12 Best Things to Do in Amsterdam in December

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Amsterdam Light Festival in Herengracht , Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city full of adventures, no matter the time of day or season. These are some of the most amazing things to do in Amsterdam in December.

There are many different reasons why Amsterdam is at the top of many people’s travel bucket lists. It’s a destination that’s equally appealing to those seeking art and history, for those looking for food, drink, and culture, and those who want to relax and explore a unique city.

It’s also a wonderful place to visit during any specific time of the year, with each season providing unique appeal and events.

Here are some of the best things to do in Amsterdam during the winter.

Things to Do in Amsterdam in December

1. Tour the Iconic Museums

Rijksmuseum Ice Rink

It’s no surprise that Amstedam’s museums are some of their most famous tourist attractions, but winter is the prime season to enjoy these iconic museums when you want a break from the weather (and without the crowds of tourists). It’s worth noting that Amsterdam is one of the best museum cities in all of Europe.

The Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and Rijksmuseum are all within easy commuting distance of each other. You’ll be in great hands if winter weather takes a turn. Plus, you’ll avoid the tourist crowds during the off-peak travel season. Granted, you could find a travel guide for virtually any city over a certain size that mentions interesting museums to visit in town.

But Amsterdam is legitimately unique in this respect, with more than a handful of spectacular museums and galleries to explore during your stay.

It may be the obvious choice, but I don’t think it gets a lot better than the Rijksmuseum, a massive, all-encompassing museum that’s up there with the best in Europe and the world. However, additional options with more niche collections are also fairly extraordinary.

The Van Gogh Museum is what it sounds like and is a must-see for anyone interested in painting or art history. The Rembrandt House Museum, while relatively small, is also a treat for art lovers.

And while not a museum in the strictest sense, the Anne Frank House is also bundled into this category in many travel guides. It’s a humbling place to see in person, to say the least, even if no one would ever classify it as fun.

See these other top Amsterdam tours to see more for less. Check out these best museums in Amsterdam if culture and history are your jam.

See Related: Amsterdam vs Copenhagen

2. Visit the Christmas Markets

Skate Rink and Market and Amsterdam

If you haven’t traveled extensively in Europe during the holiday season, you may not be aware of Christmas markets’ crucial role in the festive atmospheres of so many European cities. Of course, cities around Europe light up with bright and cheerful decorations in December, from out-of-the-way mountain villages to major urban centers.

But many cities also see holiday markets spring up, and Amsterdam’s markets are some of the most alluring – which is saying something in Europe. The best thing to do in these markets is to explore.

You can bundle up a bit (don’t forget gloves and a hat or scarf!), gather whomever you may be traveling with, and walk about through bright, inviting kiosks, temporary holiday Christmas lights, and sometimes delicious smells wafting to and fro.

Follow this winter packing list for Europe to ensure you have all the right goods. Among Amsterdam’s Christmas markets, you can enjoy everything from a pop-up ice village, Christmas music, sweet treats, funky hand-made décor, mulled wine, and trinkets.

See Related: Amsterdam vs Brussels

3. Other Winter Wonderlands

Christmas in Amsterdam

The point of this piece is to highlight the charms of Amsterdam in December rather than direct you anywhere else. Before we get further into things, though, I should note ViaTravelers’ previous piece identifying fun weekend trips from Amsterdam.

Not only is it a good list of options to have handy if you spend extensive time in the city, but it just so happens that some destinations therein are also very appealing stops during and around the holiday season.

Places like Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Paris are spectacular this time of year, so if you’re visiting Amsterdam with enough time to spare a day or two, don’t discount these day trip options. There are winter wonderlands around the broader region, and it certainly can’t hurt to see a few in one go!

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4. Amsterdam Light Festival

Lights Festival Amsterdam

Address: Stichting Amsterdam Light Festival Weesperplein 4A 1018 XA Amsterdam Nederland

Sticking with the idea of Amsterdam’s pure, holiday-specific charm, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Amsterdam Light Festival and Winter Paradise. This event (or, more accurately, this state of decoration) is effectively city-wide and runs from December 1st into January.

It refers to the emergence of bright, brilliant, and sometimes multi-colored strands of lights strung up and down buildings and along storefronts and, in some cases, hung in the air across the canals that crisscross the city.

Enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival doesn’t necessarily entail doing anything active or specific. You can take it all in fairly passively and enjoy the atmosphere of a beautiful city draped in lights. Grab an Amsterdam Winter Card to get all-inclusive access to the best winter events in Amsterdam.

However, certain little attractions, such as an Amsterdam Light Festival boat tour or cruise, also spring up. When you do something like this, during which your sole focus is on the lights, you’ll likely notice that the festival goes beyond traditional holiday strands.

In some cases, people’s presentation of lights is essentially art installations, so each one is different. These are some of the best places to stay in Amsterdam.

See Related: How to Plan a Girls Trip to Amsterdam

5. Cozy Up at The Local Bars

Bar Interior in Amsterdam

When it comes to places to grab a drink and a bite to eat (and perhaps indulge in some other minor vices), Amsterdam gets the most attention for its cafés. Sometimes, these are cafés, and other times they’re primarily cannabis shops, but in both cases, they’re immensely popular among locals and visitors alike.

However, nothing tops a cozy bar when looking to duck out at night or before dinner, and the weather is cool. And though they’re overlooked compared to the cafés, there are several great ones in Amsterdam.

Counting down the best of them or discussing the full range would require a separate article. To give you a few names to keep in mind, though, Vesper Bar, Hiding In Plain Sight, and Wynand Fockink are sometimes mentioned among the most appealing options.

All are terrific for a drink in winter. You can even grab a drink pass to nightlife, including free entry and free drinks. Some of these local bars and speakeasies are why we name them the best hidden gems of Amsterdam.

And for that matter, if you’re a beer person specifically, don’t forget that Amsterdam is also home to one of the most famous drinks in the world, Heineken. You also have the option to tour the old Heineken Brewery and enjoy a tasting room experience if you like.

See Related: Things Amsterdam is Famous For

6. The Holland Casino

Holland Casino

Address: Max Euweplein 62, 1017 MB Amsterdam, Netherlands

In the same way, I’d recommend ducking into some local bars during a trip to Amsterdam in December. I might guide you to the Holland Casino, right in town.

If you visit during the warm-weather seasons, the idea of ducking into a casino isn’t as appealing unless you’re looking for late-night activity.

In the winter, though, the Holland Casino can be a nice respite from the cold, even during the afternoon, if you want to warm up and have some fun for a few hours. Some may be slightly surprised to learn there’s a casino in Amsterdam. For one thing, the city isn’t known for this attraction like some major cities with live casinos.

For another, poker sites from the UK and slot and arcade sites from all over have given rise to a whole digital casino world that renders physical gaming largely unnecessary.

Despite these factors, the Holland Casino remains in place, smack in the middle of the Leidseplein entertainment district. It’s a striking place, lit at night and filled with various games, entertainment, and comforts. You’ll want a quick break from the cold at some point, and this is as good a place as any to take one.

See Related: How to Find Cheap Amsterdam Trip Packages

7. Ice Skating

Amsterdam Ice Skating

It’s natural to wonder if ice skating is an option. This is a city that, perhaps above all else, is famous for its canal system; it’s the Venice of the North in that sense, and if you’re visiting Amsterdam in December, naturally, it may occur to you that those canals could freeze over and become a natural ice skating rink.

I’ll point out that this will most likely occur a bit deeper into the winter, perhaps in late January. However, ice skating is an option if the canals freeze while you’re there. It’s important to be careful, and it’s not as if you can skate the entire canal network as you please.

The freeze needs to be deep and solid, and you’ll probably want to ensure that others are doing it and that it’s safe. Given all that, though, it’s hard to think of something more pleasant than sliding along these frozen lanes and enjoying the city around you.

And even if the canals aren’t open for skating, reasonably cold weather sometimes results in more artificial ice rinks being set up in the city – most notably outside of Rijksmuseum, where there’s sometimes a cheerful crowd skating about in snowy surroundings.

See Related: Things to Do in Amsterdam for Families

8. Enjoy comfort food at a local Brown Café

Amsterdam Restaurant and Coffee Shop by the Canal

I may not be telling you anything you don’t know, but Amsterdam is somewhat renowned for its comfort food. And if you’re like me, that’s particularly appealing while traveling in the winter. For one thing, you usually feel a little bit freer to indulge while you’re on vacation exploring a new place.

For another, something about the cold weather in the Netherlands makes you want to dig into a warm pastry or sip on a sweet latte or mug of hot chocolate. You’re in luck with those kinds of impulses in Amsterdam.

A few of the best treats of Dutch food to look out for include Dutch apple pie (appeltaart) or its cinnamon-infused counterpart, speculaaskruiden; the famous stroopwafels; and virtually any kind of cookie or pancake preparation you could imagine.

These kinds of pastries and desserts are available all over the city, and while you’re out looking for a treat, you’re also likely to find some of the best coffee and espresso beverages you’ve ever had.

See Related: Best Beers in Amsterdam

9. Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas in Amsterdam
Franklin Heijnen, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sinterklaas is essentially the Dutch version of Santa Claus, and if you’re visiting Amsterdam in December, you may see him parading through the streets.

There’s not much to do about it. Still, in keeping with the markets, the decorations, and the general sense of festivity around the holiday season, this city takes Sinterklaas’ appearances fairly seriously (in a fun way). It’s just fun to catch sight of this character, a slightly Pope-ified Santa.

I should note that there are some issues associated with Sinterklaas as well. These revolve around Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet), a sort of right-hand man to Sinterklaas, first invented in an 1850 book. Black Peter is a Moorish Spaniard and, as a result, was originally portrayed essentially in blackface.

People playing the role still appear this way today (not in Amsterdam but in neighboring towns), and the costuming and makeup have become increasingly controversial.

Naturally, it would be ideal if Black Peter stopped appearing or was given a new, more appropriate, less offensive image. However, Sinterklaas himself is still fun to see.

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10. New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Amsterdam New Year Fireworks

If I’m being honest, there are reasons to include New Year’s Eve celebrations among the reasons to visit many major cities in December.

But Amsterdam is typically listed among the best European cities for the holiday, and with good reason. First and foremost, it’s a spectacular place to watch fireworks, with a relatively low skyline and – usually – some impressive displays.

Additionally, there’s just something going on all over the city. You hardly have to step outside your hotel or vacation rental on VRBO to bump into a festive and inclusive street party, and fun little things are going on up and down every major street (or canal).

This idea requires that you be in town when the holiday actually occurs. But perhaps that gives you the perfect opportunity to travel. If you can be in Amsterdam for a day or two before Christmas to enjoy the holiday atmosphere and then hang out for the winter charms and the New Year’s celebration, you’ll have done things right.

See Related: Best Cafés in Amsterdam

11. Shop for Dutch design at De Bijenkorf Amsterdam

De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam

Address: Dam 1, 1012 JS Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you’re looking for the best shopping in Amsterdam, go to De Bijenkorf. This iconic department store is known for its wide selection of Dutch-designed goods, from clothing to home decor. You can also find various international brands at De Bijenkorf, making it one of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam in December.

De Bijenkorf is the perfect place to find gifts for friends and family or to treat yourself to something special. Whether looking for the latest fashion trends or classic Dutch style, De Bijenkorf will surely have what you need. So head on down to De Bijenkorf and start shopping.

12. View the Christmas Tree in Dam Square

Amsterdam Dam Square Christmas Three

Address: Dam, 1012 NP Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Christmas exhibition in Amsterdam is unlike other European cities and continues to be incredibly underrated. Christmas in Amsterdam would never be complete without seeing the huge lit Christmas tree in Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.

To see this amazing Christmas display and the vibrant lights, go anytime from mid-December to early January for the energy-saving fairy Christmas lights in Dam Square, or come December 14 for the tree lighting. Christmas carols and music will occur in a special period and time.

There are Christmas trees everywhere in Amsterdam, so you can take in the incredible Christmas experience in true European fashion.

Hopefully, these Amsterdam attractions and things to do have conveyed the simple truth that the Dutch Capital is one of the truly great winter destinations in Europe.

Typical December Weather in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Things to do in Amsterdam in December

Amsterdam weather in December can be unpredictable, but you can expect cooler temperatures and increased rainfall. The average high temperature for the month is 43 degrees Fahrenheit, with a low of 36 degrees Fahrenheit. December is also Amsterdam’s most humid and wet month, so be prepared for rain and cold weather.

Amsterdam gets an average of 14 days of rainfall in December, so pack your raincoat. Sometimes, you’ll see a picturesque snowfall in Amsterdam for Christmas, but it’s not guaranteed.

The temperatures in Amsterdam can sometimes drop to around zero degrees Celsius, so dress warmly. Amsterdam is a beautiful destination for Christmas, so don’t let the weather deter you.

What to Wear in Amsterdam in December

As the weather in Amsterdam is cool and wet in December, you’ll want to pack accordingly. A coat, scarf, and hat are essential, as are closed-toe shoes.

If you’re planning on doing any walking, waterproof shoes or boots are a necessity. Packing layers that you can take on and off as the temperature fluctuates is also a good idea.

Ultimately, I might argue that December is the best month to visit Amsterdam, and the following ideas, events, and attractions should help explain why.

FAQs

What makes Amsterdam special in December?

There are several reasons why Amsterdam is special in December. The Christmas markets, the festive atmosphere, and the New Year’s celebrations are all reasons to visit this vibrant city during the holiday season. Additionally, Amsterdam is a great place to watch fireworks displays.

Is December a good time to visit Amsterdam?

Yes, it is a good time to visit Amsterdam in December. The flights and accommodation cost less than during the peak tourist season, making it an ideal time to visit for budget travelers. Plus, Amsterdam offers some of the best Christmas celebrations in Europe throughout the entire month. The lights in December will be spectacular.

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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.

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