Planning a trip to Amsterdam in December means contending with less-than-ideal weather–but also fewer crowds and plenty of festive holiday cheer!
If you’re considering a December trip to Amsterdam, here’s everything you need to know, from what kind of weather to expect to the best things to do in Amsterdam in winter.
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Typical December Weather in Amsterdam
Visiting Amsterdam in December means contending with the coldest, darkest weather of the year–and while that definitely has its benefits, you need to come prepared for the weather!
In December, highs in Amsterdam reach an average of 43°F/6°C, and at night, lows plunge to an average of 36°F/2°C.
December is also the most humid and rainy month of the year in Amsterdam, meaning that the cold can cut right to the bone if you’re not dressed warmly enough, and that you’ll need to prepare for the possibility of rain. It rains an average of 15 days in December.
Occasionally, it snows in Amsterdam in December, but don’t count on it during your trip!
The sun rises around 8:45 AM and sets by 4:30 PM, so you’ll have very little daylight to work with, and you can expect most of that daylight to be spent covered in clouds. Don’t expect to see a lot of blue skies or sunshine during a December trip to Amsterdam!
All of that being said, visiting Amsterdam in December definitely has enough rewards to be worth the cold and dark–but you’ll need to pack well (more on that below).
11 Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam in December
Marvel at the Amsterdam Light Festival.
When visiting Amsterdam in December (or in January, for that matter), you’ll notice that the city’s famous canals have a bit of extra sparkle: each winter, they are decorated with some of the most innovative and stunning light displays that you can imagine.
While the installations are striking from any angle, they’re best experienced from the water!
Go ice skating!
Without a doubt, enjoying some ice skating is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam in December.
If you get extremely lucky, you might even get to experience ice skating on the canals–but unfortunately, that’s not common in recent years, as they don’t have a tendency to freeze hard enough these days.
However, the picturesque ice skating rinks around Amsterdam offer a fun alternative!
Take a canal cruise.
Sound like a good way to freeze? Don’t worry–many of Amsterdam’s canal cruises are heated and covered, and while that may be a downside during most of the year, you’ll be very glad to have a covered boat to enjoy a canal cruise in Amsterdam in December!
Pay a visit to the Christmas markets.
While Amsterdam’s Christmas markets aren’t the most overwhelming in Europe, they are fun, cheery places, perfect to do a little shopping and indulge in some sugary Dutch treats (stroopwafels, anyone?).
If you’d like to add even more Christmas market fun to your trip, consider taking a day trip to another town near Amsterdam–Leiden, for example, puts on a unique floating Christmas market each year.
Warm up in Amsterdam’s best museums.
Winter may just be the perfect time to take advantage of exploring Amsterdam’s museums, including the famous Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
Not only are the crowds generally lighter in Amsterdam in December than during the summer months, exploring the museums will also give you the perfect chance to escape the cold weather for a bit!
Bundle up and wander the canals.
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without aimlessly wandering through the Old Town to enjoy beautiful canal views, and there’s no reason to let cold weather keep you away–in fact, there’s something even more special about the canals in December (aside from the Amsterdam Light Festival, it’s probably the fact that there are far, far fewer people around!).
Wear as many layers as you need to, and enjoy some time during your trip wandering through town.
These Dutch doughnuts are round, deep-fried, sometimes stuffed with raisins, and absolutely delicious.
They’re a typical cold-weather snack, and a must-try during your winter trip to Amsterdam!
… and plenty of other warm Dutch dishes.
Oliebollen isn’t the only traditional Dutch winter food you need to be sure to add to your list of what to eat in Amsterdam in December: also considering trying snert (split-pea soup), stamppot (potatoes and vegetables), fondue (what better use for all that delicious Dutch cheese?), and Chocomel (Dutch-branded hot chocolate).
Plus, usual year-round treats like Dutch pancakes, poffertjes, and stroopwafels are also extra-tasty when using them to warm up on a cold day!
Visit a brown cafe.
Named for their dark, cozy interiors that are typically surrounded by wood-paneled walls, Dutch brown cafes are to Amsterdam what British pubs are to London: casual, comfortable spaces serving unpretentious food, good beer, and good company.
A casual meal in a brown cafe is a must when visiting Amsterdam in winter!
Peruse the cheese shops.
No one does cheese quite like the Dutch, and what better way to warm up in Amsterdam in December than to peruse several, sampling cheese along the way and picking out at least a few to bring home?
Not enough cheese for you? The Amsterdam Cheese Museum can be a fun stop, too!
Enjoy all the usual best things to do in Amsterdam… with fewer crowds!
One of the best things about December in Amsterdam is simply that there are few people there!
As a fairly small city that is also one of the most visited cities in Europe, the tourist crowds in Amsterdam can be oppressive–but in December, when people more commonly head to Germany for Christmas markets or to the Canary Islands for some sun, Amsterdam has some more breathing room, which makes it even more fun to visit.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
There’s no way around it: hotels in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam in particular, are far from the most affordable rates you’ll find in Europe.
The good news, though, is that December is one of the most affordable months to visit.
Expect to pay more for lodging in Amsterdam than for comparable stays in many other cities in Europe during winter, and if you have mobility limitations, be sure to reach the description of your hotel carefully: very steep staircases are far from unheard of in Amsterdam!
These options all get great reviews and should give you an idea of what you can expect to spend on lodging in Amsterdam in December.
Hotel Abba — For travelers looking for something a bit nicer than a hostel dorm but still hoping to stick to a budget, popular Hotel Abba is a reliable and excellent option!
Located within walking distance of Museum Square and much of central Amsterdam, Hotel Abba features great reviews and an included breakfast each day.
XO Hotels Van Gogh — A comfortable, affordable hotel with a fun design twist: that’s what you’ll find at XO Hotels Van Gogh, where rooms are decorated with creations inspired by the famous artist’s work.
With great reviews and a fantastic location practically next door to the famous Van Gogh Museum, mid-range travelers can’t go wrong with a stay here.
Pillows Luxury Boutique Hotel — This stunning 30-room property near Vondelpark is the perfect blend of 19th-century charm and modern amenities. Fully updated in 2017, luxury service and luxury amenities are the norm at this charming boutique property!
Travel Tips for Visiting Amsterdam in December
Plan your daylight hours well.
With limited daylight to work with, plan wisely when visiting Amsterdam in December–if you can, try to structure some of your indoor activities for after 4:30 PM.
Break up your day with a variety of both indoor and outdoor plans.
Amsterdam is not only cold in December, it tends to be damp, making the cold weather even more uncomfortable.
Make the most of your trip to the city by mixing up indoor and outdoor activities, balancing your need to stay warm with your desire to make the most of the limited daylight hours.
Don’t expect German-level Christmas markets.
Amsterdam’s Christmas markets are lots of fun and full of tasty treats–but they aren’t the immersive, gigantic fantasylands featuring seemingly endless wood chalet stalls and mug rentals that you’ll find in places like Germany and Austria.
Plan ahead to visit the Anne Frank House.
Visiting the Anne Frank House is an incredibly moving experience and one of the best things to do in Amsterdam in December (or any other month, for that matter), but it does require planning ahead.
The tickets for the house are limited and sell out extremely quickly. 80% of them are released 2 months before the visit date, but if you don’t plan that far ahead, don’t worry: the remaining 20% are released at 9:00 AM local time the day of the visit.
By visiting Amsterdam in December, you’ll have a better chance of scoring one of these last-minute tickets than if you visited during the more crowded months, and it’s how we managed to visit the Anne Frank House during our own December trip to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam doesn’t completely close on Christmas Day.
While in many European cities you’ll find all restaurants, pubs, museums, and other attractions closed on Christmas Day, Amsterdam stays a bit more open, with attractions like the Rijksmuseum remaining open on December 25.
Many places will be closed, of course, but with some museums open and a decent number of restaurants open as well, Amsterdam can be a great place to spend December 25 if you’re planning a trip to Europe over Christmas Day.
What to Pack for December in Amsterdam
We recommend checking out our complete winter packing list for Europe before you go–but here are a few essentials to consider as you plan your trip to Amsterdam in December!
Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen, and this is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Amsterdam.
Pacsafe — We can’t recommend our Pacsafe enough: this travel safe is affordable, sturdy, easy to pack, and will help keep your valuables safe in your hotel room (not that you should need to worry much about theft from your hotel room during your Amsterdam trip, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!).
Travel Adaptors for the Netherlands — If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll definitely want to make sure you can plug in your electronics once you arrive!
Comfortable Day Bag — We currently use Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable. Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.
Umbrella — With rain falling on almost half the days during December in Amsterdam, it’s best to come prepared with a travel umbrella!
Lotion — Winter in Amsterdam can be rough on the skin–be sure to pack a moisturizing lotion.
Lip Balm — You know what’s not fun? Eating Dutch food with chapped lips.
Portable USB Charger — Avoid having your phone die when you’re out exploring, and throw a portable USD charger in your day bag! They also come in particularly handy on long flights.
Purell Hand Sanitizer — Christmas markets in particular tend to mean lots of finger foods, eaten outside, often not near a bathroom where you can wash your hands. Bringing along hand sanitizer will make your life much easier.