Amsterdam- known most famously for its canals, “coffee shops,” and The Red Light District, there’s more to this progressive city than meets the tourist’s eye. Amsterdam is rich in history and its architecture proves this. Its iconic row houses and canal system that have been around for centuries have characterized Amsterdam as a picture perfect postcard destination. Today, Amsterdam remains a bustling metropolis full of restaurants, bars, museums, boat tours, markets, bicycles, and tourists. Want to avoid the crowds? Try visiting Amsterdam during the winter months. Better yet, consider seeing Amsterdam during the holiday season where you will be treated to Christmas markets galore, street vendors selling hot mulled wine and mouth-watering pastries, ice skating at the famous Rijksmuseum rink, and touring the Amsterdam Light Festival by boat. Take a look below for some tips and recommendations about visiting Amsterdam during the winter holiday season.
Amsterdam is a very walkable city, although the famed way of getting around with locals is by bicycle. It’s been said that Amsterdam has more bikes than people. Now that’s impressive! In fact, your probability of getting hit by a bike is greater than a car in Amsterdam. It’s in your favor to be constantly vigilant of bike traffic throughout the city as cyclists usually have the right of way. Brave enough to bike alongside the locals? Amsterdam has no shortage of bike rentals. You can rent one for a few hours or the whole day for less than 15 Euros. If biking isn’t your thing(especially in the winter brrrrr), a combination of walking and taking the public transportation system are great alternatives. For 8 Euro a day, you may purchase the OV-caart (public transport chip card) which gives you unlimited access to the metro, tram, ferry, and busses throughout the city.
Home to the Royal Palace, Dam or town square is where much of the action is located. During the holiday season, a big Christmas tree is the center of attraction at the square. Take a tour of the New Church, which roots date back to the 15th century or head on over to the Royal Palace for an extensive tour of the structure. Go inside Madame Toussads- a wax museum that boasts wax figures of famous people, or go shopping at the endless maze of storefronts in the area. Just a short walk away, you’ll uncover the Red Light District which comes to life at night with its many bars, clubs, and curious tourists.
De Wallen, Red Light District
Speaking of the Red Light District or De Wallen, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without at least walking through the neighborhood. As mentioned previously, the Red Light District comes alive at night with numerous party goers and tourists crowding the streets to take a peek at scantily clad women positioned in front of display windows. In the past years however, locals and officials have debated about over tourism in the area. With the rise of social media, sex workers are subject to exploitation and unruly behavior among tourists. Locals are also exposed to the extreme noise and chaos that occurs throughout the night. As a result, the area is said to undergo big changes to protect sex workers and locals from factors of over tourism. With that said, when you visit the Red Light District, please come with an open mind and be respectful to the people who both live and work there.
For a more relaxed neighborhood vibe, head on over to the bohemian De Pijp District located near the museum quarter, south of the city center. You will be charmed by its narrow streets lined with sidewalk cafes, local art shops, and hip restaurants. It also boasts some of the best breakfast/brunch spots in the city. Check out Bakers and Roasters, Omelegg, Coffee and Coconuts, and Little Collins for a menu that would satisfy any brunch connoisseur. You will also find Albert Cuyp here- one of Amsterdam’s biggest outdoor market.
Amsterdam Light Festival
One of the biggest highlights of Amsterdam’s holiday season, The Amsterdam Light Festival is an attraction for both tourists and locals alike. Dutch and international artists create light art exhibitions and have them installed in the canal waters throughout the city each year. The Amsterdam Light Festival focuses on a theme that the light art exhibition is centered around. You can see the Amsterdam Light Festival by bike, boat, or foot although it is highly recommended to tour the show on boat. Not only do you get to experience a canal cruise, you also get to encounter the Light Festival up close and personal for an experience like no other!
eat in amsterdam
Amsterdam has no shortage of food options. Known for being one of the most diverse cities in Western Europe, Amsterdam’s food scene has a unique blend of global and local delicacies. If you are looking for good, authentic Indonesian food and you’re in Amsterdam, well then, you are in luck. Don’t leave the city without trying rijsttafel which literally translates to “rice table.” Rijsttafel is offered in most Indonesian restaurants where you are served multiple, shareable dishes. What better way to end a brisk, long day in Amsterdam than sitting around a table sharing plates of spicy curry, satay, and stuffed rice cakes?
Want to treat yourself to some Dutch holiday staples? Look no further than at the Christmas Markets to delight in traditional holiday treats. Start with ordering a glass of bisschopswijn, or hot mulled wine. If you prefer alcohol-free, go for the rich hot chocolate that’s nothing like the nestle boxed powdery stuff you’re used to.
Please don’t leave Amsterdam without delighting in some poffertjes. These are bite sized “mini” pancakes usually served with powdered sugar, butter and maple syrup. Healthy? Probably not. Mouthwatering and delicious? Absolutely.
If you want to go with something a little lighter, try olliebollen– a deep fried dough ball that you can either order plain or stuffed with nutella (a favorite) and other sweet fillings.
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without indulging in cheese and more specifically- Gouda( pronounced g-houw-da). Gouda cheese is to Holland as pasta is to Italy. It seems like every corner has a cheese shop packed with locals and tourists alike tasting little samples here and there. If you want to visit the historic city that gave Gouda cheese it’s name, it’s only a one hour train ride from the main train station.
If you’re a beer fanatic or simply enjoy indulging in a glass of craft beer from time to time, check out the growing brewery scene in Amsterdam. One of the most famous- Brouwerij ‘tIJ is located near the botanical gardens and city zoo. It’s hard to miss with the De Gooyer Windmill as it’s backdrop and the crowds of locals sipping beers on the outside patio. Hors d’oeuvres of local cheese and sausages are served all day, making Brouwerij ‘tIJ a perfect spot for happy hour.
day trip to haarlem and the north sea coast
While there are no shortage of experiences in Amsterdam, a trip outside the city is very well worth it. If you are pressed for time, consider taking a trip to Haarlem which is a short 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam Centruum (main train station.) Haarlem has all the charm of a small Dutch town. A five minute walk from the train station will take you the Grote Markt (market square) which is considered the town’s centerpiece. Take in the beauty of the magnificent St. Bavo Cathedral and stroll through the Christmas market where over 300 hundred stalls of food, clothing, and crafts galore line the Market Square.
Another short train ride takes you to Zaandfort, a small coastal town on the North Sea Coast. Make sure to bundle up as the low temps mixed with high winds can be quite uncomfortable if you aren’t dressed for the occasion. Zaandfort is relatively quiet during the winter months. Most hotels and vacation rentals stand vacant and only some restaurants remain open. However, there are a few seafood stalls that sell a variety of fried fish, shrimp and more. It’s the perfect treat after a long walk on the beach!