How to do Amsterdam During Christmas

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The first word that comes to mind when looking back on Amsterdam is ‘young’. Despite the beautifully preserved architecture and centuries-old history, something about the city was instantly youthful and I have a feeling it doesn’t all have to do with the unprohibited supply of weed and access to the Red-Light District.

But before we get to my final thoughts, let’s start with first impressions.

We spent our first day in Europe watching a sleepy Amsterdam waking up on Christmas morning. The streets were silent and the sky was gloomy but a sense of festivity was hidden somewhere in the air. Although at first this gave the impression of a sullen and frankly rather dull little town, reflecting on it now I’m glad to have had the morning to ourselves to see the city in its barest view.

A few hours and tolling church bells later, the city was transformed. People were stepping out of their homes to greet loved ones and getting started with the day’s festivities. The contrast was one I loved.

On the accommodation front, we stayed in a quaint family-run hotel housed in a 19th century building which certainly captured the charm of the city, complete with the Dutch stairs, a traditional breakfast and a very quirky but charming host.

After getting our initial taste of the city, we ventured out to explore in a little more depth in the early hours of each day thanks to our jet-lag and a healthy dose of touristy enthusiasm.

On the agenda for day 1 which was Christmas Day was a visit to the Anne Frank house. While normally shops and cafes are closed on Christmas Day, we were lucky enough to find that all museums were open as well as canal cruises. In all honesty, I anticipated the Anne Frank house to be much like any other museum I have visited, but boy was I wrong. The clustered and claustrophobic rooms painted a chilling image of life in the Second World War for the Frank family. Walking out into the fresh air after the intense tour was a humbling reminder of the luxuries they could not afford.

Braving the chilly winds, we left the Anne Frank house and sought respite in a canal cruise and the timing was on our side as we were spared getting rained on. Making our way through the city on the cruise was among my favourite moments as this is when we got our first full sense of the city’s glory. The glum afternoon skies were quick to transform into a dazzling night, with shopfronts and homes all boasting of Christmas spirit. The result was nothing short of magical.

To satisfy the horror lover and history buff in us, we also made a point to visit the Amsterdam Dungeon. Albeit a little gimmicky on occasion (not as much as some of the other activities available, e.g. Madame Tussauds), this visit was a fun way to learn about the city’s history, with a few goosebumps along the way.

For a less frightening activity, we spent an evening exploring the Van Gogh Museum, my most anticipated bucket list item not just for Amsterdam but for the entire Europe trip. And I’m glad to say it lived up to expectations. We walked to the museum on a chilly winter evening dodging plenty of cyclists and catching a glimpse of Vondelpark on the way. The museum’s several levels were packed with Van Gogh’s works and gave insight into both the best and the worst parts of the legendary artist’s life. As someone whose been enamoured by his work for a very long time, it’s safe to say I was besotted.

With the major must-see sites out of the way, much of the rest of our time was spent exploring the city on foot through its many charming areas. As I mentioned earlier, the jet-lag was a blessing in disguise. We found ourselves waking up far too early but this allowed us to wander unperturbed through areas like the otherwise lively Dam Square, with only the rubbish trucks and occasional early risers for company. It was also fascinating wandering about as each day the church bells started tolling and like a well-oiled machine the city got into action for the post Christmas buzz with sales all around. Shops and cafes opened mostly as usual on Boxing Day and people got started with their daily rituals. It was a unique experience to see the same streets in two very different atmospheres.

Another great choice for morning strolls or evening walks was the elegant Jordaan area. Distinguished by its beautiful houses, posh cafes and fancy boutiques, the Jordaan district was a personal favourite corner of the city for me, both for picturesque scenery and abundant photo opportunities. You don’t have to worry about doing much as simply strolling through the 9 straatjes' (nine little streets) on our way home from a day’s exploring gave us plenty of opportunity for shopping and trying local treats.

This area is also littered with the strangest museums for anything and everything like cheese, tulips, cats, bags, hemp, torture, tattoos, houseboats, yeah you get the gist, the list is never ending. I guess the Dutch have an obsession with documenting almost everything ?

Now, Amsterdam has lots of markets to boast of, like the flower market, etc. however during Christmas their winter markets are in full swing. Although usually these markets end before Christmas, the ice village in Museumplein runs till the 30th Dec and that is the one we attended. Go at night to see the beautiful lights against Rijksmuseum, ice skating and have some cozy refreshments.

And of course, can we have an Amsterdam travel diary without a mention of the infamous Red-Light District? Given how small Amsterdam is and how easy it is to get lost in those stunning streets, it is almost impossible to not end up here accidentally. It is an iconic precinct and deserves atleast a quick visit during both day and night to truly appreciate this quirky city and its open minded world view.

Amsterdam is undoubtedly one of my favourite cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit and more of what we got up to (or rather ate) will be up in a separate post. Perhaps my only regret from this leg of the trip was missing the opportunity of seeing the Rijksmuseum but I’m looking at the bright side. This is just another reason why I must head back there sooner rather than later!

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  1. Pretty pictures :)

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    Blog // YouTube // Instagram // Bloglovin

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  2. Oh gosh! Amsterdam looks so dreamy and incredible especially during sunset time and nights! Ahh.. I wish to see it's beauty now, wish I could fly! Loved reading your post :)


  3. Amsterdam looks like a total winter wonderland and such a beautiful, majestic place to visit. Your gorgeous photos are giving me a serious case of wanderlust; those twinkly lights look absolutely epic! I've never been but have been told by countless people that I'd love all the bright buildings and the general atmosphere so it's definitely on my hit-list <3

    Sophie | soinspo xo

    1. You'll love it ! Its so beautiful and the people are all so chill :)

  4. What a beautiful time of year to visit Amsterdam! I am surprised that there's no snow on the ground. The city certainly looks young like you said!

    Simply Lovebirds

    1. Yeah the locals were complaining how it doesn't snow in Amsterdam much anymore! Apparently they haven't seen a white Christmas for a while!