Spending December in Amsterdam is not a bad deal at all. The Christmas decorations sparkle in the moonlight, the narrow streets along the canals look cozier than ever, and the locals are preparing to enjoy the festive season with family. If you’re super lucky, you might even see the city covered in a layer of white powdery snow. Essentially, Amsterdam always reaches peak “gezelligheid” in December, an utterly untranslatable word for a cosy and fuzzy atmosphere.
It doesn’t matter if you actually live in Amsterdam or just plan to visit the capital somewhere in December. Do you want to make the end of the year an extra magical experience? Then you should definitely read this ultimate (Christmas) guide to Amsterdam in December. I’m sharing my best insider tips for the snowy season!
Put your Skates on at the Museum Square Ice Rink
Back in the day, Dutch winters were much colder. We used to be able to go ice skating on the historic canals, but unfortunately, that seems to be slowly becoming a part of the past. Do not worry, though! We have a solution: you can head to the ice rink at Museumplein (Museum Square). It might get a little busy at times, but you can rent skates, drink hot chocolate, and admire the view of the Rijksmuseum (a true architectural highlight in Amsterdam).
In addition to the ice skating rink, there will be a small Christmas Market (Ice Village) at Museum Square from 16 to 26 December, which will be open from 11:00 to 19:00 (7 pm) every day.
Brighten up at the Amsterdam Light Festival
Winter time can be a bit gloomy and depressing. One event that completely brightens up the city is the Amsterdam Light Festival. I always make sure to check out every annual edition. As the nights get longer and longer, numerous light installations from international artists light up the sky. You can easily walk or cycle around the city and find the installations for yourself, or you can book a boat tour to see the art from the canals.
The Best Christmas-themed Walking Route in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s most enchanting feature is its historic heart. The best way to enjoy the fairy tale architecture is to just go out and hit the streets. I even made a little map of my favourite winter hotspots! Follow this Christmas-themed walking (or cycling) route to see the prettiest December scenes in Amsterdam. You can complete this route in one day.
- A: Amsterdam Central Station – The station is a good orientation point to start your route. Besides, the building will also be decorated with lots of twinkling lights!
- B: Bijenkorf Department Store – The most famous department store in Amsterdam is undoubtedly the Bijenkorf. The building is always lavishly decorated with lights and it’s a great location to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.
- C: Magna Plaza Department Store – This department store includes lots of trendy shops, as well as one of the biggest Christmas trees in the city. The Magna Plaza is an architectural highlight in Amsterdam and used to be the main post office.
- D: Kalverstraat – This long street is the main shopping street in Amsterdam, everybody knows where to find it. It’s the coolest place to enjoy the festive vibes and shop til you drop.
- E: Spiegelgracht – The Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and Spiegelgracht (“Mirror Canal”) belong to the most picturesque area in central Amsterdam. The street is lined with lit-up store windows, filled with curious trinkets and antique objects.
- F: Ice Skating Rink at Museumplein – The ice skating rink at Museum Square is a major Christmas hotspot in Amsterdam.
Hortus by Night: Experience Botanical Bliss at the Hortus Botanicus
The botanical garden of Amsterdam, also known as the Hortus Botanicus, has introduced a new concept this year: Hortus by Night. On these special evenings in late December and early January (17:00-22:00), you can admire the plants in beautiful lighting. Afterwards, you can enjoy a glass of glühwein by the campfire. The night ticket price for the Hortus by Light nights is only €5.50, so I think I’ll even be going with some friends myself! You can also visit the botanical garden during the day, of course. There is a heated tropical greenhouse where you can temporarily escape the cold weather.
YES. December is Dutch Foodie Time!
Take this from a Dutch person: our culinary scene thrives in the festive season. We’re not very good at light summer snacks, but trust me: prepare to stuff your stomach in December. The typical Dutch winter time snacks are ridiculously delicious. You should head to the Albert Cuyp Market to try a warm stroopwafel and a serving of poffertjes (mini pancakes). You can also get Dutch pancakes and poffertjes for lunch or dinner at several specialised ‘pancake houses’. At the end of the year, there will also be lots of stalls selling oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts) and apple beignets. These are seasonal snacks for New Year’s Eve.
Practical Info for your December City Trip to Amsterdam
OK, so we’ve got your winter activities and foodie experiences covered. But let’s not forget about the practical side of things: what will the weather be like, what will you wear, and what should you pack? Before you zip up your suitcase (I know you’re excited), have a look at my tips for your December city trip to Amsterdam.
Layering up: What to Wear in December?
Since it’s a coastal country, the Netherlands has a relatively mild climate. Nevertheless, it can get a bit chilly in winter time. Temperatures regularly drop to around or just below zero, so make sure you bring a hat, gloves, and a scarf. Other times, the weather can be surprisingly mild (up to about 13 degrees Celsius), so layering up is your best bet. This way you can remove or add layers according to the temperature. Amsterdam is a notoriously rainy city, so always bring a coat with a hood, or keep a small umbrella in your bag or backpack.
Cycling or Public Transport in Winter Weather?
Cycling is the most convenient mode of transport in Amsterdam. As long as the weather is calm, you can explore the city by bike! But be aware, the winter weather in Amsterdam can be very windy and rainy. More importantly, it can even get icy when temperatures drop below zero. If you’re not an experienced cyclist, then skip renting a bike in December. I understand it’s a typical ‘Amsterdam experience’, but the Dutch capital is the most hectic city to be riding a bike.
Instead, hop on the trams or metro lines; there are plenty around. The public transportation system in the Netherlands is generally top-notch, so download the 9292 app and start planning your trip. The only transportation that usually gets disrupted in snowy/icy weather are the trains, so keep this in mind if you’re travelling outside of central Amsterdam.
Other Handy Articles for Amsterdam in Winter
- The Amsterdam Light Festival is Back in Town
- Christmas in Amsterdam: 10 Photos of Pure Winter Magic
- Why You Should Visit the Amsterdam City Archives
- 15 Dreamy Photos of Snow in Amsterdam after a Winter Storm
Note: All information is current, I updated this article in December 2019.
8 thoughts on “The Ultimate (Christmas) Guide to Amsterdam in December”
Hey there. I will be visiting Amsterdam this December but am torn between either visiting in early December (1-11 Dec) or second-half (16-27 Dec). Now, the obvious answer would be to come in the later half but the cost of flight tickets — I am from Malaysia — is about a difference of 100-150 euros and I am sure other prices might hike up. Wonder if I decided to come in early December whether I would be missing out OR should I really make that investment to come in the later half. Looking forward to your reply!
Hi Daniel! Thanks for dropping by 🙂 I wouldn’t worry too much about wanting to be in Amsterdam in the second half of December. All the decorations and events should already be in full swing in the first half (especially since Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ is also celebrated on 5 December). Hope that helps!
2018- here we come
Hahaha yep, hope you had a nice and festive December! 😉
Never been to Amsterdam but definitely considering especially during Christmas time! Great post!
That’s great to hear (I definitely recommend it), thank you!
Thanks for publishing this, one of my favorite cities
Thanks for your comment Ted, that’s great to hear 🙂