The Herring’s Guide to a Gezellige Winter in Amsterdam

By Adesholla Bishop and Anna Debeye

Collage by Adèle Issman

With winter break just around the corner, it’s time to get into the holiday spirit and partake in fun, festive activities around Amsterdam. Whether you only have a weekend to spare or are spending the full break in the city, The Herring is here with 16 winter-themed activities to ensure that you make the most out of your time off. For an added bit of fun, use the bingo sheet below to cross activities off your list as you go and compete with friends to see who reaches bingo first!

Note: All travel times are for biking unless otherwise indicated.

See the eleventh edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival 

Along the canals of Amsterdam Centre-East

Last year, the Amsterdam Light Festival was one of the few winter experiences still accessible during the winter COVID-19 lockdown. This year, there are many more winter adventures to be undertaken, but the Amsterdam Light Festival is still worthy of your time. Twenty light sculptures can be found all around the centre of Amsterdam. The theme this year (Imagine Beyond) is centred around imagination. In order to get the route and information on the artworks, it is best to buy the digital map. This year, unlike last year, it is also possible to explore the lights during a guided boat tour.

1 December to 22 January from 17.00 to 23.00 every day // Digital map €7,50; Boat tour €26,50

Go dancing on ice at Ice*Amsterdam

Museumplein // 20 minutes from the dorms

Every November, Museumplein turns into a winter village where you can combine shopping and ice skating. Ice*Amsterdam is the biggest Christmas market in Amsterdam and there is also a lovely ice rink. Although this rink is too small for devoted skaters, it is still a great way to experience Museumplein in winter. For the skaters that get bored quickly, Ice*Amsterdam provides a chance to do more: dancing on ice. Every Thursday and Saturday evening this winter, you can enjoy a silent disco on the icy square. Enjoy the beats during this authentic Amsterdam experience!

Every Thursday and Saturday until 5 February from 19.00 to 22.00  // Headphones 10,00; Entry 7,50

Visit Het Amsterdamse Winterparadijs 

RAI Amsterdam // 20 minutes from the dorms

In December, RAI Amsterdam will be transformed into a beautiful winter paradise. There will be both an outdoor and indoor ice rink, a fair (featuring, for example, a ferris wheel and a mega swing ride), an après-ski village and performances by famous Dutch artists (Hans Klok and more). The winter paradise is filled with winter activities, such as cross-country skiing, ice-racing and snowball battles. Food and drinks are provided by local Amsterdam caterers. This is the place to experience a snowy Amsterdam winter. There are both morning and evening tickets available, or, if you wish to do and see everything, you can buy an all-day ticket. 

15 December to 1 January from 9.00 to 1.00 (weekdays) or 2.00 (weekends) //  Entry 14,00 to €26,50

Get funky at the Christmas market in West

Polonceaukade 27 // 30 minutes from the dorms

If holiday gift shopping is still on your to-do list, the Funky Xmas Market in Amsterdam West is the perfect place to check it off. The annual market is a festive take on the Sunday market at Westergasfabriek, and you’ll be sure to find something you love as you peruse through the art, fashion, and design stalls. Plus, the live music and tasty snacks at the market are guaranteed to keep you energised while shopping. The Funky Xmas Market will take place on 18 December and is likely to be one of Amsterdam’s biggest Christmas events this year, so be sure to mark your calendars!

Sunday 18 December from 12.00 to 18.00 // Free entry

Visit another city and go gift shopping at Kerstmarkt Haarlem

Central Haarlem // 45 minutes from the dorms (by train)

Looking to get out of Amsterdam? Take a day trip to Haarlem and get a taste of winter in another city. In addition to its numerous museums and gardens, Haarlem hosts one of the Netherlands’ largest Christmas markets for a few days in early December. There, you can experience the historic city centre whilst enjoying the lively atmosphere and delicious treats. Entrance to the market is free, but make sure to bring money to buy snacks and gifts.

9 to11 December from 10:30 to 19:00 (9 and 10 Dec) or 20:00 (11 Dec) // Free entry

Eat sustainably at the Pure Winter Markt 

Park Frankendael // 10 minutes from the dorms

Every last Sunday of the month Park Frankendael hosts the Pure Markt, a sustainable market primarily for food and drinks, but also for non-food products. The stalls are manned by independent entrepreneurs that provide all the necessary information (i.e. ingredients, production method, etc.) on their products. Whether you wish to get some sustainable local groceries, a snack, or a meal, this market is the place to be! The December edition will be winter themed, providing a perfect opportunity to buy fresh ingredients for a Christmas meal or to get your relatives and friends some local Christmas presents. 

Sunday 18 December from 11.00 to 17.00 // Free entry

Pick up some oliebollen at De Bakkerszonen 

Beukenplein 8 // 10 minutes from the dorms

New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands is characterised by fireworks, champagne, and oliebollen. Oliebollen, literally translating to “oil balls”, are deep fried balls of fluffy dough, often filled with raisins or other fillings. The dough is made of milk, yeast, flour, eggs and sugar. During winter, these little dough balls are sold all around Amsterdam, and you don’t have to go far to try them yourself. On Beukenplein 8 you can find a bakery that sells fresh oliebollen, as well as appelflappen and appelbeignets. For those who are not interested in these seasonal delicacies, the bakery also sells cakes.

Mondays to Saturdays from 8.30 to 16.00 // Oliebol €1,20

Sit by the fire at Vergulden Eenhoorn

Ringdijk 58 // 10 minutes from the dorms

With a bit of effort, the AUC dorms can be quite cosy, but sadly, sitting around a fireplace is not possible. The solution is not far away: Ringdijk 58 houses an old cityfarm with a historic copper fireplace. Surrounded by comfortable couches, this restaurant allows you to relax by a lovely fire whilst enjoying a drink or a nice meal. They serve both lunch and dinner, so warming up is possible throughout the whole day. For those that prefer to enjoy some fresh air, it is possible to sit out on the terrace, as it is heated during winter. 

Every day from 10.00 – closing // Meal €10,00 – €20,00

Drink hot chocolate at Pluk 

Reestraat 19 and Berenstraat 19 // 20 minutes from the dorms

During the cold winter months, it is important to stay warm. Hot drinks and cosy cafés can help with this and Pluk has both. Located in the 9 Straatjes, Pluk is a lovely place to wind down and warm up after a long day of Christmas shopping. You might even want to continue shopping, since the café also sells jewellery, home accessories, and more. Pluk has two locations, both of which sell delicious food for breakfast and lunch. The café is best known for its sweet corner, where they sell cakes, donuts and other sweets – all of which pair perfectly with a hot chocolate!

Every day from 9.00 to 17.00 // Hot chocolate €4,50

Warm up with glühwein at De Waard

Leidseplein 14 // 20 minutes from the dorms

Winter in the Netherlands isn’t complete without a steaming mug of glühwein, or mulled wine in English. Made by infusing red wine with a variety of aromatic spices, glühwein is guaranteed to warm you up from your first sip. The French atmosphere of Café de Waard, located on the bustling Leidseplein, is the perfect setting to relax and enjoy your glühwein after a day of holiday gift shopping – and if you need to fuel up for more winter activities, you’ll be sure to find something to your tastes on their extensive lunch or dinner menus.

Mondays to Wednesdays from 11.00 to closing; Thursdays to Sundays from 9.00 to closing // Glühwein €6,50

Eat a traditional Dutch winter meal at The Pantry 

Leidsekruisstraat 21 // 20 minutes from the dorms

Amsterdam is an international city with cuisines from all around the world, so few restaurants in the inner city serve Dutch food. One of those rare Dutch restaurants that is worth trying is The Pantry. Its team serves fresh, home-made traditional Dutch dishes; during winter, a hot Dutch meal is a perfect way to warm up. To complete the Dutch experience, the Pantry also sells local wines, beers, and liquors. If you ever wished to fully immerse yourself in the Dutch food culture, then this is the place to do it! The homely and cosy atmosphere will do wonders for your mood on a cold and dreary winter day.  

Every day from 11.00 to 22.30 (Wednesday open at 12.00) // Meal €15,00 – €20,00

Try a traditional Dutch pancake at Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis

Grimburgwal 2 // about 20 minutes from the dorms

Whether you prefer them sweet or savoury, for lunch or dinner, you’re sure to love the Dutch pancakes served at Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis. The pancakes are only improved by the setting: located on one floor of a 16th century canal house, you will dine under an eclectic collection of teapots in what the owners claim is the smallest restaurant in Europe. Given that the restaurant only has four tables, it is best to make a reservation before visiting to secure a seat and a taste of some delicious pancakes.

Every day from 12.00 to 18.00 (17.00 on Tuesdays)  // Pancakes €8,00 – €13,00

Experience winter in a medieval castle at Rijksmuseum Muiderslot

Muiderslot, Herengracht 1 // 35 minutes from the dorms

If you want to get a break from the modern architecture of Science Park, you can travel by either bike or train for less than an hour and find yourself at Castle Muiderslot. Built in the 13th century, Muiderslot is one of the best preserved castles in the Netherlands and will transport you to the medieval times. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you have to endure the draughty temperatures that royalty did in the past: during winter, visitors of Muiderslot are offered blankets and hot cocoa, and can cosy up by the fire with old board games. 

Tuesdays to Sundays from 10.00 to 17.00 // €16,50 (free with a Museumkaart)

Listen to Vivaldi at an intimate candlelight concert

Kattenburgerplein 1 // 15 minutes from the dorms

After an intense semester, a cosy ambiance and live classical music are a perfect way to unwind. A candlelight concert offers exactly that: Lit by dim candlelight, you can immerse yourself in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played by the Amsterdam-based string quartet Hydra Quartet. For just over an hour, this intimate concert at Het Scheepvaartmuseum allows you to escape the bleak Amsterdam winter and savour Baroque music in a unique atmosphere. 

23 December at 19.30 or 21.30 // Starting price €25,00

Listen in on a Wednesday lunch concert in Westerkerk

Prinsengracht 281 // 25 minutes from the dorms

To get in the holiday mood, switch off your Mariah Carey and take a trip to Westerkerk, where you can enjoy a free lunch concert. The concerts, hosted on the last Wednesday of November and three Wednesdays in December, will feature Advent Christmas music by internationally-acclaimed organist Evan Bogerd. While enjoying the concert, don’t forget to take in the Renaissance-style architecture of Westerkerk – the largest Protestant church in the Netherlands!

Wednesday 30 November and 7, 14, and 21 December from 13.00 until 13.30 // Free entry

Stay warm while touring Amsterdam by boat

Prins Hendrikkade 25 // 20 minutes from the dorms

While usually filled with tourists, the holiday season means that the inner city of Amsterdam will be much quieter. A boat tour through the canals is the perfect way to take advantage of this, and has the added bonus of keeping you warm and dry whilst the guide tells you about the city’s history. Lovers Canal Cruises offers one-hour tours both during the day and during the evening, depending on how you wish to see the city. If you’re feeling extravagant, it is also possible to book a cruise that includes New York Pizza, wine and cheese, or a three-course dinner at a higher price point.

Every day from 10.00 to 21.00 // Basic cruise €16,00

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