The world has long been awake to Amsterdam’s charms, and ever-skyrocketing visitor numbers mean the city can feel uncomfortably crowded in summer. While you might not be guaranteed good weather in winter, it can be a more pleasant time of year to discover this atmospheric European gem. Here are the best things to do in Amsterdam in winter.
Get cozy in a brown cafe
With winds blowing in off the North Sea, the Dutch capital can get awfully chilly during the winter season, but fear not – the Dutch have the perfect cozy sanctuaries where you can warm your cockles in the form of old-fashioned brown cafes. These traditional bars are at their best during the winter months and invite you in from the cold with their warm, yellow glow. Inside you’ll often find an inviting jovial atmosphere, wood paneling aplenty, candles and copious amounts of beer. The cafes are scattered throughout every corner of the city with some of the oldest located in the Jordaan neighborhood. If you’re a craft beer fan, don’t miss 't Arendsnest on the Herengracht, which serves only Dutch brews.
Make the most of one-off annual events
The Dutch capital’s events calendar is pretty jam-packed, but there are some things that you’ll only get to witness if you visit Amsterdam off-season. National Tulip Day takes place in late January and sees the huge Dam square transformed into a rainbow-colored tulip garden where you can pick your own flowers to take home.
Ice-skate amid Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture
While the Dutch might be known for their year-round love affair with bicycles, their second greatest passion is reserved for the colder months only. Ice-skating is considered a national sport, but you don’t have to be a pro (or even very good) to join in the fun. If you’re extremely lucky and visit Amsterdam during a significant cold spell, you might have the opportunity to skate on the Golden Age canals; however, this only usually happens after multiple days and nights of sub-zero temperatures and is a rarity these days (it was last possible for a couple of days in February 2021, March 2018 and prior to that it had not been possible since 2012). Fortunately, there is a number of skating rinks erected throughout the city during the winter months, including ICE Amsterdam located in the scenic Museumplein.
Warm-up on winter eats
Dutch cuisine comes into its own during the winter months, with hearty traditional recipes making an appearance on menus. If you’re looking to warm up, don’t miss erwtensoep – a thick split pea and vegetable soup complete with traditional smoked sausage. You’ll find this on the winter menu in most bars and cafes during the colder months. For a home-cooked Dutch dinner that won’t break the bank, pay a visit to the homely Hap Hmm, which serves up simple yet tasty dishes including rich stews with boiled seasonal vegetables (their schnitzel was also voted the best in Amsterdam by Dutch newspaper Het Parool).
Be illuminated at Amsterdam Light Festival
Taking place every winter from late November to early January, Amsterdam Light Festival sees the city’s canals illuminated with light installations by local and international artists. Although many of the displays are visible on foot, most are designed to be seen from the water. Canal cruise companies operate special after-dark tours which follow the festival route and include commentary on each piece as well as general Amsterdam history.
How to spend a perfect weekend in Amsterdam
Enjoy a quieter city center and attractions
Amsterdam is popular all year round, but during the summer months, the central areas and museums become overcrowded with visitors. Amsterdam is a small city with plenty of narrow streets, so a visit during the winter months means you’ll have more space to navigate. Museums and galleries remain popular, so it’s always a good idea to book in advance and avoid waiting in queues.
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