Visiting Amsterdam in December or coming for the holiday season around Christmas and wondering what to expect?
What is it like to visit Amsterdam in December? How is the weather? Are there any (good) Christmas Markets? What is the Amsterdam Light Festival like? What is there to see and do during the holiday season? Or is it even worth visiting Amsterdam in December?
In this guide, we share our experience-based tips and useful information for visiting Amsterdam in December. Find out!
Amsterdam in December – OVERVIEW:
What to Expect in Amsterdam in December
Amsterdam is a fascinating city with a lot to offer and is worth visiting at any time of the year. But come December it transforms into a winter wonderland adorned with twinkling lights, seasonal events, and a merry atmosphere.
Visiting Amsterdam during the Christmas season gives you a chance to experience the city in a festive mode, with beautiful decorations and traditional celebrations.
But what exactly to expect when visiting Amsterdam in December depends so much on WHEN exactly you visit:
The first half of December is very quiet. The Amsterdam Light Festival starts at the end of November and marks the start of the festive season. However, apart from the lights, there is not much going on in terms of Christmas celebrations. This is a good time to visit if you want to visit the most popular landmarks in Amsterdam without the crowds and at the same time enjoy the beautiful lights across the city.
Sinterklaas Day is celebrated on December 6, and that’s when the Dutch kids get presents. Most events are more local – at schools, sports clubs, etc. so not something you will experience as a tourist. But if you are visiting the Netherlands at the end of November – the beginning of December, you may run into Sinterklaas at the shopping centers, etc.
From about mid-December, there are more seasonal events geared toward Christmas. The city gets into a festive mode with more decorations and festive events. Christmas Markets start around mid-December and the biggest winter fair in the Netherlands – Winter Paradise – opens around this time as well. Weekdays are still very quiet, but evenings start to get busy. Weekends can get crowded in some places.
The end of December – especially between Christmas and New Year – is very busy. This is when schools have holidays, people do their Christmas shopping, and there are also more international visitors. If you can, avoid visiting on weekends!
TIP: No matter when you visit, the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam sell out, so be sure to reserve those in advance. For the best availability and accommodation prices, visit in the first three weeks of December.
READ ALSO: Amsterdam Travel Tips
If you wonder what kind of weather to expect in Amsterdam at Christmas, you may want to know that the average temperatures in Amsterdam in December are between 2 and 7°C (35-45°F) and it rains about 13 days out of 31.
This pretty much sums up what you can expect – cold and grey weather, but not really wintery. While it can get under the freezing point and even snow, it’s not as common these days as it was in the past.
In any case, it’s impossible to say in advance how the weather will be during your visit. It might be 10°C (50°F) and sunny, 5°C (40°F) and rainy, or it might be freezing and sunny or snowy… So the only way to know for sure is to check the weather forecast a few days before your visit. That will give you a much better idea of what it will be like.
Does it Snow in Amsterdam in December?
While once in a while you can get some snow in Amsterdam in December, it doesn’t happen that often anymore. Furthermore, even if it snows in the Netherlands, it’s much more common later in the winter than in December.
The last white Christmas in Amsterdam dates from the winters of 2009 and 2010. Before that – 1981 and 1964. As you can see, the chances of experiencing a magical white Christmas in Amsterdam are not great.
If want to see frozen canals and experience Amsterdam in the snow, you have much better chances if you visit in January or February. However, it’s not something you can count on – it’s just a matter of luck (or bad luck – depending on how you see it).
How Much Daylight Is There?
Depending on where you are traveling from, you may not realize that December has the shortest days in this part of the world. While it’s not comparable to e.g. winter in Iceland (where you have just 3-4 hours of daylight) the days are quite short in the Netherlands too.
Typically, the sun rises around 8.30-8.50 AM and sets around 4.30 PM in Amsterdam in December.
So you have about 7.5 – 8 hours of daylight in December. However, there is also a big difference between how light it gets on rainy grey days or when the sun is out. Still, there are plenty of daylight hours to explore the city to the fullest.
In addition, time permitting, you can also take one or two day trips outside the city. In December, we recommend focusing on towns and cities (rather than the countryside) because they have plenty to offer even on cold grey days.
READ ALSO: Best Day Trips from Amsterdam
Here are some of the best seasonal events in Amsterdam in December:
Amsterdam Light Festival
Amsterdam Light Festival is one of the best-known winter events in the city. It’s an annual event that takes place every year in December and January. This winter, it’s from November 30, 2023, until January 21, 2024.
The theme of the festival varies every year, with new light installations scattered all over the city center. So you never know in advance what you will get to see or where exactly… Also, some artworks can be quite large and really impressive, while others are rather small and might leave you wondering if it was even worth walking that far trying to find them…
Good to know: While you will likely stumble upon a few of these light installations when wandering around town, it’s a bit a matter of luck, even if you know the city well. So if you want to see all the artworks, the best way is to download their app and pay for the walking map upgrade. This is the only way to know exactly where all the installations are.
Keep in mind, however, that the walking route differs every year and is usually quite long – about 7-8 km (4-5 miles). Of course, you don’t have to do the entire route and can just see a few installations.
TIP: One of the best ways to see the artworks of the Amsterdam Light Festival is by taking a boat cruise in the evening (starting from about 4.30-5 PM). Ideally, you opt for an open-boat cruise – that way you see more. But because it rains a lot and you never know how the weather will turn out to be, most boats are (semi) covered.
Still, it’s a better way to see many of the light installations in a short time without having to aimlessly wander around town trying to look for them. This is one of the most popular Light Festival cruises departing from Central Station.
TIP: This 2-in-1 combi ticket is a good option if you want to do a boat cruise and also visit the Amsterdam Winter Paradise.
Best Christmas Markets & Festive Locations in Amsterdam
If you search for the best Christmas Markets in Amsterdam online, you will find all kinds of lists giving you (the false) impression that there’s a lot going on.
But if you look deeper, you will realize that some places listed are not more than a winter bar which is open one or two weekends in December, or some super local neighborhood Christmas-themed market that is only open one day (not per week, just one day in total).
Furthermore, some other Christmas Markets I saw listed as ‘Amsterdam Christmas Markets’ are not even in Amsterdam, but in other towns in the Netherlands, some over an hour away…
So where can you find the Christmas activities in Amsterdam and what to expect? Here are the best locations:
- Christmas Village on Museum Square, behind the Rijksmuseum (December 13-26, 2023). This is the main Christmas Market in Amsterdam and the only one that’s worthy of the name. There are a couple of dozens of chalets/market stands here and in some years, they also have an ice skating rink (it’s not the case in 2023).
- Winter Fair Winter Paradise on Europe Square (December 14-30, 2023). This is not a Christmas Market, but a really nice winter fair. Here you will find all kinds of winter activities including ice skating, curling, light sculptures, but also a Ferris Wheel, sliding slopes, carousels, swing rides, etc. They also have all kinds of foods and drinks, a bit like at a Christmas Market. You will need to book a ticket, but once you are inside, all the main rides/activities are included (not the food).
- Ice skating rink on Rembrandt Square (November 17, 2023 – January 6, 2024.). There are also a few street food stalls selling mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages, etc.
- Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace. In some winters, there is a Christmas Tree and/or some festive events here. However, it’s not the case in 2023. There is a nice Christmas Tree on Beursplein nearby, however.
READ ALSO: Amsterdam at Christmas
Christmas Lights, Festive Decorations & Shopping
If there is one thing that Amsterdam does really well, it’s the Christmas lights. Come evening, old town streets, buildings, and bridges over the canals are beautifully lit, turning Amsterdam into a winter fairytale.
Festive decorations are a bit of a hit or a miss, though, and a lot depends on the specific place. In general, most window displays at the shops are rather somber, but here and there, you find a beautifully decorated window. The biggest department store – Bijenkorf – looks quite simple during the day but is magically lit in the evenings…
TIP: If you want to do some Christmas shopping in Amsterdam, you will be glad to know that the sales period starts in December. Many stores offer big discounts in December, especially toward the second half of the month.
Best Things to Do
In addition to the seasonal activities mentioned above, there is a lot more to do in Amsterdam in winter, of course. Below, are some of the top recommendations.
A canal cruise is a must in Amsterdam in any season. In winter, I would do it in the evening – that way, you can enjoy the beautiful light installations as well.
LEARN MORE: Top Sights & Tourist Attractions in Amsterdam
How to Avoid the Crowds
While the holiday season can get very busy in Amsterdam, it’s quite easy to avoid the biggest crowds if you plan well. Here are some top tips based on our experience:
- Visit Amsterdam around mid-December. This is the best time to visit if you want to experience the Christmas atmosphere in Amsterdam, but want to avoid the crowds of the holiday season. If you can, avoid traveling during school holidays at the end of the month.
- Visit Christmas Markets/ fairs on weekdays. If you can, avoid visiting Amsterdam on a weekend, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. As a minimum, avoid visiting festive locations (Christmas Market, Winter Paradise, etc.) and shopping streets on weekends. It can get crazy busy, so try to visit those on weekdays.
- Plan and book in advance. The most popular museums such as the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House are always busy and sell out weeks in advance, so if you want to visit, you really have to book in advance. The same with the winter fair, Winter Paradise. Book a time slot in advance! Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience are also best booked upfront – maybe not weeks, but at least a few days ahead.
- Visit the most popular museums in the morning. The best way to avoid the crowds at the main museums is to book the earliest available time slot. Alternatively, visit a few hours before the closing time.
What to Wear
If you wonder what to wear when visiting Amsterdam in December, this depends not just on the weather but also on what you are planning to do.
What I mean is that you will be fine in jeans and sweaters for most regular activities, but you may want to pack dressier clothes if you are planning to dine at fancy restaurants or go to a theater, etc.
If you are doing all the usual ‘tourist’ things, dress in layers. It’s often rather warm inside (museums, restaurants) and quite chilly outside. So a warm winter jacket, a scarf, and gloves are a must. A warm hat is always a good idea too because it’s usually windy. For the rest, just wear whatever you feel comfortable in. Things are quite relaxed overall.
In addition, you may want to pack an umbrella when visiting the Netherlands in the winter.
Where to Stay
There are many nice places to stay in Amsterdam. In winter even more than in other seasons, we recommend staying in the heart of the city center. That way, you can walk to all the main sights, museums, Christmas Market, etc.
Good to know: While accommodation prices in Amsterdam are always high, December is actually one of the most affordable times to visit. The prices are usually about 30-40% lower than in the spring or in the summer. So you can even treat yourself to a stay at a very nice hotel without breaking the bank.
Here are some of our recommended hotels in the city center:
- Hotel Estheréa – very centrally located and beautifully decorated for the holiday season.
- Park Centraal Amsterdam – close to the best museums and the Christmas Market.
- Eden Hotel Amsterdam – very central location close to Rembrandt Square and great value.
- Park Plaza Victoria – close to the Central Station.
LEARN MORE: Where to Stay in Amsterdam (Best Areas + Hotels)
Is It Worth Visiting Amsterdam in December?
While December weather isn’t great and Amsterdam Christmas Markets are very limited, festive decorations and Christmas lights all over the city give it a fairytale-like atmosphere. In addition, there are so many other amazing sights and attractions worth seeing in Amsterdam.
So when thinking of a winter visit to Amsterdam, you really have to see the whole package. And when you add it all together – Christmas lights, the artworks of the Light Festival, the Christmas Market, the winter fair Winter Paradise, world-class museums, and other landmarks – you will find that Amsterdam has plenty to offer making a December visit more than worth it.
In addition – if you avoid the peak tourist season between Christmas and New Year – accommodation prices are lower than in the warmest months.
TIP: Amsterdam truly comes to life on winter evenings, after sunset. So use the days for sightseeing, museums, and shopping. And when it gets dark, explore the ‘Christmas side’ of Amsterdam: take a canal cruise, wander around the beautifully lit streets, and check out the Christmas Market.
Just remember that Christmas Market and Winter Paradise get much busier in the evenings, so try to visit those on weekdays! Winter Paradise is actually quite nice during the day too (and cheaper as well).
So, this is our guide to visiting Amsterdam in December. I hope that this gives you a better idea of what you can expect and helps you plan a memorable visit.
Have a great trip!
P.S. Before you go, you may want to check out our suggested itineraries for your visit to Amsterdam:
More travel inspiration for Amsterdam and its surroundings:
- Best day trips from Amsterdam
- Amsterdam countryside
- Best things to do in Delft
- Tips for Amsterdam canal cruises
- Top museums in Amsterdam
- Tips for Van Gogh Museum
- Best tulip fields near Amsterdam (spring only)
- Amsterdam in June
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