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As an ex-resident of Amsterdam, I believe that winter in Amsterdam is a great time to avoid the crowds and there are some unique winter activities in Amsterdam that I always love to visit. Keep reading for why you should visit Amsterdam in winter, the best things to do in Amsterdam, and additional tips for visiting Amsterdam in winter.
What is the weather like in Amsterdam in winter?
Amsterdam is surprisingly moderate, so the temperature doesn’t drop as dramatically as many people assume. However, winter in Amsterdam comes with heavy winds and rain, enough so that you’ll want to dress warmly.
It rarely snows in Amsterdam and prior to this year, the canals in Amsterdam had not froze over for eight years. That said, it’s good to avoid biking in Amsterdam if it drops below freezing as biking on cobblestones can be dangerous, especially if you’re not an experienced bicyclist, and you can slide on black ice… Typically, Amsterdam bikes do not have snow tires.
The weather in winter is between 4 and 9 degrees Celsius (the low 30s to high 40s Fahrenheit) with an average of rain occurring on about 23% of the days. Generally, the rain doesn’t last very long, but it’s good to have an umbrella if you’re concerned. Just be warned that it can feel colder due to the windchill.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
As it will be chilly, I’d recommend ensuring that your hotel is well-connected with public transit as some parts of the ring require a slightly longer walk to bus/tram stops.
Consider staying at the Pulitzer Hotel, which was built within a block of twenty canal houses, and sits just a block away from one of a well connected bus/tram stops. Those on a budget might want to consider CocoMama, a boutique hostel just walking distance from the best restaurants in De Pijp and the trams.
The best things to do in Amsterdam in winter
Most of the activities on a normal itinerary for Amsterdam are 100% possible in winter. That said, you might be a more apprehensive about sitting outside for an extended period in Vondelpark (or another part). Here, I’ll be focusing more on the seasonal activities in Amsterdam that you can’t do the entire year as well as my favorite places to hide from the cold…
Outdoor activities in Amsterdam during winter
Amsterdam Light Festival
Between December and mid January of each year, Amsterdam lights up. The Amsterdam Light Festival is a huge open-air light sculpture festival that decorates Amsterdam’s scenic canals.
You can see the light sculptures both from the water as well as the land although some are specially designed to be viewed by boat only… It’s completely free to enjoy the lights, so be sure to stroll or bike along the canals at night.
Many people don’t realize that most of the canal cruises are covered and heated, so don’t worry if you’re worried that it will be too cold to enjoy the iconic canal houses on the water. Many cruises even include free tea or hot chocolate as part of the cost. It should be noted that you can take a day time or sunset cruise along the canals.
You might be dreaming of skating on the canals of Amsterdam, however it’s only occurred twice in the last 10 years. Don’t get your hopes up too high that it will get cold enough to ice skate on the canals as it’s unlikely to happen, but luckily there’s ice skating rinks around the city. I find that the one close to Museumplein is the most picturesque although I find the rink overly small.
Walking along the canals
This is so simple, but as Amsterdam isn’t too chilly, don’t be afraid to enjoy the non-rainy weather and stroll along the canals. One of my favorite canals to photograph is Herengracht, which holds some of the most beautiful canal houses without the crowds of Prinsengracht or the inner canals. When you get too cold, just look for a brown bar, a cozy Dutch bar, to step into for a warm tea or a local beer.
Often overshadowed by Germany, the Netherlands has lovely Christmas markets. Amsterdam has a number of Christmas markets in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Although the Ice Village in Museumplein is the most well-known Christmas market, you’ll find a number of smaller Christmas markets in the various neighborhoods on weekends spread out through December. It’s romantic to stroll through with a loved one and a cup of gluhwein. (Be sure to bring cash!)
During December and early January, you’ll find oliebollen stands all around the city. These fried balls of deliciousness are a traditional Dutch New Year’s Eve snack. Be sure to eat them when they’re warm and don’t hesitate to ask for powdered sugar on top.
National Tulip Day in Dam Square
On the third Saturday in January is National Tulip Day. You might not know about this event, however every year, over 200,000 tulips are brought to Dam Square. It’s typically put in an intricate design, which you can view from a ladder above. It’s 100% free to enter although I recommend getting in line early to have your pick of tulips to bring home with you!
The best things to do in Amsterdam indoors during winter
Get into a massive debate over Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet
What is December without a fierce Sinterklaas debate? I kid, but everyone has an opinion about this controversial Dutch holiday tradition that has been condemned by the UN. Around the time of Sinterklaas (December 5th), I think that it’s impossible to avoid hearing about it.
Some of the other winter in Amsterdam guides recommend going to the Sinterklaas parade (which is improving within Amsterdam), but I recommend reading up about it first in order to make an informed decision.
Ahhh gluhwein. I’ll admit that sitting in an old brown cafe sipping on a gluhwein is my winter activity of choice. Like many European countries, the Dutch have a delicious alcoholic drink that is perfect for winter. Gluhwein is a mulled wine with cinnamon and oranges.
To be fair, I’ve had some terrible gluhwein, so make sure that wherever you’re getting it from has made a fresh batch recently as it can get too bitter if the oranges sit inside too long. I really like the gluhwein at Cafe Papeneiland.
Cuddle with cats at the Kattenkabinet or the Poezenboot
Is there anything as wonderful as having a cuddly cat climb into your lap when you’re cold? Luckily, Amsterdam is full of cat-friendly places, including a floating cat shelter on a canal boat and a museum dedicated to cat-related art (with real cats). You don’t even need to go to either to find friendly cats in Amsterdam as many shops (and coffeeshops) have a friendly shop cat to keep the mice away.
Step into the Rijksmuseum
On the coldest of days, consider stepping into the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is one of the largest museums in the Netherlands and it holds thousands of pieces.
It’s easy to spend a whole day in here, so if it’s raining (or snowing) the entire day, don’t be afraid to hide inside until the weather improves. There’s amazing art, including Rembrant’s Nightswatch, to be seen. Click to buy tickets ahead to avoid waiting on line.
Learn about history at Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
If you’ve purchased the iAmsterdam pass, which is a steal if you’re visiting at least a few museums, consider stepping into my favorite museum in Amsterdam, which is included in the card. Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is a museum composed of three canalhouses with a secret two-story church in the attic! This museum is the perfect place to warm up for 1-2 hours while soaking up history and epic views of the canals….
What to wear in winter in Amsterdam
Simply, dress as you would in fall/winter in a colder climate. I’d recommend a pair of waterproof shoes (as it does rain a fair amount), a sweater to put over your clothes as needed, and a good jacket for winter.
I usually wear a peacoat with jeans and boots along with a hat/scarf as it doesn’t get that cold and layering is helpful if you’re visiting different locations. Click for a complete packing list for winter in Amsterdam.