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Things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas

Here’s our round-up of the best things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas.

Amsterdam is one of the most quintessential destinations to visit at Christmas. It’s as if the entire city falls under a festive spell from November onwards, where twinkling Light Festivals illuminate the streets, numerous Christmas markets pop up with their ice-skating rinks and market stalls, and Christmas concerts are in full swing at concert houses and churches. Whether you’re visiting with family, friends or your significant other, there is a great variety of things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas; read on to check out our top picks and start planning your trip to this winter wonderland today.

  1. Celebrate with Sinterklaas
  2. Watch the twinkling scenes at Amsterdam Light Festival
  3. Check out the Christmas markets
  4. Glide through Christmas on a canal cruise
  5. Have a classy Christmas at a concert

1. Celebrate with Sinterklaas

Christmas in Amsterdam doesn’t get more quintessential than this. Sinterklaas (or Saint Nicholas as we know him) marks his arrival into the city in mid November, and so a huge parade of celebrations is in order. In fact, it’s the world’s largest Saint Nicholas parade, with over a kilometre’s worth of floats and boats. He is accompanied by around 600 medieval-clad Pieten (his companion) who hand out delicious pepernoten, a type of small spiced biscuit. Locals and visitors alike flock to the streets to wave and cheer on this Dutch character - note that while they both look (and sound) very similar, it’s not Santa Claus - and there’s plenty of festivities to enjoy afterwards, from traditional performances to live music!

Best for: Lively festivities.

While you’re there: A highlight is halfway through the parade, when Sinterklaas swaps his boat for a white horse called Amerigo.

2. Watch the twinkling scenes at Amsterdam Light Festival

Set against a dark night sky, taking in the city’s light festival is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas. The route generally covers the canal ring, with displays of Northern Lights, starry nights and more illuminating against the tall buildings and canal. One of the best ways to take it all in is by boat; you can book onto a specialised tour which will see you take in loads of different vantage points, all with staying cosy in the warmth of the glass-covered boat.

Best for: Light displays.

While you’re there: Book onto an open boat cruise, so you can really soak up the atmosphere of your surroundings. Don’t worry, a blanket is provided!

3. Check out the Christmas markets

Amsterdam is home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, so this option almost definitely has to be on your list while you’re here! The city becomes awash with Christmas markets; start off at Funky Xmas Market in Westergas, where you can join the hipsters as they hunt for handmade bargains, edgy art and unique creations all while supporting local artists and creatives. The Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt is family friendly with children’s activities and live music, while Ice*Village Amsterdam takes place in the iconic Museumsplein, where visitors can enjoy the ice rink, festive grub and some of the better Christmas market stalls. The ultimate has to be Amsterdam Winter Village, though; this festive wonderland boasts indoor and outdoor ice-skating rinks, a glittering ferris wheel and even cross-country skiing…

Best for: Families.

While you’re there: Get carried away and start a snowball fight (with real snow!) at Amsterdam Winter Village.

4. Glide through Christmas on a canal cruise

Built up by canal rings, the best way to get around Amsterdam is by boat! They certainly make for a slightly cosier alternative to teeth-chattering walks along the frosty paths. Booking onto a canal cruise certainly mixes the best of both worlds. Their glass-covered top means that you can still appreciate all the snowy views outside, but being inside means you get to stay warm! This is a great option for you if you’ve shopped ‘til you’ve dropped at the Christmas markets, followed the routes of the Lights Festival and partied-out from Sinterklaas celebrations; you’ve definitely earned your place on a canal cruise. While cruising, you’ll take in the top sights - both Christmas and everyday attractions - so you really get up close and personal with this beguiling Dutch city.

Best for: Cruising.

While you’re there: Keep warm a different way by hiring a bike and peddling your way along the cycle paths.

5. Have a classy Christmas at a concert

Add a dash of culture to your Amsterdam holidays by booking tickets to a classical concert performance. During the Christmas season, concert halls (and stunning churches) are packed to the rafters with live orchestras, festive carols and concerto classic performances taking place. The performances are so incredibly spine-tingling and the atmosphere will leave you with goosebumps. Make an evening out of it and you’ll leave feeling even more ready for Christmas Day than before!

Best for: Culture.

While you’re there: Follow it up with a stroll along the canalside to take in the dazzling Christmas lights.

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