Amsterdam Christmas must-do things for the holiday season
Luminous. Spiritual. Artistic. Delicious. That’s what Christmas in Amsterdam is like. If you don’t believe us, go and check for yourself: the event schedule in Amsterdam is perhaps much more varied than that in most other European cities. We invite you to our tour around the best Christmas events in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Light Festival. 28 November 2015 – 17 January 2016
The Light Festival is something that simply cannot be omitted during your winter season. Because the rays of light coming from numerous sculptures and installations illuminate the whole city centre. The fun is on from the end of November till mid-January. Theme is different every year, and so are the sculptures that can be seen everywhere around the most touristy routes. Of course, nothing goes unexplained. You can learn what idea stands behind each light sculpture during walking tours (called “Illuminade”) or even canal cruises (“Water Colours”). This season the theme for the 55-day festival is “Friendship”.
Present-giving on Saint Nicholas Day. 5-6 December
Unlike what most of us are used to, the Dutch celebrate Christmas in the beginning of December. You can take advantage of this tradition and celebrate Christmas twice. Just do what the locals do: on the Christmas Eve (5th December) let your kids leave their boots by the fireplace (in case there is any at your place of accommodation). Remind them to leave some treats for Santa Claus’s horse in the boots. And while they’re asleep, put some nice little presents for them right in the shoes. Alternatively, leave a bag with presents behind their doors. Visiting Amsterdam mid-November? Watch the colourful ship carrying Sint Nicholas (Santa Claus) arrive at the city from Spain. The ship moors on the Amstel river by the Maritime Museum.
Amsterdam markets are the city’s number one magnet any time of the year. But it is on Christmas that the list of markets grows even bigger, and the assortment of things sold focuses mostly on festive stuff. Market stalls provide you with plenty of ideas for Christmas presents to bring back home: from tool-shaped chocolates and canal house-shaped present boxes to traditional souvenirs. The most central markets you’ll definitely encounter are located on the Museumplein and the Leidseplein. While the best-known Christmas market is definitely the Wintermarkt Amsterdam found at the Beursplein. Some markets stay open all week, while others appear only occasionally, several times a month. The ones that are surely worth visiting: Funky Xmas Market at the Westergasfabriek, the Pure Winter Market at the placid Amstelpark, or the market at De Hallen, for instance. Check the opening dates several weeks before the season.
Hotels near the Museumplein:
Ice Skating Rinks
When we think of Christmas Amsterdam, an ice-skating rink is one of the first things that comes into our mind. And it is often located somewhere close to a winter market. For instance, the largest rinks are found by the Leidseplein and the Museumplein, with stalls set around them. So if you’re not in the mood to ice-skate, go shopping or have a good bite of local treats instead. As a more comfortable and thought-over alternative, check out the marvelous 400-meter Jaap Eden rink, with numerous facilities found in the same building for your convenience.
Amsterdam is probably one of the few cities in the world that uses its canals as skating grounds. You might be the lucky one to try your skates on Amsterdam canals as well, if the temperatures allow this. In the past years, however, the winters have been quite mild and canal skating wasn’t allowed. So don’t expect much.
Hotels near the Leidseplein:
Christmas matinees and concerts are one of the most spiritual ways to understand the true meaning of the holiday. Participate in a mass, accompanied by a concert, at one of the best known Amsterdam churches: the Westerkerk, Noorderkerk or Oudekerk. If you’re more inclined to classical music concerts than to religious events, you’re provided with numerous opportunities for this as well. For example, the city’s most outstanding concert venue, Royal Concertgebouw, traditionally organizes Christmas-themed concerts with a focus on masterpieces by Tchaikovsky and Bach, and fairytales like the Cinderella and the Nutcracker. The Dutch National Opera will perform Hansel and Gretel at another venue – Muziektheater Amsterdam.
Hotels near the Royal Concertgebouw:
Not in the mood for all these boring family reunions? The younger audience is normally concentrated at Amsterdam clubs, even during the Christmas season. Explore a long list of festive events at best Amsterdam clubs like Paradiso, Melkweg, Club 8, Escape, and choose the one that appeals to you most. Drinks, treats, DJ sets, live music, sociable crowds of the young from around the world… All the attributes of a fun Christmas party are there to keep your spirits up. Celebration goes on on the New Year’s Eve, with the same elements of fun, supplemented with a good-bye to the old year and a final countdown. Be sure to buy your ticket long in advance, because these parties are an extremely popular thing.
WinterParade. Mid-end December. The Westergasfabriek
For something that’s off the beaten track, head straight to the Westergasfabriek, the innovative cultural centre located in the former gasworks. Film, music, dance and other kinds of art are mixed at the WinterParade – the festive event that hosts a total of 500 guests. You are invited to the seated festive party, with a delicious menu and entertainment that will leave your thirst for new discoveries satisfied. The way the event is organized is pretty unusual: guests seat behind long rows of tables, enjoying their meals and entertainment that sometimes goes on straight on the table. Note the performances are in Dutch. Buy tickets in advance.
Hotels near the Westergasfabriek:
This Art Fair (Art in the Redlight). Beurs Van Berlage. 30 December 2015 – 3 January 2016
Make some change in activity during your holiday visit and support young artists at This Art Fair.
Although traditionally focused on visual arts, This Art Fair (formerly called “Art in the Redlight”) leaves lots of space for other genres as it traditionally mixes dance, design, video and more. The idea behind the event is to support young and emerging artists who often face much problems promoting their art. This fair is a chance for them to present their works, and for you to get a better idea of what happens in the world of modern art. Some well-known artists appear as well. Beurs van Berlage is an outstanding cultural venue right in the centre of Amsterdam and a perfect example of an architectural style called the “Amsterdam School”.
Hotels near Beurs van Berlage:
Christmas shopping at department stores
If you prefer trendy stuff to authentic inexpensive things, buy your presents at a local store. Traditionally, many of them sell great designer things before Christmas and launch the sales season after Christmas/New Year’s celebrations. The most luxurious place for your Christmas shopping is De Bijenkorf located right in the city centre, next the National Monument. The mall kicks off its holiday season with an impressive event called “Turn On the Lights” that illuminates the whole building and the stunning Christmas tree in front of it.
For more boutique-style and exclusive shopping, head to the Nine Little Streets, a concentration of jewellery, souvenir and cosmetics stores minutes from the centre. The Christmas Palace near the famous Flower Market is the only XMas store in Amsterdam. So it would also be wise to check this spot in the first place.
Hotels near the Christmas Palace: