Amsterdam is at the top of the list of many people’s bucket lists. It’s a city packed with exciting things to do, see, and explore. Amsterdam in winter is cold, very cold, and it rains… a lot! Theoretically, it shouldn’t be that great to visit Amsterdam in Winter, but you’ll always find cool things to do in Winter, even if it rains and feels -10ºC.
Amsterdam’s liberal culture is widely known and only adds to its allure, though we always need to remember that there’s so much more to Amsterdam than Coffeeshops and the Red Light district. Check here all the things Amsterdam is known for.
We have been to Amsterdam quite a few times… Outside Portugal (our home country), it’s possibly the destination we visit more often, and we still feel like we want to return. Despite not speaking the language, we feel at home in Amsterdam.
How’s the weather in Winter in Amsterdam?
The weather is the main reason why more people don’t go to Amsterdam in winter. It’s cold, sometimes very cold, it’s rainy and snowy, and the wind makes it feel even colder. During winter, you shouldn’t expect to see many sunny days. On average, there are only 2-3 sunny days from November to February.
It usually rains 10-13 days a month during winter, so if you stay for a few days, it’s very probable that it will rain, but it’s even more probable that you’ll get some rain and many cloudy days.
Average temperatures are about freezing (0ºC) at night and a few degrees above during the day. The humid wind usually makes it feel even colder. Snowfalls are frequent but generally not abundant. Light snow can typically accumulate on the ground if it’s cold enough.
Should you travel to Amsterdam in Winter?
We believe that Spring is the best time to visit Amsterdam. It’s a little warmer and more comfortable. However, there are very few tourists during winter, making it much more fun to explore everything without waiting in a long, long line.
Furthermore, Amsterdam becomes more romantic, charming, and magical when it snows. Finally, many of the best things in Amsterdam are indoors, or at least can still be done if the weather isn’t too friendly.
The big secret is to mix outdoor and indoor activities and always include strategic stops to warm up. A nice coffee, hot chocolate, or tea will feel heavenly. Plus, don’t forget to bring very warm clothes, an umbrella, and at least one warm and dry waterproof jacket.
Best things to do in Amsterdam in Winter
The Rijksmuseum is dedicated to history and arts, with a huge collection of paintings of the Dutch golden age. Its vast and impressive collection of artworks makes it the most important museum in the Netherlands. It’s located in the museum quarter close to the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk Museum, though we don’t recommend seeing them all on the same day. It would be too much,
The most famous paintings in the Rijks are The Nightwatch of Rembrandt (1642), the milkmaid of Vermeer (1660), and Couple in a Garden: Wedding Portrait of Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa and Beatrix van der Laan of Frans Hals (1622).
However, you can find there plenty of other paintings from these and other famous artists. The Rijksmuseum has 800 years of history and arts of the Netherlands, distributed on four floors and 80 rooms.
Furthermore, it has an Asian pavilion with artworks from China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Thailand, ranging from 2000 BCE to 2000 CE. So, as you can understand, you can easily spend a full morning or afternoon there. There’s plenty to see.
Obviously, it is a very popular museum. Thus long queues are more than possible, even in Winter. Therefore, we suggest you buy a skip-the-line ticket!
#2 Take a Canal tour
With more than one hundred kilometers, almost 100 islets, and 1500 bridges, the canals are one of Amsterdam’s most important features. Besides being a prominent tourist attraction, the city was built around the waterways. The 17th-century ring area, which includes Keizersgracht, Jordaan, Prinsengracht, and Herengracht, has been a UNESCO heritage site since 2010.
One of the best ways of exploring the canals is by boat and cruise. You may wonder if it will be too cold for it, but the cruise boats operating in winter are covered and heated. So, they are perfect for very cold days when you just don’t want to endure the low temperatures.
There are cruises for every taste, at every hour, during the day, at night, or at sunset. Maybe, with a meal or even a show. However, you should note that most cruises offer free tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.
Taking a Canal Tour is something we suggest to everyone, even in winter or if you are only there for a long layover or a weekend in Amsterdam.
#3 The Heineken experience
This is another indoor activity, ideal for a freezing day. The house of Heineken is located in the heart of Amsterdam. The building where the original brewery was located was renovated and transformed into the Heineken Experience when it was moved to Zoeterwoude.
Now you can visit the historic factory and see the old copper tanks where the beer was produced, the very interesting old company advertisements, and you can even draft your own beer. In the end, you have two complimentary drinks in the bar. Non-alcoholic drinks are included.
We strongly advise you to buy the tickets online, as there can be long queues in the ticket office, particularly if you plan to visit on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
#4 Go to Anne Frank House
Visiting Frank’s House and Museum is one of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam, whatever the season you visit. The tragic story of Anne Frank became well-known when her diary became a best-seller. If you want to learn more about it, check this.
Going to this museum is a touching experience, particularly if you have read the book and can see many things you have imagined firsthand. Though, you don’t need to have read the book to understand what happened, as the exhibits will take you through the history of WWII in Amsterdam and, in particular, the struggle of the Frank Family.
The house is located in the center of Amsterdam, only 1.5km from the central station, and relatively close to many attractions on this list. Please note that lines can be huge here, and you really should buy tickets in advance. If you don’t, you probably won’t be able to enter, even in winter. Besides visiting the house, there are a few tours about the story of Anne Frank that may interest you.
#5 Van Gogh Museum
The Rijksmuseum is the most popular museum in Amsterdam and one of the most famous landmarks in the Netherlands, but the Van Gogh Museum is our favorite. We already liked Van Gogh, I mean, who doesn’t like the “starry night”? Or any of the paintings from southern France?
He is one of the most famous painters in history. Yet, after visiting the museum, we fell in love with van Gogh and the Impressionist movement. The museum does an amazing job of explaining his evolution as a painter, the techniques, the motifs, and the meanings…
The Van Gogh Museum houses the biggest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, which is a delight for fans. Though it also features artworks from other Impressionist and post-Impressionist masters like Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and even sculptures from Rodin and Dalou.
Needless to say that once again, this is a very sought attraction and you should buy the tickets beforehand. You can book them here.
#6 Red Light District
You can’t go to Amsterdam without going to the Red Light district… can you? Well, you can’t! The red light district is much more than the windows with naked women and all the sex shops, sex-related shows, and museums.
The red light district is located in de Wallen, the beautiful medieval center of Amsterdam, with small canals and alleys. It’s one of the city’s oldest and most historical parts, with many tourist attractions that you can’t and shouldn’t skip. Some of the most important are the Oude Kerk (an old church now used to host cultural events), Beurs van Berlage (the former building of the stock exchange), and the Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder Museum (which used to be a catholic church hidden in an attic in the XVII).
The downside of going to the Red Light District in winter is that it’s really cold, particularly at night it comes to life. Though, there are many restaurants, bars, and coffee shops where you can warm up when needed. Plenty of interesting tours also take you to the different sides of the Red Light District.
#7 Go to a coffee shop
Since we are talking about the liberal culture of the Netherlands and Amsterdam, we might also suggest you try going to a coffee shop in Amsterdam. We are not suggesting you try soft drugs, that’s entirely up to you, but you really should enter one and check the vibe and experience the unique liberal culture of Amsterdam.
You should note that Amsterdam’s coffee shops and cafes are very different things. A coffee shop is where soft drugs are legally sold (plus coffee, tea, juices, and sandwiches), while a cafe is the same, but it doesn’t sell soft drugs.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to a coffee shop by yourself, plenty of tours will take you and explain everything you need to know about the cannabis culture in Amsterdam.
#8 Go to Christmas markets
One of the best times to go to Amsterdam in Winter is before Christmas. In December, the city comes to light, with many Christmas markets where you can buy things and enjoy traditional food and crafts.
The Ice Village in Museumplein is probably the most famous market. With a perfect setting in front of the Rijksmuseum, you can buy all kinds of Christmas accessories and unique gifts. Yet, the best of all is that you can ice skate on the ice rink.
#9 Amsterdam light festival
The Amsterdam light festival occurs during December and January, so it’s one of the things that you can only do in Winter in Amsterdam. During this period, the city literally comes to light. Dozens of light sculptures are placed along Amsterdam’s canals and other parts. These light installations are a feast for the eyes.
Going on a night boat cruise during this period is almost mandatory, as many of the installations are built to be seen from the canals. Plus, the whole experience is a great night out for families, couples, or groups of friends!
#10 Eat an Oliebollen
An Oliebollen is a Dutch delicacy… one that’s most traditional on New Year’s Eve, but you’ll be able to find it from Christmas to early January. You’ll discover Oliebaollen stands spread all over the city during this period.
But what’s an Oliebollen? It’s simply a deep-fried dough ball dusted with sugar. With the size of a tennis ball, it’s delicious, especially when warm. Don’t be shy, have one… or a few!
#11 Visit Body Worlds
The Body World is an exposition available in several cities worldwide where you can discover the secrets of the human body through real anatomic models. It’s awe-inspiring and something we really enjoyed doing. We have never been to others in other cities, but the one in Amsterdam was entertaining and educational.
The Body Worlds is conveniently located about 500 meters from Amsterdam central on the Damrak, so it’s perfectly located to visit on any trip to Amsterdam. Being an indoor activity, it’s perfect for wintertime.
#12 The Sinterklaas parade and debate
Sinterklaas is not Santa Claus, though the similarities are obvious – he has a white bear, wears red, and brings presents to the children. Sinterklaas is Saint Nicholas, a bishop from 9th century Turkey, though the Dutch legend says he comes from Spain on a Steamboat.
The celebrations start on the 13th of November when Sinterklass arrives in Amsterdam by steamboat and ends on the 5th of December, Sinterklass Day. On this day, children receive their gifts, poems, and treats from Sinterklaas. A few other celebrations include this unique character between the 13th and the 5th of December.
So, why is Sinterklaas so controversial? Well, It’s not really Sinterklaas, but his helper Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”). Zwarte Piet is dressed in Moorish clothes, has his face painted black, and basically works for Sinterklaas. Well, I think you can take it from here to understand the huge racism/not racism debate every year.
We will leave it up to you if you feel comfortable participating in the parade and other celebrations. Anyhow, it’s a very Dutch thing and a fun holiday!
Things to do in Amsterdam in Winter, if you get lucky with the weather
#13 Ride a bicycle
There’s nothing more Dutch than cycling around Amsterdam! Hot, cold, snow, nothing separates the Dutch from their bicycles. They ride to work, study, go out with friends, shop, with children, toddlers, you name it… Thus, what better way to explore Amsterdam than on a bike? Plus, a bike is much faster than walking, so you can cover more of the city in less time.
The downside? Well, we are not Dutch, and riding the bike in rain, snow, or simply in the cold can get really cold and uncomfortable. Though, if it’s warm enough and not raining, we strongly suggest you do it.
There are two ways of exploring Amsterdam on a bike. You easily rent a bike and explore it by yourself. For example, going to the museum quarter and Vondelpark on a bike is interesting. We had great fun doing it the first time we went to Amsterdam in winter.
Or you can join a bike tour. There are plenty in Amsterdam, and they will take you to some of the best spots. Either way, it will be fun if the weather helps!
#14 Go to Vondelpark
Vondelpark is the most famous of Amsterdam’s parks, and it’s basically on every list of things to do in Amsterdam. The only problem is that it can be a little chilly to wander around the park in winter, and you can’t really have a picnic or simply lay on the grass to sunbathe and relax. Vondelpark is also a great place for meeting people in Amsterdam, as it’s informal and fun.
So, we suggest enjoying a stroll in the park or jogging if the weather is warm enough. If not, skip it, and leave it for another visit to Amsterdam on hotter days.
#15 Ice skating in the canals
Can you imagine a cooler thing than skating around the city through the canals with all the locals? It sounds like the best thing ever. The only problem? Well, it only happens a few days every couple of years. Plus, we have never done it; we have never been lucky to be in Amsterdam when the canals freeze.
Though, if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity, take it! Cancel anything else (because it can be done at another time) and go ice skating in the canals of Amsterdam.
Where to stay in Amsterdam in the winter?
During winter it’s even more important to choose the accommodation wisely. Location becomes even more important, and staying close to the actions means less walking, public transport, or taxis. On the other hand, in winter, hotels are cheaper, so you can probably find better deals closer to the center and/or main attractions.
Dam Square is our favorite area to stay in Amsterdam, as it’s close to almost everything.
Best hotel for a romantic winter trip to Amsterdam
Our favorite option for couples seeking a romantic escapade in Amsterdam in Winter is the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. It’s a wonderful hotel, with huge comfortable rooms and an amazing breakfast. It’s perfectly located by the central station, which means it’s very close to the historical center of Amsterdam. It’s on the expensive side, but it’s well worth it. Check if it’s available during your trip.
Best accommodation for a family trip
For a family trip, we usually suggest an apartment. It gives all the privacy you need, and you don’t need to rent several rooms, making it usually cheaper. The Eric Vökel Boutique Apartments – Amsterdam Suites is our favorite apartment in Amsterdam. It’s modern, with all the comfort a family needs, and ideally located, so you don’t need to walk too much. Check rates & availability here.
If you prefer a family hotel, the Park Plaza we mentioned earlier may be the best option.
Best budget option for backpackers
Backpackers on a budget have difficulty saving in Amsterdam, particularly on accommodation. It was pretty expensive. If you want a hostel, check the heading below. If you prefer a cheap hotel, we suggest Budget Hotel Ben.
It’s one of the cheapest options in central Amsterdam, and despite the reviews not being great, it does the job (if all that you want is a place to sleep). Check if it’s available and book as early as possible because it sells out!
Best hostel in the center of Amsterdam
Our favorite hostel in Amsterdam is the Flying Pig. It’s the typical hostel with both dormitory and private rooms. It’s on Nieuwendijk Street, only 3 minutes away from the Central Station. It’s perfect for travelers who want a hostel with a lively bar and a place to mingle with other people. Again, book as early as possible, because this kind of cheap accommodation sells out quickly.
Or you can search by yourself on the map below
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