Amsterdam in December is a truly magical time of year. Here are 8 of my favorite things to do as a local!
Amsterdam in December is the most magical time of year to visit with the city aglow in Christmas lights and outdoor holiday festivities. Between the Amsterdam Light Festival, holiday festivities and usual things to do in Amsterdam, you can have a jam-packed vacation or keep it chill.
From the best things to do in Amsterdam in December to what to wear this time of years, here are my favorite local tips on planning your trip during this time of year!
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8 Things to Do in Amsterdam in December
Ride a Boat to See Amsterdam Light Festival
Visiting Amsterdam in December is a great time to do holiday related activities. But the first thing to do is actually not holiday related at all!
My favorite winter activity in Amsterdam is take a boat tour on the canals to view the Amsterdam Light Festival. For a little over an hour, you sit on a boat sipping hot chocolate, gluhwein (mulled wine) or tea, and get taken around to view the amazing light installations around the city.
I’ve done the yearly Amsterdam Light Festival two ways, by myself on a bike and with a boat tour, and I prefer going with the boat tour because the tour guide explains each art installation to me.
Experiencing the Amsterdam Light Festival with context is more enjoyable, and for less than €20 a person, information and drinks makes this canal cruise one of the best value tours in Amsterdam.
Pro Tip: Make sure to book a boat that’s an open-air one or semi-open because it’s not as nice viewing the lit art displays from an enclosed boat with scratched up or foggy windows. This goes the same for really any canal tour; I always recommend going on an open-air boat!
Alternative Option: If you’d rather be on a more active boat, try this bike tour!
Eat and Drink Through an Amsterdam Christmas Market
The best Amsterdam Christmas Market to visit in December is the ICE Village at Museumplein. The square in front of the Rijksmuseum is transformed into a winter village complete with a fun ice skating rink!
The ICE Village also has tons of market stalls to shop at and holiday food and drinks to keep you warm as you walk around in holiday glee.
Another fun Amsterdam Christmas Market is the Winter Plaza at Rembrandtplein. Head here to try the traditional oliebollen, a fried snack only eaten at this time of year, waffles, sausages and of course, gluhwein (hot mulled wine).
Really, if you’re visiting Amsterdam in December, eating oliebollen should really be on your list.
Lastly, at one of my favorite parks in Amsterdam is the Funky Xmas Market at Westerpark. You can experience Westerpark’s iconic architecture and modern park space while shopping for funky Christmas gifts made by local artists, fashion designers and creatives.
Westerpark also has a Special Sinterklaas Market in the beginning of the month. Jump down to the Sinterklaas event to learn about this Dutch legend.
Light Fireworks with Locals to Ring in the New Year
Update 11/05/21: In 2021, the city of Amsterdam said fireworks anywhere are not allowed. As a result, they will have a show at Museumplein. However, the sale/purchase of fireworks is still allowed so I assume people will set off their own fireworks. I have left the original text so you can what New Year’s in Amsterdam is usually like.
Locals and tourists alike celebrate New Year’s Eve right on the streets of Amsterdam in December. It’s not your typical drinking and partying though.
As soon as it starts getting dark, people of all ages, especially the teenagers who can’t wait, start lighting fireworks to bring in the new year. This is because on December 31st, ANYONE is allowed to light off fireworks in all of the Netherlands.
It’s truly an epic spectacle, and being from New York, I never thought I’d love celebrating New Year’s Eve outdoors because of how packed Times Square is when the ball drops. This is truly a Dutch tradition not to be missed and probably the most fun reason to visit Amsterdam in December.
The best place to see the fireworks is at the Skinny Bridge on the Amstel River. I like this spot the best because at midnight, when everyone lights their biggest and best fireworks, you can have a 360° view of fireworks in all directions!
The bridge itself can get quite crowded so you can go pretty much anywhere by it on Amstel. For example, I like to stand at this point.
If you want to buy fireworks to light off yourself, then they go on sale from the 28th to 31st of each year. You can check this list to see where you can buy them.
Word of Caution: If you are biking or with small children, be mindful of fireworks everywhere, even in your biking/walking path.
Welcome Sinterklaas to Amsterdam in December
The Dutch celebrate their very own version of Santa Claus on December 6th when Sinterklaas “arrives from Spain” to Netherlands in a steamboat. Once he disembarks, he parades through the streets while children sing traditional Sinterklaas songs.
Sinterklaas’ assistant, Piet, throws out candy and small, round, ginger-bread like cookies (aka pepernoten) to the crowd.
Where to See Sinterklaas: In 2021, Sinterklaas actually arrives in mid-November, but if you’re not here then, you can see him at an Amsterdam Christmarket!
What to Do: Besides giving candy and gifts to children on Sinterklaas, chocolate letters are traditionally to each other as gifts on this day. You can find some at Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam.
Culture Shock Warning
As a warning, you may see a blackface Piet in the Netherlands for Sinterklaus.
Piet, formally known as Zwarte Piet/ Black Pete, is Sinterklaus’ helper who got soot on his face after going through the chimney.
To recreate him in real life, people paint themselves black to mimic the soot on his face.
However, as you can see, this is problematic.
Every year, many Dutch people protest to no longer have Zwarte Piet and only have Piet.
But there are people who fight against this. They say Zwarte Piet is the way he is because of soot and out of tradition and that it has nothing to do with racism.
In 2015, when I first moved to the Netherlands, I saw a blackface Piet. By the time 2020 came around, I only saw Piet!
I believe that you should not see him at all in Amsterdam, but if traveling in other cities or small towns, you might see him. So thought you might want to know.
Here is a photo of what I mean.
Listen to Christmas Music at a Concert Hall
The Concertgebouw, a concert hall by Museumplein, has jazz, classical and even kids’ Christmas shows throughout December.
Head to their website to add listening to live Christmas music to your Amsterdam to-do list in December.
View the Christmas Tree in Dam Square
Spending Christmas in Amsterdam in December wouldn’t be complete without seeing the massive, illuminated Christmas tree in Dam Square. You can either go anytime from mid-December to early January to see the 40,000 energy-saving LED fairy lights lighting up Dam Square, or even better, you can go on December 14th to join the lighting of the tree festivities.
Usually, there is a specific time and hour when there are Christmas carol singers, musicians and seasonal and drinks to celebrate lighting the Christmas tree together.
Eat Comforting, Traditional Dutch Holiday Foods
Who doesn’t love eating as one of their favorite things to do in Amsterdam in December? With foods like oliebollen, glühwein, chocolate letters and pepernoten, it is one of the best places to indulge in sweet treats.
Oliebollen are basically Dutch doughnuts. They’re traditionally made of flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, milk and raisins and deep fried in oil.
Traditionally, they are eaten at midnight on the New Year so make sure to grab a few to ring in the new year.
You can find them at a stand in front of the Rijksmuseum or at the bakery at the end of the Ten Kate Markt. Even Albert Heijn, the main grocery store, will have them.
Glühwein is hot mulled wine with spices. Almost every bar and market will have this warm beverage to drink outdoors in the cool weather.
Chocolate letters are a fun, yummy gift given to each other on Sinterklaas. It’s a great souvenir to bring home too!
You can find chocolate letters at any candy store or at Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam.
Pepernoten are small, round gingerbread-like cookies eaten during this time period, especially on Sinterklaas day. You can find them at Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam.
Walk Around Jordaan
My favorite neighborhood to walk around in Amsterdam in December (or really anytime of the year) is Jordaan. It’s beautiful at night when all the usual street lights make the streets and bridges glow.
It’s even more spectacular in December because there are extra holiday lights up, and people have Christmas trees shining through their windows. It’s a super romantic and calming walk!
If you want a specific destination to go to in Jordaan, start out at Westerkerk and then walk over to Winkel 43 where you’ll get the best Dutch apple pie!
You might like: Using Google Maps Offline Without Data or Wifi
Weather in Amsterdam in December
Generally Amsterdam is between 35-46° F or 2-7° C, which isn’t too cold, but once you add in that it rains about 13 days of the month, it can feel colder than it is with the dampness!
Use the app Buienradar to get a precise 15-minute update on when it’s going to rain or not. Check the weather every 30 minutes if you’re going to be out because the weather changes so quickly!
What to Wear in Amsterdam in December
Locals keep it pretty simple with what they wear. It is not a high fashion type of country. Girls even wear sneakers to the club instead of heels!
Keep it simple, and wear comfortable shoes for walking. Bonus if they are somewhat waterproof.
If you want to be on trend, then leopard and animal prints or bellbottoms are totally in fashion right now! Otherwise you will blend right in with dark jeans and a nice sweater.
I always love the quality-to-price ratio and style of the sweaters at Uniqlo, which is where I mainly shop.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Enjoying these fun things to do in Amsterdam in December is even better if you have a nice, cozy place to stay. Based on the places my friends, family or even I’ve personally stayed at, here is where I recommend staying. There’s a hotel in Amsterdam for every budget!
W Amsterdam (5-star hotel) – My sister and brother-in-law stayed at the W Amsterdam and loved every bit of it. The location is central, the rooms are super comfortable and the pool/sauna/jacuzzi is quite amazing to use after a long day out in the city, especially with the Amsterdam weather!
Conscious Hotel (3-star hotel in multiple locations) – I love the Conscious Hotel brand. I personally stayed at the Vondelpark and Tire Station locations— once for my birthday and once while my apartment was being renovated– and I loved each time! They’re both a 3-star hotel with a cozy communal feel and gorgeous design.
They have four locations:
- Conscious Hotel Museum Square
- Conscious Hotel Westerpark
- Conscious Hotel the Tire Station
- Conscious Hotel Vondelpark
Airbnb Apartments or Private Rooms – If you want more of a local experience with a better value, I’d recommend getting an Airbnb apartment in either Oud-West or de Pijp. These are trendy neighborhoods where the working class in their 20s-40s like to live, eat and drink.
Something to know though– hostels aren’t necessarily cheaper than 2-star hotels in Amsterdam. For the pricing of hostels, even Airbnb apartments or private rooms can be a much better value so don’t automatically look at hostels thinking you’ll save money!
New to Airbnb? Here’s a post on why I love Airbnb and why I love it more than hotels sometimes!
More Posts about the Netherlands and Amsterdam
Just in case you want more information about the Netherlands, you’ll definitely want to check out my Netherlands travel guide.
Otherwise, here are more Amsterdam related posts:
- Best Amsterdam Light Festival Boat Tour
- 13 Traditional Dutch Foods to Try in Amsterdam (and Where to Find Them)
- 9 Easy Ways to Meet People in Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Guide (by a Local)
- 13 Unique Things to Do in Amsterdam (by a Local)
- 6 Ideas for a Staycation in Amsterdam
- Expat Guide to Living in Amsterdam (an American’s viewpoint)
- Buying Used Bikes in Amsterdam: How, Where and What to Watch Out for
- Where to Stay in Amsterdam
- 7 Best Van Gogh Museum Tips
Thanks for making it all the way down to the end of the post. I’d love to connect. Come say hi to me my Instagram @sarchetrit, especially any part of this post helped you with your trip for Amsterdam in December.
Till then, thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!