The Netherlands is a small country in the North of Europe, mostly well-known because of its open-mindedness, the peculiar and beautiful landscapes, as well as many more things: architecture, art, design and more. Amsterdam, its capital, is popular all year round and it is always full of people from all over the world. However, is the Netherlands also beautiful during Winter?
The 10 best places to visit in the Netherlands in the winter months are:
- Openlucht Museum (Arnhem)
- Christmas Markets
- Ice Skating Rinks
If you are considering a trip to the Netherlands during the winter months, these are some of everyone’s (and my personal) favorite places during the winter. These are places that don’t lose a drop of charm during the colder months and places that are worth visiting only during winter. There is no reason to wait for the warmer weather to arrive to visit this country. It is definitely a worldwide favorite 12 months a year. If you want to get to know all these special places and what to do if you visit during winter, keep reading.
Winter in the Netherlands: What to Do
The Netherlands is a country in the Northern hemisphere, which means that the colder months are from October until March (earlier or later depending on the year). As it is well-known, it is a very cold country all year round because of its northern location in the map and the proximity to the Northern Sea and rainy weather forecast.
However, the Netherlands is a great country to visit both during summer and winter. People believe that the best period to visit the Netherlands in spring, which is true if you are looking for tulip fields. Even though this is the most popular period, winter is a little bit calmer, tourists wise, and even though it is cold, it doesn’t necessarily mean snow and storms.
I personally enjoy the Netherlands in winter just as much. It is true that it is not always nice to be outside or to get wet, however, what I enjoy the most about the Netherlands in winter is Dutch people. They are so used to this weather that nothing stops them, literally. A Saturday in the middle of January means a walk in the park, ice skating in the canals or going to a theme park OUTDOORS. Cold is no excuse, they are unstoppable.
There are many places and activities you can do during the Netherlands in winter: cities to visit, winter-related activities, nature, parks and more. If you want to know more about how to enjoy and make the most out of the cold, here it is my list of MUST-visit places.
Winter in the Netherlands: Cities you Should Visit
I personally recommend visiting as many cities as possible when traveling to the Netherlands: I find them all utterly charming, fairytale-like, special and very photogenic. However, these three cities are my favourite to visit during the winter months, each for a different reason: these are Amsterdam, Maastricht and Groningen.
This had to be the first reason to visit the Netherlands in winter. Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the number one destination in the country and one of the most famous cities in the world. Here there are some reasons why you should visit Amsterdam during the winter months:
- Less tourism: Since I have worked at a hotel in Amsterdam, I can confirm that during the period between November and December (before the Christmas Holidays) and from January until February (right before the first traces of spring) it is low season. This means it is cheaper to travel to this very expensive city and that there are fewer queues, higher chances to visit your favourite places without having to wait or accommodate to a different schedule, etc.
- Cheaper: you can easily find cheaper flights to Schiphol, cheaper accommodation both in hotels and Airbnb’s because of the low demand. Something to really take into consideration in such an expensive city.
- Visit Museums: one of the main reasons to visit Amsterdam is its museums. These are just as interesting during winter as they are during summer (with the advantage of fewer people inside during the winter). The best museum in the Netherlands is in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum (read why here) as well as the Van Gogh Museum, the famous Anne Frank Museum-House and many many others. You can check out the list of free museums you can see as well as the best deals and promotions to make the most out of your visit with the IAmsterdam card, the Museumkaart of the HollandPass (comparison here).
- Shopping: not so long ago I made a list of the best places to do shopping in Amsterdam, including shopping centres, retailer stores, streets and areas. Besides, during the month of November and from January until the first weeks of February, in the Netherlands you have SALES and you will be able to find discounts in most of the stores. It is a good plan for a rainy day, isn’t it?
If you want to know more about winter in Amsterdam: When does Amsterdam Christmas Market Start?
In any case, in this article, I will keep going all about the Light Festival in Amsterdam, the many Christmas markets and activities you will be able to do here and more. Therefore, keep reading!
So far I haven’t written anything about Utrecht, even though it is one of my favourites cities in the Netherlands. I lived there my first year here, while I was doing my Erasmus and I fell in love with it, all four seasons included!
What can you do in Utrecht during the Winter?
- Climb the Dom Tower: this is definitely one of my favourite activities all year round. The Dom Tower is iconic in Utrecht, you can see if from everywhere in the city and the best part is, if you climb it, you can see the whole town from above. If you happen to visit Utrecht in a crispy frozen morning, you will have the best view, all-white roofs and streets, chimneys and white parks.
- Explore De Haar: not so long ago I wrote an article about the 100 most beautiful castles in the Netherlands. The biggest one in the Netherlands, one of the best-preserved and most beautiful ones, it is in Utrecht. One can only imagine if De Haar is impressive and beautiful all year round, can you imagine how beautiful it looks during winter while snowing? Transport yourself directly to a medieval movie, just 10 minutes away from the city of Utrecht. Definitely worth your time!
- Explore Utrecht’s Canals: walking next to them or on a boat, it is a beautiful view!
- Saturday Market: Utrecht’s Bloemenmarkt is an all-year-round favourite. Every Saturday morning by Janskerhoof, in the centre of Utrecht, the nicest flower market takes place. Even though you would think that during the winter, seeing flowers wouldn’t be such a nice activity, you will be able to find the Christmas tree market, decorations out of natural flowers and leaves, Christmas wreath and all the cute things.
- Shopping: yes, Utrecht is also a great city to do some shopping and also get to know some more Dutch stores that are not everywhere in Europe. It is a great opportunity because also here you will find that everything is on sale.
Groningen is the Northernmost province in the Netherlands and the capital city takes the same name. The city of Groningen is one of the underrated beauties of the Netherlands.
We are talking about one of the most Scandinavian-looking cities in the Netherlands. During the winter months, it is the closest place to the sea, the weather is crispy and cold and the days are even shorter than in the rest of the country.
Groningen gets covered on fairy lights, its canals with boats and churches all illuminated with a white light that gives a very calming and soothing vibe. It is an ideal city to enjoy a retreat, see the Netherlands from a different perspective and more:
- Visit Groninger Museum for modern exhibitions
- Enjoy the Eurosonic Noorderslag in the month of January
- WinterWelVaart in the old centre, a music event by the beautiful old ships.
Winter in the Netherlands: Outdoor Activities
Once again, I must admit that it took me a while to understand who everybody would keep doing almost the same things they would do during the summer, but during the cold winter!
If you care to observe the behaviour of Dutch people, you can understand that even though they live in one of the rainiest countries in Europe, they are always out and about with their bikes. It is easy to imagine that if rain doesn’t stop them, neither does winter. I have been surprised to see them doing many outdoor activities that I wouldn’t have considered winter appropriate. Here are some of my favourite ones for all the family:
Efteling is a theme park, the Disney Land of Dutch people, a little retreat for children and adults to enjoy for a full day (or more) from a lot of attractions, food, activities, nature, the whole environment and more. It is a little fairytale, fairies, gnomes and charming songs.
I actually really enjoyed going there, even though most of the attractions were outdoors and some of them were closed because they don’t work under 0 degrees. In any case, even though it was that cold, it was packed!
Plenty of parents and their children enjoying outdoors, making the most out of a clear sky on a weekend. Isn’t it great?
In any case, Efteling is a much recommended little day trip, even if like me, you are going there without any little one. It is close to Den Bosch.
Another favourite of mine! The Openlucht Museum is an open-air museum in the province of Arnhem. The whole idea of this museum is to recreate the whole Netherlands in a park, in a forest.
We are talking about windmills, flowers, old shops with very Dutch products, old restaurants, old trains, a recreation of how they used to live since the country was established as a country.
It is a magical place where you can see everything even under the snow. Don’t you want to walk? Take the train! Do you feel like warming up? Hot wine and warm chocomelk 😉
It is a little of history, a proper entertainment for the grown-ups and a lot of fun for the little ones. A place to spend the whole day outside, even during the worst winters!
Another fun outdoor activity to do the whole family together is going to Madurodam, the Netherlands in miniature size.
This park is open even during the colder days of the winter. It is an ideal way of visiting the highlights of this country, learn a lot, take photos and have a great time. What better thing to do in the Netherlands in winter than visiting the whole country in a couple of hours?
Madurodam is located close to Scheveningen, in The Hague, another one of our winter destinations. If you want to know why, keep reading “by the Sea”!
Ice Skating Rinks
Another MUST is ice-skating when you are in winter in the Netherlands. It sure is something beautiful and one of the advantages of coming here during the colder months. Most Ice Rinks are in the centre of the cities, the most famous one in Amsterdam is in Museumplein. Some of them are open from November until January, others until February.
If you are very lucky, once every couple of years if winters are very cold, canals all over the Netherlands freeze for a few days and people can go out with their ice skates and skate around the canals. The ice is so thick that you can throw a car or a bike on top of it and it still wouldn’t break. Last time it happened was in 2018 and it was magical.
Due to this fact and the many times the canals freezes, there is a tradition in one of the Northern provinces of the Netherlands, Friesland, called Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Cities Tour), a tradition of very old times, dated from 1909. It basically consists of 300 participants who ice skate the 11 towns, over 200km of frozen canals, with ice deep enough to resist them all, and win a race. It has only happened over a handful of times since for years now it hasn’t been cold enough to resist the weight of 300 participants. However, if it is really cold when you are visiting, inform yourself because it is a once in a lifetime experience.
Winter in the Netherlands: Christmas Events
I have already mentioned some Christmasy Activities in this post, but I couldn’t skip mentioning some of my favourite Christmas Events that one can enjoy during the colder months in the Netherlands: Christmas markets and the Light Festivals.
You can start finding Christmas markets in the Netherlands from the beginning of December (even the end of November) until the beginning of January (and some even February). These are some of them:
- Sinterklaas Market (Amsterdam) or so-called Funky Christmas Market (opens on Sunday the 1st of December and Sunday the 15th of December)
- Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt (Amsterdam) opens on the 22nd and 23rd of December
- Ice Village (Amsterdam) and it opens from the 13th of December until the 26th, included.
- Amsterdam Winter Paradise (Amsterdam) It event open from the 21st of December until the 30th of December.
- Maastricht Christmas Market (Maastricht) from the 1st of December until the 1st of January.
- Christmas Markets in Valkenburg (Valkenburg, close to Maastricht), from the 16th of November until the 6th of January. A winter wonderland, the closest to a German Christmas market.
- Christmas Market and Dickens Festival in Deventer only on December 15th and December 16th.
- Christmas Market in Haarlem from the 7th of December until the 6th of January.
- Christmas Market in Dordrecht (Dordrecht) during December 14th, 15th and 16th.
- Royal Christmas Fair in the Hague (The Hague) for ten days, from the 14th until the 24th of December.
- Castle Christmas Fair in Heemskerk (Heemskerk) for the whole month of December.
- Winter Village Amstelveen (Amstelveen) is open from December 7th until January 5th.
- Winter Fair Ahoy (Rotterdam)
- Archeon Midwinter Fair (Alphen on the Rijn) during Christmas week
In most Christmas markets you can find a lot of good Dutch winter food (such as warm apple cider and warm wine, poffertjes or mini pancakes, olieballen or sweet fried pastries and more) you will also find a lot of crafts and all the Christmas presents and decorations you will ever want, games, ice skating and more.
Another one of my favourite winter activities during the winter in the Netherlands are the light festivals. For instance, Utrecht is a city with a mini light festival going on all year round. However, some other Dutch cities do it only and especially for the winter months, when it is dark and you don’t really feel like going out, to encourage people to walk around and enjoy from the cold and soothing air.
Walking by the light festival is a great excuse to be outdoors even during the whole months. Besides, this is one of the many great free activities you can do in such an expensive city. These are free social projects.
- Utrecht: it is called the Trajectum Lumen and it is open and free all year round light festival. It has been live in the city since 2010.
- Leiden: another social project happens in Leiden. It is called Rijngloed. Be ready for trees full of light, all bridges illuminated and many more nice projects in the city of Leiden. You can combine this with visiting Christmas markets or just enjoy the old city of Leiden.
- Eindhoven: this is one of my personal favourites. GLOW Eindhoven is one of the nicest light festivals ever: super colourful and fun, it is not reflected on canals like Amsterdam’s but all over town on top of the main buildings, creating pictures and reflecting art. Each year changes into a different theme where 30 artists project their ideas and inspirations. Eindhoven is the city of light of the Netherlands and its light festival a top 5 in the world.
- Amsterdam’s Light Festival: even though I have already given many reasons to visit Amsterdam during winter, the light festival is one of the best reasons to come here during the cold months. In my opinion, it is an amazing way of discovering the city and its canals, where all the light art is created. Different artists create light sculptures every year, and these are hanging in the middle of the water. It is available from the 28th of November until the 19th of January), some of the ways to visit it are:
- On a boat: getting tickets for a boat tour with the most popular cruise companies in the city.
- By foot: either on your own, following the apps created for the event or downloading a map; or with a walking tour.
- Cycling: either renting your own or following also some tours organised where they include bikes and the tour.
Winter in the Netherlands: by the Sea
I am definitely one of those crazy people who loves the sea and the beach during winter way more than summer. Finding none, the wind, the smell and the calmness are very soothing and relaxing. Living in the Netherlands has the advantage of being able to enjoy the beach during the winter in many different ways. My two favourite activities are:
Ameland is one of the Frisian islands located in the Northern part of the country, in the middle of the Northern Sea. I have had the pleasure of visiting the island not only during the summer, when it is packed but also during the winter, at the end of October, when you start feeling the cold kicking in.
Ameland is a great adventure experience for people who love outdoor activities, exploring, doing sport and anything related to nature. It is both easy and hard to find nature in the Netherlands. Ameland is the best way of combining a retreat, cute restaurants, amazing beach walks, new animals, great photography and a lot of cold and wind.
You can easily plan your trip with a car or a bus from the mainland and taking a short ferry to cross to the island. One of my favourite winter experiences.
What can you do in Ameland?
- Visit Museums: Ameland has 5 museums, one of them being the lighthouse, my favourite because of the amazing view of the forest and beaches.
- Shopping: yes, they do have a town on the island. There you will be able to find a lot of cool winter equipment as well as normal clothing shops, mostly Dutch brands.
- Cycle: by the road, you have, like in most Dutch towns, a bike path. This path goes all across the whole island making it almost a 15km path to enjoying with your bike. You will see a lot of flat fields, cows, forests and nature, great for the whole family.
- Art: the month of November is normally the “artsy month” in Ameland. Over 70 Dutch artists go to the island and expose their projects and masterpieces for everybody to enjoy.
Scheveningen is, if not the most famous, one of the most famous Dutch beaches of all times. Famous for its name since the Second World War, Scheveningen is a retreat during the summer as well as the wintertime.
This is another one of my favourite places to unwind and get back in touch with nature, something that I really need and I get to forget when I am indoors during most of the winter.
Scheveningen is a beach-city in The Hague, popular because of its long and popular dock (with plenty of restaurants as well as souvenirs and a cool view) as well as its gigantic Fair Ferris Wheel over the sea.
If you are planning on visiting the Netherlands during winter and you are like me and love the wind and the cold by the beach during the colder months, don’t miss going to Scheveningen. It is less than an hour away from Amsterdam, Utrecht or Rotterdam and just a 15 minutes tramway from The Hague. You can also take that time to go for lunch in one of the many restaurants that there are by the beach.
To Sum Up
If you are considering travelling to the Netherlands during winter, yet you are a little worried about how much you can enjoy of this country when it is colder, don’t you worry. There are countless activities and events going on in this lively country. As you could see in this article, there are activities for both adults and children and for all types of people. There are activities with people with a higher budget (travelling around, going to theme parks and shopping) as well as many free activities if you are considering coming on a budget. The thing is, you will never regret coming!