© 2013 Frank Wijn

In the Dutch capital for the holidays? Here's our plan for how to spend Christmas Day.

December 04, 2015

Amsterdam is positively low-key at Christmas, which makes it a relaxing place to be during this festive season. There’s no Santa here—kids get their presents from Sint Nicolaas on December 5, not Christmas Day. And for the Dutch, Christmas dinner takes place on the evening of December 24. Until recently, there were no Christmas markets and even Christmas trees were a rarity (both, however, have gained in popularity), and plenty of restaurants, cafés, and stores are open over the holiday period.

If you’re in town, take advantage of this mellow vibe, and enjoy these seasonal activities that best capture the feeling.

Ice Skating

The Dutch are passionate about ice-skating, and every winter, outdoor ice rinks appear in the stately locations of Leidseplein and Museumplein—complete with skate rentals, music, and refreshments. If you’re not great at skating, you can book a lesson. After whizzing around on the ice, warm up with a hot chocolate, a plate of poffertjes (mini pancakes), or a hearty pea soup.

While it's still light out, get in a little shopping, and hunt down a special souvenir to commemorate your trip.

Light Festival

It’s dark in the Netherlands in the winter months, but the Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up the city with a variety of multi-colored installations by Dutch and international artists. To enjoy them at their best, book a special canal cruise or walking tour.

Church Services

In the beautiful Begijnhof, the medieval Engelse Kerk (English church) has been leading English-language worship in Amsterdam since 1607. Check out their website for times of Christmas services.

Other Amsterdam churches with holidays evening masses are the Noorderkerk, Westerkerk, and the Oude Kerk. The Mozes & Aaronkerk (on Waterlooplein) has a multi-faith celebration with representatives from different religions (a priest, Buddhist monk, Islamic imam, and Jewish chazzan).

Christmas Circus

The beautiful Royal Carré Theatre stages the award-winning World Christmas Circus, uniting some of the world’s best circus acts in one child-friendly, spectacular seasonal show. The Christmas circus has been a tradition in this theatre for more than 25 years; book tickets here.

Hänsel und Gretel

What’s Christmas without a fairy tale? The Dutch National Opera performs a new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel at Amsterdam’s National Opera and Ballet. This quirky contemporary version is staged on a giant trash pile, which is brought to life by children.

Jane Szita is on the Netherlands beat for Travel + Leisure. She lives in Amsterdam.

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