Christmas in Amsterdam

Whether or not you celebrate this day in its traditional religious sense, Christmas in Amsterdam is truly a festive season.

Dutch winter holidays traditions

Dutch winter holiday season starts on November the 14th, with the arrival of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholaas) and his Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). The story says that naughty children will be whisked off to Spain by these helpers of Sinterklaas. On the day of the parade The Pieten receive usually far more attention from the crowds of children than the Sint himself, who sits atop his white horse. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they carry candy and cookies, which they give out to the children by the handful.

The celebrations continue on the 5th of December, when Sinterklaas (originally the holy day of Sint Nicholaas) is celebrated each year. On the eve of 5th of December, children leave their boots by the fireplace, hoping to wake up to find them filled with sweets. On the day itself, families gather to exchange gifts (and traditionally also insulting poems) and eat lavish holiday meals.

Amsterdam during Christmas

For visitors to the city, who are more used to the Anglo-American Christmas held on the 24th and 25th of December, there is till plenty of fun left. Majority of Dutch people have adopted similar traditions of gift exchange and family celebrations during this time. Many businesses remain open and tourists are welcome in the city any time of year.

What to do in Amsterdam during Christmas

If you find yourself in Amsterdam city during Christmas, the following are a few suggestions to help you pass the time and incorporate a little Dutch culture into your holidays.

Museumplein is turned into Amsterdam Christmas Square every year, boasting a market and craft-making displays perfect for passing an afternoon. There is also an ice rink which is open well into the evening. Christmas lights have been up since November, and an evening stroll in any direction from the brightly-illuminated tree on Dam Square can prove a pleasant one, especially through the Leidseplein and its surrounding area or towards the Jordaan, which is full of cosy cafes and unique shops. The Red Light District has Christmas lights of its own (not just red ones!) and seems to never shut down.

Several of the churches around Amsterdam are offering seasonal concerts, both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Sint Nicolaaskerk for instance, has free services featuring Gregorian music. Museum Amstelkring, a church located on the top two stories of a canal house in the heart of the Red Light District, also offers Amsterdam Christmas Eve masses.

Many Amsterdam museums tend to be open on Christmas Day. Including The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anna Frank House, FOAM or EYE. Artis Zoo and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum are also open all year, and may be good options if you are travelling with children (although much of the zoo might be cold, there are enclosed and heated displays).

The Pathé Tuschinski is one of the few cinemas open on Christmas Day and The Concertgebouw offers special classical Amsterdam Christmas concerts, on 24, 25 and 26 December.

Amsterdam restaurants during Christmas

As for food, many Amsterdam restaurants and cafés are open. Often offering special Christmas menus, usually at a set price. It is a good idea to make reservations, as some may close their doors early or serve a limited number on that night. Otherwise, the more tourist oriented areas such as the Damrak, the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein should yield a number of options for the hungry traveller, as will hotel restaurants.

Check individual websites for opening hours, and ask at hotels or hostels for other options. Things are often advertised only in windows or on small signs, so walking around in your first few days in Amsterdam is a great way to know what’s going on. And of course, always follow the locals.