The Amsterdam Light Festival is a yearly festival in Amsterdam with changing lights (on an annual basis). I consider the changing light exhibitions created by artists from all over the world one of the best things to do in Amsterdam in winter. You can see the Amsterdam Light Festival on foot, by boat, or by bike. Read for tips for visiting the Amsterdam Light Festival, which can only be done during January or December in Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Light Festival is a free winter festival in Amsterdam in December and January. It’s one of the highlights of Amsterdam in winter for both locals and tourists although locals get the most excited about this festival. If you’re visiting Amsterdam in December OR early January, you won’t want to miss this unique spectacle at night, especially if you’re visiting Amsterdam on a budget.
The Amsterdam Lights Festival runs between December 1st and January 22nd (for the 2017 festival). The water exposition part of the Amsterdam Light Festival debuts on November 30th. (These are photos from 2016!) The land exposition runs from December 14, 2017 to January 7 and it’s east of Centraal station.
The artwork is lit up between five p.m. and midnight. There are two sections: the land exhibition (only accessible on foot) and the water exhibition. The water section can be seen well enough if you’re biking or walking along the canals of Amsterdam at night in December or January although its best to see it by boat (which costs money). The water route goes along Herengracht, one of Amsterdam’s most picturesque canals.
I’d say that it takes about two hours to see the land exhibition and walk along part of the canals to see some of the water exhibitions. You can see a lot more of the light sculptures if you are biking along the canals. The location of the light sculptures change yearly.
If you plan to go to the festival, be sure to dress warmly as the wind chill gets to you. Be sure to wear a good hat and bundle up accordingly. (You can click for my Amsterdam packing list, including what to wear in Amsterdam in winter.) Be sure to bring a couple euros to buy a mulled wine (gluhwein).
The land exhibition has a set location. For the 2017 Amsterdam Light Festival, it’s being held at the Marineterrein Amsterdam. The land exhibition is remarkable as many of the lights are interactive. In 2016, the land exhibition included lights that sensitive to the touch as well as sound. One of the allowed you to scream into a tunnel only to see the light following the sound of your voice.
Although it’s easy to see the Amsterdam light festival by foot or bike, you can see the Amsterdam Light Festival water festival section by boat, which adds a dimension to some of the artwork that is intended to be seen by boat. There are quite a few canal boat options to choose from, and most are heated.
It might sound crazy, but I chose the Water Colors Open Boat canal tour as it’s hard to photograph at night and I figured that I’d get additional glare off the windows if we went with a traditional boat. It is colder without question not to be in a heated boat although Water Colors will put you in a closed top boat if it’s raining.
For your bravery, you’ll receive a glass of gluhwein/hot chocolate and a blanket. I found the whole experience of cruising along the canals at night while snuggled up with my husband romantic. It was 22.50 per person, including a glass of gluhwein, for an open boat canal cruise that lasted 75 minutes with a live captain telling you about the artwork. You’ll pay a similar amount for “normal” canal cruises. Either way, cruising along the water at night admiring the light sculptures is one of the most romantic things to do in Amsterdam in winter.
(For more information about the Amsterdam Light Festival, please check their website for updated information although I’ll do my best to update here!)
If you enjoyed this post, I have many other tips for Amsterdam, my home for over two years, including an itinerary for one day in Amsterdam, where to eat in Amsterdam, an Instagramming guide to Amsterdam, and FAQs about Amsterdam.