Ah, Amsterdam. The city of canals, coffee shops and cafés. Whilst it’s a great city to visit all year round, the winter months see it illuminate into a place that’s brimming with Christmas markets and ice rinks, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Amsterdam truly embraces its festive spirit during the winter with plenty to do, even if you’re only planning a short city break. It may get too cold for long walks but don’t worry, there are cafés dotted all around the city and you’ll never be stuck for choice. If you’re coming from Europe and plan to drive to Amsterdam, it’s great fun! But when you get there, try to avoid using your car as your main mode of transport as it can be very expensive to park and much easier to use alternative modes.
With plenty of indoor attractions on offer, take a peek at some of the options if you’re concerned about the city chills! Have a look at some of the places you think may interest you so you can plan your trip accordingly and make the most of your time there.
Where to stay?
- Ramada Apollo Amsterdam: We stayed at the Ramada Apollo Hotel Amsterdam, a quirky and vibrant place with easy access to the main parts of the city. You can rent a bike or a moped from the hotel to get around, or there’s a tram that stops just outside and takes you close to the Anne Frank House and other attractions. Prices start from 65 a night. Another note if you decided to hire a moped, it might be a good idea to get your own moped insurance. My friend got a fantastic quote on his moped insurance and was glad he did. He got eclectic coverage with a brilliant price.
- Hotel Golden Tulip Amsterdam West: This comfortable hotel is another great option and is reasonably priced too, starting at 70 a night. It’s only a tram ride away from central Amsterdam and you can get there in about 10-15 minutes. Other highlights are the large, modern rooms and the views of the canal.
- There are plenty of stunning apartments to choose from on Air Bnb, including this one for just 60 a night. With five star reviews from all of her previous guests, this apartment is stylish, spacious and just a stones throw away from main attractions like the Anne Frank House.
What to do and where to drink?
- Ride your bike through Vondel Park, or if you’re wanting to do it in style and with a little more of a vintage look, you could have a look at a puch moped for sale!
- Pop over to De Pijp, which is really trendy and full of bars and good restaurants.
- Go to a traditional Dutch pub (known as brown cafés), where locals are frequent visitors. If you’re looking for local beer, this is the best place to find it and experience Amsterdam in a really authentic way. We vote for In ‘t Aepjen, which is one of the oldest brown cafés in the city or In De Wildeman if beer is your thing (they have a choice of 250 bottled beers to choose from!)
- Hanneke’s Boom is a good option if you’re in the mood for live music and comfy armchairs.
- Heineken is typically the beer of choice here but they also have imported beer on draught and a great selection of wine in most places.
Which museums shall I visit?
So, the museums. There’s the Anne Frank House, which was incredibly busy when we visited but still definitely a must-go-to. Try to book tickets online in advance to make sure you don’t have to queue outside for hours. It’s incredibly moving and inspirational. Plus, you can act out your ‘Fault In Our Stars’ scene when you reach the top. The Van Gogh Museum is also another one that you should put at the top of your list. Again, being organised means you won’t have to wait outside in the cold if you book online. Head over to museum square to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s State Museum, which first opened in 1885. Then, there’s the Rembrandt Museum which gives you an insight into his life.
Where to ice skate?
Amsterdam takes ice skating to a whole new level. If it’s cold enough and it drops to lower than -4 degrees, you can ice skate on the canals. There are lots of rinks that don’t depend on the weather conditions and you will be spoilt for choice. We headed to Museumplein, where there’s an incredibly popular rink just behind the Rijksmuseum, for our ice skating experience. It’s only a 5-minute bike ride from the Heineken Experience and it’s open until March. Make sure to take ID when you go to rent skates.
There’s also a professional ice skating rink which is open to the public called Jaap Eden, open from October until March each year. It’s one of the most popular and there’s even a disco on Saturday evenings if you’re feeling adventurous!
Should I take a tour?
Opposite the Heineken Experience, you can go for a canal tour which is probably one of the best ways to see the city. Informative, reasonably priced and peaceful, this 75-minute ride will teach you more about Amsterdam than you could get from just exploring the city on your own, meaning you can take in the culture on the canal tour and spend the rest of your trip learning more about things that you found interesting. Book online to get tickets for 14 euros per person.
What about the Christmas markets?
Christmas markets in Amsterdam are a delight. With ice skating, mulled wine (Glühwein) and various beers to try, it’s a good day out and a great opportunity to mix it up between sight-seeing and pure pleasure. The Christmas markets typically have a wide array of food and drink to choose from. Make sure to try and get your hands on a ‘oliebol’, which is a sort of doughnut, Dutch-style. This is something that will go down well with your mulled wine, and the Oliebolen only come out once a year so it’s a true treat. Yum. At the Christmas markets, you can try some local sweets and find some gifts to take back home, which is perfect if you’re tired of getting fridge magnets and key rings. Different markets pop up in unique locations so keep your eyes and ears open for new, random markets while you’re there.
Where to eat?
Kinnaree Restaurant is a little gem we discovered on the back streets of Prinsengracht and it’s one restaurant we would definitely recommend while you’re in Amsterdam. The food is authentic, fresh AND very reasonably priced; definitely the best Thai food we’ve ever had. The staff are friendly and welcoming but try to book in advance if you’re planning to visit as it gets busy in the evenings, particularly with locals.
How shall I get around?
If you want to blend in with the locals, a bike is a sure way to get around. There are almost as many bikes as people in this city and even in the winter it’s the easiest, most leisurely way to explore. With bikes having the right of way, you can get across the center in under 15 minutes. Make sure you’re keeping your eyes open for trams, mopeds, cars, pedestrians and other traffic, and always obey the traffic signs. Public transport is affordable if you’d prefer and tickets can be purchased on the tram.
It’s so easy to get around and whether you choose to take public transport, walk or ride a bike, everything is relatively near and if you get lost most people speak English so you’ll have no trouble finding a friendly local to guide you. If you want to visit Dam Square, Amsterdam’s main plaza, the best way to explore is on foot so you can walk down the cobblestone streets and take in the scenery. This is really close to Bloemenmarkt, the stunning floating flower market that can only be found here.
When should I book my trip and what is the weather like?
Like most places, you’ll notice that it gets a bit more expensive for flights and accommodation the nearer you get to the holidays, but book in advance and you are likely to find a great deal. Usually winter is the cheapest time to book. The holiday festivities are great fun, and aside from the public ice skating rinks, there are plenty of cosy pubs, bars and restaurants to enjoy. The bright lights and bubbly atmosphere make you feel right at home and you’ll never be bored.
Typically, December is the rainiest month but February is the coldest. In December, average highs are 6 C, in January its about 5 C and February also has an average high of 5 C, but lows of 0 C. Be prepared though because if it’s windy, it will seem a lot colder than it really is! It’s not likely that you’ll be spending lots of your time outside, except for your bike rides and your journey from one museum to the next. It’s a lovely city all year round but locals know that when the temperature starts to drop, there’s so much to do.
Why should I go in winter?
Amsterdam is full of adventure and if you visit in the winter, you’ll get a wonderful unique view. The cute, homely pubs and stunning architecture will leave you feeling a massive surge of love for the city as it envelopes you in all of its festiveness! It’s truly magical and we’re not kidding when we stay everything twinkles in the winter. You’ll find yourself thinking you’re in a fairy tale with the light sculptures and cobbled streets. You’ll find it exciting to wander the city and by the time you leave, you’ll be feeling fuzzy inside and planning your next trip.
How about ringing in the New Year there?
If you’re lucky enough to be there for New Year, Melkweg is a great choice for a club. If you fancy a bar or pub, make sure you check the opening hours before you head out. The Bulldog is in a buzzing location, and if you head outside just after midnight you’ll see the incredible fireworks show, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. It lasts for hours and the street parties go on until the early hours of the morning too.
So, our top 10 tips for Amsterdam during the winter season are below. Of course, it’s always worth visiting the Red Light District and having a look around if you want to fully experience the city, and if you’re looking to try one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops, there are so many to choose from! Hill Street Blues was a favourite for us because of the relaxing, raw feel to it. Writing on the walls and stickers from loads of different places make it different from most other coffee shops around. Enjoy!
- Head to The Bulldog in Leidseplein one evening. With a coffee shop downstairs, a dance floor on the second floor and a bar on the top floor, you can get everything you need from here.
- Try a canal tour to find out some history early on. That way, you can explore anything you want to learn more about and feel good about the fact that you’ve already done something intelligent and cultural on your trip.
- Renting a bike at some point is one of the best ways to see the city and explore places you really want to see. Ride through Vondel Park and plot your journey before you leave your hotel. If you do some research before you leave, you’ll find that the Heineken Experience is pretty close to the Rijksmuseum (which has an ice rink just behind it) and if you plan it right, you can check a lot off your to-do list in a day.
- Ice skating is a must during the winter in Amsterdam. There are so many to choose from, and at the Ramada Apollo hotel, you’ll find the highest ice rink in the Netherlands, on the top floor. Otherwise, head to Museumplein, Leidseplein or Westerpark for your spin on the ice.
- Floor 17 at the Ramada is great for views across the whole of Amsterdam and for a drink before you head out for the evening.
- Dress sensibly. Check the weather before your winter trip so you can be prepared. Although it’s unlikely, there is often a chance of snow. It can get quite cold and if you’re going to be out and about a lot, it’s a good idea to wrap up warm in lots of layers, especially if you’re planning to do some cycling.
- There are so many nice bars and pubs in Amsterdam. We discovered a pub not too far from the Ramada Apollo Hotel called Café ‘t Stoplicht. It was cosy and old-fashioned but a nice find and very homely.
- Radijs is a good spot if you fancy some breakfast or brunch. The menu has a range of options and there’s a lovely, chilled atmosphere. Think Macbooks, trendy people and orange juice.
- Make sure you try a beer. Even if it’s not usually your drink of choice, there’s just something refreshing about sipping a nice, cold beer on a chilly day. Plus, if you’ve been cycling around it’s likely you’ll have worked up a bit of a sweat so it’s a good way to cool down! Seeing how beers are made at the Heineken Experience will probably make you curious anyway and you’ll want to see what all the fuss is about!
- The museums are definitely worth a visit. Even if you’re not usually a fan of museums, Amsterdam has such a range that you’re bound to find one you’re interested in. (Make sure to check opening times as their hours are shorter in the winter)