10 Things to Do in Amsterdam in December

Have you booked a flight to the Dutch capital? You couldn't have picked better dates

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

12 min read

10 Things to Do in Amsterdam in December

Street of lights in Amsterdam | ©Don Oppedijk

In my opinion, December is the best month to explore Amsterdam. Despite the cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours, the Venice of the North shines brighter. Christmas adds a touch of color to its squares and streets while the Festival of Lights brings a bit of magic to the canals. Here are some tips to help you plan your vacation.

1. Walk to Dam Square and visit the Wax Museum

Dam Square| ©Travelinglao
Dam Square| ©Travelinglao

In the first half of the month, a 20-meter tree arrives at Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam. Some four kilometers of LED lights adorn it and if you are lucky enough to be in town, you can witness the lighting ceremony. On the first day (but also on the following days) children and families gather around it to sing carols and eat traditional desserts. If you are cold, you can take shelter in the Amsterdam Wax Museum, which is just a few meters away.

And after being dazzled by this impressive tree, you can take shelter in one of Amsterdam's most important museums such as the Wax Museum which is just a minute's walk away.

Book tickets for the Wax Museum

2. See the Festival of Lights from a cruise ship

Amsterdam Light Festival| ©Hector Montero
Amsterdam Light Festival| ©Hector Montero

Every year, the Dutch capital greets the arrival of winter with the Amsterdam Light Festival, an explosion of colors that illuminates streets and canals. Artists, designers and architects from all over the world send their proposals and the selection committee selects the best works. Among the most appreciated works, we can name Van Gogh's "Starry Night" by Serbians Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović or "Butterfly Effect", seven blue butterflies resting on the waters of the Plantage Muidergracht.

To appreciate the Festival of Lights from the best perspective, I recommend you choose a night cruise on Amsterdam's canals. While cruising, you will pass by the attractions without getting cold and listening to an audio guide available in many languages, including English. These excursions usually depart from central locations such as the Damrak (a stone's throw from the Central Station) or the Euweplein (a short walk from the Casino).

Book your evening cruise during the Festival of Lights

3. Visit the ice bar and be amazed by the ice sculptures

Ice Sculpture in Zwolle| ©Angie Castells
Ice Sculpture in Zwolle| ©Angie Castells

From December, Zwolle hosts an event that will please your little ones. If you are traveling with children, I recommend spending a day in this medieval city that is known for its Gothic church (Grote Kerk), the Fundatie Museum and its peaceful parks. The Beelden Festival has become the most important winter event in the Netherlands with more than 100 figures carved in ice.

The Beelden Festival is very popular and if you want to avoid queues, I recommend visiting during the week. The Netherlands is a small country and it is very easy to move from one corner to another. From the capital, you just need to take an intercity from Amsterdam Zuid station. For more ideas, I recommend reading the post about the best excursions from Amsterdam.

And if you are not afraid of the cold and want to spend the afternoon in an ice bar, get warm and meet the Icebar Xtracold, a unique place where you can have drinks at minus 10 degrees.

Book tickets for the ice bar in Amsterdam

4. Visit an elegant 17th century residence: the Huis ten Bosch Palace

Visiting Willet-Holthuysen| ©Jvhertum
Visiting Willet-Holthuysen| ©Jvhertum

Christmas marries well with vintage atmospheres and to discover it you can approach the Willet-Holthuysen, a seventeenth-century manor house converted into a museum. Its walls house an important collection of porcelain, glassware, furniture and works of art from the Dutch Golden Age.

Between December and early January, this cultural institution shows us how the Willet-Holthuysen couple celebrated Christmas in the 19th century. Upon entering, you will be captivated by its décor that includes gilded chandeliers, wooden toys, antique armchairs and a fireplace embellished with delightful bas-reliefs (Herengracht 605).

Also, if you want to see one of the most popular palaces in the Netherlands, don't hesitate to take an excursion to The Hague and visit the Huis ten Bosch Palace, one of the four official residences of the Dutch Royal Family.

Rotterdam, Delft and The Hague tour from Amsterdam

5. Visit the Christmas Markets

Amsterdam Christmas Market| ©Colin D
Amsterdam Christmas Market| ©Colin D

December is a special month and the capital of the Netherlands lives the holidays with great expectation. Like other cities in Northern Europe, Amsterdam also has Christmas markets with souvenirs, local crafts and sweet and savory food. Here is our compilation of the most interesting ones:

  • Ice Village, the recurring event on Museumplein. Every December, the museum square is filled with Christmas stalls. You can buy ornaments, souvenirs, clothes, food and much more. Open from Monday to Sunday from 11:00 to 20:00 while on 24 and 25 December closes its doors at 17:00. At the foot of the Rijksmuseum there is also an ice rink.
  • Funky Xmas Market, a market of art, fashion and design. Artists and creatives sell their products directly to the public. Their stalls are located in the Westergas, an old gasometer converted into a cultural complex. It is located in the western quadrant of the city and is well connected to the center. From the central station, just take the bus (line 21) and get off at the Van Hallstraat stop.
  • Pure Markt, an old greenhouse complex, is now the largest and most important ecological park in the Dutch capital. It specializes in fresh homemade products. If you want a slice of cheesecake or to taste some other local ones, this is your ideal destination. For more info, I recommend you to visit their official website.
  • Winter Village, the Christmas village a few kilometers from Dam Square. Amstelveen is a municipality south of the Dutch capital, very close to Schiphol airport. It hardly appears in the travel guides, but in December it is worth coming here for a bit of shopping. During the four weeks, Winter Park is a favorite destination for children who can enjoy the Christmas lights, skate on the ice and recharge their batteries with a cup of hot chocolate.

You'll find their stalls in Stadshart Amstelveen, a shopping mall in the center of Amstelveen. To get here, take the subway (line 51) and get off at the Amstelveenseweg stop. From there, take a bus (line 356 or 357) and get off at Busstation. If you have some time left, you can take the opportunity to see the Stedelijk Museum, the most important museum of modern and contemporary art.

Book your ticket for the Stedelijk Museum

6. Immerse yourself in the local culture at the bruin cafés

Visiting the Arendsnest| ©Jonathan J
Visiting the Arendsnest| ©Jonathan J

December in Amsterdam is cold and cloudy. Often, fog hints at the canals creating a fairytale atmosphere. Streets and bridges wrapped in a white cloak are perfect to take some suggestive pictures and after the walk, you can take refuge in the bruin cafés, the most typical bars of Amsterdam. These traditional establishments owe their name to the wooden walls that form dark atmospheres illuminated by warm yellow lights. In the list below we have compiled the best ones:

  • Arendsnest, the temple of Dutch beer. From its taps come out the best national vintages. Sit down and try a Rook In De Kachel (smoky and dark in color) or a Voór, a blend of barrel-aged and barrel-fermented beers with plums (Herengracht 90).
  • Café Chris, the oldest bar in the Jordaan. If you grab a pint outside of the busiest hours, you can enjoy their billiards (Bloemstraat 42).
  • In 't Aepjen, a place that hides a unique history. In the past, sailors returning from their voyages would come here to drink and spend the night. When they ran out of money, some would pay off their debts by leaving the owners some monkeys. You got it right, the animals were captured and used as pets. The primates were taken care of by Gerard Westerman, a regular customer of the tavern who took them into his private garden. After a few years, Westerman's park became the Amsterdam Zoo (Zeedijk 1).
  • Café Hoppe, where everything is taken care of down to the smallest detail. In 2013 it has been chosen as the best coffee in the Netherlands and the quality has not diminished over the years. Among its most famous guests we can name Princess Beatrix and beer magnate Freddy Heineken (Spui 18-20).
  • T'Papeneiland, the café that has been visited by Bill Clinton. The former U.S. president visited this establishment in 2011 to try its famous apple pie. In reality, its history is much older. In the early 17th century, a secret Catholic church was hidden behind this bar and to access it you had to go through a tunnel that is located under the floor of the T'Papeneiland (Prinsengracht 2).
  • De Twee Zwaantjes, where you can test your singing skills. Possibly one of the liveliest bruin cafés in the Dutch capital (Prinsengracht 114).

And once you have worked up an appetite, you can treat yourself to another menu at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Reservation with menu for the Hard Rock Cafe

7. Indulge yourself with the Christmas desserts

Kerststol| ©Franklin Heijnen
Kerststol| ©Franklin Heijnen

If in Spain children write letters to the Three Wise Men, in the Netherlands they wait for the arrival of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus who delivers gifts and sweets in mid-November in Amsterdam. However, this is not the only difference and this is why I want to tell you about Christmas desserts. When you are in Amsterdam, you will know which one to choose...

  • Kerststol, a traditional bread with sugar, dried and candied fruits, raisins, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon zest. When tasting it, you will also perceive notes of brandy and vanilla. Kerststol is usually served sliced and accompanied with butter.
  • Oliebollen, fried doughnuts that you will see in any corner of the city, in the stores as in the stalls of the street vendors. Some say the best are found at Hartog's Volkoren (Wibautstraat 77), Bakkerij Ad Straathof (Ten Katestraat 21) and De Bakkerszonen (Roetersstraat 21).
  • Pepernoten, round in shape and with an unmistakable aroma of spices. They are flavored with honey and cane or maple sugar syrup. They are eaten on December 5, St. Nicholas Day, but can be found in bakeries since October.
  • Kerstkransjes, the "Christmas wreaths". They are butter and vanilla cookies covered with almond slices or candied cherries. They are so beautiful that in the Netherlands they are used to decorate Christmas trees.
  • Speculaas, cookies with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. As for other recipes of this type, the secret is in the dough. To soak up the aromas, it is left to rest overnight in a cool place. According to the locals, the Simon Meijssen mini-chain of pastry shops produces delicious speculaas out of the oven.

And if you want to continue tasting typical products, don't hesitate to do a cheese tasting, one of the most popular gastronomic plans in the capital of the Netherlands.

Book a cheese tasting in Amsterdam

8. Pamper yourself with a bit of shopping

Negen Straatjes| ©Jenifer K
Negen Straatjes| ©Jenifer K

A three-day city break in Amsterdam is the perfect occasion to buy the last Christmas gifts. The capital of the Netherlands is a popular shopping destination and each neighborhood has its own shopping areas worth exploring. Here is a short list of our favorite shopping areas:

  • Negen Straatjes, the famous nine streets. This name is used to designate the area between Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht that houses all kinds of stores. The most curious destinations are **De Witte Tandenwinkel (**selling all kinds of toothbrushes, Nieuwe Binnenweg 62) and the button store De Knopenwinkel(Herengracht 389). Fashion lovers find their paradise here, the Nine Streets are dotted with boutiques, clothing stores, shoe shops and much more.

If you're looking for a cheeselover's gift, I recommend you enter De Kaaskamer, an institution in the Dutch capital. Their experts will help you choose the ideal cheese (Runstraat 7). For the most refined palates, you can turn to Antiekcentrum, an area of more than 1700 m2 that houses a collection of antiques from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, art deco objects and other goods from the fifties, sixties and seventies (Elandsgracht 109).

  • PC Hooftstraat, the fashion district of the Dutch capital. This is where the crème de la crème of fashion brands (Cartier, Gucci, Chanel, Michael Kors, etc.) is concentrated.
  • Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk, two shopping streets with a wide range of independent and specialized stores. Head to Rumos Vintage & Design for handbags, sunglasses and second-hand clothing. Their collection focuses on sixties and seventies fashion but there's no shortage of pieces from the fifties or nineties (Haarlemmerstraat 29).
  • Magna Plaza, a post office converted into a mall. In its four floors you will find the main international clothing and beauty brands (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182).
  • Albert Cuypmarkt, one of the largest open-air markets in Europe. Stop by the stalls, you're likely to find a bargain. Take the opportunity to eat something typical, for example a stroopwafel (caramel waffles) or some fresh herring (Albert Cuypstraat).
  • Waterloopleinmarkt, Amsterdam's flea market. There is a bit of everything: from antique books to second-hand furniture (Waterlooplein).

9. Enjoy a circus show

Inside the Carré Theater| ©C messier
Inside the Carré Theater| ©C messier

Every December, the Carré Theater (Koninklijk Theater Carré) hosts one of the most anticipated events of the Christmas season. The World Christmas Circus is an internationally renowned event that brings together artists from China, Vietnam, Russia, Korea, the United States and other countries. Book your ticket in advance: in the past, some 58,000 visitors have been registered in just over two weeks! Getting here is easy - the theater is located on the banks of the Amstel River just a short walk from the Magere Brug, Amsterdam's most famous bridge.

10. Warm up with a cup of chocolate

Pompadour cakes| ©Jaison R
Pompadour cakes| ©Jaison R

Chocolate lovers find Amsterdam their ideal destination. Although not as famous as its neighbor Brussels, the Dutch capital has a good number of establishments where you can pamper yourself with the cocoa drink. Read on to discover the top-rated bars.

  • Pompadour, famous as much for its chocolates as for its cakes. To make their chocolates they use Valrhona, the chocolate used by top chefs. Another attraction is the elegant Louis XVI style tea room (Huidenstraat 12).
  • Cacaomuseum, much more than just a chocolate shop. In addition to a hot cup, you can have a few experiences. For example, make some pralines or draw with chocolate. To see the complete list, you can take a look at the official website (Czaar Peterstraat 175).
  • Scandinavian Embassy, a corner of Stockholm in the heart of Amsterdam. Besides chocolate, customers come here to taste their coffee (all beans come from small roasters in Scandinavia) and cinnamon buns (Sarphatipark 34).
  • Moods Coffee Corner, the perfect place to start the day. It is famous for its healthy breakfasts (fresh and seasonal). For its cups, it uses Belgian and Italian chocolates while for coffee, it offers a selection of local roasted beans (Lindengracht 249).

Is Amsterdam worth a visit in December?

Skating rink at Museumplein| ©R Boed
Skating rink at Museumplein| ©R Boed

Anyone who visits the Venice of the North in December knows for sure that you won't find good weather. This is the darkest month of the year and the humidity rate can reach 86%. However, it is a special time as Christmas markets and stalls with typical desserts add a touch of color. If you are afraid of encountering snow, you need not worry. Generally, snowy precipitation usually interests the city in January and February.

How much does it cost to stay in Amsterdam in December?

Paying in Euros| ©cottonbro
Paying in Euros| ©cottonbro

If you don't have much of a budget, you should be very careful with the dates. In concomitance with the Festival of Lights and close to Christmas or the last day of the year, prices go up. On the other hand, if you choose other days you may find some bargains. To save money and have two whole months at your disposal, I recommend you to book a flight in January or February.