19 Essential Things to Do in the Netherlands This Winter

People ice skating in Amsterdam, Netherlands frozen canal

Exploring the Netherlands at any time of the year is worthwhile with its incredible history, fabulous traditions, and modern, luxurious destinations. Springtime with tulips and flowers, summertime with sunny weather, and the crisp mornings of autumn are all appealing to travelers.

A winter adventure could be just as enjoyable despite not being the first pick of many. From the Christmas markets to the city’s historic landmarks, such as the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, you will find lots to do in the Netherlands in winter.

Summary

Best Festival Amsterdam Light Festival
Best Outdoor Activity Christmas Markets
Best for Family Madurodam
Best Food Chocolate letters!
Best City to Stay Amsterdam

1. Experience the Amsterdam Light Festival

Amsterdam Light Festival in Herengracht , Amsterdam
julia700702 / Adobe Stock

Visit Amsterdam during winter to enjoy a modern city with incredible history. The holiday season is full of fabulous Dutch food and activities, such as hot chocolate at many of the area’s restaurants.

The Dutch capital goes all out to create a fabulous experience for visitors and locals during this time of the year. Sweet treats seem to be everywhere here. But the sweetest thing of all is the one and only Light Festival.

The Amsterdam Light Festival includes countless lights adorning the city streets, along the canals, and on many of the city’s landmarks. It’s the first and last word on festive magic.

See Related: Where to Stay in Amsterdam

2. Celebrate National Tulip Day in Amsterdam

National Tulip Day in Dam Square, Amsterdam, Netherlands
ake1150 / Adobe Stock

Think you can only see tulips at Keukenhof Gardens? Think again! Enjoy National Tulip Day, celebrated on the third Saturday in January, when hundreds of thousands of tulips are brought into Dam Square in Amsterdam.

There’s a free public picking garden, so you can brighten up your home or hotel room even in winter. If you are in Amsterdam for this fun festival, consider taking a Historical Highlights Walking Tour to make the most of the trip.

See Related: The Ultimate Guide To Keukenhof Gardens for Tulip Season

3. Explore Mini Madurodam

Entrance to Madurodam, The Hague
Björn Wylezich / Adobe Stock

Visit Madurodam, often called the “Miniature Netherlands,” for a great day out with kids. It’s a miniature park and tourist attraction that has attracted more than 50 million people since it opened its beautiful doors in the 1950s.

What’s so interesting is that it is a 1:25 scale model of many of the country’s fabulous sites, including most of its historic cities. It’s a fantastic way to learn the history of the country and it also gets decked out for the holidays!

Stay toasty while checking out their charming holiday displays. It’s a great spot to explore during your trip to the Netherlands.

4. Enjoy Magical Fun in Maastricht

Aerial View of Maastricht, Netherlands
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Maastricht is the largest city in Limburg and is known for many things, including its Christmas markets that are set along the city’s old cobbled streets and tucked around the Gothic churches that seem to be at every turn. Saint Servatius Basilica is definitely worth stopping by if you have the time.

While this may be a historically charming city, more modern developments along the Maas River create a much more urban feel. But if you are more into the classic aesthetic of the city consider booking a night at the swanky Hotel Monastère Maastricht.

For festive fun, explore Magical Maastricht, the city’s primary Christmas festivities held in Vrijthof Square. The Maastricht Christmas market begins November 15th and runs through New Year’s. It’s the perfect complement to Maastricht’s inherent beauty.

5. Get Gifts From Dutch Christmas Markets

Skate Rink and Market and Amsterdam
lexan / Adobe Stock

Many towns throughout Europe have a Christmas Market. Still, the Amsterdam Christmas Market “Ice Village” is one of the most treasured in the Netherlands for its traditional food, handcrafted items, and trendy gifts. It’s full of local culture, Christmas music, and festival lights and is one of my favorites in Europe.

Remember that almost every area of the country celebrates the holidays in its way, but I firmly believe the (admittedly German) tradition of Christmas markets is the best. Here are some of the top markets in the Netherlands:

  • Sinterklaas Market in Amsterdam, also known as “Funky Christmas Market”
  • Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt also in Amsterdam
  • Royal Christmas Fair in the Hague 
  • Christmas Market in Dordrecht
  • Christmas Markets in Valkenburg
  • Christmas Market in Haarlem

6. Go Ice Skating in Giethoorn

Group Ice skating in Outside Rijksmuseum
fukez84 / Adobe Stock

Want to explore Giethoorn from the water? Though a canal cruise isn’t likely, you can always ice skating throughout the village in winter! The small village of Giethoorn is a beautiful place to visit during the holiday season and in early January.

Typically noted for its boat-filled waterways leading up to just about every home, the canals turn into walkways perfect for ice skating during winter. In Giethoorn, skating is particularly interesting. There are no roadways in this city, so ice skating becomes the easy way to get around.

7. Climb Martinitower in Groningen

Top of Martinitower in Groningen
Maria Douwma / Adobe Stock

Located in the northern portion of the country, the cold weather hits Groningen pretty heavily by mid-November and through March. Yet, there are a lot of reasons to visit this city. The architecture in the Gothic churches here is enough to visit in its own right, thanks to the stunning detailing.

One of the best ways to see the Christmas lights and festivities in Groningen, as well as the surrounding area, is by climbing the Martinitoren. It’s the tallest building in the city, and impressive views abound!

You can see the bustling people in the Grote Market just under the tower once you reach the top and the frosty views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

8. Tour the Hoensbroek Castle

Hoensbroek Castle in the Netherlands
Gina / Adobe Stock

Christmas is more than just a celebration of the birth of Christ. Christmas is tradition upon tradition, compounded and constituted of hundreds of traditions, ultimately celebrating the winter solstice. So where best can you see what Christmas from yesteryear was celebrated?

For a grand day out, tour the Hoensbroek Castle, one of the oldest castles in the country, dating back to 1250. You’ll see the Christmas traditions of years in play, with magnificent festive lighting and décor.

See Related: Castles in the Netherlands for History Buffs

9. Take a Tram Tour of The Hague

Ridderzaal Inside the Binnenhof, The Hague
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While Amsterdam is the Dutch capital, The Hague is the seat of government and no less steeped in history and architectural splendor. There’s a lot to keep you occupied here, but one of my favorite things to do in winter is to explore The Hague’s festive decor.

It’s a little more refined and “adult” versus the Amsterdam Light Festival – and that’s not me bashing either one, I love both. But the festive feel one gets from the decor is markedly different.

On the one hand, the Light Festival feels more like a true festival, with a wider variety of wacky things to see. On the other hand, The Hague’s lights make you feel like you’re in a postcard of the city in winter – it’s just so charming.

The Hague Hop-on Hop-off Tourism Tram runs throughout the year, and when the weather is good, this is an excellent way to see the city’s lights, as well as its best attractions, including the Houses of Parliament, Peace Palace, and the beach (if you’re some sort of madman).

10. Explore Winterwelvaart in Groningen

Ships in Winterwelvaart  during winter
creativenature.nl / Adobe Stock

I’ve made no bones about my love for Christmas Markets, and if you’re looking for a good initiation, Amsterdam is the place to be. But that’s not where my personal favorite is.

The Christmas exhibition, Winterwelvaart in Groningen, tops my list, not least because Groningen’s beauty complements it. This is one of the best Christmas markets in the region as it truly becomes a magical time with ice skating, craft and food stalls, and abundant Christmas lights.

If you can stay in Groningen, please do, so you can immerse yourself in the festive charm. This Historical Stylish Holiday Home should help you get in the mood.

11. Take a Windmill Tour in Giethoorn

Giethoorn Windmill  during winter
Best Dutch Photos / Adobe Stock

Visiting Giethoorn, known for its canals and windmills, is magic in the winter because there are no crowded streets or bustling cars here. Instead, it’s quite beautiful from mid-December on, with a chance of crystal-like snow blanketing the area.

Winter is perfect for a windmill tour. These quintessential features of the Netherlands are charming enough, but the charm ramps up significantly under a crystalline layer of frost or a dusting of snow.

Take a windmills day tour to see how they work and admire the old architecture. Enjoy warm chocolate and Dutch doughnuts at one of the small bakeries after a long day in this winter village, and then tuck yourself away in bed at Waterresort Bodelaeke Giethoorn.

12. Explore Bourtange Marktplein in Bourtange

Aerial view of Bourtange, Groningen in the Netherlands
Nataraj / Adobe Stock

Located in Westerwolde, Bourtange is a small village of just about 450 people located close to the German border. First built in the 15th century for military use, it has become a quaint, picturesque community. While you will not find a lot of big city activities here, for some, this is one of the best ways to enjoy Dutch culture and history.

The market in Bourtange is a fabulous experience. Explore the small shops in the Marktplein, where a candle factory is also located.

Dutch candy is a treat to take home here, and during the winter months, you will surely enjoy chocolate letters and other tasty treats. Visit one of the museums here, including the Museum De Baracquen and the Terra More.

Need a place to crash? Check out B&B De Konik Bourtange.

13. Celebrate New Years in Marken

Lighthouse in Marken, Netherlands surrounded with snow
Ahmad Photography / Adobe Stock

Marken is a stunning island in the Netherlands, perfect for a bit of historic charm and a rural feel. During the winter months, it may be a bit more challenging to reach the island, but there’s still reason to visit here.

On New Year’s Eve, you will find lots of celebrations at the local pubs and restaurants. After New Year’s, you’ll find that the city becomes a bit less crowded, and while the cold weather gets in, Dutch culture does not stop. That’s when visiting the area’s museums, such as the Marker Museum with its six historical houses, could be ideal.

As challenging as reaching Marken in the winter, it can be as challenging to leave. So why not stay a few nights at the Bed and Breakfast De Pepersteeg until the weather clears up?

14. Go to the Beach at Scheveningen

Ferris Wheel on a Pier in The Hague, Scheveningen
tselykh / Adobe Stock

Scheveningen is one of the eight districts that make up The Hague. Those who come during most of the year do so to explore the awesome beach here.

During the winter, it’s too cold to actually spend time in the water (unless, again, you’re a madman), but you can walk along the waterfront and gaze at the majestic North Sea. It’s so spellbinding you might want to find somewhere to stay where you can admire the waters from the warmth, such as Ocean House Scheveningen.

While not as large as Amsterdam’s Christmas Markets, Scheveningen has a number of smaller shops and local eateries that visit here well worth it.

There’s no bad time to come, but if you come before mid-November, you may still be able to get onto the beach to see the area’s most popular attraction before the very cold weather kicks in.

15. Attend World Christmas Circus

Performance at World Christmas Circus Amsterdam
DirkJan Ranzijn / Flickr; CC BY-ND 2.0

Christmas is a joyous occasion – I mean, consider the number of melodies featuring the word “joy” alone. And as far and wide as I have traveled over the holidays, there are few places more joyous to experience the Christmas spirit than this next one.

During the holiday season, the famous Carre Theater in Amsterdam hosts the World Christmas Circus. This is a 135-year tradition that continues to this day and is a feast for the senses. For lovers of live performance and all things Christmas, look no further!

16. Take Some Pics at Kop van Java-eiland

Java-eiland in the Netherlands
Alain Rouiller / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking for a place to take some unique festive snaps to remember your trip, you might want to take a trip to Kop van Java in Amsterdam in December. Literally “head of Java island,” this peninsula, surrounded by water, is beautifully decked out in its festive regalia in wintertime.

It’s a great place to grab snaps of the city, as well as all sorts of boats and ships. Most of them will be sporting their holiday decorations, too!

17. Grab Candy at a Sinterklaas Parade

Sinterklaas Parade in Amsterdam, Netherlands
TTStock / Adobe Stock

In Amsterdam, as well as other areas of the country, a Sinterklaas Parade typically occurs around the middle of November and is seen as the heralding of the Christmas season. They’re really good fun despite being a little…questionable in today’s day and age.

Dressed in red with a long white beard, Sinterklaas or Sint-Nicolaas are often confused by Americans as the European Santa Claus.

Based on the real-life Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children, big bearded Sinterklaas is actually his separate entity, working in tandem with Santa Clause over the holidays to ensure all the good kids get what’s coming to them.

Another big feature in these parades is Sinterklaas’ best buddy and assistant, “Zwarte Piet,” or Black Pete. Depicted as a black Spanish Moor, wearing Renaissance clothes, who helps Saint Nick give out candy to good kids, Black Pete is an all-around good guy, beloved by children. He’s also problematic as heck, traditionally being portrayed by a white person wearing blackface.

18. Shout “Bah Humbug!” at the Dickens Festival

Crowd in Dickens Festival, Netherlands
Dickens Festival / CCFacebook

One of the most popular and significant works of Christmas literature in history is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The messages there are just as poignant now as they were when it was written, and I’ll admit a few Christmas tales get me in the mood as well as this one – and I’m not alone.

Every holiday season, a different TV network pumps out a new “reimagining” of the classic tale, theatres hold live readings, and everyone tends to be a little nicer to each other to avoid being labeled a Scrooge! But nowhere on Earth goes as barmy for festive hauntings as Deventer.

Located in the Overijssel province, Deventer hosts the Dickens Festival each winter. During this bumper celebration of Charles Dickens and his works, the town gets dressed up as Dickensian characters!

19. Try All the Festive Dutch Food

Oliebollen at Rembrandtplein
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Make sure you spend some time exploring the festive food here! There are a few must-try treats present throughout the country that are fabulous ways to celebrate the holidays.

  • Banketletter: Also known as “Dutch letters,” these traditional pastries are baked in the shape of letters of the alphabet, although traditionally, they come in “S” shapes.
  • Chocolate letters: Often found during the Sinterklaas season, these are a favorite for children, but employers often hand them out when companies break for the holidays.
  • Chocolate Dutch Baby: These chocolate Dutch pancakes here are decadent and rich. They’re unlike what you may find in the U.S. due to their higher-quality ingredients, particularly the rich chocolate.
  • Mulled wine: Quite the common choice when enjoying an evening drink, mulled wine is one of the most popular options during the holiday season. For kids, hot chocolate is nearly always offered.
  • Oliebollen: Dutch doughnuts, these tasty treats are very yeasty and contain everything from apples to raises in them. These deep-fried pieces of heaven are the perfect treat, especially when covered with powdered sugar.
  • Traditional Dutch Christmas dinner: This dinner is often built around proteins, including turkey, venison, goose, or hare. One meat will take center stage, while there is normally a second meaty dish, too. You can expect Christmas bread, called Kerstbrood, to be served alongside a range of vegetables and mashed potatoes.

See Related: Best Amsterdam Food You Need to Have

FAQs

What is the average temperature during winter in the Netherlands?

Amsterdam weather can change quickly. During the coldest part of the year, the average low temperatures are around 33 degrees Fahrenheit, though it can get much lower a few days a year. The highest are generally around 42 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. There is often snow when visiting Amsterdam in December or later.

What kind of clothing should I pack for a winter trip to the Netherlands?

Wear long pants and layers when visiting Amsterdam in December and well into the winter months. It would be best to wear warm coats as the winter wind can blow heavily. Be sure to bring layers, sweaters, gloves, and hats to help stay warm.

Are there any outdoor activities in the Netherlands during winter?

There is much to do outdoors in the Netherlands in December and the rest of the year, including ice skating, hiking through the snow and snowshoeing if the winter is harsh enough. Christmas festivals and markets always feature live music, gift stalls, Christmas tree displays, and lots of festive decorations to enjoy.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.