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 a lot of 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 for those who just 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 its own unique appeal and events.
Ultimately though, I might argue that December is the single best month to visit Amsterdam, and the following ideas, events, and attractions should help explain why.
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List of Best Things to do in Amsterdam in December
Here are some of the best things to do in Amsterdam during the winter.
1. Christmas Markets
If you haven’t traveled extensively in Europe during the holiday season, you may not be aware of the crucial role Christmas markets play in so many cities’ festive atmospheres. 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 Christmas markets are some of the most alluring – which is saying something, in Europe.
Truth be told, the best thing to do at these markets is simply 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 simply walk about through bright, inviting kiosks, temporary holiday lights, and sometimes delicious smells wafting to and fro. Follow this winter packing list for Europe to ensure you have all the right goods along the way.
And among Amsterdam’s best Christmas markets in particular, you can enjoy everything from a pop-up ice village, to sweet treats, to funky hand-made décor and trinkets.
2. Other Winter Wonderlands
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 Via Travelers’ previous piece identifying fun weekend trips from Amsterdam.
Not only is it a good list of options to have handy if you wind up spending extensive time in the city, but it just so happens that some of the destinations therein are also very appealing stops during and around the holiday season.
Places like Dusseldorf, Cologne, and of course 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 all around the broader region, and it certainly can’t hurt to see a few of them in one go!
3. Amsterdam Light Festival
Sticking with the idea of Amsterdam’s pure, holiday-specific charm, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Amsterdam Light Festival. This event (or more accurately, this state of decoration) is effectively city-wide and runs from November into January. And basically, 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 right 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 simply enjoy the atmosphere of a beautiful city draped in lights. However, there are certain little attractions that spring up as well, such as an Amsterdam Light Festival boat tour or cruise.
When you do something like this during which your sole focus is on the lights, you’ll likely notice that the festival goes a bit beyond traditional holiday strands; in some cases, people’s presentation of lights are essentially art installations, such that each one is different.
These are some of the best places to stay in Amsterdam.
4. The Local Bars
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 literally cafés and other times they’re primarily cannabis shops, but in both cases they’re immensely popular among locals and visitors alike.
However, when you’re looking to duck out at night, or before dinner, and the weather is cool, nothing tops a cozy bar. 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 whole 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. Some of these local bars and speakeasy are the reason 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, in Heineken. You also have the option to tour the Heineken brewery and enjoy a tasting room experience, if you like.
See Related: Things Amsterdam is Famous For
5. The Holland Casino
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 just doesn’t tend to be 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 just want to warm up and have a bit of fun for a few hours.
I realize some may be a little bit surprised to learn there’s a casino in Amsterdam at all. For one thing, the city isn’t really known for this attraction the way some major cities with live casinos are. For another, poker sites from the UK and slot and arcade sites from all over have essentially 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, all lit up at night and filled with a tremendous variety of games, entertainment, and comforts inside.
At some point you’ll want a quick break from the cold, and this is as good a place as any to take one.
See Related: How to Find Cheap Amsterdam Trip Packages
6. Museum Tours
To provide one more idea for an indoor attraction you can enjoy when you want a break from the weather, it’s worth noting that Amsterdam is one of the best museum cities in all of Europe.
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 really spectacular museums and galleries to explore during your stay.
It may be the obvious choice, but personally 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 really the world. However, there are additional options with more niche collections that are also fairly extraordinary.
The Van Gogh Museum is what it sounds like, and is a must-see for anyone with the slightest interest in painting or art history; the Rembrandt House Museum, while fairly 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 a lot of 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.
See Related: Amsterdam vs Copenhagen – What is Better?
7. 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 northern Europe in that sense, and if you’re visiting in December, naturally, it may occur to you that those canals could freeze over and make for natural ice skating lanes.
I’ll point out that this is most likely to occur a little bit deeper into the winter, perhaps in late January. However, if the canals do happen to freeze while you’re there, ice skating is an option.
Clearly 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 make absolutely sure that others are doing it, and that it’s considered safe.
Given all of that though, it’s hard to think of something more pleasant than sliding along these frozen lanes 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 to be found skating about with snowy surroundings.
8. Comfort Food
Here 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 more free to indulge while you’re on vacation exploring a new place.
For another, there’s something about the cold weather that just 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 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 possibly 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 in your life.
See Related: 9 Best Beers in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas is essentially the Dutch version of Santa Claus, and if you’re visiting Amsterdam in December you may just see him parading through the streets. There’s not much to do about it, but 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, who is essentially 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, and the costuming and makeup have become increasingly controversial.
Naturally, it would be ideal if Black Peter stopped appearing, or at least was given a new image more appropriate and less offensive.
However, Sinterklaas himself is still fun to see.
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10. New Year’s Eve Celebrations
If I’m being honest, there are reasons to include New Year’s Eve celebrations among the reasons to visit a lot of different 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, though, there’s just something going on all over the city. You hardly have to step outside of your hotel or Airbnb to bump into a festive and inclusive street party, and there are all sorts of fun little things going on up and down every major street (or canal).
Clearly, 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.
Hopefully, these 10 ideas have conveyed the simple truth that Amsterdam is one of the truly great winter destinations in Europe.