Christmas in Amsterdam

December 8, 2017

The Dutch capital is a magical place in December, with a myriad of festivals, events, and celebrations, as well as some unique and delightful traditions. With daily DFDS ferry crossings from the UK to Amsterdam, it’s the perfect place to plan a Christmas getaway whether you want to do some shopping or just immerse yourself in the festive cheer.


Things to do

Sinterklaas Parade

One of the biggest events of the Christmas season in the Netherlands is the arrival of Sinterklaas, the Dutch incarnation of Father Christmas. This Turkish bishop from Spain (find an explanation below) arrives in the city on the 19th November, bringing presents and goodwill. Sinkterklaas makes his grand entrance by sailing down the River Amstel into the city, before switching to his white horse to lead a huge parade through the streets.

Ice skating

Don your ice skates and enjoy some classic winter fun in a truly unique setting. You have the choice of Leidseplein, in the midst of one of the city’s Christmas markets, or the stunning Museumplein, which houses a Christmas village and some of Amsterdam’s most famous galleries, including the magnificent Rijksmuseum.

Christmas markets

No festive break in Europe would be complete without a visit to a Christmas market. Amsterdam hosts plenty of them in public squares throughout the city, including a stunning Christmas village on Museumplein. You’ll find mulled wine along with traditional Dutch snacks (hapjes), and plenty of twinkling lights around the huge ice rink.


Things to see

Christmas Tree on Dam Square

Every year Amsterdam’s most famous public space hosts a stunning 20-metre high Christmas tree adorned with thousands of lights. Traditionally grown in the German Ardennes, the tree takes centre-stage in an illuminating ceremony in early December.

Light festival

One of the Netherlands’ most famous winter events is the Amsterdam Light Festival, which runs from the start of December right through to mid-January. As you would imagine, it’s an extraordinary exhibition of light, with installations and displays by Dutch and international artists all over the city. Delicate strands of lights crisscross the canals, while sculptures adorn walking routes through the streets and parks. Every year there’s a different theme, leading to ever-more beguiling and beautiful experiences for visitors.


Dutch traditions


Looking remarkably like Father Christmas with a white beard and red robes, Sinterklaas is actually a very Dutch traditional character who is greeted by the city with his own parade. He’s said to be a Turkish bishop, St Nicolaus, who lives in Spain for most of the year, coming to the Netherlands to benevolently hands out gifts to good children at Christmas. The reason for Sinterklaas living in Spain is likely due to the Netherlands being ruled by the Spanish Empire throughout the 17th century. He does his gift giving on 5th December, the day before St Nicholas’ Day.

Christmas Day

Christmas day itself is a time to spend with family for most Dutch people, and is generally more low-key than the St Nicholas celebrations. Santa Claus, or Kerstman (Christmas man) to keep him distinct from Sinterklaas, visits on Christmas Eve to deliver more presents to children. Families enjoy a traditional meal together at home, while some will also head to local churches for services and Christmas storytelling.

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