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What is there to do in Amsterdam at Christmas?
A well-loved city break on the European travel circuit, I spent 3 days in Amsterdam one December and it did not disappoint. Alive with twinkly lights and chilled by cold nights, come Christmas time Amsterdam transforms into a festive paradise. I quickly came to the conclusion during my short stay that it must be one of the best times of the year to visit. So if you’re thinking of taking a weekend break to The Netherlands this winter, here are the top 5 Christmassy things to do in Amsterdam in December!
1. Ice skating in Amsterdam
An evening spent on the ice rink located at Museumplein to the rear of Rijksmuseum was one of the highlights of my time in Amsterdam during Christmas. I would suggest you book an evening session at Ice*Amsterdam when the lights begin to twinkle and shine, because it adds to the magic of the atmosphere. There is also a Christmas Market held next to the ice rink from mid until late December, where you can grab some unique little gifts, hot drinks and more. Unfortunately, I was in Amsterdam just a few days early, so was greatly disappointed when it had not opened as the Christmas Markets were the main reason for my trip to the city.
Tip: Don’t be like me… always check the opening dates for markets if you’re taking a Christmas city break to Europe and don’t just assume they will be open because it’s December (especially if you visit early in the month).
2. Amsterdam Light Festival
One of the best things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas is to wander the canals and streets in search of exhibits for the Amsterdam Light Festival. Throughout December and January, illuminated art installations created by artists worldwide are placed in plain sight around the city, creating the most enchanting aura. The dates may differ slightly every year, and you can find these on the official website linked above. You can see the lights by foot, which as long as you have comfy footwear is fairly easy as the centre of Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most walkable cities. An alternative way to see the installations is by taking light festival cruise of the canals.
3. A spot of retail therapy
During Christmas, Amsterdam’s shopping malls are dressed up with fancy decorations and lights, making them a wonderful place for some festive retail therapy. One of the most beautifully adorned shopping centres that I found with its suspended Christmas tree inside and outer decorated with glistening lights was Magna Plaza Shopping Centre. Being an old Post Office the building quite naturally has a bucket load of charm, and located only a stone’s throw from Dam Square it makes sense to stop by this imposing mall for a spot of afternoon Christmas shopping.
4. The festive decorations
Aside from Amsterdam’s Light Festival, during Christmas Amsterdam is garnished with decorations throughout. For me, there’s nothing better than grabbing a hot chocolate or mulled wine and wandering any which way the wind takes you in search of Christmas lights. Fairy lights zigzag from building to building, and wreaths and trees act as accessories to already picturesque canal-side homes. Even many of the narrow boats are adorned with twinkling lights to mark the festivities, which is an utter pleasure to see (and kind of like something out of a storybook).
Is it cold in Amsterdam in December? Yes, it is. The average daily temperature is around 8°C and by nightfall, it can plummet to around 2°C. Take a winter coat, some thick jumpers and warm footwear, and perhaps even some extra layers to wear underneath your clothes.
5. Cosy up in a ‘Brown Cafe’ (the hidden gems of Amsterdam)
It can get pretty cold in Amsterdam during Christmas, and the perfect way to warm up is to get cosy in a Brown Cafe. Brown Cafes are traditional Dutch pubs which offer local beers and dishes, and (hence their name) usually have a brown interior. There are often a lot of wooden features, like the bar itself, and the lighting is generally dim. I stumbled across a Brown Cafe near the Heineken Experience called Cafe Berkhout and quickly fell in love with it. They had a real Christmas tree at the time, and sat in the warmth beside this with a beer in hand knowing it was cold outside really was quite wholesome.
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