Travel inspiration and insider tips

6 years, 4 months ago

Christmas in Amsterdam

When it comes to Christmas we’re going to hold our hands up to a shameless pursuit of all things traditional. Not for us the lure of ‘winter sunshine’ (although we’re happy to indulge that idea any time after midnight on the 25th). We cheerfully scorn minimalism. Don’t even get us started on deconstructed decoration. And if we aren’t seeing miles of fairy lights, vats of mulled wine, rosy cheeked carol singers and more roasted chestnuts than you can shake a vintage candy cane at, we want to know why!

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No surprise then that the fair, tolerant, friendly with frosty weather, brilliantly lit, many marketed and totally behind Christmas in all its forms city of Amsterdam is one of our favourite festive destinations.

Amsterdam is exuberant about Christmas. But since this year has been a bit of an all-round celebration (400th anniversary of the Canal Ring, abdication, new monarch) we’re looking forward to the city surpassing even our extraordinarily high expectations for Christmas 2013.

Quite how much we like lights is probably becoming clear by now. But don’t be running away with the idea that we’re indiscriminate, quite the opposite. Certain cities have opted for Christmas taste and restraint in the past and we’ve been forced to shun them until they came to their senses and splurged on bright, colourful, extravagant and completely excessive. Because if that’s not where the lights are at, it just isn’t Christmas as far as we’re concerned.

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And The Amsterdam Light Festival is exactly what we’re talking about. From December 6th to January 19th, all over the city, if you can do it with lights, Amsterdam is doing it for Christmas 2013 – think flick-a-switch-and-call-it-show-time!

Walk the Illuminade through the city’s legendary and lovely Plantage quarter every night between 5 and 10pm, the interaction of light, art installations and architecture is mesmerising and ethereal.

This year’s festival is themed ‘Building with Light’ and since almost nothing in Amsterdam’s built landscape is as iconic as the city’s Canal Ring, a cruise is compulsory for Christmas 2013. Catch the Water Colours Canal Cruise any evening from 5 to 11pm and give in to the spectacle.

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And on the evening of Saturday 14th December until 10pm you can shop the city by night: lots of lovely stuff to buy, all beautifully lit – of course. Nice to think too, that Amsterdam’s environmental policy means a lot of its electricity is green so the city lights up Christmas with a clearer conscience than most.

But eco-conscious as it may be in some ways, when it comes to seasonal shopping excess, Amsterdam is no holds barred. You’ll find all the smart, unusual, exclusive, designer, bohemian, odd and eccentric city shops as shiny and sure of themselves as ever but just more tempting than usual – and that’s going some. And if you want to lose your heart completely, spend too much and totally overindulge, you really need Amsterdam’s many, many Christmas markets.

The famously bright and boisterous Albert Cuypmarkt really comes into its own at Christmas. Its seasonal Sunday market is especially good for delicious traditional treats, last minute pressies and quintessentially Amsterdam atmosphere.

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Local community markets (over 26 of them) are individual, artisan, exotic and personal all over the city. They’re also perfectly child-sized, good for fresh local ingredients, the place to find one-off gifts and a reminder (if you need one) of why the Dutch are such very nice, friendly, civilised people to be about.

Christmas isn’t Christmas without street food, mittens, beanies and ice. So you want Leidseplein or Koningsplein in the city centre for skating, snacking, sweet little stalls and an excuse to drink mulled wine and hot chocolate.

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And if you’re staying in Amsterdam for the big day itself, you’ve got to get a tree. In fact even if you’re renting an apartment in Amsterdam somewhere round and about the 25th of December in Amsterdam, you’ve got to get a tree. Because need of a Christmas tree is only the best reason to visit the city’s floating (yes, we said ‘floating’) Bloemenmarkt. World famous all year round for its flowers, Bloemenmarkt goes Christmas Tree mad come December. The lushest, greenest, most symmetrical, sweetest smelling, piniest, loveliest examples of every tree imaginable vie for attention here and if you’re able to resist, we suggest you have another lap of the ice rink, pick up some sugary snacks, a couple of mulled wines and try again.

Parades, classical concerts and circuses are all big Christmas traditions in Amsterdam, so much so that many events are sold out well in advance and ones that don’t need tickets will definitely involve some polite Amsterdam crowds.

A firm and regular favourite is the thrilling World Christmas Circus at the Royal Theatre Carré from December 19th to January 5th. A contemporary international circus this one’s low on clown-cars (we’re ok with that) and high on excitement and a fair bit of nail-biting.

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As far as we’re concerned if an event’s worth celebrating it’s worth having a parade. Happily Amsterdam agrees and brings it home big style from mid-December with Winter Gay Pride Pink Christmas. Theatre, club-nights, fashion shows, food, shopping, skating and general all-round merry-making all over the city seems to be the only rule for Pink Christmas and we’re happy to go along with that.

A more classical approach to Christmas is taken by Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw’s traditional Christmas Day Matinee with works by Wagner and Strauss. Concertgebouw is also the venue for a 23rd December performance of Handel’s Messiah, considered to be the choral highlight of 2013. And if you’re in the city between the 26th and 30th December you might want to bring your dancing shoes and a bit of sultry Argentinian attitude for Tangomania 2013.

We haven’t ticked all the Christmas boxes but it is the season of surprises after all and if ever there was a city to just wander around, join in and feel thoroughly festive, it’s Amsterdam. Amsterdam owns Christmas 2013, it’s official.


Featured image by Geir Halvorsen

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  • Frits says:

    That is a great itinerary for christmas! Thanks a lot, even I learnt a few things living in Amsterdam myself :)

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