wear a coat. You can easily (and comfortably!) wear jeans and trainers to most of Amsterdam's restaurants, bars and nightclubs, unless they are particularly pricey or exclusive.
As I mention briefly above, if you're planning on cycling in Amsterdam during your stay, be sure to have a pair of decent gloves (and ideally a warm hat and scarf too) as the wind chill and cold air will get to your fingers quick. I highly recommend having a pair of suede or leather gloves (or eco-friendly equivalent) rather than just a stretchy cotton or man-made fabric as these will be next to useless in temperatures that hover or dip below freezing.
Should you get unlucky with the rain, it may be worth getting a fold-up rain poncho from the famous Dutch store Hema (they're scattered) across the city, as this will keep you dry (or drier!) in a sudden downpour while out on your bikes. Of course you don't have to cycle! Many Dutchies (but certainly not all as you will see!) ditch their bikes in colder, winter months in Amsterdam and opt for the warm and dry public transport, which is well set up to take you all over the city so don't think you have to get on two wheels.
TIP: If you are planning on navigating the city by public transport during your stay AND you wish to take in a few museums, I highly recommend the Iamsterdam City Card.
And there you have them - my best advice and recommended things to do in Amsterdam in winter. If you'd like to save or share this post, there are some images you can pin below, and scroll down for a list of other Amsterdam articles that may help you plan your trip!
And if you'd like some other tips for planning your trip to Amsterdam, check out these posts:
Frances M. Thompson
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