Things to do in Amsterdam in winter

Must-see winter attractions in Amsterdam 

Amsterdam, a fantastic destination any time of year, becomes especially enchanting in winter. Despite being the coldest months, January and February are ideal for securing the best holiday deals to Amsterdam. This period offers unique things to do, like exploring Amsterdam's UNESCO Heritage Site beauty, ice skating on canals, and enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival. With fewer tourists, it's the perfect time for holidays to Amsterdam, allowing visitors to experience its historic charm and vibrant culture in a more serene setting.

Winter brings you plenty of festive treats such as cute markets and dazzling light festivals, while you end the day with hearty Dutch cuisine that was made for those cold evenings. From exciting museum events to celebrating the New Year, there are plenty of things to do in Amsterdam in winter. Grab a hat and scarf and enjoy the twinkling lights of the Dutch capital at the end of the year. If you’re inspired, take a look at our fantastic Amsterdam travel guide and start planning your next getaway. 

1. Get free access to the major museums

The I Amsterdam City Card really comes into its own during winter, as you get free access to the major museums (although you only get a discount at the Rijksmuseum) and unlimited transport options. The passes, available for one, two, three, or four days, not only include a delightful canal cruise but also offer great flexibility and convenience for exploring Amsterdam. You can choose to have it delivered to you or pick it up directly at the airport or the main train station. For those looking to delve deeper into the cultural offerings of Amsterdam without stretching your budget, we highly recommend reading our article focused on free museums in Amsterdam. It’s a treasure trove of information for art and history enthusiasts keen on experiencing the city's rich heritage at no cost.

2. Get your skates on

If the temperature remains below freezing for four nights in a row, Amsterdammers can take to the canals on foot or skates. The council stop traffic at certain spots so the boats don't break the ice. However if the winter's mild, don't worry, there are plenty of other ice skating options always open. If you've got some stamina, visit the Jaap Eden ice skating rink (Oct-Mar) - the route is a 400m loop.

There are also good rainy-day options including bowling or laser gaming at the new Lovers Power Zone, or browsing the books at the Bibliotheek: the city’s library has a whole floor dedicated to kids’ activities, with plenty of reading material in English. 

3. Go walking in Vondelpark

Amsterdam has some superb city centre parks and gardens, and Vondelpark is one of the finest (and the largest). It's a little less busy in the colder months, but you can take a wander through the park - and even have a game of winter tennis if you don't mind removing a few layers. The Groot Melkhuis, which is open in the winter (Wed-Sun), is a good place to stop for a warming cup of coffee - they even have a fireplace.

4. Warm up in a traditional 'brown café' (bruin café)

The Dutch equivalent of a British pub is named due to their wood-panelled interiors and living-room look. Once inside, you can browse the beer options, sip a jenever (a gin-like spirit) and try a bar snack. Some date back to the 17th century, like the Café de Sluyswacht, which is in an old-fashioned townhouse which leans just a little, or Café Chris in the Jordaan neighbourhood.

5. Cosy up in front of an open fire

Many of the cafes and restaurants in Amsterdam have a real fire to warm up in front of. Head upstairs in the historic Café de Wetering and grab a spot in front of their 17th century open hearth. Shipping containers might not sound inviting, but the refurbished ones at Pllek are worth a short boat ride to find a warm welcome in winter.

6. Catch-up in a coffee shop

While for many, a trip to a "coffee shop" in Amsterdam is a rite of passage - make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules on soft drugs before heading in - there are around 150 shops to choose from.

7. Take a trip to the Red Light District

If you want to see the seedier side of the city, then this famous tourist hot spot is the place to head to. The rosse buurt is actually one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam.

8. Peruse some paintings

The Van Gogh Museum unsurprisingly holds the largest collections by the Dutch master, including the iconic Sunflowers and several self-portraits. The Rembrandt House Museum has preserved the feel of the workroom the painter used for 20 years, and they do a daily demonstration of his paint preparation process. They hold a huge collection of his etchings, and you can even try making an etching yourself. The Hermitage Amsterdam shows parts of the collection, including portraits, from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, showing the close historical links between the two countries. If you like your art bang up-to-date, visit the Stedelijk Museum, which focuses on modern and contemporary design and art, from the 1870s to the present day.

In November, enjoy Museum Night. Over fifty museums open their doors to the public from 7pm to 2am, with various events put on, accompanied by DJs and live music. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy the city. 

9. Photograph the historic architecture

Amsterdam’s photogenic 17th century Canal Ring is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is very well preserved. Dam Square was built in the 13th century and remains a major meeting place, surrounded by beautiful buildings including the Royal Palace. You can visit Amsterdam’s oldest building and parish church, Oude Kerk. The 800-year-old building started off as a wooden chapel, where sailors prayed for their safe return from sea. The equally picturesque Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts in the city, and is named after the Beguines' (sort of non-religious nuns) who lived there from the 13th century. You'll probably travel through Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station (est 1889), especially if you've flown into the city. The Gothic building is an example of Renaissance Revival architecture and known for its vast cast iron platform roof.

10. Explore the Museum Quarter

Amsterdam's equivalent to London's South Kensington is a great place to head to if the weather's bad. First stop should be the world-famous Rijksmuseum, where you can see masterpieces like The Milkmaid (Vermeer) and the Night Watch (Rembrandt). The collections cover 800 years of Dutch history. Closer to the centre is the Amsterdam Museum, which will teach you all about the city from the past to the present, and the Amsterdam of the future. The Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) is naturally next to the IJ (bay) in the cultural Plantage area, and charts the sea-faring nations' history. Check out the replica ship outside the museum.

11. Visit the home of Anne Frank

The poignant Diary of Anne Frank is a classic of children's literature. It charts the ultimately tragic time Anne Frank spent hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, in a building that became her home during WWII. Anne Frank's House was originally going to be demolished, however a campaign to protect this special bit of history won out, and now you can visit the annex where the teenager and her family and friends lived before their capture.

12. See the Royal "Winter Palace"

The Royal Palace Amsterdam became the official home of the Royal House when Queen Wilhelmina moved in and used it as her cold weather base in the 1930s. If the reigning monarch isn't home (which isn't often), you can go and have a look round - this is where State Visits take place as well as major official functions, including royal marriages.

13. Wrap up and go wildlife watching

You can see giraffes, gorillas and zebras among the hundreds of species at the Natura Artis Magistra (aka Artis), the oldest zoo in the Netherlands. In the colder months the opening hours are slightly shorter, and there's an indoor planetarium if you're feeling the chill.

14. Visit a winter windmill (molen)

While the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands, De Gooyer, is not open to the public - in its shadows is a brewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which very much is. You can buy tickets in the bar for behind the scenes tours in English every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (at 3.30pm). A windmill that is open is Molen van Sloten in Amsterdam You can also visit Zaanse Schans, a living museum which has eight windmills, as well as clog factory, which is 15 minutes away by train.

15. Get on your bike

Take to two wheels by either hiring a bike or by taking a cycling guided tour of the city. There should be less tourists on the road during the off-peak season - here is i amsterdam's recommended bike rental places.

16. Buy some bitterballen

If there’s one thing to know about Holland, its cuisine was made for those chilly, wintery nights. In winter, erwtensoep (or snert) - thick pea soup with smoked sausage - is available in many places, and at about €5 a bowl makes a cheap but hearty lunch. Alternatively, there’s the uitsmijter (a “kicker-out”, derived from the practice of serving it at dawn after an all-night party to prompt guests to depart); now widely available at all times of day, it comprises one, two, or three fried eggs on buttered bread, topped with a choice of ham, cheese or roast beef. At under €10, it’s another good budget brunch or lunch option. 

One of the favourite winter snacks in the Netherlands is Bitterballen, which are small, rounds of gooey goodness. Beef is usually the main ingredient, but you can get them with chicken or veal too. The meat and the roux is breadcrumbed and deep fried before being served up with mustard and a bitter-flavoured side drink. Eating Amsterdam do foodie tours around the city, where they show you all the spots to try the traditional cuisine in, like Stamppot (Dutch stew) and Snert (creamy, pea soup). If you're in a rush, Amsterdam's vending machines also sell hot snacks.

17. Did someone say cheese?

This city has a Cheese Museum, but you'll find all sorts of cheese in the specialist shops around Amsterdam. You can even try cheese in pubs, as most cafes worth their salt will have a cheese-based snack on the menu.

18. Indulge your sweet-tooth

Start the day with Pannekoeken (pancakes) smothered in strawberries and cream, or pick up a stroopwafel (syrup waffle) along the way. The Dutch are the biggest liquorice consumers in the world and they have different textures, strengths and flavours - the main two being on various levels of the salt or sweet spectrum. Browse the confectionery in Pompadour while drinking one of their hot chocolates. Visit one of the city's food markets, like the famous and sprawling Albert Cuyp Market, to try some of the finest sweets and street food.

19. Step inside the Vintage shops

Vintage shopping is huge in Amsterdam, and no more so than in the De Negen Straatjes area. Wander through the nine cobbled streets, close to Dam Square in the heart of the city, and you'll find stores selling men's and women's vintage clothes. In January you can also get involved in all the events surrounding Amsterdam Fashion Week.

20. Watch the football

Amsterdam is home to one of the most stylish football teams in the world, the mighty AFC Ajax. Founded in 1900, they've won their league title more than 30 times as well as the European Cup, Champions League and UEFA Cup in their illustrious red and white history. Johan Cruijff is their most famous player. You can get a guided tour of the Amsterdam Arena or if you time it right, see a game. The Dutch Eredivisie (league) does take a winter break, so check the fixture list first.

21. Buy yourself a clever umbrella

Amsterdam can be bright one minute and rainy the next. In the winter months, the average is eight wet days a month, so chances are you might find yourself caught out. If you didn't pack an umbrella, you can pick up one of these unusually shaped ones in the city - senz° umbrellas were developed by three students in the Dutch city of Delft. These technical whizzes created umbrellas that won't flip inside out in the wind, and some attach to bikes.

22. And if it isn't cold enough....

You could always visit Amsterdam's IceBar - you can have a drink from a glass made of ice in minus ten degrees celsius

23. Take to the slopes in the city

If there isn't any snow outdoors, there are indoor ski-centres. Snow Planet has a massive indoor slope which is 230m long. You can also improve your ski or snowboarding technique at Ski-Inn under expert tutelage.

24. Take a winter walking tour

The Winter Wonder Walk gives you a guided tour of the city, which starts  in Dam Square, and has plenty of stops along the way to try the local produce and warm up a bit. If you want a nature walk, head half an hour west of Amsterdam to the coastal resort of Zandvoort. Once there, you can wander round the sand dunes and get great views from the ridges - you might even spot some local wildlife.

25. Experience the illuminating Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights is fast becoming a firm favourite in the calendar, with the canals artistically lit up from the end of November to the middle of January. For two months, Amsterdam Light Festival displays light sculptures, projections and illuminations that transform Amsterdam’s wintry nights. They have two main routes to admire the different installations, one by boat and the other on foot - with historic buildings the backdrop for projections or trees in the parks used for new light systems. Be sure to follow the “Illuminade” - a lit-up walkway through the city centre taking you past staggering light artworks.

26. Enjoy Christmas by the canals

 What to do in Amsterdam in the winter? Head to a Christmas market of course! Amsterdammers flock to Christmas markets in every part of town to stock up on food delicacies, handmade art and accessories, while keeping warm with glühwein (mulled wine) and oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts). Some of the most popular can be found at Westergasfabriek (Funky Xmas Market) and Kromhouthal (Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt).

Christmas comes a lot earlier in the Netherlands, with Sinterklaas putting in his appearance at the longest Saint Nicholas street parade on the planet in November. You'll be joining 400,000 festive revellers watching  Sinterklaas arrive by boat along the Amstel River in convoy. He then hops on his trusty steed and continues through the streets on horseback, giving out sweets and treats.

27. Bring in the New Year in Amsterdam...

They like to party in Amsterdam, so there are few better cities to say farewell to the old year and hello to the new one - Gezondheid! The official fireworks take place in the Oosterdok (close to the central station), The water, the Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) and the VOC Ship, The Amsterdam, provide a nautical backdrop for the pyrotechnics. Food wise, visit one of the festive stalls and pick up a tasty oliebollen (doughnut) or appelflappen (kind of apple-flavoured fritter).

28. ...or wait a few more weeks for the Chinese version

Chinese New Year usually takes place between January 21 and February 20, depending on when the new moon is. In Amsterdam the traditional lion and dragon dances and fireworks take place in two locations - Dam Square and their historic Chinatown in Nieuwmarkt.

29. Pick a Tulip from Amsterdam

They celebrate National Tulip Day in January to mark the start of the season, and in Amsterdam you can pick one flower for free from Dam Square. Although if you want to see them in full bloom in the fields - you'll have to wait for spring (March to May). Visit the only floating flower market in the world, The Bloemenmarkt, to see what flowers are available at the time - you can buy bulbs to take home if a bunch takes your fancy.

30. Get romantic down by the canals

Valentine's Day in Amsterdam is all heart, flowers and romantic cruises along the water. You can float under the beautiful bridges and pretty buildings by candlelight, or go for a longer dinner cruise on an old-fashioned boat. Popping the question? You can easily find a quiet spot in the moonlight along the canals. Brouwersgracht, Prinsengracht, Leidsegracht and Reguliersgracht are all very pretty, and you're never far away from a cafe or bar to toast the engagement if it all goes well. The Magere Brug or Skinny bridge is illuminated at night and looks rather lovely,  but it is extremely popular with courting couples, so you might want to try somewhere quieter.

31. Discover Amsterdam Fringe Festival

No, you’re not in Edinburgh! Amsterdam Fringe Festival is held at more than 30 venues across town. It’s an eleven-day dance and theatre festival which brings together talented young artists from different backgrounds (around half the performances are suitable for non-Dutch speakers).  

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