Amsterdam is on 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 that we visited more times, 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 are staying for a few days it’s very probable that it rains, but it’s even more probable that you’ll get some rain and lots of 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. It’s typically light snow that can only 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, during winter, there are very few tourists, making it much more fun to explore everything and not having to wait in a long, long line.
Furthermore, when it snows, Amsterdam becomes more romantic and charming, even magical. Finally, many of the best things to do 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 make it the most important museum in the Netherlands. It’s located on 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). Though 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 4 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 Do 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 is a UNESCO heritage site since 2010.
One of the best ways of exploring the canals is by boat and doing a cruise. You may wonder it will be too cold for it, but the cruise boats operating in winter are covered and heated. So, they are a perfect thing to do on 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, night, or at sunset. Maybe, with a meal, or even a show. Though you should note that most cruises offer free tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.
#3 The Heineken experience
This is another indoor activity, ideal for a very cold 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 advertisements of the company, 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 are planning 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 are visiting. The tragic story of Anne Frank became well-known when its 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 you can see firsthand, many of the things you have imagined. Though, you don’t need to have read the book to understand what happened as the exhibits will take 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? 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 and sex-related shows and museums.
The red light district is located in de Wallen, the beautiful medieval center of Amsterdam with small canals alleys. It’s one of the oldest and most historic parts of the city, with lots of 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 lots of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops where you can warm up when need. There are also plenty of interesting tours, taking 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 as well also suggest you try going to a coffeeshop while 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 a coffeeshop and a cafe are very different things in Amsterdam. A coffeeshop is where the soft drugs are legally sold (plus coffee, tea, juices, sandwiches), while a cafe is the same, but it doesn’t sell soft drugs.
If you don’t feel confortable going to a coffeshop by yourself, there are plenty of tours that will take you and explain everything you need to know about the cannabis culture in Amsterdam.
#8 Go Christmas markets
One of the best times to go to Amsterdam in Winter is before Christmas. During December the city comes to light, with many Christmas markets where you can buy things and enjoy some 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 it all is that you can go ice skate in 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 the canals and other parts of Amsterdam. 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 during Christmas time to early January. During this period, you’ll discover Oliebaollen stands spread all over the city.
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 worlds is an exposition available in several cities around the world 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, the Sinterklass day. It’s on this day that children receive their gifts, poems, and treats from Sinterklaas. Between the 13th and the 5th of December, there are a few other celebrations that include this unique character.
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, to study, to go out with friends, shopping, with children toddlers, you name it… Thus, what better way of exploring Amsterdam than on a bike? Plus, a bike is much faster than walking, which means you can cover more of the city in less time.
The downside? Well, we are not dutch, and it can get really cold and unconfortable to ride the bike with rain, snow, or simply with the cold. 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, it is interesting to go to the museum quarter and Vondelpark on a bike. 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 in 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, our suggestion is to enjoy a stroll in the park or maybe to jog if the weather is warm enough. If not, skip it, and leave it to 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 to go the luck of being 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 in 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 transports, 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.
Our favorite area to stay in Amsterdam is Dam Square, as it’s close to almost everything.
Best hotel for a romantic winter trip to Amsterdam
Our favorite option for a couple looking for 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 in 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, then the Park Plaza we mentioned earlier is maybe the best option.
Best budget option for backpackers
Backpackers on a budget have a difficult time-saving in Amsterdam, particularly on accommodation. It’s 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 center 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 in the map below
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